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The 25 Songs I Digged Most in 2013

No better way to close out the year than with my version of The Best Songs of 2013.  Like all such lists, it is very subjective.

My process began by making a list of the songs I enjoyed most from this year's blog entries.  Then I listened to these songs - over and over - trying to determine the ones that I considered the best.  Things like strength of songwriting and vocal performances mattered significantly, as did vibe, groove, musicianship, and originality.

Here is the list:

1.  Marshall Dear - Savages

2.  Wakin On A Pretty Day - Kurt Vile

3.  I Built a Town - Mount Moriah

4.  Song For Zula - Phosphorescent

5.  You Found Another Lover - Ben Harper with Charles Musselwhite

6.  Lightning Bolt - Jake Bugg

7.  The Fall - Rhye

8.  Retrograde - James Blake

9.  Drop The Game - Flume & Chet Faker

10.  Liquid Spirit - Gregory Porter

11.  Waltz About Whiskey - Mandolin Orange

12.  Master Hunter - Laura Marling

13.  Sneak Out The Back Door - Ron Sexsmith

14.  Demons - The National

15…

Summer Of Ska - Bim Skala Bim

from the album Chet's Last Call (2013)

I woke up this morning in a very happy mood.  I will be wrapping up the last leg of my Wales trip tonight and driving to London tomorrow.  London excites me.  It is one of the few cities on this planet where I am itching to live.

When I think of London, I always think of ska.  The Specials, Madness, The Selector.  What I wouldn't do to have been there in the day and frequented their gigs.

So in their honor, here is one of my favorite ska tunes of 2013, Summer Of Ska by Boston mainstays, Bim Skala Bim.  This song combines a relaxed summertime feel with the ska vibe that I love.  Hope you dig it.

Click Here to listen to Summer of Ska of the Nimbit Music website.

Mozart In Da Ghetto - Mister Modo & Ugly Mac Beer

from the EP Liqid (2013)

Why listen to The Nutcracker when you can listen to Mozart mixed with some hip electronic stylings?  Beats me.

Check out this short musical piece by Paris-based DJ/Producer combo Mister Modo & Ugly Mac Beer. Mister Modo is a master of beats.  I dig the way he keeps a lo-fi aesthetic to the beat and groove.  It makes for a vibe I better relate to that the slicker, more polished stuff.  Ugly Mac Beer is usually responsible for scratching on the turntables.  Here he mixes up some Mozart.  I think it sounds pretty cool.

I find myself increasingly drawn to Parisian music these days.  It feels like an island, doing its own thing, creating its own vibes, while turning a deaf ear to the rest of the world.  It serves them well.

Click Here to listen to Mister Modo's Christmas Soul & Funk Party posted three days ago on SoundCloud.

Click Here to listen to a two-minute sampling of the Liqid EP on SoundCloud.  Note that the music playing from 1:07 to 1:50 is Mozar…

Hello Stranger - Julia Holter

from the album Loud City Song (2013)

I always dig it when someone puts a new spin on a great old tune and transforms it into their own statement.  On Hello Stranger, Julia Holter turns Barbara Lewis' 1963 Soul classic into a magnificent ambient soundscape.  She accomplishes this by capturing the essence of the songs lyrics in her vocal performance and musical accompaniment.

Hello Stranger is the story of two people - who perhaps flirted with or shared a romance - meeting many years later.  When they do, something reignites, time stands still, and nothing else in the world seems to matter.

Hello Stranger
It seems so good to see you back again
How long has it been?
It seems like a mighty long time
It seems like a mighty long time

The vocal delivery is perfectly pure and distant, unfurling patiently to a slow sine wave of music.  It creates the space and isolation that the lyrics demand, placing the singer and stranger in a world all their own.  The music starts with gulls, waves rolling o…

Satellite Of Love - Morrissey

from the single Satellite Of Love (2013)

I am spending this week in a seaside village on the coast of Wales.  The laid back local vibe gives me time to reflect on the past year.  It has been a hectic twelve month sprint, filled with highs and lows, but the sensation I feel most is that of being unfulfilled.  I thought that this was the year that I would breakthrough on several of my long standing pursuits.  But in spite of all the hard work and support of my friends - cosmic and otherwise - I'm not there yet.

So here I sit, recharging for the coming year.  During this time, I have become curiously enamored with Morrissey's cover of the Lou Reed classic Satellite of Love.  Perhaps it is the juxtaposing of Morrissey's croon with Lou Reed's lower-pitched street poet style, but this song grabs me.

I find myself sitting around late at night, drunk on wine, singing it to myself.  The melody haunts me.  As I listen, I can't help but think of Lou Reed's passing this ye…

Form And Function - Hookworms

from the album Pearl Mystic (2013)

Hookworms are a five piece band from Leeds, England.  I dig their debut album - Pearl Mystic - because it is loud and has a raucous energy that you should expect from a young rock and roll outfit.  The difference with Hookworms is the quality of their songwriting and performance.

