EDIT: Hear this list as a playlist in spotify by clicking here or starting the playlist below. Some songs it’s been pointed out to me I’ve missed are Arctic Monkeys’ ‘R U Mine’, Howler’s ‘Back Of Your Neck’, Anything off the new Bloc Party album, and Tribes’ ‘We Were Children’.
It’s the time of year music fans everywhere start making lists, usually the holy ‘album of the year’ compilation. Rest assured I’ll be doing mine, but I think it’s only fair to celebrate the opposite of the perfect flowing album: the perfectly formed song. This is a list I hope you can drop in and out of if you just want to hear a fantastic song, or you can use to see what great music you may have missed out on in this year, across the board. (As a rule, if it was on a non-compilation album, or came out as a single then I’m counting it as 2012, so no pedantic points). Also I’m picking songs that I like most, ones that have importance for me. There’s no point in even trying to be objective here as that list would be both boring and wrong. What it does mean is that some artists feature more than once, and some won’t feature because I haven’t heard of them. There will be some that you don’t like, and I don’t care, but I am interested in whatever songs you, reader, think should be up there, if there are any I could’ve overlooked or perhaps not given the proper time to.
Before we start I should give a nod to the songs that didn’t quite make it, or can’t make it. There’s the really great Atoms For Peace song ‘Default’, Foals’ ‘Inhaler’ is sounding immense, half a dozen Death Grips songs, especially ‘Get Got’, assorted jazz from Roller Trio, Troyka and TrioVD, and anything off the new Cat Power album. Also there are some songs that won’t be out by the time I publish this, so it makes sense to pay respect to the new Crystal Castles LP and the Soundgarden album King Animal.
With that over and done with, here goes, enjoy!
50 – Sharon Van Etten – Serpents
The spiritual successor to one of my favourite songs ever, Sparklehorse and PJ Harvey’s ‘Piano Fire’, this song is a great fusion of folky harmonies and passionate rock. This was one of the two highlights of her phenomenally good third album, Tramp. Lyrically it’s a shockingly brutal reflection on a past relationship and nice drum rolls at odd places keep the song going along nicely.
49 – Jack White – Sixteen Saltines
Two seconds in and that riff anounces Jack White’s return. The man of many collabs, from The White Stripes to The Raconteurs, he finally struck out under his own name earlier this year and was widely acclaimed. Few musicians aound have the songwriting chops of Mr White and it’s easy to see why as every part in the song is perfectly balanced and matched without losing any of the blues rock energy that he’s come to fine. Plus it’s gt a properly batshit insane music video.
48 – Lianne La Havas – Age
One of two songs that blew Bon Iver out of the water on her out of nowhere Jools performance. Stunningly witty lyrics and brilliant jazzy guitar combine with one of the best voices to emerge this year in a perfectly formed song. It’s a shame that the hotly anticipated album was such a flop, with terrible flow and lots of fluff songs. Needless to say, this still stands out.
47 – FOE – Genie In A Coke Can
Grungey and badass, FOE was one of the most overlooked artists to emerge this year with debut album Bad Dream Hotline. FOE, aka Hannah Clark, fuses pop hooks and a knack for melody with twisted samples and heavy riffs, nowhere better than on this track, a savage attack on media, pop and glamour with a brilliantly used sample of Paris Hilton.
46 – The Shins – The Rifle’s Spiral
The Shins returned after a long hiatus, but in reality James Mercer returned with an all new backing band and used his old band name. Nevertheless the trademark half poetry half nonsense lyrics and indie-pop music genius was still present. Especially in this, the album opener, the best of the more bouncy tracks released under The Shins’ name.
45 – Mark Lanegan Band – The Gravedigger’s Song
One of a number of incredible voices to emerge from the Grunge scene in the early nineties, Mark Lanegan is universally critically acclaimed be it in partnership with Isobel Campbell or in The Twilight Singers with Afghan Whigs singer Greg Dulli. This year’s Blues Funeral was equally brilliant, although at times it did seem to drag, where it worked best it worked brilliantly, particularly on songs like this where Lanegan’s gravelly tones can soothe over heavy drums and dense guitars.
44 – AlunaGeorge – You Know You Like It
This was the song that made me break my rule of never buying singles. It’s just so good. Fans of late 90s r’n’b will lap this up but its fusion with the more modern end of dubstep firms up this band as one absolutely destined for 2013 success. If you hadn’t heard this before, there’s a track coming up later in this list that is even better.
