Music wise, 2013 has been memorable for two reasons.

Firstly, my permanent move to New York City has expanded the scope and depth of the live music can I now access any night of the week. Every act wants to come to this city and every act comes to this city. Not only is live music more accessible for me but attending live music in New York City is so much cheaper than it is in Australia.

And then, establishing myself as a featured music writer on the music blog Upside Sounds has opened up huge doors for me to access the electronic music community in New York City and beyond. I’ve seen my knowledge, social circle, influence, passion for the space and audience expand in ways I never thought possible. I take the approach that no matter what has been written about a track or artist, I can always come up with my own unique voice and still be interesting and loyal to my music taste.

Having said all that, here are my favourite tracks of 2013, and why, and in no particular order.

1. Disclosure – White Noise feat. AlunaGeorge

To pick one track as the standout for 2013, as I had to do on Upside Sounds recently, I chose this.

It is the best track of 2013 because of the delicious variations in the tempo and intensity of its unique bass lines. Simple as that. This is a remarkably uncomplicated track; wonderfully structured and comes all stitched together nicely with vocals from AlunaGeorge. The best part is the build up and strength of its bass-filled crescendo that’s all over in just on 4 minutes. In a word, masterful.

 

2. Tourist – Together 

If there was an award for best loop of the year, this track would win. Here we get a straightforward formula of repeated synth loops and vocals. Repetitive does not equal boring in this case.

I saw Tourist spin out of Brooklyn a few weeks ago. I note he is also a recent signing to Disclosure’s new label. Enough said.

 

3. Snakadaktal – Hung On Tight

I know and love Snakadaktal as the band that was discovered while they were still high school students at the school on the same street as my mum and dad’s home in Melbourne.

Maturity beyond their years given none of them would be legal to drink in the US, ‘Snaka’ are best known as the baby-faced under age winners of the 2008 Unearthed High competition.

Coming off their long-awaited debut album, this is one of the finest examples of minimalist indie pop you’ll hear all year.

 

4. Clubfeet – Everything You Wanted

Arhh Melbourne music. Representing!

A synth pop group out of Melbourne – why wouldn’t I like these guys? They just happen to be good too. I’m thrilled Clubfeet are building a more international following and getting recognition they deserve.

I’m posting the vid here instead of the soundcloud link, because the vid is cool and it was recently voted 2013 Australian Video of the Year on Triple J.

 

5. Flamingo – Heart, My

Here’s my pick for the most awesome track of 2013 that you’ve never heard and probably should.

I don’t know much about Flamingo. I’m a little far removed from the Adelaide music scene now. Except to say that last I heard they remained unsigned and fortunately this track has found good support on Triple J.

This track gets better the longer it goes on. The second half of this is especially memorable. The beat kicks in proper at the 3 minute mark and makes way for the best 90 seconds of synth pop you’ll hear anywhere.

 

6. Rüfüs – Desert Night

This ripper from Rüfüs had me hopping mad when it hit soundcloud earlier in the year. On the strength of this track alone I was literally counting down the days until their debut album dropped. These guys can mix too having put out some very decent mixes on soundcloud via Triple J throughout the year. I am yet to see these guys live and they are high on my list to make that happen in 2014.

 

7. Disclosure – Defeated No More

From my favourite album of the year and I was always going to pick more than one track from it in my top 10.

I had a tough time deciding whether to pick this or the more well known, awesome but commercially conventional track When A Fire Starts To Burn.

I went with this, largely because I think it’s better and because unless you really listened the the album as a collective, you wouldn’t know this track exists. It’s funked-up, sultry and has the influence of Ed MacFarlane from Friendly Fires stamped all over it.

This track has some of the best beat drops you’ll ever hear in your life. Why this was never released as an official single still has me scratching my head in wonder.

 

8. Chvrches – Recover

From one of the better EPs released this year is this little gem from Chvrches.

Unfortunatley I missed seeing them when they breezed through New York City in the second half of the year. It’s my number one gig regret for 2013 because live, I’m told they are a treat.

 

9. Touch Sensitive – Pizza Guy

I had the pleasure of seeing Touch Sensitive do his thang when he opened for Flume at Webster Hall back in September. He kinda got lost in the soup as the opening opener for big Aussie guns Flume and Chet Faker.

Nonetheless he was worth catching because this track absolutely bangs at high volume. If you haven’t heard it live or played at full force inside a club, you’re missing out.

 

10. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Best indie track of 2013, by far. And a track so epic they made not one but two music videos for it. An interactive experience complete with its very own website where you control the reflecting (damn, how cool) and then a 7+ minute black and white tale in classic noir style that takes the idea of reflection and uses it in so many clever ways. A shiny casket, disco balls, torches, metallics, that mirrored guy in a top hat, reflections off water and those creepy bobbing heads.

 

And because I can’t help myself and I do this every year, a little analysis..

Number of Australian acts in my Top 10: 5 (Touch Sensitive, Clubfeet, Snakadaktal, Rüfüs, Flamingo)

Number of acts I saw live in 2013 from my Top 10: 3 (Tourist, Disclosure x2, Touch Sensitive)

There’s merit in going back through your soundcloud stream to find gems like this one.

