Part of the pleasure of listening to music is tracking down the less obvious joys: obscure covers, remixes and deep cuts that didn’t get a whole lot of attention. There were plenty such songs kicking about in 2013, and it seems a shame not to draw attention to them just because they didn’t quite make it onto our albums of the year list — so here are 20 songs that you may or may not have read about elsewhere, and that your correspondent enjoyed greatly over the last 12 months.
Angel Haze — “Same Love”
All of Angel Haze’s freestyle “30 Gold” series were ace, but this was particularly special: a poignant and personal reading of Macklemore’s “Same Love,” cataloging her struggles with her parents and quoting extensively from Andrea Gibson’s poem “Andrew.” Bring on December 30 and the release of Dirty Gold.
BEAK> — “Welcome to the Machine”
Geoff Barrow has always been outspoken in his opinions about the music industry, which makes for a suitably misanthropic Pink Floyd cover from the most endearingly grumpy man on Twitter and his two kosmische-lovin’ bandmates.
Blood Orange — “You’re Not Good Enough”
The proverbial iron fist in the velvet glove, this is a deceptively pretty piece of chrome-plated high-gloss pop music that conceals a pretty brutal lyric: “I never was in love, you know that you were never good enough/ For sleeping next to me, you know that you were never good enough.” Poor Hynes has been in the news for some pretty awful reasons of late, so it’s nice to remind ourselves that he’s first and foremost a fantastic songwriter.
Burial — “Rival Dealer”
New Burial EP! And so music writers the world over cursed themselves for submitting their end-of-year lists early in December.
Coma Cinema — “Partners in Crime”
An album called Posthumous Release is never gonna be the cheeriest listen, and sure enough, Mat Cothran’s excellent album is pretty harrowing listening at times — never more so than on this track, which is the most quietly heartbreaking song of 2013.
Cut Copy — “Free Your Mind” (Spiritualized remix)
The new Cut Copy album was pretty forgettable, but this remix was fantastic, mainly because Jason Pierce basically reinvented “Free Your Mind” as a Spiritualized song. Bravo.
Dean Blunt — “Brutal”
The Redeemer was one of those albums that just missed our albums-of-the-year post, although others have been far more generous in their praise for it (Fact named it their album of the year). If you haven’t explored its pleasures yet, you’re really missing out — it’s a strange and difficult break-up album, a compelling mixture of Hype Williams-esque weirdness and latter-day torch songs. This is one of the latter, and is one of the prettiest things you’ll hear all year.
EMA — “Satellites”
December’s usually a pretty shitty month for album releases, but this year it gave us some unexpected pleasures — in particular, the return of EMA, who has a new album due out next year. She released this, the first single from it, a couple of weeks back, and it’s great — very different to Past Life Martyred Saints, and promising a fascinating new direction for its accompanying record.
HTRK — “Give It Up”
Also due out early-ish next year: the new HTRK album. This is the lead single, and like EMA’s new song, it appeared unexpectedly a couple of weeks back. Its sound is a subtle progression from the sound of Work (work, work), and bodes very well for the new record.
Jenny Hval — “Innocence is Kinky”
“That night, I watched people fucking on my computer” is one of the more attention-grabbing opening lines of the year, and the naif way it’s delivered rather sums up the mood of Jenny Hval’s masterful Innocence is Kinky. Both the album and its title track address sexuality in a way that’s disarmingly frank and also somewhat disconcerting, swinging between childlike innocence and something very adult indeed.
Ka — “Off the Record”
The clue’s in the title, although without the video to prompt you, it might take a couple of minutes to realize that not only is Brooklyn rapper Ka telling a compelling story here… he’s doing it entirely in the titles of classic hip hop records. It’s one of the cleverest lyrics of the year, and all the more so because the conceit doesn’t feel at all gimmicky or contrived.
Kelis — “Jerk Ribs”
The best song of 2013 that wasn’t — it appeared in early May, disappeared a couple of weeks later, and hasn’t been heard of again since. Quite what this means for the arrival of the album(s) she was supposed to release this year is unclear, but hopefully both they and “Jerk Ribs” will surface again sooner or later, because the song was ace. (You can hear it here.)
Kevin Morby — “Slow Train”
The Woods bassist’s solo album was one of the quiet, underappreciated pleasures of the latter half of 2013, and this track embodies all its virtues: soulful, melodic, understated and beautiful.
The Necks — “Open”
OK, yes, this is kind of cheating because this is a one-track album — but still, if you want 68 minutes of blissful peace, look no further.
Ras G and the Afrikan Space Program — “All is Well…”
One of the great pleasures of compiling Flavorwire’s regular Songs of the Week feature is the constant possibility of stumbling across something like this. If you happen to be partial to trippy Afrofuturist pop that combines scattershot percussion, spacey synths and a bowel-shaking kick sound (and a video that seems to involve communing with ducks) — well, you’ve cone to the right place.
Scout Niblett — “Gun”
“I think I’m gonna buy me a gun,” announces Emma Niblett as this track begins. She spends the next five minutes doing a pretty dead-on impression of ’90s vintage PJ Harvey — not a criticism, because this doesn’t feel overly derivative, for all its resemblance to Polly Jean’s finest work. Instead, it’s dynamic and striking — as, indeed was the rest of It’s Up to Emma.
Sky Ferreira — “24 Hours”
Even for those not generally inclined to enjoying pop music (like, y’know, me), Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time was a pleasure from start to finish, and one that happily put the spotlight where it belonged: on her music. The album overflows with melodies and is characterized throughout by pleasantly scuzzy, lo-fi production — both of which are very much in evidence on this album cut, which got played an awful lot at Flavorwire central this year.
Trentemøller — “Gravity”
Trentemøller’s album Lost featured a whole lot of interesting collaborations, but the best was this brooding piece featuring Lower Dens’ Jana Hunter. The track keeps threatening to accelerate into a full-fledged motorik freakout of the type that Hunter’s band do so well, but it never quite does so, meaning that the listening experience is somehow tense and disconcerting.
Tricky — “Somebody’s Sins”
Tricky’s False Idols was quite possibly his best record since his 1995 debut (and 24-carat classic) Maxinquaye, which was thoroughly heartening news for those of us who’ve been waiting the best part of a decade for him to make something decent. This lead track was particularly good, reinventing Patti Smith’s “Gloria” as a claustrophobic, paranoid piece of hip hop.
Tyler, the Creator — “Jamba”
Say what you like about his lyrics (and trust me, I’ve said plenty), but his influence as a producer is undeniable. This was the most memorable piece of beatsmithery from Wolf, a track that manages to sound dark and abrasive while also being catchy as hell. It’s one of those tracks you find yourself loving despite yourself – which, presumably, is just how Tyler likes it.