Form And Function is my favorite song on the album.  At just under six minutes, it is much longer than standard debut album outbursts.  The organ introduction quickly gives way to guitars that hook you with a catchy progression.  Then enter the almost unintelligible call and response vocals.  It took me several listens to understand what they are saying, but I sure do like it.  When the lead guitar comes in, I am sold.  It's been a long time since I've rock and rolled.

The ending of the song is also noteworthy, with the drums and guitars playing with a keen intensity that does not let up.  Turn it up and enjoy.

Click Here to listen to the album version of Form And Func…

D To The A - Dafuniks

from the album Enter The Sideshow Groove (2013)

Dafuniks are a hip-hop band from Denmark.  This year, they released Enter The Sideshow Groove, a record loaded with cool vibes and grooves that has become a mainstay when my funky friends pop by for a visit.

I've been delayed in writing about them because I could not decide which tune I digged most.  Not enough records stump me this way.

But after holding a gun to my own head, I chose D To The A.  Not only does the bouncing groove put you in a party mood, the song's title instructs you how to play along.  If so inclined, you can pick up your Fender Jazz, bounce some octaves on D and A, and wallah, you own the funk.

Also of note are the vocals by another great Danish artist, Barbara Moleko.  She is one of my favorite artists this year.  If you have a chance, check out her single Sugar Man.

I urge you to give Dafuniks a chance.  They will likely put a bounce in your step.

Click Here to listen to D To The A.

Shichangani (Remix) - Penny Penny

from the album Shaka Bundu (2013)

1994: Johannesburg, South Africa.  Joseph Shirimani is producing Tsonga (a form of Afro-Disco) records at a local studio.  He is solicited by the janitor, who is anxious to make a record.  They work together and produce Shaka Bundu, an album that initially sold 250,000 copies.  However, the reach of that album never extended much beyond South Africa.

Twenty years later, this album has been reissued globally, giving it a chance to reach music lovers like us.  This album is loaded up with great tunes that help get your groove on.  My favorite is the remix version of Shichangani.  It is a curiously timeless song, bringing together elements of London dub, a disco lounge vibe, and Jamaican dancehall stylings.  This is all wrapped in something uniquely african. I keep listening to this song and try to pick apart its elements, all the while thinking "this is brilliant."

So, what is Penny Penny up to today?  That is the best part of this story.  Aft…

Vortexas - Howe Gelb

from the album The Coincidentalist (2013)

Well, welcome to the desert
It's becoming increasingly more expensive
It used to be much cheaper
To find a love and to keep her
To play guitar and reiterate
To embrace the heat or just hibernate
A little tin foil on the windows works just great

What I dig about Howe Gelb is that he reminds me of a great painter.  His music creates soundscapes of the desert southwest in-and-around his Tucson, Arizona home.  He is a master of establishing space in his music and framing it with well crafted instrument and tone choices.  From there he weaves in lyrics that ring with honesty and visual imagery.

The song Vortexas is a beautiful representation of his art.  On this track, the band plays with a looseness and warmth.  Brushes lightly working the drum kit.  Electric piano delicately navigating the chord changes.  Weathered vocals delivered like a soft conversation.  It creates and maintains a feel that is distinctly Howe Gelb.

He adds color to his intimate …

Get Smart - Melbourne Ska Orchestra

from the album Melbourne Ska Orchestra (2013)

I have the ability to obsess.  It is a blessing and a curse.  At times, it allows me to accomplish fantastic things. But occasionally, my "damm the torpedoes" attitude puts me on a non-sustainable path.

I was reminded of this earlier this week when my most fervent obsession appeared to have me on the road to disaster.  Fortunately, I caught it in time and am making the necessary adjustments.

I had a long talk with myself and said, "Hey Mister Gigolo, you need to get smart."

So what could be more appropriate for today than the Get Smart TV Theme song performed by the Melbourne Ska Orchestra?

Hope you enjoy.

Click Here to listen to the Melbourne Ska Orchestra perform Get Smart.

Jackie Boy - Scott & Charlene's Wedding

from the album Any Port In A Storm (2013)

Craig Dermody is the brainchild of Scott & Charlene's Wedding.  He is a Melbourne, Australia native who now makes music in Brooklyn USA.  I find that pretty cool since I consider those to be the planet's two best places for aspiring music artists today.

The band name is taken from the long running Australian Soap Opera, Neighbours.  In July 1987, two popular characters - Scott and Charlene (played by Kylie Minogue) - got hitched to an audience of over  20 million viewers across Australia and the UK.  For US readers, it was kind of like Luke and Laura's wedding on General Hospital.

The band plays a lo-fi indie groove that is driven by guitars and fresh, unpretentious lyrics.  It is the kind of music I used to admire in my younger NYC daze, hangin' out in scuzzy East Village and Hoboken joints.  Back when Brooklyn was where your grandmother lived.

I've been most enjoying the song Jackie Boy.  Guitars are blaring over bass…

Colette (Subie Subie) - The Low Frequency In Stereo

from the album Pop Obskura (2013)

I dig bass.  I dig a meaty subwoofer.  I dig it in the song Love Rollercoaster when the baritone vocal comes in with his "Say what?"  If you've got a spectrum analyzer, you will find me digging the stuff on the left side of the screen.  So, is there any doubt I would dig a band called The Low Frequency In Stereo?

