Here are my Top 25 Songs and Films of 2013 (15-6):
15. Kings of Leon – Supersoaker (WAR value: 7.0)
It’s not just that I wasn’t over the moon for “Supersoaker” when I first heard it, I really didn’t like it. I thought it was an odd choice for a lead single — the wrong choice. Man alive was I misguided. I think I changed my mind sometime after I’d heard the track for the tenth time. Its wonder and greatness unfurled to me like a flower exposing itself to the warmth of spring. It was a risky but brilliant choice as a lead single. It sounds modern yet classic. Caleb Followill’s vocal is fantastic. The production is flawless. And the line, “I don’t mind, sentimental girls, sometimes…” kills. “Supersoaker” is far and away the best song on their latest LP, Mechanical Bull, and one of the best songs they’ve ever done.
The Conjuring (WAR value: 5.0)
The Conjuring was legitimately frightening with twists and turns aplenty. The rare horror film that’s scary yet fun to watch. An impressive directorial effort by James Wan, who used a game cast to delicious effect.
14. The 1975 – Sex/The City (WAR value: 7.3)
I prefer this original version to the newer, slightly massaged version. There’s something a little more free about this one. It breathes better. “Sex” is rife with passion. It’s desperate, uncomfortable, energetic, and it sounds so bloody good. It sounds undeniably of the present. It seems like the musical hooks number in the thousands, and even still, there are more. I haven’t seen this band live yet, but I’m willing to bet a large sum that the line “she’s got a boyfriend anyway” is sung with rapturous vitality at their shows. “Sex” announced that The 1975 are interested in filling arenas in the near future.
Where I prefer the less polished, original version of “Sex”, I prefer this, the more polished, newer version of “The City”. The mix of kick-drum-heard-on-the-moon, electric guitar plucking and pulsating, and shoe-gaze synthesizers is a titanic combination. Many other bands are employing this type of sound, but almost no others make it sound as good as The 1975. I also love how the lyric in the chorus can be heard as “the city is” or “insidious” depending on what you want to hear. Neat trick. This band is up to some really big things.
Pain and Gain (WAR value: 5.1)
Here is where I retract my earlier statement about Michael Bay. Sure, he can make bloated films that seem to coast by on action-by-numbers, things breaking, blowing up, and the like. Pain and Gain has some of that, but it’s also extremely enjoyable. Mark Wahlberg was game as the lead in this take on the pursuit of the (Performance Enhancing Drugged Up) American Dream. But by far, I enjoyed this movie most because of The Rock. Dwayne Johnson’s absolutely hilarious. I didn’t know he had this kind of performance in him. He was a riot for much of the film, at turns being loony, irrational, paranoid, and unpredictable. For me, it’s his finest acting job to date. Pain and Gain is preposterous, trashy, silly, stupid, but so damned fun.
Song-wise, I’d say the following tunes are in an echelon above everything else this past year. These are special songs…
13. Neko Case – Local Girl (WAR value: 8.0)
From time to time, I’ll mention how a band or artist sounds unique, because of their voice, lyrics, or sound. With Neko Case, I couldn’t mean the sentiment more, and it’s all of the above. No one in the world has a voice like hers, so clean, so full of force and power. Her voice sounds like a mountain having a conversation with the wind, repeated to the plains and sung for the animals. Her lyrics are one-of-a-kind, considered, literate, creative, and heart-rattling. And her sound is just as rare, an ode to the alt/country/pop of yore. The melody in “Local Girl” is absolutely, positively, stunning. Neko soars here in every way imaginable. It’s my favourite song from her of-course-it-is brilliant(ly titled) album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Neko Case is a throwback. I couldn’t be more firm in my resolve when I say I love her as an artist: her voice, music, intelligence, and creativity. For me, it’ll always be Neko Case and then everyone else.
This Is The End (WAR value: 5.4)
This Is The End is a tonne of fun. Seeing the stellar cast play caricatures of themselves was delightful. James Franco and Seth Rogen were on point. Michael Cera was a riot. And Jonah Hill was really good too — spoiler alert — particularly in the bust-a-gut-funny scene where he’s possessed and is tied to a bed.
12. Blue October – Sway/Bleed Out (WAR value: 8.1)
I feel close to Blue October. From the first time I heard “Hate Me”, I fell for lead singer Justin Furstenfeld’s passionate delivery and way with melody. The band hasn’t garnered the attention they deserve since that first big hit. They’re still pumping out mammoth, great-sounding, emotionally resonating alt-rock songs though, with “Sway” and “Bleed Out” being two gargantuan efforts. Both tunes contain hooks galore. They induce shivers. They tug at heartstrings. They’re beautiful songs. I can’t say enough how much I dig Blue October, and how much I love these two spectacular, emotionally invigorating songs.
