Every year, a myriad of blogs and websites will subjectively lay claim to the best songs / albums / artists of the year. While there is definitely some overlap, each source brings its own viewpoint, so I’m voluntarily tossing my hat into the ring. Take it for whatever you think it’s worth, but here is my subjective opinion of the top 50 songs of 2012.
50. The Mallard – “Mansion”
In San Francisco, there is no shortage of garage-rock talent, from Ty Segall to Thee Oh Sees to the Fresh & Onlys. The Mallard, fronted by Greer McGettrick, is the next up-and-comer in the SF garage scene. “Mansion”, off the 2012 LP Yes On Blood, embodies the classic punk-rock sound of San Francisco while showing the future still looks quite bright.
49. M.I.A. – “Bad Girls”
On the surface, “Bad Girls” is a pretty simple song. M.I.A. emulates what worked so well on past hits “Paper Planes” and “Bucky Done Gun”. She repeats about 10 words over the entirety of the song over a catchy beat and drops a gun reference or two. Yet, after just one listen, two phrases are immediately stuck in my head. “Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well” and “My chain hits my chest while I’m banging on the dashboard”. Well played, M.I.A.
48. Chairlift – “I Belong in Your Arms”
An upbeat pop song about love. What’s not to like?
47. Father John Misty – “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Songs”
The first time I ever heard this song, it was a live cover version performed by a Los Angeles-based band called NO. It was such a great cover that I absolutely had to hear the original for myself. Joshua Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty, is the former drummer of critically acclaimed indie rock band Fleet Foxes. He left the band in early 2012 to release his solo debut, Fear Fun. In “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Songs”, the highlight of the album, he sings about attending his grandfather’s funeral in Baltimore and shortly thereafter having sex with a woman at a cemetery. Although Father John is confident his lady left satisfied, with “adderal and weed” running this his veins, he is still somewhat unsure.
46. A$AP Rocky feat. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T. – “1Train”
A$AP Rocky just recently released “1Train” a few days ago, but it is too good not to include in this countdown. Featuring an all-star lineup of hip-hop artists, it is scheduled to be included on his debut LP, Long.Live.A$AP, which is set to be released on January 15th.
45. PAPA – “Put Me to Work”
The ability for musicians to multi-task while performing has always impressed me. Watching PAPA frontman / drummer Darren Weiss seemingly exert all of his energy into playing drums while also singing lead vocals has never ceased to blow my mind. In “Put Me to Work”, Weiss continues to remind us what makes PAPA so special. Approximately 1:55 into the song, the band flips a switch, the drumming becomes more intense, and the guitars start to go crazy.
“Put Me to Work” is the first single for PAPA’s upcoming 2013 LP, one of my most anticipated albums of the upcoming year.
44. Titus Andronicus – “Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter”
For New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus, trying to follow-up 2010’s epic album The Monitor is the bowling equivalent of trying to follow-up a 279 (I didn’t want to use 300 out of the firm belief that no album is perfect). Even if you bowl a 225 (which for anyone who has ever bowled at least once in their lives, is pretty difficult to do), you still fall well short of your previous accomplishment.
Such is the case with Titus’ 2012 album Local Business. A solid rock album in its own right, it just does not compare to The Monitor in terms of its vision. That does not mean it is any less of an album. It is just different, as it was never supposed to equal or surpass what The Monitor set out to accomplish.
In an interview earlier this year, lead singer Patrick Stickles discussed how he wants to keep making rock albums in order to survive financially and someday move out of his mother’s house. “I’d like to have my own apartment again someday, and hopefully rock and roll will pay for that,” Stickles shared. “Beyond that, though, I don’t ask for much.”
While Local Business isn’t an epic concept album like its predecessor, it has shown that at the very least Titus Andronicus will be around for the long haul. Hopefully that means Stickles can move back into his own apartment someday soon.
43. RACES – “The Knife”
From the 2012 debut LP, Year of the Witch, “The Knife” describes the realization in a relationship when two people fall hard enough for each other and become so emotionally indebted that they realize they each have the ability to really hurt each other. In other words, they ‘hold the knife.’