Hailing from Hagesund, Norway, this band plays with an energetic, art pop feel and a vibe that - at times - reminds me of bands like Joy Division and Stereolab.  Their new album Pop Obskura is strong from beginning to end.  My favorite song on the record is Colette (Subie Subie).

This song hooks me from the opening measures.  The primary guitar track is chunking out chords with a treble tone that sounds like you are prying open a metal box with a seagull.  It is an original tone that I dig.    This is coupled with a straight, uptempo drum beat hammered out on a closed hi-hat.  The hi-hat adds to the metallic feel.  Behind it in …

Phantom Ride - Lost Ragas

from the album Phantom Ride (2013)

Lost Ragas are a four piece band from Victoria, Australia led by frontman Matt Walker.  For those unfamiliar with Matt, he has one of the most impressive resumes of any indie artist I can think of, having toured with Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, & The Black Keys.  How cool is that?

I stumbled across their debut album - Phantom Ride - shortly after Lou Reed died. The straight-forward  bass-guitar-drum combo with deadpan vocal stylings seemed to have a foundation in Lou Reed's solo and Velvet Underground work.  Then again, I hear his influence everywhere.

Reminds me of the famous Brian Eno quote that although the first Velvet Underground record initially sold only 30,000 copies, "everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band."

My favorite song on the album is the title track.  Aside from the vocals and visual imagery, I totally dig the way varied classic guitar tones are intertwined to craft the vibe.  Not only a…

There Can Be Only One - Cass McCombs

from the album Big Wheel And Others (2013)

Have you ever driven across a desolate plain towards a majestic mountain?  When you first see it, your heart starts pumping and you start to speed up.  A little later, you can feel the engine working harder as you subliminally begin your climb.  Then more and more time passes and you think "Holy shit, am I ever going to get there."  So you kick it in a little harder, you hear the engine hum, staring through the windshield at a mountain in distance.

That kind of sums up 2013 for me.  I have set a course and worked my ass off, but I'm not there yet.  Personally and professionally.  When I look in the mirror, I see a guy who has aged at an accelerated rate.  I am sun drenched and burnt, beaten and worn, but still kicking it into that next gear.  I will stand on that mountain.  There is no doubt.

I realized on a flight the other day that the music I've been gravitating towards matches the guy I see in the mirror.  Songs like The…

History Eraser - Courtney Barnett

from the album The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas (2013)

Every year, new artists create original music that evokes vibes from the past.  This year, bands have been putting a new spin on 80's new wave, Pink Floyd, and - surprisingly - Nancy Sinatra.  I dig it all.  But the artist who has most captivated me with her incorporation of yesteryear is Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett.

I suppose that is because her new record A Sea Of Split Peas brings to mind classic Bob Dylan and psychedelic spirits while remaining firmly planted in a modern presentation.  If forced to pick one, my favorite song on the "double EP" would have to be History Eraser.

The craftsmanship on this song is superb.  The foundation is created by a frenetic drum beat and garage-tinged rhythm guitar whose repetitive patterns create a trippy vibe.  This is heightened by a keyboard track that one might equate with a acid-induced bus ride across India.  The result is pure psychedelia.

The engineer…

Christmas At The Airport - Nick Lowe

from the album Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection For All The Family (2013)

In a few hours, I will start yet another leg of my "never-ending tour."  December will consist of 20+ days on the road with stops in NYC, London, and Texas.  So much for being home for the holidays.

One of the downsides of flying this time of year are weather related delays.  A few years ago, I almost spent Christmas in Memphis after my flight was diverted there due to an ice storm in my hometown.  Another time, I had a flight from Tokyo that was delayed one-hour for twenty-six consecutive hours due to weather and de-icing equipment issues.  The one-hour delays prevented anybody from leaving the gate, almost causing a riot.  I share in the blame for that.

Nowadays, I have learned to channel my inner zen and put my trust in the travel gods.  Digital music and good headphones certainly help (as does a good book).  So now, while other people are flailing their arms at the gate agents, I am kicking bac…

Waltz About Whiskey - Mandolin Orange

from the album This Side Of Jordan (2013)

The waltz is a musical style with roots dating back to 16th century Germany.  It may truly be the first "world" music, having first spread across Europe before being carried by settlers to South and North America.  I find the American varieties to be most satisfying, particularly in its cajun and bluegrass forms.

Nowhere is this better represented than on the song Waltz About Whiskey by Mandolin Orange.  The band's website quotes Ashleigh Phillips of Independent Weekly as saying:

"Mandolin Orange carries an understanding of tradition and shapes it into a thing of beauty.  They craft simple songs that go beyond chord progressions and vocal harmonies, leading somehow to something pure."

On this song, the North Carolina duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz deliver a new American classic consisting of mandolin, acoustic guitar, and beautiful harmonies.  The studio version subtly adds brushes on a snare, piano, steel guitar,…