NPR Music's 50 Favorite Songs Of 2013 (So Far)
We made you a doozy of a mix — 50 of NPR Music's favorite songs from the first half of 2013, including hip-hop anthems, dudes with beards, avant-garde lullabies, dance-music stompers, tear-jerking ballads, funk odysseys and synth-pop singalongs.
As we spend more time getting acclimated to music that recently arrived in our inbox (hello, Queens of the Stone Age, Lemuria, Quadron and The Civil Wars) and await imminent new jams from the likes of Kanye West, this list of songs is bound to change throughout the year. But let the record show that these are the songs we were feeling during the first half of 2013.
The Ambulars, "Hiding Out"
The DIY trio combines the best of punk, power-pop and '90s indie rock in a cautionary tale about chasing your own demons.
Anna von Hausswolff, "Funeral For My Future Children"
As if its title weren't bleakly dramatic enough, "Funeral for My Future Children" balances the Swedish singer's soaring wails with the groan of a pipe organ.
Ashley Monroe, "Used"
The Pistol Annies singer's subtle, lovely ode to life experience is infused with the wise perspective of a woman twice her age.
A$AP Ferg feat. A$AP Rocky, French Montana, Trinidad James & Schoolboy Q, "Work (Remix)"
It was an irrefutable trunk-rattler last year; now, it's been blessed by four of the most quotable characters in the business. Let it in.
Ballake Sissoko, "Maimouna"
The Malian maestro of the kora opened his new album, At Peace, with this showstopper of a lullaby. Guaranteed to calm even the most jangled nerves.
Bill Ryan weaves a magical tapestry. Along the way, he makes the combination of saxophone, bass clarinet, violin, cello, piano and glockenspiel delicate, haunting and oddly bittersweet.
Downtempo veteran Simon Green gets hypnotic with the help of some xylophones in this epic slow-burner.
Bosnian Rainbows, "Torn Maps"
Omar Rodríguez-López is famously talented and difficult to work with. Teri Gender Bender is famously fierce. When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, amazing music comes out.
Bryan Ferry Orchestra, "Do The Strand"
Novelty: Roxy Music as early New Orleans polyphony. Tradition: real-deal swing, those chord changes on the chorus, danceable solutions.
Cecile McLorin Salvant, "You Bring Out The Savage In Me"
It takes gumption for a young black woman to reclaim lines like, "Just like Tarzan, be my ape-man." It takes artistry to do it the way she does.
Indie-pop's anthem of the year so far. The Scottish synth-rock trio will have your fist in the air by the end of this song.
Ciara, "Body Party"
Takes the backside of a 17-year-old warm-weather masterpiece and moves the action from the future to the present tense. Sweaty and satisfying.
Coco O., "Where The Wind Blows"
The Danish soul singer has a fantastically lush voice that's both retro and modern, much like the Baz Luhrmann Gatsby movie featuring this track. You'll hear much more from Coco O. this year.
Daft Punk feat. Pharrell, "Get Lucky"
There was no escaping this song during the first half of 2013 — a phenomenon that introduced a new generation to the genius of guitarist Nile Rodgers.
David Bowie, "Where Are We Now?"
Bowie makes a welcome return with an elegiac but defiantly hopeful message about nostalgia, couched in a beautiful soundscape of echoing drums and swimming synths.
Disclosure feat. AlunaGeorge, "White Noise"
The new sound of pop music. The Lawrence Brothers hit new lows (in frequency, that is) on their debut album's high point.
Fat Tony feat. Kool A.D. and Despot, "Hood Party"
A song about gentrification disguised as the chronicle of a Ferris Bueller-level house party, told in triplicate over a zig-zagging beat.
Giuliano Carmignola, "Vivaldi, Violin Concerto in D, RV 232"
This concerto burns white-hot, with extraordinary dexterity and detail by violinist Carmignola, who's backed by an ensemble wired with the exuberance of a punk band.
Holly Williams, "Giving Up"
A graceful, heartbreaking look at a marriage ruined by alcohol, by a tremendous talent whose lineage (Hank Williams' granddaughter, Hank Jr.'s daughter) should be a footnote, not the headline.
Ivan Lins & SWR Big Band, "Todo Mundo"
Brazilian icon meets a whole lot of Germans who enjoy weird noises, layered horns and summertime lampin' at Stuttgart's imaginary beaches.
J. Cole feat. Miguel, "Power Trip"
A woozy slow jam — vulnerable and frustrated — that's ballasted by craggy drums, a husky bass and a crooning Miguel.
Jaimeo Brown feat. JD Allen and Chris Sholar, "Power Of God"
Lush pitter-patter superimposed over a soul-shaking black spiritual from the deep South. Then, pianist Geri Allen warms it down, solo.
