Hey, let’s pretend it isn’t actually 2013 yet so this list makes more sense, okay? Thanks, team.
(Sigh. I’m the goddamn worst.)
Anyway, here’s the second half of my Top 50 Songs of 2012 list. The first part is right here and you can get this whole shebang on Spotify (my username is Crookednate, because what else would it be?).
24 – 20: Play These At Your House Party and Sexy People Will Want to Kiss On You
24) The Coup – The Magic Clap
This is a weird one for me to talk about. See, I didn’t really love The Coup’s 2012 album, Sorry to Bother You, as much as other people did. I thought the album’s social criticisms and politically leftist message was blunted to the point of meaninglessness this time around. That said, some of the music is really catchy and fun, so the whole thing ends up sounding like a party hosted by that annoying kid from your dorm freshman year. All that said, “The Magic Clap” is just about as sexy and fun a modern soul jam can be while still promoting the smashing of the state, so let’s all just roll with it.
23) Downtown Struts – Back to N.Y.
I think there are two things that elevate this band above the rest of the pop-punk unwashed: their complete and total understand of the kind of music they want to make and their unrelenting positivity. No band since Latterman has made the bad times seem as good as the Downtown Struts are able to. “Back to N.Y.,” my favorite song off of their excellent album, seems to see the titular city through the excited eyes of a high school kid, even when the lyrics suggest otherwise. Not everything needs to be positive, but when making midwestern pop-punk, it’s nice that this band remembers that this shit is supposed to be fun.
22) Joyce Manor – Violent Inside
Despite my love of guitar solos, purple bullshit writing and occasionally progressive nonsense, I’m always going to love short songs. I admire any songwriter who sticks to economy: find a riff that works, find a second riff that works, say what you want to say plainly, and then get the fuck out and on to the next one. Of all Joyce Manor’s short songs, “Violent Inside” is my favorite: a catchy, guitar-driven piece of ennui about a narrator who never learned how to act out and now feels violent all the time with no way to let it out. To quote the Internet: I know that feel, bro.
21) El-P – Drones Over Bklyn
For a dude who used to catch shit for not riding the beat while he raps, El-P sounds right at home punctuating the bass kicks on “Drones Over Bklyn,” my favorite song off of his world-beating Cancer 4 Cure. It’s actually a pretty simple production for the most part: some crackling snares and rumble bass beneath an understated piano line with flashes of the noise and future-blasts that are his calling card. The song works like a charm, especially in the second verse when horns echo El-P’s curse words. Seriously, listen to this if you aren’t bobbing in place, there’ something off with you.
20) Titus Andronicus – Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape With the Flood of Detritus
There are some people out there who really didn’t like the latest Titus Androinicus album and, while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, those people are humorless dicks. Tracks like “Upon Viewing…,” with its repetitious, shout-along choruses of “built to last” and “thrown away,” are not only classic Titus, they are evidence that this band is in it for the long haul. So forget the changes and remember that your new favorite band made this rocking song.
19-15: Put These On at Your BBQ and Everyone Will Say it Was the Party of the Year
19) Meek Mill feat. Drake – Amen
I’m not sure if “Amen” is the number one summer jam for 2012, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a song that I’d rather play walking in the sun than this one. The knock against Meek Mill, a somewhat accomplished battle-rapper, is that all he can do is shout. I think this knock is totally accurate. That said, he makes the shouting and his swagtalk seem less like hindrances and more like the perfect things to use in conjunction with a church organ. Also, Drake is on this track and he boasts about selling drugs. Drake, you are the worst.
18) Homeboy Sandman – Watchu Want From Me?
Homeboy Sandman has problems: namely, his desire to lecture (not educate, but lecture) about his views on society (call it Lupe Fiasco’s Disease). That said, his problems do not impact “Watchu Want From Me?,” a track that showcases what might be the year’s most natural flow. Anyone would sound good over this Alult Swim-style funk beat, but Homeboy makes it completely his own.
