Best Music of 2012

Top 50 Songs of 2012

on December 07, 2012, 1:00am
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annual report songs e1354807570564 Top 50 Songs of 2012

The first week in our 2012 Annual Report has come to an end. But what an end it is: our Top 50 Songs of 2012. For this list, we took into consideration the tracks that not only spoke to the year, but each respective act’s ability to grow and engage their mind, genre, and sound. That might sound spiritual and what have you, but okay, maybe you’re not a fan of dreamcatchers and stuff. Whatever.

Feel free to let us know what you think, including some tracks you’ll take into 2013 with you. Also, stay tuned as our 2012 Annual Report continues next week with our picks for Live Acts of the Year, Artist of the Year, Band of the Year, Music Festival of the Year, and Top 50 Albums of the Year.

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mia badgirls Top 50 Songs of 2012

50. M.I.A. – “Bad Girls”

Matangi

M.I.A’s “Paper Planes” was no mere hit song: it was a cultural entity that rose from obscurity to take a prominent place in TV and movies, helping to define and reflect the cultural mood of much of 2008. While some artists never experience said phenomenon in their entire career, Ms. Arulpragasam scored a second, slightly diminished return with “Bad Girls”. Released just days before her PR nightmare at Super Bowl XLVI, the track’s something of a spiritual successor to “Paper Planes”; both are catchy, intricate, and ready-made for pop radio and/or singing by the late-night party crowd. But unlike her first big hit, this latest banger has none of her trademark political undertones, proving she can make music just for the sake of having a good ol’ time.  -Chris Coplan

Buy: Amazon
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ty segall slaughterhouse Top 50 Songs of 2012

49. Ty Segall Band – “Wave Goodbye”

Slaughterhouse

The prolific Ty Segall released three full-length albums, a live LP, and a split EP in 2012 alone. As he drops record after record, you can hear him developing as a songwriter, growing weary of old sounds and striving for new ones. That was his intent behind forming the Ty Segall Band and recording a song like “Wave Goodbye”. It’s one of the heaviest things he’s ever done — sludgy metal with a bottomless pit of psychedelic noise. One can only sing so many pop songs before wanting to crank the amp and bash it out Sabbath-style, and Segall does exactly that. –Jon Hadusek

Stream: “Wave Goodbye”

Buy: Amazon
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cult of youth love will prevail Top 50 Songs of 2012

48. Cult of Youth – “Garden of Delights”

Love Will Prevail

For the first four-fifths of its duration, “Garden of Delights” takes us to the darkest of corners that Cult of Youth frontman Sean Ragon offers on his post-industrial project’s second LP, Love Will Prevail. For almost three minutes, the bass line grooves away on a doomed-out E minor riff, the tension slowly accumulates, and Ragon shouts “Angels pray while devils kill / We’re left to rot in this stupid landfill” as it snowballs into apocalyptic enormity. And then, something unexpected happens. With just 30 seconds left, the song’s key shifts from minor to major for the first time, and the next words out of Ragon’s mouth are “and love will prevail!” We knew you had it in you, Sean. –Steven Arroyo

Stream: “Garden of Delights”

Buy: Amazon
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tanlines mixed emotions cos Top 50 Songs of 2012

47. Tanlines – “All of Me”

Mixed Emotions

At my part-time retail job, “All of Me” plays almost every single day amidst Christmas tunes, easy listening, and “classic rock.” While the song might be more “fitting room” than radio-hit, it without a doubt has the potential to be the latter. Tanlines’ album was a long time coming from an EP and some live appearances, but “All of Me” gives that “2-person-multi-instrumentalist-dance-music” genre a push from gimmick into feat. It speaks to their strengths as songwriters who only have themselves to lean against. Small things like the song’s extended shelf life, or its overall affecting nature, also play a big part in its success, too. Yeah, small things like that. -Mikey Zonenashvili

Buy: Amazon
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indianhandcraftscover Top 50 Songs of 2012

46. Indian Handcrafts – “Bruce Lee”

Civil Disobedience for Losers

A song that begins with the smack of a gong can only get better from there. The Canadian riff-rock duo bring Stonehenge-levels of hard rock, packing in elements of speed metal, bloozy guitars, and a healthy dose of schlock. As much as Indian Handcrafts borrow from the likes of Iron Maiden, Motörhead, or even Satan’s Host, the real citation belongs to their Canadian comrades, Anvil. “Bruce Lee”, like the thrash movement Anvil inspired in the ’80s, is loud,  leaden, and replete with coiling guitars. At the two-minute mark, vocals swell around the drum-and-strum blues jam. It builds into a voracious gallop that, of course, ends with a gong. –Sarah Grant

Buy: Amazon
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cohenoldideas Top 50 Songs of 2012

45. Leonard Cohen – “Come Healing”

Old Ideas

Old Ideas’ “Come Healing” won’t be covered by the masses, featured in teen soap operas, or soundtrack weird Zack Snyder-directed sex scenes. But don’t let its lack of oncoming ubiquity fool you. “Come Healing” is one of the most beautiful songs in Cohen’s catalog, and from that beauty comes its strength. The traditional gracing of the all-female choir counterpoints Cohen’s gravely vocals and gravitas, decorating a deceptively complex chord progression and throwing  the lyrical themes into sharp focus. At first, the central request to “come healing of the spirit, come healing of the limb” sounds timid, but “Come Healing” builds, gently yet insistently. When that same sentiment is repeated at the song’s end, it has become a certitude. There won’t be many televised opportunities to demand healing from heaven, but Cohen convinces us of that healing’s inevitability  marking the irrefutable success of “Come Healing”. –Chris Bosman

Buy: Amazon
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earl sweatshirt chum Top 50 Songs of 2012

44. Earl Sweatshirt – “Chum”

On his first official solo cut after returning to Odd Future, Earl ditched the stomach-churning rape jokes that peppered his 2010 debut in favor of a more introspective yet no less mesmerizing flow. Behind an ice-cold piano line, he touched on his absent father, his big brother/little brother connection with Tyler, and his strained relationship with his mother. Rhyme upon rhyme is stacked onto each verse, to the point where you’re virtually hanging on to every lazy-mouthed syllable. One of the many stand-out lines from the second verse includes: “Nothing was fucking awesome / Trying to make it from the bottom this is / Feeling as hard as Vince Carter’s knee cartilage is.” He seamlessly juxtaposes dead-serious feelings of depression with grin-educing punch lines, all while sounding like he’s hardly lifting a finger. –Bryant Kitching

Buy: Amazon
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crystal castles iii e1348676099314 Top 50 Songs of 2012

43. Crystal Castles – “Sad Eyes”

(III)

She loves you, she hates you, she’s just not into you. The eyes give it all away. Even a veiled woman “can’t disguise / sad eyes.” But she can certainly sneak somber lyrics into a toe-tapper. Alice Glass first sang about “sad eyes” in her debut studio session during “Alice Practice”. She now revisits this weepy motif on the danciest track off Crystal Castles’ latest album, (III). The song’s tempo hastens within a few seconds of ignition, and then speeds along, never once losing steam. Ethan Kath’s bruising, wrap-around-a-neck bass lines and jittery keyboard pulse with a scared energy. Meanwhile, Glass croons like Sylvia Plath lost and abandoned at a rave set in the middle ring of Inferno‘s seventh circle. “Sad Eyes” finds one of the grittiest bands around delivering a straight party song sharpened to the sinister edge fans have come to love. –Dan Pfleegor

