FADER editors look back on great songs you might have missed
As 2013 steamrolls into 2014, everybody's wrangling their top tracks of the year. At a certain point, though, lists blend into other lists, as Kanye and Drake and Haim and Disclosure and Vampire Weekend and Sky Ferreira jockey for slots. These aren't the "best" tracks, necessarily. This one's for the dark horses, the songs you might've missed, the tracks we discovered late and fell for hard. Each FADER editor picked a few songs personal to them that they don't want to let fall through the cracks.
K Camp and Kwony Cash
K Camp f. Kwony Cash, "Money Baby" In Due Time
In a year where New Zealand teenager Lorde made it to rap radio with a song condemning rap's alleged preoccupation with Maybachs and chained-up tigers, "Money Baby" makes a nice retort. Sung by North Atlanta rapper K Camp and a hit in his hometown, it refutes the claim that all who love money prize possessions more than their spirit. "Money Baby" doesn't drop brand names or allude to any dollar value as a benchmark of success. It's just a self-cheerleading chant for those who must earn cash and work toward the freedom to spend as they please. As K Camp and co-writer Kwony Cash tell it, life's affirming stuff happens as people hustle together, chasing highs like clothes that make you feel envied, parties where people throw down their guard, affairs that live away from Instagram's all-seeing eye, friends that are loyal and overwhelming sex. Those pleasures may be short lived, but they're certainly worthy of a celebration that sounds this good.
2 Chainz, "I Do It" (Outro) B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time
2 Chainz is these days best known as the kind of guy who'd rhyme Rest in peace to all the soldiers that died in the service with I died in her cervix, but it's always seemed to me lines like that came more from business savvy than an essential pleasure in goofing off. He's rap's brassy grandpa, not its court jester. I love the skit he basically hid on September's B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time, at the tail-end of "I Do It," an imperial song with an EDM festival-friendly beat by Diplo and Wonder Arillo that features Birdman, Lil Wayne and Drake. The final 90 seconds of that track are given over to an a cappella epilogue, where an uncredited singer begs to be left alone. 2 Chainz has said he called the album Me Time because it takes its listeners away from the stress of their lives. How funny that, deep inside the energetic oasis he created for everyone else, he's praying for everyone to stop calling.
Kingdom and Kelela
Kingdom f. Kelela, “Bank Head” Vertical XL
I just checked my iTunes stats, and apparently, “Bank Head” is the song I listened to most this year. It was technically released twice—first, as the single for the LA producer Kingdom’s spring EP for his own Fade to Mind label, Vertical XL, then later again this October, when Kelela introduced a slightly extended version of the song on her celebrated mixtape, Cut 4 Me. Production-wise, I can’t think of a more ballsy example of less-is-more than the metronome-like, staccato handclaps that Kingdom threaded through “Bank Head” from start to finish. It seems to exemplify the hi-res, rhythmically spacious sound that the Fade To Mind/Night Slugs contingent injected into the New York warehouse scene this year, whereas Kelela’s unforgettable melody line and acrobatic delivery on this sleeper summer hit seemed to announce its potential to cross over into pop. And as proof her own ability to become that sound’s human focal point, Kelela seems to feel as good singing this song about the pain of unrequited love as we feel while listening to it, powering through the downwardly curling melisma on I wonder how you keep it all inside with the catharsis of somebody who’s finally letting it all hang out herself.
Florian Kupfer, “Feelin” Lifetrax
Although I didn’t get to speak with Florian Kupfer while reporting FADER’s feature on Ron Morelli’s L.I.E.S. label—and honestly don’t know much about the guy other than the fact that his SoundCloud profile used to say that he lived in Wiesbaden, Germany, and now says that he resides in Berlin—“Feelin” was pretty much the soundtrack of my year. For a solid few months, I listened to it on repeat every evening while taking a run down the Williamsburg waterfront after work, and I can’t think of any track from this year that better encapsulates the combined romance and industrial bleakness of flying past a strip full of warehouses and condo construction sites that are framed by an orange New York sunset. Every element of “Feelin” feels completely considered, from the perfectly popping kick drum to those unforgettably woozy synth chords and that funny descending baseline, which I can only describe as the sound of a round-cheeked mechanical trumpeter blowing notes that are a little off-tune. The expressively pitched vocal sample is less the central focus than a maraschino garnish on the song’s entire cocktail, and its words are open-ended enough to feel like they’re talking about any emotion you could possibly be experiencing when you’re listening to it, from blissed-out to hard-up and devastated: I can’t stop this feeling.
Mathew Lee Cothran
Sam Amidon, "My Old Friend" Bright Sunny South
I've long considered myself a big fan of the folk singer Sam Amidon—he's got a soft country voice like apple cider and a good ear for old-timey instruments, but the confidence to experiment when it makes sense—yet I somehow missed his 2013 album until a few months after it was released, so maybe you did too. The first time I listened, I'd just moved into a bigger, older apartment where the windows frame weird shadows on the floor, and I was scrubbing the white walls—until "My Old Friend" came on. It's an unexpected cover of Tim McGraw's saddest and most loving song, a tribute to a dying friend, and that day, and really since, I need to sit down to hear it.
Mathew Lee Cothran, "Failure" Failure
Mathew Lee Cothran—the South Carolina lo-fi pop artist with umpteen bleak tapes made under the names Coma Cinema and Elvis Depressedly—put out my favorite thing that I never wrote about this year, a six-minute EP under his own name called Failure. Every short song is so lyrically tight—both in the sense of being adept and economic with words, and just like, making me feel that something in me is squeezing and small. In a gravedigger's voice, I sing the title track all the time: I just called my dad on his birthday/ I just let him talk, I had nothing to say/ And I don't wanna die, I just wanna be/ Eternally asleep, eternally in dreams. It makes me think: fuck everything, but let's keep it going a little bit more.
