Without any preamble, here are my favourite 15 songs of the summer:
I plead the fif. I plead the fif-teen.
15. Placebo – Too Many Friends
“Too Many Friends” is a rock solid comeback song from the incomparable Placebo. I think the lyrics could’ve been a bit better/tighter/more polished, as the overarching premise is a smart one, but that’s picking nits. The melody is teflon-strong and Brian Molko’s dark humour with a dollop of sadness is as charming as ever.
14. Lady Gaga – Applause
“Applause” hit quick and hard. Gaga is still on top of her game. Maybe it’s not everyone’s favourite — it’s always going to be hard for her to top “Just Dance”, “Bad Romance”, “Poker Face”, “Alejandro” or “Papparazzi” — but “Applause” is still a monstrous pop tune, and she seems to be continuously striving to up the wacky quotient in the name of art. I’m down with wherever her path leads next for one main reason: it’s clear she cares a hell of a lot about her music/art/image. Gaga is preposterous, but the best of pop music should be.
13. Disclosure – When A Fire Starts To Burn
First listen: This is a catchy tune. Second listen: Why are my legs moving to the beat, and why do I have no control over them? Third listen: Why do my lips keep mouthing, “when a fire starts to burn, right” and why do I have no control over them? Thirtieth listen: My god, I’ve just listen to this song 27 times in a row. Yup, that’s what I call one of the songs of the summer. For me, “When A Fire Starts To Burn” is far and away Disclosure’s best song. Bonus points for the simple, funny, awesome video.
12. USS (Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker) – This Is The Best
Catchier and catchier with each listen, “This Is The Best” is USS at the top of their electro-pop-madness game. They get a tonne of bonus points for constructing a song that’s equally inviting whether played normally or at 1.5x speed. (Go ahead, click on the link to the lyric video below and try it for yourself. My world view was shattered when I first discovered I could change the playback speed on certain Youtube songs.)
11. Sia & David Guetta – She Wolf
Maybe the proper title is “David Guetta f. Sia – She Wolf”, but I’ve chosen to list the participants in order of who I deem to be most responsible for its song-of-the-summer worthiness. Granted, “She Wolf” is Guetta’s best track in maybe 10 years (the only other one that comes close is “Love Don’t Let Me Go”), and the way he’s constructed the ebbs and flows, the build-up, the climax, the come down, is pristine and perfect. Sia’s vocal is beyond perfect though, so much so that it renders the pristine moot. There’s an emotional depth in her vocal that you almost never find in a dancepop song. It almost sounds like she’s crying the hook (which is every word she sings by the way). I’m in awe of and hanging onto every syllable she utters.
10. White Lies – There Goes Our Love Again
Let’s just forget White Lies’ second album, Ritual, ever happened. Going from “To Lose My Life” and “Death” to anything from that LP is, to put it nicely, a fruitless endeavour (read: the album’s a barren wasteland with nary a good song to be found). Thankfully, it seems that White Lies have forgotten about it too, jumping right back on the Killers/Joy Division/New Order train with their mammoth comeback single, “There Goes Our Love Again”. It’s big, bold, bombastic, with an indomitable chorus and hooks to spare. Welcome back lads. This is where you belong.
9. Grouplove – Ways To Go
I didn’t expect this. Grouplove’s debut, Never Trust A Happy Song, was an enjoyable album with some really good tracks (see: “Colours”, “Tongue Tied”, “Itchin’ On A Photograph” and “Betty’s a Bomb Shell”). Yet, despite Grouplove’s zealot-like commitment to fun, their debut was a relatively straightforward guitar-pop record. Two years later, the times they’ve changed, and Grouplove have gone full-synth on their latest, Spreading Rumours. “Ways To Go” retains the frolic, fun and troublemaking charm of its predecessor, but it takes the gitch to a whole new level. It’s a delicious earworm, and one of the best songs of the summer to boot.
