This year has been ridiculous. We all know it. We started uttering those words back in the spring, when David Bowie returned seemingly in the same breath as Daft Punk, Boards of Canada, My Bloody Valentine, Nick Cave, Justin Timberlake and The Knife. Wiping our eyes in utter disbelief at the passing months was all we could do for quite some time. Repeating adnuseum, “This year has been ridiculous.”
It’s not just the album output, (though obviously that has been mind blowing and difficult to rank), but the sheer number of incredible tracks dropping along the way, not just from our long standing favourites but from an incredible array of newcomers, who out of nowhere have offered up some of the most addictive, moreish songs we’ve ever come across. It’s been a great year for every discernible genre too – pop has pushed the limits of perfection, hip hop has some of the best, freshest faces around and electronic music, well it’s been everywhere – from the Mercury nominated mainstream to the down right crazy, boundary breaking undercurrent.
So much music passes our way, and it’s difficult to digest it all at times, but we’ve just about managed to whittle down, distill if you will, the thousands of songs we’ve heard into a manageable 50. So do get stuck in to our tracks of the year, a wealth of musical riches await.
50) Melt Yourself Down – “Fix My Life”
Imagine just about the most bonkers cacophony you can and you’ll be half way to “Fix My Life.” As coherent as they are incoherent, Melt Yourself Down are masters of controlled chaos and nowhere is their free-flowing afrobeat, jazz fusion better represented than on this sax filled sprawl.
49) David Bowie – “Love Is Lost” (Hello Steve Reich mix by James Murphy)
As James Murphy is prone to do, instead of “remixing” the moody grooves of David Bowie’s “Love Is Lost” as such, he blew the entire thing apart, creating new music for the vocals from scratch. What’s more, it arguably betters the original – especially in its Steve Reich aping opening section, where nothing but polyrhythmic hand claps buttress Bowie’s voice in a manner nothing short of stunning.
48) Autre Ne Veut – “Counting”
With “hipster R&B” pretty much just “R&B” nowadays, there’s still a handful of those pushing the genre from the outside reaches. “Counting” by Autre Ne Veut came as the perfect example that there’s still some sonic ground left to be tred. Sinister and brooding, yet somehow at the same time irresistible and luscious, the track showcased the musician’s precision-perfect knack for intelligent hooks.
Luke Morgan Britton
47) Rosie Lowe – “Me and Your Ghost”
Boutique label 37 Adventures helped break a fine array of new artists in 2013; from S.C.U.M.’s new project Astral Pattern through to future-pop head ETML. And London vocalist Rosie is no exception. Her debut track layers creaking beats atop atmospheric synth swells with Rosie’s soulful coo falling blissfully into the white-noise gaps.
46) Tei Shi – “Nevermind The End”
Taken from debut EP Saudade, “Nevermind the End” is a translucent wall-bouncer ideal for slapping on at the end of parties. It’s full of pounding bass and nursery-rhyme synths; and perfectly encapsulates the EP’s title – a Portuguese word that’s got no direct translation – but means something nostalgic and introspective.
Kyle J. MacNeill
45) Laura Welsh – “Undiscovered”
Sitting alongside the likes of Jessie Ware in the sensual, late-night soundtrackers of the year, Laura Welsh utilises her seductive vocals to pour out above the pristine RnB-inspired production. “Undiscovered” is as succinct an example of this genre the year has given us, with the young Londoner pining for a distant, unfulfilled romance; Welsh deserves to a massive break-through 2014.
44) Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Jubilee Street”
Considering the amount of dudes in the Bad Seeds who know their way around a guitar, it was perhaps surprising to find that “Jubillee Street” was the only track on Push The Sky Away to put one of the things quite so front and centre. It’s not like a song like this needed any help standing out, either; an uncomfortable but wholly engrossing yarn concerning the women of Cave’s local red light district, it lists high amongst the band’s best ever performances.
43) Astronomyy – “Things I’d Do For You”
Worcestershire’s Astronomyy dropped his jilted debut track “Don’t Need U” in June, immediately pricking up the ears of soon to be household name MNEK who endorsed the dreamy RnB jam on his SoundCloud. Follow-up “Things I’d Do For You” delivers further on the early promise; over two-hundred-and-eighty-thousand plays later, it still sounds as crisp and devastatingly emotive as ever.
