20. The Killers – “The Way it Was”
Say what you want about The Killers, the band the can formulate a story and paint a picture. The picture in “The Way it Was” is a drive through the Nevada desert. Brandon Flowers stretches his vocals in trademark style, and “The Way it Was” explodes into one of the better Killers tracks in years.
19. The Shins – “Rifle’s Spiral”
When James Mercer broke off to do Broken Bells with Danger Mouse for a small period of time, some wondered if the Shins were done. Instead the Shins come back with songs like “Rifle’s Spiral”, carrying with it all the feeling of a Shins song, but all the electronic touches of Broken Bells.
18. Band of Horses – “Slow Cruel Hands of Time”
Band of Horses may have made me physically sad with how average their new album was, but “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” breaks that mold for blissful 4 minutes. The song is a nostalgic and dreamy, looking back at a town once known so well, but now unfamiliar. As someone who has moved along from their hometown, this is a song that speaks to me.
17. Gotye – “Bronte”
I’m cheating a little on this one, but Gotye’s album didn’t really hit America until 2012. “Bronte” is slow and smooth, featuring Wally DeBacker’s falsetto rising softly over strings and quiet drums. It’s a relaxing song, and contrasting this one with Gotye’s massive hit “Somebody That I Used to Know” shows his talent and range.
16. Freelance Whales – “Follow Through”
Unlike anything on their much more immediately accessible debut album, “Follow Through” announces early in the new album that things will be different. There’s a smoke-like haze that clouds the beginning of the song, and an 80’s-ish beat that joins the synths. This is no banjo-and-xylophone show like their early songs, but “Follow Through” still retains the perfect handle on melody that Freelance Whales possess, all while ditching some of the elements that left them criticized as being Ben Gibbard wannabes.
15. Imagine Dragons – “It’s Time”
Leading the modern rock side of this blog is Imagine Dragons, probably the song that my friends will find the easiest to love the fastest. Emerging from the ear-catching dulcimer and featuring some solid synth work, “It’s Time” is a crossover rock star: good enough for Glee, and great enough for me to rock out to without shame.
14. Amarante – “No Return”
I could have picked any number of Amarante songs after “Lover’s Song” and “Snow Storm” came into my life, but I’ll instead stick with my first love: “No Return”. Showing their flair for indie folk with a focus on creating detailed, unique music as the backdrop, Amarante is this year’s Mimicking Birds or William Fitzsimmons. “No Return” will get stuck in your head for days, and if you’re like me you’ll own the album ten minutes later.
13. First Aid Kit – “Emmylou”
I’d spend more time wondering why I’m in love with “Emmylou” if so many other bloggers weren’t pasting it all over their year-end lists as well. “Emmylou” has a folk-country element not all unlike a female version of Fleet Foxes. It also has this heart to it that is difficult to pin down. You might be surprised to find that a Swedish sister duo singing old school country songs can get to you, but it did for me, so give it a try.
12. Bear in Heaven – “Reflection of You”
If bedroom electronica was the main theme of 2012 (Purity Rings, Grimes, etc.), then 80’s throwbacks are a close second. I usually don’t find anything to love in the synth-laden, reverby, and 80’s beat marriage, but “Reflection of You” is a big exception. The key is the infectious chorus and bridge. “Look in my eyes/You will see/the reflection of you” they sing, in one of the most sing-alongable lines of the year.
11. Ellie Goulding – “My Blood”
By now you know I’m a big proponent of Ellie Goulding being an exception to many current female pop artists. The perfect example is “My Blood”, rising out of simplicity to an anthemic chorus over a gorgeous piano line. It’s her best song to date.
10. Walk the Moon – “I Can Lift a Car”
The funnest song of the year belongs to Walk the Moon, a fantastic live act with energetic indie rock jams like “Anna Sun” that have made waves in alt rock this year. “I Can Lift a Car” is a personal favorite, lyrics, and playful singing style. Not only is it one of most easily and thoroughly enjoyable songs of the year, it’s also one of the best.
9. Passion Pit – “Take a Walk”
Not too many songs can work in themes like pension funds, recession, immigration, markets, taxes, and determination into such a fun and forward-moving song. Instead of dealing with the subject with the tone of doom, Passion Pit instead stays almost optimistic, providing the head-clearing advice so many of us need: take a walk.