Buy: Amazon
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 Top 50 Songs of 2012

42. The Walkmen – “Heaven”

Heaven

In their 12-year career, The Walkmen have audibly matured from New York roustabouts to mature family men, as stunningly evidenced on the title track to their latest, Heaven. Judging from the photo of the guys and their kids on the disc’s back cover, Hamilton Leithauser’s silvery croon to “remember all we fight for” acts as a rallying call to keep everything together in 2012’s uncertain times. Sure, the jangle in this track sounds familiar, but the leveled request of “Don’t leave me / Oh, you’re my best friend” is an adult honesty that not many seasoned rockers would feel this comfortable showing. –Adam Kivel

Buy: Amazon
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rick ross sophisticated 500x500 Top 50 Songs of 2012

41. Rick Ross feat. Meek Mill – “So Sophisticated”

God Forgives, I Don’t

Before Bawse was Bawse, his lyrical skills were entry-level. Things done changed over the years of many Ross releases, and though 2012 saw one fantastic mixtape, one halfway decent major release, and another highly questionable mixtape, Ross’ fire on the God Forgives, I Don’t single “So Sophisticated” ranks as one of his top performances. In an album where he surrounds himself with his spoils, Ricky takes time to elucidate on his accumulating stacks, choppers, champagne, the whole lot — all while sticking to a flow that puts the weight of a three-syllable rhyme scheme at the back of the bar. It doesn’t get much better than to hear Ross breathlessly growl “Tatted on my stomach: Rich Forever Makavelli.” Ross’ next-in-line MMG disciple Meek Mill keeps up with Bawse on his verse and the production from The Beat Bully ties up and collects on any loose ends. –Jeremy D. Larson

Buy: Amazon
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taylor swift we are never Top 50 Songs of 2012

40. Taylor Swift – “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

Red

Swift’s latest single proves that there is a time and a place for teardrops on guitars. But when an ex-boyfriend called her irrelevant, Swift threw her country contemplation out the window, and created the ultimate pop Warhead: a song with an acrid bite and a sweet finish. Produced and provoked by pop hit-makers, Shellback and Max Martin, the song features Swift singing in a nasal tone, talking smack – embellished during the chorus – and adopting an assertive veneer. The song “wee-hee”-ed up the Billboard Charts and likely destroyed Top 40 Radio for her ex. Somewhere, Carly Simon is also listening and smiling her toothiest smile. When will these guys stop watching themselves gavotte? “Never, ever, ever, ever.” –Sarah Grant

Buy: Amazon
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 Top 50 Songs of 2012

39. Titus Andronicus – “My Eating Disorder”

Local Business

Punk isn’t all anti-establishment patriotism; sometimes it’s reclaiming deep personal identity. No song accomplishes this with such wailing grace as “My Eating Disorder”. For Patrick Stickles to take such a candid step in his battle with selective eating is not only brave, but empowering. The final five minutes are a rally cry: the battle-march guitars, the repeated proclamation that “I decide what goes inside my body,” that he will take this sickness and “spit it out.” Male eating disorders are rarely given credence, so for Stickles to come out publicly with his own like this is more than a huge personal moment. “In art, there should be no secrets,” he said. By opening up, he hasn’t just taken a step in his own life, but potentially in the lives of countless others. That, ladies and gents, is punk rock. –Ben Kaye

Buy: Amazon
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 Top 50 Songs of 2012

38. The xx – “Angels”

Coexist

Perhaps the best representation of the delicate beauty of “Angels” comes from filmmaker Jamie-James Medina, who shot the trio in a Tokyo hotel room, à la Lost in Translation. The three minutes and seven seconds are almost exclusively dedicated to Romy Madley Croft, whose dainty fingers slide up and down her Les Paul as she softly sings, “But I think I’m ready, as long as you’re with me / Being as in love with you as I am.” The video lacks Jamie’s precise and subtle additions, like the hollow drum that accompanies the Coexist version here. But giving the spotlight (or rather the glow of Tokyo skyscrapers) to Croft feels appropriately intimate. Oliver Sim appears to be having a relaxing, Suntory time on the hotel bed, proving that Croft can sail this song’s ship all her own. –Amanda Koellner

Buy: Amazon
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chief keef i dont like Top 50 Songs of 2012

37. Chief Keef feat. Lil Reese – “I Don’t Like”

Finally Rich

Whether it’s an early track like “I Don’t Know Dem” or the more recent “Love Sosa”, there’s not much variance from one Chief Keef song to another. But with “I Don’t Like”, the Chicago native gets the absolute utmost out of his formula, emerging with a rampantly defiant, incredibly catchy banger that’s generated seemingly as many hashtags as its video has views (22 million and counting). Atop Young Chop’s post-Luger power drill of a beat, Keef and fellow GBE member Lil Reese take to dissing everything from a nemesis’ shitty weed (“You smoke Reggie / That’s that shit I don’t like”) to his easy girl (“Your bitch want do the team / Bet she won’t fight”), meanwhile sounding appropriately condescending but also detached enough to prove just how undaunted they are by the threat of retaliation. Though not groundbreaking in any sense, nothing else shows so forcefully why the 17-year-old Keef has become 2012’s most ubiquitous rap rookie. –Mike Madden

Buy: Amazon
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burial kindred Top 50 Songs of 2012

36. Burial – “Kindred”

Kindred EP

Nothing like the crackle of a Burial tune to pull you under. The elusive Willam Bevan is still making true proto-dubstep, and “Kindred” is every bit as dark, damp, and eerie as any Burial track that came before it. Splicing high-pitched coos culled from lost R&B pop verses with dark synth drones, Burial takes us deep into the underground. Shuffling rhythms scurry around sewer-ways, building, decaying, and growing over the course of 11 minutes, until one dense mass of sparse sits before us like a black hole of goodness. –Drew Litowitz

Buy: Amazon
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solange losing you1 Top 50 Songs of 2012

35. Solange Knowles – “Losing You”

True EP

As a way to distance herself from her pop royalty sibling Beyoncé, Solange Knowles has spent the last few years indie-fying her career, leaning more towards musical constructs of the electro-pop variety while associating herself with the perpetually-quirky of Montreal. The most poignant example of her aural and aesthetic independence, though, is the True EP standout “Losing You”. Knowles handles the complex production, stuck between breezy dance-pop and morose R&B ballad, like a true diva, sharing a veritable lifetime of heartache and desperation that belies her age and leaves an unshakable sense of loneliness. It’s the song she needed to make. -Chris Coplan

Buy: Amazon
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lotus plaza spooky action at a distance Top 50 Songs of 2012

34. Lotus Plaza – “Monoliths”

Spooky Action at a Distance

Lockett Pundt’s world is a hazy swirl of optimism, regret, and bemusement. As Deerhunter’s lead guitarist, his shimmering riffs lift us just far enough above Bradford Cox’s dark depths to watch them from a safe distance. As Lotus Plaza, “Monoliths” is a thesis statement for just how he does it. Like Brian Wilson turning to distortion in a time of ultimate need, Pundt wails his sunny melodies with self-conscious fury. Pundt remains lackadaisically cheerful, with just a hint of paranoia thrown in. “One of these days, I’ll come around,” he repeats, until it melds into everything else. He knows he needs to make a change, but he’s not worried about it happening on its own — or is he? –Drew Litowitz


