The Top Songs of 2013 playlist continues, with the ten best dance songs playlist. By “best dance songs” I don’t mean “biggest bangers.” Anyone quality producer can lay down a floor shaker and even anthemic crescendos a la David Guetta and Calvin Harris are starting to sound tired. While the tracks below will make your hips shake, they also combine the zeitgeist of EDM right now and the direction dance music is heading.
As I mentioned in the previous post, this year’s crop of best dance tunes had a lot of retro remixes, but you’d not confuse this Clark Kent remix with an earlier dance era. Sure it opens with a ghostly a capella and follows that with a synth that could have come from 1984, but when the dubstep drops in you know this to be firmly 21st century. The washes and the thick bass make the song sick, and I’m just as impressed how he mixed Robinson’s simple piano melody with that very different-sounding synth. But mostly, somehow the Clark Kent remix makes this song sound so much more haunting than I ever thought Smokey Robinson could.
I promised Cashmere Cat would make this list and here he is at number nine. I listened to this remix so much that I went and checked out Miguel, but it turns out what I really like about this song is 100% due to Cashmere Cat. Those looking for bangers may be disappointed to see this track on the list, it’s really an early-evening song. But the best isn’t always the hardest, and I think Miguel is doing unexpected things with his mixes. I love his use of the squeaky bed springs, a tongue-in-cheek reference to sex that’s much fresher than the clichéd sound of a woman moaning. One of the growing trends of 2014 is slowed-down vocals, and this mix demonstrates this nicely. When you first learn mixing, playing with pitch is an easy way to kill a party so I’m doubly impressed to see it done effectively. I also like the way he picked out the particularly fun couplet of this song and focused on it, without making the vocals sound repetitive. Probably because of all that synthy magic he’s mixed together to make this into one delicious soup.
Speaking of early-evening songs, this Wild Belle remix is probably the slowest jam on the list. Yet I can’t help but want to sway when that disco groove kicks in at :50. What’s sophisticated about this remix is how he perfects the original. It’s a good song, but a little repetitve, and Employee of the Year drops some of that, focusing on the strongest lines of the song. “It’s Too Late” would make a great closer (or opener), or a funny ditty for washing dishes, walking the dog, or romancing a first date. Probably too short at just over three minutes, which is all the reason to play it again. If you like this low-tempo number, you should probably check out my best indie pop list.
Let’s pick up the pace a little with some house music. What really grabs me about this song is the fantastic vocals. His gospel-worthy voice combined with the short trumpet frill makes this 2013 song sound like it could have been a remix of some old 70s vinyl from the rummage bin. The group is Italian, so I can’t tell you much about them, all I know is that his enthusiasm is infectious.
I was disappointed by Phoenix’s newest effort after their breakout fourth album. The songs didn’t have that addictive quality that made me want to sing along despite the inexplicable lyrics (to be fair, they’re French). All that is quickly forgotten with Kastra’s irresistible electro remix. The song peaked at number 11 on the US alternative charts, but it’s Kastra’s remix that reminds me what makes electro so exciting and fun. Continue reading Top Songs of 2013: Best Dance Music TOP TEN→
This is a mix tape for Evan. So the songs are a little dark or a little queer, or well-stated, just like Evan and the stuff he writes. I’ve also focused on songs that are new wave, electro, or dark wave as I know those are genres Mr. Petersen and I both favor. In honing the list, I’ve favored songs that embrace big topics like God while fearlessly examining our shadow selves, because I know Evan Petersen thinks about the heavy shit.
The unofficial tagline of this site is “It’s not Brittany, bitch.” But my hopes are that the days of such cornball kinderwhore are over. Why just you listen to these ten delicious pop songs from 2012 and you’ll find you’re beginning to feel much more optimistic about the future of pop music.
After drafting this list, I realized quite a few of these albums haven’t been released in the U.S. yet. Sorry for any aneurisms this inaccuracy causes in your tender, particular brains. But we gotta keep it up and coming around here.
“Baby Blue” is bliss, right from the little breaths that open the song. The slight echoes behind the harmonies and the one-up coin sound effect at 1:12 are nice touches but this would be an adorable song with just the pianos and playful harmonies. This is what sunshine sounds like.
This isn’t your standard remix. It begins with beautiful a capellas; next come the violins. The vocals are chopped in a way that somehow transcends the typical electronic song. It doesn’t have the structure of your typical remix either, which generally has a a minute long intro and outro and two or three climaxes. Instead, this starts out soft and lovely builds to a single gorgeous cacophony and ends swiftly. Empty Spaces is musically interesting from beginning to end, and when you’ve listened to it a few times the lyrics are fun to sink into.