42) Blaue Blume – “On New Years Eve”
Copenhagen’s theatrical four-piece have been tentatively eking out tracks from sessions conducted earlier this year, but first cut “On New Years Eve”, a dark, cinematic stretch of indie pop narrative punctuated by crunching guitar filigrees and Jonas Smith’s washed-out murmurs, remains the standout. Cue liberal use of Wild Beasts parallels.
41) When Saints Go Machine – “Love and Respect”
With its Damon Albarn style falsetto and electro-pop groove, “Love And Respect” is a super-tight take on Gorillaz; sans the primate cartoons. It’s also got an aptly killer verse featuring Killer Mike – who formed hip-hop duo Run the Jewels with EI-P earlier this year – that renders it an absolute corker.
Kyle J. MacNeill
40) Gaps – “Cascade”
Brighton duo Gaps are wonderfully difficult to pigeonhole. 2013 has seen them release a string of complex electro-folk songs, but it was on Cascade where their light shined brightest of all. A slow-pucked intro, complete with seagull noise samples, grows in to a vibrant and dynamic pop song. Brilliantly unique.
39) Warpaint – “Love Is To Die”
It’s been three long years since Warpaint’s last release. When the LA quartet dropped “”Love Is To Die”” in October, we fell instantly to their feet. Loose structures have always defined their sound and this song is no stranger. Octave-hopping bass lines and phaser wails play with each other, sounding like three songs for the price of one. Mesmerising.
38) Mapei – “Don’t Wait”
It has been a pretty special year for female-fronted pop and when Stockholm-native Mapei re-emerged with “Don’t Wait” in October, 2013 got even better. The oriental-sounding twangs and djembe rhythm are joined by perfect pop ingredients: “Heys”, finger-clicks and an affected RnB vocal come together to form the completely infectious return from an all but forgotten artist.
37) Oceaan – “Need U”
Manchester’s Oliver Cean – possibly, but probably not, his birth-name – crafted the perfect modern RnB love-ode with “Need U”. Thematically, it’s all about second chances and stolen kisses, but the beat is so hot ‘n’ heavy you’ll struggle not to find yourself inching towards the dancefloor.
36) Naomi Pilgrim – “No Gun”
The Carribbean and Nordic regions unite on Naomi’s silky debut track. The Barbados-born, Stockholm-bred vocalist splices sultry steel drums and whooping hand percussion with glacial washes of synth; a blend not too distant from Lykke Li. But it’s her sarcy lyricism which proves the real showstopper.
35) DNKL – “Hunt”
As part of this year’s explosion of Swedish acts, enigmatic three piece DNKL brought us “Hunt”; a fizzing dreamlike concoction of bassy beats and haunting synths. Rather fittingly the band’s name stands for ‘Dunkel’; a dark and smooth lager. Drink up.
Kyle J. MacNeill
34) Erik Hassle – “Talk About It”
Brought to the fore from the management team behind Icona Pop, Niki and The Dove and Elliphant – Erik Hassle’s return this year was nothing short of astonishing. Tapping into classy R&B production, Hassle delivered a song that – on vocal delivery alone – deserves to be held amongst the finest of the year.
33) Joel Compass – “Fucked Up”
“Fucked Up”, a sexy tale of regret with a barely-there r’n’b beat, showcased the raw vocal talent of this 20 year old Londoner. On paper he might sound like a Facebook-era Craig David – thankfully, on record Joel Compass comes closer to a ballsy Drake.
32) Rihanna ft Mikky Ekko – “Stay”
January saw RiRi draft in then unknown Mikky Ekko for a duet, and the pair delivered piano-driven pop balladry of the highest order. The Bajan songstress ditched dirty drops and pop hooks for the vulnerable vocal style of “Unfaithful” and “Love The Way You Lie”, accompanied by a melancholy bathtime video.