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gorillaz doyathing Top 50 Songs of 2012

33. Gorillaz feat. André 3000 and James Murphy – “DoYaThing”

Music has taken a bit of a backseat for André 3000, so when he bestows a verse upon us, we eat it up (see also: Frank Ocean’s “Pink Matter”). “DoYaThing” is no exception. Recorded as a single for Converse’s “Three Artists. One Song” project, Outkast’s taller half teams up with Gorillaz and James Murphy for a song that can only be described as manic. 3000’s verse visits from Stankonia, including this line for the ages: “You ain’t fresh-squeezed juice nigga / You that Tang.” Along with Damon Albarn’s sugar-crisp production, as well as Murphy’s bass line and high-pitched chorus, “DoYaThing” proves a perfect fit for the triumvirate. –Justin Gerber

Download: “DoYaThing”
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purity ring fineshrine Top 50 Songs of 2012

32. Purity Ring – “Fineshrine”

Shrines

Call it medical romance or romantic medicine, but never have the worlds of science and love collided so beautifully. In “Fineshrine”, Purity Ring’s ghostly vocalist Megan James breezily tells her lover to transform her body into a place of worship in the most literal sense: by slicing her open and climbing inside. The anatomical detail could be sickening (“Cut open my sternum and pull”), but there’s nothing black or ironic about the proceedings. Oddly lovey-dovey adjectives (she constantly references “my little ribs”) lend a sense of sweetness to the morbid procedure, as does the dreamy instrumentation: a hypnotic swirl of cloud-surfing synths and Southern rap percussion. Shrines is an album about the intersection of passion and mortality, and no song better conveys this than “Finreshrine”. Love is sweet, love is sad, and always more interesting when it’s serious. –Dan Caffrey

Buy: Amazon
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el p cancer four cure Top 50 Songs of 2012

31. El-P – “The Full Retard”

Cancer for Cure

Here’s a quandary to keep you up at night: Can indie rap make a crossover hit that still maintains its inherent, alt-leaning sensibilities? The answer is a resounding “yes” if it’s El-P’s quirky anthem “The Full Retard”. The whole album has this near-tangible sense of reality to it, as if Mr. Producto’s purposefully trying to work in the confines of the terrestrial world for the first time ever. Frightening prospect aside, this cut’s sampled obscurities from Funk, Inc.’s and the late Camu Tao’s catalogs, paired with some of El-P’s most obtuse rhymes to date (“Fuck your droid noise / Void boys’/ ‘noid ploy”), make it seem as if growing up and getting real means you can just be a better version of the same person. How novel. –Chris Coplan

Buy: Amazon
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jack white love interruption Top 50 Songs of 2012

30. Jack White – “Love Interruption”

Blunderbuss

“Stick a knife inside me and twist it all around,” “grab my fingers gently, slam in the doorway,” “murder my own mother,” “change my friends to enemies” … the list of the horrific things Jack White wants love to do to him goes on as such in the tension-filled lead single from the solo debut of the Third Man labelhead. An acoustic guitar, electric piano, and a shallow pocket of woodwinds anchor the tune as White harmonizes with singer Ruby Amanfu. “Love Interruption” was the first we heard from the guy as a solo artist, and clocking in at less than two and half minutes, it left a thirst for the shredding king of Nashville, which would eventually be quenched by Blunderbuss’s 13 tracks. –Amanda Koellner

Buy: Amazon | Insound
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sharon serpents Top 50 Songs of 2012

29. Sharon Van Etten – “Serpents”

Tramp

Though standing in the middle of a veritable indie-rock superstorm (members of The National, Wye Oak, and The Walkmen all contribute to the track), Sharon Van Etten’s mesmeric voice and storytelling on “Serpents” refuse to be silenced. The haunting tale of an abusive relationship, the track somehow simultaneously re-lives and challenges the past. Jenn Wasner’s harmonies cling to Van Etten like a shadow, clusters of snare hits rain down, and the images of physical and emotional abuse blur by. There’s some triumph in the slide guitar winds, the galloping rhythm, and her insistence that though “everything changes / you’ll stay frozen in time.” But then the serpents of his control linger still, as the song concludes with Van Etten tragically hoping he’ll change. Rather than painting a picture of finality, or a sugar-coated narrative with a conclusion, Van Etten delivers a slice of messy, visceral reality. In a year in which dark love stories proliferated, few felt this natural. –Adam Kivel

Buy: Amazon
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divine fits my love is real Top 50 Songs of 2012

28. Divine Fits – “My Love Is Real”

A Thing Called Divine Fits

When with their separate bands, Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner both tended to keep love at a distance, burying even their most romantic lyrics in cryptic imagery and emotional ambiguity. So it’s only natural that “My Love Is Real” sounds so uncertain. But honest uncertainty suits the super-duo (along with bandmates Sam Brown and Alex Fischel) better than guarded poetry, and for once, they make a complete connection to listeners by splaying open their hearts.

In the song, southern California holds promise for a pair of reckless lovebirds, although Daniel’s icy keys and Boeckner’s quivering vocals would have you think otherwise. Couplets such as “I will not sleep / Until I tried every way / To bring your little black heart back” express hope while also telling us that things are already beginning to sour. There’s no doubt that Divine Fits’ love is real, but authenticity isn’t always enough to save a relationship. Just look at the album artwork. The widening pool under that maraschino cherry just might be blood. Straightforwardness has seldom yielded such musical evolution. –Dan Caffrey

Buy: Amazon | Insound
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angelhazclassick Top 50 Songs of 2012

27. Angel Haze – “Cleaning Out My Closet”

Classick

Swept from the cobwebs of Eminem’s track of the same name, 21-year-old rap prodigy Angel Haze dug up the most visceral of confessionals with the pained “Cleaning Out My Closet”. Haze’s skeletons don’t sit in the corner of the closet, though; they tumble out of nooks and shelves in an attempt to wholly engulf. The engaging, ever-scrappy, and unabashedly confident Haze channels memories of abuse into a grimy and head-thumping beat, and you can almost hear her stalking across the room, all-knowing, with a vengeful smile curled on her lips.

What’s astonishing about the track isn’t just the stark honesty and gruesome instances of abuse — it’s bringing the often-hushed crime of family abuse up toward the surgical light. Haze’s tale of sexual abuse within her family, where she, as a mere “toddler” was blamed for the crimes herself, is tragically the tale of many. Yet “Cleaning Out My Closet” transforms into the legend of a victor, for the brave would not be who they were without a tremendous amount of past strife. –Paula Mejia

Download: “Cleaning Out My Closet”
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beach house myth Top 50 Songs of 2012

26. Beach House – “Myth”

Bloom

“If you build yourself a myth / Know just what to give,” Victoria Legrand preaches on the opening track to Bloom. It’s quite a prophetic eye opener for the digital generation, where so much interaction and connectivity dwells behind a Wi-Fi curtain. When she asks, “Do you lie,” she already knows the answer, and so do we. We’re susceptible to white lies because we’re the ones consistently living them.