8. Jacques Lu Cont – Safe With You
“Safe With You” is a missile of a dance track. It’s all seek and destroy. And what a weapon it is. The Thin White Duke has done a lot of good work over the past decade, but I think this is his best ever single. These days, dance tracks this immediate and overpowering are few and far between.
7. Drake – Hold On We’re Going Home
Whoa. Didn’t think Drake had a track like this in him. I’m not a massive fan; I’ve liked some of his past work, but I’ve never been infatuated with anything he’s done before (“Take Care” is quite good, but I didn’t go apeshit over it). Scratch that record. “Hold On We’re Going Home” is an a ascendant rejoice: in melody, songcraft, and flipping the script. Gone is Drake’s usual bravado, any semblance of rap, and any posit of a prima donna. In its place is modesty, restraint, and pop mastery. Drake and producer Majid Jordan sought to craft a song that would stand up at weddings. I think they’ve done that and more.
6. Lorde – Royals
It took me a few listens to really warm to “Royals”. Now, it’s got me so hot I can cut sheet metal with my index finger. (Sure, I had to go the hospital, and I lost my right index finger, but I proved a point. When keeping it real goes wrong.) “Royals” is simple, direct, and catchy as hellfire and brimstone, while Lorde stands above her contemporaries, alone. I don’t quite understand how a 16-year-old has a voice like that, with a tone so full of depth and experience. Nor do I fully grasp how a 16-year-old has written lyrics so smart, simple, and representative of a common feeling. I do grasp one thing though: Lorde is already a huge star, and deservedly so. “Royals” is a brave statement that achieves a neat trick. Lorde might not be street legal, but she’s straight regal, even if she’s asking to be anything but.
5. The Boxer Rebellion – Diamonds
My vishnu, this band deserves to be huge. The London quartet already have two sensational songs to their name, “Evacuate” and “Semi Automatic”, from 2009’s unfortunately unheralded Union. Now, they have a third, the soaring triumph, “Diamonds”.
I got lost in this track many a time over the course of the summer. It’s sweeping. It sounds like it’s weeping. It’s at once uplifting, pensive, foreboding, and melancholic. It’s the sound of falling, rapidly through the clouds of days gone by, only to end up inverted and dazed, landed on the here and now.
The stand-out guitar work melds beautifully with the understated synths. This song will not get the listens and views it deserves. That’s a shame, but the effort the London lads have put forth is not. It’ll stand as a career highlight, I’m sure.
4. The Vaccines – Everybody’s Gonna Let You Down
When I hear “Everybody’s Gonna Let You Down”, I hear Dandy Warhols, a tinge of Nirvana, some Cage The Elephant, and a pinch of Weezer. Or The Vaccines 2.0 as it were. “Everybody’s Gonna Let You Down” is a chemical weapon that’s been used on the unassuming public, but it’s been done so slyly there will be no UN inspection.
The West-London quartet have built a nice space for themselves in the crowded indie/pop/alt world. They’ve differentiated themselves from their peers by being, well, kind of weird. The music on their first two LP’s is almost always catchy, but many a time the tunes zig when you think they’re going to zag. Until now, The Vaccines have kept the listener engaged with great melodies that always risk deviating from the beaten path — a tremendously difficult task that they accomplish with apparent ease.
Things are now a little different though. On their new EP, Melody Calling, things are decidedly more straightforward. The band are not trying to bury or subvert the hooks; they’re at the fore and they’re fantastic, especially with what’s probably their most melodic and earwormy song to date, “Everybody’s Gonna Let You Down”. I could listen to it 100 times in a row and not tire of it. Hell, I think I’ve come close. It’s a monumental beast with layers upon layers of hooks (I think the guitar work alone accounts for approximately 67 hooks). I believe The Vaccines have attempted to write the perfect pop song, and the crazy thing is, I think they might have done it. What an absurd thought. What pinpoint execution.
3. Alt-j – Taro
“Taro” took the long route to get to my home. It’s from Alt-j’s stunning debut, An Awesome Wave, which was released in 2012, and it wasn’t a single. I spent so much time obsessing over “Something Good”, “Tessellate”, “Breezeblocks”, “Fitzpleasure” and eventually “Matilda” and “Dissolve Me” that “Taro” was sort of a forgotten treasure. That is no longer the case.
