Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Musically Inclined's Top 10 Finds of 2013

As you find yourself inundated with year-end lists, you’ll no doubt be ready to swear off every little bit of music that came out this year in favor of whatever shiny, new bands and albums 2014 will offer. I sympathize. However, this isn’t your average “Best Of” list. Whereas you might find the likes of Kanye and Arcade Fire elsewhere, you won’t find them here. That, folks, is my gift to you.

The premise of The Musically Inclined’s Top 10 Finds of 2013, as it’s been running for the past six years, is the following:

1. Any artist or band TMI hadn't listened to before January '13.
2. Songs have to have a stick factor to survive the year. Catchy? Bouncy? Quirky? Sure, but mostly they just have to be solid. Doesn't hurt to be fun and mildly screwy, either.

Somewhere on this list is a song you hopefully haven’t heard yet. And as for the ones you have? I can guarantee you haven’t burned through them the way you have “Get Lucky.”

And speaking of listening to these tracks, the Spotify playlist is right here. Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. Enjoy the rest of 2013 and scroll on at your leisure.

1. Sonsick : San Fermin

I have to give the top spot to San Fermin’s “Sonsick” for a few reasons, the first being that when that song hits the chorus, I still get a chill from the enveloping sound of horns and harmonies. When the album (San Fermin) came out, I joked that if you’ve always wanted a few more X chromosomes in The National, this is the band for you. That stands, but San Fermin is a lot more than The National with girls (from Lucius, no less). The album is dynamic, and most impressive in the way it tackles both sonic bombast and delicately built layers. If you haven’t already heard it, let “Sonsick” be your entry point.

2. I Love You : Said the Whale

In truth, the Said the Whale song that really belongs on this list is “Camilo (The Magician),” but since it came out in 2009, “I Love You” serves as a very apt surrogate. Coming off their September album hawaiii, “I Love You” was at the top of the Canadian alternative music charts this year. The punchy rock tribute to family ("You're kind of rough but I love you!"), didn’t quite make it stateside, but it should have– hawaiii was one of the most enjoyable albums of the year for the fact that it followed its own whim style-wise, promising something fresh with every track change. “I Love You” is one of the strongest examples of that on the record. Check out my interview with STW’s Tyler Bancroft.

3. Rouse Yourself : JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound

The music video for this song stars Aubrey Plaza from Parks and Recreation, and Jake Johnson from New Girl. That could be reason enough to give it a chance, but beyond some sure-fire casting, “Rouse Yourself” is an infectious bit of neo-soul (which also happens to include that “poc” sound you probably heard this year on Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie”). I digress. One of the song’s best features is the simplicity of the words in the chorus: “If we are forever, I hope we just get better.”

4. Shout it Out : Mikal Cronin

Some of the best West Coast garage rock that came out this year, came courtesy of Mikal Cronin. While that particular genre can come off a little one-dimensional at times, Cronin’s music is fuller with better developed melodies and arrangements than anyone has the right to ask of a style that’s supposed to sound somewhat half-assed. “Shout it Out” shows off Cronin’s strong tendencies for songs upbeat and summery. It might be the dead of winter where you are, but it’s still warm on the coast.

5. Royals : Lorde

The ability of a 16-year-old New Zealander to seemingly appear out of the primordial sludge and dominate the pop scene made us gawk this year, but the mystery thins out when you consider a song like “Royals." There’s something very internal about the song– the realization and acceptance of a stunted social station could be cold if not for the sparse heartbeat-like drums. Not only did Lorde acknowledge the gap between “us,” the un-moneyed and un-glamorous, and those of a certain lifestyle who make a lot of the music and media that we consume, but she torched the idea that aspiration is what necessarily connects us to our iPods.

6. Q.U.E.E.N. : Janelle Monáe

I’ve learned that Janelle Monáe is almost always worth paying attention to, whether it’s catching her RIDICULOUS performance on David Letterman or spending some time unpacking her continuing tale of android revolution. There were more than a few songs on The Electric Lady that could have made this list, including “Dance Apocalyptic,” but “Q.U.E.E.N.” wins out for its sheer groove. Then, there’s that one part in the song that sounds like “Cloud Nine” by The Temptations. Done deal, folks.

7. Hey, Doreen : Lucius

In a way, this is Lucius’ second appearance on this year’s list (see San Fermin), but it’s really not surprising. The ladies from Lucius are powerful and precise. “Hey, Doreen” is a knock-out– hooky and energetic– and let’s not forget it’s high about time someone wrote a lyric about mis-buttoning your shirt.

8. Nakamarra : Hiatus Kaiyote

If you’re looking to stick a toe outside of alternative pop and rock, Hiatus Kaiyote is a solid way to go. You’ll find them in the spaces between jazz, R&B, and hip-hop. “Nakamarra” is all the explanation you’ll need for why the Melbourne band is up for the Best R&B Performance Grammy.

9. The Wire : Haim

Haim could win an award for most-hyped band of the year. Luckily, there’s something behind all the chatter. “The Wire” is my favorite track on Days are Gone. There aren’t enough girls with guitars out there, so I get particular satisfaction out of how gritty some of the playing on this song is. Plus, it is friggin' catchy.

10. San Francisco : The Mowgli’s

Rounding out the list is this rollicking sing along by The Mowgli’s. It’s all out good vibes. If you’re not the type who’s “in love with love,” the song will at least make you a believer in large groups of people (they’re an 8-piece band) having a really good time together. And that's really the only reason they can get away with a line like "Do you feel the love? I feel the love," without coming off like total cheese balls. Yes, Mowgli's, we feel the love. 

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