This crushing ballad about personal growth — which, frankly, mirrors the album’s title — isn’t the most impacting instrumentally (one could argue for “Wild”, or “Lazuli”, or “Irene” in that area), but lyrically, it’s the album at its most sagacious. In an extraordinary twist of control, Legrand powers through such grand themes with ease, which really is an indication of how far she’s evolved as a songwriter. It can only mean she’s bound to flourish for years to come.  -Michael Roffman

Buy: Amazon
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 Top 50 Songs of 2012

25. King Tuff – “Bad Thing”

King Tuff

King Tuff, aka Kyle Thomas, repeatedly deprecates himself as a “bad, bad, bad thing” during the chorus of this power-pop churner. He almost sounds remorseful: “And now I’m being haunted / By those dreams / Now I don’t know how to do anything.” Dammit, King Tuff, don’t regret the bad things you’ve done. Cause now you’re a good, good, good rock ‘n’ roller, and we all know it’s fun to do bad things and that badness is directly proportional to goodness when it comes to sleazy rock music (just ask Keith Richards, Sid Vicious, Gene Simmons, etc.).

King Tuff is of an endangered species. Rock is losing its grip as the pervasive genre of modern culture, but it still exists. And as long as it still exists, dudes who suck at everything that doesn’t involve their Stratocaster—dudes like Kyle Thomas—have a musical haven all their own: A place where bad things are accepted (and even celebrated in song). –Jon Hadusek

Buy: Amazon
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lambchop jpg 300x300 crop smart q85 Top 50 Songs of 2012

24. Lambchop – “Gone Tomorrow”

Mr. M

“Gone Tomorrow” is divided into two separate halves: the verse-chorus segment and the extended instrumental outro. In the first, the drumbeat never budges from a light, spinal 4/4 rhythm. In the second, it breaks down into 16th notes, allowing it to swell in and out and jazz it up a bit with some subtle fills. But on both parts, it remains metronomic, never disappearing or hiccupping or taking up too much spotlight. It just rolls on and on.

On Christmas 2009, Kurt Wagner lost his close friend and confidant, Vic Chestnutt. This weighed immensely on the songwriter during the creation of Mr. M, which he dedicated to Chestnutt, and it informs his songwriting most directly on “Gone Tomorrow” – if its soaring strings and ornate minutiae weren’t so bright and hopeful sounding, the song would be downright heartbreaking. “The production was shutting down / Drinks and goodbyes were had all around,” Wagner croaks with an implicit tip of his cap. “Gone Tomorrow” is the anchor idea of Mr. M, one that reframes the entire album with the sound of closure, acceptance, and gratitude. Few songs in recent memory have tapped with such authority into that fleeting moment of being omniscient to and totally comfortable with the passing of time. –Steven Arroyo

Buy: Amazon
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 Top 50 Songs of 2012

23. Action Bronson – “9-24-11”

Blue Chips

It looks like his signature: Action Bronson, dated 9-24-11. Its timestamp is valuable, like something you find scrawled in a journal years after the fact and you realize that something you once thought was total garbage was actually prolific. This literally manifests itself in the song, as three times Bronson stops and restarts mid-verse because he stumbled on a word. The curtain is pulled back almost seamlessly and you hear Bronson hit the re-do button with hardly a hitch in his flow.

That kind of off-the-cuff, fuck-it-we’ll-do-it-live style on Blue Chips is emblematic of Bronson with a fully unlocked unconscious. His three verses run the court, from a somewhat out-of-character mention of his “pain within running deeper than the ocean floor,” to ridiculous culinary cunnilingus jokes (good luck eating bucatini with clam sauce ever again). A tossed-off rap on a mixtape produced from YouTube clips has one of the largest personalities on it, almost outweighing Bronson himself. September 24th should be a holiday. –Jeremy D. Larson

Download: “9-24-11”
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spiritualized hey jane Top 50 Songs of 2012

22. Spiritualized – “Hey Jane”

Sweet Heart Sweet Light

What separates the first single off this year’s gawjus Sweet Heart Sweet Light from the rest of these tracks here is that it could have made this list twice. “Hey Jane” plays as two different versions of the same song, arriving at the same destination a la “The Tortoise and the Hare”.

The first half is the hare; an upbeat Sesame Street track that darts out of the gate with up-tempo guitars, drums, and a la-la choir. The closing half is the tortoise; a slow-burn that takes its time building its music before J. Spaceman (Jason Pierce) reappears at the microphone for the triumphant finale. The rousing finale of “Sweet heart, sweet life / Sweet heart and love of my life” is simple, yet perfect.

And therein lays the song’s triumph. There is a wall-of-sound quality, but it never leaps over the wall into the land of the overbearing. It’s sentimental, but not too sentimental. It’s awash in classic pop, but not twee in the least. It also marked the return of a band after a four-year absence that included Pierce’s battle with liver disease that may have debilitated him physically, but could never stave off his ability to write that perfect, simple song. –Justin Gerber

Buy: Amazon
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toddterje Top 50 Songs of 2012

21. Todd Terje – “Inspector Norse”

It’s the Arps EP

Over six minutes and 41 seconds, the Norwegian producer proves you don’t need one second of vocals to find success in pop. “Inspector Norse” is an exercise in repetition and it’s the snappiest workout you’ll experience all year. Sleek vintage synth notes, courtesy of the ARP2600 analog synthesizer, wiggle around and bobble up and down like some coke head in the middle of a funk concert. The keyword here is “fun” and Terje doesn’t have to use a drop, or scream into the microphone, or even vaguely utilize any sort of dub, wub, or whatever the hell most producers toss in these days.

It’s a mark of his character; he’s a guy simply out to have a good time. Last month, while speaking with Pitchfork for their Guest List feature, Terje discussed how he’s unbeatable at Street Fighter II, prefers whiskey sours, and that his first record purchased was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The latter is a fitting anecdote as The King of Pop would absolutely relish tracks like this; so perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to think Terje’s on the right wavelength in the highly competitive genre. Here’s his diamond-studded boxing gloves. –Michael Roffman

Buy: Amazon
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torche jpg 630x640 q85 Top 50 Songs of 2012

20. Torche – “Kicking”

Harmonicraft

Metal doesn’t have to sound like the Goblin King brooding over the execution of some elven trespassers to kick ass, and Torche prove that point with the epic “Kicking”. There are some obvious pop rock moments under the layers of crunchy riffage and rampaging bass: the retro pick-scrape that opens the track, the soaring chorus, and frontman Steve Brooks’ arching moan of “lights on in the kingdom” all fit the bill. But then the metal half of the equation has its say as well. Rick Smith’s colossal toms and Andrew Elstner’s ironclad chords rip into head-banging form, and the gates to the Ice Cream Rainbow Battle World of the album’s cover open up wide. Follow Brooks’ majestic bird of prey vocals, and you’ll be led down the psychedelic rabbithole, one coated with splotches of silver-plated bubble gum, an experience at once familiar and massively escapist. –Adam Kivel

Buy: Amazon
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chromatics kill for love e1332774449443 Top 50 Songs of 2012

19. Chromatics – “Kill for Love”

Kill for Love

If Chromatics’ Kill for Love is the metaphoric soundtrack to some lost ‘80s flick, then its title track would be the song that plays during the main titles. It’s the Theme, and singer Ruth Radelet is the protagonist—a hopeless, drug-dependent dreamer “wishing for change while the world just stayed the same.” Her sultry voice and a plodding beat are intermittently interrupted by flurries of synthesizer. Pretty sounds juxtapose against darkly romantic words.