42. Ty Segall / White Fence – “I Am Not a Game”
If Ty Segall has proved anything this year, it’s that he is among the most prolific songwriters of his generation. Releasing three (yes, three) full-length albums during 2012, he has demonstrated the ability to explore different sounds and adapt to his counterparts without sacrificing the quality of his music.
The first of the three albums released in 2012 was Hair, a collaboration with fellow Californian White Fence (Tim Pressley). The result, a garage- / psychedelic-rock frenzy, highlighted by “I Am Not a Game”, which is just as much unpredictable as it is fun.
41. Lotus Plaza – “Monoliths”
Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt has been writing songs for some time. He’s responsible for such Deerhunter gems as Microcastle‘s “Agoraphobia” and “Neither of Us, Uncertainly”, as well as Halcyon Digest highlight “Desire Lines”. As solo act Lotus Plaza, Pundt proves he can produce without his everyday band. While “Monoliths” will remind Deerhunter fans of something familiar, it is something completely new altogether.
40. Bat For Lashes – “Laura”
Of all the songs on this list, “Laura” may be the most minimal, featuring simply a piano and Natasha Khan’s voice. Yet, don’t let its minimalism trick you into downplaying the power behind this ballad. Especially as Khan sings “Laura, you’re more than a superstar.” Goosebumps.
39. TNGHT – “Higher Ground”
DJs Hudson Mohawke (hailing from Glasgow, Scotland) and Lunice (Montreal) collaborated to make one of hardest banging electronic albums of 2012. Among its highlights, “Higher Ground” provides a beat that even one of the hottest hip-hop stars of today appreciates.
38. Dirty Projectors – “Swing Lo Magellan”
Dirty Projectors are a band that use a lot of pieces. Their songs are generally highly complex and well-thought-out. Yet, in a song lamenting the advance – and thus, complete reliance upon – navigational technology (GPS, etc.), the band’s frontman, Dave Longstreth, uses only his voice with a guitar to create a beautiful, catchy melody.
37. Kanye West feat. Jay-Z, Big Sean – “Clique”
Listening to “Clique”, a number of things catch my ear that warrant further investigation and reflection:
(1) Big Sean – “Oh gawd”. Seems random, but it becomes catchy. Trust me.
(2) Was that a random “swerve” I heard thrown out there? Yes, yes it was. For the record, I would gladly pay someone to follow me around all day just to say “swerve” after everything I do. Brushed my teeth, “swerve”. Laundry done? “Swerve”. Just finished Christmas shopping. “Swerve”.
(3) Obligatory Jay-Z verse where he reminds us how much more baller he is than everyone in the world.
(4) Within the first 10 seconds of Kanye’s verse, he’s quick to remind us that his girl (Kim Kardashian) is a “super star all from a home movie” just in case we somehow forgot exactly why she’s famous.
(5) Tom Cruise wasn’t really drunk, he just had a “frew brews”. Oh, Kanye…
(6) Given the above, Kanye’s right. Ain’t nobody fresher than his clique, and definitely ain’t nobody do it like his clique.
36. Dinosaur Jr. – “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know”
Over two decades into their music-making careers, the group known as Dinosaur Jr. continue to produce high-quality rock and roll music. “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” is the opening track of their 2012 album I Bet on the Sky.
35. Divine Fits – “My Love Is Real”
Members of Spoon and Wolf Parade team up to form the super group Divine Fits. The result: an 80s-influenced pop explosion!
34. Schoolboy Q feat. A$AP Rocky – “Hands on the Wheel”
In “Hands on the Wheel”, Schoolboy Q – a member of the Black Hippy Crew – teams with A$AP Rocky for a three-plus minute bragfest about partying, drugs, and drunk driving. The two are not exactly serving as great role models, but the song is catchy, especially the chorus, which is a sample from a Lissie cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness”.
33. Purity Ring – “Belispeak”
Canadian electro-pop duo Purity Ring made quite an entrance during 2012 with their superb debut LP Shrines. One of the highlights from the album is “Belispeak”. There’s not a whole lot else to say about this song other than to note it is especially addictive, and even garners the fandom of hip-hop hipster Danny Brown, who collaborated with Purity Ring to create “Belispeak II”. After all, two “Belispeaks” are better than one.