There are some who would object to including a remix (or two) on this list because it takes credit from the original artist. But I see it as a way to give space for two acts. Oh No! Yoko makes some delightful songs of their own well worth checking out.
From the first second “Older Together” starts with a take-no-prisoners hook. The guitar and and throbbing synth compliment it perfectly. Instead of the standard motif of playing the hook with the chorus, that piano bit lets up for the vocals, so neither delight has to compete. Before you’re sick of the hook, the vocals come in. Before you can tire of the vocals, there’s that hook. His voice is unique but not quirky, and a subtle reverb gives it that extra little something. The second refrain takes it up a notch with a synth brass section.
It speaks to just how good this song is that I’ve been listening to it since the single was released last year and it still holds up to songs I’ve only been enjoying for a few months. It’s a sweet song with an irresistible melody. Fans of Peter Bjorn and John’s adorable ditty “Young Folks” will like this one. Shockingly, Amazon offers their whole album for under five bucks (right now Amazon is selling all five songs on that album for $2.99). Get it now before the cool kids catch on.
This would be a catchy song with just the vocals, piano and drums. But there’s a lot of little touches that make it more polished. The synth trills. Before the refrain there’s a two measure vocal sample that hints at the vocal layers to come. The layered and sampled vocals that make up the bridge are delightfully surprising. The drummer does little effects, just enough to keep it interesting but not enough to get self-indulgent. I’m happy to report that every other song I’ve heard from Gemini Club is just as nice as “By Surprise.”
Alt-J has put out one of my favorite albums of 2012, and it would be fair to put “Breezeblocks” on this list. But I want to be sure you hear this remix, which turned out to be one of my most-listened to songs of the year. Something about the vocal decay, like at the end of the phrase, “here I go,” just works. It reminds me of the way visual artists are working with distorted images, finding beauty in what’s broken. And the tremolo is subtle, but tickles the eardrums just the same.
I’m a sucker for harmonies and handclapping. Both are in abundance. This is one of those bands I discovered because cool DJs keep remixing them. I look forward to getting to better getting to know their sound in 2012.
That echoey guitar and croon combination creates some surreal magic in “Top Bunk.” Sounds like: Animal Collective made a mainstream surf album. And what’s with that drum that sounds like an explosion at the bottom of the ocean? How are they producing that dub-step worthy bass out of an ordinary drum kit? If you like music that sounds like the soundtrack Venice Beach surfers hear as they drown, get this whole album, because it’s equally, oddly, delish. Just for fun, here’s a video of “Top Bunk” made with old Shwarzaneggar movies. It’s well-produced but I can’t imagine it’s official, what with copyright and all.
The word “mature” comes to mind: musicians that have been doing this for a while and have put some thought into the lyrics and how it all comes together. The guitarist plays around a bit, showing off but not too much, while the percussion trades off with a variety of synth melodies. Sadly, I haven’t heard the rest of this album, so please share in the comments if you can tell us if the other songs are as good as “Repatriated.” If this song ended at 3:40 it would still be one of the year’s best, but it goes on for another minute just to make sure you know: Handsome Furs know how to rock.
In the proud tradition of Le Tigre, Heartsrevolution is an indie pop band fed on the mother’s milk of riot grrrl punk rock. “I.D.” goes back and forth between the identity politics of war and pop music. It’s framed as a prayer so when she says “I think we got a bad connection… Can you hear me now CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? NOW?” the urgency is to a savior that doesn’t seem to be listening. My favorite part is where she puts a new spin on that pop-shlock icon when she says that her fear “is that the world will be filled with Britney Spears. ‘It’s Britney Bitch. And I’m not that innocent.’ We’re not that innocent.” But she’s not (only) talking about pop music fans, she’s talking about the claims about American jingoism’s good-vs.-evil motif. She’s saying we know the war cries are a bunch of BS. Suffice to say, there’s a lot more going on in this band than a bunch of crystal bling on a pink ice cream truck. If you like electro but wish you could find something with a bit more substance, Heartsrevolution may be the flavor you crave.
Jon Fratelli can’t seem to get his shit together. First the Fratellis make it big, and he quits the tour because he got too effing “tired.” Then he formed the truly fantastic Codeine Velvet Club, and quits it before they have a chance to build any kind of legacy. But what he lacks in caffeine/direction he makes up for in talent. It’s straightforward indie rock, with rollicking guitars, “Whoah-ohs,” and charming lyrics about life on the road and the women he meets along the way.
