July is that time of year when a lot of publications put out there ‘Best Albums of the Year (So Far)’ lists. This isn’t mine, but here are 5 songs released this year that I’m loving.
Vampire Weekend – Step
Modern Vampires of the City may end up being my favorite album of the year (though it has some stiff competition), and there are tons of great songs throughout. If nothing else, it’s my favorite VW album. On an album this stellar, “Step” manages to stand out. It’s catchy in all the ways the great VW songs are, but it also boasts some of Ezra Koenig’s best lyrics, mixing their patented cheekiness with some truly earnest, weighty ruminations. A summer jam that’s deep? Leave it to Vampire Weekend.
Rilo Kiley – The Frug
Technically this isn’t a new song, as it was released on a movie soundtrack over a decade ago. Regardless, Rilo Kiley released an odds and sods collection earlier this year, RKives, and this was the closing track, so I’ll count it as a 2013 release. What’s so great (and bizarre) about this song is that despite it predating every album, it has such a perfect mix of their sound that I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear it on any of their LPs, including Under The Blacklight. It’s poppy flare might have sounded out of place on their earlier, darker albums, but the deceptively stark lyrics are classic Rilo. With the band probably dead for good, this song is a bittersweet and fitting send-off.
Escondido – Black Rose
The great thing about digital albums is that they’re frequently cheaper than the physical version (I never understand when they’re not). It’s a little easier to pony up $5-7 on an unknown band than it is $12-15. When I heard “Black Roses” by Escondido I immediately loved it, but I had never heard of the band and I’ve been burned by the ‘1 good single’ bands plenty in the past, so I was reticent at first. But after sampling the rest of the album (and seeing it was available for cheap on Amazon), I bought it and I haven’t regretted it at all. The whole album is a dreamy mix of Southwestern Folk, a timeless sound that invokes thoughts of the Wild West and Brooklyn. Highly recommended.
The National – Fireproof
Another contender for album of the year, any fan of The National knows they never release a bad album, but in a catalog of good-to-classic releases, Trouble Will Find Me may prove to be their best. Yes, it’s that good. Is “Fireproof” the best song on the album? I don’t think it’s possible to say, but damn if this song doesn’t do everything that makes the National great. There’s that slow but propulsive build throughout that gives the song a kind of pulsing anxiety, deceptively complex instrumentation and, of course, those lyrics: “You keep a lot of secrets, and I keep none; wish I could go back and keep some.” It says something when a band that’s music could best be described as “the soundtrack of the winter” is still this listenable in the heat of the summer.
Laura Marling – When Brave Bird Saved
This is kind of a cheat. “When Brave Bird Saved” isn’t a song, but rather a short film soundtracked (almost) entirely by the first 4 songs off of Laura Marling’s stunning album, Once I Was an Eagle. Remember when I said that Vampire Weekend and the National were contenders for album of the year? The only reason one of them hasn’t already walked off with the title is because this Little-Engine-That-Could of an album is one of the most stunning, perplexing and beautiful collections of songs I’ve heard in a long, long time. It’s not the kind of album you put on every day, but it is the sort that, when you put it on 5 years from now, you’ll suddenly find yourself unable to do anything else but listen. If I say it’s a masterpiece, I risk overselling it and putting people off to it.
So be it: Once I Was an Eagle is a masterpiece.