Best Music Videos of 2013

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1. Pharrell – “Happy” [Creative Director: Woodkid] – The full video for “Happy” is a day-long experience that plays on a loop on  I haven’t watched every last minute of the 24 hours, but I am impressed by it nonetheless.  I have seen the four-minute edited version, and it is pretty cool, too.  A menagerie of people dance however they want to dance as they walk through streets and hallways, gladly taking heed of the commands in Pharrell’s lyrics.  Everyone indeed looks happy.  Rarely has such an earnest effort calling for positivity been successful on such a gargantuan scale.

2. Haim – “The Wire” [Director: Jonathan Lia] – The music video with the best short narrative of the year is “The Wire,” in which the Haim sisters break up with some guys, but remain awesome.  Also awesome, hilariously so: Jorma Taccone’s cry-face.

3. Justin Timberlake – “Mirrors” [Director: Floria Sigismondi] – JT’s tribute to his grandparents is a tearjerking testament to a love that decades later remains as strong as it was the day it began.

4. Miley Cyrus – “We Can’t Stop” [Director: Diane Martel] – A year in which a Miley Cyrus video is reminiscent of Zardoz (re: talking, floating heads) is a pretty good year.

5. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Sacrilege” [Director: Megaforce] – Slut shaming: the music video.  The sex is thrilling, but in this crazy mixed-up world, it’s still too much for some people to handle.

6. Bat for Lashes – “Lilies” [Director: Peter Sluszka] – “Lilies” captures the magic of the musical performances from The Muppet Show, specifically the ones in which the musical guest was accompanied by the more monstrous puppets.  Natasha Khan is equal parts thrilled and freaked out by the imposing, yet fascinating creatures on this spacey seascape.

7. A-Trak & Tommy Trash – “Tuna Melt” [Director: Ryan Staake] – There have been other Rube Goldberg-style music videos, but no others that ultimately merely opened a door to a closet in which a sandwich is on a plate.

8. Tegan and Sara – “Closer” [Director: Issac Rentz] – The Quin twins have the most enthusiastic karaoke party ever, but what really sells this clip is the casual tossing aside of the microphone at the end.

9. Disclosure – “When a Fire Starts to Burn” [Director: Bo Mirosseni] – The “When a Fire Starts to Burn” clip appears to be one of those religious revival meetings in which people become so possessed by the spirit that their bodies start shaking and their minds get lost.  But what’s being preached here is the possession itself: let yourself be overcome by the sensation of being overcome.

10. Avicii – “You Make Me” [Director: Sebastian Ringler] – Is everyone finally ready to admit how awesome roller skating rinks are?  Or at least how awesome roller skating love stories are?

