Music Features

Top 40 Tracks of 2013: Part Two

So here it is. No Ripcord’s definitive list of the best songs of 2013. The usual suspects join the odd curveball to make a countdown that fully reflects the range of tastes and opinions. You may want to enjoy this list in conjunction with our Top 40 of 2013 Spotify playlist, which can be found here. You can also see each writer's individual list here, if you wish.
If you missed them, numbers 40-21 are here, and be sure to check back soon for the big one – our favourite albums of 2013.
20. Queens of the Stone Age
“My God is the Sun”
(from “…Like Clockwork” on Matador / Rekords Rekords)
Josh Homme did two things right this year. 1) After a six year hiatus, he delivered a new Queens of the Stone Age album, which is the very excellent and long overdue …Like Clockwork. 2) My God is the Sun was released as the album’s first single. My God is the Sun was the perfect press release for …Like Clockwork, a guitar-driver powerhouse that not only settled doubts about whether or not a strong return from the band was on the cards, but also announced that Homme had brought Dave Grohl back into the fold, revisiting the partnership that brought about QOTSA’s 2002 masterpiece, Songs for the Deaf. With Grohl behind the kit and Homme’s playing as charged as ever, My God is the Sun was a welcome listen and provided …Like Clockwork with a perfect centerpiece. Sean Caldwell
19. Janelle Monáe
“Dance Apocalyptic”
(from “The Electric Lady” on Wondaland Arts Society / Bad Boy)
Monáe’s quirky mix of styles was promising, but everything finally comes together on this single, a blend of 60s rhythms and 70s punk that will have your legs moving on first listen. This is a comic rush of call-and-response fun and tight musicianship. Monáe is in total command here, with a confidence that evokes early Prince and a vivacity that has been missing on so many pop releases this year. She won’t face the abyss with a frown. The song’s absurdist lyrics assert that dancing in the face of calamity might be our last resort. If the end comes, I’ll have this on my jukebox. Angel Aguilar
18. Deerhunter
(from “Monomania” on 4AD)
The general consensus is that Bradford Cox and co. won’t be pigeonholed. Yet those expecting hypnotic guitars and finessed vocals were unprepared for this defiantly lo-fi behemoth, which is closer in spirit to the Velvets’ White Light/White Heat. Cox summons his inner Iggy Pop on this sick prayer to God: “If you can’t send me an angel, send me something else instead”. There’s no doubt his demon lover came down, judging by the band’s blitzkrieg attack. The tension builds like a Wagnerian opus, leading to a glorious crescendo of feedback and distortion. Danger is always good for rock n’ roll, and Deerhunter are driving with no brakes. Angel Aguilar
17. Arcade Fire
“It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)"
(from “Reflektor” on Merge / Sonovox)
The opening measures of Arcade Fire’s Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) sent shivers up my spine. It was the undeniable sensation, experienced only on rare occasions, that something remarkable and significant was about to unfold. As the lead track, it was also the high bar of a lofty debut, and the Montréal-based band has been clawing back toward that height ever since. In many ways, It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus) is the closest they’ve come. Both tracks encapsulate the broader message of their respective albums, both feature commanding lead riffs, and both employ the defining ebbs and surges in instrumentation that characterize one of the most recognizable rock outfits of the past decade. For all the Caribbean influences and disco-era dance grooves, Arcade Fire’s winning formula remains the same. Nine years and innumerable accolades beyond their stunning debut, …Orpheus proves that the mythical rules of rock n’ roll remain timeless and unchanged. Ben Jones
16. Arctic Monkeys
“Do I Wanna Know?”
