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Unless you were cut off from all media for the last year there was absolutely no avoiding the Holy Trinity of 2013: Daft Punk’s discotastic latest release, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ hipster thrift shop anthem and of course: Robin Thicke’s ubiquitous blurred lines. My guess is there are goat herders on Peruvian mountain tops humming “Hey hey hey!” to themselves. Although their initial sparkle has dulled somewhat through extreme overexposure, you will still find these three staples in the brokenbranches picks for best songs of 2013. They have served me well as dance floor seductors throughout the year and have earned their spot.

If you are wondering what other songs have delighted and wooed me this year: look no further! My annual top 50 has been painstakingly put together, with the top 25 available in youtube clips for your eager ears and eyes. Of course you can check out the entire top 50 in my Spotify playlist too, or even my ridiculously large ‘2013 long list‘ for my fellow insatiable list nerds. I would love to hear your favourites, so drop them in the comments!

25.   Wild Belle – Keep You

Laid back reggae flavoured debut single from Chicago based brother & sister duo Wild Belle, which manages to incorporate a baritone solo and not be annoying.

24.   Snakehips – On & On

Another song perfect for kicking back in the sunshine (or warming up your winter), with George Maple’s soulful sweet vocals trickling over this London duo’s production.

23.   Blende – Rikki

Enough snoozing in the sun, time for some disco! London dj Blende obviously has a knack for super catchy dance tunes, this has been stuck in my head for weeks. You’d better run right back Rikki Rikki.

22.   MS MR – Hurricane

Slowly addictive track from New York duo MS MR with a very peculiar video. Anyone else think that smurfette singer Lizzy Plapinger looks like Gillian Anderson a.k.a. Skully?

21.   Stromae – Papaoutai

First male vocalist in this list is Belgian-Rwandan rapper Stromae with his massive hit Papaoutai, lamenting a fatherless childhood over a contrastively upbeat dance track. Unafraid to deal with more serious topics than your average chart-topping dance act while still remaining extremely radio friendly, I think Stromae will be an interesting character to follow.

20.   De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig – Bewuste Sabotage

De Jeugd are no strangers to my best-of-lists and they made it again this year. This nasty song features the boys doing what they do best: sabotaging any situation they get into.

19.   Charli XCX – You – Ha Ha Ha

Bubblegum pop princess here today gone tomorrow or savvy up and coming pop artist? Don’t be fooled, UK riot grrrl Charli XCX has a good head on her shoulders and already has the art of writing edgy pop gems down to a tee. Did you know she penned Icona Pop’s  2013 stomper I Love It?

18.   Daughter – Human

Understated indie-folk song of heartbreak and woe from London band Daughter’s debut album. A quiet moment of contemplation as we move up this top 25.

(unofficial video)

17.   Great Minds – Doag

Cream of the crop of Dutch hiphop in 2013: three rappers (Jiggy Dje, Winne en Sticks) who joined forces in ‘supergroup’ Great Minds.

16.   Haim – Don’t Save Me

The hair-swooping Haim sisters with their indielicious mix of R&B and Fleetwood Macness. I was lucky enough to see them live twice this year, they rock.

15.   Disclosure – Latch

Sam Smith delivers the perfect vocals for this seductive Disclosure track, cleverly accompanied by a fitting video full of beautiful people falling in love. Smith’s acoustic rendition is worthwhile too.

14.   Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop (feat. Wanz)

No for real, ask your granddad, can I have his hand-me-downs?

13.   Half Moon Run – Full Circle

Montreal’s Half Moon Run sooth the soul with their layered vocal harmonies, but having seen them live a couple of times I know they are equally well able to turn up the amps for some Rawk!

12.   Bombino – Azamane Tiliade

Hypnotic North African nomad rock from local hero Bombino, who fled Niger to avoid persecution for simply playing guitar. That dedication and love for music was clearly visible for anyone who saw him play at Lowlands this year, quite something. No wonder The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach was eager to produce the record.

