[Music] Top 35 Tracks of 2013 (#35 – #21)

35. Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines [feat. Pharrell and T.I.], Blurred Lines

Available from iTunes

YouTube-Bans-RB-Singers-Video-+18-2As divisive as the track may be, it would be churlish to ignore Robin Thicke’s monstrously successful ode to dodgy dance floor-based ethics when summing up the last year in music. The presence of the currently infallible Pharrell Williams and a warm, Marvin Gaye-aping instrumental – not to mention a notoriously ‘stripped-back’ promo video – combined to create a heady cocktail that had punters checking their social consciousnesses at the door. For better or for worse, “Blurred Lines” is the sound of pure carnal lust left unspoiled by the pressures of political correctness.

34. Britney Spears – Work Bitch, Britney Jean

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It would seem the record-buying public didn’t appreciate the irony of being told to work harder by one of the laziest ladies in pop, which may explain their apathy towards the first offering from Spears’ eighth studio album, Britney Jean. Following the ubiquity of last year’s “Scream & Shout”, launching with a Will.i.am-penned banger was a no-brainer, but no one could anticipate that their reunion could yield a song as devoid of grey matter as “Work Bitch”. What the track lacks in brains, however, it makes up for with the strength of its steely balls. Eschewing any form of tangible structure, relying on only a hard, repetitive beat and Spears’ trademark British accent, the song feels as alien to the wants of radio as the woman singing it feels removed from the wants of the industry, and in that sense it makes for a fascinating listen.

 33. Travis Garland – Where to Land [feat. III], Travis Garland

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Those left cold by Justin Timberlake’s poker-faced comeback this year may find solace in the work of Travis Garland. In addition to being a past member of defunct boyband NLT, Garland also boasts a soft, aqueous voice that’s often a dead ringer for Timberlake at his most sensual. “Where to Land” is a quietly intoxicating blend of lilting guitar and gently pulsating electronica. It’s moody, atmospheric, and laced with genuine emotion.

32. Kelis – Jerk Ribs, Food

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This breezy, horn-laden love letter was given away on Kelis’ website as a free download last June, presumably in a bid to drum up interest in her elusive Dave Sitek-produced sixth album, Food. Sitek pours the shimmering funk on thick, while Ms. Rogers’ honeyed timbre effortlessly carries the track towards a state of sun-soaked euphoria.

Listen to “Jerk Ribs” by clicking here.

31. Ariana Grande – The Way [feat. Mac Miller], Yours, Truly

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The launch of Grande’s debut single saw the Nickelodeon actress emerge as Mariah Carey’s most plausible successor in years. With jittery drum machines and lavish, 90’s-flavoured piano stabs, “The Way” struts along like a lost Mimi classic, while Grande’s alarmingly versatile voice takes pride of place – alternating between radiant coos, yearning belts, and ear-splitting trills. The PG-13 innuendos of rapper Mac Miller’s verses helps balance out the cheese.

 30. The Saturdays – What About Us, Living For The Weekend

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While the startling return of Little Mix this autumn may have rendered The Saturdays and their rather innocuous services to pop music superfluous, the quintet should be commended for taking this emotionally charged electro-pop banger to the UK Number One spot last March – a career milestone that had evaded the group for an amusingly long time. The Saturdays may have songs worthier of its success in their canon, but “What About Us” remains an immaculately produced exercise in radio-ready pop, with a near-perfect distribution of vocals amongst its mixed bag of members.

29. Rhye – The Fall, Woman

rhye1danmonick-copyPlaying on Canadian vocalist Mike Milosh’s androgynous vocals, Rhye spent the earliest part of their career shrouded in mystery. After a succession of ultra-low-key releases, the pair finally stepped into the spotlight to bestow their debut record onto the world last March. On standout cut “The Fall”, Hannibal combines cut-glass piano and sweeping strings with a novel air of restraint, while Milosh channels Sade in a graceful yet insistent performance, culminating in a blissful slice contemporary soul-pop.

28. Fantasia – Without Me [feat. Missy Elliot and Kelly Rowland], Side Effects of You 

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Despite being built on the same kind of slinky, ice-cool beat as Kelly Rowland’s 2011 hit “Motivation” – as well as boasting a verse from Ms. Kelly herself – the second single from American Idol winner Fantasia’s latest album is not a steamy sex jam but a seething aural putdown for an overly-dependent lover. Although she may be best known as a balladeer, Fantasia’s vocal proves to be just as arresting whilst dispensing subdued quips as it when she’s waking the dead on epic ballads such as “Lose to Win”.

