Yasutaka Nakata has an amazing work ethic. Every year he releases dozens of high-quality, incredible songs; his bottomless cauldron of inspiration never seems to run dry. Almost. While he’s still flawless when it comes to compositions for Perfume (more on that later), his work with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has drawn a thick line between fans. Unfortunately, Kyary’s newest album, Nanda Collection, is one of the weakest Nakata projects yet, an album that’s almost as deeply flawed as his latest work for capsule, a concept album based on a computer keyboard. Again, your opinion of the albums are going to depend on how you like your pop music, how lenient you are with artists experimenting, and, in this case, how much you like Kyary as a personality. Nevertheless, “Ninja Re Bang Bang” manages to capture Kyary’s childlike exuberance without slipping into the Neverland that is Nanda Collection. There’s plenty of interesting elements such as sound effects, puns, and abrupt tempo changes to keep a listener guessing each time. Kyary is an entire package, and it’s hard to ignore the fashion and the eye lashes and the tweets when everything is so tied up to what her music represents and how Nakata chooses to portray it. It’s obvious he likes Kyary as a person, and at their best together, he empathizes with the difficulties and joys of being a young woman with admiration, rather than ridicule.
#26: Daniel Kandi & Jack Rowan: Arigatou (Original Mix)
While an acronym itself, for example “EDM,” could never kill a genre on its own, it came uncomfortably close in the past couple years, wiping out all the dignity and distinctions that make dance music so eclectic and personal and shoving it under one giant umbrella with the lamest stereotypes and least helpful signifiers. Fortunately, even the greediest can’t take away dance music at its best. Kandi, who started out on the Anjunabeats label (my vote for one of the most influential trance labels of all time) has successfully transitioned onto another top-notch label, teaming up with Jack Rowan, who is probably responsible for some of the harder elements in this layered track. Which is all to say that you either really like this kind of music, or can’t even be bothered to have read this far.
This pretty much rivals 2010’s “Turn It Up” in sheer cinematic brilliance. Each shot of this music video is staged for sheer impractical beauty, a quixotic mix of visuals, imagery, and nonsensical mini-plots. The lyrics don’t help much in figuring this one out, it’s down to primal brass tacks here, the sound of a hum, lines of scat, confidence, swagger, etc., an invitation to forget your Eng Subs and turn up the bass. Damn, none of GD’s solo work this year even comes close to “Doom Dada.”
Amit Trivedi is a relative newcomer to Hindi films, but he’s already got a reputation for snagging some of the more highbrow movies (Dev.D, Wake Up Sid, Kai Po Che), including this year’s Lootera, starring Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha. One of the challenges of composing music for Hindi films is writing hits without straying from the narratives you’re given to work with: the film’s genre, a certain scene or montage that needs to be summed up, the tone or point of view. There’s always going to be romantic numbers or token item songs, but the trick is to come up with something original over and over again. Trivedi got lucky producing not only the music for Lootera, one of the most poetic films of the year, but Kai Po Che and Ghanchakkar as well. While Ghanchakkar felt flat, it was a hard choice between this slower and sweeter number and Kai Po Che's “Subhaarambh.” But really, the entire soundtrack to Lootera is amazing; it’s rare to hear one that relies almost exclusively on acoustics and light orchestration that doesn’t fall into the trap of losing its pulse. Lootera is a grand gesture without any of the fuss.
So I’m making a list counting down to Christmas of my favorite Japanese songs of the year (inspired by appears 30 but with less work because I’m lazy) And I’m a day late but as soon as I figure out this last song I’ll post the first two to catch up. Whoop-whoop.
Can’t wait to check these out, I always look forward to hearing Jaylee talk about anything J-pop (and catching things I might have missed).
More Than Just a Dream is an album that came out of nowhere to surprise me with great hook after another. There’s nothing to really dig for here: it’s rock with a bit of soul you will either find refreshing or played-out. Plus the album art is one of my favorites of the year. May I also suggest “Spark" and "Out of My League”?
#30: Daft Punk ft. Pharrell Williams: Lose Yourself to Dance
This is one of the most overhyped albums ever released, and will undoubtedly top dozens of lists it may not deserve to be on this year (though it’s nice seeing an album with so many “uncool” influences like disco get attention by indie and music purists). Unfortunately, Random Access Memories was only an average album for me, an otherwise pretty good collection of retro influences and high-profile guest appearances. It has some low points (anything that involved talking) and some higher ones, like “The Game of Love” and this song right here. Daft Punk is really at their best when they remember they started out making music you could dance to, and there’s nothing that says dance music better than a song about dancing.
I often feel like I just can’t be bothered to write year-end lists, even though I’m addicted to reading them. The best lists to me aren’t necessarily persuasive; if anything, the best ones are informative, earnest, and proudly subjective. Because lists are absolutely a reflection of tastes and habits, most can’t be anything more than a kind of self-congratulations (these are the kinds you’ll see from the likes of Pitchfork, or any list that required more than two people to put together, or is used to define an entire collective). But sometimes, they’re just a celebration of the thing itself, a way to make sense of memories or personal narratives, to share a discovery or revelation with someone else.
I’ve already put together the majority of my Best Of lists for the year, only because I know the months of December through about March are pretty barren territory for new releases. There is, however, the possibility that I will miss something great that came out this month, or will hear something that came out four months ago next year that will render this list useless. But for right now, I thought I would at least share 30 of my favorite songs of this year, with a few brief thoughts. I follow these guidelines:
Only one song released in 2013 per artist. This made choosing one Perfume song nearly impossible.
All my favorite genres are represented. Unfortunately, this means you won’t see a few really great songs on here. There is no Namie Amuro, Tommy february6, Momoiro Clover Z, or even that really awesome Yasukata-Kyary collab for the Into Darkness soundtrack, though I liked songs from each this year. Narrowing a list down to 30 is hard enough, but I chose to do it without manipulating the results or favoring one genre over another. Obviously, you will see my preferences reflected here (East Asian pop, South Asian film songs, trance, some indie rock, lots of dance), but that’s okay. I’m not trying to be purposely exhaustive or complete.
The number shouldn’t be confused with any hard and fast order. The countdown will definitely lead up to what I consider to be better or “more favorite” songs, but there really is no way to justify why I picked #23 to be there instead of at #24. You know?
What it really comes down to is picking the songs I listened to the most throughout the year, the ones that I kept returning to, over and over again. I’m not saying these are the best songs on a technical, artistic, or innovative level, or any other level. I wouldn’t even necessarily be able to defend them against any other great songs that came out. I’m just saying I absolutely loved these songs and listened to them so much, that at the end of the year, it was important for me to think about what made these songs so appealing.
At best, you might find your new favorite song. At worst, you will feel secure in how much better your own tastes are. And I am totally cool with that.