The Best Albums of 2013 That I Listened To

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1. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories – The last days of disco are no longer the end, as the duo that foresaw the future a decade before EDM took over the musical mainstream looked to the past to stay ahead of the game.  Despite hiding behind the robot masks, Daft Punk have always been about finding the humanity in an increasingly digitized world.  RAM served as a manifesto about how the sensational wonders of analog still exist and can be streamlined into a landscape of bleeps and bloops.
Key Tracks: “Contact,” “Get Lucky,” “Giorgio By Moroder,” “Touch”
2. Lorde – Pure Heroine – The best debut album in a good long while.  Lorde is a true individual: a definite pop star with a real rockin’ attitude and heavy hip-hop and R&B influences.
Key Tracks: “Royals,” “A World Alone,” “White Teeth Teens”
3. HAIM – Days Are Gone – With the way they play their guitars like percussion instruments, the HAIM sisters know from HARD rock.  Their melodies may conjure a mellow California sunset, but they are by no means softies.
Key Tracks: “Falling,” “The Wire,” “My Song 5”
4. Kanye West – Yeezus – This is like Kanye’s primal scream therapy.
Key Tracks: “Black Skinhead,” “Bound 2,” “On Sight”
5. David Bowie – The Next Day – Bowie proves that it is not the age of the individual but the individual himself that determines the urgency of a creative output.  He sounds more reinvigorated than he has in decades, with the songs themselves conveying that invigorating theme.
Key Tracks: “The Next Day,” “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” “Love Is Lost”
6. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork – Josh Homme is a craftsman.  Every note on …Like Clockwork sounds like it is played and produced to as fine a specification as possible.  Add to that Homme’s passionate tenor and playful lyrics (“gitchy gitchy ooh la la”), and you’ve got a band that understands the sonic experience unlike any other.
Key Tracks: “If I Had a Tail,” “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” “I Sat by the Ocean”
7. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time – In the portion of her career before her debut album, Sky Ferreira seemed like one of those New Age-y, self-employed, entrepreneurial types (I’m not sure if I’m picking the right words exactly, but hopefully you catch my drift) who was always looking for “her sound.”  Her non-album singles kept presenting a new identity, and now the end result is Night Time, My Time: a mix of sounds, from a more confident singer who has finally learned that diversity can define a singular identity.
Key Tracks: “You’re Not the One,” “Omanko,” “Heavy Metal Heart,” “I Blame Myself”
8. Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob – This bubbly confection sounds like the pop breakthrough Tegan and Sara have always wanted to have – they were just waiting for the right budget, or the right career moment, or the right whatever, to make it happen.
Key Tracks: “Closer,” “I Was a Fool,” “Drove Me Wild”
9. Avicii – True – While Daft Punk got EDM in touch with its roots, Avicii explored every permutation of its present.
Key Tracks: “Wake Me Up!”, “You Make Me,” “Dear Boy”
10. Arcade Fire – Reflektor – With this unwieldy, hard-to-pin-down double album, Arcade Fire certainly didn’t make it easy for their casual fans and guaranteed that their detractors would not be won over.  But Reflektor becomes a good bit of plain old fun once you stop trying to figure out “what it is.”
Key Tracks: “Reflektor,” “Joan of Arc,” “Here Comes the Night Time”

Honorable Mention: I haven’t listened to all of Disclosure’s Settle, but based on what I have heard from it, I think it would have made this list had I listened to all of it.

Best Songs of 2013

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(All songs on this list were released as singles in 2013 [or late 2012?])