You can listen to Mister Heavenly’s entire album on Youtube, which is how I can tell you it’s a solid work with ample variety between songs. I wanted to pick one song from Out of Love and while I think “Bronx Sniper” is my favorite, the songs are so wonderfully different from one another you may find another suits you better. It’s no surprise, as Mister Heavenly is made of folks from The Shins, The Unicorns, Islands, Man Man and Modest Mouse. They even got Michael Sera to play bass for them on tour. Something good is bound to come of such a combination, and it seems that they’ve lent their talents in equal proportions.
This single appeared in 2010 but it didn’t get released on Amazon til 2011, so it’s fair game by my rules. Oberhofer sounds a bit under-produced in a world of Britney Spears, and that’s a good thing. It sounds like they recorded it on the second take, capturing all of Oberhofer’s emoting, whistling, and glockenspiel-tapping in its random, glorious splendor.
Initially “Go Alien” sounds like a Jonsi clone, which we could stand to have a few more of, so that’s fine. But twenty seconds in, some banging drums and guitar-slapping let us know that this isn’t all going to be lullaby music. I like that the build-ups and breakdowns in this song don’t fit the standard chorus-to-refrain ratio. Where most songs kind of do the same thing for a minute and then give you a repetitive refrain, Oh No! Yoko seems to change course every thirty seconds, taking you on a nice ride.
Patrick Wolf put out a ton of material in 2011. Most of it struck me as a pretentious but I’d listen to it again. Perhaps his seriousness keeps “The City” from slipping too far into bubblegum territory. It’s a new wave love song in the tradition of Crowded House or Tears For Fears. I love the piano melody, and only wish it were louder in the mix.“ The City” harkens to the days when a saxophone was a perfectly fine backing instrument for a rock song.
Hey, who uses this much flanger anymore, or at least uses it well? This song is an anthem, a song to dedicate to your friend who’s just gotten out of a long-term relationship or failed the bar exam. It seems all these years we’ve been in need of a song that proclaims “Get back into the rhythm of things and come to the bar!” So thanks for that, Pete.
Polarsets have put out one of my top-5 favorite albums of 2011, and “Leave Argentina” is just one song worth checking out (See my Best electro of 2011 list for a few others). The first thirty seconds of this song are nothing to get excited about, which makes the contrasting burst of sound all the more compelling when he breaks into the refrain. There’s all kinds of bells and electronic percussion and general exuberant wackiness. The refrain of “Leave Argentina” is one of many reasons Polarsets is one of the bands to keep an ear on in 2012.
It’s a simple guitar melody, some slow drums, occasional handclaps, and a few well-placed backup harmonies. When simplicity works, it’s all the more effective (see: The XX), and this Chicago band has pulled off a song just as catchy as some of the pop numbers with double the instruments, clappers, and singers.
I haven’t had a chance to listen to the rest of their latest album, but “Fire” is a sign that The Submarines are just as good as they were on the last one (which is worthy of blowing your milk money). It’s hard to believe it only takes two people to make songs this infectious. Maybe the synergy comes from the fact that they’re married. Maybe it is because singer Blake Hazard is a Harvard-grad whose great-grand-pappy wrote The Great Gatsby. Whatever the case, I hope this couple stays lovey-dovey long enough to get the fame they deserve.
This is probably the most over-played song on this list, but The Best Indie Rock of 2011 wouldn’t be complete without it. Thank goodness we have the Black Keys to pick up where the White Stripes abandoned the cause of reminding us of rock and roll’s long-time love affair with the blues. The Black Keys are back with another album, chock full of guitar-bragging in the fine tradition of Billy Gibbons and Angus Young.
The Go! Team are happy to present another album of songs for cheerleaders to rock-out to. If you’re looking for songs to do kartwheels and splits by, this is the one for you, and this here’s the finest track. Bonus points for naming their title track after the anti-consumerist holiday, though from vague lyrics are more likely to inspire a round of beers than a revolution. There’s a terrific Go! Team remix in my Best Dance Songs of 2011 list.
When it comes to dark, shoegaze-y rock born of some shadow-world version of 50s LA surf-rock, the Dum Dum Girls are not alone. The Raveonettes have produced another album for people who like their guitars with maximum fuzz.
The Wombats make rock music that’s as close as it can be to being described as “cute” without crossing the line into twee. “1996” is a full-blown nostalgia trip for twenty-somethings. If you liked “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” or “Kill the Director” or “My Circuitboard City” here’s more of the same.
I didn’t want to like this song because I overplayed The Ting Tings’ first singles until I was sick to death of girl rap-singing over guitar and a catchy beat. I thought I was through with all that, but “Hang It Up” refuses to be ignored. I forget to not like it, catch my head nodding, and when the guitar breaks out 1:40 I’m all “sweeeeet!” My apologies, Ting Tings. You still got it.
