Monday, December 31, 2012
The Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2012, 1-20
We have arrived. The end of the year. As much as I tend to hate the New Year's holiday, I love (and occasionally loathe) going back over the music and movies I've been making note of over the past twelve months and quietly publishing my opinions in my own secret corner of the internet. 2012's song list is the fourth of its kind, and each year the number of cuts included has increased. I've been paying more attention to music, listening to singles when they show up on sites like Stereogum, Pitchfork, and Spin, and in doing so I found myself with a much larger slush pile of appreciated tracks than in any year prior. So, my little list is making the full jump from the odd "60" to a complete "100" -- what can I say? They grow up so fast...
A note: unlike serious music sites, I'm a one-person operation who mostly just likes making playlists and sharing sounds I have enjoyed. So, yes: the list is a mix that leans far more towards subjective favorites than out and out "BEST POSSIBLE SONGS EVER." It's also, as usual, in no particular order, and absolutely not a countdown. While the absolute favorites are more likely to jump onto the list in the first 10 or so, tastes change with the weather. Number 100 may have just as much merit as number 25, just depends on the day.
Presented with minimal commentary as well as minimal YouTube videos. Want to hear the song? Listen to the 8Tracks playlist. Want to buy it and support the artist? Follow the links...
1. Frank Ocean / "Pyramids" It was the year of Frank Ocean, and this is merely his first of many well-deserved appearances on this list. "Pyramids" is a roughly 10 minute R&B sparkler that picks up speed only to settle into a slow, hypnotic grind. I found myself listening to repeatedly, moving onto playlist after playlist, and skipping to it desperately when stuck in traffic. It may be the sound of 2012.
2. M.I.A. / "Bad Girls" This song is a banger. After taking a whole ton of backlash flack, M.I.A. dropped this and made talk of selling out and being difficult completely irrelevant. It's a compulsively enjoyable, completely brilliant pop track that exists as a single without an album. Could an album live up to the potential of "Bad Girls"? Maybe not...
3. Hot Chip / "Flutes" "Flutes" is an all-purpose jam. Parties, exercise, homework, stumbling around the internet, going on long bike rides, driving from point A to point B: it can do no wrong.
4. Grimes / "Circumambient" Is it the post-internet "cyborg pop" she claims it to be or a mechanized pixie soundscape? Canadian artist Claire Boucher makes music that sounds like the wood nymphs have invaded the machine, and that's far from a bad thing...
5. Chromatics / "Lady" The Drive soundtrack allowed Portland band Chromatics to pick up some of the attentions they deserved, and this year they proved their worth on the glitter synthed Kill for Love. "Lady" blends Ruth Radelet's ethereal vocals with a too cool bass groove that pulls the listener through.
6. Jessie Ware / "Devotion" R&B has seen something of a resurgence this year, and heading up the diva side of things you'll find UK singer Jessie Ware, a lady who successfully manages to blend Sade-style vocals with to-the-second electro-based instrumentals.
7. Jai Paul / "Jasmine" I have no idea what Jai Paul's deal is, but the man has released only two songs in two years and both of them are pretty damn good. Here's to the mysterious character...
8. Porcelain Raft / "Drifting In and Out" Chillwave sounds are a dime a dozen lately, and to stand out in a crowd you've got to come up with a combination of sounds that can effectively punch through the jaded wall of "over it" and hit that pretty, lilting, bittersweet combination of notes like a melancholic summer day.
Young Galaxy / "Youth is Wasted on the Young" Sometimes adult music lovers suffer adolescent angst. This is what that sounds like. Dreamy.
10. Solange / "Losing You" Why are people always picking on Solange? She does her own thing, works in a branch of low-key pop away from big sister Beyonce, and does so with real style.
11. Bat for Lashes / "Oh Yeah" Most lists I've seen are completely obsessed with putting Natasha Khan's "Laura" or "Marilyn" somewhere near the top of the 'best of' compilation. That's all very well, but the textures and patterns woven in the intricate and odd "Oh Yeah" make this track the true winner.
12. Purity Ring / "Fineshrine" These are the opening lyrics: "Get a little closer let it fold /Cut open my sternum and pull / My little ribs around you." Poetry.
13. Kendrick Lamar / "Swimming Pools (Drank)" If you're one of the people who doesn't think it was Frank Ocean's year, than you're probably of the opinion that Kendrick Lamar had him beat. I get that.
14. Zebra Katz ft. Njena Reddd Foxxx / "Ima Read" A sinister, repetitive beat matched with a menacing, drag-community style threat. It's strange, hypnotic, and evil in the best way possible.
15. Tame Impala / "Elephant" Psych rockers Tame Impala just missed the list a couple years back, and I'd nearly forgotten about them until they struck back with a vengeance on the very difficult to ignore Lonerism.
16. Lower Dens / "Brains" At first it seems like just another indie rock song with a driving beat. The longer it goes, though, the deeper you fall. Eventually, the song settles into a strange, beautifully harmonic trench of crisscrossing voices and you are trapped. TRAPPED.
17. Twin Shadow / "Five Seconds" A rollicking, super 80's swagger track and blasts its way into your head and breaks loose of the speakers.
18. Daphni / "Yes I Know" You may or may not know, but I'm a pretty big Caribou fan. So, it goes to follow that if Dan Snaith takes up another project under another name, I'm going to check it out. Daphni is what Snaith does when he just wants to make supposedly mindless dance music, and it kind of shows. The album is nowhere near as good as Swim, but "Yes I Know" does everything a floor filler needs to, and makes a wholly repetitive cycle seem like something fresh.
19. Miguel / "Do You..." Confession: I'm not a huge fan of Miguel's much, much, much loved track "Adorn." I like it, but I'm not sure it deserves the heights its reaching. "Do You" on the other hand, is something really odd. It's an R&B track with some relatively old school trappings that obsesses over one thing and one thing only: Miguel wants to hang with you if you like drugs. His interests begin and and there. If you're in? He has other promises to make...
20. Icona Pop / "I Love It" A near perfect pop anthem designed for straining your vocal cords and your speakers. Ambivalent, bitter, loud, and devil may care: everything you really want from your girl groups.