Presenting our Top 100 Tracks of 2013, as voted by our writers and editors. Any track that was released in 2013 or had its greatest impact in the U.S. this year was eligible.
Nik Colk Void’s vocal takes are usually subsumed by the music, with the band giving them no more or less importance than any other instrument. “Fall Back” is one of the rare exceptions to that rule on Factory Floor, with Void's deadpan delivery sounding more assertive than it does elsewhere. It’s a change that suits them, giving the sound a pop edge that harks back to the feel of the pre-album 2011 single “R E A L L O V E” . It’s also the closest the album gets to the band’s face-shredding live shows, where the constant shudder of their electronic backing hits as hard as a cold punch to the stomach. “Fall Back” finds a way to make distance a virtue, actively alienating and antagonizing Factory Floor’s audience by building stern barriers to entry. —Nick Neyland
- Castle Face
"Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster"
Thee Oh Sees have proven that they’re capable of delivering a motorik burner or two. Floating Coffin has a couple, but with “Toe Cutter / Thumb Buster”, John Dwyer and the band show some restraint. The vocals are quiet and falsetto, and the tempo is steady. Even when they’re singing in a relative whisper, it’s deceptive—they’re mumbling a murderous narrative about “sounds from far below” and “blood upon the ground” and “silence all around.” Even the smallest sonic elements read as ominous if you focus on them for long enough, like the shaker, which scrapes persistently in the back of the mix. Thee Oh Sees have dozens of songs from albums, split 7”s, and flexi-discs that are full of muscle and power. This one’s strength comes from its simplicity: One repetitive, hypnotizing, buoyant riff, some sweet voices, a dark story. —Evan Minsker
"Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster"—
Thee Oh SeesVia Pitchfork
- Donky Pitch
Looking at James Hinton's biography, you'd assume we were talking about a wacky new neighbor on "The Big Bang Theory" and not one of the most slyly gratifying electronic musicians to come along this year. The Brown University grad majored in physics, has a self-professed love for math and cosmology, and spends too much time on YouTube. And though little of this specifically informs "Metal Swing", the final track on his first album as the Range, it does show how well Hinton works with contradictions. So while his pedigree might be low-key geek, "Metal Swing" is anything but eggheaded, leading with its gut instead of its brain. Built around a cyclical piano-based melody and a tip-toeing bass line, its internal rhythm feels almost tidal: Cautious, hypnotic, a little uneasy. And then, all of a sudden: "Why's this guy threatening?" The voice belongs to an unidentified, Cockney-accented UK rapper spewing puffed-chested and carefully calculated bluster. There's very little about "Metal Swing" that feels threatening—to have empty schoolyard barbs anchor the track seems almost counterintuitive. But therein lies the subtle but risky mechanics at the heart of "Metal Swing", a demonstration of how incongruent shapes can create a strange, rewarding harmony. —Zach Kelly
You might have listened to Foxygen’s “No Destruction" a dozen times, but only really heard that one line. The one where singer Sam France bluntly states his East Coast vs. West Coast preferences. “You don’t need to be an asshole/ You’re not in Brooklyn anymore,” he blurts while the band channels the loose and free-wheelin’ sounds of Loaded-era Velvet Underground. “No Destruction” is not a tirade against Williamsburg, gentrification, or hipsterdom, though. Actually, it’s not immediately clear what it’s about. It starts off as a breakup tune with a living-well-is-the-best-revenge slant, but France quickly abandons this linear narrative for a series of stoney stream-of-consciousness couplets (“I know they’re gonna try to take away my big mouse/ Take the panels off my greenhouse”). If you pay attention, you can get the gist of his dilemma: It’s over. She’s gone. It's all in the past. But France's grasp on the past sounds a bit unreliable. And there is nobody left to burn one in the subway with. "No Destruction" is goofy, but it's not necessarily a joke. It finds a sweet spot that balances snark and sentiment, that touches on 60s rock nostalgia while never taking itself too seriously. —Aaron Leitko
- Drag City
- Ty Segall
Though Sleeper is a gentler record than any other in Ty Segall’s catalogue, the title track does have a specific precursor: 2011’s “Goodbye Bread”, another album opener, was an annunciation of sorts, a broadening of the range we’d come to expect from one of California’s leading garage rockers. It was the prettiest thing Segall had done up to that point, and the saddest. And with “Sleeper”, he makes good on that promise of depth, channeling pain and anger into one of his most poignant songs. Segall both writes and plays with a sincerity that never devolves into sentimentality, but his voice is strained, his guitar is heavy and loose, and there’s a subtle otherworldliness, an ethereal lilting feedback buried within that’s only revealed once the song’s reached its end. —Jonah Bromwich
