This is Eyewear's 3131st post! What a year for pop and indie music 2013 has been. We have had comebacks from David Bowie and Adam Ant, Travis, Mazzy Star, Prefab Sprout, Pixies, Paul McCartney, Johnny Marr, Alice In Chains, Boy George and My Bloody Valentine, just to mention a few of the more unlikely ones. And we have had major pop albums and tracks from Katy Perry, Cher, and Lady Gaga. And, great Glasgow bands have had a good year, too, with a new Franz Ferdinand, and Chvrches. And new albums from big hitters The National, Pearl Jam, and Arctic Monkeys. Meanwhile, Montreal's own, Arcade Fire, returned with a massive classic. And, not to be outdone, several bands reinvented dance-funk-disco at the same time, including Phoenix and Daft Punk. Oh, and James Blake won the Mercury. And mercurial genius Kanye had a new, sonically off-putting release. And yet, and yet. Eyewear's annual round-up of the year's best tracks is never based on critical plaudits or any legitimate critical methodology more complex than the ear-worm. Here are the 13 tracks/songs that managed to keep me in love with them the longest, or had the most outstanding impact. Completists please note I have avoided listing the Thicke 'Blurred Lines' track as I tend to agree with those critics who view its sexist message as offensive.
1. 'Big TV' - White Lies. To me, this song was a great mix of Simple Minds pomp and literary intelligence, even humanism, as it spoke of the experience of an Eastern European woman coming to the UK to try and make a viable life for herself. Uplifting and deep and new wave.
2. 'G.U.Y''' - Lady Gaga. There is no odder or sexier presence in contemporary pop, and no one richer either. Her new album is a pretentious mess, and a grab-bag of great pop moments. This song is amazingly queer, funny, flamboyant and weird, and has, to my mind, the strangest pop line of the year when she says she wants to be "the grave unearth you". Really?
3. 'Get Lucky' - Daft Punk. This was the hit of the summer, and the return of Disco inflections in new music. There was no more joyous song this year. A classic.
4. 'Good Together' - Chapel Club. Remember those 12 inch songs that New Order used to do? Recall the late 80s dance floors of your misbegotten youth? Chapel Club played their part in fusing dance and new wave, and gave us this great long-player. A sexy groove is made.
5. 'Hypnotic Regression' - Girls Names. Speaking of New Order, here came a band from Belfast that channelled The Cure and New Order at their danciest, and created one of the most sublime stylishly constrained albums of the year, as if Interpol had followed the Northern Irish injunction - whatever you say, say nothing. Utterly empty of meaning content, these songs, and especially this one, are simply perfectly rendered indie/ new wave songs of silk cut.
6. 'In The City' - Caveman. This year's out of the blue hit for me was this one. I had never heard of these folks. But their song was so romantic, plaintive, and melodic, I have listened to it almost every day for six months, and never become less than entranced. It is light and groovy and sweet.
7. 'Never Run Away' - Kurt Vile. Vile is a brilliant worker in the same mines and fields as Tom Petty and the late great Elliott Smith. In short, he crafts haunting, deep, lyrical guitar singer-songwriter rock. This is a great song, of course, and it has some fine alliteration.
8. 'Reflektor' - Arcade Fire. Another long, disco-inflected song. And the true best David Bowie moment of the year Bowie returned. And a song that has lots of French in it. It shouldn't work, but it does, because this baggy monster of a song has some great lines, intriguing imagery, and a killer musical structure that ambles along then once in a while explodes into insane catchiness and thrilling exponential momentum. They found the connector, yet again.
9. 'Royals' - Lorde. The most surprising arrival of the year was Lorde, who arrived like Topsy. Suddenly, there was this young petulant adolescent in NZ, almost as annoying as Homeland's Dana. But she has great pipes, tunes, and an attitude and style that made her every critics new mini-Lana. This song took America by storm and is the natural riposte to the Bling Ring.
10. 'Summertime Sadness' - Lana Del Rey. Speaking of Lana, this summertime single, and its dance remix, somehow entrenched itself as a perfect emblem of preppie ennui and lovelorn loss. She may not be good for us, she may be artifice all the way up, but she is still e-lec-tric tonight, and for all time. She is the most Thanatos-driven celeb out there at the moment, and the most sensual. And this isn't even her great Gatsby song.
11. 'Sweater Weather' - The Neighbourhood. These are probably insufferable boy-men. This is a boy band song. It smacks of total arrogant plastic emptiness. But it is also indefinably lewd and lusty in beat and message in a way that Herrick would have toe-tapped to. Lyrically, its undressing of the love object and setting of the scene "no shirt, no blouse" - was risque and genuinely erotic. It reminded me of every fumbling adolescent encounter, and swoons us all back to first loves and windy days on autumnal beaches.
12. 'Trying To Be Cool' - Phoenix. Most years, this would have been the song of the summer. It wasn't even the disco-pop fusion of the summer by a European band. Oh well. It is still one of the smoothest, hippest, and danciest songs ever crafted by a French band. And a great 80s revival moment, to boot.
13. 'Work B**ch' - Britney Spears. Love her or hate her, Spears is Gaga's only true rival now that Madonna is not firing on all cylinders. And she is a humorist. Her vocals on this workout gem are priceless. When she sings "party in France" comedic genius is at play. She is a professional and here she observes that hot bodies and mansions come at a price. For all of us. When she says "Go call the Governor" I thrilled.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Darwin Deez's 'All In The Wrist' was as clever as Prefab Sprout at his best; 'Ancient & Modern' by Fallen Leaves was fantastic garage rock; 'Attestupa' by Holograms was as sinister as Joy Division; 'Call The Police' by The Oblivians was very anarchic Cajun rock; 'Easy Easy' by King Krule introduced a new raw voice into British indie; 'Feelers' by Crushed Beaks was a great pop moment; 'Fireproof' by The National saw them becoming Radiohead; 'Flexxin' by Dutch Uncles was a charming smart song; 'Getaway' was one of the best Pearl Jam songs; Swim Deep's 'Honey' laid on the indie sexy style thick; Mazzy Star's 'In The Kingdom' is a dream; 'King of Everything' is actually a moving return by Boy George. 'Nothing Arrived' by Villagers was really fine piano rock; 'Nuclear Seasons' by Charli XCX almost made my top thirteen - she is a pop star in the making; 'Pale Green Ghosts' by John Grant is indie electro pop put to very intelligent use; 'Paradise' by Monster Magnet is one of the coolest heavy metal songs since Metallica met the Sandman; 'Retrograde' by James Blake was lovely; 'Right Action' by Franz Ferdinand was arguably the 14th catchiest song of the year; 'Shiver and Shake' by Katie Melua was really very sexy alt-country pop nonsense; 'Shock To You System' by Tegan and Sara was fine work. 'Your Life Is A Lie' by MGMT was very Pink Floyd and very good. Cults have a great new dream-pop track with 'High Road'; meanwhile, Miles Kane's 'Better Than That' actualy was. And, for those who like their music to sound like In Utero, here was Radkey, with 'Overwhelmed' - kick-ass.
We are living at a time of empty, exciting, delightful pop masterworks, crafted by hardworking men and women with more technical skill and technology than ever before. This was not a year for depths, but deep shallows. Pitched somewhere between 1985 and 1975, we had the best of disco and new wave dance fused in a 21st century sheen of production, at the height of state of the art capitalist productivity.
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