17) Torche – Kicking
TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE TORCHE.
Seriously. If you don’t like this song, you don’t have a brutal bone in your body and you are straight baby-skin soft. S-O-F-T. #TORCHE
(Editor’s Note: I JUST WATCHED THE VIDEO FOR THIS SONG AND IT IS PERFECT.)
16) The Tallest Man on Earth – Revelation Blues
There are only a few things you can count on in this world, and here they are: Spencer Hawes will always be the worst. The worst pizza will taste better than 50 percent of other foods. Subs from DiBella’s will always taste better than subs from anywhere else. College freshmen will always play pandering songs on guitar in the hopes of getting handjobs. The Tallest Man on Earth will always release albums with at least three great songs on them. “Revelation Blues” is the best of this year’s three.
15) Paws – Pony
Paws are a 90s revival revival band, for those who miss Yuck even though they were here a year ago. So, yes, rock bands trying to sound like Guided by Voices isn’t new. And, yes, bands writing songs about scene tourists and youth-culture poseurs have been around long before Fugazi and will exist long after every band we love is dead. Nothing about “Pony.” is new, technically. It just happens to be the best possible application of all the above, resulting in a song that sounds exactly the way you’d hope it would.
14-10: These Songs Are the New Cannon
14) DJ Khaled feat. J. Cole, Big KRIT and Kendrick Lamar – They Ready
Calling this a DJ Khaled song is wrong, since all Khaled seems to have done is pick up the phone and ask three of the best young MCs in the game for a verse. Still, credit where it’s due: this murder’s row of “Next Big Things” totally delivers in their fields. J. Cole aims for pop crossover, Big KRIT keeps trying to be Pimp C and Kendrick Lamar keeps rapping like the peerless dude he is. Throw a 70s throwback beat on top (courtesy of Cole) and the obligatory “DJ KHALED” drop, and the thing’s a hit. As if it could be anything else.
13) Miguel – Do You…
The best part about this song is how it makes you wait, how it teases you. At first, it’s all reggae guitar and long looks about believing in love. Gradually, the beat sneaks in, but only for a minute. An impossibly funky bass line will pop in, but only long enough to make you miss it when its gone. The song doesn’t throw all its elements together until the track is more than half over, but by then it’s already become the best RnB track not released by Frank Ocean in 2012. Miguel fancies himself quite the lover, but his music does the heavy flitting here.
12) Killer Mike feat. Bun. B, T.I., and Trouble – Big Beast
This is the year’s hardest rap song on the strength of the first 30 seconds alone.
11) White Arrows – Get Gone
Vampire Weekend – stings + Ra Ra Riot – Paul Simon x Yeasayer = the best beach party song of the year. Please, please, please get into White Arrows in 2013.
10) Converge – Aimless Arrow
Sorry, can’t talk … hardcore … too brutal … Converge forever …so much pounding … so much shredding … oh, God … the … the blood … it’s everywhere … yes … yesssssssssss (blacks out).
9-5: I Would Tattoo These Songs on my Body, if Such a Thing Were Possible
9) Kendrick Lamar – Sing for Me, I’m Dying of Thirst
This is kind of a cheat, since telling you that “Sing for Me” is the best song off “good kid, m.A.A.d city” is like telling you that the best part of The Return of the King is the battle of Gondor: it might technically be true, but there is a shit load of backstory to get to in order for it to have as much weight as it should. That said, as a storytelling piece, the choices Lamar makes in the production (gunshots, fading out verses) and the complete way he creates his characters makes it more than worthy to stand on its own.
8) Cheap Girls – Gone All Summer
Forget for a minute that the guitars on “Gone All Summer” are rivaled only by Dinosaur Jr in size and impact. Forget that it’s as catchy as any rock song released in 2012. You should listen to “Gone All Summer” because of its message, which is an unusual and worthy one: sometimes, it really is best to stay away for a bit in order to set things right.