(from “AM” on Domino)
My initial reactions to hearing Do I Wanna Know? were appreciation and relief.  This couldn’t have appeared at a better time. Summertime, as an adult, completely sucks. This is the time of year when you feel totally resentful of your childhood freedoms and jaunty teenage romances. You can imagine my satisfaction when I stumbled upon this pounding, grimy track. The lyrics involve a tug-of-war with a potential love. While acknowledging the power of the attraction, he questions the responsibility of having feelings. I don’t want to have responsibility of anything – especially not feelings! It’s the essence of Arctic Monkeys and every other punk that my mother told me to stay away from; I care so much, that I’m not even sure if I care at all. Brilliant work. Randi Dietiker
15. John Grant
“GMF (feat. Sinéad O’Connor)”
(from “Pale Green Ghosts” on Bella Union)
As its unnecessarily banal acronym attests, the brilliance of GMF lies in its ordinary nature despite having a rather oblique view on dealing with expectations in a relationship. Grant isn’t necessarily an inventive songwriter - the airy guitar progression and rhythmic rudimentary precision of GMF is a dime a dozen, borrowed from the early-seventies pop whimsy of McCartney and Nilsson. But the magic of Grant’s songwriting shines through in the one aspect that other singer-songwriters usually struggle - its barefaced honesty, written by a self-absorbed man who’s convinced he’s entitled to the love he thinks he deserves. Big-headed as he may be his empathetic side prevails - GMF dramatizes Grant's despair with such commonplace perspicacity that it’s hard not to root for the guy who decreasingly loses his confidence as the song comes into a close. Juan Edgardo Rodriguez
14. Daft Punk
“Giorgio By Moroder”
(from “Random Access Memories” on Daft Life / Columbia)
It doesn't sound like much on paper - a spoken word track, with a synth-based instrumental tacked onto the end - but to overlook Giorgio By Moroder would be to miss out on Random Access Memories' defining moment. The sheer quality of that instrumental, from the way it emerges with a humble click track and builds into a pulsating, arpeggiated slice of heaven, is just something else. And the spoken word piece, a selection of excerpts from an interview with the synth pioneer Giorgio Moroder, somehow sidesteps the trap that most spoken word segments fall into - it actually stands up to repeat listens. As a tribute to a musical hero, this is pretty much unbeatable. David Coleman
13. Kanye West
“New Slaves”
(from “Yeezus” on Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam)
That baseline: dark, minimalist. The empty backing makes the opening bars all the more stark. You’re gripped from the first “durrrrr”. Bringing up Jim Crow era America and comparing the segregation of black Americans to capitalism and companies controlling every citizen was a bold move but it’s also fucking electrifying. Last year there were dozens of articles asking where had all the political pop stars gone? Up steps the biggest singer in the world with a sharp rant backed by abrasive, fan alienating noise with anger, an anti-capitalist message, and provocative imagery. Punk, anyone? New Slaves has more in common with Dead Kennedys than it does Jay-Z. Kanye has the chance to change the political position of mainstream rap. Fingers crossed. James McKenna
12. Savages
“She Will”
(from “Silence Yourself” on Matador / Pop Noire)
Listen to how Jehnny Beth pronounces every syllable, in fact, every letter, when she sings, “Forcing the slut out” – it’s like she’s sinking her nails into your skin. That she manages to be so intense and precise above that frenzied guitar and bass riff combo is no small achievement. In the chorus, drummer Fay Milton grabs the crash cymbal with her left hand while thrashing it mercilessly with her right (you can almost hear her palms being physically lacerated), and there’s a vertiginous couple of bars as the guitar freefalls wildly, before Gemma Thompson launches into the riff. Like Fugazi before them, Savages push the limits of what a no-frills rock four-piece can do and the result is an absolute thrill ride, gripping down to its every last note. Stephen Wragg
(from “The Bones of What You Believe” on Virgin / Goodbye)
After the jaw-dropping The Mother We Share, Recover doesn't come as quite so much of a novel musical shock. We were primed for it, after all. But filling out the golden trifecta (Lies rounds it out) of CHVRCHES singles that have attained permanent earworm status, this track deserves its place in the heavyweight roster. More soulful and desperate than its counterparts, Recover might be the best showcase for Lauren Mayberry's precious, childlike vocals. While CHVRCHES couldn't keep the momentum on the rest of their highly anticipated debut, Recover remains a stunning statement from one of the year’s most exciting acts. Gabbie Nirenburg