31) Janelle Monáe – “Dance Apocalyptic”
A criticism that’s often levelled at Janelle Monáe is that the overarching concept to everything is more prevalent in her music than, say, a good old tune. Well here’s the Archandroid at her most tuneful yet, “Dance Apolcalyptic” being a schoolyard chanting, ukulele strumming, end-of-the-world-beckoning joy of a three minute pop tune – the sort that those who were paying attention always knew she had in her.
30) Dive In – “Let Go”
Glastonbury based newcomers Dive In arrived earlier in the year with a debut single that was, in short, a masterclass in indie pop songwriting. From its soaring chorus and infectious guitar lines to the sparkling production and glorious arms aloft hook – all boxes were well and truly ticked. Music for the head, heart and feet.
29) Mausi – “Move”
As grim a city as it can be in the rain, when bathed in sunshine Newcastle can feel like a whole other city. It often feels like you’ve been transported to some old city on the continent. Which makes Daisy and Thomas Finetto’s move to the Toon from Milan seem much more understandable. It also allows them to bring that distinct sense of laid back fun synonymous with Italy, which is slathered all over “Move”, a track packed to the rafters with good times and sunny vibes that feels almost like a sequel to last year’s “”sol””. With a synthesized piano like something from a Passion Pit record and a ridiculously catchy beat, it’s impossible not to be swept away to a gorgeous sunset on a hot day where all you want to do is move.
28) Katy Perry – “Roar”
Katy Perry has always been very open and honest about her divorce from Russell Brand. But to be honest, when something’s been played out as publicly as their break up was it would have been hard to hide. Her comeback single, “Roar” was definitely a mission statement. The YouTube video featuring a symbolic burning of the blue wig that defined her Teenage Dream era was the first hint that Perry was taking things in a more mature direction. The subsequent single told the world that just because her marriage had crumbled it didn’t mean that she had. “Roar” re-established Perry’s place as one of the queens of pop music, with its empowering lyrics and soaring chorus announced her return in one of 2013’s best pop moments.
27) Champions League – “Paris is Our Playground”
It is not easy to find Champions League on Google. “Champions League music” does not help much either. But the leg work is well worth the pay-off as the Parisian electro-pop duo have mastered catching sunlight in a sound bite. “Paris Is Our Playground” is particularly exemplary – and perhaps even explanatory, given the title – of their talents and bursts with Balearic-based anticipation in every jaunty beat. With summer styled synths and punchy key lines – not to mention a sly seagull sample – the track comes awfully close to transporting you straight to the coast.
26) Clare Maguire – “Paper Thin”
We hadn’t been hearing much of or from Clare Maguire, but two years after debut LP Light After Dark, the songstress has spent 2013 teasing out her new album with standout singles like “Paper Thin”. Lush, rich, and seductive have been our favorite adjectives for Maguire’s revived sound and this track from the summer is no different. Maguire’s smoky vocals and emotionally-resonate lyrics take center stage over a steadily entrancing piano line, and her croon is formidable asset in her new, less pop-driven, toolbox. The crescendo breaks into a charged and spirited final lament and the whole affair is devastatingly gorgeous.
25) Justin Timberlake – “Mirrors”
When Justin came back with “Suit & Tie” we were impressed, but when “Mirrors” followed, we were bowled over. Not just for the reason that Justin stuck two fingers up to chart friendly convention and put out an 8 minute single, but because “Mirrors” is one hell of a song. Yeah, some people said it was too drawn out, but they’re missing the fact that it excites for all 8 minutes and 21 seconds, from the stadium rock bating guitars at the beginning to the fresh R&B beat ending.
24) Annie – “Hold On”
Quintessentially Nordic and unashamedly kitsch, “Hold On” is the kind of track perfect for soundtracking flashmobs in IKEA. It’s a saccharine mix of house synths and Europop beats that’s half Kylie and half indie-suaveness; a sugary explosion of multi-coloured sugar paper and glacier-cherry topped cupcakes. Months after being released, it’s still firmly superglued in our heads; and forces your head (and whole body) to bop from side to side with its popping-candy energy. The best cut from her A&R EP, it’s a fantastic piece of filler – not in the sense of padding-out the EP – but in the sense of it being one to pack-out dancefloors.
