A lot of people say things like “music isn’t what it used to be” or “music doesn’t have any meaning these days”. A lot of people are wrong. 2012 was an outstanding year for music, and since I enjoy making lists, here’s my 15 favourite songs released this year, covering indie rock, hip-hop, electro, synth-pop and more. Enjoy, and let me know your favourites!
1. Bat for Lashes – Laura
From the first time I heard this track I was in love. Though it proved to be red herring on the album that followed it remains the highlight. The stark instrumentation of gentle piano and some faint horns combines spectacularly with an incredibly passionate, touching vocal from Natasha Khan about a friend who’s losing their way. The video, too, was mesmerising.
2. Frank Ocean – Pyramids
An absolutely masterful R&B track and probably the best thing any member of Odd Future has put out to date. The subversive subject matter is complemented brilliantly by the music, which transitions seamlessly from an acid-house jam to a more melancholic slow burn as the protagonist realises being in love with a prostitute won’t work as out he’d hoped. Even the lengthy John Mayer guitar solo works.
3. Chad Valley – Fall 4 U
Discovered this song in one of Pitchfork’s “Best New Tracks” section. I was checking out one song, that I can’t recall, and when it ended, this played. And it is absolutely glorious. The huge, high-pitched synths give way to a monster of a track, a heartbroken-but-soldiering-on sort of tune with amazing vocals from Hugo Manuel. One of the best synth-pop tracks I have ever heard.
4. Atoms for Peace – Default
Atoms for Peace is Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, producer Neil Godrich, Beck collaborator Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco. Default is slightly dirty, skittery, glitchy electro with the unmistakable lilting vocals of Thom Yorke over the top – how could this not end up as one of my favourite tracks of the year? The dark synths that come in for the chorus are awesome as all hell. It all sounds like the sort of music you’d hear in a video game.
5. Kanye West – White Dress
It really is staggering just how good Kanye has been over the past two years. Fresh from MBDTF, Watch the Throne, Cruel Summer and countless guest verses here Yeezy teams up with RZA (who produces) to drop one of the most effortlessly brilliant hip-hop tunes of the year from the soundtrack to RZA’s The Man With The Iron Fists movie. There is no chorus, Kanye simply raps for about three consecutive minutes and is at his smooth, loquacious best. I’m all for him and Kim getting married if we get more tracks like this.
6. Kendrick Lamar – Swimming Pools
One of my original disappointments with good kid, m.A.A.d city was that no track matched my favourites from Section.80 like “Rigamortis” or “Reagan Era” or “Fuck Your Ethnicity”. But as usual, I was wrong. Swimming Pools has astounding production from T-Minus, from the cool, understated beats in the verses to the faraway synths that come in the background during the chorus. Kendrick never stays in one space either, switching from high-pitched to slow to fast and goes into anthem territory with the chorus.
7. Gorillaz – DoYaThing (ft. Andre 3000 & James Murphy)
Just when we thought Gorillaz were done and dusted, Converse, god bless them, brought them back, paired them with my two favourite people on the motherfucking planet, and out popped one of the most fun tracks of the year. Damon Albarn sounds as good as ever, the beat jumps along nicely and, yes, Andre Benjamin knocks it out of the park, his rap flowing as expertly as ever and slowly speeding up. Check out the 13-minute version – it contains six or seven minutes of Andre claiming “I’m the shit” over and over again.
8. Hot Chip – Flutes
Hot Chip are my fucking boys and Flutes was one of the best, dirtiest dance tracks of the year, and certainly up there with the best songs they’ve put out. Best listened to through headphones with good bass, it starts off with unintelligible babble and slowly adds synths, drums, bass and all the rest. Alexis Taylor’s high-pitched, lilting, restrained-in-pace vocal mixes expertly with the music, making the moments of liftoff all the better. I used it often for running. The only problem is I’ve now reminded myself that I won’t get to hear them play this live, as I’m seeing Beach House the same night.
9. The Tallest Man on Earth – 1904
Just a genuinely beautiful track and one that has stuck with me throughout the entire year. The acoustic guitar propels the track along at a great pace and the little electric flourishes are gorgeous. And yeah, the dude sounds like Bob Dylan, but in a really good way. Never fails to put a smile on my face.
10. Passion Pit – Constant Conversations
Passion Pit slowed it right down with this track and the result is one of the best songs the band has put together. It’s refreshing to hear Michael Angelakos singing at a slower pace but still able to work in his falsetto effortlessly. The slow, slinky music and soul sample create a relaxed atmosphere that is impossible to resist.
11. Father John Misty – Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
Elevates itself into song-of-the-year contention through the expansive sound created by the huge drums and churning, bluesy guitar. Great vocals from Josh Tillman and the video has Aubrey Plaza in it.
12. Something for Kate – Star-Crossed Citizens
“Miracle Cure” is probably the catchiest, all-round best tune from SFK’s new album but there is absolutely no beating the slamming, cathartic guitar that comes in over the top of Paul Dempsey’s melancholic chorus, particularly when it comes in for the second time and Steph Ashworth and Clint Hyndman pick up the pace in the rhythm section. The opening track on the new album, it ushered in a stellar return for the band.
13. M83 – Mirror
M83 does LCD Soundsystem. Enough said.
14. Odd Future – Oldie
Proof that behind the hyperactive beats, the idiotic behaviour, the misogynistic lyricism and general immaturity, lies a very talented hip-hop group. The beat is straight out of the early-mid 90s and sees each member of OFWGKTA get their time in the sun. Earl’s verse shines through. Perhaps behind only Yonkers and She as the best thing they’ve done. The video is awesome.
15. Nas – Stay
There were plenty of great tunes from Nas’ latest album, like the hard-hitting “The Don” or “A Queens Story” but this is just an absolutely gorgeous tune from one of hip-hop’s renowned tough heads. Some of the most sweetly melancholic horns you’ll ever hear.
And just for good measure, the best Andre 3000 guest spots this year:
Pink Matter (Frank Ocean)
Sixteen (Rick Ross)