Ten Songs That Have Made 2013 Bearable (So Far)
By Dayna Evans
This has been a transitional year for me. I turned 26, which isn’t old but certainly feels it, and I’ve been trying to figure out what to do, where to be, who to be, and how to be it. It’s no surprise that because of my wrangling with these questions, music has been insurmountably important to the first half of my year, and in particular, music that feels close, generous, sensitive and hopeful, without disregarding truth.
This is one of the first years in recent history that I haven’t listened to a lot of rap music, and I think that’s due to feeling vulnerable and not open to a lot of aggression or bombast. If this list is supposed to be objective — as in, “Here are some objectively good songs from the year thus far” — then it’s not. These are all really great songs that came out on really great albums (with the exception of two B-side-esque singles), and they are without a doubt my favorite of the first half of the year. But they are also a little more than that: they are songs that have helped me make it through 2013, in ways beyond even John Darnielle could capture. If you’re currently walking on sunshine, there’s probably a song on this playlist for you, but I’d ultimately just recommend listening to this instead. On full volume. At a beach house.
1. Hop Along – ‘Sister Cities’
Hop Along put out one of my favorite records of 2012, and I don’t know why, but I couldn’t imagine them topping it. Not that the Philadelphia trio isn’t highly capable, but I really, really love that record and had put it on an impossible-to-surmount pedestal. In a single release called ‘Sister Cities’, Hop Along have written what is now my favorite song of theirs, and with tender lyrics on the part of musical mastermind Frances Quinlan, I feel like I’m getting cut open every time I listen to the alt-pop track. “Honey, you know I had to shoot that dog you loved so much. You know I had to do it” is as painful to hear sung as it is to imagine happening.
2. Dead Gaze – ‘Glory Days For Sure’
There are so many things that I love about this Dead Gaze song: the Springsteen reference, the lush pop density, Cole Furlow’s tremoloed vocals uncovered from layers of fuzz and effects. But the one thing that makes ‘Glory Days For Sure’ so memorable is its longing for nostalgia — is there a more easily identifiable feeling than pining for the past? Simple melodic touches only punctuate the feeling, like a painless tear in a latex balloon.
3. Mount Kimbie feat. King Krule – ‘You Took Your Time’
I’ve long been an admirer of King Krule and his deep, accented vocals, which are direct in a way that is rare when vocal processors can make a singer sound like anyone they desire. The only thing I’ve found lacking in King Krule is that there has never been enough of him—not enough output and not enough singing on his songs, when that’s all I’ve ever wanted. Mount Kimbie, who released one of the most fantastically subtle electronic records of the year, chose to have King Krule sing all over ‘You Took Your Time’ and it builds so slowly and painfully, I wonder how this matchup hadn’t found its place a long ago. Future projects feel necessary and inevitable.
4. Cough Cool – ‘Blue Eyes’
29 may be one of my favorite records of this year, but it’s best track isn’t even on it. ‘Blue Eyes’, a scrappy B-side released seemingly without purpose by Cough Cool’s singular bored savant, Dan Svizeny, is enhanced by a guitar line so laid-back it’s almost a joke. Letting a guitar riff dictate a vocal line and vice versa is standard practice for some groups, but in ‘Blue Eyes’, a flirtatious track seemingly about new romance, the shimmy between vocal and guitar is expressionism of its own kind. Definitely the lightest of Cough Cool’s sophomore outing, this song is watery relief that is anything but disposable.
5. Waxahatchee – ‘Coast To Coast’
I am planning a study of songs that are one minute and 45 seconds long to confirm my theory that it is the exact length to make the perfect pop song, but until then, take note of Exhibit A. ‘Coast To Coast’ is only one second past the 1:45 mark, and with the signature Crutchfield flowery lilt and marked hammer-ons and pull-offs, the song could stand to go on for much, much longer. Beauty exists in fleeting glances, however, and the perpetual longing in this crunchy pop-punk album-definer is captured in a short, wily burst.
6. Co La – ‘Deaf Christian’
The first time I really heard — nay, listened to — Co La was when I saw the utterly captivating video for ‘Deaf Christian’. I hadn’t really imbibed in his sound before — only picking it up in bits and pieces — but part of the reason this song is so important to the first half of my year is that it was one of the first iterations of authenticity I’d really been wowed by. The authenticity debate can be worthless and is mostly staid and static, but it’s not hard to argue that Co La’s ‘Deaf Christian’ (as well as the album from whence it comes, Moody Coup) is ripe with originality. It feels like an awakening to me, one that I deeply needed, and it is so vibrant and mirrored that it shines like a ruby in rough sand. A change from the norm, welcomed.
7. Marnie Stern – ‘Proof Of Life’
When Marnie’s new record came out, I was the first person to say that it was perfect, and perhaps the last. I don’t know what it is, but it just didn’t seem to settle with anyone nearly as deeply as it did with me, which is fine but still unconsciously annoying. ‘Proof Of Life’, the only of the tracks to really make use of a deep, gap-filling piano, is also the only track to leave room for lyrics instead of shredding to dominate. “I am nothing/I am no one” as well as “All my life are based on fantasy” are two lyrics I am highly susceptible to getting tattooed on my body some day. I’m just glad that Marnie was the first to say them. If you are ever in deep despair, do nothing but listen to both this record and this song, for simultaneous affirmation and misery. Its triumphant close will bring you to new light.
8. Jenny Hval – ‘Innocence Is Kinky’
Similar to my Co La infatuation, my relationship with Jenny Hval began through her stirring video for ‘Innocence Is Kinky’, and barely ended there. The guitar is so sexy in the way it gives and then takes away, and Hval’s soft but pressed-tight vocals are one part Bjork and one part bedtime stories. Whispering gently “I’m free”, Hval manages to make even that proclamation feel vaguely threatening and circumspect—what is she free from? Any time I hear something that feels fresh or challenging to me, I take note. With Hval’s attempts at being simultaneously in our faces and gentle, matronly, the subversion feels sexier and grander still.
9. Grouper – ‘Being Her Shadow’
It’s widely known that Grouper is the only music one should listen to when going through an emotional, existential funk. My best friend and I once admitted to being at the same Grouper show and openly weeping long before we’d even met. Liz Harris’s new record is predictably phenomenal and trying, and it captures malcontent so courageously that it feels uncomfortable at first. ‘Being Her Shadow’, an ethereal, instrumental drone-filled track, is smoothed over with ghostly vocals from Harris that don’t say much but really say it all. In times of darkness, when all that is needed is a sound to fill the desperate void, Grouper will be there, singing you toward your fitful, aggravated sleep.
10. Vampire Weekend – ‘Hannah Hunt’
I don’t care who you are and what you know, this song is 14 levels of gorgeous. Like a pristine wedding cake at the center of a tiered dessert table. I was never a Vampire Weekend apologist, so it’s actually unusual that anything from their new record made my list (not that the new record isn’t also beautiful, because it is), but there’s just nothing I’ve heard this year that comes close to the line “… and I tore the New York Times up into pieces” as it is uttered with such gentle, coy delivery. And the breakdown? It might speak more to my emotional state than anything, but that breakdown actually made me cry. More than once. And the slide guitar, too, is for the sensitive, hurt one living within us all.