A belated thank you to everybody who read and commented on the first installment, as I present yet another 15 tunes that made my year.
While we were treated to the art of the comeback from the likes of Mariah Carey, David Bowie, and Toni Braxton, new fresh-faced acts outnumbered them 7 to 1 throughout the entire list. Out of the 100 selections I deemed the cream of the crop, more than half the acts have either yet to release a debut full-length or did so in the previous year.
30. ST. LUCIA – “Elevate”
Do you like giddy synth-pop? Of course you do. What’s not to love about the summer-soaked “Elevate”? Jean-Philip Grobler, in addition to being my favorite Hawaiian shirt wearing hunk of the year, managed to do what many cannot, creating a finely layered atomic pop anthem that immediately differentiates itself from the already-crowded mass of dreamy electro tunes.
29. TONI BRAXTON & BABYFACE – “Hurt You”
Tamar may have raised the bar for R&B in 2013, but you can never keep a good Braxton girl down, as it was Toni who surprised us all, teaming up with Babyface to unleash one of the most raw and real R&B ballads of the year. Forgoing the quiet storm and electro elements that dominated the scene in recent years, “Hurt You” still manages to sound as fresh in 2013 as it would have in Braxton’s heyday.
28. SAY LOU LOU – “Better In The Dark”
Continuing their roll from 2012, the third (!!!) entry from Say Lou Lou on this list marks their first foray into something a tad more upbeat. A stark contrast from slower cuts “Julian” and “Beloved”, “Better In The Dark” proves to be just as dreamy, showcasing the twins ethereal harmonies over a multi-layered soundscape of airy synths and thumping bass.
27. MARIAH CAREY WITH MIGUEL – “#Beautiful”
Another R&B gem that proves you can’t keep the legends down for long. After less than stellar performances with “Triumphant” and “Almost Home”, Mimi found her footing with Miguel and “#Beautiful”. Hashtag aside, the cut from Mariah’s forthcoming fourteenth studio album breezes by in a warm summer haze, as she and Miguel trade verses over a smooth, minimal guitar-led beat.
26. DISCLOSURE – “When A Fire Starts To Burn”
‘EDM’ still held court in 2013, making hitmakers from Avicii to Zedd household names; however it was the brothers Disclosure who managed to become the real breakouts of the genre. Fresh off of 2012’s The Face, the duo hit paydirt upon the release of their debut full-length Settle, which shot to #1 in the UK and the top 40 in the US. The album’s finest cut? The tinged, bubbling opener that ricochets you from wall-to-wall, leaving you exhausted yet begging for more.
25. CUT COPY – “Free Your Mind”
2012 just wasn’t as fun without these boys, but like always, the Cut Copy lads made 2013 worth the wait, following 2011’s Zonoscope (the best album of said year, IMO) with Free Your Mind, the group’s deepest venture into electronica yet. The title track submerges you in a deep mixture of booming bass and 90’s house piano, giving new meaning to the term ‘sensory overload’.
24. ANNIE – “Invisible”
Proving that all the best things do come from Scandinavia, Annie made us forget that she ever left with the release of The A&R EP, the follow-up to Don’t Stop sees Annie remain ahead of the curve once again with her cheerleader-style chants over twinkling 80’s beats. However it was the darker, more melancholy “Invisible” that ended up being the standout, trading bopping melodies for speak-sing verses and pitched, often unrecognizable vocals.
23. BLOOD ORANGE – “Chamakay”
Dev Hynes managed to still hang on to his ‘it producer’ title, albeit with a new muse this time. After a 2012 filled with collaborations with Solange and Sky Ferreira, Dev enlists the help of Friends’ Samantha Urbani on many cuts from 2013’s Cupid Deluxe, including the brooding, grim “Chamakay”, which sees Hynes and Urbani vocalize over layers of delicate slices of dream pop, topped off with a smooth sax solo that feels not a bit out of place.
22. ARIANA GRANDE – “Tattooed Heart”
i just… who expected this, honestly? Sure, “The Way” was indescribably catchy and “Baby I” not that far behind, but “Tattooed Heart” was the clincher that cemented me as a full fledged Ariana Grande stan. Simply enough, “Tattooed Heart” is the song that plays in the romantic comedy just before both parties agree to give it one last shot. It’s Motown, it’s adorable, it’s simply genius.
21. BEYONCÉ – “Partition”
Late entry! Late entry! I somehow managed to crowbar Bey into this list on a technicality, and I’m so glad I did. With a simple click of a mouse in the eleventh hour, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter managed to make 2013 her year, shutting the mouths of her naysayers while simultaneously making our jaws drop in awe. “Partition” remains Beyoncé‘s standout: a five-minute romp that effortlessly oozes sexuality; packing a heavy punch and a Monica Lewinsky reference all in the first three minutes.
20. JAMES BLAKE – “Retrograde”
“Sophomore slump” is a term that has plagued many artists in recent years, thankfully that term need not apply to the 25 year-old from London and his second release, Overgrown. “Retrograde” sees Blake serve up a tried and true soul crooner for the Instagram generation. Backed by his trademark buzzy synths and a previously unheard lower register refrain, the reasons behind Blake’s recent Mercury Prize win remain no secret.
19. OUTFIT – “Thank God I Was Dreaming”
One of 2013’s most promising breakout acts, Outfit managed to slip under my radar for a good chunk of the year, and only after catching a glimpse of their brutalism inspired album cover for Performance did I have to shut up and listen. Judging this book by it’s cover paid off, exposing me to some of the most sublime, finely-crafted dream pop in recent memory. “Thank God I Was Dreaming” is smothered in a thick smog that remains omnipresent throughout the record, creating a body of work drenched in blissed-out hedonism.
18. THE SATURDAYS – “Gentleman”
A top tiered showcase in sass, “Gentleman” managed to be the song that you either adored or abhorred in 2013. The Saturdays’ follow-up to the #1 “What About Us” is a funky, tongue in cheek pastiche of 90’s hip-hop, topped with an inescapable hook and a whole lot of attitude. Una & Co. speak-sing their hearts out, pining for a lover straight out of the most chivalrous of decades, the 90’s. It may not be paying the bills (the single stalled at #14 in the UK charts) or showcasing their talents to the furthest extent, you surely couldn’t find a more fun record to sing after a few rounds.
17. DRAKE FEATURING MAJID JORDAN – “Hold On, We’re Going Home”
Smoother than tuscan leather, Drake dons his vocalist cap for a minute and churns out one of the year’s most unexpected tearjerkers in the process. “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is an exercise in what a tasteful, modern synthpop tune should be. Sitting well alongside grittier cuts “Started From The Bottom” and “5AM in Toronto”, the second release from Nothing Was The Same sees Drake on a mission to lock down some love, exposing listeners to an entire new facet of his artistry and
16. CHVRCHES – “Now Is Not The Time”
With critical and commercial acclaim for singles “The Mother We Share” and “Gun”, it’s easy to see how this EP track could get lost in the shuffle. Easily miles above the A-side of the Recover EP, “Now Is Not The Time” takes the CHVRCHES formula and turns the dial down a few notches, trading in your face synths for a subdued, more new wave-ish direction and resulting in a ghostly, divine piece of modern 80’s prom pop.