Kyle J. MacNeill
23) Disclosure ft. AlunaGeorge – “White Noise”
Both AlunaGeorge and Disclosure dominated the Ones to Watch in 2013 lists and, both sharing a love of garage, house, and good old pop, it made sense for them to do something together. The end result, “White Noise”, is better than anything those buzz blogs could have imagined. It manages to walk the line between underground friendly and mainstream chart smash deftly. Disclosure’s catchy synths and thumping rhythm mixed with Aluna Francis’ sugary vocals make it the ultimate earworm; a track that dominated both mainstream radio and nightclubs across the country. “White Noise” was a real cross-over hit that showed that these two artists could live up to the hype, and only a month in to 2013 as well. Chris Taylor
22) ceo – “WHOREHOUSE”
Eric Berglund certainly isn’t backward about being forward. If the title of his comeback song as ceo wasn’t hint enough (note that it’s even called “WHOREHOUSE”, not “Whorehouse”), the sheer explosion of sound within its opening passages announced the return of one of Sweden’s finest songwriters in a manner that could not be ignored. Yes, there are children’s vocals on it, and yes, the chorus does sound a bit like Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, but when taken as a whole as opposed to just focusing on tiny details, this is a song better than anyone searching for next step in
left-of-mainstream pop could have hoped for.
21) Jungle – “Platoon”
Back in May a track emerged that oozed cool; a soulful revival was at play from a mysterious outfit. Known simply as T and J, the West London, Chess Club signees have adopted a laid-back, groove-based sound around pulsating bass lines and their characteristic layered vocals. “Platoon” lures you in from the outset: the silky, honeyed “oohs” that cry out above the fidgeting guitars possess a smoky attitude, while the appropriately safari-esque rhythms provide effortless swagger. “I’ve seen a snake down by my feet / walk on just you watch me” captures this nonchalance so brilliantly; nothing can faze Jungle and with a wholly justified BBC Sound Of nomination to go alongside what we’ve heard, they’re ready to take 2014 in their stride.
20) The Knife – “Full Of Fire”
Our first taste of The Knife’s excellent Shaking The Habitual LP came in the form of this toothy beast, a song that contained almost as much to get one’s head around in its ten minutes as was to be found on its parent album. The melodious days of ‘Hearbeats’ now an ever shrinking blip on the horizon, “Full Of Fire” was deliberately confrontational, so much so that it almost seemed designed to scare off precisely the kind of person prone to blithely playing that biggest hit of theirs one night at a party. Armed with a relentless barrage of constantly mutating beats that underpinned all manner of industrial skronking and musings on queer theory, to have one’s brain boiled by it is an entirely appropriate first reaction. But, much like Shaking The Habitual as a whole, given time it would become amongst the most vital weapons in their formidable arsenal.
19) Alice Boman – “Waiting”
Taken from her debut EP Skisser, released via Adrian Recordings earlier this year, “Waiting” is a rare gem. It’s fragility is matched only by its instantly arresting nature. The opening lines “I want you more than I need you, and I need you so bad” cut right to the heart of the matter: Boman’s sweet, tender voice bringing some warmth to the stark proceedings, hissing atmospherics and crackling production.
18) HNNY – “Boy”
A master at reworking those iconic 90s jams, HNNY softens the edges of Brandy and Monica’s classic, and in the process pulls you into the thicket of bass music. Raising the bpms, adding razor thin shavings of sparkling synth and polished piano notes, HNNY weaves his magic to lead you even further into the forest of a clever 4/4 beat. The warm thuds of a muted bassline round out “Boy” as the animated accompaniment brings a devilish smile to your face, and you carry on in the never ending search to get that honey.
17) Pusha T – “Numbers On The Boards”
There’s many highlights on Pusha T’s solo studio debut, My Name Is My Name, but perhaps the biggest show-stopping moment comes in one of the only songs on the LP not to contain any guest features. This is truly saying something considering 2013′s Man-Of-The-Hour, Kendrick Lamar, appears elsewhere on the release. “Numbers On The Boards” sees Pusha delivering not only his smoothest flow yet but impressively and defiantly against the backdrop of a jarring, clunky and idiosyncratic Kanye-aided beat. If Lamar took home the critics’ “Verse of the Year” accolade for “Control” then “Numbers On The Boards” definitely contains not only the beat of 2013 but of recent memory.