It’s a marvellous, disorienting, poetic piece of art. The chorus, with its eastern imbued guitar riff, is a colossal hook. Melody is strewn all over the god-damn everywhere, like the blood of a septuple homicide smeared across a vast, pearl-white wall. The melodies are so relentless because they’re given shape not only by the impeccably executed music, but by lead singer Joe Newman’s varied, serene-come-ominous voice.
I am in awe of “Taro”‘s lyrics. They tell a story of two war photojournalists in a poetic style that I’m not sure I’ve heard before. The lyrics are mystifying, confounding, and complex. The structure of the composition is such that it doesn’t necessarily read rhythmically, yet Alt-j have (miraculously, I might add) found a way to weave it seamlessly with the music, to the point where it seems like one could not exist without the other. It’s pure, inspired artistic expression.
“Taro” forewarns: “Do not spray into eyes, I have sprayed you into my eyes.” Alas, I couldn’t help myself. I sprayed “Taro” into my eyes. It’s like a second pair of eyelids that I never knew I had have been lifted, making my eyes lighter, allowing me to see the world in colours and shapes I’ve never seen before. What a sight to behold.
2. Mutya Keisha Siobhan – Flatline
Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan, and Siobhan Donaghy are back. In case you’re not familiar with those names, they also go by the founding, original members of the seminal girl group Sugababes. I believe Sugababes are the best girl group of the past 15 years (subject for another day), but despite their popularity (mainly in the UK and Europe), their impact has been somewhat tempered by the revolving door of a lineup they’ve seen throughout the years. Siobhan was the first to go, lasting only one album, and the band, although they had a number of awesome hits without her, were never quite the same after that. One Touch, their debut record, still holds up spectacularly, almost 13 years later. It was a bone-rattling statement from three teenage girls who could do one thing better than 99.99% of their contemporaries: sing.
After a 13 year break from each other, they’re back as Mutya Keisha Siobhan (MKS for short). Certain clichés ring true: they sound wiser, rejuvenated, and ready to conquer the pop world once again. But does the thing that made them famous still ring true? Can they still harmonize better than pretty much anyone else? The answer to both questions is a resounding yes. And beyond their sparkling, shimmering, and more mature voices, they’ve come back with a song just as strong. “Flatline” is an unassailable pop masterstroke. That chorus. Holy shitting shithawks, that chorus. It might take one listen for it to devastate, it might take a few. But facts are facts, the Sugababes are back. Maybe without the name, but with everything else that made them superstars in the first place.
1. Vampire Weekend – Ya Hey
“Ya Hey” is my favourite song of the summer of 2013, for one simple reason: it gave me chills time and time again. I love the music. I love Ezra Koenig’s voice. I love the subtle electronic touches that make the song wholly unique, from anything else Vampire Weekend have done or anything else in music right now. I love the lyrics. I guess you could say I love it all. And the thing is, I care (sorry Icona Pop). I really care. About what I think the song means, about how it makes me feel, about Vampire Weekend.
I liked the first two Vampire Weekend records, but something’s changed, either in me or in them. Probably both. I think their latest LP, Modern Vampires Of The City is by far their best work. They’ve culled all of their charms and eccentricities into an irresistible concoction; they’re now a superpower of a band, on the short list of best bands on the planet.
“Diane Young”, “Obvious Bicycle”, “Step” and “Hannah Hunt” (among others; the album is glazed all over with awesome) are highlights, but there’s something different altogether about “Ya Hey”. It’s an examination of the spiritual. It’s filled with questions that allude to answers that beg more questions. If one were to be needlessly reductive, one would say it’s intellectual Indie. Maybe the problem lies in saying that it is anything.
Maybe it just is. Maybe, through the heart, and through the flames, “Ya Hey” says only, ‘I am that I am.’ Eureka. I think that’s it.