30. Arctic Monkeys “Arabella”
Videos: Live version
Subtlety is not really one of Arctic Monkeys’ strengths, so let’s not mistake this song as anything other than an ode to a particular female in singer Alex Turner’s life (or specifically, the passenger seat of his car). The metaphors in this song are literally otherworldly, and the guitar solo is the same, but in a metaphorical sense.
Including this song is technically a cheat in terms of the release date, but this Australian band’s album didn’t make it to the US until 2013, and I hadn’t heard of them. “Awkward” is an interesting story progression, if somewhat light musically. You should also check out their cover of “Get Lucky,” which I will take over Daft Punk and Pharrell any day. “Fred Astaire” is another solid one from San Cisco that didn’t quite make the cut.
It seems like there is always a math-rock or math-pop song that catches me every year, and “Fester” is the 2013 iteration. A marimba is not an instrument you would typically find in a song on this list, but here it is.
Two Door Cinema Club’s 2012 album Beacon didn’t grab me in the same way as their 2010 debut release, Tourist History, but the one-off release of “Changing of the Seasons” is a step back in the right direction. The band is basically full of pop hooks, but don’t ignore the guitar work of Sam Halliday, which is arguably the band’s trademark within the youthful pop/rock sub-genre. The guitar adds life to an otherwise uninteresting drum/rhythm section.
Arguably the best vocal performance of the year comes from Aloe Blacc, who unquestionably deserves the main credit on this song. Sure, Avicii drops a beat in there (an annoying, droning one), but crediting this song to him just seems wrong, and the tendency to give the main credit to the DJ (as a regular practice) doesn’t boost my opinion of the DJ-driven pop/EDM genre. The live version linked above with (Incubus guitarist) Mike Einziger should help demonstrate the real stars who were involved in this production.
I saw this band described somewhere as a folk version of Arcade Fire. That’s not high praise for me, since I have never cared much for the hyped Canadian group. This indie-folk band seems pretty down-to-earth, almost literally as a result of their rural home-schooled background, and Switzerland is a compelling song, with an equally compelling video. Their cover of M83’s “Midnight City”—an excellent song in its own right—is also amazing.
24. Regina Spektor “You’ve Got Time”
(no album as of yet)
Videos: Live version (camera phone)
This is the theme song for a show I haven’t seen (Netflix’s “Orange Is The New Black”), but I have enjoyed the song anyway. It’s a strong piano-rocker that shows off Spektor’s range, as well as the talent of her band’s drummer.
Is it just me, or does Jake Bugg write like he has lived through a lot more than 19 years? His voice is not for everyone, I will concede, but I like him a lot. This is a strong lead single for his second album. You should listen to both of them, but as I mentioned in the album review, I like 2013’s Shangri La better—he’s more polished, and it has more of a rock sound.
“Sonsick” is a compelling song about being resolved to an uninteresting (in the singer’s view) suburban idea of love, and it represents a strong self-contained version of the excellent larger album from San Fermin, one of the few great albums of the year in my view. The ladies take the lead on this one, and the live version particularly shows off
Jess Wolfe’s Rae Cassidy’s range. Allen Tate is strong on the rest of the album when he takes the male lead. It was actually quite difficult to choose a standout song from this latecomer among my favorite albums of the year.
UPDATE: Not being very familiar with the group Lucius, which lended vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig to the recording, I didn’t recognize that the live performances instead feature Rae Cassidy as the female lead. She’s the one with the terrific range in the live performance.
There is no “1901” or “Lisztomania” to be found on Bankrupt!, which was not a particularly memorable album to me beyond this song. “Trying To Be Cool” is just not cutting it as a second single. Its placement on Alt Nation’s year-end list was baffling to me, since I doubt that song and could have even made the cut on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. “Entertainment” certainly would have, with its excellent beat, a worthy sing-along chorus, and an interesting Eastern twist.
Next up: Songs #20–11