Eighties nostalgia is at an all-time high, but it’s reactionary to lump Chromatics into some retro-chic fad. Although “Kill for Love” borrows some aesthetics and instrumentation from the era (the album’s seen its fair share of comparisons to the Drive soundtrack), it’s far from being a vapid rehash. Syrupy guitars and warm synths backdrop a character study about a girl who would figuratively murder for love. And in Radelet’s idle world, love is imperative. –Jon Hadusek

Stream: “Kill For Love”
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killer mike rap music Top 50 Songs of 2012

18. Killer Mike feat. Bun B, T.I., and Trouble – “Big Beast”

R.A.P. Music

R.A.P. Music is indisputably Killer Mike’s best album, and thanks to “Big Beast”, it couldn’t have started off a whole lot better. Opening with bare synth lurches, it soon grows into an absolutely pulverizing, Bomb Squad-meets-East Side Boyz monster, kicked into fifth gear with gargantuan snares and Mike’s ferocious delivery: “POW, motherfucker, POW! One off in the brain!” As it goes: Welcome to Atlanta.

Mike is absolutely rabid here, but three other guys grab the mic too, and they don’t exactly do the bare minimum. Southern workhorses Tip and Bun handle El-P’s beat nearly as well as the main man does, the former staying as bar-for-bar collected as ever while the latter blazes through internal rhymes that pretty much sum up his entire career: “A record full of felonies, searching for a better me / But choppers go off in my hood like Iraq, Cuba, Tel Aviv.” Gluing everything together is Trouble’s chorus, which serves as the most contagious element of the whole thing. “You better show respect,” he closes, and you really should. –Mike Madden

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skrillex bangarang Top 50 Songs of 2012

17. Skrillex feat. Sirah – “Bangarang”

Bangarang EP

Let me stop you right there, Skrillex hater. There’s the Skrillex who took his version of dubstep to the mainstream American audience with cheap thrills, there’s the Skrillex who was lionized by not only the Grammys, but by the music press in early 2012 as the rudder of the Good Ship EDM, and then there’s the Skrillex who can write a great dance track. Straight up: “Bangarang” rules. That’s about as trenchant as one should get when digging into Skrillex.

His experimentation with appropriating all kinds of different bass and electronic music found perfect harmony on this track — a new salvo for the forever-young EDM kid in all of us. All the woozy side-chaining of the four-to-the-floor French house beat mixed with Sonny’s Skrowl is just a perfect heavyweight dance track. The whole thing feels so unforced and poppy that you don’t even think about “the drop” or “the wub” — just the kind of aggro-dancing that makes Skrillex so fun to run to, lift weights to, fight to, ball to — whatever adrenaline-centered activity you have a proclivity for. Or, if you just want to sit around, eat some Fun Dip and not give a fuuu what the haters are hatin’ about. That’s the Skrillex ethos anyway: trying to get back in touch with your own Never Never Land. –Jeremy D. Larson

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five seconds twin shadow Top 50 Songs of 2012

16. Twin Shadow – “Five Seconds”

Confess

A CoS-worker (ahem-Roffman-ahem) once remarked that no one is doing the ‘80s revival jam as well as George Lewis Jr., aka Twin Shadow. Dammit if he wasn’t spot on. “Five Seconds” is the apex of Lewis Jr.’s mastery in reworking the era. There’s the Duran Duran bridge, Prince’s emotive electronic guitars, synths clanging like church bells. Twin Shadow takes what makes nostalgia so endearing and blends it into one urgent, emotional motorcycle ride through the city.

Even with no idea what the hell “Five seconds to your heart / Straight to your heart” means, Lewis Jr. makes you feel it. “There’s no way to forget it all,” he belts after whispering the chorus, and suddenly your heart is lodged in your esophagus. There’s a relationship falling apart here, one that conceivably led to the singer’s head-clearing bike ride. Like M83 but with fewer synths and more guitars, Twin Shadow takes what works in the ‘80s renaissance and fills it with himself, instead of the other way around. That’s why this song is such a tour-de-force of revivalist supremacy, and why, with a few ticks of the clock, “Five Seconds” rises above other attempts to bring back the ‘80s. –Ben Kaye

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 Top 50 Songs of 2012

15. Bat for Lashes – “All Your Gold”

The Haunted Man

When Natasha Khan sings about gold, you sense that she’s not talking about the price tag. There’s emotional baggage on the agenda, rather than bling, as Khan strikes a rich vein of recognition. Thematically “All Your Gold” is pretty universal stuff; it’s hard to escape the shackles of an earlier relationship even if you should be in a happier place right now. The singer recognises that somehow the glass is always half-full in affairs of the heart and the song becomes cathartic in exorcising that experience.

“All Your Gold” is a great dance tune, infectious, and enthralling in equal measure. In the video that accompanied the single, Khan’s terpsichorean workout would hardly find a home in a Jane Fonda video. It’s tortuous and theatrical, almost self-inflicted therapy, yet close your eyes and you can simply move like Jagger without deserting the melancholia in Khan’s remarkable voice. In that sense, “All Your Gold” delivers the best of both worlds. –Tony Hardy

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 Top 50 Songs of 2012

14. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe”

Kiss

“Call Me Maybe”, the insta-meme-turned-genuine-pop-gem, grabbed 2012 by the throat and never let go, mostly due to an astounding feat of economical songwriting. Name any major pop hit of the past 20 years, and the thing you’ll probably remember best is its chorus. Protest all you like, but for most radio songs, all we really want to hear is the deeply satisfying catharsis of the hook. Jepsen and her songwriting team took that idea to its logical extreme; of “Call Me Maybe”‘s 194 seconds, 86 of them are dedicated to its unimpeachable hook, meaning nearly half of the song is just the chorus.

None of this would matter if the chorus weren’t any good, but “Call Me Maybe” does more by using less– it’s practically minimalist by radio standards– and features nothing more than a kick/snare stomp and a big, dumb, simple, immensely satisfying four-chord riff, leaving the heavy lifting to Jepsen’s warm, innocent, and wonderfully human lyrical sentiment and vocal performance. The pendulum of acceptability in society may cull some Rihanna tracks from radio rotation, but “Call Me Maybe”‘s delightful sweetness will always have a place, and be welcome. -Chris Bosman

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 Top 50 Songs of 2012

13. Swans – “Apostate”

The Seer

The Seer is an album that stimulates and teases the primitive parts of a subconscious mind by utilizing practices found at centers of worship. An undercurrent of fear and apprehension are channeled via Michael Gira’s monkish chants, sonic echos, and the habituation of Swans’ plodding instrumentation. Listeners and followers alike may not understand the path they’ve been set upon, but it doesn’t take long for the unfamiliar to become ingrained.

