Year in Review | Top Songs of 2013
#1 – 20
by Joshua P. Ferguson
This might be unprecedented. In a stroke of impeccable timing, we've actually managed to wrap up our Year in Review coverage before the end of the year. Its the eleventh hour, but we've done it nonetheless. Our Year End Podcast will follow in the weeks to come, but for now we're happy to end 2013 on a high note, presenting our top 20 songs of the past 12 months.
20) Benoit & Sergio "Bridge So Far" — Hot Creations
Perennial favorites at Dialogue Inc, playful D.C. duo Benoit & Sergio have a knack for finding our sweet spot with their silky storytelling and tireless grooves. Having had the chance to interview them earlier this year, we'll let them sum up this one:
"We have these deeper tracks, then the more nudisco, deep groove, then the orchestral, weird, epic, heroic … They’re just moods. It’s like the seasons, 'Bridge So Far' was started in the fall, so 'Bridge So Far' has more melancholy to it."
19) Ten Walls "Requiem" — Life and Death
There was more than one top track contender from the man from Lithuania, Mario Basanov's Ten Walls alias. His "Gotham" release for Innervisions was an instant hit, mesmerizing dance floors with its haunting harps and slinky harmonics, but it was his latest for Italy's Life and Death that most captured our attention this year, thanks to its 10-ton kicks and its low-end melody.
18) Bonobo "Cirrus" — The North Borders — Ninja Tune
We've got to give it up to Bonobo's Simon Green. Despite a number of dissenters who nag at the fact that he won't leave his earthy downtempo jazz in favor or more au currant sounds, the man and his band have remained faithful to the sound he's spent years fine tuning. This year's The North Borders may not have been his career-defining masterpiece, but the steady build of "Cirrus" with its brittle drum layering, glowing chimes, and slow-burning resonance is as solid as anything Green has ever composed.
17) The Asphodells "Another Lonely City" — Ruled By Passion Destroyed By Lust — Rotters Golf Club
While Andrew Weatherall has always been a presence that's hard to ignore, this was the year that we dove headfirst into the legend's impressive body of work and realized just how much his rock-leaning cosmic aesthetic spoke to us. And it was his work as The Asphodells with Timothy J. FairPlay that sparked the discovery, in particular "Another Lonely City" with its spacey keys, jangly guitar, and staccato Kraftwerkian rhythm.
16) Mugwump "Boutade" (2013 Techno Redux) — International Feel
Picking up where our last entry left off, this one comes courtesy of another pair of production veterans. Belgian duo Mugwump thrive in the leftfield, slinging disco-tinged downtempo and balearic nuggets with reckless abandon. Technically a re-release, this particular track saw new mixes courtesy of Uruguay's International Feel, the "techno" remix which we described thusly in our XLR8R review earlier this year:
"As sturdy kicks, sharp handclaps, and rhythmic digital giggles unfold, each component of the track is given room to stretch out and poke around. The bassline evolves with heavily acidic undertones and electro-funk grit, while strings that were once well-behaved streak and skitter every which way, having been tweaked until they are almost unrecognizable."
15) Men at Work "Land Down Under" (Chuck Norris dub) — White
We've clearly hit our stride in this year-end wrap-up, as we've got another balearic wonder surfacing at No. 15. Unknown remixer Chuck Norris—at least we're assuming the martial arts icon hasn't entered the studio—extends, tweaks, and reverbs out this '80s classic, one that we've always loved—even when we were too embarrassed to admit it. Those days are past. We haven't stopped weaving this trippy midtempo jam into our sets since we first heard it.
14) Blacksmif "How the Fly Saved the River" — Blah Blah Blah
It might have even been late December last year when we snagged this EP from London's Blacksmif and we immediately knew it would be appearing here on this list in some form. The winner was "How the Fly Saved the River," a jazzy, broken beatdown ebbing and flowing with what can only be described as an infectious soul sample.
13) Scarper "Surfing the Cosmic Belt" — Plexus Records
If you haven't picked up on it by now, we have a thing for music that makes us feel like we're, well, surfing through the cosmos. We've found what we'll be playing on our headphones in Scarper's latest, surging with hypnotic synths, ambient textures, and throwback breaks.
12) Special Request "Soundboy Killer" — Soul Music — Houndstooth
Speaking of throwback breaks, veteran producer Paul Woolford captured just about everybody on the scene with his turn as Special Request, trading in his trademark percussive house and techno for classic drum & bass. Full of bass weight, soulful samples, and the classic breaks we've known and loved for years, "Soundboy Killer" was the pinnacle moment from Woolford's LP, to us anyway.
11) BASECAMP "Smoke Filled Lungs" — BASECAMP — Self-Released
Sounding like a menage a trois between John Legend, Jose Gonzalez, and Katy B—at least her pop-fueled bass beats—Nashville trio BASECAMP was the soul discovery of the year for us. Undeniably contemporary, measured, and catchy enough to crack the mainstream, its brand of bass-heavy, sultry downtempo R&B inspired countless repeat listens.