10. Janelle Monáe
“Q.U.E.E.N. (feat. Erykah Badu)”
(from “The Electric Lady” on Wondaland Arts Society / Bad Boy)
If 2010’s psychedelic soul masterpiece The ArchAndroid announced the official arrival of one of the industry’s most brilliant and refreshing young performers, 2013’s The Electric Lady sounded like she was here to stay. At once classic and current, The Electric Lady’s lead single, Q.U.E.E.N., is a perfect slice of everything that makes Janelle Monaé so good. From the slinky funk of the bassline, to vocals that are at times gritty (see Monaé’s rap verse) and other times crystalline, to Monaé’s trademark genre-melding orchestral flourishes and ‘’ba-da-ba-bops’’ during the interlude. Q.U.E.E.N. is an indication of how criminally disproportionate Monaé’s popular success has been to her talent and potential, but it is also an anthem of pure passion, irreverence and abandon, and by the time Erykah Badu is jamming out to her assertion that the booty don’t lie, there is no doubt: here’s one old-school groove that sounds like the future. Luiza Lodder
9. James Blake
(from “Overgrown” on ATLAS / A&M / Polydor)
With the Mercury seal of approval now shining brightly from Overgrown’s cover in supermarket shelves nationwide, the release of its debut single Retrograde in February seems a long time ago, so here’s a reminder for you. At first it’s classic Blake in its sparseness, just a kick and clap for percussion and beautiful reverbed piano chords alongside a choir of his own voice.  Around the halfway mark a siren-esque synth arrives and takes things into overdrive as Blake sinisterly repeats, “We’re alone now”; he’s in love and nothing else matters to him. His lyrics actually tell a story here, something largely missing on his debut and this makes for a more engaging experience. To me, Retrograde is confirmation of what a talent Blake is, and also one of many highlights on an excellent sophomore album which to me is the finest of 2013 – the understatement to Kanye’s over-blown exaggeration. Richard Petty
8. Arcade Fire
(from “Reflektor” on Merge / Sonovox)
The year’s most hyped monster of a song arrived in the shape of the new tune from Canadian/American giants Arcade Fire. Preceded by mysterious, teasing clues, the James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) produced release sent the world clamouring for their internet devices as an intriguing interactive video brought another dimension to their art. With delicate licks of guitar and Régine Chassagne-injected sultry French vocals, the hypnotic beat of Reflektor saw the band turn their back on their past to pursue a new dance-orientated ‘modern disco’ direction. The seven minute epic was further enhanced by a mini cameo from a certain David Bowie who just happened to drop by the studio during recording. Reflektor divided the band’s following with its major style change but the very best bands evolve to survive and Reflektor ensured Arcade Fire continue along their journey towards legendary status. Graeme Marsh
7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
(from “Mosquito” on Dress Up / Interscope)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs made the best Pixies song this year. Our scene opens with the quiet/loud dynamic, Karen O flitting between a soft purr and a sharp shout. The sharp shouts build up and scratchy post-punk guitars start to back up her breathless vocals. Those guitars grow more unruly, everything gets a bit bolder then bang – gospel choir. It’s genius! Karen O pleads and prays whilst the choir crescendos, until everything gives way, ending with chants of, “Sacrilege! Sacrilege! Sacrilege, you say!” and a wave of soul claps. How amazing is that? Find the Letterman performance if you’re not hooked on it already. James McKenna
6. Phosphorescent
“Song for Zula”
(from “Muchacho” on Dead Oceans)
I’ve always thought love is the only form of mania that is socially acceptable. It’s not a sickness that can be treated, yet an instance of heartbreak can bring uncontrollable grief, even hysteria. In a year that explored the subject of love with truthful candor in various degrees, Matthew Houck, otherwise known as Phosphorescent, spoke to the vulnerable with a tempered level of experience. Song for Zula comes from the perspective of a man who’s gone through this far too many times before, and who knows that to love with a passion can make one weak. Houck’s words, sung in a tittering drawl, are potent and utterly intoxicating, ushered by a translucent coat of breathtaking strings and dreamlike synth lines conjured with an air of romance and splendid isolation. The majestic simplicity in which Houck articulates his allegorical message is beckoned with a timelessness that resounds through the ages. Juan Edgardo Rodriguez