43 – Alt-J – Matilda
OK, you knew they were gonna turn up here sooner or late, and no, this isn’t the last time they’ll feature in this list. I don’t need to reiterate my love of this band, nor do I need to rub it in that they won the Mercury Prize. Let’s just say this is a great folky song.
42 – Grimes – Genesis
2012 will definitelty be remembered as the year that Grimes ‘broke’ the mainstream. That is pretty much all the result of this one song, complete with the second batshit insane video of this list. Grimes’ voice loops in and out of the waves of electronica flowing across this song, and no, you can’t make out a single word she is saying. ever.
41 – Alabama Shakes – Hold On
From futuristic electronica to classic rock’n’roll. Alabama Shakes were another brand new band to emerge this year, with debut Boys & Girls, although the initial rush of enthusiasm hasn’t really led anywhere they do deserve their spot on this list thanks to – yet another – fantatsic album opening track. Oozing with groovy soul power, it’s impossible not to feel this track.
40 – Lucy Rose – Middle Of The Bed
Lucy Rose deserves credit for stepping out of the shadows of Bombay Bicycle Club and emerging on her own with a shockingly good debut album. This was one of the songs that grew on me, seemingly out of nowhere, before I found myself hitting replay again and again. (I’ll try not to dwell on the fact that I had this tagged as ‘Middle Of The Road’ for an awkward amount of time.) It’s an endearing reflection on small-town romance with lyrics that do stand out, ‘They say I love you / they say I always will / they say I love you / but these wounds won’t heal’ and the quirky ‘If you knew me at all / you would all know my hand-size’.
39 – The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
After two superb albums, The 59 Sound, and American Slang, Gaslight finally found the mainstream success they deserved with the album that this is the title track two. Earnest Springsteen-esque rock at its best, there is a passion in their songs missing from a lot of rock and indie, and seeing them last month at the O2 Brixton was something special.
38 – Jake Bugg – Country Song
Bugg may not be the ‘tru-music champion’ that bullshit-peddlers the NME keep trying to make him out as, but he has got a damn fine knack for somgwriting. This was the stand-out ‘slow song’ off his debut album and interestingly it’s one of only four songs with no extra songwriting credit on.
37 – Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again
Remember him? The UK music world went a little crazy after he won the BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll, when we thought we had a homegrown Marvin Gaye on our hands, and then forgot about him for ages. I have my own little conspiracy theory about what happened here, which is that Kiwanuka is a folk singer and was writing folk songs, until someone realised that if he called himself soul, and took on a retro theme he could sell a lot better. As a result – high sales, and a poor album. This song however is Kiwanuk at his folk natural best, and was definitely a standout in the year.
36 – FOE – A Handsome Stranger Called Death
It’s a second appearance in this list for FOE, who upped her game with this single, fusing the guitars with more synths and e-pianos. A different kind of clever lyrics but with even more pop-appeal than before. One of a number of songs on this list that get that perfect combination of creepy and sexy it also has a video that was alledgedly filmed for under £20.
35 – OFWGKTA – Oldie
Perhaps this’ll be a shock appearance for some people. 2012 was the year people looked at Odd Future again and decided actually, they weren’t that shocking at all, and decided that Frank Ocean was the only one with any real talent. However, out of a pretty mediocre album, closer ‘Oldie’ really showed why rap groups exist in this posse form. It’s old-school, it’s cool and actually quite endearing for the weirdo bunch that sing it.
34 – Poliça – Dark Star
Poliça encapsulated their innovative and unique sound best in this track from one of the top albums of 2012, Give You The Ghost. To be honest this song could be replaced with the equally stunning ‘Violent Games’, but I’m putting this one in instead for its beautiful fusion of r’n’b, funk, rock and electronica into a cohesive and powerful song.
33 – Friends – Friends Crush
What do you get if you take the indie creme from Brooklyn, replace the crates of Smiths vinyl and Cure T-Shirts with mp3s of Prince, OutKast and Madonna? Friends is what you get. Stupid name, brilliant band and without doubt the coolest of the cool. Cool is pretty much the dominant word for Friends, whether it’s in frontwoman Samantha Urbani with her yelps or the chilled modern half-silly half-powerful lyrics. This track is effectively their mission statement. It’s effortlessly groovy and catchy, and yes, cool as fuck.
