A CD's worth of the year's best songs, generally from off the beaten path.
Cross posted from Pruning Shears.
If you dig these songs please consider buying them. Most can be had for less than a buck. They will also be hosted at Pruning Shears until Thursday, so you can try before you buy over there.
Some lyrics may be NSFW. Listen at your own risk.
Here are my favorite songs this year from my RSS feeds. I use Sharp Reader as my aggregator. See the "Free MP3 sites" part of my blogroll for my current feed list.
Most weeks I burn as many new songs as I can fit onto a rewritable CD and give it a thorough listen (usually five times), so in that spirit I keep this under the same limit. It's in the top 1% of music I listened to this year, so even if you hate my taste you have to admit that's a pretty discriminating list. 80 minutes is somewhat arbitrary, but it's also respectful of listeners to show some restraint. If you fall in love with my taste in music drop me a line and I'll get you the rest of the songs I considered but didn't have room for.
On the reckoning of time
I age songs by release date, not recording date. Until I get my grubby little hands on it, it doesn't exist as far as I'm concerned. When it first makes it out to the public it is new, no matter how long it may have been gathering dust somewhere.
In addition to the ones mentioned in the list here are the albums in 2013 I enjoyed front to back:
Big K.R.I.T - King Remembered In Time. Has one of the great openings of all time: Wailing guitar, new baby screams, K.R.I.T: "I was born in 1986" etc. For the second straight year Big K.R.I.T released a phenomenal album to relatively little notice. This year's proof that artistic accomplishment is not enough.
Los News - Automedication. Completely blew me away. One of the top three rock albums of the last five years. And, this is still hard to believe, they are giving it away as a free download. It was released in February of 2012, but I didn't hear it until this year - they'd have been on the list otherwise. They are supposedly working on a release for next year (RIGHT, GUYS?), and if that happens it will be penciled in as my best album of 2014.
Novella - Murmurs. If Los News gets the sophomore slump, Novella's debut album might get the nod. So far they've had this EP and a smattering of other stuff, but I'm really looking forward to hearing a full length from them.
I usually reserve an Honorable Mention spot for a longer song. Most years there's at least one 7+ minute song that I like quite a bit, but since I try to get lots of different artists on the list I don't want a single tune to crowd out several other candidates. When a longer song really blows me away (see #2, for example) I'll make room, but overall I prefer to keep my selections under five minutes or so. Last year I didn't hear a single longer song that I really loved; this year there was an abundance. Black as the night by Nahko Bear (via) and Pendulum Swing by Blank Realm are great in different ways. But for as much as I liked both, I went with:
22. "Kitchen Kongas" - VietNam (Buy)
A protest song for the Occupy era. It always bugs me to see complaints about how there used to be so much great protest music and now there isn't any (e.g.). There's plenty of it out there. Immigration Game by Michelle Malone (off of Day 2 - recommended), Get Away With It by Animal Kingdom (via) and this one, for starters. You won't hear them on commercials, TV shows or the radio though. Even if they don't contain banned words, their message is too provocative for any outlet to implicitly endorse by playing them. So you have to look. Complaining because they don't get served up in the course of one's day says more about the listener than the state of contemporary protest music.
(And yes as proof of concept I burned them on to a CD using Winamp.)
20. "The Birthday Song" - Jessica Newry (Buy)
A happy song to put a smile on your face.
18. "New Brooklyn" - Dyme-A-Duzin (Home page)
A new definition of cool. A lot of rappers try to get by on braggadocio; Dyme-A-Duzin uses a more understated approach and it really makes him stand out. Off of A Portrait Of Donnovan (recommended).
17. "Hit And Run" - Audra The Rapper (Twitter)
Best hook of 2013. Also, does she kiss her mama with that mouth?
15. "Delicate Cycle" - The Uncluded (Buy)
The Uncluded are Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson. I would like to put Dawson's vocals in a space capsule and launch them to the far side of the universe, in the hopes that some alien intelligence might eventually find and understand them, and know that humans had at least some redeeming qualities.
12. "Helpless Wanderer" - Underhill Rose (Buy)
Harmony, my friends. Harmony and an unabashedly rustic presentation.
10. "Any Closer To The Day" - The Bawdy Electric (Buy)
OK. The Bawdy Electric is a terrible name for a band. If you go to their Bandcamp page you will see professional wrestlers, a bit of ironic lowbrow cultural appropriation that hasn't been hip since 1975.2 Basically everything about them says "don't bother." But both this and the other side of the single (I'll Be Your Mountain) are pop rock gems. And Christopher Durning's voice has something, I don't know what. Not technically brilliant, but tremendous character.
09. "Shittal B. Swell" - Nickelus F (Buy)
Nickelus F worked on me the same way Dungen did in 2010. In both cases I liked the artist and kept an eye out for new releases (in this case Handsome and Love Me were the ones I heard first), and in both cases I was very glad I did. Check out his delivery on this line: "You want 'em to be with someone like you right? Shit."
08. "Wall Brains" - Dorado (Buy)
Song title obviates any attempt at commentary.
06. "Soulutionary One" - Stephanie Nicole (Buy)
Lie back, close your eyes, and drift away.
05. "I'm Coming Home" - Rayys (Buy)
Has one of the more evocative opening lyrics I've heard: "The apples were picked on an autumn day, to be put into boxes and stored away for the winter." Rayys have precisely two songs to their credit, and I like the other almost as well. I can't wait to hear what they do next. (Fittingly, this song was paired with a curiously mesmerizing video.)
04. "My Hands" - Grey Reverend (Buy)
Simple and gorgeous.
03. "Katachi" - Shugo Tokumaru (Buy)
A song full of bursts and colors, fireworks and confetti.
01. (Best Song of 2013) "Billions" - JoJo (Twitter)
A pop song that doesn't really obey pop convention. It's about thirty seconds too long, it has an irregular heartbeat, the synth doesn't start where it should and then cuts in where it shouldn't. If you can forgive those breaches of etiquette, though, I think you'll be glad.
1. I went to see her in Cleveland and talked to her after the show. (One of the nice things about looking off the beaten path for music is that artists usually play smaller venues and are very accessible.) I asked her about the chorus to When I'm Gone because I couldn't figure out the words after "Come on, you can sleep when I'm gone/I was lying when I said..." So I sang that bit, she filled it in ("there'd be plenty of time"), then started singing the rest of the chorus. I joined in, and when we finished she said "all right!" and high fived me. So even if you don't think you'd like The Stand-In, consider buying it to recognize and encourage general awesomeness.
2. The Dictators Go Girl Crazy is the best rock album title ever. It's also possibly the best 70s rock album from New York City, which is funny since many lesser albums from that scene (not naming names, sorry) are so much better regarded. As someone who wasn't there and came to the albums later with just the songs themselves to go on, The Dictators are tops. Also: Master Race Rock has the funniest line in a rock song ever ("we play sports so we don't get fat").