Top 25 Singles/Songs of 2012

December 18, 2012

Just a reminder on the selection process for songs–now that I also post genre-specific album lists (best metal albums, best hip hop albums) and Honorable Mentions lists, I don’t exclude songs from the Top 25 singles list just because they are from one of the top 10 albums. This list is all about what songs work best by themselves as single songs, regardless of whether they were released as a single however. Feel free to comment!

nas

25) Daughters – Nas

Nas pens a lovely ode to his teenage daughter, details the troubles of raising a girl as a single man, made especially difficult by his past public image and persona. “Daughters” is one of few notable recent examples of hip hop’s ability to transition to adulthood, as well as the genre’s ability to analyze many things left unsaid in years past.

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24) Murderers Are Getting Prettier Every Day – Marilyn Manson

The best single Manson has released in a decade or so (at least since “This is the New S**t”), it’s also by far the best song on his latest album–but to be fair, Born Villain isn’t terrible even if it falls short of the creativity of the “trilogy” earlier in his career. Heavy guitars abound, heavier than anything on his last two records and an absolutely terrifying roar of a chorus which re-envisions religious ecstasy as end of the world terror, imagining religious truth as horror when it’s “someone else’s angels.”

Van-Halen-A-Different-Kind-Of-Truth

23) Stay Frosty – Van Halen

Well, no one really thought the David Lee Roth-Van Halen reunion would last long, but over before the money-making tour even really gets far underway? Seriously? The album the band made to justify that tour, at least, turned out to be much better than anyone could have predicted. A Different Kind of Truth was apparently the product of a revisit  to unreleased demos the band worked on around the same time as that break-out debut. Which may explain why this record turned out to be easily one of the best records they’ve made since then. The stand-out track is this goofy fun song which starts kind of “Ice Cream Man” slow and ends kind of “Eruption” fast. Vocal Rothisms abound, Eddie riffs soar, all of it works very, very well.

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22) Radio – Nude Beach 

Nude Beach’s II album is maybe the finest unpretentious garage-rock jam album I’ve heard in a long, long time. This is a record that channels all the best rock and roll artists of the past without copying their style in a redundant way. “Radio” feels like early Costello backed by the Heartbreakers in a Jersey Bar opening for Springsteen. This is unfettered, heart on sleeve, rock and roll; and like early 45 era r’n’r this song is done in 2 1/2 minutes.

Mirel-No-Death-2.14.2012

21) No Death – Mirel Wagner

Mirel Wagner was born in Ethiopia, raised in Finland, and makes Gothic World Folk music that is beautiful yet disturbing, eccentric yet approachable. “No Death” is one haunting, dark song–it’s also one hell of a great song. Warning: it’s about a man in love with a woman and still willing to have romantic relations with her as her funeral lights burn. This would be exploitative tripe from most other artists, but although most of us listeners (I hope) won’t relate to the feelings and actions described in this musical narrative, Wagner hooks our ears into her tragedy captive to its unfolding.

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20) Myth – Beach House

This dreamy, soothing digital bath of a track sets the tone for everything that follow on Bloom. I listened to this song more than any other new song in 2012 and I haven’t gotten bored of it yet.

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19) Dumpster World – Band of Horses

The latest Band of Horses record (Mirage Rock) is their best yet. My favorite song of the set fluctuated throughout the year from the anthemic “Knockin on the Door” to the downer “Slow Cruel Hands of Time,” and then ultimately to this Neil Youngish tongue-in-cheek song which fits midway between revolutionary protest and cynical observation. “Dumpster World” rocks harder, like much else on the record, than pretty much anything this folksy California-rock-style band has done in the past.