“Apostate”, the 23-minute closing track, puts the record’s two-hour expedition into stark perspective, like one reading critical literature for the first time ever. “Apostate” starts by continuing the The Seer’s abrasive landscape, but things change at the 12-minute mark. There, the music attacks with one last ferocious onslaught, then calms for a few beats. This contrast is the exact moment of epiphany, akin to a fed up believer who’s had enough and decides to make a run for it. Church bells clang and ring in this brave new era, as Gira screams “It’s not in my mind . . . Get out of my mind / Ge ge ge get out!” The rugged passage to apostasy, like The Seer, is not an easy road to travel. Will anyone really get out alive? Is there any hope for redemption? The song withholds these answers. But one observation is clear – things can never be the same again. –Dan Pfleegor

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miguel kaleidoscope dream cover 1 Top 50 Songs of 2012

12. Miguel – “Adorn”

Kaleidoscope Dream

In 2012, Miguel Pimental’s sweetness was our weakness, as Barry White might’ve said. The smooth Californian R&B star is known for his cheeky come-ons (“Do You”) and sex drive (“Quickie”), but he reaches definitive-Delfonic status with the phrase “Let my love adorn you,” on his second single, “Adorn”. Minor keys and chord inversions further signify Miguel’s soulful longing. The tender instrumentation is rife with melancholy. This is the kind of technique we might reserve for the likes of Stevie Wonder, especially on his balled, “Overjoyed”.

“Adorn” affirms Wonder’s sentimentality. The minimal production allows Miguel’s vocals to linger, luxuriate, and get lost in anticipation. He sings: “This mind, oh, will never neglect you, baby.” The song has a modern R&B body-rock that recalls Ginuwine or even Avant, but Miguel’s delicate electronic influences are steeped with emotional maturity that is sometimes taken for granted in the R&B sphere. “Adorn” is sterling – and stirring.  -Sarah Grant

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 Top 50 Songs of 2012

11. Jessie Ware – “Wildest Moments”

Devotion

If the world were a fair place, “Wildest Moments” would have been the “Rolling in the Deep” of 2012. The lead single off Jessie Ware’s debut, Devotion, has all the elements of a mega-hit: a stadium-sized hook of a chorus, Ware’s Simon Cowell-worthy star power, and a poignant yet simple message conveyed by its lyrics: “Baby in our wildest moments, we could be the greatest.” If you close your eyes, it’s almost hard not to imagine a Glastonbury crowd of 100,000 strong singing along with fervor. It’s also one of the most quietly ambitious tracks of the year, forgoing dense production and instead relying on a boom-pow bass drum to propel the story of a toxic relationship.

But where Adele wanted to make you “wish you never had met me,” Ware stands by her man, sharing proudly and meditatively in the mutual suffering. She asks, “From the outside, from the outside / Everyone must be wondering why we try / Why do we try?” It’s less girl-power and more of a deep reflection. We’re not sure if she’ll make it out alive, but she makes it easy for us to go along for the bumpy ride. –Bryant Kitching

Stream: “Wildest Moments”

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cloudnothings Top 50 Songs of 2012

10. Cloud Nothings – “Wasted Days”

Attack On Memory

It’s doubtful that before 2012 anybody expected Dylan Baldi’s Cloud Nothings to produce a gut-wrenching nine-minute rock song, with Baldi hammering away at his self-perceived worthlessness until literally gasping for breath. I expect fewer people imagined Steve Albini would have something to do with it. But, if Attack on Memory is any indication, clearly Baldi had a lot he wanted off his chest. Memory‘s centerpiece, the grueling, explosive “Wasted Days”, is a perfect signifier for Baldi’s generation and the times we all find ourselves in. Uncertainty seems to be the most popular game nowadays. The crushed American dream is pervasive.

Over nearly nine minutes, Baldi conducts an orchestra of churning rock, peppered with unsettling bombast and atmospherics. Guitars and their effects buzz like swarming bees, fleeing from an exploding nest. He wails atop it. Baldi doesn’t want answers. He’s not really even asking questions. He’s merely commentating — and he’s angry. He thought! He would! Mean more! Than this! Whether we wanted one in the first place, at least now, falling short of amounting to something has a pretty killer soundtrack. As for the fans he’s acquired through the exorcism of his anxieties, you have to imagine it’s done something for his self-worth. -Drew Litowitz

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tnght goo Top 50 Songs of 2012

9. TNGHT – “Goooo”

TNGHT  EP

From Salem’s chopped-and-screwed witch-house brews to Purity Ring’s blend of 808s and ethereality, electronic musicians have found more use in Southern rap traditions in recent years than ever before. No one, however, has been repurposing the Third Coast better than the alliance of Montreal’s Lunice and Glasgow’s Hudson Mohawke known as TNGHT. Equally indebted to Lex Luger’s trap takeover and to their respective senses of electronic pacing, it didn’t take much more than a five-song, 15-minute EP for the duo to bumrush car speakers and impressionable SoundCloud kids both with the most potent sound in instrumental music this year.

Every track on TNGHT is an unimpeachable banger, but nothing else blares quite like “Goooo”. With its initial pinballing riff and colossal low-end thud, the song builds until it knocks so hard that someone, somewhere has probably been concussed just bobbing along. In 2010, Luger brought this aesthetic out of his Fruity Loops-armed laptop and into airwaves everywhere with songs like Rick Ross’ “B.M.F.” and Waka Flocka’s “Hard in da Paint”, determining the architecture of hundreds, if not thousands, of future rap tracks in the process. If they keep delivering beats like this, TNGHT might wind up having just as much influence while sounding even more revolutionary. –Mike Madden

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deathgripslpcover Top 50 Songs of 2012

8. Death Grips – “I’ve Seen Footage”

The Money Store

They may have an affinity for crude album art, but Death Grips is a difficult band to truly understand. Aesthetically speaking, the trio purposefully make the rap-rock/punk fusion more complex than need be, mashing the genres together as opposed to cohesively blending them as other acts have in order to play up the chaos and confusion. Their debut LP, The Money Store, succeeds with extreme gusto, yielding a collection of tunes that’s emotionally and physically jarring, abusive, and assaultive to practically every sense. But through all the aural intensity and threats of violence, the group let shine a near-solitary ray of pop-y sunshine in album standout “I’ve Seen Footage”.

The track forges a soundscape to allow listeners to engage in a truly free-spirited, quasi-anarachal pursuit of musical joy. Every single component focuses on exuding some carefree tendencies. Zach Hill and Andy Morin’s production is as breezy as ever, a nonthreatening hodge-podge of bizarro guitar and drum samples that sound like the soundtrack to some acid-fueled pool party. All the while, Stefan Burnett manages to still talk about death and nihilism in quainter, catchier terms (“Ambulance hit and run over pedestrian in Brazil / Little tiger, boy soldier / Twist a cap back and kills”).

