Monday, 9 December 2013

Best Tracks of 2013: 20-11

20) Yuck - Middle Sea

Yuck's first album without ex-frontman Daniel Blumberg was a more sedate affair, trading in the distortion and feedback squalls for a new set of '90s influences - namely Teenage Fanclub and Silver Jews. Middle Sea was the exception - more polished than anything on the debut (check the trumpets!), it still has that rugged energy that was missing from the rest of the new album, and a great riff to boot.

19) Phoenix - Entertainment

Yet another case of a brilliant track that outshone its parent album, Entertainment may not be Phoenix's best single, but it's certainly their most epic. Lurching out of the traps, the drums thunder away under that indelible Eastern-tinged keyboard hook, before everything pulls back and goes all widescreen. The final build is perfectly judged, just before Thomas Mars lets loose a final "I'd rather be alone", and the hook gets one more chance to shine. A wonderfully constructed pop song.

18) Pond - Giant Tortoise

In a similar fashion to Entertainment, Pond waste absolutely no time in revealing their trump card here - a wind tunnel full of reverb and FX pedals. Except the second time round it's preceded by a wordless chorus that consists of a searing riff that sounds like a deranged mosquito. Sure, the Flaming Lips-esque verses are pretty cool, but they're just padding for the year's best air guitar moment. Pond share members with Tame Impala, and while almost matching that band for studio wizardry, they're a hell of a lot more fun to listen to.

17) Pusha T - Numbers on the Boards

For all Kanye's talk this year about minimalism and Le Corbusier lamps, his new production philosophy was never so perfectly realised as it was on this gem of a beat. Rapping over a one-note bass riff and some strategically placed cowbell, Pusha T delivers solid coke-slinging rhymes that show just why his star's been on the rise again these past few years: "I might sell a brick on my birthday / 36 years of doing dirt like it's Earth Day." Veterans like Jay-Z might be falling off, but Pusha's career renaissance is very welcome indeed.

16) Sleigh Bells - Bitter Rivals

Sometimes when you have a winning formula, it's best to stick to it. On Bitter Rivals, Sleigh Bells tweak their successful template ever so slightly - the headbanging distortion moments derive even more power from being placed between sparse finger-click choruses, and for once, the song feels more like a song proper rather than just an excuse for thrusting the EQ into the red. When the bass comes in though, it's game over.

15) Miley Cyrus - We Can't Stop

The One Where the beat elevates Mike WiLL Made It to producer superstardom, or The One Where Miley finally sheds the Hannah Montana image and manages to offend large swathes of American society with a song about being young, fearless and hedonistic. Miley's year may ultimately have been marked by controversy (sometimes tame, sometimes very deservedly), but the obvious enjoyment she took in baiting her critics also fuelled the sheer dumb fun that this song delivered in spades.

14) Chvrches - The Mother We Share

First released as a single towards the end of last year, The Mother We Share turned up on Chvrches' debut album this summer, complete with a brand new video. If you got turned off by The Knife's move towards industrial-electro agitprop, this one should have hit all your pleasure centres. Bouncy synths, a rudimentary drum machine, and Lauren Mayberry singing over her own auto-tuned backing vocals. The final chorus soars like nothing else.

13) A$AP Rocky - 1 Train (feat. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson & Big K.R.I.T.)

The year's most epic posse cut. Many digital column inches have been dedicated to debating who executed the best verse. We'll give it to Big K.R.I.T., rounding the thing off in true Southern style, but Joey's verse in particular showed that the young rapper could easily stand with this heavyweight group ("Just got back to the block from a 6 o'clock with Jigga / and I'm thinking bout singing to the Roc, but my n*ggas on the block still assigned to the rocks").

Oh, and we shouldn't forget that Hit-Boy beat - less showy than his star productions for Kendrick and Kanye, it gets the job done perfectly well, the string section adding to the sense of the occasion.

12) PUP - Reservoir

One of the year's best new bands, PUP haven't got that much attention in the UK yet, but are getting a lot of love in their home country of Canada. Expect all that to change when they play a couple of shows over here in February. Reservoir shows off their gnarled guitar attack very well, coming over like Japandroids meets The Jesus Lizard, complete with shouted gang vocals and a chorus guaranteed to incite sweaty moshpits. Got any more like this, Canada? Grab this one as a free download over at their Bandcamp.

11) Kanye West - Blood on the Leaves

Honestly, we had to limit the number of Kanye songs in this list to three, otherwise most of 'Yeezus' would probably have made it on. Get ready for the next two when the Top 10 goes up, but for now, enjoy this performance of Blood on the Leaves on Jools Holland. Kanye's TV performances were some of the highlights of the year - that is, until he started appearing on US radio every morning. 

Blood on the Leaves appropriates Nina Simone's version of Strange Fruit, and pitches it against Kanye's own auto-tuned vocals and a monstrous TNGHT beat that became the centrepiece of 'Yeezus', and a live force to be reckoned with. Kanye courted a lot of controversy by sampling such a famous cry against social injustice for a song about groupies and MDMA. Unravelling its politics here would be too much of a task, but we need to recognise that it's clearly not done out of disrespect. It stands as another complicated gesture on an bold album that isn't afraid to deal with racial politics, and somehow, against the odds, manages to keep something of the original spirit alive.

Click through for tracks 10-4...

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