10. Julianna Barwick - One Half
Julianna Barwick is a cunning but clever mistress of slow-burning, chilly-centred ambiance. "One Half" may have all the hallmarks of a tundra-dressed sweep of frosty vocals and spacious production, but approaching the track's pinnacle - and utterly mesmerizing - latter-half, Barwick blasts away the idle sentience of her sound with string instrumentation layered so profoundly into the mix, and a close huddle of voices impeccably rich and emotional, that the combined force of the songwriter's maturity is more than bound to pry open the tear-ducts to a fair few listeners.
9. Young Galaxy - Pretty Boy
Even before Young Galaxy’s lets out a solitary syllable to what would be a comforting tale of finding solace in one another's isolation, the arpeggiated pulses of synths on "Pretty Boy" immediately entail that for this particular synth pop stand-out, the intention is far less substantiated, if still celebratory and proud. Thus it's the match-up of bold, focused vocals and Galaxy's consistently focused electronics that help push the track's personal lyricism and soothing comfort of such, into much longer-lasting proof that synth-pop can too contain hefty amounts of soul.
8. Autre Ne Veut - Ego Free Sex Free
The forth track to Adley Atkin’s follow-up as Autre Ne Veut may be titled like some desperate hand-waving reminder that said track is in fact devoid of such tired themes in contemporary music, but if anything, the US singer-songwriter’s heightened manner in such themes is both rewarding and just. In a track that finds Atkin at his most stylishly acute - lavish shifts of polished beats, 80s synths, MIDI choirs and Atkin’s nasally-pushing vocals - "Ego Free Sex Free" is a highly-decorated mammoth in the World of rhythm and blues. But beyond the showcase of dense layering & catchy hooks, there’s a striking and touching passion about the piece; a compelling tale of lust and desire that is chock with style, but is greater still in substance and emphatic delivery.
7. The Knife - Full Of Fire
Take a lesson from The Knife. If you’re out to impress upon your much-anticipated, long-awaited return to music, do it in a similarly powerful vain to the pulsating degradation that is "Full Of Fire". From out a frosty clog of shuffling beats and percussion, Karin Dreijer’s sinisterly low-key lyrics - like the knob-twisting deforming the track undergoes - sink into a semi-vulgar exposure of which the nightmarish distortion of electronics gladly readjust towards in eye-popping richness. Within possibly one of The Knife’s most outspoken, outwardly bombarding tracks of their discography to date, the Swedish siblings undergo the kind of socio-political grabbing of attention that is fortunately removed of contextual abundance, and is left to consistently provoke but satisfy in its tone and its directness.
6. Cut Copy - Free Your Mind
“Free Your Mind” can be confused with a 90s Haçienda club classic. The powerful bass riff adds to the Screamadelica sound Cut Copy have gone for on their fourth album titled – Free Your Mind. It’s a brilliant title with a great message, and the title track acts as a defining single for 2013. Where Jagwar Ma hit the ball running on their album Howlin’, Cut Copy have taken that Madchester vibe and cut through it, going back to house, and acid visions. The piano has 90s written all over it, and the vocal cuts are just as funky as Happy Mondays.
5. Cut Copy - We Are Explorers
Not for the first time do we here in the subtler corners of the World find ourselves immersed in Cut Copy’s globe-trodden euphoria - the culmination of positively-lively psychedelia, dance hooks and harmonic vocals a gripping sound that is hard to ignore. "We Are Explorers", like fellow tracks on Free Your Mind, is arguably more contained and focused than on previous records, but this doesn’t remove any of the Australian outfit’s ability to sustain and liberate. "We Are Explorers'" 90’s sheen and robust House build is immediate in its affection - colourfully lively synths and beats marching in proud pace as Dan Whitford’s kaleidoscopic voice spreads across the floor and further amplifies the band’s edge as one of present-day dance’s most exciting acts at present.
4. Lorde - Royals
Lorde’s second single on our list grazes the top five. “Royals” has been heard by everyone now, we’re all well aware with it. It managed to top the US chart, though that is a celebration of popularity rather than success. “Royals” is the minimalistic, simple single that laughs at the pop stars in the media. It’s a parody of certain get rich, and show off, style of song. Using a basic progression as the means to suggest these songs are not the norm, and are not what the youth should expect / be exposed to by the media as normality.
3. Savages - She Will
Feminist anthem? Maybe. “She Will” brightly lights the target Savages have in their eyes every time the white light shines through their hair on stage. It’s not a slutty promoting song, as some idiotic critics / listeners may presume – it’s quite the opposite. “She Will” takes a look at popular female culture, mocks the 3am sleaze girl, and tells them not to be the call girl – and to become the strong, sophisticated lass their brain and society is telling them to be. It’s gritty, filthy in lyricism, and above all, magnificent at delivering a message that needs to be heard.
2. Jon Hopkins - Open Eye Signal
While many eager producers set out to establish new ground - most merely covering the same regions with sleeker alternatives - the answer to redefining electronic music’s journeyed characteristics, lay in the symphonic wizardry of Jon Hopkins’ long-winding, window-observant pause for thought that is "Open Eye Signal". The track’s hazed, dusty presence - while less some striving endeavour - sticks out like a curious looking-out to the wider World. As Hopkins leads us into a striking groove of Techno-House wavers and synthesizer leads, the microscopic changes and rolling consistencies of its shape - as is the case when observing the many passing landscapes of a train or bus journey - are ultimately captivating, but more-so gripped with a greater degree of emotional engagement. Thus even in the most drastic of the track’s fluxes, because of its visage of a journey without end, Hopkins lands the listener with music’s ultimate truth: sound is both limitless…and an endless voyage to continue investigating.
1. Vampire Weekend - Step
Another year, another Volkswagen topping a list. Vampire Weekend were everywhere in 2013 - with singles, with tracks, and with an album of pure indie pop referencing madness. Ezra Koenig’s vocal delivery and flow is very much like the rap he’s influenced by. The beats on Modern Vampires of the City take from a whole range of sources: reggae, hip-hop, classical, and baroque pop. “Step” comes from sampling Souls of Mischief's "Step to My Girl", which in turn samples a melody from Grover Washington Jr.'s cover of Bread's "Aubrey”, so Vampire Weekend had to clear the “Aubrey” sample. The other remarkable sampling is the melody to “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel. It’s been tried and tested before, notably The Farm’s “All Together Now”, but “Step” is the only true piece of emotive sampling of “Canon in D”. It’s a special single which takes the love of music and places it above and beyond any significant artist. There are references galore, with perceptions ranging from music, a companion, and a city - It’s much simpler than the deep analysts think. Read our track review of “Step”.