32. TNGHT – “Goooo”
If you’re someone who likes bass, turn this one up loud and enjoy the ride.
31. Tame Impala – “Elephant”
Reading through the liner notes of Tame Impala’s 2012 masterpiece Lonerism, one gets the impression that the Perth, Australia quartet were quite possibly loners growing up (no pun intended). In “Elephant”, they tell a story of a guy who walks around thinking he’s the shit (“shaking his big grey trunk for the hell of it”) and all the girls want him. This guy really seems like a douche, and I’m sure all of us know / have known someone like this.
30. Death Grips – “System Blower”
Death Grips are a very polarizing group, and they want it that way. Their music is an intense, in-your-face frenzy of sounds not generally thought of in a musical sense. Cop car sirens, broken glass, Venus Williams letting out a primal scream during a serve in a tennis match. The beginning of “System Blower” sounds like an engine revving, while the energy of the song starts to build. It builds and builds, followed by the aforementioned Venus Williams scream, then the bottom drops out and the bass kicks in.
29. Ty Segall Band – “I Bought My Eyes”
Garage-rock wunderkind releases multiple albums in a year while dipping into heavy metal and psych-rock genres. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Ty Segall incites more moshing, this time with “I Bought My Eyes” from the album Slaughterhouse.
28. A$AP Rocky feat. 2 Chainz, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar – “F**kin’ Problems”
A who’s who of the hottest hip-hop stars of the year, and another promising addition to A$AP Rocky’s upcoming 2013 LP Long.Live.A$AP. Depending on the day, it’s hard to determine which verse is the best between A$AP Rocky, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar. This speaks more to the quality of each individual’s contribution than anything, and with 2 Chainz adding a hilariously appropriate chorus, “Problems” hits the nail right on the head. The only problems with this song are the ones the fellas rap about during their respective verses.
27. White Arrows – “Get Gone”
“We’ve got some T-shirts for sale in the back. We tie-dyed them ourselves.” This quote by White Arrows lead singer Mickey Schiff is one of the most potent memories I have from seeing White Arrows open for Portugal. The Man a couple of summers ago. The other thing I remember from that show was how much the audience danced to their songs, considering most had likely never heard of White Arrows before that night. During 2012, the band released its debut LP Dry Land is Not a Myth, from which comes “Get Gone”, a song about going out in the world and making something of yourself. It’s about following your dreams, no matter what other people tell you is / is not attainable.
You can’t help to dance to this one, either.
26. Parquet Courts – “Borrowed Time”
New York City’s Parquet Courts released their debut LP, Light Up Gold, earlier this year (vinyl copy out during January 2013). The highlight track, “Borrowed Time”, starts and finishes in just over two and a half minutes, but leaves a lasting impression in spite of its short duration.
25. Jack White – “Freedom at 21”
An off-kilter drum beat. A catchy guitar riff. Jack White fringing on singing in falsetto. And then, boom, there it is. A timeless Jack White guitar solo. All perfectly orchestrated by the mad genius himself. Say what you want about Mr. White, but this guy is one of the greatest and most talented guitar players of all time.
24. The Walkmen – “We Can’t Be Beat”
Among the greatest love songs of the year, The Walkmen pay tribute to true love over perfection.
“I don’t need perfection, I love the whole / Give me a life that needs correction / Nobody loves perfection.
If you want me eyes, take my eyes, they’re always true / If you want my heart, take my heart, it’s right here for you / It’s been so long, been so long, but I’ve made it through
It’s been so long / We’ll never leave / We can’t be beat / The world is ours.”
A beautiful, beautiful song.
23. Killer Mike – “Reagan”
“Ronald Reagan was an actor, not at all a factor / Just an employee of the country’s real masters / Just like the Bushes, Clinton, and Obama / Just another talking head telling lies on teleprompters.”
Killer Mike isn’t about making friends and pretending that the status quo is acceptable. In “Reagan” he punches the US political system, most specifically its commander-in-chief, directly in the face. With references to Reagan’s war on drugs, trading hostages for weapons, and the United States’ reliance on foreign oil, Killer Mike uses four minutes to express his disgust and distaste with American politics and social injustices brought down on the American public, especially African-Americans.
