Pop Press International’s Most Played Tracks & Albums of 2013


Welcome to my year-end reflection on the past twelve months’ best songs and albums. This post is long. I dare you to read it all. If you’re just here for the list, scroll on down. For more substantive reflection, read on, dear patrons. You may have noticed that the headline of this article doesn’t say anything about the “best” or “top” albums and songs. It’s true, I’m making no claim on the objective quality of these tracks and albums, although it’s safe to say that I consider the songs here of a certain caliber. That’s clear, since this list is culled from the play count data in my iTunes library. However, I soon found they indicated intimate details of my personal life.

In a Facebook post, a friend who works in the music industry mused: “Imagine a world where every music critic industry person just had to actually post the stats from their iTunes, Rdio, Spotify etc. at year end.” Regarding year-end lists, another poster commented, “They are all the SAME!” Although the latter post can be easily disproved, I took the general year-end list malaise as something of a challenge. In today’s world, data rules. In everything from decisions within public schools (where I work full time) to YouTube content developers being paid out, whether it’s from YouTube themselves or from advertisers, the numbers matter. This post is me, giving my raw data to you, investors in independent music. These are bands I have a valuable stake in–my time.

Let’s get a few things clear about year-end lists. First, while huge publications have no problem devoting some resources to assembling thorough and beautiful (if not completely suspect) year-end lists, for small or even lone blogger outfits (such as we are), sorting through hundreds of albums and songs can be unmanageably time-consuming and daunting. Second, call it a service to fans to help them peruse the year’s music if you want, but make no mistake: these posts attract an unsightly amount of traffic for publications. Why do you think everything on the internet has become a list? For most publications, Pop Press International included, you can easily locate a summation of has been covered and what publications liked. For our site, peruse our album and track review archives and to see what we’ve given the most positive reviews, check out our Pop Press Picks tagged posts, collected here. I balked at doing a list at all this year until I read my friend’s post.

To arrive at the list in this post, I first created a smart playlist in iTunes (I don’t use Rdio or Spotify–sorry people following the accounts I’ve setup) with the rule that the songs must have been added after December 1st of 2012. (I double checked to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind and to see that nothing from last year accidentally made the playlist.) Then, I sorted the list by play count. There you have it. The list contains only one track from each artist; if a duplicate arose, I moved on. However, for the most part, since I mostly listen to records in their entirety as they’re reviewed, most of these appeared near other tracks from the same album by the same artist. So, this post can also, in some ways, be considered a list of some of my most-listened-to albums (and perhaps most well-liked). That said, since I don’t often always make it through an album when I start listening, but I almost always start at the beginning, the list contains an inordinate amount of opening tracks. It should also be noted, that plays (obviously) accumulate throughout the year, so an album that came out late in the year may be unexpectedly low on the list. If it’s not, then that speaks all the more highly of that album. Ahem, Cass McCombs, we’re looking in your direction.

A tangential note: When I first started working to sort the list in iTunes, I mistakenly made a smart playlist of all songs played (as opposed to added) after December 1, 2012–in other words, much of my library. I was shocked to find that I had to scroll down more than 150 songs before I found a song that come out this year. I was also relieved and thrilled. I always feel like I’m rushing from one new album to the next to review it, never giving enough time to the music I love. I guess I was wrong. In this case, that makes me pretty proud of myself. **(See special note regarding this below in blurb about my number one most played track.)

On to the list. I won’t make you wait until the end of the post to find number one, especially since these aren’t ranked, so to speak. I won’t comment on every track, but where something reasonably relevant strikes, me I’ll provide a few words. Nothing is more personal and telling than the first track, so you get all the good stuff up front. Enjoy, and stay tuned for more year-end reflections during the week.

