If you’ve been giving casual attention to the first twenty tracks we’ve listed in OTM’s Top 30 of the year, I encourage you to pause. Grab a drink and your favourite headphones, or edge those speakers a bit higher.
We’ve reached the ten best tunes of 2013, all of which deserve your undivided attention.
A mix of industrial, rock, folk and more, the top ten features a slate of artists that take their respective genres further, or exemplify the best of what music has to offer. In many cases, the “one song by each artist” restraint for this list became painful; as a result, you will see honourable mentions of additional tracks to savour.
10. “Weapon For Saturday” – LOLO
From our previous review: Lauren Pritchard (now going by LOLO) first caught my attention with her soulful blues vocals on the cast recording of Tony Award-winning musical, Spring Awakening. For all of the hype and praise Lea Michele has received from that launchpad, Lauren was the one who truly stood out for me. Her debut album, Wasted In Jackson, became a favourite of mine; in particular, darker tracks like “Painkillers” and “When The Night Kills The Day” became songs I’d give to friends. “You gotta hear this,” I’d tell them.
Yeah, I was totally Garden State Natalie Portman. Not sorry.
After a hiatus, LOLO has emerged from the silence with a fresh track to feast upon, and it’s one hell of a tune. A blend of bluesy rock and industrial elements, it’s everything I believe Madonna was trying to accomplish with the sonic atrocity “Gang Bang”. Sinister yet seductive, foreboding yet fascinating, Pritchard delivers clever wordplay and a sense of confidence not seen since Fiona Apple’s classic album When The Pawn…
9. “Burn” – Magneta Lane
From our previous review: Kicking off the quartet of tracks [on their latest EP, Witchrock] is melodic rocker “Burn”, a pedal-to-the-floor tune with a driving melody that begs for attention and lingers on the lips in a merry hum. Dark and foreboding, it evokes the Celebrity Skin era of Hole: hook-heavy, almost danceable, yet confessional and in your face in unrelenting fashion. Bonus points: one of the best videos of the year.
8. “The Strangest” – Future History
Honourable mentions: “My Lungs Don’t Feel Right”; “Take Two”
Markham, Ontario’s Future History delivered their follow-up to their acclaimed album Loss:/self this Fall. Entitled Lungs, the album serves as a continuation and answer to its predecessor. While taking any one piece from the whole diminishes the larger picture, “The Strangest” serves as a stunning example of the instrumental layering and ambiance that makes the band stand out from the indie folk rock crowds, while capturing the essence of the album’s internal conflict.
7. “Bad Dream” – Wildlife
Toronto band Wildlife’s sophomore album, …On The Heart is a self-described love letter to the organ itself, both in its physical and metaphorical forms. Everything about the album, from its pulsing, throbbing percussion to the way it achingly captures love and loss, hits the mark. “Bad Dream” has literally taken over my brain. I’ve written to it, sang it loud and proud and immersed in a loop of it at times. Intelligent lyrics with a word even I had to look up in the dictionary? Colour me impressed. Perfect for speeding down the highway (OTM does not endorse the breaking of traffic laws /disclaimer).
6. “We’re Long Gone” – Matthew Good
Honourable mentions: “Letters In Wartime”; “Had It Coming”
Track begins at 2:40 (although really, the two songs go together as a one-two punch, so play the whole thing).
From our previous album review: Where previous outing Lights Of Endangered Species was an experimental, exploring analysis of humanity and its role in its destruction or survival, Arrows Of Desire is a throwback to the garage rock honesty of decades lost, a study of history and a spirited call to arms against our repetition of it. “We’re Long Gone” evokes early Springsteen with its ‘lost hometown’ vignette and an infectious melody that deserves to jam out live for several more minutes.
5. “Caves” – Data Romance
From our previous album review: Vancouver-based duo Data Romance have set out on their debut LP Other on an exploration of the human experiences of belonging and disengaging, whether intentional or not. From the soaring heartbreak of opener “Caves”, the equally enchanting and haunting vocals of Amy Kirkpatrick spill over the listener, echoing the battered beats of metaphorical muscle beneath the ribcage.
4. “Knives” – The Box Tiger
Honourable mention: “Set Fire To Your Friends”
From our previous review: The use of pop song structure to intentionally clash with darker elements continues with “Knives”, the second single released as a lead-in for the album’s release. Eighties babies like myself may giggle in secret to a refrain of “Cuts like a knife” but the track is again one of the sinister deceptively cloaked in gossamer and ought to be a Top Thirty hit by now.
3. “Came Back Haunted” – Nine Inch Nails
Honourable mentions: “Copy Of A”; “While I’m Still Here/Black Noise”
From our previous review: On Hesitation Marks, the echoes of [The Downward Spiral] are most prominent in lead single “Came Back Haunted”, a pulsing, predatory composition with undercurrents of PTSD and a battle not yet over. “They tried to tell me but I/I couldn’t stop myself and I came back/I came back haunted,” Reznor belts (an intentional rarity on the album, surprisingly). For the listener, it epitomizes the thematic elements on this journey: depression; isolation; the cyclical nature of one’s emotional well-being; but also, the compulsive need to reflect, to delineate our history to better appreciate and ultimately survive and thrive in the present. One also finds sonic throwbacks and variations on the core elements of The Downward Spiral: the swelling, electronic noise evokes hit track “Closer” in an almost negative image.
2. “Afraid” – Amanda Merdzan
Australian folk artist Amanda Merdzan is one of those musical finds that make wading through the email backlog a joy. When her stunning video for “Afraid” arrived in the inbox, I was immediately captivated by its message. Favouring a raw and confessional approach to her work, “Afraid” is a testament to the fear within the struggle to grow and change, to face the obstacles in our path. More than a well-crafted tune, it’s become a mantra for me, a favourite song of all time. For more, read our interview with Amanda or our review of her CMW performance.
This brings us to our top track of 2013, a song we’ve previously raved about in our monthly column at 2020k…
1. “Let Me Go” – HAIM
Honourable mention: “The Wire”
From our monthly column at 2020k: Perhaps one of the most hyped debuts of the year, Los Angeles band HAIM slammed onto the scene with singles “Forever” and “The Wire” and have continued garnering attention with their album Days Are Gone. Cleverly pop in the vein of Fleetwood Mac meets early 90′s girl band and shaken with just a touch of Joan Jett anger, HAIM is pretty infectious for pop rock.
But where the ladies truly shine is on the first track of theirs I ever heard, “Let Me Go”. Blues rock angst that builds and swells, the collective talents of the band are truly unleashed. I can’t say whether the decision to lean the album to more of a retro dance feel was a marketing choice or truly where their hearts were at, but I do know that I’d love their next release to jam out as hard as this live recording from The Roundhouse.