After getting it all out of his system, Mike leaves the last 30 seconds of the song to let the listener digest what he’s just laid out, but not before summarizing his thoughts with four chilling words: “I’m glad Reagan dead.”
22. The Men – “Open Your Heart”
The title track of latest album from NYC’s The Men is quite simply an open plea for connection.
“Open your heart to me / I’m lost, I’m found / I’m tugging at your sleeve / There are no mirrors here / Do what you want / Be who you want to be.”
No tricks, no games. Let’s just do this.
21. Tame Impala – “Mind Mischief”
Another wonderful psychedelic rock thirst-quencher from Lonerism. Seriously, this album is worth the $9.99 it’s going for on iTunes these days.
EDIT: Just checked iTunes and it’s going for just $7.99! I guess Spotify works as well (for free).
20. Death Grips – “Bass Rattle Stars Out the Sky”
Let’s recap the past year for Death Grips, the Sacramento duo of Zach Hill and Stefan Burnett. The grouped signed a major label record deal with Epic, followed by the release of The Money Store in April. On October 1st, via a Twitter account that no longer exists, they released their second LP of the year, NO LOVE DEEP WEB. According to the band, Epic couldn’t promise a 2012 release of the album, the duo took it upon themselves to release it to the masses. For free. With a very, very, very NSFW album cover (I will let you Google it if you really want to see it, just make sure to do it in the privacy of your own home). On October 31, the band posted an infringement letter received from Epic on Facebook, and shortly thereafter was terminated from its contract, which the band has claimed in multiple interviews was ‘intentional’.
Nevertheless, NO LOVE DEEP WEB is another stellar album, featuring “Bass Rattle Stars Out the Sky”, a two-minute twenty-seven second bass-heavy punk-rap roller coaster ride.
19. Purity Ring – “Obedear”
More Purity Ring essentially means more addicting electro-pop music.
18. The Growlers – “One Million Lovers”
The Growlers seem like guys who like to party and live the ‘single life’, especially on tour. In a departure from their normal vibe comes “One Million Lovers”, a song that talks about finding love and being completely blindsided.
“Can’t explain, but it’s almost hard to recognize myself / Slowly I’ve changed, turned into someone else” lead singer Brookes Nielsen croons. He’s found love and its changed him and no matter how many women he meets while on tour (his ‘one million lovers’), none can live up to the love he has found, the ‘only one for sure.’
It’s great to hear how The Growlers can keep their sound even while evolving as a band and as individuals.
17. Hospitality – “Friends of Friends”
The first time I heard Hospitality, I remember thinking how they sounded like Vampire Weekend with a female singer. I would consider that a complement to both Hospitality AND Vampire Weekend. “Friends of Friends” is the highest of several highlights from the NYC trio’s self-titled debut LP.
16. Frank Ocean – “Pyramids”
On July 4th, 2012, just prior to the release of his fantastic album channel ORANGE, Frank Ocean posted a statement to his fans and ‘anyone who cares to read’ which revealed his first true love to be a man. Amid rumors concerning his sexuality in the weeks leading up to his album release, he took it upon himself to clear them up on his own terms. We live in an ever-evolving world, where things that once seemed wrong are bad eventually become commonplace. Things that once seemed possible now always within reach.
In one incredibly personal and brave moment, he seized this moment to clear up any rumors and move forward, choosing to focus on the music, the art, and not his personal life. The thing about Frank Ocean is that he is so talented it’s hard to focus on much else other than how incredible his music is, and more specifically, how beautiful is voice is. Said talent is on display in “Pyramids,” the nearly ten minute epic from channel ORANGE.
If you listen to his music, you don’t hear a straight man or a gay man. You hear an extremely talented musician pouring his heart out and making highly personal music. In this case – as in the case of any gay or straight person in the world – that is the way it should be.
15. Alabama Shakes – “Hold On”
The biggest song by probably the biggest new band of 2012.
14. Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built”
In an interview from May, Japandroids frontman / guitarist Brian King talked about the difference between his band and Jack White (an artist considered to have a mythical aura):
“There’s a difference between people who are born with that special thing and people who love the people who are born with that special thing so much that they want to try their best to get as close as they can to it. I don’t consider myself to be a very creative person. We have to work really, really hard to write a song we think is really good. I mean, we have two records in three years, and the records only have eight songs each. It’s a slow process. It might take a whole month to write a song we think is good.
If you lock Jack White in a room with an acoustic guitar, he’s gonna come up with something great. If you don’t have that gift, you have to grind away– that’s more what our band does.”
As a fan of music in general, I gained tremendous respect for Japandroids after reading this interview, specifically the above excerpt. Sometimes it’s easy to think that all musicians are these super geniuses that need to be pumping out records consistently so that we, as music fans, don’t get bored. After gaining more insight into the creative process of such bands, it helps appreciate their output that much more. Considering how difficult it seems for Japandroids to create music they think is worthy for our ears, “The House That Heaven Built” feels even more impressive.
13. Grizzly Bear – “Yet Again”
Even though Grizzly Bear frontman Ed Droste was pissed about not being nominated for a Grammy, the group should take solace in the fact that 2012’s Shields was yet another fantastic album, following 2009’s Veckatimest and 2006’s Yellow House.
“Yet Again” is just one of a stable of great songs from the album.
12. Ty Segall – “Thank God for Sinners”
The beauty of Ty Segall’s prolific 2012 is not that he made three really good albums. It’s that he made three really good albums that really don’t sound a whole lot like one another. The aforementioned Hair channels a more psychedelic sound reminiscent of a mid-1960s Beatles records, while Slaughterhouse sounds like something out of an Ozzy Osbourne or Black Sabbath nightmare. Finally, Twins is an advancement of Segall’s solo ambitions, following 2011’s Goodbye Bread.
“Thank God for Sinners”, the opening track of Twins displays some of the characteristics that make Segall so effective and so fun.
11. Kendrick Lamar – “Money Trees”
Wait, so I can have Kendrick Lamar rapping over the top of a Beach House sample? Is this real life? Sign me up. Mr. Lamar delivers once again, this time with a little help from Beach House’s “Silver Soul”.
10. RACES – “Big Broom”
I first saw RACES perform in September of 2011. The first thing that struck me about the band was how big their sound is, similar in a way to how a band like Arcade Fire has a big sound. I don’t mean big like loud, but big as in the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
“Big Broom”, the first single off the band’s stellar debut LP, Year of the Witch, embodies the ‘bigness’ that has drawn me to them over the years.
On the commentary version of the band’s album, lead singer / songwriter Wade Ryff explains: “Big broom is a term for different forces that take things in and out of your life against your will. It could be death, it could be God. This song is kind of like the hopeful view that even you though you might not be in control of everything, you can control your response to it. And so it has the ‘All my debts and all my dreams will one day be swept clean’ line, which is kind of like being at peace with losing the things that – for now – you seem to care about.”
For better or for worse, all of our problems, successes, failures, and dreams will eventually be wiped clean once we leave this planet. All that is really left behind is the lasting effect we leave on others.
9. Kanye West feat. Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz – “Mercy”
Another reminder that it’s Kanye’s world and we all simply just live in it. Oh, plus 2 Chainz delivers the following nuggets:
“Coup the color of mayonnaise / I’m drunk and high at the same time / drinking champagne on the airplane.”
“Horse power, horse power / All this Polo on, I got horse power.”
“Rain, pourin’ / All my cars is foreign / All my broads is foreign / Money tall like Jordan.”
8. Ty Segall Band – “Wave Goodbye”
The crown jewel of 2012’s Slaughterhouse, Ty Segall and his band channel the likes of Black Sabbath in “Wave Goodbye”, demonstrating yet again Segall’s ability to explore new musical avenues, yet still retain the ability to rock the listener’s socks off. The song starts with a simple bass line that leads to an onslaught of Sabbath-like guitars. About 40 seconds into the song, Segall’s voice takes over while the guitars fade into the background:
“I went to churches, I went to schools / I played by all of your mother’s rules / But now it’s time to drink the wine / And wave goodbye / BYE BYE, ahhhhhhhhhh!”
