Determining the year’s best albums is, admittedly, a subjective pursuit. But even more than an albums roundup, a list of songs is an intensely personal way to sum up a year in music. It is a process of appreciating the trees in a forest so sprawling it can never be mapped out entirely, celebrating the tallest, softest, stockiest, or most luxuriously shady timber (but probably not “Timber”) in our neck of that woods. This practice can offer a glimpse of the big picture, but on balance it’s about the details — the casual inflection of a syllable, an unexpected burst of echo, the faint emergence of harmony flickering within a shrill downpour of noise — that make us fall in love with a musical moment. So although there’s some value in sussing out The Songs That Ruled 2013 (as if “Blurred Lines” isn’t still stuck in your head), it seems right to encapsulate the best tracks of 2013 by offering each Stereogum staffer’s personal favorites.
Not that it would be impossible to find some consensus in these playlists. Once we decided there could be no overlap, there were some ferocious battles over who got to keep which songs, and some of those battles came right down to, ahem, “The Wire.” Certain singles stood out so clearly that they would have repeated several times over if given the chance. Turns out the American Dream is also the Stereogum Dream: Everybody wants a “Bugatti” and a “Dream House.” If you believe Kanye West, the American Dream also involves “New Slaves,” and while that thought makes us squeamish, we certainly fought over that song too. As it stands, the presence of multiple selections by Daft Punk, Disclosure, Haim, and Kanye affirms what our album rankings already established: Those artists released a lot of amazing songs this year.
Even more common than our agreements, though, were our resounding disagreements. Like any list of favorite songs, there are many outliers here, moments that struck one us in a profound way and stuck with us for the rest of the year, little personal soundtracks that carried us through our triumphs and frustrations. Whether that meant getting ratchet with Ty$ and Juicy J or howling our lungs out with Arthur Ashin or feeling some type of way with Rich Homie Quan, it always meant something. Not all of these songs resonated universally, but on a micro scale at least, they accomplished the goal of forging a connection with the listener. Below, we’ve expounded on those connections; perhaps they’ll click with you too.
2012 was one of my favorite years for pop radio since the days when Z100 played Matthew Sweet. Many of my favorite songs last year — “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” “Somebody That I Used To Know,” “Call Me Maybe,” “Die Young” — notched multiple weeks on Billboard’s Top 10. But over these past 11.5 months, I wasn’t as enthralled by the reigning mega hits. Sure, “Royals” was stuck in my head for the better part of autumn, but when it came to the sounds that got the most plays on my iTunes, the sources were a bit more unexpected: an “I Want Candy” homage from the year’s bubblegoth MVP, a maybe-too-wavy Bronson/Fraud EP outtake, a couple of crude hip-hop love songs, the big beat soundtrack to my kid’s new favorite music video, a transcendent yacht-prog b-side from a pair of Mexican Summer bros. Three of the tracks included here come from the best albums of the year; several weren’t on any albums. So it was a great year if you knew where to look/listen (Stereogum.com, duh). I didn’t even have room on this list for Sky Ferreira.
I wasn’t looking for through-lines when I put my top 10 together, but looking at it now, they exist. My list has unabashed car-radio singalongs: “Bugatti,” “Type Of Way,” “Get Lucky.” It has slinky new-wave anthems: “White Noise,” “Falling,” “After You.” It has an out-and-out country-radio weeper in “I Drive Your Truck.” In “New Slaves” and “Nosetalgia,” it has a couple of sparse bangerz that, when you stop and think about them, are pretty fucking depressing. And, right at the top, it has Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball,” which is all those things at once. This is the year where Miley became the lazy person’s walking embodiment of What Is Wrong With America’s Kids, and she’s the prime reason your mom asked you what twerking was in the single most uncomfortable conversation you had all year. (Just guessing here.) And if you wanted to look for reasons to dismiss her forever, the “Wrecking Ball” video will give you plenty of those. But one night, when I was driving home and scanning through stations, I had a chance encounter with the song that left me shattered. It’s an expert piece of assembly-line pop music with a magnificent ten-ton chorus, and you can engage with it on that level just fine; the synth-plinks alone are heavenly. But it also sounds like the howl of a person just barely holding herself together; it transcends the professional. And all it ever did was wreck me.
There’s something inherently dishonest about this list as I’ve assembled it — generally speaking, a whole bunch of my music-listening hours are consumed by metal records, but here, I chose to exclude metal entirely. Having just published our Top 50 Metal Albums Of 2013 list, it felt kinda redundant to once again give props to Deafheaven or Carcass or whatever. But if I were being completely honest, both Deafheaven and Carcass (and Inquisition, and Windhand, and In Solitude, and Darkthrone, and Kvelertak, and SubRosa…) would be somewhere on this list (and this list would be a lot longer). I also very reluctantly left off anything from Burial’s Rival Dealer EP, because honestly, I couldn’t choose between the three tracks, and for me, the EP functions better as a complete listening experience than a set of individual songs (though all three songs are hands-down great); if we were voting again today, I honestly believe the EP would have been somewhere in the upper reaches of our 50 Best Albums Of 2013 list. All that said, I fucking love the hell out of every song I did include here. I can’t believe none of my co-workers fought and/or bargained with me for “Black Skinhead.” The day Yeezus leaked, Claire and I sat in Stereogum’s offices listening to the album on repeat all day — it was such an exciting and fucked-up and addictive record — and every time we looped back around to “Black Skinhead,” my pulse shot up and my head started buzzing. To me, it was obviously the biggest and best song released in 2013, and all year, it’s been at the top of my playlists, on my speakers and headphones, still on repeat, still exciting, fucked-up, addictive.