There’s an inherent attraction to all their songs, no doubt facilitated by the patchwork samples and easily digestible song lengths and structures, but “Footage” feels like a piece of candy or a warm hug in the midst of a turbulent mosh pit. But no matter how much more accessible the outfit comes off with this track, they never stop being as progressive and confrontational, merely experimenting with new, more lethal ways to get inside their victim/listener’s heads. Plus, dick jokes are just the bee’s knees. –Chris Coplan

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kendrick swimming pools Top 50 Songs of 2012

7. Kendrick Lamar – “Swimming Pools (Drank)”

good kid, m.A.A.d city

Although Kendrick Lamar has been branded as the newest torchbearer for West Coast hip-hop, the 25-year-old emcee’s music possesses a sense of genuine morality largely missing from anything put out by 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, and yes, even his mentor and collaborator Dr. Dre. Sure, each member of this Californian Trinity has had moments of speechifying and sentimentality (much different from morality, mind you), but even those have always been in a broader sense and have rarely crept into the actual storytelling.

good kid, m.A.A.d city, however, overflows with moral dilemma. Nearly every song puts Lamar at a crossroads where he must choose between what is right and what his friends want him to do. And no moment is as frightening or well defined as “Swimming Pools (Drank)”. Like all the best tracks on Lamar’s second studio album, the scenario is rather simple and insular, mundane even, placing him at a house party where he’s pressured by his homies to drink more liquor than his body can handle. The lyrics have nothing to do with grandiose capers or violence, just a situation we’ve all found ourselves in at some point in our lives. This commonality lends a shroud of terror to the proceedings, made all the more ominous by a T-Minus beat that fluctuates between nervous cymbals and sludgy chop-and-screw.

When Lamar’s conscience (a sped-up vocal that constantly switches headphone sides) eventually makes its way through the alcoholic fog only to get drowned out by the synthesizers, we’re left to ponder how much poison he actually consumed. The next track offers up a hint, as one of his buddies is senselessly gunned down in the street. It’s not necessarily a direct result of the alcohol, but that doesn’t shortchange what “Swimming Pools (Drank)” has to say about peer pressure and being true to oneself. Kendrick Lamar isn’t just West Coast hip-hop’s torchbearer. He’s its moral compass. –Dan Caffrey

Buy: Amazon
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fiona apple every single night single Top 50 Songs of 2012

6. Fiona Apple – “Every Single Night”

The Idler Wheel…

Fiona Apple’s latest release opens with a lullaby of softly plinking piano keys. But despite its-pared down instrumentation, “Every Single Night” is no cradle song. It’s a number of tortured thoughts, the kinds that keep you tossing and turning through the night. The kinds, one might venture, that put seven years between Apple’s albums. She returns an older and wiser writer, having fought these gnawing emotions for years. She’s learned to embrace the pain they bring, the struggle within her ribcage, the intangible validation that she is what she is.

It’s a side of Apple we see largely for the first time on The Idler Wheel. She’s no longer a woman grappling with her inner turmoil by trying to get it to submit, but by poking it and seeing how it feels, how it moves. At first, her prods are dainty yet delirious, as if those damned “white-flamed butterflies” have rattled her delicate brain on their way to “swarm the belly.” Then she grabs hold “when the pain sets in,” bearing down to deliver visceral poetry from the back of her clenched teeth. Her private pain is now a heart “made of parts of all that’s around me,” held high in her fist as she howls the desert war cry of the refrain.

But it’s not like she’s ever shied away from examining all her pretty little flaws. Only now she seems to recognize the value in these nagging thoughts. Like Sharon Olds or Charles Bukowski, Apple wrestles with a consciousness she finds at once tumultuous and beautiful. Instead of attempting to hide from them, she lets her thoughts and emotions move her around, like the brush circled subtly around the snare. Though most of us experience this kind of clamor of over-thinking, few pop singers dare address their burdens so candidly – and no one does it with Fiona Apple’s unassailable artistry. -Ben Kaye

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usher climax Top 50 Songs of 2012

5. Usher – “Climax”

Looking 4 Myself

Just when we thought Usher had officially devolved into another pouty party-tard rolling out of Ludacris’s Lamborghini, he stepped outside the club for a moment of clarity on “Climax”, his greatest faded-love song of all time.

Usher has been lamenting love since he could spell the word. The last song on his 1994 debut was the strikingly similar “Final Goodbye”. By today’s Usher standards, this older material sounds as naïve as reading an earnest old diary.

Despite its sexual connotation, the climax Usher sings about is an ode to the good times of a relationship, and the painful realization that they have stopped rolling, forever. “Don’t wanna give in / So we both gave up,” he intones before wafting into his silky falsetto. Usher employs his highest register and most resolve when he sings the actual word “climax,” yet he uses his darkest tone when he is, physically at his lowest point (“I’m on my knees but it seems we’re / Going nowhere fast”).

The quiet shimmer of the song is all thanks to Philadelphia-based producer of the year, Diplo. He and Usher bonded over the initial concept, which Diplo beautifully rendered through sound waves that never fully crest, blindsiding whooshes, and carefully strewn beeps and claps that reflect the song’s romantic inertia. In a song that’s all about lost nuance, Diplo shades in all the appropriate places. The most poignant effect is the underscoring drum loop that invokes the actual high-hat drums of Al Green’s rendition of “For The Good Times”, a song that shares the Usher’s concept. Penned by Kris Kristofferson, Green’s calm take on expired love seems like it might offer peace of mind to Usher’s updated version. Then again, the chance to “Make me believe you love me one more time,” has long passed for Usher. –Sarah Grant

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grimes visions albumartwork Top 50 Songs of 2012

4. Grimes – “Genesis”

Visions

“It’s appalling that anyone would consider me cute,” accompanies Grimes in most Claire Boucher-focused .gifs that cycle their way through the Tumblr-sphere. While these might be considered little compliments — a whole army of people saying, “No Claire! You’re adorable! We love you!”  – they’re doing exactly what she doesn’t want. At first listen, most of Visions might be fodder for people to forever consider Grimes that “adorable girl with the hair and the lisp,” but that could be the exact antithesis of Grimes’ artistic vision.

While “Genesis” on the surface is “Oblivion”‘s good-twin with its bouncy-synth bass line, layered harp and piano, and soundtrack-ready beat, it’s also arguably the most minimal song on Visions, offering transparency to her lyrics and vocals like no other inclusion on the tracklist. This is where she wants you to think, Hmm, this isn’t adorable, come to think of it. It’s all in the looped lyricism (“My heart will never feel / Will never see / will never know” that floods the track, or the cyclical, also-looped beat of a dying heart that closes it out with with a struggling signature.

There’s been a wealth of juxtaposition in pop this year, namely because honesty reigns supreme. With “Genesis”, Grimes juxtaposes not only her music, but her identity, shattering any misconceptions one might placate on the intricate singer-songwriter. -Mikey Zonenashvili

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passion pit ill be alright Top 50 Songs of 2012

3. Passion Pit – “I’ll Be Alright”

Gossamer

A surface reading of “I’ll Be Alright”– far and away the best song on Passion Pit’s deceptively fragile, and therefore appropriately titled, Gossamer — suggests nothing you wouldn’t have found on the Cambridge outfit’s debut offering, Manners. There are the syrup-thick layers of major-key synths, the fist-pumping, thunderous rhythms, the vaguely fey vocals by Michael Angelakos. On first listen, you’d be forgiven for simply thinking, “Welp, there’s another Passion Pit song.”

But something about “I’ll Be Alright” endures, and in a different way than the bouncy sing-alongs of Manners. “I’ll Be Alright” slithers and slinks, hiding depression, denial, and dosing right there in plain sight. With each successive verse, Angelakos feels more confident in his self-doubt, as if the longer “I’ll Be Alright”‘s cheerful exterior holds, the more he can get away with disclosing. After all, the louder the room, the more forcefully you can shout your therapies without actually being heard.

