50. “Fingers Never Bleed” by Yeasayer
Yeasayer’s third LP gets things rolling with a song that, oddly enough, is better if you ignore the lyrics. Instead, just pay attention to the futuristic gloom beat that still urges us to dance along.
49. “Friends of Friends” by Hospitality
The beat is more than a little similar to St. Vincent’s “Cruel” from last year, but the songs couldn’t be more different. I prefer St. Vincent’s eerie pop hit to this liberal arts white girl anthem, but couldn’t help but enjoy this one too.
48. “Slow Motion Countdown” by Graveyard
I was pretty disappointed in the Swedish hard rock group’s third LP (couldn’t tell any of the other songs apart if I wanted to), but bringing it down a notch pays off on this lone bright spot.
47. “Dear Believer” by Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros
I probably could have picked any song off of this album, but the inviting playfulness on “Dear Believer,” as well as its ability to shift between intimate acoustic and ensemble choruses was enough for the nod.
46. “That Old Black Hole” by Dr. Dog
Much like Dr. Dog and this album, I can’t really find anything exceptional in this song. I congratulate it for getting stuck in my head for the entire month of June. I just couldn’t shake its peppy tone and memorable lyrics.
45. “Almost Fare” by Dinosaur Jr.
The aging alt outfit made their living off of hook-based songs on this album, but the slow-burn-take-it-easy style of “Almost Fare” gave a great bassline and an awesome track.
44. “Five Seconds” by Twin Shadow
I’m usually not one for eighties nostalgia, but George Lewis Jr. was right on the money with this one. It seems unfair that this song didn’t get the chance to dominate MTV air time two decades ago.
43. “Tesselate” by Alt J
I definitely didn’t fall in love with An Awesome Wave the way most people did, but I also didn’t feel a need to crucify it the way Pitchfork did for the cardinal sin of being compared to Radiohead. The best track hands down, though, was this soulful track that evoked “Reckoner” by, yes, Radiohead
42. “Can’t Play Dead” by The Heavy
I shouldn’t be surprised by The Heavy trying to blow the doors right off of their songs any more, but I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the opening track off their most recent LP. They found an infectious hook and took it right to level 11.
41. “Lighthouse” by Patrick Watson
Watson sure knows how to create an atmosphere and this serves as great proof. The elusive notes under his reflective vocals are able to paint entire scenes with our own memories. Did that make sense? Maybe it’s better just to listen than to describe.
40. “Song for a Warrior (feat. Karen O)” by Swans
As a stand alone single, the song doesn’t really carry as much wait as others on this list. As the lone moment of tenderness and human compassion on the otherwise colossal album of raw primal instinct, though, it is chilling.
39. “Wave Goodbye” by Ty Segall Band
Ty Segall, with or without his band, has learned to perfect that fuzzy lo-fi shred of his guitar. He also finds the perfect balance between low singular notes and the absolute unleashing of “the fuzz.”
38. “Oldie” by Odd Future
2012 was certainly no 2011 for the controversial Odd Future bunch. As they all begin to transition into their early twenties, their relevancy as youthful rebel rousers is starting to wane. This massive cipher-style borderline state of the union address is raw, honest and engaging. It definitely didn’t hurt to have the triumphant return of Earl Sweatshirt either.
37. “Big Love” by Matthew E. White
I still refuse to believe that this song wasn’t undusted from a time capsule or vault containing unreleased soul tracks from the 70s. To even call this a throwback wouldn’t be fair. This song is the 70s.
36. “Take a Walk” by Passion Pit
My issues with Passion Pit should really wait for another day. They crafted a tremendously catchy song here. It’s upbeat pop sensible melody is in complete juxtaposition to the narrative of a financially-burdened businessman, but you would never know it. It sure didn’t stop them from using it to sell tacos.
35. “Drift Dive” by The Antlers
Have you ever wanted to just dip under water and sink to the bottom, like, forever? No? Well maybe you will after this dreamy subaquatic jam.
