best songs of 2012

December 27, 2012

In no particular order (because ordinal rankings are even dumber than calling some music ‘the best’)…I make no excuses or disclaimers, except the timeless adage that  ‘u r what u r.’

DIRTY PROJECTORS – Dance For You

http://youtu.be/MJutn2OXDZE

The second song released from Swing Lo Magellan, ‘Dance for You’ is so featherweight that those campfire handclaps could be the only thing weighing it down. But really, who could not fall in love with the lyric “There is an answer/I haven’t found it/But I will keep dancing til I do/Dance for you”? Cold motherfuckers, that’s who.

TOURIST – Your Girl

http://soundcloud.com/touristmusic/your-girl

If the Postal Service were still around, making the kind of tunes we all wish they still would, ‘Your Girl’ would be right at home alongside ‘Brand New Colony’ and ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,’ putting more emphasis on the I and less on the D in the horrible acronym that is IDM. Spacey, yet intimate and loved-up good times.

FRANK OCEAN – Bad Religion

http://youtu.be/sDSPybTFYHU

Ocean’s magnum opus amongst an album ostensibly full of opii, there’s no denying the depth of ‘Bad Religion.’ Channel Orange is a good album, but if there’s gonna be a defining statement that truly stands the test of time, ‘Bad Religion’ will be it. Frank’s wounded delivery carries this thing basically the whole way through, receding beneath the strings where appropriate, then wresting back control at precisely the right moments. Mesmerising stuff.

FLUME – I Met You

http://youtu.be/KxJdMhfn9g4

More Flume than “Flume: The Album,” this featherweight summer jam, with an understated female vocal and a woozy, blissful beat, lulls you into a state of comfort and security, threatening to breeze right by you, until that huge outro comes back around to catch you unarmed and unawares. Slip and slide, for real.

THE MACCABEES – Child

http://youtu.be/mI2d67LvpjA

The opening song from the most disgustingly overlooked album/band of 2012 sees The Maccabees reaching the kind of mature heights that I hoped – but maybe never really believed – they were capable of. Wave after wave of plaintive harmonies and cascading guitars reach an ear-splitting crescendo after three minutes that sees these affable London boys at their patient and potent best. Maybe to some it might sound like The Maccabees are taking themselves a bit too seriously, but remember: these are the guys who sang “Latchmere’s got a wave machine,” and got away with it. Heinously competent songwriting finally matched by a studio sound befitting of the best British indie band goin’ round.

KILLER MIKE – Big Beast

http://youtu.be/Z8-RmM5py1c

Killer Mike came out with an old-school R.A.P. (emphasis his, not mine) album in 2012 that to many signalled the long-awaited return of confrontational, politically hyper-charged hip-hop  ‘Big Beast,’ the opening track, bursts through the gates like a famished guard dog and doesn’t let up, not even for a single second. El-P’s old school, big, er, beat production is menacing and minimalistic, just how forefathers Public Enemy would have liked.(Also: most unforgettable music video of 2012, easily).

KIMBRA – Warrior

http://youtu.be/PUUivXgJ2S4

Can we call 2012 the year that Kimbra finally ‘made it?’ Is there any conceivable upper limit to her stardom? This reporter thinks not, but for now, ‘Warrior,’ while not strictly her best song, is the one that both encapsulated her pop sensibilities and made her a household name (as opposed to ‘that girl in the Gotye video’). A party tune for any situation (see: equally heavy rotation on both commercial and independent channels) courtesy of A-Trak’s production, with a vague Southern twang thanks to Mark ‘the People’ Foster, this would have been some disposable tripe in the wrong hands, yet it is Kimbra who really makes it her own in an undeniable way.

TY SEGALL – You’re the Doctor

http://youtu.be/XtYQHGBgzig

Ty Segall is what has been sorely missing from American rock music for the last little while. Garage music the way it’s supposed to be played: done and dusted in two-minutes, solos full of missed notes, and a maximum of four or maybe five power chords. “There’s a problem…IN MY BRAIN” Segall sneers as if it were a badge of honour, not something to hide from your teachers. God bless him.

ELLIPHANT – Down on Life

http://youtu.be/jrolhm3CES0

Yikes. A late showing from these Swedish vamps. Are they Gucci models? Disposable indie fashionistas? Or the real deal? Time will tell, but for now, think Robyn by way of Tegan & Sara, and don’t skimp on the pessimism, either; “We are waking up in a world of shit” proclaim the opening lines. These babes don’t just suggest it, they snarkily fucking TELL it, and when that chorus drops, you’d better either freak out or get the heck out of the way. How’s about a smile, girls?

KILL PARIS – Tender Love

http://soundcloud.com/killparis/kill-paris-tender-love-free

If there’s such a thing as a ‘dubstep lullaby,’ ‘Tender Love’ is surely it. ATTN: Ravers – if you find yourself in the awkward position of needing to make a sentimental mixtape for your crush, make sure ‘Tender Love’ is the first track. She’ll spit our her lollipop and fall straight into your arms.