Those verses– sprinkled with wrenching self-revelations like “Can you remember ever having any fun?” and “I’m so self-loathing that it’s hard for me to see reality from what I dream” and “Why do I keep housing all this suffering” — spiral around a chorus that similarly hides its actual meaning under an ostensibly positive veneer (in this case, the titular affirmational sentiment). But when Angelakos sings “Go if you want to / I’ll be alright,” he doesn’t mean it. What he’s actually saying is “I know I’m hurting, and that I’m hurting you. So you can go, even though it might ruin me.” It’s the tossed off, insincerity of someone who desperately wants you to stay. “I’ll Be Alright” is at its core a trick, one that convinces you to dance joyfully to a cry for help. -Chris Bosman

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japandroids japandroids the house that heaven built Top 50 Songs of 2012

2. Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built”

Celebration Rock

Thank you, Your Honor.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we have been in this courtroom discussing overturning the writ “All The Great Rock Songs About Love Have Already Been Made”. This writ holds water, no doubt about it. As you just heard prosecution say, there is certainly no dearth of evidence to give this writ credence. But I ask you: Can not our young defendant overturn this aphorism with their song that lands square at the apex of the familiar and unfamiliar bell curve of Great Rock Songs About Love?

Close your eyes. Go ahead, close them. Can you hear that lone, distorted guitar wired through a wailing wall of Marshall stacks and a snare-shot to mark the time? That’s the skeleton. Then comes the shout-chorus, a storied tradition in the rock canon usually heard much later in the song, but here it lands right in front. Their hyper-specific, glitchy “ohh”s sound like they were sampled and played on an MPC. The muscle of the song is formed within the first 30 seconds

But ladies and gentlemen, the meat hooks of “The House that Heaven Built” are forged in the fires of a little something you and I know as true love. In fact, Japandroids penned one of the most indelible couplets breathing new life into the L-word: “When they love you (and they will) / Tell them all they’ll love in my shadow / And if they try to slow you down / Tell them all to go to hell.” I know this dense, emotional chord of wanting to guilt your ex-lover and protect them at the same time still rings in your head. It does in mine. It’s something you should have screamed out the window of your Ford Taurus while tearing up country roads in high school with the low hum of cheap beer underscoring the ultimate kiss-off. The song preys on the nostalgia of adolescent emotions, yet is insightful enough to pin down that byzantine chemistry of love and loss.

As the song rockets to the end, the sentiment is inverted back to you. The car speeds faster. Your mind races along with the drums and guitar: “I know I will be loved again, and though it will pale in comparison to you, I won’t let anyone hold me back anymore.” Masochism abutted with catharsis. Pop fused with punk. Convention joined with innovation. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, open your eyes. That’s one of the greatest Rock Songs About Love you’ll ever hear.

The defense rests, Your Honor. –Jeremy D. Larson

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thinkin bout you frank ocean Top 50 Songs of 2012

1. Frank Ocean – “Thinkin Bout You”

channel ORANGE

It’s been awhile since such a lonely, desperate ballad has swept up the nation. Yet months later, Frank Ocean’s rallying battle cry “Thinkin Bout You” continues to coddle the hearts and souls of millions everywhere. It’s not really a fault of his, per se, but Ocean’s voice is just so goddamn good that too many forget how smart and dynamic his supporting instrumentation can be. But that’s where the song gets its blood: that cyclical whirring of chords, the percussion that trudges along like a dialysis machine, and those synthetic strings that hoist up the chorus. It all envelopes the track with this wallowing angst, giving it character without relying on words or harmonies.

That’s a strong facet of Ocean that few ever discuss. His sharp sense of emotionalism soaks into the instrumentation, branding each track with gooey layers of introspection that otherwise wouldn’t be there. What’s extraordinary is that this is now a trademark of Ocean’s, almost to the point where one might consider him a perfectionist (see: last year’s “Novacane” or even “She”, his collaborative track with Tyler, the Creator on Goblin). Similar to Kanye West, who’s changed hip-hop by tweaking it into something avant-garde (sorry, “luxury rap”), Ocean has elevated R&B into something that goes far beyond the singer. It’s not just about stories, or feelings, or words — it’s about a moment.

One line boils it down: “Cause I been thinkin’ ’bout forever.”

There’s so much erroneous context to Ocean that it almost precedes his music today, which is pretty much the most tragic thing about him right now, namely because his music absolutely doesn’t need it. It’s all right there in the DNA, speaking multiple tongues for anyone’s mind and soul. Back in September, when Ocean performed the seminal hit on Saturday Night Live, millions of viewers sat on their couch and witnessed one of the show’s most intimate and telling performances in its 35-plus-year history. Ocean shared a moment with everyone that night, turning the spotlight not on himself, but his audience. That’s the power of his songwriting, and why his music will outlive his contemporaries and, to be fair, himself. With “Thinkin Bout You”, it’s certainly a hard moment to embody — starving for someone who will likely never hunger for you — yet it’s something every human being feels at one point or another in life. And never has feeling so lonely felt so rich. –Michael Roffman

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Listen to the Top 50 Songs of 2012 on Rdio

01. Frank Ocean – “Thinkin Bout You”
02. Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built”
03. Passion Pit – “I’ll Be Alright”
04. Grimes – “Genesis”
05. Usher – “Climax”
06. Fiona Apple – “Every Single Night”
07. Kendrick Lamar – “Swimming Pools (Drank)”
08. Death Grips – “I’ve Seen Footage”
09. TNGHT – “Goooo”
10. Cloud Nothings – “Wasted Days”
11. Jessie Ware – “Wildest Moments”
12. Miguel – “Adorn”
13. Swans – “Apostate”
14. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe”
15. Bat for Lashes – “All Your Gold”
16. Twin Shadow – “Five Seconds”
17. Skrillex feat. Sirah – “Bangarang”
18. Killer Mike feat. Bun B, T.I., and Trouble – “Big Beast”
19. Chromatics – “Kill for Love”
20. Torche – “Kicking”
21. Todd Terje – “Inspector Norse”
22. Spiritualized – “Hey Jane”
23. Action Bronson – “9-24-11”
24. Lambchop – “Gone Tomorrow”
25. King Tuff – “Bad Thing”
26. Beach House – “Myth”
27. Angel Haze – “Cleaning Out My Closet”
28. Divine Fits – “My Love Is Real”
29. Sharon Van Etten – “Serpents”
30. Jack White – “Love Interruption”
31. El-P – “The Full Retard”
32. Purity Ring – “Fineshrine”
33. Gorillaz feat. André 3000 and James Murphy – “DoYaThing”
34. Lotus Plaza – “Monoliths”
35. Solange Knowles – “Losing You”
36. Burial – “Kindred”
37. Chief Keef feat. Lil Reese – “I Don’t Like”
38. The xx – “Angels”
39. Titus Andronicus – “My Eating Disorder”
40. Taylor Swift – “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
41. Rick Ross feat. Meek Mill – “So Sophisticated”
42. The Walkmen – “Heaven”
43. Crystal Castles – “Sad Eyes”
44. Earl Sweatshirt – “Chum”
45. Leonard Cohen – “Come Healing”
46. Indian Handcrafts – “Bruce Lee”
47. Tanlines – “All of Me”
48. Cult of Youth – “Garden of Delights”
49. Ty Segall Band – “Wave Goodbye”
50. M.I.A. – “Bad Girls”

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