Friday, January 18, 2013
Top 40 Songs of 2012
Looking at this incredibly long list, it sort of makes me happy. As generically "indie" and standard it probably will appear to most people, this is probably the most diverse amount of music I have ever listened to. There are tracks on here that two years ago I would not have been caught dead listening to. And the fact I can fully enjoy them now is something I'm glad about. However, if there is something I missed (and trust me, I know I missed quite a lot), or I gave too much credit to some songs, let me know. I want to learn, I want to discover. Really.
40. King Tuff-Bad Thing: Garage infused power pop perfection is the name of the game with “Bad Thing”, but how many people haven’t already said that about King Tuff in some fashion? But so many people saying something doesn’t make it any less true. In less than two and a half minutes, King Tuff makes one of the most additive guitar rockers of the year, an ear worm of the most evil and enjoyable form. It’s right there in the title and lyrics, but I doubt Tuffy was struggling with guilt when he made something this good.
39. Thee Oh Sees-Flood’s New Light: Thee Oh Sees doing straight up normal and catchy together is a rare thing, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do it. See “Flood’s New Light” for proof. Still filled with the same weird flourishes (John Dwyer’s falsetoo, off-kilter instrumentation), but the band manages to conform their sound in such a way that with “Flood’s New Light” that the song is a lot more straightforwardly approachable. The bouncy, tambourine filled drum work, the “bah bah bahs” that form the song’s chorus, the magnetic horn work; all work together to make one twisted garage gem.
38. Born Gold-Sky Bicycle: A complete flip on the aggressive, full body, intensive work Cecil Frena had been making for a while, “Sky Bicycle” showed Born Gold in a completely reconstructed, much more cerebral light. Good thing he pulled it off so well, otherwise there might have been problems. “Sky Bicycle” invokes its name; airy and bouncy, yet very tactile, with the production of the track feeling very real. Frena’s vocals have been twisted several octaves into the stratosphere, yet with his new sound it fits snuggly with everything to creative an off-kilter, but cohesive tune.
37. Electrician-All is Lost in the Light: Despite a year where we got two Mount Eerie albums, one of the best post-Mount Eerie tracks came from a solo project called Electrician. Simple strumming begets simple, pulsating percussion which begets powerful but pained paired together vocals which begets soft, subtle brass. All of which begets one very amazingly powerful song.
37. Royal Headache-Psychotic Episode: The manic, soulful wonder of Royal Headache’s debut album was no more prominent than on “Psychotic Episode”. The tormented content of the song is amplified by front man Shogun’s increasingly strained vocals, but at the same time nearly masked by the seam-bursting rhyme section and punk jangle of the guitar. Never claiming to reinvent the wheel, but making a damn fine wheel none the less.
35. Andrew Bird-Eyeoneye: Mr. Bird can do introspective, detached folk very well, but he can craft his own version of an indie rock bashers on occasion. That is exactly what “Eyeoneye” is and it is lovely. From the excellently piercing violin that plays throughout, to elegant, loose guitar chords, and extended science metaphor for relations, it is a distilled form everything that makes Andrew Bird’s music so captivating. All cobbled together and rising before exploding in the song’s final moments.
34. Cloud Nothings-Stay Useless: Cloud Nothing’s shift to grunge filled aggression is still something I am processing and will probably continue to process. However, if there was something to help show me that Cloud Nothings could dive into a more aggressive sound while still embracing their hooky past, it was “Stay Useless”. More powerful than anything Cloud Nothings wrote in the past, from the thick hooks that play in both the verse and chorus, and front man Dylan Baldi’s vocals which in their own scrappy way are in full force in “Stay Useless”. Not bad for a track about unabashedly collapsing into apathy.
34. Lambchop-Gone Tomorrow: Pained nostalgia and sadness are nothing new for Lambchop, but that doesn’t mean they can’t weave magic from those emotions still. See “Gone Tomorrow” for key proof. Simple acoustics coupled with lovely strings as Kurt Wagner recounts an abstract story of parting people. It’s the song’s outro, a looping, electronic gazed, quiet instrumental free-for-all ambiance that winds up being longer than the “traditional” part of the track, which not only cements the emotions of the track, but the wonder of the track itself.
32. Eternal Summers-Millions: It’s hard to conflate the Eternal Summers of the past with the Eternal Summers who made “Millions”. The chasm between the two on the indie pop spectrum is huge; one crafted simple, post C86 pop to hyper energetic, buzzing guitar pop being made now. But thank god it happened because the world deserves indie pop as great as “Millions”. From the top notch production that improves the track, front women Nicole Yun’s gorgeous and sharp vocals, and the hefty guitar jangle, “Millions” just comes together to form one of the best pop songs of the year.
