Here is the final post in this week long look back at 2013’s year in music on Melting Pot, focused on the best songs I heard last year. As is usually the case, four of these songs were absolute no-brainers. That fifth spot always seems to give me a little bit of trouble. It would have made sense to include one of the several fantastic retro soul tracks that I frequently played at home, on the road or on the radio, but when I thought about overall pleasure derived from listening to this music all throughout 2013, I found that I was more drawn to other varieties of soul music this year. So, without further adieu, here are my picks for the top five songs I heard in 2013.
***Honorable Mentions: Frootful feat. Mazen Bedwei – “The Road,” Myron & E – “If I Gave You My Love,” Amatorski – “Never Told,” Boogaloo Assassins – “No, No, No,” Golden Grrrls – “Past Tense,” Rhye – “The Fall,” Bosq feat. Mendee Ichikawa – “Never Feel Cold,” King – “In The Meantime,” Fat Night – “Things You Do,” Quadron – “LFT,” Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators – “On The Eastside”
5. Toro Y Moi – “Grown Up Calls” – Anything In Return (Carpark)
Toro y Moi – Grown Up Calls
Perhaps no other song put a smile on my face as much as “Grown Up Calls.” Lyrically there’s not really a reason for that, since the song could best be described as a bittersweet love song, seemingly about the effects of distance on a relationship between two young lovers. Instead it’s about the sound of the song, the lovingly crafted homage to 1980s/1990s R&B style, moving far and away from the chillwave he was associated with. I don’t know what kind of dancer Chaz Bundwick actually is, but every time I hear this song, I can’t help but envision him doing heavily choreographed moves somewhere in between Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step.” Part of me really wishes that Chaz could have broken out this year with this album and this song (and the accompanied dance moves in a very slick video) to have been a major star challenging Justin Timberlake, Usher and the like. Part of me is MUCH happier that Toro y Moi received sustained acclaim all year long from just the right outlets and stayed just on the cusp of stardom. As is the case with so much of the music I play, you want as many people as possible to hear it because it truly deserves to be heard, but you also know how widespread, mainstream approval has a way of changing artists and changing sounds rarely for the better. I have a feeling that the next Toro y Moi record will sound nothing like this, but whatever Chaz has in store for us next, just based off of all he’s done so far, we’ll be more than willing to go wherever he wants to take us.
4. Valerie June – “Shotgun” – Pushin’ Against A Stone (Concord)
foto © Rich Etteridge
Valerie June – Shotgun
Murder Ballads are a time honored tradition in the blues, but I’m not sure there’s ever been one quite like “Shotgun.” Here’s what I (and Ms. June) originally had to say about this track back in September:
“It’s remarkable simply because it’s so rare to hear a murder ballad where the woman is not only the narrator but also not the victim. It’s sung in a way that you could almost be forgiven for not recognizing that she kills this man with a sawed-off shotgun at the end, but that’s a testament to her talents as a singer and songwriter. Recently she did an interview with NPR and said this about how the song came to her: ‘I was seeing this field, this prairie in the middle of America, I guess. The wheat was over-my-head high, almost, and it was blowing back and forth. And there was this old house with white vinyl siding — almost falling off, like a haunted house — and a screen door, and it was flapping in the wind. There’s a song [the blues standard 'Baby, Please Don't Go'] that goes, ‘Baby, please don’t go / Don’t go down to New Orleans.’ Well, this woman, she was like, ‘No, don’t go! Don’t leave me! Don’t go down to New Orleans!’ And the man had other ideas for what he wanted to do. So she decided that she was upset about it, and she wanted to get her sawed-off shotgun and do something with the relationship that was gonna make him hers forever.’”
Even if it wasn’t a murder ballad, the song would still be a stunner, just for the stark and haunting beauty of June’s vocals. The fact that it IS a murder ballad makes it even more stunning, more haunting, as if it’s not simply a murder ballad, but one that’s sung from beyond the grave. The violent, unexpected rushes of slide guitar only reinforce all those feelings. On a record of great performances, “Shotgun” still stands all on its own.
3. Rhye – “Last Dance” – Woman (Innovative Leisure/Polydor)
foto © Neil Bedford
Rhye – Last Dance
As one of my favorite records of the year, there were several tracks from Rhye that could have found their way into this list, but “Last Dance” is here because it’s the best of the bunch. From the ace production from Robin Hannibal, with all the various elements perfectly balanced and spaced in the mix, to the way Mike Milosh’s ethereal vocals soar, swoon and caress each and every single syllable if the lyrics, “Last Dance” is absolutely flawless.
2. Toddla T Sound – “Worst Enemy” – 12” (Ninja Tune)
Toddla T Sound – Worst Enemy (Edit)
It’s very rare for me to include singles in my year end shows and lists. Part of the reason is that eventually there’s a full-length that comes out and that LP will often feature the song that I was originally most enamored with or something even better. Every now and again though a single is all there is, or when the album comes out the song you love has been tampered with and changed into something lesser or even more rarely (as was the case with another favored track from this year, Fat Night’s “Things You Do”) the album will not feature the single that sparked the love to begin with. When I made the decision that there was no way I could leave “Worst Enemy” out of my Best Of 2013 show, I knew it also would have to be on this list. No other song in 2013 had the power to truly transport me from where ever I was and whatever I was feeling and send me into a blissful space away from the rest of the world. The production from Toddla T is largely responsible for that in the clouds feeling, but it’s Shola Ama’s vocals that really got me floating. It took a single listen for this one to get it’s hooks in me, and also only one listen to convince me that the slowed down (seemingly ubiquitous) rapping in the song simply had to go. I can understand why they are there, but they were so distracting, so completely unnecessary to the vibe of the song that I just had to edit them out. All apologies to the band, but please know that it was done out of sheer love for this track and for Shola’s vocals. If not for that little cut I’m not sure I would have even played this on my show. Instead it became the song that I listened to on repeat the most in 2013.
1.Haitus Kaiyote – “Nakamarra” – Tawk Tomahawk (Flying Buddha)
Hiatus Kaiyote – Nakamarra
If “Worst Enemy” was the song that I listened to most in 2013, “Nakamarra” was by far the song that I sang most, in the car, on the way to class, in the shower, to my wife, to my dog, at the gym, just walking around, at the supermarket, essentially everywhere, which is strange since it’s such a personal love song. One of the real highlights of the year was having the band do a stripped down session for us at KPFK and getting a chance to talk with them about “Nakamarra” because it cleared up any possible misconceptions about the song. As singer and principal lyricist, Nai Palm, explained in our interview:
“…there’s so many different ways to love people, in music it’s usually only focused on the romantic side of things. The song was written about a friend of mine, she was an artist and she moved to the central Australian desert to work with indigenous artists…for a woman who was the same age as me, and in this amazing city (Melbourne)…It just really struck me. The song is about just how proud I was of her to make such a strong move in her life at such a young age, but also spending a lot of time out in the desert, it’s my homage to that space, the land out there and the people.”
“Nakamarra” doesn’t simply reference a particular person, but it simultaneously contains very specific references to Australia. The title is in reference to a tribal name that was given to Nai’s friend, one that is a name of kinship and one with specific ties to Aborigine culture and particular spaces in the Australian desert. The song then works as an expression of love in a variety of different ways, lyrically as the deep affection between two friends, and musically, with it’s references to the production styles of the Soulqarians, most specifically Hip-Hop’s most sanctified producer, J-Dilla. All those many layers of love shine brilliantly through in the finished product, unquestionably the best song I heard in 2013.