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Carolyn Menyes' 2013 Playlist: Bear's Den, Lady Gaga, Janelle Monae and More

by Carolyn Menyes   Dec 17, 2013 13:53 PM EST

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Music Times, like so many other music publications, was looking to publish a "Best of 2013" playlist. We met to discuss what such a playlist should include, and that's where we ran into trouble. We couldn't agree. Sometimes two of us just couldn't agree on whether the performer was amazing or terrible, and even when we agreed they were amazing, we couldn't agree on what track was most representative of their work.

Hence it was decided that rather than try to agree (a seemingly impossible endeavor), everyone would get their own "favorites of 2013" playlist. We won't argue that these are neccesarily the best tracks of the last year, but they're definitely songs that caught our respective attention and caused us to hit 'repeat" over and over and over again. Check out the rest of the staff's opinions below:

Dani Bellini, Mstars News Writer
Ryan Book, Music Times Writer
Caitlin Carter, Music Times Writer
Angelica Catalano, Managing Editor
Mereb Gebremariam, Mstars News Writer
Jon Niles, Mstars News Writer
Nicole Oran, Mstars News/Music Times Writer


15. "Running For Cover" by Ivan and Alyosha

This Seattle folk pop band found a magical combination in 2013. Blending together the rich Americana music of Mumford & Sons with the poppy sensibility of a fun., Ivan & Alyosha gave the world one of the best debut albums in 2013 with All The Times We Had and quickly became darlings of NPR. This track is a true highlight of the album, blending together hopeful vocals, rich harmonies and one hell of a string arrangement.

14. "Tree To Grow" by The Lone Bellow

Like No. 15, this Brooklyn band created one of the strongest folk rock debuts of 2013 with its self-titled album. The Lone Bellow managed to incorporate heartbreak, violins and winding here in “Tree To Grow,” perfectly blending their voices together. This song builds and swells throughout its five minutes, eventually coming together in an explosion of emotion. “I’ll never leave / I’ll always stay, I swear on all that I keep safe,” the band sing over and over again until they combust in the final minute.

13. "The One That Got Away" by The Civil Wars

It’s hard not to hear the unraveling of Grammy darlings The Civil Wars in this, the lead single from their second (and likely final) album The Civil Wars. John Paul White and Joy Williams sing their hearts out on this dobro-heavy track, expressing the pain of heartache like no one else possibly can. If people weren’t disappointed by The Civil Wars disbanding before, they definitely were after hearing this powerhouse single.

12. "Ride On / Right On" by Phosphorescent
Though many blogs, including
Paste, have largely focused on Phosphorescent's shiny Muchacho lead single "Song For Zula" (which is also awesome), there's really no beating the happy sensibility of "Ride On / Right On." The zoned out guitars, peppy yelps and incessant beat help to make this song simultaneously super groovy and pretty. Phosphorescent managed to steal the show at many of Mumford & Sons Gentlemen of the Road shows thus summer, and rightly so.



11. "Follow Your Arrow" by Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves broke the country mold in 2013 with this left-leaning country stomper. Taking on the hypocrisies of small town life, the 25-year-old rising star gave a sing-songy melody that rivals anything Taylor Swift could come up with for “Follow Your Arrow.” Mix in some good ol’ fashioned whistling and those relatable lyrics, and you’ll find the best country track of the year.

10. "Diane Young" by Vampire Weekend
Before 2013, it seemed in some ways that Vampire Weekend’s moment in the sun had passed. After their stunning debut in 2008, the band largely faded into the indie world once again. Then came “Diane Young.” The super groovy tune with all sorts of crazy vocal and guitar effects was simultaneously chaotic, exciting and a little surfy. In a relatively dull year for music, “Diane Young” was the exact firecracker the world needed.

09. "Tattooed Heart" by Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande has more talent in her pinky finger than some of her pop contemporaries have in their whole bodies, and it’s on full showcase in “Tattooed Heart.” Calling back to old school ‘50s schoolgirl love songs with a bopping piano and some seriously powerful vocals, Grande proved that some of the simpler tunes can be the most powerful. Need further proof? Look no further than at her breakout AMAs performance.

08. "Afterlife" by Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire expanded what fans thought they were capable of with the tropical-influenced Reflektor, and nothing seemed to mix together their old and new sound on that album better than “Afterlife.” The song is danceable without being too disco-y. It’s melodic and hopeful without being totally void of meaning. It also packs one big punch in its explosive chorus. Check this penultimate track as another huge win for these guys..

07. "You & I" by Local Natives
It’s clear from the moment that Local Natives singer Taylor Rice opens his mouth in this song that this band’s second album was different. Winding, almost painful vocals are weaved in and out of this track, and it’s Rice’s work here that really makes “You & I” pop. Mix that in with the heartbreaking music video (which features the last dog on Earth), and you’ve got a total winner.

06. "Do What U Want" by Lady Gaga feat. R. Kelly
When Lady Gaga suddenly announced that she had scrapped “Venus” as a single in favor of this R. Kelly collab, Little Monsters were totally shocked. However, that was definitely the right decision. Forget about “Wrecking Ball” or “Roar,” this is the best pure pop song of the year. A clunky, funky beat and total growly, intense vocals from Gaga make for an awesome dichotomy in this track. Plus, it’s got R. Kelly!

05. "Elizabeth" by The Airborne Toxic Event
The Airborne Toxic Event have largely fallen out of the limelight since its 2009 single “Sometime Around Midnight,” but have been quietly been making music that is just as beautiful as that song. The closer to its third studio album Such Hot Blood, “Elizabeth” is a quiet, simple song about writing a song for a loved one. Drippy vocals and quiet drums help to make this song a true standout about doing something so simple for someone you care about.

04. "Bugatti" by Ace Hood feat. Rick Ross + Future
Britney Spears may have song about a Bugatti in 2013 too, but she ain’t got nothing on Ace Hood. Featuring rap powerhouses Rick Ross and Future, “Bugatti” is the rare rap song with an immense amount of force behind it, while still managing to be insanely melodic. This song will get stuck in your hear after one listen, so beware. Also, the way this song builds and gets more insane through until the end is pure brilliance. Turn up!

03. "I Need My Girl" by The National
Everyone needs to be a little sad sometimes, and The National created this perfectly somber song for its latest record Trouble Will Find Me. It’s hard to pin down the exact meaning of this track but it perfectly captures any sort of longing and lonely feelings. The gloomy vocals mixed with the light indie rock guitar help to elevate this song to one of 2013’s best.

02. "Q.U.E.E.N." by Janelle Monae feat. Erykah Badu
The lead single from Janelle Monae’s second album The Electric Album, “Q.U.E.E.N.” proved that Monae still had all the funk and some to spare from those opening guitar moments. Filled with attitude that proves she doesn’t care what you think about her at all, Monae is full of snark. Also, her rap at the end of the song is wonderfully aware, proving that she’s truly one of music’s hidden gems.

01. "Agape" by Bear's Den
That banjo. If you’re looking for the most gorgeous, harmony-laden, emotional, powerful love song of 2013, look no further than Bear's Den. This English folk band has gathered the hearts of Mumford and Sons and should take America by storm just like their UK bretheran. “Agape,” the first song from their five-song EP of the same name, features a magical blend of loving lyrics, a banjo riff for the ages and blended voices for days, “Agape” is definitively the best song of 2013 you probably haven’t heard yet.

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