11.   The Child of Lov – Fly

In a strange turn of events I found out the mysterious Child of Lov I had been obsessively listening too for the last few months was actually a Dutch spoken word poet in the same week he unexpectedly died at the age of 26. Oh and gents, pay attention, I’m sure you will appreciate this video.

10.   Mount Kimbie – You Took Your Time (feat. King Krule)

Kicking off the top 10 is this intoxicating tune with King Krule’s languid lyrics and Mount Kimbie’s tripped out production. Also easily the best video in this top 50, a short film of suburban teenage boredom and tension boiling just below the surface.

9.   Kavinsky – Odd Look (feat. The Weeknd)

If I’m completely honest, Odd Look basically made the top 10 because it is an excellent make out song. I encourage you to try for yourselves.

8.   Foals – My Number

This is the eighties inspired party anthem from Foals’ third album and it definitely does the trick for a festival crowd. Although a little less arty-weird and more stadium-ready these days, they’ve managed to keep their energetic Foals feel in the process.

7.   Arcade Fire – Here Comes The Night Time

2013 also saw the release of the new Arcade Fire! This is the Afro-Caribbean flavoured festive number, which is my current favourite on the James Murphy produced album (although it still changes all the time). Here is the cameo-packed extra long ‘salsateque’ video that combines Here Comes The Night Time, We Exist and Normal Person:

6.   Kendrick Lamar – Swimming Pools (Drank)

This song really blew me away when I first heard it and it stuck with me throughout the rest of the year. Cocky and vulnerable at the same time, with a subtle but mesmerising track to back up the clever lyrics. It will be interesting to see how Lamar will continue after this hype-year.

5.   Arctic Monkeys – Do I Wanna Know?

Honestly I lost interest in Arctic Monkeys soon after Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, but when I saw them do the closing set at Best Kept Secret festival this years I realised I was missing out on the cool stylings of their latest album AM. Alex Turner grabbed my attention, his laddishness now replaced by the persona of a confident band leader. Do I Wanna Know is the sexiest song on the album as far as I’m concerned, eloquently appealing to feelings we’ve all had at one time or another.

4.   Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines (feat. T.I. & Pharrell)

Hey hey hey! What can I say. This funky cow bell ditty hits all the marks and it’s no wonder you can switch between 5 radio stations and hear Blurred Lines on every single one of them at any given time. Also: there is a scantily clad girl holding a sheep.

3.   Daft Punk – Instant Crush

Yes, Get Lucky would have been the obvious choice (oh look, it’s Pharrell again!). And in fairness: it’s a great song that could have just as easily ended up on top of this list. But Julian Casablancas’ melancholy autotuned lyrics and the old school Daft Punk synths made Instant Crush my instant favourite.

2.   Major Lazer – Watch Out For This [Bumaye] (feat. Busy Signal, The Flexican & FS Green)

It would be simply embarrassing to divulge how often my friends and I have attempted to grind, twerk, bounce, dagger, dutty wine and slutdrop to this monster dance floor stomper… Suffice to say it has been our number one go-to Friday night anthem the entire year, and rightfully so. If you are equally inclined to join in with the insane dance moves in the video, I would be particularly interested to see anyone who is able to do this one. We haven’t quite managed yet.

1.   James Blake – Retrograde

In a complete mood change to Major Lazer’s Jamaican mayhem, I present you 2013’s number one brokenbranches pick: James Blake’s Retrograde. It is just a thing of sheer beauty. It hit me full force when I was at Lowlands this year. I was by myself and wandered into the warm Bravo tent feeling fairly hungover and sleep deprived. I stood there with the waves of Blake’s compositions rolling over me in my mild zombie-state, and when Retrograde started it  just felt like the perfect place to be at that moment.