10) Atoms for Peace "Otherside" (Stuck Together remix) — 50Weapons
Without fail Thom Yorke's Atoms for Peace landed on its fair share of Year End lists in its original form, but for us it was this marathon excursion through leftfield clicks, pops, hums, cymbals, and throbs that cut to the fore of all the things Yorke unleashed on fans this year. Off kilter techno at its best, the Stuck Together remix—which is really just Atoms for Peace—took the the band's rhythmic jam session and gave it a pristine electronic pulse.
9) Daft Punk "Lose Yourself to Dance" — Random Access Memories — Columbia
The world-famous Parisian robots may have been inched out of landing in our top records of the year—a fact that will probably go on being debated around these parts—but this particular midtempo boogie monster had an undeniably large presence in our DJ sets this year. "Get Lucky" may have dominated the airwaves, but its the call and response between Daft Punk and Pharrell on "Lose Yourself to Dance" that got the heavy rotation from us.
8) James Blake "Retrograde" — Overgrown — Columbia
We really had trouble picking the one cut from James Blake's sophomore LP that should snag a Top 10 spot on this list. Having seen the man and his band twice this year, his grittier tracks like "Voyeur" and "Digital Lion" really come to life. But the overcast melancholy, slow crescendo, and the epic tension and release of this lead single go the furthest to solidify every aspect of Blake's sound and why we like it this much.
7) Jon Hopkins "Breathe This Air" (Featuring Purity Ring) — Domino
Prior to 2013, we didn't really have a clear picture of Jon Hopkins. Then in the wake of hearing "Open Eye Signal" we devoured every bit of his work that we could get our hands on. His LP Immunity was basically one big highlight, and yet this rework of "Breathe This Air"s glitchy 2-step with the delicate incantation of Purity Ring's Megan James managed to add still one more.
6) Mark Pritchard "Ghosts" — Warp
We reviewed this track back in June and we stand by our sentiment still now:
"Sparing in a deep techno sort of a way, Pritchard's footwork treads lightly here... But its all a calm before the storm. Stuttering echoes of "Ghosts" fall like a string of 100 dominoes as a send up to the track's second refrain, a tipping point of machine-gun snare, 808 clicks, hollow toms, and that Detroit techno funk Pritchard has managed to work in amongst all the rest... This could be the producer's 2013 answer to "Wind It Up". It is from our perspective anyway."
5) DJ Koze "My Plans" (Featuring Matthew Dear) — Amygdala — Pampa
There was a lot to like about DJ Koze's latest full length, and while it didn't win us over the way it did some this year, his hip-hop-esque turn laced with the baritone crooning of Ghostly International poster child Matthew Dear did. Crackling, looping with sped-up lyrical samples, and imbued with Koze's ever-present sense of humor, it was a pitch-perfect example of how both artists have a versatility that goes well beyond the dance floor (even if we did try to turn a few of 'em onto the track these past few months).
4) Downtown Party Network "Space Me Out" — Silence Music
We didn't think our infatuation with deep house could grow any stronger, and yet it did. In large part thanks to this track, a highlight of many of Dixon's sets this year and subsequently our own (we aren't ashamed to admit). Difficult to describe as anything short of beautiful, Lithuania's Downtown Party Network managed to craft a track that is as delicate as it is potent, a subtle touch that is at the core of the discerning club fare that we cherish.
3) Moderat "Bad Kingdom" — II — Monkeytown
We've written about Moderat so many times, frequent visitors here have probably had their fill. But we can't let that detract from how infectious the trio's 2013 single "Bad Kingdom" became for us. Rolling with the percussive trash-can clamor that has become a signature of Moderat's drum programming, boosted by buzz saw bass, distorted siren calls, and drenched with layers of angelic coos that serve as a bed for Apparat's wistful crooning, this was our sing-along stand-out of the year.
2) Arcade Fire "Reflektor" — Reflektor — Merge
Bands and rock music in general didn't have much of a presence in our world this year, and yet the pairing of Montreal's Arcade Fire with LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy was nothing short of a monumentus musical event in our world. Just the right amount of distortion, dub, and disco collided to create what was undeniably one of the best records this year. Touching on our obsession with the Internet and how fleeting the connections there can be, the thematics might prove too heavy-handed for some, but as we sit here blogging, it's ringing true enough for us. Combine that with the fact that its acidic dance-punk groove is perfect getting people moving, and "Reflektor" has more than earned its place as one of the out-and-out best songs we heard this year.
1) Burial "Come Down To Us" — Hyperdub
Let us start by saying we sifted through a lot of music this year. A lot of it was great. Much of it deserved recognition. All of it we spent quality time with. It all also came out well before the 12th of December, which is when we downloaded shadowy London producer Burial's Rival Dealer EP and instantly fell in love with the meandering, haunting, and prolific sprawl of vocal snippets, harpsichord, static fuzz, '80s nostalgia, and hope that flows through the epic 13 minutes of "Come Down To Us." In the two weeks since it snuck up on us as at the tail end of the year, we've gotten lost in this song so many times that we have no doubt it deserves our No. 1 spot. A statement about finding yourself and embracing who you are composed entirely of sourced vocal samples—including Lana Wachowski's coming out speech—"Come Down To Us" is a testament to the depth of electronic music and its ability to imbue those cold clicks, pops, and thumps with real feeling.