"Dust in the Gold Sack"
Much of what is written about fuzz-pop outfit Swearin’ finds a way of mentioning that frontwoman Allison Crutchfield is the twin sister of Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield. The connection is useful in highlighting the siblings' aptitude for guitar-driven melody, as the Crutchfield sisters churn out indie rock like Beyoncé churns out hair flips, and on “Dust in the Gold Sack”, the band makes it look easy, assembling tangled riffage and crashing cymbals. But for all that expertise, "Dust in the Gold Sack" is every bit as raw as it is cathartic, a place where “booze overnighted” and “grudges unrequited” loom large and then evaporate in the same exhale. —Molly Beauchemin
- Blasé Boys Club
- Duke Dumont
"Need U (100%)" [ft. A*M*E]
London producer and DJ Duke Dumont, a Switch mentee who’s been spinning since he was 15, knows his way around hypnotically straightforward dance music. “Need U (100%)” helped jump-start the recent house music revival along with artists like Rudimental and Disclosure and shortly after its release, Dumont told FACT he almost didn’t work with a guest vocalist at all, debating whether to cut in an a cappella track instead. What a shame that would have been. The song’s clap-happy beat and whiplash breakdown need little adornment, but 18-year-old singer A*M*E adds a pulse-resuscitating vocal jolt that was noticeably absent from the Debbie Deb and Monifah samples on Dumont’s 2007 Regality EP. “Give me one hundred/ Need you one hundred percent,” she sings (or rather demands) with the same “Yeah, what are you going to give me for it?” teasing of her own breakout single, “Play the Game Boy.” Except this time they’re both playing, and everyone on the dance floor is a winner. —Harley Brown
"Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy)"
David Bowie announced the release of The Next Day, the album he’d spent three years shaping in secrecy, on his 66th birthday, only two weeks into this year. The record’s continued rollout throughout 2013 suggested that, despite his age, Bowie was an old legend interested in new tricks. Chief among them was a 3xCD collector’s version. It followed much later in the year, keying on new songs and, most saliently, a 10-minute remix of The Next Day’s coming-of-age terror tale, “Love Is Lost”, by Bowie acolyte James Murphy. With the single and its edit, Bowie effectively joined the remix and YouTube masses.
Murphy’s longest remix in a decade, his rendering is both reverent and revisionist. (He references composer Steve Reich in the title, largely because he turns the sound of a crowd clapping into a rhythm that shifts in phase against the rest of the music at the start. That idea comes from the minimalist’s own “Clapping Music”). He uses every verse and refrain here, and he repurposes the tune’s anxious organ. But Bowie’s rock original gives way to Murphy’s vivified disco, as he rearranges the song’s order entirely and leans more heavily on its central lament than its actual narrative: “Oh what have you done?” he implores Bowie to repeat above colorful keyboard splashes and a springy beat that builds up only for its own comedown. It’s posed less as a question of blame and less as one of general despair: What are you going to leave behind, exactly? —Grayson Haver Currin
- Def Jam
- Lil Durk
"Dis Ain't What U Want"
One of the fascinating things about Chicago's drill music movement is how insular it’s remained, even in light of the massive hype and controversy that has surrounded it. For better or worse, its participants have mostly stayed their creative course, rapping in a vacuum, disengaged from the hand-wringing and concern-trolling that’s surrounded their work and community. Lil Durk's "Dis Ain't What U Want" is the type of line-drive street banger that the 21-year-old’s gotten incredibly efficient at producing, but it also stands out as perhaps the first of the drill records to make eye contact with those outsiders and onlookers. The hook inverts Keef's "I Don't Like" thesis to place the impetus of disgust on the audience instead. Durk's message is similarly blunt—"Fuck TMZ, fuck Breaking News and ABC/ I can't do no shows 'cause I terrify my city/ They say I terrify my city"—but maybe it needs to be. Much like fellow Southsider Chance the Rapper's baiting line "I know you're scared, you should ask us if we scared too," "Dis Ain't Want U Want" forces the listener to engage the artists directly, not as totems of a damaged system, but as actual breathing human beings with feelings and fears of their own. —Andrew Nosnitsky
Lil Durk: "Dis Ain't What U Want"
- Tri Angle
Flickering "Thor's Stone" is an instrumental that evokes an image of hand-carved pan pipes or some ancient villager blowing through a conch shell. Its texture seems essentially primitive, an invocation meant to summon an unseen spirit. (I suspect this element prompted Lee “Scratch” Perry to spend much of his remix of the song gabbling about “evil energy.”) Balanced within Matthew Barnes’ personalized hybrid of skeletal dub, emotive drones, and shuddering beats, these primitive tones meet the modern in a way that enables “Thor’s Stone” to feel at once ageless, out-of-time, and wholly unique. —Matt Murphy