8. Active Child – “Hanging On”
I barely understood why I fell in love with this song earlier this year, and I barely understand now, but the honest truth is I love it all the same today. Dreamy, ethereal, falsetto-ed. Those are some of the words than can describe “Hanging On”. But the song is also incredibly moving, with some true emotion lurking beneath the surface. Have some patience with it, and maybe you’ll be playing it loudly too.
7. Paul Banks – “The Base”
Paul Banks, the face of Interpol, one of America’s best alt rock bands, brings us “The Base” from his new solo album, and it’s as good or better than most any Interpol song across their outstanding discography. Unlike some of the other songs that have graced the list, “The Base” isn’t so much about stirring any kind of emotional response, it’s simply about sounding like an amazing rock song. Banks’ deep vocals create a dark mood, and the instrumentation soars.
6. Yeasayer – “Fingers Never Bleed”
Yeasayer have developed a knack for some great experimental alternative rock that brings both heavy doses of unique qualities and heavy doses of melody. The result are songs equally pleasing to listen to as they are unlike anything else in your collection. “Fingers Never Bleed” is a perfect example. Slip on a pair of headphones for the crackling beginning, or check out the dissonant horn for something a little different. But also notice the almost pleasant chorus over an outstanding keyboard arrangement.
5. Perfume Genius – “Take Me Home”
Stunning in its simplicity and raw emotion, Perfume Genius touch a nerve with the ultra-personal “Take Me Home”. At times Perfume Genius’ troubles and introspection can border on disturbing, and his album can leave you uncomfortable. But when he bares his soul, the tremors of his voice on “Take Me Home” can strike a chord, and this track has been one of the most consistently played songs of the year for me.
4. Minus the Bear – “Diamond Lightning”
Minus the Bear are the makers of two of my favorite albums of all time in “Menos del Oso” and “Planet of Ice”, and those two albums cemented the band as a go-to recommendation. Despite being slightly let down by their last two albums, they still produce good single tracks, and you shouldn’t take it lightly when I say “Diamond Lightning” is possibly their best song yet. Using guitar like only they do, but putting together the most perfect and melodic chorus since “Pachuca Sunrise”, this track borders on perfection.
3. Sufjan Stevens – “Justice Delivers Its Death”
Despite its placement on a massive Christmas collection, Sufjan has done it again. And if you dismiss his album as an unnecessary group of holiday weirdos, you’ll miss out on “Justice Delivers Its Death”, one of Sufjan’s best tracks ever, and that’s saying a lot. Building out of plucked guitars and a soft piano, Stevens’ voice cuts softly and deeply like it does when he’s at his best. The lyrics, as always with Sufjan, cut to the heart. When he delivers a line like “Oh I’m getting old/I’m getting old/Everyone wishes for youth”, he whispers it in a manner that no other artist in music today can do. Amongst a long line of songs that rank as some of the best of, literally, all-time (“Casimir Pulaski Day”, “Futile Devices”, “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois”), “Justice Delivers Its Death” stacks up right with them, and that’s high praise indeed.
2. Grizzly Bear – “Yet Again”
Grizzly Bear are probably the best band today sitting at the top of their game in the prime of their careers. New album “Shields” is one for the ages and its best song “Yet Again” has zero flaws. Vocally, “Yet Again” is some of those most heartfelt yet, and when they sing “Take it all in stride” they sound almost wise. But “Yet Again” goes beyond vocals; just listen to the music. Such a simple beginning, the Grizzly Bear-ish guitars over the drums. Then comes the piano and more guitar and the perfect background vocals. By the time the chorus hits (one of 2012’s best music moments) and the electronic elements come in, the song is already amazing. Ending with some experimental flourishes that come together almost symphonically, “Yet Again” brings together just about everything I love about music into one song.