gaslight

18) Mulholland Drive – The Gaslight Anthem

Maybe the closest Gaslight have ever skirted to Bon Jovi rather than Springsteen–but so what? If it owes anything to Bon Jovi, it’s to the absolute best aspects of that band at the high-point of their career. This is a big, dumb, fun, cheesy, romantic, repeat-worthy rock song: repetitive chorus that doesn’t get old in its infinite repeats, throaty emotional vocals, hooky beyond hooky guitar solos and riffs–including one that could indeed be an outtake from a souped-up version of “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and of course a slowed down breakdown before one last trip through the chorus. The best song on the latest Gaslight album.

dum dum

17) I Got Nothing – Dum Dum Girls

This stony drum-bass lo-fi garage rock song from the latest Dum Dum Girls EP gets better each time I hear it. I can’t pin down why I love it as much as I do, but my play-count of it from this year is enough to make its inclusion on this list unavoidable.

patthood

16) Come Back Little Star – Patterson Hood (feat. Kelly Hogan)

Maybe one of (if not the) prettiest and less nuanced songs of Patterson Hood’s career, in or apart from the Truckers–“Come Back Little Star” is a gem from his new solo record, a tribute to a departed friend. Kelly Hogan’s pretty vocals work great in duet with Hood’s rougher and folksier twang. This is another reason why I love Hood’s work, the great scope he is capable of is showcased in this simple, lovely ballad. Bonus points for the “traded in your wheels for wings” line.

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15) Entombed – Deftones

The Deftones have sustained a much longer career than one could have predicted when they emerged with a slew of nu-metal contemporaries in the wake of Korn. Of course, Deftones always had something more unique than that whole genre that they were originally lumped in with and have shown over a series of increasingly stellar albums that they are an intelligent, melodic, creative metal band, one unafraid to take chances and experiment with the possibilities of their sound and showcase different aspects of their influences. Koi No Yokan is a great album, maybe their best overall work since White Pony, and “Entombed” is my favorite song of the new bunch. It’s no secret that the Cure is a huge influence on the sound this band makes with songs like this, and that works perfectly here on this lush and layered quiet-loud ballad.

jte

14) Am I That Lonely Tonight? – Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes Earle, son of legendary alt-country maverick Steve Earle and named after archetype of the genre Townes Van Zandt, has released three classic albums in a row now. Track 1, “Am I That Lonely Tonight?”  from the latest of these three albums (Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now) utilizes the smoothness of his vocals and the softest of horns layered through the melody to cement this as the perfect late night reflection song. Justin Townes could just as easily release a pop standards album with that voice and this type of production–it’s likely that in the realm of adult contemporary music he would become a big star. Whether he has the temperament (or desire) for that type of music is another question though, but this song makes a good case for it.

gclark

13) Please Come Home – Gary Clark Jr.

Gary Clark Jr. may be the most hyped guita- slinging bluesmen to come along in quite awhile, but the stand-out track (excluding the great tracks here that were already released on last years “Bright Lights” EP) on his full-length debut for me is this beautiful throwback to doo-wop smooth R&B soul of the fifties. This is a great, great, song of warmth and emotional depth.

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12) Skyfall – Adele

Adele’s slow burn approach to a Bond theme is everything a Bond theme should be–classy, sexy, sultry, and catchy. This is a bluesy, jazzy, late-night song. It works amazingly well as a stand along single, but even better within the framework of the movie’s opening credits.

MIA-Bad-Girls

11) Bad Girls – M.I.A.

The best and catchiest single M.I.A. has released since “Paper Planes,” “Bad Girls” is another world-music influenced eccentric approach to hip hop and club music. The lyrics are certainly not literary genius, but they suit the bang of the beat perfectly. Can’t wait to hear the album, whenever it finally comes.

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10) The House That Heaven Built – Japandroids

Like the most arena ready sounds of Springsteen and the E-Street Band channeled by the Replacements on a college radio station playing from a boom-box with speakers ready to burst, Japandroids bring hung-over bro-bonding to an emotionally sung fist-in-the-air rock anthem with a percussion beat that sounds like feet stomping on bleachers. You can’t help but want to sing along and feel every note, word, and emotion involved.