Luke Morgan Britton
16) Lady Gaga – “Do What You Want”
Lady Gaga’s much-discussed but little-admired ARTPOP was full of good intentions but sadly lacking in tunes. Where “Do What You Want” succeeded was in marrying both. For Gaga’s part, the lyrics seem to be directly aimed at the press, telling them that they’re welcome say what they like with regards her appearance because she’s made of strong enough stuff to not worry about their sniping (“You can’t have my heart / And you won’t use my mind /But do what you want with my body…”). All very commendable, but then R. Kelly gets in on the act, and unsurprisingly chooses an angle on the title that’s far more salacious (“Do what I want with your body / Back of the club, taking shots, getting naughty…”). I’m not the kind of person to urge someone to listen to a Lady Gaga song, so the fact that I’m doing so at all has got to speak volumes, right? Seriously, it’s got the best use of the word ‘FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK’ on any tune you’ll ever hear.
15) Empress Of – “Realize You”
New York based songstress and tipped as one of our 10 faces to watch in 2014, Empress Of delivered one of the boldest and most exhilarating pop songs of the year back in October. Cooing sweetly over clambering beats, Lorely Rodriguez’s loose rhymes wrap themselves against endless sentiments of love and devotion. The pay-off line “freedom ain’t free if I can’t get free with you / just like me ain’t me if I can’t be me with you” is equal parts charming and heartbreaking.
14) Pawws – “Slow Love”
Lucy Taylor has been floating around the edges of our consciousness for a little while now – while guesting on Kele’s “What Did I Do” and playing flute live with MGMT – but Pawws is the first project she’s had to call her own. The North Londoner cuts loose with her cherubic vocal chords on “Slow Love” – the first of three glitterball-bathed disco bangers she’s aired this year – coming off like Kylie and Annie whirling around on the dancefloor like a pair of giddy teens to pining synth strings and thumping kick drums. Taking your time in love – and in songcraft – scarcely sounded so fucking hot.
13) NONONO – “Pumpin Blood”
We’ve become increasingly aware of just how strong pop releases have been this past year, and it seems hardly a coincidence that quite a few of the key releases originated in Sweden. Stockholm-based trio NONONO took the world by storm with “Pumpin’ Blood,” their charming, electro-infused hit single. Singer Stina Wäppling fronts the band, backed by Tobias and Michel, also known as the production duo Astma and Rocwell. The ubiquitous song backs every other television ad, it seems, and for good reason. It’s a warm, well-written record with infectious happy vibes, courtesy of the trio’s whistling chorus and percussion-driven backdrop. “And the whole wide world is whistling…” and waiting on their debut full-length album, due out next year on Warner Bros. Records.
12) Thumpers – “Unkinder (A Tougher Love)”
With an intro that sounds uncannily like “The Promise” by Girls Aloud, “Unkinder (A Tougher Love)” by Thumpers is one of the most raucous and engaging indie-pop songs of the year. It’s a beautiful mess of pounding drums, brass and an incredibly catchy melody, all brought together with one of the biggest choruses we’ve heard in a while – a combination that just makes the song one of the freshest around. Thumpers spent 2013 establishing themselves as one of the most exciting new acts around, with debut single “Dancings Done” and “Unkinder” have led to them being tipped in almost all the Ones to Watch for 2014 polls going, and if they keep producing songs like this, there’s no reason they can’t establish themselves as one of Britain’s premier alt-pop acts.
11) Wolf Alice – “Bros”
Our Ones To Watch alumni Wolf Alice have done some pretty incredible things this year since we fell head over heals with early number “Losing You”. There has been “Fluffy”, “White Leather” and ultimately their Blush EP, whose title track only just missed out in favour of “Bros.” Not that there is anything wrong with “Blush” by any means but “Bros” is the sound of a band finding their feet, experimenting with jangling pop and slower rhythms. It’s the sound of front woman Ellie Roswell finding her voice, those sultry coos cut with just enough bitterness to stir whatever your nostalgic predilection.