1. The Shins – “Simple Song”
Sometimes I joke around with my wife or friends about always seeking after that “insta-four star” song, the kind of song that you know after the first listen will be receiving repeated plays for years to come. For the first time since MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” or LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”, both roughly half a decade ago, I experienced that cathartic moment when I knew I might have a five-star song after just one listen. Of course, it helps that The Shins have long been established as my go-to “favorite band”. Their lo-fi early days cemented “Caring is Creepy” and “New Slang” into a nostalgic and permanent place in my heart. I named by blog “The Past and the Pending” after a song by them. Their next two albums soundtracked definable periods in my life. When The Shins momentarily took a break and James Mercer created Broken Bells with Danger Mouse, I lamented the loss of the Shins while hoping that Mercer would continue creating. Broken Bells was a more electronic undertaking, whereas The Shins had always been a little more mellow and guitar-based, despite the expanse of their sound on third album “Wincing the Night Away”. When The Shins announced their new album, there was a sense of wonder about what this new album would sound like. The answer, to my excitement, is that the new album combined the best of, well, everything. Of course, they didn’t do that on every song. Although the album was spectacular (#2 on the year), the best of the best was “Simple Song”, a song that acts as the coalescent embodiment of everything James Mercer, Broken Bells, and The Shins have done so far. Musically, the song is mostly Broken Bells-ish, hitting electronic notes that The Shins never approached. Feelings-wise and lyrics-wise, the song is decidedly, purely The Shins. But a new element is added: the darkness that lingered behind both the Broken Bells project and “Wincing the Night Away” is gone, replaced with a sense of sunny optimism despite trials. For Mercer, it seems like he’s never felt more comfortable in his own skin. Analysis of the moments leading up to this new album and this song aside, the truth is that the song is also just plain awesome. There’s the skiddish guitar line, the oh-ah background, and of course the pure, simple, wonderful piano, an instrument not seen in Shins work before. And when Mercer sings “I know that things can really get rough/when you go it alone” over that piano line, it’s as close to musical perfection as I can ever hope to hear.
- A Boy & His Kite – “Cover Your Tracks”
- Absofacto – “On a Ladder Leading Nowhere”
- Alabama Shakes – “Hold On”
- Alex Clare – “Too Close”
- Amarante – “Snow Storm”
- Amarante – “Lover’s Song”
- Anais Mitchell – “Shepherd”
- Animal Collective – “Applesauce”
- The Antlers – “Drift Drive”
- Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – “Only in My Dreams”
- Avicii – “Levels”
- Band of Horses – “Long Vows”
- Band of Horses – “Heartbreak on the 101”
- Beach House – “Lazuli”
- Beach House – “Other People”
- Bear in Heaven – “Sinful Nature”
- Bloc Party – “Day Four”
- Cat Power – “Cherokee”
- Dark Captain Light Captain – “Robot Command Centre”
- Divine Fits – “Would That Not Be Nice”
- Divine Fits – “The Salton Sea”
- Eve 6 – “Lost & Found”
- Father John Misty – “Nancy From Now On”
- First Aid Kit – “The Lion’s Roar”
- Frank Ocean – “Thinkin Bout You”
- Frank Ocean – “Pink Matter”
- Freelance Whales – “Aeolus”
- Freelance Whales – “Winter Seeds”
- fun. – “Why Am I the One?”
- Gotye – “Save Me”
- Grimes – “Genesis”
- Grizzly Bear – “Speak in Rounds”
- Grizzly Bear – “Gun-Shy”
- How to Dress Well – “Cold Nites”
- Imagine Dragons – “Radioactive”
- Keane – “The Starting Line”
- The Killers – “The Way it Was”
- The Killers – “Deadlines and Commitments”
- Lana Del Rey – “Ride”
- Lotus Plaza – “Monoliths”
- Lower Dens – “Propagation”
- The Lumineers – “Ho Hey”
- Matchbox Twenty – “I Will”
- Minus the Bear – “Heaven is a Ghost Town”
- Muse – “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable”
- Neighbors – “Hooligans”
- Neon Trees – “Everybody Talks”
- Opus Orange – “Crystal Clear”
- Passion Pit – “Love is Greed”
- Patrick Watson – “Adventures in Your Own Backyard”
- Port St. Willow – “Amawalk”
- Purity Ring – “Crawlersout”
- Purity Ring – “Fineshrine”
- Shearwater – “You As You Were”
- The Shins – “It’s Only Life”
- The Shins – “September”
- The Shins – “For a Fool”
- The Shins – “40 Mark Strasse”
- Snow Patrol – “New York”
- Snow Patrol – “This Isn’t Everything You Are”
- Tame Impala – “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”
- Walk the Moon – “Anna Sun”
- Walk the Moon – “Jenny”
- The xx – “Try”
- Yeasayer – “Blue Paper”
- Yeasayer – “Henrietta”