31. Butter the Children- Lupus: “Lupus” feels brand new and classic at the same time. It feels like you’re hearing this music for the first time, even though the blurred together indie rock and shoegaze sounds are clearly there. All those factors just show how excellent of a track “Lupus” is. Jagged yet shimmering guitars over the crashing drums and front women’s Inna Mkrtycheva just soaring vocals come together to form something that is just refreshingly awesome.
30. The Music Tapes-Playing ‘Evening’: What is it about The Music Tapes that is so wondrous? How can an act so steeped in nostalgia feel so authentic? I don’t know, but I know the answers lie somewhere in “Playing ‘Evening’”. The fuzzed out banjo, singing saws that sound like violins, Julian Koster’s impassioned vocals, and the crashing drums and horns that come with the chorus all swirl together to form this wonderful cocktail of modern old-timeyness that is so warm and inviting. The joy within the song can barely be contained, and that is a great, great thing.
29. Porcelain Raft-Drifting In and Out: Electronic influenced dream pop so airy and done perfect it feels like it could drift away from your headphones and into space. Instead, the fractured beats and sporadically weaving vocals and effects, besides bringing the song title to life, bring the song itself to life and all the elegant beauty it contains.
28. VÅR–In Your Arms (Final Fantasy): A nearly forgotten song due to it being part of a Sacred Bone’s Record Store Day compilation, “In Your Arms (Final Fantasy)” might be the mostly lovely thing VÅR have put together within their small discography. While there was a distorted beauty to what VÅR was making (especially as WAR), it became so much clearer with “In Your Arms”. The murky synth lines and broken beat machine amplify the pain in Elias’ vocals as he just repeats the song title over and over. The longing and vulnerability is palatable and inescapable while listening to the song, but strangely beautiful as well.
27. Grimes-Oblivion: Skim off all the faux controversy and bullshit arguments attached to Grimes and this track, and you’ll find something much better underneath; a beautiful and wondrous electronic pop song. The track’s beats are spacious and enveloping that evolve with a proper modulated thickness as they blend with Claire Boucher’s obtuse but sweet vocals. It’s future pop in every sense, but if this is how the future is shaping up, then I’m all for it.
26. Sharon Van Etten-Serpents: Sharon Van Etten’s “Serpents” is…soaring, rage-filled, alt-folk, pained, steeped with sadness, elegant, messy. It’s several different interweaving paradoxical elements that never touch, but that all work together to create one of the most heart hurting tracks of the year. Enlisting a bunch of your indie buddies doesn’t hurt, but if the track was just Van Etten with her guitar, breathy vocals, and tormented lyrics, it would still be just as powerful.
26. Boomgates-Whispering and Singing: Preemptive nostalgia and sadness for the past as this perfect slice jangly guitar pop captures two friends as one is about to depart from the other. Boomgates capture youthful loss in such an essential state with “Whispering and Singing” that it’s almost like hearing this story straight from a close friend. It helps that this track is so catchy that you will hear the tale over and over, reflecting on similar emotions as you stare out a near by open window.
25. Tanlines-Brothers: Opening with sampled wave crashes and steel drum-esque percussion does not bond well for what you have coming in a song. However, what Tanlines craft during “Brothers” brief four minutes is pure post-LCD Soundsystem gold. Their background of being remix and production artists shines through as the track builds without anyone noticing before the longing at the song’s core hits you in square in the chest. Distilled sadness encapsulated in a über cool, synthy sound.
24. Divine Fits-Would That Not Be Nice: A song that would have fit nicely on Transference, Divine Fits’ “Would That Not Be Nice” is like a more psyched up Spoon, with a beyond reverbed keyboard and vocals to the track’s repeated build ups and releases. Still, the driving guitar riff and drum work easily cement it as one of the year’s best, clear cut indie rock tunes.
23. Hospitality-Eighth Avenue: Pure, post Belle and Sebastian indie pop done so effortlessly that Hospitality make it look like anyone can do it. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Hospitality didn’t put any effort into “Eighth Avenue” though, as every element from the “oh ohs” to the brief indie rock guitar buzz are so strategically placed that it’s like seeing a master craftsman at work as they bring a boring chunk of wood into something breathtaking with some well-placed precision.
22. Teen Mom-I Wanna Go Out: Sometimes not every song needs to be an incredibly complex piece of art. Sometimes, it can just be so well craft that it can be great just from that. Teen Mom’s “I Wanna Go Out” is just that song. Stepping from their usual Real Estate-esque vibe, here they craft a glistening, almost shoegaze track that is so wonderful it would make Beach Fossils proud.
21. Purity Ring-Fineshrine: At this point, I feel anything I could say about Purity Ring’s music at this point could be just as easily acquired by cutting and pasting together other reviews about them, but I’ll try anyway. The reason “Fineshrines” succeeds is because it strikes the perfect balance in the duality of the band; the production is bright but still contains a nighttime feel that amplifies the song. Megan James’ vocals are perfectly fined tuned and what Corin Roddick is does production wise, especially with the vocal manipulation that lay at the song’s core, is just stunning.
