Last year’s song selections was the hardest list I’d ever assembled. It was considerably easier in 2012 likely because it took the better part of the year to get into any albums the year had to offer. Meanwhile, stellar songs were plentiful, arriving early and often, making this year’s songs list the
easiest to create. What follows, of course, are twenty favorites with a general “ranking” more based around having a compelling listening order than individual merit. Be sure to check out the Spotify playlist, @ reply me on Twitter with your thoughts, and share the awesomeness of the last 366-day-clump with your fellow music lovers.
Frank Ocean “Thinkin Bout You”
It was obvious the moment I saw Frank Ocean deliver his soulful falsetto from a stool on SNL he would be an artist to watch in 2012. “Thinkin Bout You” is Ocean at a crooning, warbling, love-lorn peak.
Porcelain Raft “Unless You Speak From Your Heart”
Swagger like Lennon, licks like Harrison; Porcelain Raft deliver a 21st Beatles awash in feedback, keys, and an attitude all their own.
Cloud Nothings “No Future/No Past”
All the post-grunge Nirvana rip-offs of the last twenty years pale in comparison to Cloud Nothings. “No Future/No Past” is a track awakened from its slumber, a deep hibernation that builds into until it thrashes back to life with shredded vocals and crashing cymbals.
Blur “Under The Westway”
The dreary sound of modern London need only be expressed by a descending chord progression and Damon Albarn’s world-weary, every-man sing-speaking. But, like only Blur can do, a deft touch of grandiosity in the form of timpani and bells elevates Albarn’s earthly musings into grand meditations.
Sharon Van Etten “Give Out”
Awakening slowly, first timid then bold (or maybe desperate), Sharon Van Etten’s crippling anxieties are made manifest in this three part tale/mantra of Van Etten’s self-destructive leaps from infatuation to dependency. Her guitar work alone is enough to give you goosebumps.
Schoolboy Q featuring A$AP Rocky “Hands On The Wheel”
Schoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky’s party lifestyle anthem wouldn’t be nearly as concerning if it weren’t so damn infectious. Between the various drug cocktails (“Pikachu”, anyone?), drunk driving (hence the “uh-uh, fuck that” response to the song’s title, complete with onomatopoeias for an out-of-control vehicle), and gang-banging, it’s a miracle either of them are alive to record this unstoppable track.
Odd Future “Oldie”
A posse track, a declaration of intent, a thrown glove. Odd Future’s ten-minute cut of escalating verses, each one making the way through their ranks, serves to impress not only based on sheer talent but, as Tyler, the Creator reminds us, how insanely
young they are: “I was 15 when I first drew that donut/Five years later, for our label, yea, we own it/I started an empire, I ain’t even old enough/to drink a fuckin’ beer, I’m tipsy off this soda pop”.
The Men “Open Your Heart”
A muscular, yearning track in the vein of classic punk rock. The Men tear through verse and chorus, pleading to the subject to “open your heart to me” and, though sweet at first, the motivations become blurred with “even if she says no, I won’t let go”.
Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T, & 2 Chainz “Mercy”
“Mercy“‘s unintelligible, overbearing sample leads into a sparse, first verse about … assquakes? Sure enough, “Mercy” ranks up there with the catchiest Kanye but it’s only after a dozen or so listens—and a mandatory peek at the lyric sheet—the striking juxtaposition of hand jobs in a Lamborghini clashes against the aforementioned sample—a far more activist “weeping”, “moaning”, “gnashing of teeth”, and belief—to settle in and pushes Kanye’s “Mercy” into the realm of bizarro pop-art.
Hot Chip “Flutes”
Swirling, hypnotic dance-pop from the guys who excel at swirling, hypnotic dance-pop. That is all.
Fiona Apple “Every Single Night”
Perhaps nothing embodies Fiona Apple’s inner turmoil/defiance on
The Idler Wheel… than Fiona’s tender voice giving way to storming army of Fionas chanting “Every single night is a fight in my brain”. “Every Single Night” works as part-credo, part-self-defense with lines like “what I am is what I am cause I does what I does” defining every glorious moment to come after.
Ty Segall Band “I Bought My Eyes”
“I Bought My Eyes”, along with the rest of
Slaughterhouse, definitely sounds as if it were unearthed from a garage. Ty Segall and his band gleefully inflect their 60s garage rock roots with some punk muscle but it’s the trashy surf-punk solo that winds its way to the outro that kills it.
Tame Impala “Elephant”
If any track is to be embodied by its title, it’s “Elephant” with its churning, lumbering guitars and thudding fuzz bass. Top it off with a synth-tinged guitar break and you’ve got a glam-psych-metal winner.
Kendrick Lamar “Swimming Pools (Drank)”
“Swimming Pools (Drank)” would seem like a mindless party track if it weren’t for the ominous intro and the Jiminy Cricket second verse hinting Kendrick Lamar is dangerously close to alcohol poisoning brought on by peer-pressure. The chorus has a head-spinning whir behind Kendrick’s inner-monologue (“pour (drank)/ headshot (drank)/sit down (drank)/stand up (drank)/pass out (drank)/wake up (drank)/ faded (drank)”) that instantly sours any of “Swimming Pools“‘s revelry into nauseating exhaustion.
Beach House “Myth”
Beach House’s ethereal dreaminess takes on a mammoth—”mythical” if you will—scale with the opener from their latest,
Bloom. As “Myth” climbs to its end, Alex Scally’s guitar ascends ever greater heights in undeniable self-fulfillment.
Grizzly Bear “Sleeping Ute”
Yet another in a line of expansive and grandiose rock tunes to land in 2012, Grizzly Bear finds bliss in a swirl of synth riding on the crash of cymbals and guitar reverb as absorbing and dreamlike as the wandering, pining lyrics.
Dirty Projectors “Gun Has No Trigger”
Opening to a skipping, stuttering beat and a siren’s song, Dave Longstreth unfolds a tale of biblical proportions, full of earthquakes and oceans boiling over. Is Longstreth singing of the ends of days? Gun control? Veiled innuendo? The results prove so hypnotic it hardly matters.
Japandroids “The House That Heaven Built”
Celebration Rock is the perfect name for Japandroids’s latest album, then no track embodies that ethos more than “The House That Heaven Built”. A rousing, fist-pumping anthem of celestial conquering, expelling evil, and telling your enemies to “go to hell”, “The House That Heaven Built” couldn’t rock any harder if it tried.
Spiritualized “Hey Jane”
A rocking, Velvet Underground first half (as the track name, “Hey Jane”, should clue you in to) crashes only to wind up again, giving way to a second half that turns the melody on its head then throws in a host of angelic la’s, trumpets and chants of “sweet heart/sweet light/love of my life” all building to Jane’s saintly ascension. At nearly nine minutes, it is the definition of epic.
Death Grips “I’ve Seen Footage”
I don’t know why I, or anyone else, am so in love with Death Grips. They’re aggressive, offensive, in your face, and loud as all hell. And yet, they are simply undeniable. Case in point, “I’ve Seen Footage”, a track so old-school and abrasive it hit me like a jolt of electricity. I don’t have the slightest clue what MC Ride is yelling about but this I know: “I’ve Seen Footage” gets me amped. And it probably will do the same for you, though you won’t have a clue why.