For those who have made it this far down the blog, I give you songs 26-50 in alphabetical order (or head straight to the Spotify playlist):

Cashmere Cat – Mirror Maru

CHVRCHES – The Mother We Share

The Don’t Touch My Croque Monsieurs TDTMCM – Helikopter

Everything Everything – Cough Cough

Ghostpoet – Meltdown

Iamamiwhoami – t

James Vincent McMorrow – Cavalier

Janelle Monáe – We Were Rock & Roll

Kate Boy – Northern Lights

Laura Marling – Master Hunter

Local Natives – Heavy Feet

Lorde – Royals

MØ – XXX 88

Phoenix – Bourgeois

Phosphorescent – Song For Zula

Satellite Stories – Kids Aren’t Safe In The Metro

Talib Kweli – Come Here – feat. Miguel

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Swim and Sleep [Like a Shark]

Vampire Weekend – Unbelievers

Villagers – Nothing Arrived

Volcano Choir – Byegone

WE ARE TWIN – The Way We Touch

The Weeknd – Wanderlust

Woodkid – I Love You

Youth Lagoon – Dropla

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This year I’m changing the top 10 albums approach. Usually it turns into this tormented process in which I weigh many complicated and mysterious factors to select and order the nominees. Something like {(personal preference + indie coolness + critical credibility) / commercial sell out index} – predictability rating = ranking score. This year I have thrown all Pitchforkian considerations to the wind and gone with the gut! Partly with this funny & succinct blog post on top tens in mind.

To put it nice and simple, only the albums that moved me the most in 2010 have made the cut. A few have moved me literally, urging me onto the dance floor, some have warmed the cockles of my heart with their melodious deliciousness, others brought a delicate tear to the corner of my eye. One thing is for sure, they have all had many many repeat spins on my ipod.

10. Caribou – Swim

I would not consider myself well versed in the world of electronica, but this terrific album obviously reached even a lay person as myself due to its cleverly crafted crossover appeal. It deserves mention for the two standout singles Odessa and Sun alone, but there is much more to discover. The hypnotic trip that is Bowls for in stance, and the poppy track Hannibal with its old school Phoenix vibe. For me though, Sun has got to be one of the best songs of 2010, in addition to winning the award for most minimalistic lyrics.

9. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

The incredible amount of raving press this album has received in the last three weeks almost made me want to ignore it, but what a waste that would have been! Kanye is back. He lost me after College Dropout and Late Registration, but he sure put those hamster cheeks to good use on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  So much has been written already, but for me its brilliance is in the diversity, accessible yet innovative beats and production and last but definitely not least: a cast of amazing guest vocalists. Kanye knows he’ll never be Jay-Z, but he can get him to drop some lines and lift a track to a higher level.

8. Foals – Total Life Forever

It’s great to see Foals are still upping their game. Total Life Forever may be a bit less frantic and dancy, but it has made way for a more diverse style, more room for experiment and more catchy mid tempo tunes. In a way it’s a diesel train of an album. You might be lured in by the jumpy drum driven lead single This Orient and then be won over by the raw emotion of Blue Blood or the slow burning repetitive mantras of Spanish Sahara. I am still discovering new corners and side alleys on this album.

7. Hot Chip – One Life Stand

Hot Chip doesn’t dilly dally or beat around the bush. They know what it’s all about: love, synth nerds need it as much as anyone. And so on One Life Stand they set out to pay tribute to the subject in all its guises, and they have the perfect beats and grooves to do the job. You cannot help but smile when Alexis Taylor sings “I’ve known for a long time, you are my love life” in Hand Me Down Your Love, or “We have love, give it up give it up, there is nothing else to be proud of” (We Have Love). And besides smile you must dance. Hot Chip insists.

6. De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig – De Lachende Derde

Yes, in the brokenbranches top ten it is entirely possible that a Dutch hiphop release ranks higher than Kanye’s megalomanic ‘record of the decade’, and for good reason. DJVT have taken their characteristic combination of incredibly sharp and witty lyrics, making up a whole new vocabulary along the way, with Bas Bron’s supreme beatsmanship to another level on De Lachende Derde, their third release. There’s the silliness you would expect in songs like the winning single Sterrenstof and Get Spanish (don’t be fooled though, silly but shrewd as hell). But the youth is growing up too, as can be heard in Zo Volwassen, Zo Beleefd and tear jerker Huilend Naar De Club. Most exciting of all there are some proper dance floor stompers like Sexy Beesten and Elektrotechnique I can’t wait to hear in the club.

5. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

I’ve had a thing for BSS for quite some time now, but somehow they have always remained a bit elusive to me, just out of reach. Perhaps not so strange considering the band is constantly shape shifting. But I’ve really been able to sink my teeth into Forgiveness Rock Record and now I get it. It’s official, they have made it into the ‘favourite bands’ category you’d list on an online profile page. I like everything about this album, the way some songs gently meander (Sweetest Kill, Highway Slippery Jam), others amp up the drama (anthem in the making World Sick and the majestic instrumental Meet Me In The Basement) and how it brings together magical guest contributions like Amy Millan, Feist and personal favourite Emily Haines on Sentimental X’s.

4. Beach House – Teen Dream

Zebra, what a song to open an album with. The mysterious name alone will make you curious, then you’re welcomed with a friendly guitar tune, soothing aaaahhhhhs and Victoria Legrand huskily asking you “Don’t I know you better than the rest?”. It makes you wish it was true. I’m at a loss to pick songs to highlight on Teen Dream, there is such a bounty to choose from. From the woeful wailing of Silver Soul to the light and airy beauty of Norway, the melancholy piano driven Used To Be and Take Care‘s heart breaking lyric “I’ll take care of you, if you ask me to”.

3. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor

Now it’s getting serious, top three time. Let’s just get those two words out of the way first: Fleet Foxes. Yes, Local Natives have had a good listen to their west coast peers, but in my opinion they have masterfully blended americana and folk influences with a hearty dollop of indie and pop sensitivity and have come up trumps with this extremely accomplished debut album. There is a remarkable number of quality hook-laden singalongs like Wide Eyes, World News, Shape Shifter and Talking Heads cover Warning Sign. And let’s not forget the moving single Airplanes, about a son who misses his mother. Go see them live too, such a nice and talented bunch!

PS Just found out this album was already released in november of 2009! Oh well, I only discovered it this year, allow me one cheat…

2. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Well, no surprise for any brokenbranches regulars, this one was bound to end up in my top 3. A stroll through blogville and twittland have taught me it is apparently uncool to list this album for your top ten as it is too predictable a pick and ‘not that good’. Well, I beg to differ! This is the album Arcade Fire have been aiming for over the last years, the soundtrack of a generation. It is the perfect culmination of years of pent up suburban boredom, having to grow up, longing for days gone by and fear of what is to come, clinging to those you want close to you in the face of approaching ugliness. The Suburbs is therefore the perfect opening song and album title, moving straight into the excitement of Ready To Start. Other album highlights include the haunting Rococo, a real showcase of Win’s growing confidence and ability as a frontman, We Used To Wait and Deep Blue. It might take you longer to let The Suburbs into your heart than Funeral or Neon Bible, but it’s a keeper.

1. Robyn – Body Talk Pt. 1

The number one slot is even a bit of a surprise to me, but so deserved. I have played Robyn’s first Body Talk release to death! For anyone who hasn’t noticed yet: the days that Robyn was a mainstream poppy R&B chart girl are long gone. Her 2005 self titled release saw a definite turn in her career and the Body Talk trilogy has sealed the deal: make way for Robyn the electropop hiphop dancehall queen. I could have gone for the final of the three releases which combines most of Body Talk Part 1 & 2, but I think the first one stands out on its own.
Dancing on My Own is easily one of the best songs of the year, and the super-disco-sexy Röyksopp co-production The Girl And The Robot will stick in your head for days. Part 1 has the acoustic version of Hang With Me, which holds it’s own and turns into Part 2’s standout track in the electronic version. Dance Hall Queen and None Of Dem show off Robyn’s sassy side, and I was able to witness in Paradiso she has all the necessary moves to back it up. Robyn has really come into her own. Her music is sincere, from the heart and from the gut, and she has a perfectly tuned ear for what makes a good song amazing. To see her on stage is a delight, a confident, gorgeous and talented woman doing what she does best.