James Blake, "Retrograde"
The title refers to celestial objects taking counter-intuitive approaches when orbiting a star. Think about that the next time Blake hums all sexy-like.
John Grant, "GMF"
Relationships are complicated, but at least John Grant can make the insecurity of love sound like a gorgeous session of couples therapy.
Josh Ritter, "Joy To You, Baby"
Most breakup songs wallow in at least one stage of grief, but few get all the way to acceptance. This one does, with generosity for everyone involved.
KMFH, "Dr. Crunch"
This juggernaut of a tune by the young Detroit dance producer Kyle Hall feels like a cartoon steamroller in fifth gear.
Laura Marling, "Master Hunter"
A bold, subtly aggressive statement of purpose from an increasingly masterful young singer, "Master Hunter" shimmers with beauty while baring its teeth.
Machel Montano, "The Fog"
The Trinidad and Tobago superstar pays tribute to the paint-and-powder pandemonium of the Caribbean Carnival season.
Mariah Carey feat. Miguel, "#Beautiful"
Carey's feathery vocals and Miguel's warm groove come together in an impeccable pop concoction — a strong song-of-the-summer contender.
MED, Blu, Madlib, "Burgundy Whip"
Loose snares and a mobile bass loop fuel a comfortable song about driving around. It's easy like leaving work at the end of a long day.
My Bloody Valentine, "In Another Way"
Kevin Shields, one of modern music's true visionaries, returns 22 years later and sounds as if he'd never left.
Night Beds, "Even If We Try"
Winston Yellen is a one-man choir in this gorgeous, slow-burning ballad, which infuses Night Beds' folky pop sound with angelic grace.
Ólafur Arnalds feat. Arnór Dan, "Old Skin"
Arnalds and Arnór Dan have become a remarkable production team. This glacial tearjerker isn't even their biggest hit; that would be the theme song to the British mystery Broadchurch.
Patty Griffin feat. Robert Plant, "Ohio"
Inspired by stories of the Underground Railroad and escaped slaves, "Ohio" is a meditation on longing, made even more hypnotic by its stunning vocal harmonies.
Phosphorescent, "Song For Zula"
Matthew Houck issues a gorgeous, rambling rumination on love that subtly invokes U2 in the way its arrangement shimmers and blooms.
Piñata Protest, "Volver, Volver"
Mariachi punk works with a vengeance in the hands of this young band from Texas. Attitude stands in for experience — and does just fine.
Pusha T, "Numbers On The Board"
Hypnotic, sly and relentless, a neck-snapping track that shoves Pusha T's snarling vocal in your face like it's a pop-up book.
Red Baraat, "Mast Kalandar"
Red Baraat's recipe for danceable sonic perfection: Take one iconic South Asian Sufi classic, and drench it in the colors of New Orleans second line with a goodly dash of Brooklyn swagger.
Producer Robin Hannibal and singer Mike Milosh craft a gentle and mesmerizing slow jam, in the process proving that sounding like Sade is never a bad thing.
Robin Thicke feat. T.I. and Pharrell, "Blurred Lines"
This song has everything: charm, swagger, a funky beat and the two words that make any track worth hearing this year — "featuring Pharrell."
Royal Highness feat. El Dusty, "Fiesta Colombiana"
Royal Highness shows its versatility by pairing up with El Dusty in this booming, fast-yet-slow, syrup-drenched ode to being Colombian.
Rudresh Mahanthappa, "Waiting Is Forbidden"
"Jazz fusion," sure. But between the cutting alto sax and the slicing guitar, it's like running through Gotham City with jet fuel in the veins and daggers for hands.
Suede, "For The Strangers"
The progenitors of Britpop wrote some wrenching ballads during the 1990s. This song is up there with the best of them.
Telekinesis, "Power Lines"
Power-pop perfection from a power-pop perfectionist, with a quiet-to-loud transition partway through that's as thrilling as it is expected.
Tegan & Sara, "Closer"
The musical twins make a calculated move toward commercial pop with a catchy and propulsive anthem for anyone with a crush on... well, anyone.
The-Dream feat. Gary Clark Jr., "Too Early"
A bluesy, weary late-night song that finds The-Dream begging off an argument and climaxes in a harmony that's as vivid as a bruised rainbow.
Thundercat, "Oh Sheit It's X"
This co-production with Flying Lotus is funny and funky, but also poignant. When Stephen Bruner sings, "You should be here with me," you can't help but think of his late friend and bandmate, Austin Peralta.
Yo La Tengo, "Ohm"
Now in its third decade, the New Jersey band kicks off its fine new album with a kickily charming seven-minute jam — and passes along a few hard-earned lessons in the process.
Mikal Cronin, "Shout It Out"
Cronin's second album is full of spangly little garage-pop jams, but "Shout It Out" is its most impeccably buzzy anthem, without a second wasted.