27. Avril Lavigne – Rock N Roll, Avril Lavigne 

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Avril Lavigne’s flat-out refusal to progress on any artistic level has been one of the great musical disappointments of the 2010’s. Then again, if her chronic Peter Pan syndrome allows her to produce a song of “Rock N Roll”-sized quality every album cycle, then so be it. This stadium-sized anthem barely did anything chart-wise, but don’t let that put you off. By Lavigne’s standards, the themes of alienation and emancipation may be a bit past their expiration date, but the production and melody feel pretty timeless – and when a song can convince the usually-sullen Lavigne to have fun, you know it’s worth a spin.

26. Pink – Just Give Me A Reason [feat. Nate Reuss], The Truth About Love

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Those willing Pink to try something – anything – different on her sixth studio album got their wish with the arrival of this piano-led ballad with fun.’s Nate Reuss. The digression from Pink’s pop-rock comfort zone paid off – “Just Give Me A Reason” became her fourth US No.1 single, and allowed the pop stalwart to showcase a more vulnerable side to her persona. Reuss made for an excellent partner-in-crime – his polite, hopeful phrasing contrasted neatly with Pink’s famously gruff tone as the two dissect a dying relationship.

25. HAIM – Falling, Days Are Gone 

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“Falling” epitomises the Haim sisters’ enjoyable brand of sweltering 80’s-inspired electro-tinged pop-rock. Dramatic drums and a sashaying bass line ensure a healthy groove is on offer, but it’s the impassioned, post-chorus shouting of the tracks title that make it such a convincing call to arms.

24. Katy B – 5 AM, Little Red 

Katy_B_2_Hi_Katy B’s girl-next-door appeal has always been one of her greatest strengths as an artist, and on “5 AM”, the twenty-one year old Londoner spins a hauntingly familiar tale. A promising opening verse finds her in her natural habitat: the dancefloor. Reeling off a list of textbook lyrical clichés (“That beat’s so sick / that tunes so ill”), Katy’s gorgeous voice soon dips into a sombre sigh; all of a sudden, this don’t feel right. The ethereal chorus may be a little too reminiscent of Katy’s earlier, superior tracks (“Broken Record”, “Power On Me”) but as accounts of lonely, late-night panic attacks go, “5 AM” is hard to beat.

23. Miguel – How Many Drinks? [feat. Kendrick Lemar], Kaleidoscope Dream

miguelThis sultry cut from Miguel’s transcendent 2012 record Kaleidoscope Dream received a new lease of life last summer thanks to a remix by rapper Kendrick Lemar. Over a sparse, twinkling beat, Miguel quizzes a potential amour: “How many drinks would take you to sleep with me? / I got money but I don’t want to waste my time.” The question at hand is obviously born from impatience, but it’s nagging presence has wider implications. After all, just how many bevvies should it take to find someone attractive enough to go home with them – especially when that person is the fabulously-coiffed Miguel? Lemar’s contribution certainly puts more meat on the track’s bones, but it’s Miguel’s hazy delivery that you’ll want to drink a case of.

22. Le Youth – C O O L, C O O L EP 

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“C O O L” is a bouncy brew of house-y piano, rich basslines, and smoky vocals courtesy of Cassie’s 2006 R&B hit “Me & U”. A perfectly-timed summer release ensured LA-based DJ Le Youth’s (aka Wes James) debut single made waves across the UK and Europe, going on to achieve mainstream success and airplay.

21. Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardener, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

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Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett is known for her fabulously deadpan delivery; a trait she puts to good use on this jaunty rocker. The combination of said timbre with featherweight coos and exuberant guitars wisely undersells its potentially melodramatic narrative of heatwave-induced anaphylactic shock, but what’s key to the track’s appeal is Barnett’s self-effacing humour. Even when rendered immobile, the 25 year-old strives to see the funny side: “I take a hit from an asthma puffer / I do it wrong / I was never good at smoking bongs.” It’s lyrics such as this that guarantee Barnett’s stoner-girl schtick never feels too self-satisfied.