Best Songs of 2012, Tracks 20-11
Here’s where the fun starts - if you can’t find something in these ten songs to get your ass moving, then I doubt you even have a pulse left. Disco is back, as are Swedish dance anthems, transcendent pop, and Kanye Omari West himself. Who needs Carly Rae when you have Charli XCX?
20. “Love Interruption” - Jack White
The intensity present here is all in the lyrics and chorus and not a heavy bass riff or legendary chord progression…unlike most Jack White tracks. Backed by Nashville singer-songwriter Ruby Amanfu, White makes his attempt at a legitimate solo career with this lead single from his album Blunderbuss. The almost gospel tinge of this record is betrayed by the violent lyrics of passionate love gone wrong. He’s updated John Cougar’s “Hurts So Good” for a new generation, and made it more twisted than a Tim Burton film. Electric piano is a choice that would be left-of-center for any musician but White, and with the gnarly, colorful sound displayed here, he leaves you begging for more.
19. “Clique” - Kanye West feat. Big Sean and Jay-Z
Kanye continues to elevate the game of rap with this single from his collaboration album Cruel Summer. The beat comes from producer Hit-Boy, so the drums are out in full force, with a sample from James Brown’s song “Funk President (People It’s Bad)” utilized, as well. Sean and Jay both have tight verses - I particularly loved Sean’s reference to Bruce Wayne and the villain - but Kanye did what he does best and throws in several curveballs. Who would have thought he’d mention Kim Kardashian’s sex tape, CIA Director George Tenet, and the very personal admission that he considered suicide after his mother’s death all in one song? The beat is hypnotic, the intro from James Fauntleroy II is brilliant, and the guests are en pointe. That said, as always, Kanye is the focus here - and he shines.
18. “Chase Us Around” - Viceroy feat. Madi Diaz
Who cares how cold it is outside when you have this gem? Daytime disco has found its gold standard with San Francisco’s Austin Afridi and Madi Diaz. Steel drums are a huge piece of this calypso-infused dance hit, as are the summery synths and vocals from Diaz that can help you hear her smile. There simply aren’t enough references to warmth and summer to do this song justice - it’s mind boggling this didn’t get more attention from DJs all over the country in 2012. This fits for your playlist at the gym, driving to work, or just hanging out at the pool. It will only be fitting if it ends up at every pool party next year like “Pumped Up Kicks” in 2011.
17. “Anything Could Happen” - Ellie Goulding
Sure, HBO used it in the trailer for the second season of Girls (which I am not ashamed to adore). The thing is, this song was every bit as ubiquitous as criticism of Lena Dunham last year. As the lead single for Goulding’s sophomore effort, “Anything Could Happen” was released at the end of the summer and quickly conquered the world. In typical Goulding fashion, the song unfolds like a story around pulsing electronic beats and looped, shrill squeals from Ellie herself. The song quickly becomes empowering, with the line “I don’t think I need you!” strangely cathartic. What floored me, though, was that string of “I know it’s gonna be” that led to the most transcendental moment in pop music last year.
16. “I Love It” - Icona Pop
There’s something about Sweden - they just breed better pop music there. This song is a case in point. The beat is aggressive as a song tailor-made for summer parties and break ups gets us out of our seats and jumping in place. Penned by It Girl Charli XCX, Swedish duo Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo delivered one of the most euphoric singles in years, meant to be screamed from your car, your building’s rooftop, or your favorite club’s dance floor. With defiant lines like “You’re from the seventies/But I’m a nineties bitch,” how could this song not be massive?
15. “Doses and Mimosas” - Cherub
A lot of us had a terrible 2012, and this song can help you with that. It’s the metaphorical middle finger you wanted to throw out into the world all year long. Jordan Kelley and Jason Huber live in Nashville, but this song could be from anywhere, as it blends electronic and funk masterfully, all the while praising illicit substances and their ability to serve as coping mechanisms. ”Doses and mimosas/Champagne and cocaine help to get me through” is a sliver of the chorus, and the rest of the song is a literal manifestation of lashing out at haters. It’s a high octane joy ride through booze, pills, and sex, and I promise you’ll enjoy every second.
14. “It’s Time” - Imagine Dragons
It’s still a crime in my book that Perks of Being a Wallflower was so ignored by mainstream audiences and awards shows. I had always enjoyed this song, but it didn’t quite register with me until the trailer was released for Perks and I found myself playing it on repeat for the song as much as the scenes from the film. The four-piece band from Las Vegas constructed a song that rips into you with that instantly recognizable hook and poignant lyrics. Frontman Dan Reynolds wrote the lyrics when he was battling depression and frustration with the band’s lack of traction; all of a sudden, they were everywhere. This song is indelible - the guitar-based hook imprints itself inside your head, with a percussive blast that concretes the impression. It’s deceptively complex, but with the universally relatable lyrics, your heart never had a chance of withstanding this track.
13. “Continuous Thunder” - Japandroids
I’m fairly certain my list this year has more Canadian acts than ever before, which is partly because Canada is amazing and partly because I attended Osheaga in August. This Vancouver duo - known as Brian King and David Prowse in real life - received a lot of love for their single “House That Heaven Built” last year, but I preferred the album closer. The wall of sound that emerges from this song seems to surround you as it builds to its resolution of fiery explosions. There’s a sincerity here missing from contemporary rock, an emotional gravitas consistent with the classic rock Judd Apatow and Paul Feig would have used to score an episode of Freaks and Geeks. The old school guitar and drum combo really drive that emotion home, and create a song - even an experience - that got me through a lot in 2012.
12. “Ghost” - Sir Sly
Formerly known as Sr. Sly when this single was first released at the end of the summer, this trio from LA was a complete mystery for months. As in, no one knew who made the song, if it was a solo artist, if any more music would be released - nothing. Eventually, after initial rumors pegged them as a darker offshoot of Foster the People, they were revealed to be Landon Jacobs, Jason Suwito, and Hayden Coplen. It’s undeniable that the synths and guitar that drive this record are second to the distinctively moody melody. There is obviously an electronic tinge here, but not overwhelmingly so. Some critics have compared them to Maroon 5 and Coldplay in the same breath, but I think they have a sound all their own - and they could be huge.
11. “I Spy” - Mikhael Paskalev
I can’t recall the last time I found myself dancing to a song about the absurdity of life, and this half-Norwegian, half-Bulgarian artist certainly knows how to burrow inside your head. Paskalev’s pop music follows in the indie/alternative-country vein of Paul Simon’s early solo career, and this song specifically is shamelessly catchy. The self-defeating chorus is almost looped throughout the track, repeating “I spy with my little eye/To fall is connected to trying.” A doo-wop guitar powers over everything else in the bridge, with what sounds like a harmonica featured heavily at the outset. In short, it’s like nothing else you heard last year.