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 20 to 11.
20. Jinja Safari - "Hiccups"
It was post-Vampire Weekend pop, but it didn't make it any less fun, or any more awkward when the band balked at questions about Graceland. When you're the seventh layer in the seven-layer derivative dip, you don't think much about the six layers below you, even if it means the dudes in Lady Smith want to punch your lights out. "Hiccups" proved new-fashioned fun, a Lion King for adults, cartoonish bombast and hooks for days.
19. Slam Donahue - "Bug in the Sun"
"Bug In The Sun" emerged as one of the most singable melodies that 2012 had to offer. The refrain, abrasive on recording, intentionally and artfully tweakish, became something else when re-sung in the shower or a good parking garage. "Twitching like a bug in the sun," really a line about modern anxieties, transmuted into something less when put in the voice of the listener. It was a throwback, melodic and garish, self-consciously poppy, the kind of thing best sung again and again.
18. The Happy Hollows - "Endless"
The Happy Hollows had a quiet 2012, save the release of "Endless," a stirring and juiced up take on the pop that Fleetwood Mac (and now those girls in Haim) made deservedly famous. "Endless" ended in a series of soaring "ohs" from lead singer Sarah Negahdari, the line between her falsetto and normal vocal becoming more and more blurry in the maw. It was probably the layers, sliver upon sliver of vocal mix until the only thing left was one of the most elevating refrains of the year.
17. Wild Ones - "It's Real"
A small song, Wild Ones' "It's Real" was a break up anthem with only one hook. But, the chorus, "One more terror night/no I don't think we'll let that happen" proved both grammatically specious and entirely awesome. It was the kind of music that Rilo Kiley stopped making well before they imploded, or maybe a female fronted Say Hi To Your Mom. It was cute without being precious, adorable without being annoying. It was a bit dark, and most importantly, very real.
16. The Tallest Man On Earth - "1904"
The discography of singers making sense out of earthquakes isn't exactly extensive. In 2012, Tallest Man On Earth turned his talents to the shuddering earthquake that rocked Sweden and Norway in 1904. The magical realism ran deep, Matsson singing, "and as I lower down I hear it's a message, and it's 1902 telling people to get out." This notion of being privileged with the prophetic knowledge of some terrible forthcoming event felt hyper-modern, a sense of unplaced dread, even about a century-old natural disaster in Northern Europe.
15. Capybara - "Neighbor Crimes"
Capybara loaded "Neighbor Crimes" full of every bit of their keyboard and guitar pop and then shot it up in the night sky to explode and burn. It reminded the listener of UB-40, perfectly off-beat keyboards and each movement building on this original idea, glossy vocals and explosive guitars in the same moment. It may have been overlooked, but "Neighbor Crimes" was one of most ambitious and unconventional rock singles of the year. It turned the relatively meaningless lyric, "thinking, going, Mexico" into some sort of marching orders: a head-nodding jam that never took itself for anything of the sort.
14. Polica - "Lay Your Cards Out"
You either saw Polica in 2012 or you didn't. The band, maybe the first to ever properly utilize two drummers (and yes, White Rabbits don't count), toured both this continent and the one to our right with a mixture of rolling thunder, cold medicine dreams and magical sexuality. "Lay Your Cards Out" urged a forthrightness that felt real and important this year, the arrangement ebbing and flowing with efficacy, finally a rising tide of layers that washed over the listener, laying everything bare and clean.
13. Chvrches - "The Mother We Share"
"The Mother We Share" patched our genetic material together in a big mess of DNA in 2012. It was Kate Bush-lite, slamming synth stabs and a progression that almost literally took off into the chorus. The shouting catharsis ached of British moral victories, whirring from hook to hook without perfect answers, lyrics like, "the way is long, but you can make it easy on me." We were left with a little girl's voice shouting into the imploding architecture, everything falling apart and, seemingly, coming together.
12. Challenger - "I Am Switches"
Challenger provided us with the lyric of the year, "I wanna be with you when the other shoe falls." It was one of those deeply American communal fatalisms; in essence, we should be together when this all falls apart. "I Am Switches" was two-halves of a song: one part ebullient synthesizers and big horns, and the second movement, a literal reversal, vocals headed backwards in time and a more plaintive stab at the original idea. None of this would be easy or direct, and all we would have was some sort of new-Platonic Symposium. "There's no philosophy more likely fulfilling than friendship/ I'm lost in the world I'm in love with," were the last lyrics of a difficult but beautiful synthesizer meditation.
11. Sky Ferriera - "Everything Is Embarrassing"
Ever since Zooey Dechanel and Garden State, a generation of kids have gotten away from the sort of Calvinist public shame that drove so much of American culture over the last few centuries. It was suddenly fine to wear an ugly sweater or thick glasses or listen to Belle and Sebastian. It wasn't weird or silly, you were at the absolute center of relativist individualism. Dominant culture ceased to exist. You were you, a quirky and intentionally weird self. Bizarre became the new cool. Sky Ferriera threw the brakes on this program in 2012, claiming the opposite instead. It was all so horrifying, each bit of it, your carefully built and self-consciously quirky self. Every stupid thing you said, each protracted goodbye and stupid aside, your lack of social graces multiplied by your mounting anxiety, Sky went after it all. "Everything Is Embarrassing" made a beautiful case for shame, for downcast eyes and blushed cheeks. We're already weird human beings, she argued, let's maybe not celebrate it to loudly.