Monday, December 30, 2013

Best 25 Songs of 2013: #4 & #3



As we get down to it, the magic is about to happen. We really start dabbling in different ends of the genre spectrum. From here on out, the pairs of songs I've chosen couldn't be anything less alike - save for the fact that they were all exceptional additions to music in 2013. With my third and fourth place choices, we've got one of hip-hop's most influential (and psychotic) players, and one surprisingly veteran Americana cowboy who shacked up in dusty, small-town Mexico to write his best album yet.

#4. Black Skinhead - Kanye West:
Off Yeezus, the most recent, most fiery installation of boundary-pushing hip-hop that materialized from Kanye West's increasingly cynical psyche this year, "Black Skinhead" is the prime example of West's fierce approach to political and social commentary. Or industry commentary. Or both. Either way, one thing is clear: similar to the more recent Batmans, and perhaps in response to the blossoming hip-hop game around him, Yeezy has gotten a lot growlier, and a lot angrier. Despite his then-pregnant girlfriend, West still used parts of Yeezus to contest conformity and boast misogyny - the kinds he trained us to stomach with 2010's brilliant My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Antagonizing, making everyone uncomfortable and increasingly rejecting the mainstream - while claiming he is a God - have become expected symptoms of the guy's genius. Coupled with his thumping beats, gutteral scream and the impossibly ear-catching sample heard on "Skinhead" - it's hard not to start believing that West really isn't making it all up.


#3. Song for Zula - Phosphorescent:
Some of what Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck has done in the pursuit of peace and musical ingenuity might seem cliché; a tired singer-songwriter takes a hiatus after his few albums under the moniker Phosphorescent, to hide away in Tulum, Mexico and pen a collection of heartfelt drifter's anthems about redemption and the road. However, nothing about Houck's latest Americana endeavour, or his process, turned out the same way the other booze-blued, rambling men's have in the past. Muchacho was everything and more - a moving collection of achy, soul-searching hymnals ("Terror in the Canyons" and "The Quotidian Beasts") and rousing, woop-filled country-rock stomps ("A Charm/A Blade" and "Ride On/Right On") that paint this expansive picture of a broken man's journey towards salvation. Most notably was the uncharacteristic (and stand-out) revelation called "Song for Zula" - a magical synth and violin-backed number in which Houck's trembling yodel whispers in and around the romantic instrumentation. His vulnerability, yet his conviction, are stunning when his voice rises to croak "See honey I am not some broken thing/ I do not lay here in the dark waiting for thee," making it clear Houck has found his sound, and himself, on this one.





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