Fast drums and shrill synth and then it’s all over too quickly. Another in the category of great-bands-from-Sweden, Those Dancing Days are an all-girl rock band in the tradition of the Go-Gos and Sleater-Kinney. While their last single was more in the pop tradition of the Bangles this songs shows that Those Dancing Days can rock out like the late-90s girl groups.
Speaking of Sleater-Kinney, the Portlandia star is still making music, with her band Wild Flag. Perhaps should have been on my Best-of list, no?
The first time I heard TuNe-YaRdS I thought they were some sort of Afro-Carribean revival. And maybe they are, despite the fact that singer Merrill Garbus is not an African dude, but a petite woman as white as a stationary shop. It’s not really cleary what genre TuNe-YaRdS is trying to be, which is half of what makes them so great. The other half is that crazy voice, that swoops off in a thousand directions, at times pretty, at times raucous, at times soulful, but never predictable.
You know how your best friends are your partners in crime? How half the amazing pranks, road trips and crazy antics of your life only happened because of some off-hand brag or dare you had to live up to? It’s about time someone wrote a song about it. “You Told the Drunks I Knew Karate” is a fun and clever duet in the tradition of alt-folk story-telling. If you like Hello Saferide or the Moldy Peaches, be sure to give this one a listen.
Hey dudes: if you’re looking for a song to sing at your woman while you jump around the dancefloor–this is the one.Try dancing like a maniac while mouthing “I’m gonna take you back to my house! I love the feeling when you touch me baby!” and surely you will get laid.
This sounds like it should have been the lead single on the Tron soundtrack. After releasing countless albums, M83 is finally starting to get radio play with this song. No wonder, as the beat makes it a little less dreamwave than most of their other stuff. It’s hard to tell where the vocals end and the synth begins. And the passioned cry, “The city is my church!” never gets old.
Remember when Arcade Fire won that grammy and everyone was all, “Who’s Arcade Fire?” Strange times we live in. They wouldn’t let me on their selection committee, but I suspect one of the reasons they won was for the lyrics that explore suburban angst. Arguably the best of these is this song, “The Suburbs,” a song I can’t seem to get tired of.This cover slows it down for a sexy groove that makes the beauitful lyrics easier to understand.
Another fun cover that’s a bit easier to sing along with than the original. If you haven’t heard of Kreayshawn yet, just-you-wait. She’s an up-and-coming Oakland rapper, who courts controversy by being not only white, but having a uniquely Oakland-hipster style. Far as I can tell, she doesn’t seem to give a fuck, which is the best way to be. The original “Gucci Gucci” is in my collection, but I recognize that it can be a bit too…boldly obnoxious for many. 2011 was a year for sexy slow-downs, and this one contrasts nicely with Kreayshawn’s brazen and clever lyrics.
There’s a lot of weird, delightful little sounds in “Polish Girl.” It’s easy to get lost in wondering what toys he’s using to create this-or-that sound. Then I remember the lyrics, and get pulled back into the story of the song, until I hear that sound that’s like Mario just won a green 1-up shroom, and I’m pulled back into the swirly goodness. When there’s too much greatness to concentrate on at one time, you know it’s a song that’s going to stay on the heavy rotation for many months.
Pure, perfect electro.So happy, it almost sounds like calypso. Yet it manages to avoid sounding too sacharine. Maybe it’s because of the emotion in his voice, but it all just works. If you like this song, get this album. One of the year’s best.
No really, you should get their album. Listen to “Sunshine Eyes” and get a lesson in how a perfect new wave song is built. Pure delight from beginning to end. Sounds like: the montage music for your summer romance.
The heavy beat on “Stunts” would have made this a good fit for the “Best Dance Music of 2011” list, but the lack of vocals takes some of the energy out of it, so I put it here instead. If you’re a fan of Ratatat and Caribou this may be the fix you need.
I was very excited to hear the new Rapture album, and while I can’t recommend the whole thing, this song is a winner. Part of what makes the Rapture so great is Luke Jenner’s emotive vocals, and this one is no exception. Four cocktails down, you will have trouble not singing “How deep is your love!” not as a question, but as an exclamation to be shouted to the fullest.
At the beginning of the year, I was obsessing over their new song “Dystopia (the Earth is On Fire).” Well, I overplayed it and now I’m sick of it. But then I discovered that “Paradise Engineering” is even better. Both songs give a nod to the catastrophic state of the world channeling it all into blissed out disco denial. It’s a soundtrack for oblivious consumerism in a broken world, which makes it more than good pop: it’s the zeitgeist of the 21st century.
At last, the best electro of 2011. I’m not ranking these, they’re in alphabetical order. Forthcoming is the second half of this list, as well as the Best Indie Rock and the best Dance and the Best Chill Music. It’s about time, eh?