34. “Mountain Sound” by Of Monsters and Men
You’d think the massive airplay would be enough for me to curse this song forever. Not so, my friend. I relished the piercing “Hold your horses now!” each of the three million times I heard it.
33. “Krokodil” by St. Vincent
Is there anything she can’t do? Little timid Annie Clarke peels off an absolutely vicious punk rock scorcher here. Bonus points for seeing her do it live, singing it in its entirety whilst crowd surfing.
32. “Hang a Picture” by Thee Oh Sees
We all liked “Gold on the Ceiling,” right? Of course we did- before it was used to market, well, everything. Now just imagine “Gold on the Ceiling” brought down about three notches and played through a phonograph. Got it?
31. “Song for Leigh” by The Walkmen
I could have really picked any song off this album too. I just loved the notion of a song about singing songs about a girl that’s also about that girl. Complicated maybe but very sweet.
30. “Open Doors” by …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
The most-annoying-to-type-out band ever knows how to start an album. This powder keg took me back to equally as impressive “It Was There That I Saw You” that opened their masterpiece, Source Tags and Codes.
29. “Stay the Night” by Green Day
I can’t decide if the way in which Billie Joe Armstrong peels off radio-ready top 40 pop rock hits one after another is impressive or kind of pathetic. His aging drunken persona is clearly not one to explore new territories, but he didn’t have to on this satisfying anthem of young love.
28. “Scissor People” by Ty Segall and White Fence
It’s all about that transition. Some say it is a metaphor for the influence of drugs, Ty Segall swears it’s an attempt to create the sound of changing radio stations. Either way, this two for one deal was a nice edition for him.
27. “Myth” by Beach House
The Baltimore tandem knows how to make music that sounds like a lucid dream. When you hear this opener to Bloom, you’ll never want to wake up.
26. “Loco-Motive featuring Large Professor” by Nas
This song is disgusting. What else is there to say? The curling piano sample and undeniable authority of Nas’s delivery is the product of a master at the top of his game. What we talkin’ bout, niggas? What we TALKIN bout, niggas? We talkin’ bout Nas!
25. “System Blower” by Death Grips
This track just cuts right through every layer you have and thumps inside your still-beating human heart. It’s not the music for your intellect or for your soul, but for the literal pulsing rhythms of your body’s physical self. It commands us at our most instinctive level.
24. “Wildest Moments” by Jessie Ware
How easily could this song have been just another throwaway diva ballad? Not in the hands of Jessie Ware! She injects it with the right amount of struggle and honesty to give the dimension it deserves.
23. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” by Tame Impala
John Lennon wishes he could have written this one! Okay, I’m kidding, that’s blasphemy. But how well did this one channel the helpless existentialism of Lennon’s solo work?
22. “Super Rich Kids (featuring Earl Sweatshirt)” by Frank Ocean
The mere presence of Earl at this point in time is enough to vault your song into the discussion for top tracks. While Earl’s effortlessly tongue-twisting verse was nice dressing, it was mostly built around a strong foundational portrait of privileged life in SoCal crafted by Ocean. Let’s give credit where it’s due.
21. “Offspring Are Blank” by Dirty Projectors
How they manage to make any song sound as full as this with the simple acting of “ohhhing” and “ahhhing” is an impressive enough feat as it is. The jarring transitions from soothing vocalizations to raddling guitar make it a thing of beauty.
20. “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” by Jack White
It’s an interesting schtick he has going. In the flesh, Jack White lies about his name, his background, his relationships and, well, basically everything. On his songs, though, he is able to pull back the curtain and unveil something as brutally honest and sincere as this ode to Meg. Go figure.
19. “Video Games” by Lana Del Rey
Before there was the unbearable H&M ad campaign, before there was the lethargic SNL performance, before there was the hype and ensuing online vitriol, there was this song. This little hometown epic certainly gave us the impression that she was on the path to super stardom.
18. “Rivers and Roads” by The Head and the Art
Much of The Head and the Heart’s debut album was a somewhat embarrassing attempt at honest folksy music that almost-always felt contrived and hollow. Amid the wreckage is this surprisingly heartfelt tale of growing up, moving on and always looking back.