20. DREAMEND-The Face on the Tintype: The true wonder of “The Face on the Tintype" is not that is a beautiful song that disguises an evil, hopeless voice at its core, but that flat out it is one of the best fuzz folk tracks of the year. Tinkering chimes and banjo introduce the track as Ryan Graveface quietly mutters darkly cruel vocals. Then the track explodes into a shambolic chunk of fuzz, crashing percussion, and sublime chaos. And then it all falls away and the darkness of the track becomes even clearer. Evil never sounded so good.
19. DIIV-How Long Have You Known: “How Long Have You Known” is a perfect encapsulation of everything that makes Oshin and DIIV great: a dreamy but driving song, from the soft psych guitar work and pulsating bass, all augmented by the steady drum work. The vocals chime in to help fortify the tracks hazy but mildly desperate vibe, highlighting the ounce of melancholy that lies at this tracks core.
18. Animal Collective-Moonjock: I don’t care what anyone says, Centipede Hz was a great album, and the moment I heard “Moonjock” that fact was confirmed. A return to form that plays off the heavy electronic nature of Merrieweather by twisting it into a dense, experimental wall of bizarre, but wonderful noise and music that is glorious to behold. “Moonjock” is a mega jolt, from the countdown that starts the song to the buzzed out guitar and synth that fly throughout it. It manages to go in every imaginable direction during its five minute plus length, and each path is equally, strangely captivating.
17. Dan Deacon-True Thrush: For people who say Dan Deacon is nothing more than explosive electronic bombast, take one listen to “True Thrush”. Just as joyous and jumpy as his previous material, but also heart hitting with the cryptic but powerful lyrics Deacon sings throughout. Add to that the hymn-like quality of the track, especially thanks to the background chorus vocals, and the result is one of the best tracks of Deacon’s career.
16. Captain Murphy- Between Friends Ft. Earl Sweatshirt: The mystery maybe solved to Captain Murphy (AKA Flying Lotus), but that hasn’t removed the mystique of “Between Friends”. The dry but misty damaged jazz that lays at the songs core, as Captain Murphy and Earl Sweatshirt trade off verses so seamlessly that at times their vocals become twisted together. It’s a track that is both harrowing and eerie at the same time, more than proper for a track that introduced people to the Captain Murphy persona and brought back Earl.
15. Chromatics-Kill for Love: Is it ironic that a track so steeped in ‘80s nostalgia will wind up being on every mixtape (or whatever form the mixtape takes) in about 5 years? Probably, but that’s besides the point. Chromatics’ “Kill for Love” is pure, unfiltered, New Order love, so goth and angst filled at times it feels almost like it is following a check list. However, that doesn’t stop the track from undeniably and ungodly great. From the industrial noise, bubbling synth, swooning guitar chords, or front women’s Ruth Radelet’s stop dead vocals, the perverse pleasure of this track cannot in anyway be denied.
14. Whirr-Junebouvier: The highlights of Whirr’s debut Pipe Dream are many and numerous, but none hit quite like the classic sounding “Junebouvier”. Whether from the perfectly distorted intro chours that fully let you know what’s coming, the sonic blast that hits when every instrument kicks in, or hazy, intertwined female/male vocals, “Junebourvier” is shoegaze classicalism that it’s best a heartbreakingly melancholy track that will soundtrack so many moments in the future. I’m sure of it.
13. METZ-Wet Blanket: I don’t think I can prove it, but “Wet Blanket” might have single-handedly brought back quality ‘90s style post-hardcore back to the indie conscience, and I can’t thank them enough for it. The track hits you like a low end truck over and over of crushing drums, bass, and animal vocals, rolling off you slowly during the song’s breakdown, only to proceed to revue up again and hit you one last, glorious, painful time.
12. Ty Segall-Thank God for Sinners: Beyond being possibly one of the best opening cuts of the year, “Thank God for Sinners” is the perfect representation of how Ty Segall has evolved from his one-man band of the past and become even greater now. In a year where he dispersed his creative energy over three albums, , he still managed to create a track like “Thank God for Sinners” that roared from the opening, perfectly distorted guitar riff to the final, screechy, solo, with Segall’s vocals perfectly gluing the track together. “Thank God for Sinners” would be putting the White Stripes to shame if they were still around.
11. Lower Dens-Brains: Lower Dens took a bit of a risk with the elegant electronics and distilled atmosphere they wanted to incorporate within Nootropics, but it paid off well for the band, and nowhere better than with “Brains”. The song is subtle in its tension and intent, but once all the wired instrumentation kicks in by the songs second half, it has already pulled you into its paranoid but warped beauty filled world.