5. Vampire Weekend
(from “Modern Vampires of the City” on XL)
Only Vampire Weekend. Those three words spring to mind at an alarming rate when I listen to Ezra Koenig and his pals. Only Vampire Weekend, for example, could kick off a Souls of Mischief tribute with a harpsichord rendition of Pachelbel's Canon in D Major. Only Vampire Weekend could deliver a lyric like, "Back, back, way back I used to front like Angkor Wat / Mechanicsburg, Anchorage and Dar-es-Salaam". Critics will label them arrogant and pretentious, or write them off as sons of privilege; let them miss out. The smartest band in the room just keeps on delivering. David Coleman
4. Lorde
(from “Pure Heroine” on Universal)
Unlike most songs that I become infatuated with on first listen, Royals has survived my nasty habit of playing a song on loop until my headphones start smoking from overuse. In fact, it's thrived. Even forgetting that Lorde is some sort of ethereally gorgeous child fairy of some sort, her single – and indeed, her entire debut record – is so astonishingly beautiful that even the droves of a cappella tributes can't ruin it. Yes, it's a teenager's lament, but it feels clear, familiar, wistful. That the rest of her album is just as strong bodes well for the future of this tiny prodigy. Gabbie Nirenburg
3. Torres
(from “Torres” on TORRES)
The components of Honey are enough to make it a great song: the droning, oscillating guitar notes that introduce it, the beautiful reverbed verse riff, an army-strong drum beat, and Torres’ voice, which alternates between tender realizations and frustrated, thunderous cries, are wonderful on their own. But what makes it one of the best songs of the year is its structure and length. At 5:41, Torres can afford to mesmerize you with beautiful guitar lines and hums and set up a break-up song (“This cannot happen again / Twice in a year is too much”) despite making something that rejects that easy classification. The first chorus, spoken sparsely, without the bass drum, foreshadows the song’s impending storm. But when Torres delivers the convincing, self-referential verse, Honey really takes off; the choruses grow increasingly chaotic and Torres patiently brings the song to its riveting close, giving old words new meanings in the process. Forrest Cardamenis
2. Kanye West
“Black Skinhead”
(from “Yeezus” on Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam)
Kanye West debuted this track live on SNL, sinking its pounding drums and monstrous industrial riff deep into America’s solar plexus. There was some bemusement: has Kanye been listening to Death Grips? Nine Inch Nails? Does Kanye know the 300 Spartans were Greek? It’s easy to not “get” Kanye West, to see him as an egotist constantly “ranting” and bragging about his wealth. But when Kanye gets deeper than this, he’s often dismissed – he gets ridiculed for the way he talks about racism leading to him being dismissed as an artist and designer (most notably by Jimmy Kimmel). This type of ridicule is exactly what Kanye anticipated: “Claiming I’m overreacting / Like them black kids in Chiraq, bitch”. The thing is, Kanye is vulnerable even on a song as imperious and visceral as Black Skinhead – why else does he keep screaming? Stephen Wragg
1. Daft Punk
“Get Lucky (feat. Pharrell)”
(from “Random Access Memories” on Daft Life / Columbia)
Once every few years, maybe every decade, comes a song that on its debut listen sounds like it’s always been in your life. The first time Nile Rodgers’ choppy riff beamed out of your speakers, coaxing pure joy out of his guitar and harking back to his glory days in Chic, it was clear within seconds that this was going to be a bona fide smash. Of course the Daft Punk promotional juggernaut was in full force this year, but at the centre of it all was Get Lucky – a song so simple, so hypnotic and so utterly addictive you couldn’t help but wonder why someone hadn’t written it before. It was the perfect anthem for the summer of 2013 yet it won’t be forever synonymous with the previous twelve months. While big songs stay inextricably linked with the period and the scene that spawned their birth, the truly gargantuan tracks break free of their time prison and become part of the popular music canon. So, expect to hear Get Lucky at every wedding, every disco and every party for the rest of the decade, and probably well into the next one too. It’s this generation’s Crazy In Love, their Billie Jean, hell, their Hey Jude, even. It’s a song that’s going to be around a long, long time, but then again, you knew that anyway, from the very first time you heard it. Joe Rivers
Daft Punk complete their annus mirabilis by taking top spot in the No Ripcord tracks of 2013 list. Predictable? Maybe, but there’s no denying the sheer instant rush that Get Lucky provides. Here’s to a similarly brilliant list in 2014.