17. “Backseat Freestyle” by Kendrick Lamar
Will any line be remembered from 2012 more than “I pray my dick get big as the Eifle Tower/ So I can fuck the world for 72 hours.” Say what you will, Lamar knows how to be poignant and striking, doing most of the work on an otherwise barren back beat.
16. “Ghost” by Ty Segall
Listening to Led Zeppelin IV (Untitled, Zoso, what have you) was what we imagined it felt like to be divine. It was, after all, the music of the gods. Segall operates in smaller venues without the accompanying mythology, but to hear a song like “Ghost” feels somewhat out of body (pun intended). His solo grunge about (what else) California, somehow captures the same enormity of a Zeppelin epic.
15. “My Eating Disorder” by Titus Andronicus
The follow up to The Monitor had no chance. The band didn’t do themselves any favors by dialing their material down (the grand scale is what made them interesting!), but at least they went balls out on this deeply personal eight-minute manifesto. It was the only thing in the same league as The Monitor.
14. “New God Flow” by Kanye West, Pusha T and Ghostface Killa
For whatever reason, everyone gravitated to “Mercy” as the defining track from the disappointing Cruel Summer, overlooking this one in the process. Aided by a magnificent beat, Kanye’s appearance is so earth-shatteringly powerful that it’s no surprise everyone else on the album seems miniscule next to him.
13. “It’s Only Life” by The Shins
James Mercer is a nice guy. I know that because he writes songs like this. Its familiar themes of optimism and pressing on could come off as vapid and stale, but Mercer finds the right balance of empathy to touch my heart and make me sing along.
12. “Love is Blindness” by Jack White
There was a time when I thought Jack White’s cover of the U2 classic was going to be my top track of the year. I had to come down just a little. It’s an excellent song by both artists. The only difference is that Bono comes across as the type of guy who is just a little too eager to talk about his problems with EVERYONE, making the song, for lack of a better word, annoying. With White’s version, you can hear the immense all-encompassing pain and despair in his voice as he belts it out.
11. “A Simple Answer” by Grizzly Bear
For all of the lush and elaborate pieces intricately sewn together on Shields, I found myself gravitating to the simplest song on there. It’s guitar loop is pretty basic and the song structure really just repetitive, but they find the proper balance between a straight forward address and reflective declaration.
10. “Chum” by Earl Sweatshirt
Anyone that calls themselves an Earl fan had to immediately notice the similarities between this song and “Luper.” I’m not saying that it’s a rip off or anything, but the two are undeniably similar. Whereas “Luper” unleashed his disturbing tale of teen angst turned kidnap and murder, Chum reveals a much more matured artist. Sweatshirt spits out his endless word bank in his droll while dealing with some pretty serious shit. I think I prefer adult self-reflexive Early over youthful shock jock Earl. Leave the crazy for Tyler.
9. “Vampire” by Dr. Dog
I am quite certain that someone has made the connection between a bloodsucking vampire and a soured romance before, but I just loved the way Dr. Dog pulled it off. I never would have expected them to place TWO songs in my top fifty, yet here we are. What I find most impressive about the song is how Toby Leaman really doesn’t need to say a word. Every emotion is conveyed in that wailing guitar.
8. “Cooking Up Something Good” by Mac Demarco
I think what I love most about Mac Demarco is how he takes the same approach to his music as the Jason Mraz’s of the world and manages to not sound like shit. His songs just manage to ooze with a cool laid back vibe. The lyrics themselves are quite literally about the banality of everyday life, turning the song into a perfect example of how we use music to escape. Is it too meta to suggest that Demarco writes a song about making everyday life interesting, in effect, making everyday life interesting? No?
7. “WIXIW” by Liars
My complaint of electronic music has been that it struggles to find a soul. I can never hear the emotion behind a song because it just sounds too much like something made on a machine. With the title track of their latest EP, Liars have managed to topple that hurdle without sacrificing their style. It has the lush production of an electronic dance track, but its gradually unraveling construction feels hauntingly human. The way the track moves from an epiphany-like ecstasy to a frightening place of darkness is as powerful as anything I heard this year.