1. Daft Punk ft. Pharrell and Nile Rodgers – “Get Lucky” – I have heard “Get Lucky” described multiple times as a future wedding song staple. If this forecast is to be, then that must mean its appeal cuts across generations. I am inclined to believe that, from ages 9 to 99, the only sensible reaction to “Get Lucky” is delight. It took 35 years, but now disco isn’t just mainstream – it’s also cool. That opening synth riff is a secret smile-making recipe, while the voices of Pharrell and robots are equally sexy.
2. Miley Cyrus – “We Can’t Stop” – I was talking with a friend who was saying she would respect Miley Cyrus more if she sang about weightier subjects. I understood her point, and I certainly wouldn’t be against Miley trying out such material. But fun anthem bangers like “We Can’t Stop” have their place, and that place shouldn’t be discounted or looked down upon. The world’s a pretty heavy place, both for personal and social reasons, so it is kind of awesome if you can manage to keep it kicking amidst all that. After all, why would we bother fighting to right the world’s wrongs if it weren’t for the sake of ensuring fun?
3. Avicii ft. Aloe Blacc – “Wake Me Up!” – The best bluegrass EDM soul song of the year, and, of course, of all time. As we go through life, it is useful to have the pace set by that opening galloping riff and an internal voice that sounds like Aloe Blacc’s. When you believe that things are going to turn around and truly become better, it is time to bust out this buoyant blast of optimism.
4. Lorde – “Royals” – Lorde’s hit has made her a star and has kept getting airplay for nearly a year because it is not so easily defined. Not only is Lorde an electo-rocker with heavy hip-hop and R&B influences, she is also a hard-to-pin-down mix of irony and earnestness. She’s kind of fed up with the platinum lifestyle promoted by the songs she’s been listening to, but those are the songs she and her friends party to. She’s not ashamed to admit it; she just wants something more. It’s that message of “we’re not bad, but we can be better” that really clicks.
5. Zedd ft. Foxes – “Clarity” – “Clarity” captures the thrilling, scary nature of any sort of love. Good love, bad love, promising love, suspicious love – this song ponders committing to love, and it is frightening, but potentially awesome. The crescendo into the chorus is like a heart becoming filled to bursting, and the booming percussion sounds like things crashing into each other, which is ideal for dancing.
6. Kanye West – “Black Skinhead” – Kanye’s most guttural burst from his most guttural album.
7. Haim – “Falling” – Haim pull off the trick of capturing the heaviness of life and creating a sublime respite that exists outside the constraints of time and space.
8. Janelle Monáe ft. Erykah Badu – “Q.U.E.E.N.” – Ms. Monáe breaks out her manifesto: all social proscriptions of identity are cast right out.
9. Sky Ferreira – “You’re Not the One” – Sky Ferreira perfects her sound (one of many sounds): a synthy gloss on the nighttime and the power of waiting for something better.
10. Haim – “The Wire” – These SoCal ladies are fierce, but they’re not insensitive; you may not want them to break up with you, but you’ll be happy to sing along with their harmonies and rock out with their percussive guitar-playing as they do so.
11. Justin Timberlake – “Mirrors” – A deeply felt ode to love lasting decades and decades – it’s excruciatingly awesome how the melding of two souls can be so satisfying.
12. Tegan and Sara – “Closer” – This is what a crush sounds like. Love doesn’t have to be existentially terrifying – it might make you anxious, but it can still be FUN.
13. Arctic Monkeys – “Do I Wanna Know” – A garage rock stomper of raw heartburn – gotta love alternating between the falsetto and the tempo on the bridge.
14. David Bowie – “The Next Day” – It’s not only veterans like Bowie who don’t want to die before their time is up. Here’s the anthem for whenever you declare that you shan’t be counted out.
15. Chvrches – “The Mother We Share” – These are some heavy interpersonal issues, but they’re not hard to deal when accompanied with synchronized “oh, oh, oh oh oh, oh oh’s.”
16. Lady GaGa ft. R. Kelly – “Do What U Want” – An unabashedly sleazy club stomper that will make you totally unashamed to explore your lover.
17. Kanye West ft. Charlie Wilson – “Bound 2” – A true oddity, even by Kanye’s standards, but it apparently came from a place of love, and it shows.
18. Britney Spears – “Work Bitch” – It’s time to admit that we all love Britney – she certainly won’t accept any other answer. She’s too focused to care, anyway.
19. Pharrell – “Happy” – It’s all there in the title.
20. Robin Thicke ft. 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar – “Give it 2 U” – Pure R&B has always been this baldly sexual. It’s the language of love. We’re human beings; if you’re feeling it, go for it.
21. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Sacrilege” – The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are at their best when they really get under your skin, that riff just tingles up your arm, and Karen O really explores your ears as she gets into every sound of the title word.
22. Janelle Monáe – “Dance Apocalyptic” – I don’t think I’ve ever heard any truer words spoken than “smash smash, bang bang, don’t stop, cha-lang-a-lang-a-lang.”
23. Major Lazer ft. Bruno Mars, 2 Chainz, Tyga, and Mystic – “Bubble Butt” – The hypnotic hit of the year.
24. David Bowie – “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” – The Thin White Duke has been around for a while, and he knows from stars, as he hums along through this spacy jam.
25. Vampire Weekend – “Diane Young” – I’m mostly interested in that manipulated “baby, baby, baby” breakdown.

Honorable Mention/Reminder That Rihanna Keeps Tirelessly Releasing New Music: Rihanna ft. David Guetta – “Right Now”

The Best Son-Single of the Year: Queens of the Stone Age – “If I Had a Tail” – Josh Homme’s idiosyncratic brand of poetry is still as “gitchy gitchy, ooh la la” as ever.

Best Album Openers:
1. David Bowie – “The Next Day”
2. Kanye West – “On Sight”
3. Daft Punk – “Give Music Back to Life”

The Best Songs of 2012 I Didn’t Hear Until 2013:
-Tame Impala – “Elephant” – Psychedelic rock takes a huge step forward after taking a few decades off.
-Major Lazer ft. Amber Coffman – “Get Free” – Big dreams and big hopes come to life in this five-minute slice of heaven.