Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Best Tracks of 2013: 10-4

Right, down to the Top 10. These are the tracks that we loved most this year, from returning veterans (Superchunk, MBV, Suede) to artists arguably operating at the peak of their powers (Kanye, Arcade Fire), and a very exciting newcomer (um, hi Kelela!)

They're all brilliant in their own way, but our Number One this year is something truly special - that rare song that, when it's playing, takes complete control of your head, body and heart. Even on an album bursting with should've-been hits, it still stands head and shoulders above the rest. It's no hyperbole to declare it a modern classic. Read on and enjoy.

10) Kelela - Bank Head

Bank Head first surfaced on a Night Slugs compilation, and then as the lead track on Fade to Mind producer Kingdom's 'Vertical XL' EP. In both contexts it stood out as an obvious highlight - a bold new idea of what R&B could be in 2013. Kelela's voice is a thing of wonder, light and ethereal, but somehow very grounded and tangible. She imbues the song's main refrain of "I need to let it out" with real power.

Kingdom's sparse, eerie production fits Kelela well - in her own words, a perfect pairing of "scary and comforting, jolting and easy." The track hits hard, but seems more suited to bedroom contemplation than dancefloors. It demands repeat plays. We predict great heights for both Kelela and the rest of the L.A. based Fade to Mind crew. Grab the whole of Kelela's mixtape 'Cut 4 Me' right here.

9) My Bloody Valentine - Only Tomorrow

'm b v' was dismissed by many before they'd even heard it - how could the band ever hope to better 'Loveless'? The answer - by experimenting with jungle beats and punishing repetition in the album's latter stages. Well, they didn't better it, but the result was a brave, slightly uneven album with incredible depth. This second track, though, seemed like a concession to those who were hoping for a straight facsimile of the shoegaze textures that first elevated My Bloody Valentine to the status of indie gods, just with extra guitar crunch. Like the album cover, Only Tomorrow may have appeared simple at first, but it revealed its hidden details with careful listening. With three minutes to go, it chances upon one of those riffs that you'd gladly let run forever as a locked groove.

8) Gunplay - Bible on the Dash

We're still waiting for his debut proper, but Gunplay kept the stove hot in 2013 with a couple of decent mixtapes. 'Acquitted' was the best one, ending with Bible on the Dash, a song so good that Gunplay had already used it as the closing track on '601 & Snort'. The angle here is nice and direct - the temptation to employ violent means is often too much, so always make sure to roll with the Bible. When people talk about Gunplay, they usually focus on his deranged flow or his even wilder run-ins with the law. He rarely gets enough credit for his technical ability - check this internal rhyme scheme in the second verse: "I asked the pastor, what's the fastest way to heaven for a bastard with a tarnished past, give me your honest answer." It might look pretty good on paper, but Gunplay's mad cadence makes this one great. Oh, and the beat slams hard.

7) Superchunk - Low F

Dinosaur Jr. are often held up as the example of a band who reformed, only to surprise everyone by cranking out albums just as good as their early classics. Superchunk may be the only band from that era whose new work is, dare I say it, even better. Not that the new album steers far from their classic indie rock template - the fidelity might be a little better now, but Low F ticks all the boxes for a Superchunk anthem - infectious riffs, a great solo, and Mac's urgent vocals. The lyrics are there, but they matter little, especially in the song's triumphant mid-section. That might be the real difference between the two eras of Superchunk - they know they've got nothing to prove now, but they're having a blast doing it anyway.

6) Wavves - Sail to the Sun

So simple - loud verse, even louder chorus, repeat, all played at breakneck speed. Weezer wish they still wrote songs this good. Nathan Williams' bratty pop-punk outfit refuses to grow up yet again, and long may they remain in a state of perpetual adolescence. No wonder Wavves provided me with one of my best gig moments this year - rarely has a moshpit been so much fun. That the song includes the repeated lyric, "We'll die just the way we live, in a grave", is just another excuse to lie back and get high while we have the time.

5) Arcade Fire - Reflektor

'Reflektor' was far from a dud, but for the first time it saw Arcade Fire using excess against their strengths, rather than supporting them. The title track was the main exception - even more so than Get Lucky, it felt like a satisfying and surprising conclusion to a dull teaser campaign. Just like our Number One for this year (more on that in a second), Reflektor was a disco epic for the ages that transcended periodising labels. Musically it saw Arcade Fire scaling new heights - the horn blasts in the chorus, the carnival bass-line, and especially that spiky little riff that sounded like strobe lights bouncing off a mirrorball.

It could all have come across as overly serious, crushed under the weight of its own self-importance, but the winks to camera (the too-long groovy outro, the papier-mache heads in the video, David fucking Bowie's briefest of cameo appearances) saved it from that particular fate. Win's urgent delivery meant that the Arcade Fire of 'Funeral' was never too far away, but this was the sound of a band looking squarely into the future.

4) Suede - Barriers

That Suede managed to power back onto the gig circuit was good news - that they released a reunion album as good as 'Bloodsports' was honestly something of a surprise. Front-to-back it's easily on a par with their three early '90s classics. Barriers was our first taster, and it was classic Suede through and through. Stately and commanding, with those familiar trebly guitars and Brett Anderson's voice still cribbing from Bowie's nasal tones. Anderson's gift for scene-setting remains intact ("Aniseed kisses and lipstick traces, lemonade sipped in Belgian rooms"), but most importantly, Barriers has a chorus that stands out even in the catalogue of a band known for writing epic and memorable choruses: "Will they love you, the way, the way I loved you? We jumped over the barriers." Maybe the most unexpected return to form this year, but certainly the most welcome.

Enjoyed those? Click through to read our Top 3 Tracks of 2013...

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