6. “I’ve Seen Footage” by Death Grips
What song could better sum up the disturbingly culturally aware Death Grips album? The LP plays upon the technique of sensory overload with its constantly-shifting beats, indiscernible lyrics and themes of paranoia. At the heart of all of this is “I’ve Seen Footage,” a mash up of noises from both the past and the future, giving us the feeling of it originating from both. The topicality of never ending images (made very clear by the seizure-inducing music video) could easily be construed as the thesis of the album.
5. “Who” by David Byrne and St. Vincent
The joint album was a bad idea. Who came out ahead from that? St. Vincent took a major detour en route to become an indie rock legend, whereas David Byrne’s legacy has already been labeled and sealed. The album itself didn’t offer enough to justify its existence, with the lone exception of this song. Byrne holds down the fort and gets us from point to point, but, once again, it is Annie Clark’s contributions that carries the song. Her soulful singing makes her presence feel Kanye-esque in its authority and command. After her solo in the song’s closing minutes, I’d put her guitar playing up against just about anyone (did you hear that, Johnny Greenwood?)
4. “Bright Lights” by Gary Clark Jr.
It doesn’t seem right to call this a song from 2012 in any sense of the word. Clark has been dropping this track, or versions of it, on EPs and indie releases for years. With a studio finally providing the source material, “Bright Lights” became official this year. Congratulations. It’s not a moment too soon either. In an era where the rock star is going the way of the railroad, Gary Clark is able to at least play the part. He may not be the same iconic figure that Jimi Hendrix was, but he carries himself like the man and provides a guitar track worthy of Buster himself.
3. “Pyramids” by Frank Ocean
Does anyone else feel like Frank Ocean would make a tremendous filmmaker? Or novelist? I mean, it’s easy to take “Pyramids” in stride alongside all of the other knock out tracks on channel ORANGE, but in retrospect… holy shit. The song is literally constructed like an art film, weaving together distinct stories in distinct styles, all with the ominous “pyramids” at its center. The metaphor never falls flat or seems forced. You fully accept the connection between the all-powerful Cleopatra from your junior high Social Studies class and the tragic figure of prostitution in modern day. The song shifts so easily from a triumphant dance beat to the piercing classic R&B style that you can’t help but feel the weight of their difference.
2. “Survival Tactics” by Joey Bada$$
The youth of Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott can serve as both an advantage and a disadvantage. When listening to his revered mix tape, the fact that he isn’t even old enough to vote is enough to astound you. At the same time, his youth shouldn’t play any factor in the praise. He isn’t just good for a seventeen year old, he’s fucking amazing- period. “Survival Tactics” may not leap out to everyone when listening to 1999, but I kept realizing how little I noticed the back beat with each passing listen. There are several times throughout the course of the song where the music stops altogether and we are only left with the slightly-echoing vocals of Bada$$. Amazingly, these are the portions of the song that speak loudest. Each time the music cuts out, Joey Bada$$ rises to another level. “Cause when niggas starts equippin’/ and throw the clip in/ the blood drippin’/ they got you slippin’ under the victim!”
1. “End of the Line” by Sleigh Bells
So here we come back to it; my endless argument of electronic dance music incessantly appealing to your mind and your body but being unable to reach your soul. I present to you Exhibit A in my case of “what EDM will never be capable of.” Sleigh Bells is not generally what I would refer to as a compassionate band. A lot of their songs are brash, in-your-face or downright sinister in their themes and presentation. That makes the tenderness on display in “End of the Line” all the more impressive. As loud and resonating as their beats are, nothing can carry the weight that Alexis Krauss’s vocals do in this song. Regardless of what she is saying, the sentiment, the tragedy, the pain, the yearning, the humanity can all be heard just in the tone of her delivery. It’s something you just can’t create on a computer.