10) FKA Twigs – “Water Me”
Gloucestershire’s FKA Twigs must truly be considered to be an artist who pushed musical boundaries further than most this year. Her startlingly haunting, ethereal EP2 and stand out track “Water Me” exemplify an unusual medley of trip-hop inspired, glitchy, twisted R&B. Repetitively simple and beautiful lyrics: “He told me I’m so small, I told him Water Me”, suggest a young woman exploring her emotional depth. Minimal, breathy, contemplative, and boasting Twigs’ exceptionally controlled and subtle vocals, “Water Me” is simply fascinating.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, Twigs is signed to Young Turks, with a sound equating, in many ways, to the shiver-inducing The xx. Imagine some cohesive merge of Massive Attack, Portishead, Solange and Cassie, and you have arrived at Twigs. Commanding a successful dance career, and rising rapidly in the fashion game with a strikingly stunning image, this is an artist blessed with an array of talents. Half-Spanish, half-Jamaican; there is something incredibly captivating about FKA Twigs, something which is only heightened through the vulnerability and attention to detail offered on “Water Me”.
9) GEMS – “Sinking Stone”
We may have tipped them for big things in 2014, but the pop crown has sat snugly on GEMS’ heads all year thanks to songs like “Sinking Stone”. The Washington DC duo simply can’t put a foot wrong. In truth, you’d be hard pushed to pick a favourite track – from the bossy beats of “Medusa” to rupturing 80s balladry of “Ephemera” – but “Sinking Stone” got everyone shouting loudest. Its brutally honest lyrics, noir guitar, visceral vocals and sparse percussion managed to create something at once closed and expansive, hushed yet huge. Where an anthemic chorus booms, celestial harmonies gently converse in the background.
The Washington DC duo have spoken before of their love of music with “existential longing” – that “feeling when life cuts you to your core and everything else is stripped away”. This sentiment is completely embodied in their music, if not the strongest on “Sinking Stone” with lonely loops of “could you never love me again? / I need to know”.
In their effort to tackle all life’s questions through emotive and arresting pop music, GEMS have succeeded in making us question things too. They do nothing if not make our souls yearn.
8) I Break Horses – “Faith”
Maria Lindén of Sweden’s I Break Horses does what very few artists can do; she grapples with her anxiety and finds a way to turn it into breathtaking art. She’s never quite “at peace” with her work and yet her music speaks a different language, wrapping you up in its multilayers and wistful melodies.
But “Faith” is so damn assured of itself you can’t imagine any fight to have ever raged within it. Industrial beats pump as naturally as a heartbeat and video game stems are ripped out of the earth. It’s this strange balance between the organic and the synthetic that made 2011′s Hearts such an interesting listen and, moreover, why the release of Chiaroscuro in the new year will have many an attentive ear.
The mischievous twists and turns, urgent rhythms and melting computer keys on the track hint at a new direction for Lindén, moving away from the captivating dronegaze of her debut into darker dance territory. It’s addictive, inventive and disconcertingly powerful. If I Break Horses’ deepest desire is to attain perfection, “Faith” has already done it.
7) Icona Pop – “Just Another Night”
Long time Best Fit love affair Icona Pop released their debut album this year. Amongst its floor fillers (“All Night”), number 1 spot takers (“I Love It”) and unashamedly brilliant pop bombast (“Girlfriend”), lurked “Just Another Night,” a defiant heartbreak anthem to rival all others. Thankfully, it didn’t stay lurking for long, having just been released as a single and automatically earning it’s spot on this list.
“Just Another Night” is exactly the kind of song Swedish duo Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo should be making; sophisticated and intelligent, its bitter core is covered with enough flare and grace to compel even the most heartbroken of listener to yell the chorus at the top of their lungs.
If the aforementioned UK number 1 hit “I Love It” (which also took our top track spot last year) is a three-minute long wonderfully brattish declaration of “fuck it,” then “Just Another Night” is an ode to the inevitable regret and doubt that creeps in afterwards.
Don’t worry though, we’re not talking piano ballad stuff here. The incredible, towering beats are still present, providing the escapism to counteract the song’s bittersweet sentiments, which are, by the way, delivered by with a fiery defiance – the pair’s powerhouse duets ultimately reassuring you that you were right to throw (his) “shit down the stairs.”