The next three minutes are spent in a guitar-laced frenzy that would cause even the most casual of listeners to bang their head at least once or twice. It’s typical Ty Segall absolutely killing it.
Once the song is over and all of the drums and guitars have faded into the background, Segall let’s out one final sound: “Fuck yeah!” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
7. Thee Oh Sees – “Lupine Dominus”
Thee Oh Sees are one of the greatest live bands I have ever seen. Their ability to make the audience absolutely lose their shit simply through their music and their energy is what I believe music is all about. One of the reasons I love live music is for the connection between the crowd and the band, something that is unique to each individual show and essentially impossible to duplicate by just listening to a record separately.
“Lupine Dominus” is one such song that allows this band to put its crowds into a frenzy. Around the 1:37 mark, lead singer / guitarist John Dwyer breaks out a mini guitar frenzy. He repeats this at the 2:15 and 3:01 marks as well. Even while listening by myself, I like to picture crowd-surfing twenty-somethings flying over my shoulder.
6. Kendrick Lamar – “Backseat Freestyle”
The unofficial ‘anthem’ of 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, “Backseat Freestyle” features ‘K Dot’ spitting for three and a half minutes about dreams of Maseratis, money, power, [making love to] the world for 72 hours, etc. The true meaning of the song, however, is captured in two lines: “Martin had a dream! / Kendrick have a dream!”
Coming from Compton, CA, Kendrick Lamar tells a story of how many people he grew up with had dreams of fast cars and beautiful women – things that most rappers nowadays rap about as signs that they have made it. They think if they have the nicest car, or the prettiest women, or the biggest you-know-what, they they’re ‘the man’ and a success in life. In comparing his dream to the dreams of Martin Luther King, Jr., Lamar is displaying his dreams on a more grander scale. Changing the lives of a generation; helping kids to dream of college and making a difference in the lives of others, as opposed to just tangible items (money, cars, etc.) that don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.
5. Beach House – “Myth”
One of my favorite music-related moments from 2011 was seeing Beach House during sunset at Treasure Island Music Festival. It seems only too fitting to have Beach House make another appearance in 2012, this time in the top 5 songs.
4. Frank Ocean – “Thinking Bout You”
People just should not be able to sing as well as Frank Ocean can sing.
3. Tame Impala – “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”
Yet another great song from the album Lonerism. This one’s essentially about trying to convince yourself you’re in a great relationship, even though you know it’s not quite what you want it to be. It’s much easier to take the easy road and pretend it’s something it’s not, as opposed to striving for something better / more real, even if it means you risk losing everything you have.
If you haven’t had a chance to listen to it, do yourself a favor and get it now!
2. Grimes – “Oblivion”
In a Pitchfork interview from earlier this year, Claire Boucher discussed how she “actually really like[s] writing super mindless pop music. I could write singles day and night, but I would be kind of embarrassed to just put out incredibly vapid mainstream sounding pop music.”
But that’s just not what Grimes is meant to be. Boucher describes Grimes’ music as “experimental pop music” and as “sensual and immediately gratifying and feel-good, and I want it to be dance music…[B]ut it also needs to be texturally interesting and sonically interesting.”
The first verse of “Oblivion” is actually pretty creepy: “I never walk about / after dark / it’s my point of view / that someone could break your neck / coming up behind you always coming and you never had a clue / And now I look behind all the time / I will wait forever / Always looking straight / Thinking counting all the hours you wait / See you on a dark night.”
With a poppy beat laced with synths and some heavy bass, “Oblivion” is much more fun to just dance along to anyways. After all, that’s what Grimes is all about.
1. Dirty Projectors – “About to Die”
This song won’t be number one on a lot of lists this year, but something about it just pulled at me. Dirty Projectors definitely make a complex arrangement of sounds seem so beautiful, and more impressively, so effortless. The off-beat dueling drum beats, the harmonies the bleed into the chorus, the minimalist guitar parts, the emotion in Dave Longstreth’s voice. It all sounds so orchestrated, yet all over the place. So random, yet so perfect.