Sydney producer Lance Gursik, who goes by the knightly stage name of Lancelot, released this EP of the same name back in June.

Lancelot has gained a growing legion of fans because he likes to stamp his unique disco-house feel on whatever he mixes. He’s getting some good traction going from it. The release of this EP and another earlier this year and we’re finally getting to see Lancelot showcase more of his original work.

This track takes house where I personally love it to go; with vocals and lightness. Here we’re getting the pop-like vocals by Whyte Fang, some smacking house bass and a very lovely slice of disco.

Sarah

Anyone who says electronic music lacks depth or emotion hasn’t heard the latest power ballard from Sia.

Released earlier this week, and while synthed and uplifting, it’s a song ultimately about romantic failure.

The lyrics pack a punch. Sia’s opening line asks..

And another one bites the dust

Oh why can I not conquer love?

And we haven’t even hit the chorus yet. Pre-chorus and how’s this for anguished?

You did not break me

I’m still fighting for peace

Sia’s been around a long time. At 37 years old, she’s practically a veteran of pop music. She’s collaborated and written songs with just about everybody in the industry, from Celine Dion to Britney Spears. She’s slated to release her sixth studio album in early 2014.

She’s also Australian. Hence why I know her and her body of work so well.

Her vocals here are incredible and we have to remember it’s actually a duet with Abel Tesfaye from the Weeknd and is mixed/produced by Diplo.

Sia is amazing. She is so talented and some argue, myself included, that as an artist and songwriter she hasn’t enjoyed a level of recognition befitting her talent.

Maybe that’s what happens with good songwriters, their talents can go largely unrecognized because they’re not the person up the front.

But we’re starting to see Sia’s songwriting and her vocals appear more in the lead up to her new album. She’s popping up in soundtracks. Think the Great Gatsby earlier this year and this track is due to appear in the upcoming Hunger Games flick.

I think this track is so fine. It’s just perfectly Sia. Amazing vocals, stunningly lyrics, it’s emotive and raw. Romantically I think everyone can relate to this in some way.

Do you have thick skin and an elastic heart?

Sarah

Yes it’s true.

I kissed Lana Del Rey.

On the cheek, but we can leave that little detail aside for a moment while I tell you how this played out.

Bit of backstory first.. who could forget that god awful Saturday Night Live performance Lana gave back in January 2012? And all the shlack she rightfully copped for her very ordinary performance that night?

Lana laid low for a few months after that.

Sorted her shit out, honed her live act and probably spent time coming to grips with the massive worldwide and overnight success she found herself immersed in at the time.

Lana re-emerged in July that year to resurrect her career and her reputation as a live performer at an unknown one-day music festival for her very first Australian performance.

And I was there, of course.

Spin Off is an annual festival held only in Adelaide, Australia. It is billed as a spin off from the much larger and well-known Australian music festival that happens every July called Splendour In The Grass. I have never been to Splendour. It’s my number one Aussie unfulfilled festival crush.

It’s July 2012 and what was I doing back then? Oh yes. Unemployed and pretty lost with the world, I’d been up in far north Queensland scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef while escaping the winter that blankets in the southern parts of Australia at that time of year. This was a pretty amazing time in my life. I had spent many weeks under the water and slowly feeling better about life in general, while keeping company with giant resident turtles called Brian and schools of butterfly fish.

I was technically living in Adelaide at the time. At least some of my stuff was. But I was essentially living between 3 cities at this time. I had stuff in my hometown of Melbourne, some in my adopted city of Adelaide and some where I was spending all my time, Cairns. I flew back to Adelaide from Cairns just to attend this event. The next day and I was back on a plane flying north again, desperate to get back to the warmth and the reef.

So here I am. Spinning off in the front row. I’m not really sure how I got there. I started at the back of the audience and as the crowds thinned in between sets, I crept ever closer towards the stage and next thing I knew, I am front row centre stage left for Lana’s set.

Immediately in front of me is an elbow-high barrier that I’m trying not to let the surging crowd push me in to. Beyond the barrier, there’s about a metre gap where press and photographers are standing between me and the stage. I’ve heard that these guys are allowed to stay for the first song only, then they’ve been ordered to clear out. Good riddance.

‘Lana! Lana! Lana!’ screamed the anticipating crowd.

Adelaide generally has a difficult time attracting quality music acts. It’s no where near as large or has the same pull as Sydney or Melbourne. I couldn’t believe that an act of such international notoriety as Lana Del Rey was turning up to perform on a cold winter’s day and under the roof of what the Adelaide showgrounds really is.. a giant tin shed.

‘Lana! Lana!’.

She emerges from the wings and steps onto the stage. In a baby blue lace dress with matching blue ribbon headband. Her frock is belted and cinched at the waist. It’s short. Check out the pics I took.

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She’s standing right in front of me. I can hear her voice when she sings and I don’t need the aid of the microphone. On stage and she’s so close to me, I can even see the hair on her legs.