7) Cloud Nothings – Stay Useless
I’d call bullshit on a punk rocker who isn’t even old enough to drink legally yet on making a song about trying to stop from aging, but considering I’m a 26-year-old with a blog about getting older, I think I’ll keep dumb mouth shut. That said, you will be hard-pressed to find a more welcome earworm in punk than this track.
6) Bob Mould – The Decent
Don’t look now, but the best pop-punk song of the year came from a 52-year-old man. Now, sure, he used to be in Husker Du and Sugar, but still. We lose, youth culture (also, leave the songs about looking back and trying to stop time to the olds, Cloud Nothings. They do it better, apparently).
5) The Men – Please Don’t Go Away
The only lyric in this song is “Please don’t go away,” and it’s almost sighed out of the singers mouth. He says it like he doesn’t mean it one bit, like he can barely be bothered to move his mouth. Of course, while he’s whimpering, the world is falling apart around him. The Men nearly destroy their instruments on this track, letting the music say what the words fail to even attempt. This is as fine a song about longing as there is, largely because it barely says anything.
4) The Sidekicks – 1940’s Fighter Jet
What a tease “1940s Fighter Jet” is. The song is slow and simple, taking its time to build to a moment of catharsis that lasts for seconds. Still, the trip to that brief (albeit powerful) payoff is the kind of thing I could make a home in. “Free like your shoulders in your clothes / free like the bible you just stole / free like the hand that you let go.” That’s up my alley.
3) Frank Ocean – Pyramids
Come for the once-in-a-generation RnB, stay for the best drop of the year at the 3:51 mark.
2) Kanye West Feat. Pusha T and Ghostface Killah – New God Flow
(Note: I am going to attempt to write this as I would have in 2012, before I knew that Kanye had a kid on the way).
Like this blog, I’m worried about Kanye West. I think he is a generational artist, the kind that my children will look to when they try to understand the era in which I came up as a young adult. That said, I worry about how sensitive he is, how aware he is of criticism, how full of himself he can be. I’m worried that Kanye West will destroy himself, consumed by his own Thunderdome nature trying to appeal to the world.
Then I hear “New God Flow,” a song that isn’t anything more than a drum beat and a piano sample. I hear Pusha-T sounding at home on G.O.O.D Music for the first time since “Runaway.” I hear Ghostface keeping pace with the new hotness like it’s still 1994. But most of all, I hear Kanye West. I hear the Kanye who made “Through the Wire,” “Power,” “Robocop,” “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” and “Gone” all at the same time. Motherfucker went super sayain and combined all his best parts on track. It’s just a drum beat and a piano line, but it’s the only song released this year big enough to make West sound comfortable. Shake that body.
1) Japandroids – The House That Heaven Built
The biggest thing in my life in 2012 was breaking up with my girlfriend of 4 years.
Breaking up with someone you’ve been seeing for a long time when you are 26 is a different kind of hurt. It isn’t like being 17, when the loss of your first love makes you feel like the world is over. I wasn’t hurt and full of hate the way a 21-year-old with a bruised ego might be. It’s something new and unwelcome, a mix of wanting to move on, wanting to stay friends, hoping you never hear from that person again, and knowing that you will. Really, what I wanted was for her and I to both be okay, for me to get over it and for her to get over it, but for her to know that no one will ever love her the way that I did.
Really though, what I should aspire to is the sentiment in “The House That Heaven Built,” which stands as the most mature breakup song that I’ve ever heard. What a wonderful, loving sentiment this is, what a grown, elegant outlook it has. We should all aspire to the ideas of the song’s chorus.
“When they love you / and they will / tell them all they love in my shadow / when they try to slow you down / tell them all to go to hell.”
In other words: I’ll miss you, but I love you. Be well, do well, and I hope you don’t forget me. This song is what grace sounds like.
I needed some grace in 2012, and this is where I found it.