Not sure if this makes me a laggard or a cheater or a lame, but three of my picks were technically unveiled in late 2012. In keeping with the old Pazz & Jop rule regarding a song’s primary year of impact, I left them in because their impact on my 2013 was deep. “Before We Run” sounds like the years gently turning, and it guided me through this one with grace. In contrast, “22″ remains an expertly crafted snapshot of a specific time in life. (Dare I lean on the year’s most tired metaphor and call it an Instagram selfie? I dare!) I love how “22″ is either aspirational or nostalgic depending on which side of the age divide you approach it from. Do you know what I love even more? Motherfucking “Latch.” Disclosure’s guest-laden Settle was a rare convergence of so many young talents hitting their stride at the same time, all of them feeding off each other’s burgeoning creative energy, and the most resplendent wallop of them all was that “Latch” chorus drop, Sam Smith’s fiery falsetto rattling the rafters as tectonic rippling synths threaten to rip apart the floor. It made me very happy many times over, and I don’t even go to the club. As for the rest of the list, “Peace And Quiet” offers the sobbing, snot-bubble photonegative of that “22″ snapshot, and the frankly gorgeous/gorgeously frank “Step” is the next logical progression from there. “Started From The Bottom” and “Versace,” ridiculous in different ways, triggered compulsive tourettic giddiness long after the songs ended. And “Doin’ It Right,” “Hood Pope,” and “Life Round Here (Remix)” each found some of modern music’s most wonderfully distinctive voices reaching heights heretofore unseen, changing the shapes of their respective genres — and my year — for the better. (Yes, that means I liked the Daft Punk song better than anything Panda Bear’s ever done. You wanna fight?)
There is little in common musically with my top songs of the year. Here gauzy black metal and Suicide-esque rock-a-billy cozy up next to futuristic R&B, a rare glimpse of Danny Brown’s vulnerability, and the most heartbreaking re-imagining of “Call Me Maybe” ever recorded. What connects them is simple though. These ten songs touched me more than any others this year, they were the ten most important songs to me, and every one transports me somewhere. Looking back, I still remember sitting on my fire escape as OPN’s “Chrome Country” hit that final cathartic organ note, completely speechless knowing without a doubt I just heard my favorite album of the year. It was the year my faith in Death Grips was renewed, courtesy of their best song to date. Sitting in Electric Lady Studios at the first listening party for Reflektor was the first time I truly unabashedly fell in love with Arcade Fire, but it was nothing compared to hearing “Afterlife” synched up with the devasting and beautiful closing moments of Black Orpheus. Krill’s “Infinite Power” became a sort of personal remedy throughout the year, something that kicked away every anxiety and self-conscious thought for a few perfect minutes. And finally I think of the many long bus rides back and forth from Boston soundtracked by Wakesleep’s “To Anyone.” For 12 minutes it repeats a simple loop, like a mantra, twisting and tweaking it, stretching and examining this one music moment from every angle, and repeating its abstract phrase until it grows into something profound and universal.
Here are all 50:
01. Jorge Elbrecht & Ariel Pink – “No Real Friend”
02. Pure Bathing Culture – “Pendulum”
03. Haim – “The Wire”
04. Charli XCX – “SuperLove”
05. Ty Dolla $ign – “Ratchet In My Benz” (Feat. Juicy J)
06. Kanye West – “Bound 2″
07. Empire Of The Sun – “I’ll Be Around”
09. Crash Of Rhinos – “Opener”
08. Action Bronson – “Heel Toe” (Prod. Harry Fraud)
10. Duck Sauce – “It’s You”
01. Miley Cyrus – “Wrecking Ball”
02. Kanye West – “New Slaves”
03. Ace Hood – “Bugatti” (Feat. Future & Rick Ross)
04. Disclosure – “White Noise” (Feat. AlunaGeorge)
05. Pusha T – “Nosetalgia” (Feat. Kendrick Lamar)
06. Rich Homie Quan – “Type Of Way”
07. Haim – “Falling”
08. Pulp – “After You”
09. Daft Punk – “Get Lucky” (Feat. Pharrell Williams)
10. Lee Brice – “I Drive Your Truck”
01. Kanye West – “Black Skinhead”
02. Iceage – “Coalition”
03. Majical Cloudz – “Childhood’s End”
04. Pity Sex – “Wind-Up”
05. Tegan And Sara – “I Was A Fool”
06. AFI – “I Hope You Suffer”
07. Sky Ferreira – “You’re Not The One”
08. Foals – “Bad Habit”
09. Charli XCX – “Nuclear Seasons”
10. The Strokes – “Slow Animals”
01. Disclosure – “Latch” (Feat. Sam Smith)
02. Vampire Weekend – “Step”
03. Daft Punk – “Doin’ It Right” (Feat. Panda Bear)
04. Taylor Swift – “22″
05. A$AP Ferg – “Hood Pope”
06. Waxahatchee – “Peace And Quiet”
07. Yo La Tengo – “Before We Run”
08. Drake – “Started From The Bottom”
09. Migos – “Versace”
10. James Blake & Chance The Rapper – “Life Round Here”
01. Autre Ne Veut – “Play By Play”
02. Wakesleep – “To Anyone”
03. Krill – “Infinite Power”
04. Saint Pepsi – “Call Me Maybe”
05. Arcade Fire – “Afterlife”
06. Deafheaven – “Dream House”
07. Death Grips – “Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)”
08. Danny Brown – “Lonely”
09. Oneohtrix Point Never – “Chrome Country”
10. Dirty Beaches – “Casino Lisboa”
Wanna share your favorites in the comments? Go ahead!