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In the middle of Video Games, Lana starts making her way off the stage, down these makeshift steps and into the gap where those photographers were standing a few songs ago.

God damn. She’s walking right towards me.

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If the crowd around me wasn’t crushing me before, it certainly is now.

Soon enough I am confronted with the image of Lana Del Rey standing right in front of me.

Eye to eye and I didn’t quite know what to do.

In the rush of this moment, I grabbed her hand that wasn’t holding a microphone and gently pulled her towards me. I reached in and kissed her on her right cheek. I saw her ear and her headband up close. She felt warm and it felt crazy and she didn’t resist me. I pulled away and she was beaming. Rarely does she smile in any image you see of her. I let go of her hand as she sashayed her way back up and onto the stage.

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I have to say, Lana Del Rey is seriously one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. Not one to notice this kind of stuff but I can appreciate a very stunning woman when I am looking at one. Those sultry, 1960s housewife-turned-vixen eyes. That oversized and expressive mouth. All that hair. All those curves. She is stunningly and nostalgically beautiful.

Here’s something else I can tell you. Lana can sing.

I thought her performance that night was smashing, and not just because she was 3 feet away from me. It was such an improvement on her SNL debacle.

And that’s probably exactly what Lana wanted. A small and safe live audience that was as far away from anything related to Saturday Night Live as she could possibly get. It’s like she got out a globe, found New York City, spun the world around to find its exact polar opposite and her finger landed on Adelaide.

Did I wash my hand or cheek after she touched it? Yeah, I did. But…

I kissed Lana Del Rey. Have you?

Sarah

Miami Horror are back, kids.

Back!

I am literally having kittens over how much good music is coming out of my hometown of late.

Kittens!

Honestly it’s high time these guys did something else.

Who could forget their original summer stunner that had all of Australia grooving at festivals around the country? Cute vid too. Makes me miss the summertime and beaches of my homeland something fierce.

 

If you don’t know the remixed version these guys released of Illumination, you be missing out. That version became an absolute staple for me during that Australian summer (I forget which one). Multiple versions of most tracks off the album remixed to just the right effect. It’s still one of my favourite albums to run/work out to.

But overall I am super glad these guys are committed to making music together.

I was worried there for awhile. I’ve seen various Miami Horror members show up and perform at random gigs in Australia since. Once in at Lady Hawke gig in Melbourne and at a Neon Indian event in Adelaide.

I always get a bit nervous when that happens. It’s almost a case of wanting to lock guys like this in a room and say, don’t come out till the album is done.

Seems it’s done. No word on a release date that I can find.

Regardless you gotta love the timing of this. Just in time to capture the Aussie summer and festival market.

Best news but.. an NYC gig in October! Seems I’ll get to preview their newie album before they hit up the forthcoming Australian summer in a huge, Miami Horror kinda way.

Sweet, mate!

Sarah

Find Miami Horror here: web | facebooksoundcloud

It’s time for something a little different.

Something not electronic or pop.

Instead I’m keeping with my recent theme of writing about music I’ve danced too.

Even if classical music isn’t your thing, as a music lover it’s hard not to appreciate a piece of music and beautiful and powerful as this.

Last year I did a group solo contemporary ballet piece to a variation of this incredibly beautiful piece of music. This piece has very intense crescendos, huge sound and lots of variations in melody and pace.

When I danced to this, I thought about a lot of things. Perfecting the timing and the choreography, for one thing, but I also kept thinking about the title.

I wanted to float around the floor, be light and graceful and just like a bird. Channel my inner Swan Lake, if you like.

Use of imagery can really help a dancer. I thought of my arms like wings, my feet were bird-like tiny and my neck and torso were long and refined. I just wanted to look as beautiful and as graceful as the music itself.

I can’t remember if I pulled it off or not. I recall my teacher was complementary but typically critical of the known gaps in my technique. My fellow students clapped at the end, but not overly hard.

It didn’t matter because I really lost myself to this music. I also had an ‘audience’ and a ‘stage’ and was inside the surreal setting of a New York City dance studio.

All that combined helps to explain why this was one of the few times in my life I felt like a real ballerina, not a some wannabe dancer trying to be one.

Sarah

Bloody hell. How good is this?

These indie darlings are best known as the baby-faced under age winners of the 2008 Unearthed High competition.

I know and love Snakadakal as the band that was discovered while they were still high school students at the school on the same street as my mum and dad’s house in Melbourne.

This is Melbourne music folks. That creative hotbed that is my hometown pumps out kids making fine music like this.

Snaka have released a steady stream of amaze singles and an EP since their big win in 2008. But no debut album until this month when Sleep in the Water was released. In Australian circles at least, it’s already being talked about as the best debut album of 2013.

Maturity beyond their years given none of them would be legal to drink in the US. Meanwhile I’m adding this track to my list of possibles for featuring in my hottest 100 votes this year. So will every other lover of Australian minimalist pop. This could feature highly in this year’s count.

These guys are touring heavily on the back of their new album. If only I was in Australia right now..

Sarah

Find Snakadakal here: facebook | web | twitter

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