Welcome back to the somewhat-delayed Play Off tournament, where I’m pitting tracks against one another for the title of Best Song of 2013… but, hey, I explained this already.You can click the above image to embiggen and check out all 32 contenders, but it’s about time we set these bloodthirsty songs loose in the no-holds-barred arena that is Blogspot, and narrowed them down to 16. I recommend listening along on Spotify here.For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to split this into four parts, starting with: Kavinsky – Rampage vs Camera Obscura – Every Weekday We open with a match-up between two tracks from pretty much opposite ends of the spectrum of my taste. Rampage is a condensed package of propulsive energy. No words, just a constant neon beat carrying you on into the night. The details kind of blur as you speed past, and then the song drops a ’70s cop show sting, slams on the handbrake, and is over. The beauty of Every Weekday, meanwhile, lies in the individual moments, and particularly the way that Campbell twists little chunks of lyrics. There’s a real performance to her vocals, which turns a line like “I don’t want to sound like I’ve written us off” into a series of hills and valleys, a whole song’s worth of brittle, beautiful drama in ten words. It’s a song of delicacy and subtlety, two characteristics Kavinsky couldn’t be accused of – but this year, that kind of swaggering momentum was just something I needed more. Winner: Kavinsky – Rampage Fat Tony feat. Kool A.D. & Despot – Hood Party vs CHVRCHES – Recover Chvrches pretty much ruled my year in 2012. I fell for the sharp purity of Mayberry’s vocals, and even more the way each song distorted them into something nearly tactile; as natural as cold silt, as inorganic as a lab-grown hamburger. Unfortunately, they’re about to get knocked out in the first round. Hood Party is the sound of the greatest, loudest party you’ve never been invited to. Its huge blown-out bass doesn’t quite sound like you’re at the party, but just outside of it. In the queue, or across the street, or maybe in the toilets, watching your breath condense on the vibrating warehouse walls, just as you pick out the bassline of that song you’ve been waiting all night to hear. The song has many, many more facets than that, which we’ll get round to in future rounds, but that alone is enough to carry it to victory. Winner: Fat Tony feat. Kool A.D. & Despot – Hood Party Daft Punk – Giorgio by Moroder vs Daft Punk – Get Lucky (Radio Edit) I swear this pairing was a coincidence – and prepare yourself, because there’s another equally unlikely one coming up shortly – but it gives us the perfect chance to talk about the Daft Punk album. Get Lucky was always the obvious lead single, but Giorgio, essentially a musical memoir, is a much better representative of what Random Access Memories is actually like: noodly, unusual, overlong, a little pompous, but never less than interesting. In a way, I think putting Giorgio out first would have lessened some of the disappointed backlash the album faced on release. As it was, we all heard Get Lucky a couple of billion times, and I know for a lot of people that killed it. The song is so familiar to me now that it’s hard to remember hearing it for the first time, to imagine ever being surprised by it. In a way, Get Lucky feels it has always existed, has become part of the canon, and that’s dangerous for a song that’s so much about being joyously alive. But it also feels inevitable. The song, as I’ve argued before, is designed to be played over and over, practically begs for it. It’s a series of interlocking loops, a circular song that fades out but could very well go on forever. Get Lucky‘s magic is still there, but its grooves are worn down by over-use. And while Giorgio has little to offer the hips, there’s plenty for the head – and has the advantage of still feeling brand new every time I come to it Winner: Daft Punk – Giorgio by Moroder Holy Ghost! – Okay vs Autre Ne Veut – Ego Free Sex Free Often, with my favourite songs, it’s all about scratching an itch. There’s got to be something that means you keep coming back to a single track, that makes you crave it in the mornings like a cigarette or a cup of black coffee or a bowl of chocolate-coated Frosties [delete as applicable]. In Okay, it’s this little instrumental call-and-response that opens the song, a moment-long series of interlocking sounds, like a cheat code unlocking something deep in my brain. After delivering your fix early, the song takes it away, dropping occasional fragments throughout but making you wait till the end of the chorus to get the full thing. And, strong as the rest of the song is, for the addict it’s pretty much all a tease – something which fits nicely with the lyrics’ tale of late-night missed calls and lapsing back into an old relationship. “And the punchline isn’t far”, sings Frankel at the end of each verse – but it’s always too far away. Ego Free Sex Free, meanwhile, is all itches. The song is constantly playing every trick it’s got, moment piling on top of moment. Here’s the sound of a choir, ebbing in and out of existence; here’s the crystalline smashing of virtual glass; here’s Ashin’s own voice, sharpened into a spike. There’s structure underpinning it all, yes, but the surface is constantly fidgeting, never letting you – or itself – get comfortable, always making sure there’s something new to engage with. Winner: Autre Ne Veut – Ego Free Sex Free The next lot into the mincer: The Juan Maclean – Feel Like Movin’ vs Vampire Weekend – Step I’ve mentioned before how I really don’t […]
So: I have no idea what my favourite song of 2013 is. This year’s music failed to crystallise into a neat handful of songs like it normally does, which is both a good and a bad thing. Yay, because it’s a symptom of just how much fantastic music there’s been. The 32 songs we’re going to be talking about in these posts are only a small (hopefully representative) fraction of the stuff that I loved this year. But also a mild boo, because it also means the year was lacking in truly definitive songs. I guess it was the year of Get Lucky, but while I clung onto my love of that song long after most had burned out from over-use (more on this in later posts), you’re not going to find any Call Me Maybes on the list this year. With that in mind, this approach seemed like the obvious choice: take a tournament-sized chunk ofsongs, and pit them against each other, one on one, until we have a winner. Y’know, like they do in Pokémon and, I believe – am I pronouncing this right? – ‘Sports’. It’s also neatly reflective of the way I used music this year. The format is adapted from Tom Ewing’s Mincer which, for two months in the spring, ruled everything around me. You can read all about it elsewhere on this blog, but basically: randomise your tracks; listen in pairs; pick a winner as quickly as possible after the tracks end; delete the other; rinse and repeat. But my listening habits have been strangely competitive in general all year. Possibly thanks to the sheer quantity of quality releases, possibly out of a sense that last year slipped through my fingers slightly, but I found myself pretty much refusing to listen to anything that wasn’t current, my increasingly labyrinthine sets of Spotify playlists felt like an exercise in narrowing down everything I heard and liked into shorter and shorter lists – which is exactly what we’re doing here. We should probably establish some ground rules, baggy as they are. During the selection process, each artist was limited to two songs – and there had to be a good justification for doubling up, which we’ll touch upon when we hit those tracks. Each song had to be one I heard for the first time this year, and it had to have a clear 2013 release date. I’m sure we’ll realise I unconsciously cheated on some tracks along the line. Some tracks are here representing the entire album they’re lifted from, but they’re inevitably here on merit. It’s just that In lieu of a seeding system – which seemed foolish, given that I’d be choosing both the seeds and the winners – I gave the tracks a couple of randomisations until it felt ‘about right’. This means there aren’t any hot contenders facing off in the first round, as far as I can tell, and the neat thematic pairings are genuinely random, sort of. I’m letting myself listen to each pair of tracks on repeat as many times as I want during the writing process, which makes the decision process less spontaneous than the Mincer’s one-shot policy but also, that would likely drive me insane. I haven’t listened to the Beyoncé album yet, because I suspected it might screw the whole thing up. You can follow the tournament live on Challonge here, listen to our 32 contenders on Spotify, and I’ll be back on Monday with commentary from the first round of matches. To reiterate, I have genuinely no idea which track is going to win. I hope you have as much fun finding out as I do.