6) Tove Lo – “Habits”
The finest – and most memorable – moments in music that resonate on a personal level are those that hit you at your most vulnerable. Just like the finest pop songs, they work – ultimately – when they’re based on extreme emotion. When a song acts as a cathartic exercise – the artist ridding their demons through performance – true magic often takes place.
Sweden’s Tove Lo did exactly this with “Habits” in the spring. A song soaked in whiskey stained regret, self loathing and self destruction. Binge drinking, breaking shit, sleeping with married men, hanging out in sex clubs – it’s all in there. The bleakness of a failed relationship aside, it’s with Tove’s raw lyrical panache and brutal honesty that – listened to in the right frame of mind – can perhaps act as its own self help pamphlet.
When it comes to heartbreak in pop music, few came close to “Habits” in 2013. Incredible performance coupled with zesty production and a rousing, sing-a-long chorus (“High, all the time, to keep you off my mind”). It’s easily one of the most vital pop songs of the year and furthers this young Swede’s ever expanding songbook as one that shouldn’t be ignored.
5) Woman’s Hour – “Our Love Has No Rhythm”
Poignancy, delicacy and minimalism are quickly becoming synonymous with Woman’s Hour, particularly since this second track of theirs appeared in the spring. The London-via-Kendal four-piece – siblings Fiona Jane and Will Burgess, Nick Graves and Josh Hunnisett – put their first artistic project away, took time to consider and reformed as the Radio 4-inspired outfit. And what a considered outfit it is: everything about the band, from the stunning monochrome visuals that accompany their music, to the smoky atmosphere of their live show, is thought-through with immaculate attention to detail.
Their recent signing to Secretly Canadian puts them in pretty special company: the musical prowess of new label-mates The War On Drugs and Jens Lekman signals the direction they are set to take and type of band Woman’s Hour are; throw in a support slot with the Justin Vernon-fronted Volcano Choir and a picture of real artistic prominence begins to appear.
“Our Love Has No Rhythm” is a stark, romantic creation, spotlighting Burgess’ beautifully breathy vocal; the gentle northern twang brings such colour and character to the subtle melody above the floating synth pads and arpeggiated muted guitar riff. The whole notion of a relationship that has lost its succinctness is as thought-provoking as it is relatable. “Talk and I will give you all of my attention / we all make wrong decisions” gets delivered with such poise and clarity – more adjectives neatly aligned with the band. What we’ve heard thus far – spear-headed by this track and including one of the covers of the year, in the emotionally-charged Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark” – has been immaculate and, with a full-length in progress, 2014 is set to be a big one for Woman’s Hour.
4) SOHN – “Bloodflows”
Since the debut release of “The Wheel” last year, SOHN has come to be known by his melancholy-infused minimal RnB. The subsequent tracks that the Vienna-based producer released throughout 2013, including “Warnings” and “Lessons”, continued this legacy. But it was the the shivery “Bloodflows”, with its 80s pop synths and beat-repeat vocal effects, that stood out the most with us here at Best Fit.
“Bloodflows” – which came out in March – has an unmistakable fogginess to it, from the somewhat ominous demands in the first verse to “Sharpen your knives for me / Infiltrate the mind, the body”, to the chilling imagery in the second: “Open, the wound grows / Melts away the water froze”. The song thus captures that eerie and lonesome atmosphere that permeates a cold walk home late at night, and accordingly it is itself captured best in such a situation. It is, after all, loneliness that is the blood that flows beneath the track’s surface and eventually pours out with the repeating ending motif “My love, my love, my love don’t love me”.
But whilst “Bloodflows” captures loneliness with a clear and cinematic quality, in terms of recognition and collaboration SOHN is far from alone. His remix of Laura Mvula’s “Green Garden” pushed him slightly further into the mainstream limelight, and his production input in Bank’s summer hit “Waiting Game” did not go unnoticed amongst reviewers. The track represents, then, a moment of darkness in the life of an artist whose future is most certainly bright.
