December 3, 2013

The Sun’s Top 10 Songs of 2013

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1. “Black Skinhead” by Kanye West

Kanye West is angry: at Louis Vuitton, at Jimmy Kimmel, at Nike and, most of all, at people who aren’t taking him seriously. Say what you want about the feasibility of a leather jogging pant, but on “Black Skinhead” ‘Ye makes incongruous fashions work. Gary Glitter handclap drum beats, ethereal wailing, distorted screams, that absolutely filthy synth mantra — we say a lot about Kanye’s ego, but this the sound of his id, all frustration, fury and the quelling of self-doubt. For his theme song, Kanye hits us with a brutal manifesto that sees him proselytizing on race, the media and his own greatness like a man possessed. It’s a warts-and-all excavation of his own personality, projected by a self-confidence and sense of purpose unparalleled by anyone in pop music. “Black Skinhead” hijacks your brain and forces you to pay attention. If you’re not taking Kanye seriously by now, you’re just not listening. — James Rainis ’14

2. “Afterlife” by Arcade Fire

By now, there are at least four different music videos of “Afterlife”: the SNL performance, the bizarre Spike Jonze dance-thing at the YouTube Music Awards, the lyric video interspersed with scenes from the movie “Black Orpheus” and the official one of a single Mexican father and his family. Despite the different narratives, the song fits them all, as well as all other stories of loss and heartbreak. “Afterlife” reminded hardcore Arcade Fire fans why they were so drawn to Funeral: It was Arcade Fire doing what they do best, creating the anthemic magic that makes you want to cry and pump your fist at the same time. Combined with just a light touch of James Murphy, the song urges us to dance at the cusp of death — not out of hedonistic celebration, but content, teary remembrance of everything that is good in the world we are leaving. — Kai Sam Ng ’14

3. “Full of Fire” by The Knife

Hey you! Tired of worshipping your corporate overlords in silence? The Knife has the song for you! “Full of Fire” is over nine minutes of mechanistic electropop to get you appeasing the patriarchy the old fashioned way. Try any one of these synergistic dance moves: The Goldman Shuffle, the Citi Chanteuse. Good luck stopping this frisk, Bloomberg! We’re on a roll! Back and forth, back and forth, liberals giving me a nerve itch. No, the song hasn’t ended, you keep your feet moving! Now repeat after me, just like we rehearsed. OBEY, CONSUME, CONFORM!  OBEY, CONSUME, CONFORM! — Paul Blank ’14

4. “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae is one of the smartest musicians alive. She tackles difficult social issues with amazing subtlety and tact, and gets us to dance to the groove. Many artists put out dissing tracks after their newfound fame, but Monae uses  “Q.U.E.E.N.” to talk about more than just herself. With her alter-ego as the cyborg Cindi Mayweather, Monae carries on the long Funk tradition of Afrofuturist funk musicians who use science fiction tropes to highlight racial inequity in America. She pointedly asks — so innocently you might miss it — “Will your God accept me in my black and white? Will he approve the way I’m made?” But her last verses are so powerful and pointed they deserve to be reprinted: “Are we a lost generation of our people? Add us to equations but they’ll never make use equal.” She will permit you to groove, but you’ll do it by her rules. — Kai Sam Ng ’14

5. “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake

Even though Justin Timberlake, at this point arguably pop’s leading man, tried his hand at a concept album this year, he hasn’t completely abandoned his accessible roots that began with N’Sync. Ditching his frosted tips for dapper tuxedos and pomade-laden hair, Timberlake has certainly been finding his niche as he matures. This doesn’t mean he’s given up on making pop bangers, though, and “Mirrors” delivers swinging pop goodness in spades. Equal parts electronic magic and J.T.’s angelic voice, “Mirrors” is proof that Justin’s mainstream side is far from dead. — Mike Sosnick ’16

6. “Hannah Hunt” by Vampire Weekend

It’s not a single, it’s not a dance track, it’s not the irresistible cocktail that is “Diane Young.” But we all return to “Hannah Hunt.” Perhaps we don’t hear songs as tender and forthright as this anymore, even when we know they do us a whole lot of good. Ezra Koenig’s lyrics speak to the mystical potency of love — how it turns atheists into believers, skeptics into storytellers. Instead of God, however, our lover has Hannah, another mortal who “live[s] on the US dollar.” As he belts his exasperation at how anti-romantic the world is over spritely E Street Band-esque keys, we know he’ll try, goddammit, to keep the dream alive. — Zach Zahos ’15

7. “White Noise” by Disclosure

“White Noise” is a perfect example of the kind of hipster-pleasing and club-banging house hits that defined one of this year’s top releases, Disclosure’s Settle. Featuring the slinky vocals of AlunaGeorge, whose sharp staccato meshes perfectly with the looping synth that accompanies her, the track plays like a sped-up and coked-out version of Sbtrkt’s “Wildfire.” The lyrics themselves also embody the inherent duality of this album. On one level, they’re prime for partying — “Lately I’ve been thinking, if you want to get tough / then let’s play rough,” Aluna repeats beckoningly throughout. But, those music fans that like their house with a bit of brains need only delve a bit deeper into her instistence that she be heard as more than “just noise, white noise.”  In short, it’s a track with the hooks to satisfy casual listeners and the IQ to gain the approval of even the snobbiest critic. — Sam Bromer ’16

8. “Stoned and Starving” by Parquet Courts

Fine, it’s a song about getting high and shopping for snacks, but it’s a song about getting high and shopping for snacks like “Sister Ray” is just a song about oral sex and shooting up heroin. “Stoned and Starving” is a drone rock epic that marries Sonic Youth’s trash culture beat poetry with a motorik pace that suggests the underlying anxiety that comes from looking up the ingredients on a bag of Swedish Fish. Like a punk rock version of Das Racist, Parquet Courts deadpan on the minutiae of the stoner lifestyle with a fervor that suggests maybe — just maybe — our decision between “roasted peanuts or licorice” says something important about us after all. — James Rainis ’14

9. “Childhoods End” by Majical Cloudz

Known for their enigmatic live performances and depressive lyrics, Majical Cloudz have produced another memorable heart-sinker with “Childhood’s End.” This track, a single from their LP Impersonator, creates an unsettling mental space as Devon Welsh’s dark voice croons about a child’s father being shot and killed. Laid over sparse electronics and percussion, Welsh’s vocal prowess gives the stand-out single its profound weight. “Childhood’s End” may not be the best way to start a day, but its stark, intense beauty makes it irresistible. — Mike Sosnick ’16

10. “Peace and Quiet” by Waxahatchee

Katie Crutchfield’s first outing as Waxahatchee, the staunchly lo-fi American Weekend, sounds like a series of crossed-out entries from a diary — the sort of unfiltered musings that are too intimate to put on display. “Peace and Quiet,” from this year’s excellent Cerulean Salt, finds Crutchfield mining the same personal ground with a newfound self-assuredness. The lyrics reflect on the futility of revenge (“If I muster the strength to afflict you, I won’t feel any better at all”) amid a propulsive chorus that hints at Crutchfield’s time with beloved pop-punkers P.S. Eliot. Ideal for post-relationship angst, “Peace and Quiet” is an anthem for lonely bedroom romantics everywhere. — James Rainis ’14