1. Generationals – “Put a Light On”

When I sorted the list, I could hardly believe that this was the song I had listened to more than any other this year. I liked the album quite a bit and gave it a good review, but if asked to list my personal favorite albums of the year, Generationals’ Heza might rank in the top 20, but certainly behind several others that come to mind. But a split second after the initial shock, the obvious reality struck me. I’m getting married in a little over a year, and while my fiancée loves music, she doesn’t love it enough to run a blog, or listen to all the bands I listen to, and certainly not to stand around at all the shows I go to. So, I’m constantly seeking a common ground—to find music that she can also be enthusiastic about. There’s nothing more painful to me than needing to finish a review of some experimental or punk album and seeing her face contort in revulsion as I play it in the car first thing in the morning. Generationals we love together, and so here it is. I mentioned before all that previously released music that dominates the most played songs in my iTunes—let it be known that our song, “Thirteen” by Big Star, is the third most played song of all time in my library. What are one and two? A boy can’t give away all his secrets.

2. Kurt Vile – “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day”

Now, this one I could have guessed. It’s probably my favorite song of the year. Beautiful, with an edge of darkness as it sprawls through layers of introspective guitar driven indie rock. Gorgeous. Nearly perfect.

3. The Men – “Half Angel Half Light”

I’ve been singing the praises of The Men every chance I get. At both festivals where I saw them this summer, I practically accosted everyone I knew (and several I didn’t) to declare that they must not miss The Men’s set! Those who knew what was good for them abided. As will you! The Men’s New Moon was one of the year’s best, and this is one of my favorite tracks from it.

4. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “So Good at Being in Trouble”

Another track from one of my personal favorite albums of the year. Yet, again, this is a song my life partner immediately loved. Soulful choruses interspersed between wandering lo-fi indie pop verses make this song one of the year’s best. Most of the other tracks on this album fall far above the remainder of these 50. (I’m going to copy and paste that sentence to a few other tracks to which it applies; forgive me.)

5. Yo La Tengo – “Ohm”

When I wrote this review I said that I would probably listen to this album as much or more than any during the year. I wasn’t far off. Yo La Tengo continues to create music that’s easy to sink into and disappear within as you work or write or clean the house. However, it’s musical and lyrical depth awaits to be discovered an appreciated. It offers everything you could want in an album. Most of the other tracks on this album fall far above the remainder of these 50.

6. Youth Lagoon – “Mute”

I loved this album, start to finish, and listened to it a lot. So did many others, and it received widespread acclaim. Yet I was surprised it didn’t create more of a ripple in the independent music community at large. It seems a third full-length will be the true test of the staying power of Trevor Powers and his Youth Lagoon project. Most of the other tracks on this album fall far above the remainder of these 50.

7. Foxygen – “In the Darkness” & “San Francisco”

I know, I cheated. There are two tracks there. This was one case where “In The Darkness” was the opener, but “San Francisco” was right behind it in the list and I love it so much more. The chorus to “San Francisco” is the catchiest chorus of the year, says me anyway. Most of the other tracks on this album fall far above the remainder of these 50.

8. Good Field – “Find A Way”

This opening track from Good Field’s self-titled full length is one of my favorite from any Austin band this year. Clearly, it surpasses even that as the eight most played song in my library. Indeed, I personally proclaimed their greatness to as many friends who would willingly listen. Now, I’m telling you. “Find A Way” isn’t available for streaming, so here is the also excellent “These Dreams.”

9. Autre Ne Veut – “Play By Play” & “Counting”

Here are two more tracks I cheated on. The open the album (Anxiety) in this order and are a phenomenal one-two punch. I wasn’t surprised to see these so high on the list. Many others from the album ranked high, but not as high as I would’ve thought, giving a clear edge to these two openers.

10. Mikal Cronin – “Weight”

Late in the year, people got really turned on to “Shout It Out,” also from Mikal Cronin’s excellent album II. But for me, it has always been “Weight”—the descending minor key refrain that pulls out of the nose dive on the final chord is simply brilliant.

11. Besnard Lakes – “People of the Sticks”

12. Cass McCombs – “Big Wheel”

This will be higher eventually. Look at where it is already, and it JUST CAME OUT. Easily in my top five albums for the year. Most of the other tracks on this album fall far above the remainder of these 50.