If you’re on Spotify, check out these albums in my best of 2010 playlist.

There sure was a cold wind blowing though Dusseldorf last night, and with it came buckets of snow, and massive anticipation for the Arcade Fire concert in the Philipshalle. The initial disappointment their tour didn’t stop in Holland made way for a nice little city trip to the Christmas markets of Dusseldorf, where I stood drinking glühwein in the snow, playing Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) in my mind on repeat: “And if the snow buries my, my neighborhood..”

When the time came and the small community that is Arcade Fire took to the stage to loud cheers, they opened with the Suburbs tune that was made for the part: Ready To Start. The simple drum beat and driving guitar were the perfect match to the crowd’s excitement, the mood was set for the night. They held on to the electric vibe with a solid 4-piece opening combo, threading together Keep The Car Running, Neighborhood #2 (Laika) and No Cars Go. “Women and children, let’s go!!”.

Then some time to calm down a bit with the ever charming Regine taking central stage for Haiti and Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains). She seemed in very good spirits, doing her characteristic little rhythmic moves and even picking up some colourful ribbons for her dance routine. It’s during these songs, when I’m not bouncing around as much, that I notice how incredibly talented and multi-instrumental all the band members are.

Next up, the one song from The Suburbs I was most anxious to see: the ambitious Rococo. This song is the ideal setting for Win’s dark doomsday approach, “they build it up just to burn it back down”, perfectly accompanied by the eerie violin sounds and hushed “rococo-rococo-rococo” background vocals of the band members. What a pleasure to hear it played live! Win has really come into his own as a lead singer, carrying it off with great confidence. Here is a little youtube snippet.

Then a complete surprise, as mentioned in the opening sentence of this post: Cold Wind. This song won me over when I first heard it on the soundtrack of arguably the best tv series ever made, Six Feet Under, but I never heard it live before. Win mentioned they hadn’t played it for quite some time. Sadly I have to say it didn’t really live up to its haunting potential with a few hiccups during the song, but still a welcome surprise.

After a sizeable Suburbs middle section with Deep Blue, the uplifting romp along of The Suburbs with The Suburbs (continued) as outro and the frenetic rock out of Month Of May they carefully crafted another 4-part section to leave every single audience member begging for more.

Personal favourite and Funeral classic Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) kicked it off, moving on to We Used To Wait which had Win jumping up on the monitors belting out “Hear my voice screaming sing the chorus again!”. Next up was Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), where Win left out a complete section of the song to thank a guy who stood up way in the back seats. He must have been delighted with himself. Power Out finally merged directly into to crowd favourite Rebellion (Lies), “Everytime you close your eyes, lies lies!”, a great set closer.

I was really hoping that some of the gems of Neon Bible would feature in the encore, but only Intervention was played, followed by the ultimate Arcade Fire live anthem Wake Up. O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied? Where was Black Wave/ Bad Vibrations? Where was (Antichrist Television Blues)? Where was Black Mirror? Oh well, I guess it would take playing all three albums entirely for me to be fully satisfied.

I think it’s fair to say Arcade Fire  is a band that has grown and matured over the last few years. The show might be less explosive than it used to be with band members constantly running around the stage banging drums, but that has made space for beautifully crafted songs, a confident band with mesmerising stage presence and a catalogue of songs that would each do well on stage. Their shows are an absolute treat, and if you haven’t seen them live yet I would urge you to do so!

SETLIST

01 Ready to Start
02 Keep the Car Running
03 Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
04 No Cars Go
05 Haiti
06 Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
07 Rococo
08 Cold Wind
09 Deep Blue
10 The Suburbs
11 The Suburbs (continued)
12 Month of May
13 Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
14 We Used to Wait
15 Neighborhood #3 (Power out) [extended version merging into 16]
16 Rebellion (Lies)

ENCORE
17 Intervention
18 Wake Up

[13] days & videos til Lowlands!

