Best Songs of 2012, Tracks 40-31
For some reason, there was a ton of great alternative country released in 2012. Unfortunately, there were also quite a lot of heartache anthems. If you have an issue with either of these, you probably won’t appreciate this year’s list too much.
40. “Yet Again” – Grizzly Bear
The harmonies from Grizzly Bear have always been perfect, but the aggression of this song is, to me, unprecedented from their earlier music. Ed Droste sings the lead vocals on this – intentionally soft and calming, with an almost eerie timbre. My favorite part of the song would normally be called a bridge, except the song never really comes back to its established structure. With around two minutes left, Droste’s pace becomes ever more frenetic, building upon the increasingly caustic instruments. Once his voice ceases entirely, the distortion of the background starts to lose control, until the song implodes, collapsing in on itself. The song is chaos in its most beautiful form.
39. “Alone With You” – Phebe Starr
Australian Phebe Starr made a name for herself with commanding vocals on this impressive debut. Her unique blend of synth pop and some elements of jazz comes across strongly here, but the real focus is that voice. At times breathy and other times soaring, Starr’s vocals have a real earnestness present here that make the yearning in the lyrics seem legitimate: she really does want to be alone with you, dude. At first, the song seems perfect for an afternoon nap, but soon explodes into throbbing beats as Starr alternates between cooing and wailing that would be insufferable in a singer with less control.
38. “Stare Into the Sun” – Graffiti6
Jamie Scott’s falsetto could possibly impregnate you, so consider yourself warned. The electrifying pop of duo Graffiti6 – Tommy Danvers is Scott’s songwriting partner – is instantly enthralling. It’s fitting the duo is based in LA, as the SoCal sun bounces out of the speakers whenever it’s played. Gnarls Barkley comes to mind for me as I listen to Scott’s soulful range on display over the backing track that begs to have you sing along with this neo-soul pop record. They may have seemed to come out of nowhere last year, but only because Capitol Records re-released their 2010 album for wider distribution. The trick worked and they ended up on several late night talk shows, with hopefully even more songs to come.
37. “I Don’t Wanna Pray” – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
There is some knee-slapping contemporary bluegrass going on here and it makes me grin from ear to ear. Lead singer Alex Ebert and his friends have been making wonderful music since 2009, with the song “Home” arguably their most recognized work. There are more than eight members to the band at any given point (and Jade Castrinos blows me away here), but frontman Ebert truly forms the heart and soul of the outfit. With this introspective and charming song that tackles love and spirituality, ES&MZ ties gorgeous harmonies and home-spun folk rock together beautifully. That said, I have to be honest when I write that it should make the list simply for the genius homograph of “I’m looking to become not the prayer but the prayer.”
36. “Danse Carribe” – Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird is a fucking genius. There is an irrepressible sense of joy in his music, brought to life mostly through his own multi-instrumentalist talents; bringing those talents to full use on “Danse Carribe,” Bird easily creates the standout of his latest album. The song is over five minutes of scaling vocals, luscious string arrangements, and some of the most infectious whistling I’ve ever heard recorded. The lyrics are inventive and charming without being esoteric, and the bridge lasts for almost two entire minutes of blissful noise and crescendos. You can easily visualize that piece alone as a standalone track, with people dancing with friends in 1812 as much as 2012.
35. “Tourist” – Yuna
Say what you will about the cutesy lyrics in this song, but it certainly stays with you - you say “saccharine,” I say “endearing.” Malaysian singer-songwriter Yunalis Zarai started writing her own songs when she was 14; now 26, she enjoys huge fame in the Malaysian indie scene. Her love for Feist, Bob Dylan, and Sia are quite obvious in this track, where the acoustic guitar cascades behind her lilting, gorgeous plea for love. Describing a crush in ways I’ve never heard, she croons “I guess I wouldn’t mind to fall in love a little bit/Ouch, I think I fell a little more.” Her delivery is refreshing, captivating the audience with every note. There’s pain in her voice, to be sure…even more importantly, though? There’s hope, as well.
34. “Taro” – Alt-J
This indie rock quartet from Leeds, England burst onto the scene last May with their first album An Awesome Wave and garnered attention from critics everywhere for their unique sound. ”Tessellate” and “Something Good” were favorites of mine, but I ultimately chose “Taro” for the list because of two things: the insane east Asian bridge and the love story background. The band tells an enigmatic story of the love shared by mid-20th century photojournalists Gerda Taro and Robert Capa, both of whom were killed on assignment. The lyrics describe the last moments and thoughts of Capa before he steps on a land mine several years after Taro’s death. Halfway through the song, the dizzying flurry of what sounds like sitar is only interrupted by a distinct scream, eventually melting into a steady and lovely chant that soothes like the arms of a trusted lover.
33. “Are You Listening” – Kopecky Family Band
I miss Nashville. My cousin still lives there and told me to check out her friend’s band late last summer and I fell head over heels in love. We all know I’m a sucker for whistling and this is no exception. Gabe Simon and Kelsey Kopecky lead this Nashville sextet who, as far as I know, met while attending Belmont University. Simon and Kopecky’s vocals are effortless as they trade verses back and forth on this song with lyrics like “I just wanna be alone…now I got company.” The guitars and drums are engaging but not overtly ground-breaking; it’s only when the instruments, hand claps, whistles, and vocals all come together that you’re pulled into the charms of this family.
32. “You Never Need Nobody” – The Lone Bellow
Full disclosure here: I was lucky enough to attend undergrad with band member Kanene
Doheney Pipkin, and I couldn’t be happier for her after hearing this astonishing debut. With the stirring, acoustically-driven soul of this alternative country trio, there are inevitable comparisons to, say Mumford and Sons. I’d say the music they’re making here is more heartfelt, though – leading to an even more satisfying experience. Lead singer Zach Williams’ vocals are nothing but intense, and the screech he employs takes your breath away. The timbres of the three vocalists – Pipkin, Williams, and Brian Elmquist – seem to combine seamlessly over the warm, wooden grain of this track. Whiskey drips off the pleading notes from Williams as he details the jealous adoration of a marriage on the rocks. With the (much deserved) attention garnered from this lead single, I think we’ll be hearing from them for some time.
31. “Ho Hey” – The Lumineers
It was literally impossible to avoid this song in 2012. After gaining social media attention in a late-2011 episode of Hart of Dixie, the single was released in March, built to a guest spot in a commercial for Bing by summer, and ended the year as the soundtrack to Silver Linings Playbook’s Oscar campaign. The thing is, the ubiquity was absolutely necessary, as most people couldn’t help but fall in love with it. Sprinkling the track with alternating repetitions of “ho” and “hey,” this Denver-based group ensnares you with their folksy charm. My best friend described this as his favorite Sunday brunch song, and I think its works just like someone you’d meet up with on a weekend morning - something simple that slowly wraps itself around your heart, refusing to let go.