13. The National – “Don’t Swallow the Cap”

I can’t believe this is a this low, although it did come out in October. If you asked me to rank albums of most played without data, I would definitely have put this in the top five. It’ll make it, too, eventually. Most of the other tracks on this album fall far above the remainder of these 50.

14. Cave Singers – “No Tomorrows”

15. Nightlands – “Time & Place”

Great album, but surprised this is so high. I think this was a record that took me a long time to “get.” I kept playing and trying to figure out the stylistic influences and aims. Sill not sure I pinned it down. Hmm, that makes me like it even more suddenly.

16. ProbCause feat. Chance the Rapper – “LSD”

This is one of only a few rap songs I have on the list. I owe NPR’s Sound Opinions for my discovery of it. Inside scoop: the song mentions an “I.E.P.”—that’s an Individualized Education Plan, a protocol developed for accommodating students who have special needs. If a public school teacher didn’t run this blog, you would never have known that. This song is from ProbCause’s newest album The Recipe Vol. 2. I’m not sure if it’s all good, but if it’s as good as “LSD,” it’s quite good.

17. Tyler, the Creator – “Domo 23”

This track is another of the few rap songs on the list but differs greatly from the above. Here are some facts. See if you can stay with me. I like Frank Ocean. I like indepdent rap. I have been interested and simultaneously turned-off by some of the antics of the Odd Future collective. Many of my students like Odd Future. It is usually fun to know what music they like (and to see their faces when I know the music they like). I wanted to review this album. I listened to it a ton and wrote an incredibly long review. I’m still conflicted about it.

18. Telekenesis – “Power Lines”

I liked this album. Very surprised it’s this high. It was produced by Jim Eno, here in Austin, which is great. I has infectious hooks and is a ton of fun—something like a more upbeat version of early Death Cab For Cutie. This is a different track from the one listed.

19. Akron Family – “No Room”

I am realizing that someone should count how many albums on this top 50 were released by the Secretly Canadian label group. Man, do those guys kill it or what?

20. Brazos – “Charm”

See above. This trio is something of an honorary Austin band. We love them, and if you’re reading this on the actual day it’s posted, they’ll be here in two days. Don’t miss it. This is one of the best tracks from their album Saltwater.

21. Black Milk – “Sunday’s Best” & “Monday’s Worst”

This hip hop song is so good. It’s actually like two songs released as one single, although it’s clearly intended to have the distinct and sudden shift between the two right about two minutes. Seriously. Listen to it.

22. Brass Bed – “How to Live in a Bad Dream”

Louisiana based indie-rock darlings. Alternate track than the one listed.

23. Carmen Villain – “Lifeissin”

Underrated. Especially this song.

24. Deerhunter – “Neon Junkyard”

25. Dogbite – “Forever, Until”

The catchy opener from a release we thought should’ve seen more attention in 2013.

26. Future Bible Heroes – “Sadder Than the Moon”

I’m a Stephin Merritt addict. I adored this album. Alternate track than the one listed.

27. Iceage – “Ecstasy”

One of the best punk albums in a long time. I love this opener, but I think I like “Morals” from later in the album best.

28. Phosphorescent – “Song for Zula”

I can’t believe this isn’t higher. I listen to it so much, especially this track. You can see much earlier this year I listed the record as one of five albums people should be listening to at the moment. See also that the other four I recommended were high on this list. I’m a man of my word. Most of the other tracks on this album fall above the remainder of these 50.

29. Arcade Fire – “Reflektor”

This album will climb quickly in plays. Oh! Except for one fact that I meant to put in my opening to this post. Several of my favorite albums, such as this one, I purchased on vinyl and listen to much more on that medium than digitally. That could be throwing off the count on a few artists. Reflektor is a masterpiece. Haters gon’ hate. Most of the other tracks on this album fall above the remainder of these 50.

30. Radiaton City – “Zombies”

Young genre-bending indie pop band from Portland. Don’t know them? You definitely should. Give this track a listen.

31. GALPALS – “Dumbhead”

I adore Lauren Mikus and Gillian Talley’s project GALPALS. I’ve seen them a ton of times in town, and this year they even released a 7” and shared some new songs. “Dumbhead” is the only track by them that I have digitally, but apparently I listened to it quite a few times this year. Their newest track, “Earthquake” is streaming below.