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9) Hold On – Alabama Shakes

The Alabama Shakes remind all of us that Alabama is, among all other things, also the origin point for so much great classic soul and R&B music, courtesy of the Muscle Shoals musicians who served as studio players for Otis, Aretha, and many other greats. Alabama Shakes channel that prime soul and rock with a crackfire band anchoring timeless sounding vocals by the personable and charismatic frontwoman  (at least vocally–I’ve never seen ’em live) Brittany Howard. “Hold On” is a simple, catchy, funky blues jam.

stones

8) Doom and Gloom – The Rolling Stones

Okay, seriously–what band can put out such a hard, heavy, rip-roaring, excellent rock song in their sixth ( ! ) decade of making music? This is as tight and exciting as anything on Exile, Some Girls, or Aftermath. This is prime Stones with everything they do and do well. One could complain that it’s just an excuse to get you to buy 3 discs of hits you probably already have being the one new song represented on GRRR! or a pull to see them on yet another world-tour, but you can just download it as a single and if you can’t afford to shell out the 200 bucks to see them on the current tour (me either), you can catch a number of live performances from their prime which are being rolled out all year.

lupe

7) ITAL (Roses) – Lupe Fiasco

This is the best track from Food and Liquor II. There were some close runner ups (I’ll say more about that in my “Honorable Mentions” post at the end of these 2012 recaps or you can go back to my album review of it as well), but all in all the verses and the chorus all come together best to display Lupe’s skill and integrity as an artist on this track. You may not agree with Lupe’s affirmation of the President as a terrorist for actions in the Middle East, but his defense in the third verse of the uproar that statement caused last year is certainly emotional and heartfelt. But who can’t get behind the first verse which preaches the pointlessness of gang violence, calls out the laziness of coke and stripper song cliches, and warns listeners not to be misdirected by the false glamour of corporate hip hop. Best of all, when’s the last time you heard a hip hop chorus that showers so much respect on “the ladies and the gentlemen,” asks for “patience for the youth, sympathy for the poor, empathy for the old, more justice for the downpressed,” and “peace for the whole wide world?”  Of course it’s a bit odd to hear him drop the “b” word a few times on the same record that he dissects that word’s overuse in hip hop, but it is the only time on the record this is done outside of that song and here it’s not used as a gender-specific term. “ITAL” makes the case for this being the “great American Rap” record.

dwight

6) Dim Lights, Thick Smoke – Dwight Yoakam

Enough country artists (and artists on the borderlands of country) have done this song to make it a standard, but Dwight breathes life into it by rocking it harder than any song he has in twenty years. This is rockabilly, bar-room ready energy. Dwight hiccups the vocals out over a brilliant flurry of guitar and drum-work by a killer band and when it’s over you expect a cloud of dust to be hanging in the air.

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5) Bad Religion – Frank Ocean

One of the main moments Ocean leaves his bisexuality open and plain (yet taken simply as matter of fact and not the point of the song at all) is this heartbroken lost-love ballad which compares unrequited love to religious cults. A “bad religion” for Ocean is one where he “can never make him love me.” An understated beat which builds to its conclusion gradually, a back and forth dialogue between narrator and taxi driver, and a haunting refrain all add up to one of the best soul songs in a long, long time.

25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Concert - Night 1 - Show

4) Death to My Hometown – Bruce Springsteen

If I have to pick one track from the excellent “Wrecking Ball,” it is ultimately this one–sure I could make the case for the lead off anthemic “We Take Care of Our Own,” the poignant modern spiritual of “Rocky Ground,” or the epic “Land of Hope and Dreams” as the stand-out moment from the album, and later on I may change my mind to one of those. But for now, this Irish stomping protest song seems the best representation of what happened with both Bruce and the country this past year. The live versions he performed with Tom Morello were also a nice bonus.

