9. Neko Case – “City Swan”
The closest I’ve come to feeling the presence of God has been through music. One such instance was in 2003 at Seattle’s Crocodile Café. It was my third or fourth time seeing Washington native Neko Case perform , but on this night the opening notes of “Favorite” cut through the venue like a laser, immediately forcing everyone inside to stand, mouths agape, as she finished the song.
Those kind of musical moments can sometimes have negative long-term effects. After more than a decade of listening to Neko’s music I’d assumed that the remainder of her career would deliver diminishing returns – above average albums that ultimately fall flat compared to the high bar she set early on – but goddamned if she hasn’t done it again.
“City Swan” is my favorite song on Neko’s best album to date, this year’s The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight…, delivering emotional punches to the gut like “I can’t look at you straight on / you’re made from something different than I know” amidst a stately, almost regal rock march.
8. Spaceneedles – “Wake Up”
This Seattle band, featuring members of Feral Children and Grand Hallway, popped on to my radar in May when I tweeted (@ashmatty) about every act playing the Capitol Hill Block Party. I missed Spaceneedles’ set, but fell in love with their four song EP. “Wake Up” is one of those epic, slam-your-beer-on-the-table punk rock songs that make me feel twenty-five again.
7. Kanye West – “New Slaves”
One of the last gifts Lou Reed (R.I.P.) gave the world was his thoughtful review of Yeezus, Kanye’s 2013 album, for the Talkhouse blog. In it, he asserts many of the same things I do when I’m debating with the haters – that Kanye speaks with an emotional honesty that’s rare in hip-hop; that he is a master producer who uses melody and percussive elements brilliantly; and that Kanye is kind of a jackass, but that’s OK.
6. Parquet Courts – “Stoned & Starving”
It’s hard to out-Pavement Pavement, but this Brooklyn band may have done it with this gem, which manages to sound detached and aloof though utterly engaging. My favorite line: “I was debating Swedish fish / roasted peanuts or licorice / I was so / so stoned and starving.”
5. Kavinski/The Weeknd – “Odd Look”
I became enamored with Kavinski last year when I finally broke down and endured lauded German art film Drive, which puts the French producer’s “Nightcall” to great use. “Odd Look,” a collaboration with DIY R&B sensation The Weeknd, is the kind of dirty-ass soul usually relegated to Prince or Curtis Mayfield.
4. Autre Ne Veut – Play By Play
It was a good year for white dudes using electronic production to make genuinely soulful music, most notably the American producer who calls himself Autre Ne Veut. The transition that begins about 1:41 in to “Play By Play” makes the hairs on my arms stand up with excitement.
3. King Krule – “Easy Easy”
A 17 year-old British waif whose vocals, at least on this song, channel the emotional depth of Shane McGowan and Johnny Rotten. Keep an eye on King Krule.
2. Chvrches – “Now is Not the Time”
Chvrches make gorgeously-crafted synth pop… the kind that got music bloggers’ panties in a bunch before their first album was even released. The record, “The Bones of What You Believe,” lives up to expectations but my favorite track is still this one from their debut EP Recover.
1. Future of the Left – “French Lessons”
Just when I’d conceded that Andy Falkous, the man behind McLusky and one of my rock and roll idols, had let madness overcome brilliance and would likely churn out uneven records littered with purposefully-jarring bits of vitriol like those found on Future of the Left’s last album, 2012’s The Plot Against Common Sense, he comes back less than a year later with an excellent new album and the most beautiful song he’s ever recorded, “French Lessons.” It’s that combination of insanity and beauty that has always made Falkous’ music so compelling, but here he keeps the music lovely and somehow manges to make lines like “you could marry yourself to an orphan girl / and overcompensate on her birthday” sound downright tender. Genius.
More 2013 Year-End Coverage:
- 29 Albums we Enjoyed Very Much
- Top Talent from Tacoma
- 98 Songs we Totally Loved
- 9 Cool Photos we Took
- Colin’s Yearly Playlist
- Our 11 Favorite TV Shows