Definitely this year has seen unexpected chart-topping pop breakouts in the form of Lorde, Miley, Daft Punk, and a bajillion other collaborations with Pharrell.
Their success is a given. I’m trying to keep this blog courting to a smaller audience that looks for artists with gritty authenticity, forward energy, sharp intelligence and probably a smaller production budget. Basically the best songs in my list will get my blood pumping a little bit, make me think/laugh, paint a very vivid picture, or otherwise have a staying power beyond radio repetition. This is the soundtrack to my 2013, in somewhat chronological fashion. A Spotify playlist follows, and Youtube videos fill in the gaps.
Jim James – “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)”
Funky, ethereal, soothing, and sharply intelligent lyrics.
Lone Bellow – “You Never Need Nobody”
The harmonies just stay with you, it drips with mournfulness and beautifully encapsulates a human experience.
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – “We the Common (For Valerie Bolden)”
Really got my engines running in the cold freezes of January. Endless singalong chorus.
Haerts – “Wings”
Pure 80s childhood nostalgia. The video, which makes the song, might as well be footage of me and the stuff I did growing up.
The Mowglis – “San Francisco”
Seeing them do this crowd-pleaser at a sold out $0.94 show at the Crystal with my bro-in-law was a definitely highlight of the year.
Anna Weatherup – “Nearer”
Pretty much the best song possible for coping with the loss of a family member.
Josh Ritter – “Joy to You Baby”
He smiles at pain more bravely than any artist I know. How a marital breakup yields a song as beautiful as this is an amazing testament to his emotional health.
Lake Street Dive – “Seventeen”
The coolest opening act I’ve seen all year (w/ Josh Ritter at the Crystal). This song was the highlight of the set. And, with the exception of Taj Mahal at the Bluesfest, the sexiest musical thing I’ve seen all year as well.
Patty Griffin – “Wild Old Dog”
Got the album for my wife for Mother’s Day and ended up kind of stealing it and obsessing over it for most of May/June. This was the not the only one that completely floored me.
The Thermals – “Born to Kill”
Comes off hot like an engine block on a dragster ready to race. Immediately immersive.
Foxygen – “No Destruction”
Better than their breakout indie hit “San Francisco,” I hummed this neo-psychedelic meditation often in the week after Lou Reed died. “There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore.”
Phosphorescent – “Song for Zula”
This one was so much a part of the first half of my year that feels like it’s been in my life a lot longer. A standard Sunday morning staple on KINK’s Sunday Brunch.
Telekinesis – “Power Lines”
The absolute go-to high-energy track for late spring/summer. Driving over the Columbia river with the setting sun to the west, and Mt Hood to the east, and this blaring over the speakers.
Mavis Staples – “I Like the Things About Me”
Lyrics that make me smile and a beat that shuffles nicely with predictable soulful warmth and Jeff Tweedy’s production quality. It was mesmerizing to witness her powerhouse delivery at the Waterfront Bluesfest.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (feat. Mary Lambert) – “Same Love” – I’ll never forget my white middle-aged male Episcopal minister rapping this song from the front of the church during a sermon this summer after the Supreme Court made their historic rulings on gay marriage. And the happiness of “She keeps me warm….” just stays in my head for hours.
Aoife O Donovan – “Red and White and Blue and Gold”
Definitely the most romantic song of the year. Perfect for a summer night under the stars and a fire pit. Or at Edgefield with Garrison Keillor (amazing show).
Bombino – “Amidinine”
For the way the guitar weaves and sustains exotic layers with incredible musicality. West African spunk and soul with Dan Auerbach production.
Miranda Lambert – “All Kinds of Kinds”
I got to drive around this awesome old Ford pickup this summer, and would pretty much exclusively listen to mainstream Nashville country on the radio. This was the highlight of my secret indulgence.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes – “Better Days”
These guys have never lacked forg depth, and go a little deeper, a little more soulful with this top single from their third release. Bought the CD just for this one and found lots of gems.
F*ck Buttons – “The Red Wing”
This track totally woke me up to the possibilities in electro-trance music. I never get tired of it; definitely has energy to spare.
Savages – “She Will”
First heard this via NPR in the summer and still haven’t gotten over the ghoulish vocals and metallic U2-esque guitar. An aural assault, with relentless echo and hi-hat smashes.
Hurray for the Riff Raff – “Crash on the Highway”
Maybe my absolute favorite of the whole year, a song pulled directly from life experience, wanting to be home yet happily dealing with the present. Live at the Doug Fir it was impeccably delivered. Such happiness.
Spirit Family Reunion “I’ll Find a Way”
The set closer for when opening for Hurray. I have never heard a Portland crowd do a singalong so well.
The Front Bottoms – “Twin Size Mattress” ‘
I wanna contribute to the chaos…’ I made this line my email signature message back in September and it’s still there.
Wild Feathers – “The Ceiling”
Great blues, great harmonies, with an unusual amount of dynamism.
Pearl Jam – “Sirens”
I’m beyond impressed that Eddie Vedder can still get to that super high note midchorus. The whole song is perfectly brooding and electric – gives me chills every time, especially on the radio late at night.
Jason Isbell – “Flying Over Water”
I’m kind of amazed that this didn’t win Americana album of the year. This is one of at least four perfect songs on the record. I could easily include “Relatively Easy” “Stockholm” or “Super 8.” Very, very emotive work.
Moon Hooch – “Number 9”
So funky, love the saxophone. I also love the fact that they are pretty much exclusively buskers outside subway stops in NYC.
Courtney Barnett – “Avant Gardener”
A witty, focused ramble about how a mundane morning working in the garden turns into in a trip to the ER and a meditation on the user-friendliness of asthma inhalers and bongs.
Sleigh Bells – “Bitter Rivals”
A punishing, bombastic carnival sound that comes from just two performers. Almost grating to the ear, almost. Feels like the opener to the boxing match of the century or a bare-knuckle political brawl.
Thee Oh Sees – “Toe Cutter Thumb Buster”
That dirty, hard-charging lead guitar riff reached out and grabbed me in the first 5 seconds of listening. Still haven’t brought myself to put the CD on my Amazon wish list for fear that the cover art alone will offend my relatives
The Woolen Men – “Her Careers”
In the vein of Parquet Courts without the stoner lyrics. I missed seeing these guys open for the Thermals at MFNW, but became a fan through the simple fact of their being on that bill and listening to their latest on Spotify. This song has been the anthem of my expanded musical palette and fully exemplifies the sound I’m more and more open to these days.