Top Ten Singles and Splits of 2013

10.) Just Handshakes – “London Bound”
With a lightly plodding bass line draped in frosty, filigree touches of lead guitar, “London Bound”, digs itself into the dirt, finding its footing behind a chalked white line. Female vocals waver slightly, trying to fit into place in time for the cry of the starting pistol, or, in this case a subtle blast of dreamy guitar distortion and a snare fill. The track lurches forward, its muscles tightening sharply. A chunky, Cure-esque guitar riff mimics the vocals in the chorus as the track seems to float on flickering hi-hat cymbals. Just Handshake’s debut single is beautifully reminiscent of New Order’s “Ceremony” in a way that many have attempted to match, but few have succeeded at.

9.) Barlow – “Cindy 99”
With the immediacy and brevity of a commercial jingle, “Cindy 99” is a saccharine slice of pop genius piped through busted speakers. Channeling the monochromatic lo-fi pop of the mid 90’s, Barlow lives up to its namesake, Lou Barlow, the bassist of seminal fuzz-rock band Dinosaur Jr. They’re coming out with a proper LP next year, so keep your eyes peeled.

8.) bEEdEEgEE – “Flowers” (feat. Lovefoxx)
“Flowers” serves as an oasis of warm, nostalgic pop on an album of impenetrable trap-influenced electronic. For the second single off of his album SUM/ONE, bEEdEEgEE teams up with Lovefoxxx of Brazilian synthpop act CSS to produce four and a half minutes of 70’s-infused psychedelia. There’s a bit of a magical feeling to the track, and it seems to burst with life. The bass synths that open the song breathe warmth into the ears of the listener, but are soon overtaken by bouncy keyboards and sparkling drum machine samples. It all builds up to the track’s centerpiece, its unforgettable chorus. Three other worldly chords flood the mix, overshadowing the vocals they accompany. Fans of Fleetwood Mac and Washed Out alike will love “Flowers”. Listen here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ptBWZ4c8CM

7.) The Beets – “Silver Nickels + Golden Dimes”
With their blatant disregard for musical polish and wonderful, crayon-drawn album covers, it’s impossible to ignore a Beets release. “Silver Nickels and Golden Dimes” is of particular interest, not just because of its mildly offensive album artwork, but because both sides of the disc are covers of songs that famous radio personality Howard Stern wrote in middle school. The Beets adolescent energy is well-suited to replicate these songs; the drums sound as if struggling to keep up with the clanging, percussive guitar and Juan Wauters’ strange vocal delivery. This Beets single is garage rock in its purest form.

6.) Wade/Healing Powers Split Cassingle
A split tape between two bands who are similar enough to compliment each other but aren’t completely indistinguishable. Newcastle’s Wade take up my favorite side of this tape with two hard-hitting, riff-heavy emo assaults, muffled by their own lo-fi recording qualities. I really dig the vocals, and the fuzzy, washed out tone. On the other side, the twinkly lead guitars on Healing Powers’ “Death Valley Driver” provide placid contrast to the hoarse screamo vocals. It’s not the sort of tape I’m used to listening to, but it’s surprisingly satisfying. [Review from Half-Gifts issue 5]

5.) The Socials – The Beast Bites
Though they've been around since 1994, The Beast Bites is the first vinyl release by Cincinnati punk trio The Socials. Despite the band's veteran status, one shouldn't expect to find any signs of maturity on this 7-inch record. The band's sound is built around a juvenile furor, the gritty rage of pre-Rollins Black Flag conjoined with the stark simplicity of Olympia, Washington's punk heyday. Throw in the Bikini Kill-esque vocal stylings of guitarist Mrs. Communication and you've got a 4-song EP that exemplifies everything I love about punk music: short, noisy songs that don't take themselves too seriously, putting fun above all else. It's not available to stream online, so you'll have to buy a copy to hear it for yourself.

4.) BRAAINZZ – “Ode 2 Lil B” (feat. Slide Show)
A reverent hymn to the basedgod, this BRAAINZZ single demonstrates the perfect balance between beauty and noise. A warbly loop of reverb-laden guitar notes provides a pretty, but non-distracting accompaniment to Slide Show’s gorgeous vocals, which sound quite similar those on A-Ha’s “Take On Me”, if it were sung by a female lead.

3.) Technicolor Teeth – “Blood Pool”
If this single’s cover art didn’t clue you in, Technicolor Teeth’s “Blood Pool” combines Bauhaus’ noisy Gothic experimentation  with the shoegaze delivery and knack for pop hooks that recalls Ride’s “Vapour Trail” Its b-side, “Drips”, is a bit more upbeat, featuring janglier guitars and vocals that are rather prominent. A must-have for fans of any shoegaze subgenre.

2.) Alex G / RL Kelly Split Record
RL Kelly’s new material eschews the keyboard that was heard throughout her well-received debut EP that dropped in February, and opts for a more minimal, grittier vibe. This was a smart move, as the raw, stripped back production puts more emphasis on keeping the tracks moving, and I feel it put a bit more pressure on Rachel Levy to focus on writing memorable hooks. The subtle shift in atmosphere takes RL Kelly to the next level, her vocal delivery and crunchy guitar tone on “Everyday” recalling the sound of Lois Maffeo’s K Records band named after Courtney Love. Featuring minimal percussion and overdubbed vocals, “Fake Out” offers the most replay-ability of all the songs on the split. Alex G’s “Magic Mirror” carries the record into psychedelic territory. Its woozy vibe pairs well with heavily distorted guitar. The fuzz clears from the air for his next two offerings. “Adam” is a stunner, making use of many more instruments than I’m used to from the bedroom pop genre, booming drums, warbling synths and piano in addition to his acoustic strumming.

1.) Mrs. Mole - “Sjon”
I first heard this song in a CD that came with an issue of a German indie-pop fanzine called Transendieren Exzess Pop, and found myself in awe. It was unlike anything I’d heard this year, adopting an orchestral and vaguely folky delivery that can only be compared to Clogs, a side project of The National. What’s most notable about this track is the woodwind instrument (a clarinet I think?) that weaves in and out of hurried acoustic arpeggios that reminds me of the theme song to Oswald, a cartoon about a blue octopus. The arrangement of instruments grows more layered as the tune continues. Banjo pluckings, cymbal washes, booming bass piano notes each slowly build to a climax, when a new vocalist enters the song at about 3:30. Truly an amazing track that’s well deserving of the number one spot on this list.