50 best songs of the calendar year. Songs must be from an EP, LP or demo released during 2012 and no band may appear twice. Today, we count down 10 to 2.
10. A.C. Newman feat. Neko Case - "Not Talking"
What separated Newman's 2012 release, Shut Down The Streets, from being a New Pornographers record remained unclear, especially with a Neko Case appearance on the debut single, "Not Talking". What remained certain was this: when Case and Newman collaborate, the results are magic. A whirling melody and Newman's typical austerity dissolved into Case's transformative duet. It was about a lonely, reverse-engineered Eden. "Rescue teams will look for days/I like the way things are/They should abandon the search," they sang, providing the outlines for exile of these two massive talents. It was allegedly about redemption, a bridge about distance, Case and Newman soaring out over the arrangement with sturdy wings, but it was clear these two were happier out there alone.
9. Father John Misty - "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings"
The most memorable drum and guitar line of 2012, Father John Misty built a house of death on America' far western boundary with "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings." "What are people gonna think?" Misty posed to the woman in question, though he suffered from no reservations of formality when dishing up one of the most satisfying sexual lyrics of the year, "I laid up for hours in a daze retracing the expanse of your American back." It was all love and funerals, digging in the dirt, girls along for the ride, making out and up in cemeteries in Los Angeles.
8. Sun Kil Moon - "Sunshine in Chicago"
Mark Kozelek has never lost sleep over forthrightness. In 2012 "Sunshine in Chicago" was no exception, a bracingly honest take on getting old. He admits to getting an STD in Chicago in the 90s, though this somehow comes across as dulcet as the admissions of his own father's exile to Chicago in the summers to relieve a crowded house. Nominally, it is a walk through a sunny Chicago, but it is Kozelek's talent for blighted imagery that takes us to his father, a more-famous career with the Red House Painters, and that line about "guys in tennis shoes." Few other artists do place, minutiae, and lyrical imagery as well as Kozelek, admitting to being both crushingly sad and entirely fine with getting older, all in the span of a walk down Lincoln Avenue on a sunny afternoon.
7. The Zolas - Knot In My Heart"
The most unexpected and infectious chorus of the year, The Zolas' "Knot In My Heart" proved to have staying power behind their one monstrous hook. It was the Spoon song for the year we didn't get a Spoon record, a bit of angular and restless piano-pop that held incredible darkness beneath an ebullient surface. The "knot" wasn't real, though it probably felt that way. The band unleashed lyrics like, "it's hard and weird not to know how your day begins, though I'm lying next to someone new" a simple and crushing aside. The final twist saw the arrangement at full bore, sparse piano chords insistent over the top of the repeated and eponymous lyric. It both ripped and could rip you apart.
6. The Vaccines - "Aftershave Ocean"
The magical realism emerged as a thick stew on the Vaccines' non-single, "Aftershave Ocean." It was their best song from a frankly forgettable sophomore record that will undeniably result in people getting fired at Columbia Records. "Aftershave Ocean" was undeniably excellent, a weird mixture of elements of 2001 Strokes and 1968 Beatles. The guitar line chased the melody, Justin Young singing throwback pop lyrics like, "You're coming up for air/happier down there/in your aftershave ocean." It wasn't clear what it all meant, some weird lines about self-denial, "pulling the wool over," life being difficult to face and indulgence, but the impression was something more like, "Yellow Submarine," the escape that promised better times below the surface of some magical place.
5. Nite Jewel - "One Second of Love"
A whirring synthesizer back-beat announced the arrival of the singular Nite Jewel's "One Second of Love." It featured the chorus of the year, the absolutely best hook, good enough that she only teased the listener with elements of the first refrain, waiting until the 1.21 mark to unleash the complete version. It was haunting and cold, singer Romona Gonzalez asking, "Who has one second of love?", an implication that this might be more fleeting than we were lead to believe. The middle section darkened further, before a final movement, spacey synths soaring to meet the chorus of their maker, Gonzalez, alone in a layered duet with herself, asking her most pressing question.
4. Beach House - "Myth"
It was a lighthouse warning, an iron triangle, a pot and pan beginning. It was something you couldn't quite place, that ringing sound that began Beach House's stunning achievement, "Myth." That banging, inexplicably folded into the arrangement, like an auditory announcement in the fog that lay ahead. It was beautiful, intentionally and creatively gauzy. Victoria Legrand, in her usually haunting voice, suggested, "what comes after this/momentary bliss/ consequence of what you do to me" as if to say to the world they pushed back in their chairs, something this pretty has to come at a cost. Dreams this big, lies this wide, fog this rich, it must fall apart somewhere. It was maybe a bit much, but like only a few other songs this decade, you'll likely remember where you were when you heard "Myth" for the first time. There was no denying this truth, a banging reminder of where you were on their drifting sea of melody and self-deception.
3. Stars - "Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It"
Leave it to Stars to hit us with a lyric like, "take the weakest thing in you/and beat the bastards with it," a neo-Breakfast Club call for weird dignity in an increasingly individualized and lonely world. For Torquil Campbell, his weakness was that he was frightened and high, twin admissions at the center of "Hold On When You Get Love ...". Amy Milan was reduced to a Kate Busy-like feature in the chorus, her tweaked and soaring vocal offering a counterpoint to Campbell's confessional Moz. The marching orders were everywhere, the title, the chorus, the ratatat drums calling us to attention, the way they slammed in and out of the chorus, the Cure guitars. It was big and bold and beautiful, a bit silly and a bit saccharine, but love can be like that. Stars remained appropriately at the center of the melodrama, maybe the song of their career, one that Campbell admitted had a "pretty melody," but wouldn't help you leave the party at the right time. This was presumably a cautionary tale of the infidelities that happen after midnight. It was an admission; they could tell you what love sounded like, but they couldn't make you do it.
2. Alt-J - "Breezeblocks"
No one knew what to do with Alt-J in 2012. People compared them to Radiohead. Critics swooned. Pitchfork left them out of their top 50 albums. It was a cacophony as loud as the disparate influences on their record. This writer nearly had a meltdown listening to their debut LP, An Awesome Wave, and its best song, "Breezeblocks" the first time through. There was so much to it, two distinct movements, each a bit bizarre, describing first a murder and then a cannibal's desire to eat the object of your love. The final lyrics, almost done in a round fashion, "Please don't go/I'd eat you whole/I love you so," layered and layered, the drums gaining in intensity and the arrangement swelling behind the band until it was almost maniacal. Perhaps this was suitable for a song about holding the object of your desire down with concrete blocks, a winking and intense idea for what would become the band's "radio single" at college radio in the US. The weirdness worked, and Alt-J held us all under the water, or maybe it was us that killed them. Either way, we were kept together in a weird, pseudo-fetishy way, held down with weights and bound to the bottom.