Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Top Ten Songs of 2012

This is Kyle Murphy's list of the top ten songs of 2012. All songs can be found by clicking the YouTube link in the title of the song. 

This year's list features some breakup songs, rap and R&B epics, and rock and roll music. 2012 saw another huge influx of electronic music, though this list only contains one purely electronic song. Enjoy, and happy new year!

10. Grimes - "Oblivion
Visions; Arbutus, 4AD
Is she Keyboard Cat? Maybe. But that doesn't make "Oblivion" any less of a fantastic song. Accompanied by an excellent, ambush guerrilla-style music video, "Oblivion" is an undulating electro-pop masterpiece. Claire Boucher's loops twist and dance with each other effortlessly, never ceasing to entertain even the most casual listeners. This is also, notably, a song where Boucher's lisp is present throughout, embracing her voice. Visions polarized a lot of people,  all while unintentionally posing questions about gender in music. It is easy to try and overshadow the product here with hype, but at the end of the day, "Oblivion" is well-composed, thoughtful, and catchy as all Hell.

9. Sharon Van Etten - "Give Out"
Tramp; Jagjaguwar
The cover of Tramp is representative of the music within: unabashed honesty, delivered unblinkingly. "Give Out" is barebones, never flashy; everything centers on Van Etten's beautiful voice and thoughtful missive. Everyone can appreciate a good breakup song, but with the chorus "You're the reason I'll move to the city / Or why I'll need to leave," Van Etten is predicting a relationship's failure before it is even anything above a fling. The rest of Tramp does a spectacular job laying its artist naked in front of the listener, but it never hits as hard as "Give Out" does in just over four minutes; the seething foresight of an overly cautious lover crafting an inescapable future. 

8. John K. Samson - "The Last And"
Provincial; ANTI-
Fellow Flatted Third writer Ben Goodheart prefaced this song with something along the lines of "This is a song about Edna Krabappel and Principal Skinner's love." Now I am a man who loves his Simpsons, so I don't know which season this was written about, but Skinner, to the best of my seasons 1-11ish knowledge of the Simpsons, is not married -- if he is now, I care not to know. Regardless, "The Last And" is an alluring piece of music. With what amounts to a simple jazz setup and some strings, John K. Samson forfeits a tale of unrequited love; this song hits slow and meaningfully, not wasting any of its deliberate snails-paced energy.

7. Converge - "Coral Blue"
All We Love We Leave Behind; Epitaph 
The longest song on All We Love We Leave Behind, "Coral Blue" feels like Converge's most mature song to date. It has all the brutal, relentless power of any Converge song, but is extremely focused. Sounding like a Mastodon homage cast by a blacksmith with a chip on his shoulder the size of Boston, "Coral Blue" has a chorus that could strip the pain off a ship. It only grows stronger as the song progresses, up until the floor drops out, guitars scream in agony, and drums begin to tie in the next song on the album; Converge isn't done with you now, nope, not when the rest of AWLWLB  has yet to land its blows directly into your solar plexus

6. Fiona Apple - "Werewolf"
The Idler Wheel...; Clean Slate, Epic
"Werewolf" was the second single off of Fiona Apple's first album in seven years, though it should have been the first. The way Fiona's entrance to the studio introduces the song creates the perfect reintroduction to the enigmatic pop artist, relinquishing her from high expectations and critical cynicism. There seems to be a lot of great breakup songs on this list - oops! - but "Werewolf" and its ability to share the blame and offer a sort of clean departure from feelings that makes it so special. When Apple admits she's a sensible girl, cheers from children flood the mix, lightening the mood, despite the drab subject matter. The vision is clear, here, though I'm not sure about the rest of Apple's conscience. 

5. Moonface - "Heartbreaking Bravery"
with Sinai: Heartbreaking Barvery; Jagjaguwar
With Interpol's Turn on the Bright Lights seeing a reissue this year, I was reminded of how Ben Goodheart called Interpol "babby's first post-punk." I agree, not because I don't like Turn on the Bright Lights, but it is always fun to play devil's advocate. "Heartbraking Bravery" never reaches above a slow crawl, a speed Interpol could never pull off. This is not a tribute to post-punk, but something much purer. And when you hear Spencer Krug crooning "When you see names of angels on the back of your eyelids / That look like they were carved in a fit of violence," you feel something skitter up your spine: a welcome spark in the slowest of burns. 

4. Frank Ocean - "Pyramids"
Channel Orange; Def Jam
Is this a movie score? An epic, almost ten minute R&B future-pop anthem, "Pyramids" is a musical behemoth. Casting one of Ocean's flings as Cleopatra grants her much more power and strength than how one might imagine a common stripper. What is most unbelievable about this song is how well-paced it is, never feeling strenuously long, despite two separate movements of music. The second movement is much more relaxed compared to the jittery first half, allowing Ocean to take his time with the bath-warm beat. "Pyramids" was used in the first promo video for Channel Orange and it's not hard to see why Ocean would lead with his best foot. 

3. Japandroids - "The House that Heaven Built"
Celebration Rock; Polyvinyl 
Maybe I over-romanticize being a teenager. Maybe I'm too old to feel this young. Maybe all mistakes are stupid. "Or maybe you could shut the fuck up and cut the didactic bullshit" is what Japandroids seem to always say to me. Quelling any doubts that they lost any edge with their second album, Japandroids produce a barn burner of a song. "The House that Heaven Built" is self-reflective of a band that is often misnomered as "juvenile," proving their longevity as a simple rock band - no excessive flash, no gimmicks, just rock music that makes you feel carefree and young. It's the perfect summer song to scream with your friends in the parking lot after last call; it's the perfect song to reflect on a former friendship; it's a perfect rock song. 

2. Kendrick Lamar - "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst"
good kid, m.A.A.d. City; Top Dawg, Aftermath, Interscope
In a recent review of GKMC, I called this song the Rosetta Stone of the record - I feel that still holds true. This is what makes the record a classic: the fact that the average rap listener can enjoy twelve minutes of music and never feel like they're being lectured. Lamar argues how unavoidable inheritance from your environment is, and how it creates the hood mentality, unless an output is discovered, but even then, there is still no escape from mental anguish - a sort of PTSD from Compton. The second movement feels much more militaristic, frustrated with the whole situation. This song is heavy, much heavier than any commercial rap song from the last decade, which makes "Sing About Me..." so important: think about how many people are going to hear this song.

1. The Men - "Open Your Heart"
Open Your Heart; Sacred Bones
How could a straight rock song with no trends be the best song of 2012? Why not just have another Japandroids song? Simple. Every band has to practice. When the term "garage rock" evolved into a genre of music, something shifted; suddenly music that was unpolished or just plain bad could be perceived in a new artistic lens. But calling The Men a garage rock band is ignorant; every move this band makes is perfectly planned and executed; and the more you listen to "Open Your Heart", the more you crave to understand the process. It's original and honest, meticulous yet organic. "Open Your Heart" ends with a symbol crash - one that seems to resonate somewhere between your love of Led Zeppelin and all your ex-girlfriends, a longing for a new golden age. The Men won't be your savior, but they'll remind you why you care. 

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