Over the course of 2013, we’ve reviewed over 100 EPs, LPs and singles. We’ve covered dozens of live shows, premiered a handful of new videos and interviewed some of our favorite local artists. All in the name of making the Austin music scene accessible to as many of you as possible. Culled from hundreds of submissions over the course of the year, these are our 50 favorite Austin songs (limit: one per artist) of the last year.
10. Night Drive - "Sea of Light"
By now it should be no surprise that I have a special place in my heart for a great pop song. Anything upbeat and dancey grabs my attention. Anything with a catchy hook will have me hitting “repeat.” “Sea of Light” has all of this and then pours a heaping dose of sugar on top of it. Nothing in this song sounds organic (a trademark of Austin music for decades), but the energy Night Drive bring to the track should win over any skeptics. This is Austin’s best pure pop song of 2013. – Carter Delloro
9. Walker Lukens - "Kindle to Your Fire (Oprah Voice)"
Lukens’ debut LP is filled with several great songs (“Lover” and “Dear Someone” chief among them), but it was “Kindle” that made me first sit up and take notice. Built around one chord and layers and layers of voices, “Kindle” is simple but beautiful. It’s a song about passion that feels passionate. It’s about joy and embodies joy like no other song I heard this year. When, with about a minute left in the song, Lukens employs the full range of his instrumentation, the world seems full of possibility. – Carter Delloro
8. Emily Bell - "Back to the Way I Was"
“Back to the Way I Was” is a boot-stomping, soul-country, girl-power number that fully captures the sense of place Bell strives to conjure. The lyrics are filled with reverie, nostalgia, menace and promise. The track sounds like it could be emanating from some backwoods bayou in the Sixties, or hipster hotspot in ’00’s London. Driving it even more than that shuffling drum or fuzzing bass, though, is Emily Bell, a captivating presence in person and on record. – Bailey Cool
7. Marmalakes - "Wells"
Chase Weinacht and company have always written incredibly smart folk tunes, and on “Wells,” they’ve added an irresistible pop sheen to that foundation. They still use space incredibly well (see the quiet part in the song’s last third), and they still have whip-smart lyrics. This is unmistakably Marmalakes. However, “Wells” comes equipped with an “ooo”ing vocal hook that is infectious, and the overall arrangement has more energy than any Marmalakes song since “Vittoria.” If the rest of their forthcoming album is anything like this, 2014 stands to be a huge year for this trio. – Carter Delloro
6. SPEAK - "Peaks"
SPEAK’s debut, I Believe in Everything, was a great pop-rock record made by a group of guys who were still very young. “Peaks” is the sound of SPEAK growing up. This is sophisticated, mature music, from the nuanced arrangement to the ambiguity of the lyrics. And yet, not for one second does SPEAK lose sight of what’s always made them great: unbelievable melodies. Troupe Gammage’s melody leaps and falls with ease, and his bandmates provide the foundation that makes this best track they’ve yet written.
5. Good Field - "Tell Me Ida"
Paul Price has said that “Tell Me Ida” was inspired by seeing evidence (photo and video) of his grandparents as a young couple. The song is his attempt to explore an older idea of courtship, but he ends up painting universal emotions. If there’s a better representation of newlyweds than “We got a kitchen / We’ve got TV / Ida, honey, it’s just you and me” then I’d love to hear it. The arrangement and instrumentation adds to the vintage feel, including the most hummable, single best bass line out of Austin this year from Michael McLeod. – Carter Delloro
4. Okkervil River - "It Was My Season"
On my first pass through The Silver Gymnasium, I was convinced that “Stay Young” would be Okkervil River’s contribution to this list. Yet, there’s just no denying the monumental achievement in songwriting that is “It Was My Season.” From the gorgeous details of growing up in small town ’80’s America (“Can’t you hear his VCR weeping / They crossed his wires completely when they made him fire that gun”) to the rousing vocal interplay at the climax to the final twist in the denouement. It’s four and a half beautiful minutes about being lonely, lost and in love, living in the moment and knowing too well that that moment is fleeting. – Carter Delloro
3. Tiger Waves - "Fields"
So what if they jacked the guitar melody from Ducktails’ “Hamilton Road?” The only new A-side that Tiger Waves released this year is an undeniable gem. “When I saw God / I was tripping on ketamine,” begins Reid Comstock, amidst music that must have been the soundtrack during that glorious moment. The guitars ring and flow and overwhelm you over a shuffling beat that recalls sunshine. It’s a song that I can and have played on repeat until it drove my girlfriend crazy, a song I catch myself singing after not hearing it for months, and putting it on again always feels like coming home. – Carter Delloro
2. The Octopus Project - "Whitby"
This first single off of The Octopus Project’s latest LP Fever Forms is pure synth pop candy. For all intents and purposes I should hate this song, but this is no mere mass-produced, formulaic pop song. Featuring a delectable arrangement of layers that would make a lasagna jealous, “Whitby” is a musical palate pleaser and when all is said and done I can’t help but be impressed into tapping my toes. – Brian Audette
1. Max Frost - "White Lies"
“You’ve got your red dress on and you want to believe like I can’t know things that I’ve never seen.” – Simple enough, to the point, and utterly heartbreaking. Max Frost delivers the lyrics to his tale of a cheating girlfriend, “White Lies,” with an air of what we could call “superiority.” She’s cheating, yes, but don’t think for a minute that he isn’t fully aware of his lover’s missteps. Old-school soulful vocals lead the track above a very dance-able backbeat of acoustic guitars, jangley percussion, and synths. The song is surprisingly upbeat despite the too-truthful lyrical content. Just try not to sing along. (Spoiler: impossible). Like a hurricane, Max Frost blew into our lives. And in just the same fashion, his storm is only picking up strength as it leaves Austin and heads out towards the rest of the world. From being featured in a Beats by Dre commercial to being picked up by Atlantic Records on the strength of his only EP, Low High Low, Frost will be a name we’ll be hearing a lot in the coming years. “White Lies” has already been dominating local radio stations, but expect to hear this infectious earworm on major radio come January and also expect to see Atlantic release his debut LP in early 2014. – Brittany Bartos
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