3) Drake – “Hold On We’re Going Home”
The mark of an infectious track these days seems to the inevitable slew of cover versions coming by the bucketload. But while “Get Lucky” turned even the most legitimate of festival act into sub-Live Lounge fodder at the drop of a slap bass, another number to capture the imaginations of both listeners and fellow musicians alike during the past twelve months has been Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, with renditions offered up by everyone from Dev Hynes and Holy Ghost to the Arctic Monkeys. Heck, even Rick Ross decided to remix the thing.
Taking a break from the bravado and dispute settling that occupies the large part of latest LP, Nothing Was The Same, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” sees Drake indulging his now meme-famous gentler side. ”I got my eyes on you, you’re everything that I see. I want your hot love and emotion, endlessly,” Drake croons in a way that Robin Thicke only dreams that he sounds like. With help from Maijin Jordan, the Toronto MC managed to pen a track perfectly encapsulating the 2013 zeitgeist: disco tinges, slow-burning R&B and sleak, minimal production. All that in under four minutes.
Luke Morgan Britton
2) Banks – “Before I Ever Met You”
In the early stages of the year a break-up song appeared, a clenched-fist of a break-up song with a somewhat unique propensity to upset and inspire in equal measure. We – like so many – became completely enamoured by BANKS and the simple but brutal honesty of this first song.
Much of its power comes from the deep-rooted and unfortunate association one can’t ignore, as the LA chanteuse reels-off the reasons and circumstances for the end of a relationship. The track possesses an instantly seductive allure: her breathy vocal arpeggio refrain, which simmers beneath throughout, is carried by stark, atmospheric waves of synth and a palpitating heart-beat of a rhythm, mirroring the romantic unease at play.
Somehow “Before I Ever Met You” oozes dark passion and seduction – like its protagonist is desperately holding on to a carnal emotional tie – and yet its theme embracing the end, and knowing it is the inevitable and best outcome: “Eventually you’ll be fine if we break up and one day I’ll be fine too / but we should just end it now before someone gets more hurt than they have to” is as frank and real a lyric imaginable. Even the practicalities – their house, their dog – of this split are addressed, with a wonderful hint of dark humour.
The throbbing simplicity of its production allows these carefully chosen words and BANKS’ rich, pinging vocals to take centre-stage; no surprises then that fellow ‘2014 One To Watch’ and production pace-setter SOHN is part of the exciting team around her, with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and Silva make up the rest of the collection. A subtle but wholly satisfying break-down – highlighted by the bare and elongated “You and I don’t work out” – adds vigour and punch to the desperation; a glimmer of hope out of the sadness.
It is a thought-provoking, brooding and faultless break-up track from an artist with a seemingly effortless ability to tap into psychological depths of a past love lost.
1) Lorde – “Royals”
New-Zealand’s Lorde takes the top spot after her incredible international success; charting a number one with debut single “Royals”, she is undoubtedly set to globally explode. Embodying an antithesis to the bloated, excessively luxurious, unnecessarily extravagant 21st Century celebrity culture, “Royals” sees Lorde rejecting such overt exuberance. Her self-assured performance is a refreshing demonstration of confidence, dignity and pop brilliance.
This is an artist for whom respect and power derives solely from talent and ability; and with a determination to side-step the ridiculousness of “Grey Goose” and “Cristal Champagne”. “Royals” is successful primarily due to Lorde’s powerfully intriguing vocals. Pure Heroine is an impressive debut album, showcasing the artist’s susceptibility for pop-song writing, and demonstrating her attention to refinement and simplicity. With a $2.5 million record deal with Sony under her belt and still coasting through her teenage years, Lorde omits a truly grounded attitude towards making music- surprising perhaps, considering her peers similarly aged.
“Royals” epitomises modern pop; opinionated, with an excitingly different take on lyricism. Its allure lies in its startling honesty and sheer youthfulness. A breath of fresh air: Lorde provides a generation which is so often succumb to oppressive media stereotypes with a voice, one that rejects the very nature of consumerism and capitalist culture. Citing influences as wide-ranging as Prince, Fleetwood Mac and Grimes, Lorde seemingly has the potential to develop her electro-pop style into something with increased depth and variety. Whilst Pure Heroine is in some ways centred around one musical idea, the sheer originality of “Royals” is what suggests a real future for this talented artist.