by Devin William Daniels
There were so many terrific songs in 2013 that no one could blame you for still listening to them every chance you can get. Plus, 2013 is still fresh for many people. Devin William Daniels, a musician who records under the name of The Negative Sound, has written some more reviews of his favorite songs from the Top 10 Songs playlists. Volume One included tracks from artists like Kurt Vile, Sigur Ros, Phoenix, Wild Nothing, The National, Daft Punk and many others. The following reviews and playlist of the Best Songs of 2013 includes more fantastic songs from artists and bands like Local Natives, Yo La Tengo, Wooden Hand, Pere Ubu, Gliss, Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin, and Lost Animal.
The opening track Yo La Tengo’s 2013 album, Fade, has the seminal indie rock group looking back as it moves forward. A chanting jangle pop number slowly drifts into hazy, vaguely-Eastern psychedelia. The voices intone: “…nothing ever stays the same/ Nothing’s explained/ The higher we go, the longer we fly,” a sermon of the ancient order of Anglo-American rock spiritualism. Yo La Tengo envisions pop music’s future expanding in height and duration, but the revelations aren’t new ones.
“Ohm” – Yo La Tengo from Fade
Local Natives explore the sonic landscape in this excellent single. After a totally danceable intro, I expect four minutes of fairly clean, glassy afro pop, and instead I’m treated to a melancholic wall-of-sound that’s almost anthemic, then contemplative downstrokes over which we lay witness to the passage of time, “…watching/ The color drain from my ice.” The different elements reflect the different responses and impulses music elicits: the urge to forget, to transcend, and to dwell.
“Breakers” – Local Natives from Hummingbird
The legendary art-rockers, Pere Ubu, kick the year off with their surreal brand of pop music. Repetition, lyrical minimalism and synthesizers combine in unfamiliar ways to create this perplexing, eerie track. At times it feels melody-driven, at times rhythm-driven, while sometimes seeming to have no melody or rhythm at all. David Thomas’ seemingly innocuous refrain, “It’s a wonderful world/ It’s a beautiful thing” never sounded so disturbing an assertion.
“Free White” – Pere Ubu from Lady from Shanghai
James Jackson Toth, the man behind the Wooden Wand moniker, avoids the stylistic pitfalls of contemporary indie folk in this intense number. Instead of using clichéd instrumentation and forced depression-era imagery to evoke bygone folk heroes, Toth finds the tragedy in a modern – and thus infinitely more relatable – context: the 2011 crime spree of the so-called Dougherty Gang. The arrangement – juxtaposing a cutting, precise rhythm guitar with ghostly ancillary parts – evokes desperation, defeat and transcendence.
“Southern Colorado Song” – Wooden Wand from Blood Oaths of the New Blues
With their most obvious generic elements, you think you know what to expect from Gliss, but it’s not the usual 80s callbacks of electronic music or the songless goo of so much current shoegaze. Instead, “Weight of Love” recalls the heyday of 90s alternative rock in its structure: I hear Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and even 90’s Red Hot Chili Peppers lurking, as well as Victoria Cecilia’s ethereal vocals recall the music from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Yet it’s all packaged in silvery sheen and set to the backdrop of some sort of hyper-futuristic Los Angeles.
– Gliss from Langsom Dans
The prolific Ty Segall collaborates with Mikal Cronin on this great track. You know what to expect from Segall at this point, but it’s always welcome since it’s so hard to find elsewhere: great riffs, neck-bending hooks, and an unwavering commitment to volume. The title, “I Wear Black,” is appropriate, as in an era of slight singers and meek songwriters, Segall has become a sort of moustache-twirling sonic villain by comparison, which makes him the beloved antihero of those who think rock music is supposed to rock.
“I Wear Black” – Ty Segall & Mikal Cronin from Reverse Shark Attack
Jarrod Quarrell’s keyboard pop offering lacks in melody and direction, at times feeling like its wandered into the mid-tempo wilderness, but the appeal to this track comes in its carefully constructed texture and Quarrell’s meticulous, spoken-word-poet delivery.
– Lost Animal from Ex Tropical
Devin William Daniels is a writer and musician from Pennsylvania currently teaching English in the Republic of South Korea. Follow him on Twitter or listen to his recordings on Soundcloud. Read more of Mr. Daniels’ posts and reviews via IRC’s archives.