Today: The band that SHOULD be closing Lowlands 2010, but alas… 😦

Clues

Great news for all the Montreal indie scenesters who have been quietly wheeping since the split of their beloved Unicorns; welcome Clues! Clues consists of Alden Penner (ex-Unicorns), Brandon Reed (ex-Arcade Fire) and Ben Borden, Lisa Gamble, and Nick Scribner “from the Montreal art and music scenes” (according to the bio on Constellation Records’ website). Dirty guitars, weird lyrics, great drums, unconventional songs, catchy hooks, Montreal quirkiness, it’s all rather exciting.

They’ve taken a decidedly old school approach to promotion, gigging their way around the place to get the word out in stead of myspace viral marketing. Their self titled album came out last week and they’re touring North America in May and June.

Here’s hoping festival programmers have taken notice and a small European leg will be added to the tour dates over the summer!

Download two of their album tracks here:

Clues – Remember Severed Head
Clues – Perfect Fit

Watch the video for Haarp on the Constellation website and see the band  perform Perfect Fit in LA last February:

 AF9

It’s 2 AM, I’m exhausted, my legs are already asleep as I write this, but I just have to get this post out of my system now while I still have some of those concert endorfines left. I thought the Lowlands gig was great, but that was merely an appetizer compared to this lavish spread! What a great show…

Even though we got in quite late (first attempting to sell our left over ticket, but with no result as there were quite a few vendors out there) we were still able to get to about the fifth row, centre stage at 19:30. Up until the last moment I was afraid this massive lump of a guy was going to stand in front of me, but I was lucky and had an excellent view.
There was a big roar when Arcade Fire wlaked on stage and they went straight into Black Mirror, full on, no holding back. Un deux trois dit miroir noir!!

AF2

The setlist:
Black Mirror
Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
No Cars Go
Haiti
I’m Sleeping In A Submarine
Black Wave/Bad Vibrations
In the Back Seat (wonderful!)
Neon Bible (followed by Age of Consent)
Intervention
The Well & the Lighthouse
Antichrist Television Blues
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) (standout song of the evening in my book!)
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Rebellion (Lies)encore:
Keep The Car Running
Wake Up

So about 17 songs in total. I have to say the sound in the Heineken Music Hall was good, at least from where we were standing. Only comment would be that Win’s mic seemed a bit low in the mix at the start of a few songs, but that was soon fixed.

AF3

Although we were close to the front, only about half of the people around us were really singing and dancing. I soon noticed the ‘hardcore’ group of AF-fans jumping about to my right, towards the violin girls. Wish we were stood over there too, it looked like a lot of fun and Regine even gave that part of the crowd a special thank you after a few songs.
Altogether though the audience was into the show and things definitely heated up after a while, particularly after the magic Power Out – Rebellion combo: that’s what making music is all about! Win did make one or two comments telling the people in the seats to get off their asses, maybe it was a bit tame at the back.

I don’t know if I was imagining things, but Regine seemed a bit emotional after singing a beautiful version of In The Back Seat, it really struck a chord with me tonight: “my family tree’s losing all its leaves…”
I got two of my three wish list songs (Tunnels and Black Wave, but sadly not Headlights Look Like Diamonds) and the very unexpected bonus of I’m Sleeping In A Submarine. At oone point Win came into the audience and stood just a few feet in front of me. I got all excited, fumbled to get my camera and of course only got an extremely blurry shot…

AF4

All in all it was a great night! I loved watching William and Richard running across the stage like men posessed, hitting everything in their path, Win starting to smile more and more as the show went on (retorting “I know what you mean man” when someone in shouted out “wake up” in between songs) and of course the lovely Regine… She’s just such a joy to watch with her little dances (Bjork-esque sometimes) and her facial expressions (especially the mischievous looks into the crowd).

AF1

They have such a great dynamic between them all, this band definitely has magic happening on stage and I for one can’t get enough.

Here’s a short bit of Regine singing Haiti during the concert (and Win and William abusing their guitars).
[Excuse the poor quality of the pictures and film…]

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