32. Widowspeak – “Dyed in the Wool”

33. Wax Idols – “Stare Back”

Alternate track than the one listed.

34. Ashley Eriksson – “Why Are You So Helpless?”

Happy to see some K Records releases in here. At least one more to come. Although, I suddenly realize Lake’s new album should be here, too. Definitely one I haven’t listened to enough.

35. Local Natives – “Ceilings”

Surprised this is so low. My interest in it did wane, but was completely revitalized by seeing Local Natives at their ACL taping. When it came out, I listened to it a ton, and it is one of the year’s best albums.

36. Majical Cloudz – “I Do Sing for You”

Also surprised this is so low. My only explanation is that it does take a certain mood to delve into Majical Cloudz. That said, Impersonator is a remarkable artistic achievement—one of the most distinct visions of the year.

37. The Shivas – “Thrill Yr Idols”

We like K Records and we like The Shivas. We hosted them at our SXSW party and covered their set at Austin Psych Fest. This is some garage rock goodness right here.

38. Cayucas – “East Coast Girl”

39. Jim James – “A New Life”

I liked this record more than most. I thought the soul-tinged, Americana-pop was a cool direction for James. Catchy for sure.

40. Lost Animal – “Say No To Thugs”

A completely underrated album (perhaps by me as well) on a label that does nothing but put out solid records. Hardly Art gives the Secretly Canadian label group a run for their money. Lost Animal’s Ex Tropical is an odd record—thematically rich, musically nuanced.

41. Marnie Stern – “Year of the Glad”

I feel like I should be hearing more about this record at the end of the year. Where are you guys, Marnie lovers?

42. Royal Forest – “Everyone Who Knows You”

Certainly one of the finest releases to come out of Austin this year was Royal Forest’s Spillway. This band, which morphed from the former project Loxly, has become a household name in the Austin scene. Under the guidance of Cody Ground, Spillway marked the finest music released from these musicians to date.

43. Scout Niblett – “No Scrubs”

Not that I need to defend it, but what happened was that I made a mix-tape (a playlist that I then transferred to tape) of a bunch of old school hip hop and then at the end of each side I put a female songwriter covering a 90s hip-hop or R&B song. The A-side was Niblett covering TLC’s “No Scrubs.” The B-side was Varuca Salt’s Nina Gordon singing N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton.” So there. I was hooked on it for weeks. Thinking about listening to it now.

44. Wild Belle – “Keep You”

I’m not coming down on either side of this album. I like it pretty well. I listened to it a lot trying to figure out if it was mediocre, major-label orchestrated, beat-based, island indie-pop or a truly genre-bending, creative band that a major took a flyer on. I’m still not sure, but the band is pretty great live as well and a hell of a lot of fun to dance to.

45. Eleanor Friedberger – “When I Knew”

46. Frank Smith – “How Many Ways”

Another example of some great music to come out of Austin this year. This band deserves so much more acclaim than they receive. Listen up.

47. Sonny & The Sunsets – “Dark Corners”

All three of these last songs represent terribly underrated pop records. Sonny & the Sunsets in general deserve more attention for what are serially incredible indie-pop gems.

48. W-H-I-T-E – “I Wasn’t Afraid”

An album I didn’t actually review, but the single was catchy enough that it got a ton of plays I supposed. Our writer who did do the review loved the album.

49. Cate Le Bon – “Are You With Me Now?”

This is a newer record that I’ve been listening to, trying to get a review in the works. I’ve failed at that so far, but I’m a huge fan of Le Bon’s quirky, poppy, slightly disjointed pop. I’m reminded of Television-esque guitar noodling. I loved her Ep Cyrk 2 , which I reviewed earlier in the year. She’s great.

Well, what is there to say when it’s over? These are the songs, and by proxy the albums, I personally listened to most in the year 2013—the raw data speaking for itself. I’m thinking about letting some opinions fly later in the week though. So if you like that sort of thing, do come back soon.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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