PopMatters Year-End Lists: The 75 Best Songs of 2013

I love participating in the year-end pop-culture round-up that PopMatters puts together every year. I contributed two blurbs to the list of best songs—albums should be next.

The 75 Best Songs of 2013

No. 16
Vampire Weekend - “Diane Young”
“Diane Young” is Vampire Weekend by way of Buddy Holly, albeit if an amped-up Buddy Holly had a bunch of sonic tricks to enhance his singing of “baby, baby, baby”. Holly may have been an influence on the lyrics as well as the sound, since “Diane Young” is about, well, dying young—the wordplay showing that the band has no intention of giving up the brainier aspects of their songwriting—only done in a catchy, upbeat way that steers clear of the usual moroseness that results when contemplating mortality. “Diane Young” almost conceals its inventiveness. It feels like a straight-ahead rock track and, coming in one, sub-three-minute burst. It cements Vampire Weekend’s status as creators of songs you can listen to four times in a row before you even realize it.

No. 24
Haim - “Days Are Gone”
Haim sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana packed the first half of Days Are Gone with quite a few top-10-worthy songs, but it’s the title track that shows that they’re not afraid to make pop music that prizes '70s Fleetwood Mac songwriting, '80s electronic drums and keyboards, and early '90s R&B over the typical trademarks of today’s pop songs. The result is simultaneously familiar and refreshing. The quietly chanted, repeated refrain of “Days Are Gone” offers an antidote to the current pop radio ballads that can’t help themselves from leaning too often and too hard on big, belted choruses. In that way, it’s almost hard to tell that the song was co-written with the UK’s Jessie Ware and Kid Harpoon (and recorded in London), especially since it’s still imbued with the L.A.-chic vibe that made us notice Haim in the first place.

Click through to read the full list at PopMatters.



PopMatters: The 75 Best Songs of 2012

I contributed a write-up to PopMatters' end-of-year music list.

The 75 Best Songs of 2012

No. 32
Stars - “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It”

It’s surprising that on The North, on of Stars’ chilliest records, you’ll find one of the band’s warmest songs. While their thoughts about love usually come wrapped in nostalgia, wistfulness, and regret, on “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It”, the band uses its signature synth-pop to sound a note of hope (and, fine, indulge in a little bit of defeatism about the song’s chances of radio airplay). “Hold On” makes you wish that people still made mix tapes for each other, because this would’ve been a good lead-off song—something that could melt the heart and make you dance at the same time.

Click through to read the rest of the list at PopMatters,

September Issue: Q&A with Tom Kitt

Broadway Box Office

When we last left Byram Hills High School grad Tom Kitt, he was arranging music for Green Day’s American Idiot after having won a Pulitzer for Next to Normal. He’s returned to Broadway with the high-flying cheerleaders of Bring It On.

This seems like the opposite of Next to Normal. What made you want to get involved? I love musical comedy, and Bring It On is a natural fit for a musical. But I also felt there was something emotional in the story, especially being set in the world of high school—high school is a loaded time for everybody. So even though the emotions are different than Next to Normal, there was still something moving about Bring It On, and it brought out a lot of feeling.

You worked on the music with Lin-Manuel Miranda of In the Heights. How are your styles different, and how were you able to combine them? It was wonderful to feed off each other. We started by doing the first number together, and we tried to capture that cheer energy in that electronic/pop world. Then we wrote the songs for the Jackson school, and he has that hip-hop vernacular that comes into play—he’s a virtuoso at it. But we wanted to make sure that every song had character development, and by the end it morphed so that it felt like Lin-Manuel, [co-lyricist] Amanda Green, and I all wrote the score together as one piece.

The musical is partially about finding what you love to do in high school. What was your big extracurricular at Byram Hills? I was into music, so I performed in the musicals. But I was also into sports, and I did soccer and baseball. I guess I was like the character of Randall in that I didn’t really do just one thing; I tried to run in all the different crowds.

Next month, the movie Pitch Perfect comes out, and you also worked on that. Were you already familiar with that a cappella world? I was in an a capella group at Columbia, and I’ve been wanting to do something about a cappella groups for a long time. My friend [and director] Jason Moore told me about the movie, and I told him I had to work on it. I arranged songs with people who live on the West Coast and work on The Sing-Off. One set piece that I worked on and am particularly proud of is the ‘riff-off,’ where you have to ‘steal’ songs by singing another song with the same lyric in a certain category. From the trailer, it looks like it really came off.

Bring It On is currently playing at the St. James Theatre.

July Issue: Culture Items

New to Neu
The Neuberger Museum of Art gets a new executive director

When you think back on your experience in Cleveland, what makes you most proud? I made the contemporary art inside the Cleveland Museum as important as the other areas that are represented there. Before that, it was more focused on Old Masters and historical art. We showed that the Cleveland Museum can connect to living artists.

What are you going to miss most about Cleveland? I get very attached to communities. When you work in an institution, you first and foremost serve a community. Leaving is heartbreaking, but it’s a growing pain.

 
Culture, Etc.
Rufus Wainwright, Chris Isaak, a Dark Shadows festival, and more.

June Issue: Summer Fun Cover Story

Summer Fun

For June's cover story, I examined all of the ways to enjoy Westchester County in the summer. This includes biking, archery, going to a driving range, exercising outdoors, kayaking, joining adult-centered leagues for childhood games like kickballl and frisbee, charity walks and swims, aqua zumba, mega yoga, troubleshooting sunburns and mosquito bites, eating seasonal food, sampling ethnic barbecue, drinking fresh fruit-infused cocktails, eating ice-cream floats, going on picnics, finding cold-brewed coffee, taking one-off bartending classes, geoaching, finding the best arts events, playing in an all-inclusive orchestra, visiting a new arts venue, volunteering at local farms, gardening, finding free events, taking day trips, shopping sidewalk sales, wearing stylish sunglasses and flip-flops, and visiting the Summertime Hall of Fame. Phew!

Click through to read the story, or download the PDF above.

PopMatters: The 75 Best Songs of 2011

For the site-wide list of the best songs of the year, I contributed the write-up to number 12.

The Strokes “Under Cover of Darkness”
The Strokes have never been able to recapture the acclaim that followed the band’s debut, but, as a song, “Under Cover of Darkness” bears all of the hallmarks that made Is This It such a success. It comes in the same package of world-weary attitude and effortless cool. Its lyrics tap into the same universal anguish—the band’s lyrics were never poetic so much as they were relatable—and include phrases you might hear outside of any dorm in America. (The lyrics to the big, rousing chorus are “Don’t go that way, I’ll wait for you.”) “Under Cover of Darkness”, however, surpasses its predecessors by moving beyond the droning guitar sounds and allowing for more playful melodies, keeping the Strokes from, as they put it, “singing the same song for ten years”.

Click through to see the story at PopMatters (and read the rest of the list).