DJ Nigga Fox
Travi$ Scott f. Gunplay, Fredo Santana and Chuck Inglish, "Pussy"
"Pussy" didn't make it to Travi$' Owl Pharaoh mixtape for some reason, and that's too bad. Produced by Mike WiLL Made It, it has the pleasingly random lineup of Travi$, Gunplay, Fredo Santana and Chuck Inglish (?!). The beat is spooky, overlaid with oohing synths and accented by the best and most repeated use of Travi$' key ad-lib: Straight up! Gunplay, who reportedly recorded this right after getting out of jail, sounds like he is ready to rip your eyeballs out with his fingers.
Cassie, "All My Love (Kingdom Edit)"
Year after year, the hope for a new Cassie album dwindles. In 2013 she released a not bad/pretty good mixtape, RockabyeBaby, but none of its songs really hit like they could have, at least until Kingdom got his hands on one. He reworked "All My Love" into something icy and powerful. Someone get the two of them in a studio and lock the door until they make a great album.
DJ Nigga Fox, "Hwwambo"
My favorite track to come out of Ben Lebrave's always excellent African music column for TheFADER.com, Lungu Lungu. DJ Nigga Fox is actually Portuguese, but working with an Angolan framework for this song’s frenetic kuduro beat. But "Hwwambo” is more elegant than that genre tends to be, its wildly hypnotic rhythms on hand drums somehow peppier and sneakier.
Torn Hawk, "Life After Ghostbusters"
A latecomer that has found itself in constant rotation, this track by the resident L.I.E.S. video artists Luke Wyatt aka Torn Hawk is a turn away from the label's more common M.O. of crushing electronics, finding a more ecstatic take on what the home drum machine can do. With heavy nods to Manuel Gottsching, Wyatt noodles away on almost surf guitar for the song's 15 minute long baseboard of light hi-hat hitting. Something trance-like for off kilter days.
Toni Braxton and Babyface
Toni Braxton and Babyface, “Hurt You” Love, Marriage & Divorce
R&B had a big year, with traditionalists like Justin Bieber and Miguel all over the radio and a wave of new talent like Kelela, SZA, inc. and Wet. But no one made a more perfect ode to the genre than two people who, a few decades ago, helped create the ‘90s-era sound that’s continued to influence new artists. Sure, “Hurt You” by Toni Braxton and Babyface sounds a little adult contemporary, but that’s what it makes it so fun to listen to. R&B has aged gracefully; at this point, slinky heartbreak odes are practically the national soundtrack to American relationships, or should be anyway, and it’s nice to hear Baby and Toni remind us exactly why.
Paramore, “Still Into You” Paramore
Kelly Clarkson's Dr. Luke-produced 2004 single "Since U Been Gone" was the first major hit of a very specific type: a crescendoing, empowering, emotional roller coaster pop song. In the nine years since, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry and P!nk have all ridden the sound to great success. Though “Still Into You” wasn't as big of a hit as some of its predecessors, no one did triumphant, fist-clenching hooks better in 2013 than Paramore. The Dr. Luke sound is now so ingrained in pop music that Luke himself didn't even have anything to do with "Still Into You"—bandleader Hayley Williams wrote it by herself. The fact that it wasn't a massive radio chart topper might mean we're finally weaning ourselves off of this brand of anthem, but I still played "Still Into You" so loudly so many times on my iTunes that I think my neighbors can't help but know all the words. They probably loved it. How could you not?
Dan Bodan, “Anonymous”
For me, there was not a more beautiful song this year than Dan Bodan’s “Anonymous.” Or, more importantly, I didn’t think there was a more earnest one. It makes having your heart broken sound completely worth it, and maybe even necessary or inspiring. Its power comes from how ravaged and old it sounds, but it doesn’t feel particularly nostalgic. To me it sounds different than anything else being made right now, so weird that it could only be made in 2013.
Young L, "Nocturnal" Convulsion
The stark darkness of "Nocturnal" is apt given the song's title. It's here, on the second track off Young L's Convulsion EP, where the former Pack producer tumbles into empty space of echoes and bumps, buoyed only by a sample of James Blake's "I Am Sold." "Nocturnal" is at once a lullaby and a muffled cry, with loops to keep the song afloat. Imagine something like drowning in reverse.
Sam Smith, "Safe With Me" Nirvana
Sam Smith's vocals are the gospel incarnate. Perhaps best known for his collaboration with Disclosure on the latter's spirited hymn "Latch," the UK singer goes it alone with equal soulful sweeps on his own Nirvana EP. "Safe With Me," produced by Two Inch Punch, is the standout, a percussive and at times sultry anthem for a love withstanding. Smith, only 21, sounds both confident and cautious, with emotional theatrics wise beyond his years.
Fantasia, Kelly Rowland and Missy Elliott
Fantasia f. Kelly Rowland and Missy Elliott, "Without Me" Side Effects of You
After her 2004 American Idol win, Fantasia's career has taken some questionable turns, full of sub-par records, adulterous affairs and sweaty, onstage breakdowns. Her latest single, "Without Me," was released way back in April but really didn't cross my radar till early fall. Which is kind of sad since this song is hard as fuck! With Kelly Rowland on the second verse and Missy rapping on the third, it’s a sultry, pro-ladies thumper that calls out dudes on their flagrant stunting. I hope whatever comes next is just as tight.