I decided this year to compile a list of my 20 favorite songs of the past twelve months. Although I review albums on this site, most of my listening is done via playlists that I either compile myself, or which are generated by an iOS “app” based on information in the Last.fm database.
As always, it is difficult to make fine line distinctions between great songs that come from a similar sensibility. Certainly, any of the songs in my Top 10 could have landed at No. 1. I could make that case for some of the tracks in the 11-20 positions, as well. And, over time, my assessments could change, as they did during the year. Nevertheless, this is how I see them at the end of 2013. Full tracks are embedded, or can be heard via the included link.
1. Eric Barao — “On Holiday” (S/T): An audacious, lushly produced roller-coaster of a song that confidently kicks off one of the year’s best albums. Listen.
2. The Sharp Things — “Light In My Harbor” (The Truth Is Like The Sun): The key lyric — “I love your face/and the tales it tell, its true/you’re the light in my harbor” — spends a lot of time in my mind. The piano, horns, strings, soulful vocals and jazzy interlude make it irresistible. Listen.
3. Nick Piunti — “13 In My Head” (13 In My Head): Hands down, the best rocker of the year. It looks backward and forward in both sound and outlook, behind driving guitars and Piunti’s classic vocals:
4. An American Underdog — “Good Girl” (The A/B EP): This one builds and builds in a sweeping, almost cinematic fashion to an emotional conclusion. And, as we have come to expect from Andy Reed, the track is beautifully sung, recorded and played (with some assistance). Listen.
5. Stephen Lawrenson — “Words To Say” (Obscuriosity): Melancholy rarely sounds this pretty. I’m a sucker for the kind of jangly 12-string Rickenbacker guitar that anchors this update of a classic mid-60s sound. Listen
6. Wyatt Funderburk — “Love Will Lead The Way” (Novel and Profane): A perfect pop song, without a bell or a whistle anywhere in sight. Simplicity is often the ultimate in elegance:
7. Lisa Mychols — “Make Believe” (Above, Beyond & In Between) — As she usually does, Mychols takes me back to the days of sitting in the backseat of my parents’ old Chevy Malibu listening to AM radio. Listen.
8. And The Professors — “Turn of the Century Recycling Blues” (Our Postmortem): They describe themselves as “orchestral pop rock,” and I’ll buy that. One of the more jaunty tracks on a brilliant album that deserves much more attention than it has received:
9. Vegas With Randolph — “You Set The World On Fire” (Rings Around The Sun): A rocking ode to science, philosophy and the advancement of human knowledge in an era where those things are sometimes in doubt. Free your mind, and check it out right here.
10. Bye Bye Blackbirds — “Waiting For The Drums” (We Need The Rain): This is also a perfectly constructed, simple pop song. I defy you to try to sit still while listening:
11. Agony Aunts — “Mother Make Sleep” (Big Cinnamon): Purposefully obscure lyrics, minimal changes, and an old-school guitar solo yanked from the mid-70s. In a word, perfect. Listen.
12. Brandon Schott — “Verdugo Park — Part 2” (The A/B EP): Schott handles all sounds, except for bass, on this soaring track with undertones of the Zombies’ classic, Odyssey & Oracle. Listen.
13. honeychain — “Lucky One” (Futura): Driving old-school new wave/punk rock, kind of like the Buzzcocks mashed with the Go-Go’s. Listen.
14. The Connection — “Melinda” (Let It Rock!): This is buried as track 13 on Let It Rock!, and thus is probably often ignored. It’s yet another simple, perfectly arranged pop song that will leave you singing “I write the songs/She sings alone” in your head for hours on end. Listen.
15. The Sun Sawed in 1/2 — “Brittle Star” (Elephants Into Swans): An exuberant piece of joyful Power Pop, featuring some of the strongest lead vocals of the year. Listen.
16. Andrea Perry — “Spring” (Four): This sounds like a missing track from Cotton Mather’s Kontiki, which is quite a good thing since that is one of my all-time favorite pop albums. Perry’s winsome vocals play off perfectly against the subtle and quietly driving rhythm. Listen.
17. Andy Klingensmith — “Template Song” (Pictures Of): This sounds unlike anything else on this list. Its just an acoustic guitar and Klingesmith’s gorgeous, multi-layered vocals. Its simply stunning:
18. The Well Wishers — “Open Your Eyes” (Dunwoody): Jeff Shelton delivers a perfect traditional guitar-driven pop song about life’s regrets, and possible transcendence. Listen.
19. Lannie Flowers — “Dance With Me” (Drink A Toast To Innocence). I did not want to include cover songs on this list, but this cover of the Orleans’ smash hit is such a wonderful creative re-imagining (that while nevertheless remains essentially true to the original) that it could not be avoided. I can imagine a bride and a groom dancing happily to this version at their wedding. Listen.
20. The Dead Girls — “Find Your Way Back To Me (Oh My Soul)” (Fade In/Fade Out): At more than six minutes in length, this track is of epic proportions for a pop song. It nevertheless offers a pitch-perfect combination of Neil Young circa 1973 and Big Star without sounding at all retro. Listen.
So, there you have it, the best of the best of 2013. They make a spectacular playlist.