10. Spiritualized-Hey Jane: What do you say about a track like “Hey Jane”? Within its near nine minutes and two movements, the track manages to capture everything glorious about guitar music. Fuzzy, uplifting, depressing, glorious, and everlasting sensations are captured within the song, which one is the surface is one of the simplest tracks to come out this year. It’s the knot of complexity that J. Spaceman and co. slowly creates, erupts, and everlastingly imprints that is what makes this song so incredible.
9. Savages-Husbands: I lightly touched on incredible this song was in my single review section, but let me just reiterate; this song is INCREDIBLE! For those who wrote off this track for being nothing new or not reinventing the wheel, that is a clear case of missing the forest for the trees. This is one of the most dark, intensely powered post-punk tracks I’ve heard in ages. It sent a chill down my spine the first time I heard it, and I think it’s sent one down it every time since.
8. Stay Calm-Let Me Clear My Throat: Good god, do I wish more tracks could be as creative as “Let Me Clear My Throat”. Using her time in Explode into Colors as the back bone to this track, Claudia Meza and co. proceeded to fracture that sound into a thousand different directions. Polyrhythmic drumming, thumping baritone guitar, off-kilter boy/girl delivery (courtesy of Mr. Zac Penningoton) coupled with soaring cries that echo throughout the track. The most primal, dancy, multirythmic, and flat out creative post post-punk songs of the year.
7. Moonface-Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips: Possibly the most unrecognized song of the year, a less than three minute power house of a track that manages to do so much in so little time. A hyper compressed song that builds and builds with soaring synth lines, the simplest of guitar chords, and the perfect encapsulation of dark but lost youth.
6. Titus Andronicus-Ecce Homo: No track of off Titus Andronicu's Local Business hit as hard as the opening cut, an unbelievably powerful breakdown of losing hope and encroaching cynicism as one grows older, while at the same time being so anthemic that it makes you swell with a fighting spirit despite the context of what they are singing along to. Front man Patrick Stickle's lyrics perfect, even as they line by line break your heart.
5. The Mountain Goats-Harlem Roulette: John Darnielle has a very well documented record for being able to capture people at their lowest point, and situations going from bad to worse in way that is several notches above poeticism. So while a track like “Harlem Roulette”, about the final days of Frankie Lymon and his tragic life, should be almost generic at this point, instead Darnielle cobbles together one of the most painfully sad and sincere tracks in memory, and a quote for the ages in form of “Every dream's a good dream/Even awful dreams are good dreams/If you're doing it right.”
4. Japandroids-The House that Heaven Built: Tracks like this should have died long ago. Gigantic, barreling, anthemic, sing-along indie rock tunes devoid of any sense of self-conscience or embarrassment, that capture a pure, unfiltered joy in being alive now. Japandroids may have been doing something similar before they pull that off effortlessly with “The House that Heaven Built”, but good god did they raise the bar with this song. This is the track that will echo through the ages, soon to be classic rock that is more iconic than untouchable, something every twenty-something will be screaming along to as they blaze down than the highway.
3. The Men-Ex-Dreams: The highs on The Men’s Open Your Heart (and they will be talked about explicitly soon enough) are beyond numerous: the slow building krautrock sludge of “Oscillation”, the beautiful blur of “Please Don’t Go Away”, the intense pain of “Open Your Heart”. But it’s the final track of “Ex-Dreams” that is their stunning achievement. A condescended and crystallized version of everything that the album had been building up to, expressed in a frenzy of wirey, distorted guitar riffs that build and build like a coke fueled Dinosaur Jr. before dropping perfectly for the songs two verse breakdowns. Which proceed to build and build before exploding again to impossibly great jagged guitar riffs.
2. Mount Eerie-Pale Lights: Take the kinetic, chest smashing drum work that opens “The Glow, Pt. 2”and stretch it over nine minutes, and you might, MIGHT, have a picture of the intensity “Pale Lights” brings forth throughout its play time. Bring the intensity Mount Eerie touched up in Wind Poems but in a more organic, less black metal fashion, “Pale Lights” is pure emotional torment crashing over you again and again, relenting only momentarily to impart lonely, emotionally distant lyrics to no one. Pure, crystallized chaotic beauty.
1. Kupek-This is How it Is Now: OK, chances are you saw this coming if you read the first sentence to my original post about this track. But truly, I don't think any track hit me quite as hard, emotionally or sonically, as "This is How it Is Now" did. Perfectly capturing in its five minutes the utter disillusion of living in the city, of growing older, of not understanding anything at all. It is a song about being in a rout, about being beyond lost. It is a song personified by the never ending drum machine and synth line at its core, and broken up only, but perfectly, the the jagged, distorted guitar lines that come out of nowhere. "This is How it Is Now" is about realizing this is how your life is, right now, and it is utterly heartbreaking, and utterly, utterly perfect.