The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug (WAR value: 5.7)
This movie looked spectacular, particularly the dwarves’ escape from elven captivity into the river. The Hobbit is one of my all-time favourite books, so I was trusting, wide-eyed and receptive to how Peter Jackson and company would visualize Tolkien’s seminal tome. Jackson did it justice, inasmuch as a movie can do a book justice. I was immersed in the world — yet again — and can’t wait to see how things wrap up in the final instalment.
11. Chvrches – Recover/Now Is Not The Time/Lies (WAR value: 8.3)
All three of these songs, “Recover”, “Now Is Not The Time”, and “Lies” are perfect, pristine pop songs. It’s the construction, the delivery, the sum of the sounds. Everything is bang on. I bet Chvrches were meticulous in crafting these songs. It sounds like no detail was left unconsidered. Sometimes this can make a song bland or robotic. Not here. These songs are brimming with organic life and freshness. What stunned me most was that Chvrches kept dropping hit after hit after hit. I was flabbergasted. It didn’t make sense that any band or artist could be that prolific, especially a new band like Chvrches. But after “Lies” and “The Mother We Share” came “Recover”, after which came “Now Is Not The Time”. At that point, I was seriously shocked. It wasn’t possible that a band’s first four songs could be that good. But it was happening. Then, came “Gun”, which is also fantastic, and a few months later, their debut album, The Bones Of What You Believe finally arrived. Then we were given more(!) bangers, “Lungs” and “Tether” leading the way. I’m still perplexed by how this came to be. Chvrches are the best new band I’ve heard since Future Islands. Their way with synth-pop — in an absurdly crowded field — is utterly unique, an immaculate amalgam of the past with an uncompromising and unrepeatable take on the present and future.
Now Is Not The Time:
American Hustle (WAR value: 5.8)
I enjoyed American Hustle, and I will admit that it’s, in many ways (the acting, direction, and story), an excellent film, but something’s holding me back from liking it more. The only thing I can come up is that the leads, though acted superbly, are tough to root for. When I watched it, I didn’t feel like I had a “dog in the race” so to speak. I sat down to watch it, and it experienced it without ever really pulling for anyone to come out on top. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper were particularly good here, but they were better, and so much more likeable, in Silver Linings Playbook. I’d like to give it some time, watch it a second time to see if I still feel the same way.
10. The Boxer Rebellion – Diamonds (WAR value: 8.6)
The Boxer Rebellion don’t get enough credit. They had two dazzling songs a few years back, “Evacuate” and “Semi-Automatic”, though unfortunately, the band didn’t explode like they should have. In 2013, they came back with what’s probably the best song they’ve ever done in “Diamonds”. I was obsessed with the song for weeks and weeks. It’s the overwhelmingly sad way Nathan Nicholson delivers the vocal. It’s the opposing force of nature that is the music, shimmering guitars buoyed by steady drumming and subtle synth underpinnings. It’s the rise and fall, the simplicity of the lyrics, the drifting away, from blame, from anger, not necessarily to a place of peace, but to a place that’s just away. “Diamonds” speaks to the futility of one person’s attempt to keep a relationship from being gobbled up by expectations of progress, and literally, that sparkling signifier of a gem. Ironic, as this song is undoubtedly one of the precious jewels of 2013.
Spring Breakers (WAR value: 6.0)
All-in-all, Spring Breakers is a good movie. It’s occasionally funny and unabashedly youthful, in its confusion, energy, and wildness. The four lead girls were decent. Make no mistake though, this movie’s carried by James Franco. It looks like he had a blast playing Alien (Riff Raff, if you’d believe Riff Raff), and that was undeniably infectious. It’s my favourite James Franco performance to date, and his strangest. The Alien-singing-Britney scene is one of my favourite movie scenes of the past few years. It’s demented, sweet, frivolous, impetuous, and absurd. And it’s why Spring Break will last forever, y’all.
9. The Knife – Full of Fire (WAR value: 8.8)
“Full of Fire” is a monstrous concoction of political intent, industrial sound-sculpting, and electronic imagination. It’s a frenzy of pulse, weaponry, and skill. It’s a nine-minute tour de force in bad-assery. Karin and Olof have never sounded so vital, so in control, so angry. Shaking The Habitual, from whence “Full of Fire” comes, is a dense affair, with not nearly the amount of hooks as The Knife’s last album proper, Silent Shout. There are a few outstanding tracks, and also a 19-minute track where The Knife do everything possible to lose your interest. They’re not fighting for you to listen. That commitment is up to you. They’re way past that, fighting for something much, much bigger. The album, and “Full of Fire” as its solider in the foreground, is a left-field effort from the maybe the most left-field band on the planet. “Full of Fire” is indeed burning, and full of so much more than heat.