reagan kmike

3) Reagan – Killer Mike

A crackfire indictment of the patron saint of the modern Right, Killer Mike lays the blame for the destruction of a generation of poor minorities in the ghetto at the doorstep of former President Reagan’s White House. Solidifying the established educated gangsta rap motif of reaganomics and the war on drugs as the cause fora generation growing up without parents and bound for prison, Killer Mike seconds those that have claimed gangsta rap was born as a response to Reagan’s America. As so many are still feeling the effects of that decade–economic, political, and racial fall-out from those “formative” years are still playing out through the country at large–Killer Mike makes the case in song for the necessity of continued, yet insightful, gangsta rap. Of course, this genre has baggage and invites plenty of valid criticism its way, and Killer Mike (at least on this song if not everywhere on the rest of the record) turns his eye for detail on the genre itself not letting even himself off the hook for some of the less pure repercussions of the emotional and vulgar response that such a format has provided over the past few decades. On most of his latest album, but most especially on “Reagan,” Killer Mike steps out of the shadow of his old mentors Outkast and ten years later proves himself as his own artist–even though he does seem to channel Ice Cube in his prime and the solid production from El P certainly helps as well.

16 saltines

2) Sixteen Saltines – Jack White

There was always one stand-out track that I can’t get enough of on every White Stripes album–“7 Nation Army,” “Icky Thump,” etc–but usually the rest of each album paled in comparison. There were always solid tracks, but the stand-out always buried the rest. Now, as a “solo” artist with an assortment of two bands to back him, Jack White has crafted a superb album, better than anything he’d done as one piece in the past. Yet there’s still a noticeable stand out–“Sixteen Saltines.” The rest of the record is good enough so that this track doesn’t bury it though, but this is an amazing stand alone single that would bury any other person’s album. It’s a quick, frenetic, rock and roll blast that’s over in 2 and a half minutes and begs for a repeat play as soon as it’s over. This channels everything that makes rock and roll big, stupid fun and really could slip into any mix of the best fun rock songs of all time. That riff, those ridiculous verses, and the break-down chorus (anchored by a wah-wah beat) all add up to equal pure rock n’ roll genius.

Passion Pit Take A Walk Single Art

1) Passion Pit – Take a Walk

So the best pop song about personal economic collapse and recession also became the music for a Taco Bell jingle? That is a bit odd, and a little disappointing  but Michael Angelako (who is the sum total of the band on record and employs the other musicians only for the live shows) has made it clear in interviews that he’s never seen himself as doing anything other than making pop music, so complain about him “selling out” all  you want for letting his catchy song be used as a catchy jingle, he doesn’t care. Passion Pit music is that above all else–catchy. Bright, poppy, synth-driven beauty that sounds better than any other pop music on the radio. Yet hidden (and usually not too subtly) behind those ear-worm melodies and beats are thoughtful lyrics, often commenting on tragic, paranoid, depressed, concerned, or simply confused states of mind. This is the best song Angelako’s written thus far, a tale of someone who struggled, worked all the time, forsaking his family to get established, then at the height of lving the “American dream” with his family now relocated to the states with him living in the suburbs, complete financial collapse over bad investments. It’s stark stuff, yet catchy as all get out and it is amazing how these two contrasts–lyrical desperation and dance-able melodies–play together perfectly. Still, it is a bit odd that a song about a man “too much a coward to admit when I’m in need” is used to sell Dorito Tacos. That’s 2012 for you though, and this was its best song.

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3 Responses to “Top 25 Singles/Songs of 2012”

  1. […] are so good when explaining my pick of the Koi No Yokan track “Entombed” as one of the “Top 25 Singles/Songs of 2012″ here. “Entombed” is a beautiful, soft-loud alternative metal ballad, a type of song that […]

  2. […] was one of the best songs of the year, and you can read what I say about it on my “25 Best Songs/Singles of 2012″ as it placed at number 3 there. There are other great moments on record here–the crew shared swagger intro of “Big […]

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