2013 Music's Best Lines

“Q: Do you fall so short of all that’s in your heart / When your friends, who you should pull up, you instead pick apart? / Do you watch the world get cold and crushed and small / And when you could do so much, you do fuck all?” –Okkervil River, “All The Time Every Day”

The “Q” is in the lyric, yes (though not sung): this song is a questionnaire; this verse a question and, though a painful one, not an accusation; the answer is the chorus is the song’s title, repeated in various permutations in defiance, in the hope of exculpation, in anticipation of the final verse and its revelation that the singer/interrogator, too, has the same answer and that we should not be ashamed, but neither absolved. All we can do, perhaps, is what the singer does: try, but try we must, all the time, and every day.

“Outside of the influential arms of your idolatries / The object will be turning goodbyes into good biology” –The Uncluded, “Organs”

In a song which flips between tender emotion and ruthless pragmatism, between borderline PSA and animal mysticism, with as much charming awkwardness as it does Kimya Dawson’s childish verses and Aesop Rock’s gravelly verbosity, Aes delivers a couplet that concisely demonstrates the appeal of the whole Uncluded project. The strangely touching but still goofy play on words “goodbyes/good biology” is the icing on the cake.

“This is born alone, die alone / So my dialog’s dastardly / Life’s a tragedy generator operating at max capacity” (El-P); “My pugnacious rhyme patterns prove pit bull in my pedigree / And dogs fight to the death. You say you better? You better be!” (Killer Mike), –Run the Jewels, “Twin Hype Back”

It didn’t seem right to have a line from just one of these two here, so I picked a couple that illustrate the dichotomy making Run the Jewels so compelling. The main mode in which both of these two operate at pretty much all times is aggression, of course: most any thirty second slice of this album or either of their recent solo albums is sufficient to demonstrate that. El-P’s is born out of nihilism; Killer Mike’s out of arrogance or, sometimes, righteousness. El-P “never met a word [he] wouldn’t, like a weapon, just brandish”, and here they unroll out of him like a lash of barbed wire. Killer Mike, meanwhile, wields his like blunt instruments; I don’t even generally like alliteration but here he makes it work for me.

“I’m a tired arachnid spinning loose in my threads, building lifetimes of gossamer beds / And the filigree water drops around my head, they absorb every word that I said / There are no wings hitched to my spine, just an undying urge to climb / And I’ll wait for my mother, supposing she’d bother to hold me and keep me awhile” –Laura Stevenson, “L-DOPA”

L-DOPA, according to Wikipedia, is a chemical used to increase dopamine concentrations in the brain. The song seems to focus on Laura Stevenson’s somewhat fraught and distant relationship with her mother, but it also contains some of the most poignant and beautiful metaphors in any song I heard this year. This is the third of three of those metaphors and my favorite by a very thin margin. I have nothing to say by way of unpacking its meaning. I just think it is some of the most beautiful lyricism of 2013.

“They be shooting whether it’s dark or not / I mean the days is pretty dark a lot / Round here it’s easier to find a gun than it is to find a fucking parking spot” –Chance the Rapper, “Paranoia”

In an extremely obvious “secret” track after the freewheeling “Pusha Man” (who puts a secret song after the second track on an album?), Chance the Rapper brings some old-school Kanye-style frustration with the violence in his home city of Chicago. He’s practically gritting his teeth in this line, conflating his fear of that violence with a frustration that even bougeois-ass white people like myself can relate to, in a way that’s both funny and not.

“The paramedic thinks I’m clever ’cause I play guitar / I think she’s clever ’cause she stops people dying” –Courtney Barnett, “Avant Gardener”

This line is the best from among several good ones on Barnett’s pre-debut Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. I don’t think it needs a lot of explication. It’s just a great line.

“Pockets stay on swole, peep the motherfucking cash flow / Niggas pay my loans just to finger fuck my asshole” –Cakes Da Killa, “Get Right (Get Wet)”

Cakes Da Killa’s The Eulogy starts with a minute or so of pitched up MacArthur Park and then this line, and it sets the tone for the whole album in terms of campy audacity and graphic sexual forthrightness. It’s almost sure to induce a double take on your first listen and serves as a sort of “Abandon all homophobia, ye who enter here” warning.

“What’s that in your gun holster? / Oh, this? It’s the de-negritizer / I shoot myself with it until I’m whiter than Peter Piper / Now I’ll be able to bow before a world leader’s miter / And tell them the shackles on my Adidas sneakers need to be tighter” –Busdriver, feature on Milo’s “The Gus Haynes Cribbage League”

This is the line that made me sit up straight and pay attention to Busdriver. As with most rap lines, a significant portion of its appeal is in the delivery, and Driver’s captures the exact blend of insouciance, cynicism and sarcasm that I feel this one demands. Plus the internal rhymes and callback to the hook’s Adidas shackle sneaker reference are sick. Sick enough that I don’t care that I’m not 100% sure what the man’s getting at; do white people have to kowtow to world leaders more than black people do? Really? That seems pretty equal-opportunity to me. Anyway, these two bars rule and Busdriver is my favorite rapper of 2013.