Best of 2013: The Hottest Jams of 2013

10. Mark Kozelek + Desertshore
“Brothers”
Mark Kozelek + Desertshore (Caldo Verde)
While some have claimed that the cantankerous songwriter has become lazy and formulaic in his later years, I believe his recent work is among the best and most affecting of his illustrious career. Its final song, “Brothers,” is the kind of track only the 46 year-old could write — a stark, direct oral history of his seemingly ‘unmagnificent’ father and three uncles. Only such an experienced storyteller could offer the layered perspective and understanding that illuminates the hidden beauty in everyone’s story, even if you never left the “broken down steel mill town” you grew up in. Kozelek knows that real people are the most fascinating characters; all you have to do is look closer.

9. Jason Isbell
“Elephant”
Southeastern
A triumph of storytelling, the ex-Drive By Trucker’s brutal barstool tale of losing a friend to cancer is riddled with those precious type of lyrics that suck the wind out of your lungs. Isbell’s soaring, Ryan Adams-y tenor offers the only respite, plaintively protesting how unfair life can be, while celebrating the delightful nuances of a lasting, impactful relationship. Cancer is something that has directly touched all of our lives, and we’ve all searched in vain for words to ease or explain its tragic consequences, doomed to come up hopelessly short, spitting clichés and platitudes. Nothing he can say will bring her back, but it serves as an impossibly beautiful memorial to those incredibly special people we’ve lost along the way.

8. Julianna Barwick
“Forever”
Nepenthe (Dead Oceans)
When I heard Julianna Barwick — master of ambient uber-gorgeousness — was recording her second LP in Iceland with Sigur Rós affiliate Alex Somers — Jedi master of ambient uber-uber gorgeousness — I knew it would be somehing special. It’s like LeBron going to spend a year working on his jumper on MJ’s private island, or Junot Diaz working on a new book with Garcia Marquez. Shit’s not really fair. Surprise, surprise, Nepenthe is impossibly gorgeous, and its key track, “Forever,” is about as gorgeous as 400 golden retriever puppies smiling at you in front of a Hawaiian waterfall at sunrise. Breathe it all in.

7. Kanye West
“Hold My Liquor”
Yeezus (G.O.O.D. Music)
Choosing just one track off the visionary (yeah, I said it) Yeezus seems totally arbitrary and kind of silly, but any man who can get a track with Chief fuckin’ Keef and Bon Iver to work this well deserves all the goddamn croissants he wants. YEEZUS, more like YEENIUS.

6. James Blake
“Retrograde”
Overgrown (Polydor)
The 25 year-old’s built his career off crafting brilliantly murky music, riddled with shadows. As effective as it is, it made it hard to get a real feel for the man making the music. A lot of what made the romantic “Retrograde” so flooring is that it was the first time Blake really lifted the lights and stared the listener in the face. It is, by far, the most direct, straightforward song he’s ever written, and it represents yet another direction of the sonically footloose musician. Nobody has any clue where the Londoner is going from here, but I am damn excited to find out.

5. Disclosure
“Latch” (f/ Sam Smith)
Settle (PMR)
“Our little baby’s all growns up!” I never thought in a million years that the quiet lads who made up the (don’t you fucking dare call it) post-dubstep band that I wrote about two years ago would have crafted the absolute, undeniable crossover song of 2013. While it remains incredibly weird to me that the Howard brothers wrote a track that even my bro-iest friends can “rage” to, I’ll try not to hold it against them. It’s just about the perfect pop song, and it’s the best part of the best dance album of the year. ALL HAIL THE BROTHERS LAWRENCE!

4. Bill Callahan
“Small Plane”
Dream River (Drag City)
There are a hell of a lot more rock songs about looking for a home than finding one, but the 47 year-old’s allegorical homage to his partner is the finest lyrical work of the year and one of the best of his illustrious career. Like building a relationship, flying a small plane takes great care and precision, and Callahan’s steady hand and level head guide the listener on a comfortable, reflective journey directly to what matters most. The Maryland-native has always been a master of the understatedly poetic — there’s no wordplay, no five-dollar words — just sharp perspective and the incredible ability to say very much with very few words. Millions of words have been written about what makes a great relationship; few offer this much truth and insight.

3. Burial
“Come Down to Us”
Rival Dealer (Hyperdub)
In signature sneaky style, the revered Londoner waited till the last second to wreek havoc on year-end lists with an ambitious, divisive new EP (think the Beyonce record for music nerds). At this point, everything he does causes message board meltdown, and this bold, melodic effort seemed to split his long-time fans right down the middle (check: The always excellent FACT on this).
For me, it was the best, most impressive thing he’s released since 2007’s genre-defining masterpiece, Untrue. Never before has the shadowy Burial (né William Bevan) let the light in like this, and its closer, “Come Down to Us,” is a breathtaking, inspiring (seriously!) 13-minute rumination on acceptance and finding yourself. Nobody can touch Bevan’s vocal samples, and he picks a number of heart-wrenching ones to go with his cinematic, evocative production. As the words of Lana Wachowski’s famous HRC speech fade out, it’s clear that this is Bevan’s “Born This Way.” It’s GaGa, “Firework,” and “Flawless” for the kids who can’t relate to their picture-perfect, popstar heroines. It’s “Same Love” for the kids who are too smart to fall for empty pandering. It’s the sound of one the most influential artists of the last 10 years (whether you know it or not) stepping out of the shadows, and the light is blinding.

2. Glasser
“Dissect”
Interiors (True Panther)
A lot of things happened to me this year, but above all else, 2013 will always be the year I moved from California to New York. In the build-up to her 2nd LP, Cameron “Glasser” Meisrow did the same thing, which is beautifully chronicled on Interiors.

Its finest moment, the stylish, slinky “Dissect,” captures the equal-parts enchanting and disorienting feeling of uprooting your life to one of the most frenetic, singular cities in the world. It’s all about letting go and allowing yourself to slip into the ultimate mixer, ultimately trading most of your personal space for a vast, unmatchable expanse of collective experience. Its wide-eyed spirit has been the perfect soundtrack for my new adventure.

1. Lil’ Durk
“Dis Ain’t What U Want”
Signed To The Streets (Coke Boys/OTF)
If you’ve read my work recently, this selection is about as surprising as a Lena Dunham nude scene in the new season of Girls. This year, I’ve written more words about this track than any other (exhibit a, b, c), and Durk’s breakout single claims its rightful place at the top of this incredible year of music. Overall, 2013 has shown us that Chicago’s 2012 resurgence is anything but a flash-in-the-pan, and while there are a number of artists with potentially huge futures, none can go further than the effervescent 21 year-old.

We all know that Chuck D once referred to hip-hop as the Black CNN, but “Dis Ain’t What U Want” is more than that. Yes, it reports live from the front lines, but Durk’s wary voice also offers a stinging editorial, a seldom-seen look into the battered psyche of those who our society has decided to ignore and cast out. It’s a stark, thinly-veiled plea for help, straight from someone who has lived in the shit for all of his young, wondrous life. Whether anyone with the power to make change listens is anyone’s guess.

Posted on by TP1.COM in Best Of '13, Featured

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