World War Z (WAR value: 6.1)
World War Z is reminiscent of Book of Eli and I Am Legend, but more fun than the former, and waaaay more interesting than the latter. It’s Contagion with more intrigue and more of a rooting interest. I was gripped the entire way.
8. Drake – Hold On, We’re Going Home (WAR value: 9.0)
By far, the catchiest song Drake’s ever done. It’ll be on playlists from here to eternity, which is what Drake and producer Majid Jordan had intended. Everyone intends to do something like that. Everyone would love to be a part of a song this special. It’s just such a rarity to connect on that intention. What makes the situation even more amazing is that the beat and vocal seem so effortlessly constructed and delivered. “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is a monumental pop song. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention part of the appeal is the subtle ode to Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner”, particularly the “duh-dah-duh-da’s.” Here’s the link to that song if you’d like to compare: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-26hsZqwveA)
Star Trek: Into Darkness (WAR value: 6.6)
Benedict Cumberbatch is a bad, bad man. I loved so much about this film: how it looked, how the plot aligned, how it was acted. I quite enjoyed the first instalment of JJ Abrams’ reboot, but this one is warp speed beyond that one. The franchise has a great cast: Pine, Quinto, Soldana, Urban, Pegg, Cho, and Yelchin. I can’t wait to see what the next offering has up its sleeve.
7. Sky Ferreira – You’re Not The One/Heavy Metal Heart (WAR value: 9.2)
While a million-plus-one pop tarts do their tired take on dance-pop, Ferreira’s forked off and brought the rock back in pop-rock. Her sensational debut LP, My Time, Night Time, is a loud, pulsating, sexed up affair with nary a filler tune to be found. I was blown away when I first heard “You’re Not The One”. The guitar riff centres the song, simple but out-of-this world catchy. Ariel Rechtshaid’s production is flawless. When I first heard the entire album, I was floored by how consistent and immediate it was. I was hoping for the best, but sure there wouldn’t be anything to match the brilliance of the lead single. I was wrong. “Heavy Metal Heart” is a beast. Avril Lavigne can’t even dream of a song this good. Gaga would have a massive hit on her hands if this were on Artpop. The reality is, no one else has “Heavy Metal Heart” but Sky Ferreira. Even though she’s a relatively new artist, the song is invariably hers. “You make my heavy metal heart beat” is sung with such gusto, such energy, that you’d swear Ferreira’s heart is made of long, bleach-blonde hair, black leather, and power chords. Maybe it is. I wouldn’t rule anything out with this one.
You’re Not The One:
Heavy Metal Heart:
Anchorman 2 (WAR value: 6.9)
I loved this sequel. For as silly as some of the jokes might’ve been, I always got the sense that Ferrell and company were meticulous in choosing to keep the best ones. I loved David Koechner (Champ Kind). I loved chicken of the cave, even though I’ve never tried it. I loved how the team would occasionally beat jokes to death. The cameos were a lot of fun. I think it’s really tough to be consistently funny nowadays, and Ferrell, Adam McKay, et al have accomplished that here. I’d be more than down for a third instalment (although Ferrell, please do a Step Brothers sequel first, thanks).
6. Haerts – Wings (WAR value: 9.4)
I adore the funk out of this song. It was on heavy rotation from the first time I heard it. It screams 80’s. It’s right now. It’ll be around for a looooong time. It’s not simply that Nini Fabi’s vocal soars, it’s the palpable feeling of joy in being able to fly for the first time. It’s growing wings and lifting, dipping, ascending, cruising, feeling the wind course through your hair like it never has before, like it was never able to before. There is wonder in this experience. There is release. “Wings” is perfect from the first second, but if it wasn’t already so, it somehow gets even better at 3:44, when the music starts to shuffle, and birds can be seen in the distance, flying together, singing and dancing.
Side Effects (WAR value: 7.2)
If this had been released later in the year, the buzz around it would’ve been much larger. I loved the plot and the acting. There were a tonne of twists and turns, and the story is filled with deception, decoys, and ploys. It’s a meditation on the sad state of mass addiction to pharmaceuticals and the damning, horrifying prescribing of modern “medicine,” not to cure, remedy, or build health, but to suppress and sustain dependency. I liked each of the leads’ performance, but in particular, I thought Rooney Mara was fantastic. Steven Soderbergh has had a great run the past couple years and Side Effects is the best of a stellar recent bunch.