GRIZZLY BEAR – Yet Again

http://youtu.be/AuG9i5cwGW0

Typically dense yet hauntingly beautiful stuff from Grizzly Bear. Ed Droste’s lyrics border on the Shakespearean at times (“I will but a man did more this break”…?) but that melody couldn’t be any more timeless. The production is so muffled that even the drums sound fuzzed-out, but when that chorus gives way to Droste and his vocals, you’ll know that you’ve arrived at the altar of indie rock. The vaguely dissonant bridge/outro is the necessary unsettling element present in all of Grizzly Bear’s tracks, and the icing on the cake to an unforgettable tune.

JAPANDROIDS – Younger Us

http://youtu.be/4m6Ptx4CV6k

Japandroids were no strangers to critical adulation this year; I myself even gave them a very positive review on Tonedeaf back in June. My sentiments haven’t changed, though: their version of ‘Younger Us’ on Celebration Rock is the tune that best encapsulates what these Canadian boys are all about and the song that I find myself coming back to the most. It’s easy to envision frontman Brian King on stage situated three feet back from his microphone, eyes closed, head thrown back and hair dripping with sweat as he shouts (rather than sings) “Give me younger us!” It’s reckless and loud, but also tinged with nostalgia and a longing for simpler times, and it’s honest, life-affirming stuff.

NAS – Accident Murderers

http://youtu.be/eo0iodtx40U

What can be said about ‘Accident Murderers?’ Nas’ comeback album ‘Life is Good’ was full of Kanye-level orchestration and lyrics so self-assured you would have been forgiven for believing that Nas couldn’t possibly ever have been anything OTHER than at the top of his game. ‘Accident Murderers’ tells the story of the frivolity and futility of mob-mentality thug violence, but in such a dexterous and competent fashion you’d be also be forgiven for simply ignoring its heavy subject matter and grindin’ up on the nearest female. Even Rick Ross manages to hold his own, but Nas’ second verse, so potent that it requires a quiet musical interlude beforehand, and its rhyme pattern, so complex it takes dozens of listens just to parse, would be worthy of making this list on its own.

ALABAMA SHAKES – Hold On

http://youtu.be/Le-3MIBxQTw

I am not ashamed to admit liking Alabama Shakes way more than I probably should, but I also firmly believe that in Brittany Howard, we have arguably unearthed rock and roll’s most potent new frontwoman. ‘Hold On’ is the obvious choice as a single to make this list, but really, what’s not to love? A soul beat that could have been lifted straight outta Otis’ catalogue, posi lyrics and the most arresting vocal hook of any tune in 2012, the fact Brittany gives every note on ‘Boys and Girls’ her all only makes ‘Hold On’ all the more undeniable.

ALT-J – Matilda

http://youtu.be/Q06wFUi5OM8

You gotta hand it to Alt-J. Love them or hate them (I find myself leaning towards the latter), they are not afraid of experimentation and switching up the well-worn trope that is whiney Brit-pop. Joe Newman’s charismatic delivery and the off-kilter rhythm section (in particular, some fanciful percussive acoustic guitar work) elevate this track – more than any other – beyond the album’s general theme of ‘mildly quirky’ into ‘strangely affecting’ territory. If only there were more tracks of this calibre on it.

JESSIE WARE – Wildest Moments

http://youtu.be/bMJkddvJ4L4

The only thing stopping this track from shooting straight to number one and annoying the living hell out of you every time you go to a club is it’s lack of an egregious techno-house beat from the likes of Calvin Harris or some such clown. Thankfully, we’re left instead with a minimalist R&B ballad, melodically triumphant and buoyant, yet capturing perfectly the feeling of being willingly stuck inside a destructive relationship: “Everyone must be wondering why we try; why do we try?” Jessie Ware’s album is a grower, but ‘Wildest Moments’ is the one…moment…when it’s truly arresting from go to whoa.

PURITY RING – Lofticries

http://youtu.be/GO00ELNct7k

‘Lofticries’ is what Martians have sex to. Or, what they listen to when on psychedelic drugs. This is music from another dimension. I have pored over this song, scrutinised it, wrung it dry, and it still sounds so wonderfully invigorating and mystical to me. There is a deep, penetrating magic imbued in this song. It is otherworldly, it is ethereal, it is paper-thin, it is infinitely dense. This is ‘music’ in its purest form, a burst of emotion and texture that is at once foreign, alienated and yet piercingly personal. Words do not do justice to the wave of things that I feel each and every time I listen to ‘Lofticries.’ Focus on the black-hole-dark lyrics, or let that alien melody carry you away of its own accord; however you choose to interpret Purity Ring is up to you, but it doesn’t make it any less captivating.

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