32 – Lianna La Havas – No Room For Doubt
Yes, it’s the second second appearence of someone on this list, and as before it’s one of the ones from Lianne’s Jools performance. This one trumps the previous song by being that bit more mature, or more appropriately more emotionally affecting. Whether or not you want the version with the Willy Mason verse, this song is still mighty powerful.
31 – Jack White – Freedom At 21
This song is – OMFG THE DRUMMER – shut up, yeh the song is – LOOK AT THEM DRUMS – really good and all. DRUMMMMMMMMMMMSSSSS – ok, yeh this song has pretty incredible drums, enjoy.
30 – Angel Haze – New York
Definitely one of the more significant breakthroughs of 2012, Angel Haze put herself on track to the very top with her mixtape RESERVATION this year, and already is preparing her debut. This is pretty much the song that put her where she is now, although the mixtape is remarkably good with every other song too. It’s a bold statement, ‘I run New York’, but… she makes a damn fine case.
29 – Purity Ring – Fineshrine
Another album of the year contender from another debut album, this here is the track that first turned me on to Purity Ring. Much like the FOE tracks above, its got the creepy/sexy thing in full swing and the line of ‘Cut open my sternum and pull / My little ribs around you’ weedled its way into my head for weeks. It’s at the most modern end of electronica production, with all the weird-ass genre tags that this means: witch house, post-dubstep. Whatever it is, it’s an awesome sound.
28 – Best Coast – Up All Night
Best Coast returned this year with what was my summer album, The Only Place. And while the happier, pop tracks have faded with the end of the season, this track remained as a slice of perfection. It’s the perfect soundtrack to a long summer night, relaxing in the heat with a beer. It’s also extremely bittersweet, the luscious melody permeated with deeply longing lyrics.
27 – Gorillaz (feat. Andre 3000, James Murphy) – Do Ya Thing
What a dream collaberation, annoyingly thanks to corporate sponsors Converse, bringing together men from three of the very best bands of the last generation, Albarn of Blur/Gorillaz, 3000 of Outkast and Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. It’s better than anything off Plastic Beach, but even better is the 13 minute long version which goes into an all-out freakout to blow minds, with 3000 screaming “I’m the shit!” over the top. Even as a shorter song it’s still one of the coolest things released this year.
26 – Twigs – Ache
This track turned up from an unknown artist called Twigs, with no press, no nothing. It’s freaking amazing and nods from folks like Grimes have helped turn the world on to this act. It’s very very modern electronica, and with a video that looks like a black version of Batman’s Bane wearing a mask made out of a bunch of Nikes. A one to watch for 2013.
25 – 2:54 – Scarlet
If any of you (like me) missed out on the fix of female goth rock that Warpaint provided then you needed to turn to yet another debut album, from sisters Colette and Hannah Thurlow. Moody, reverb-laden and epic, ‘Scarlet’ was the song that put 2:54 on the map,and they still haven’t topped its brilliance.
24 – The Shins – September
The problem with the new Shins album is that once the glamour of the shiny happy songs had faded, there were no real emotional moments to drag you back under, unlike with previous record Wincing The Night Away. However, of the lot, one song definitely stood out after at first being a real candidate for skippage. September is the most Shins-esqie song on the new album, and there is an earnestness to it that rewards repeat plays, as well as more trademark Mercer lyrics.
23 – Jake Bugg – Lightning Bolt
Whether you think it’s a rip-off or not, there’s no denying this song is ace. It’s got it all from the deceptively simple structure to the type of lyric writing not heard for a good while. I’m sure I need introduce this song no further.
22 – Poliça – Amongster
The sound of the future, the opening track on Poliça’s incredible album is a force to be reckoned with. It’s a song I had written off as rubbish at first but the more I came back to it, the more it unraveled, the layers of drums, the heavy, booding synths, the flashes of heavily treated vocals, and some of the best lyrics on the album, if no some of the best heard this year: ‘Everyone’s asking where’s your child in this plan / Why you gonna ask me if I’d cut off my hand?’
21 – Electric Guest – American Daydream
If you haven’t heard this track, be prepared to have a new favourite group. A perfect mix of pop hooks, hip-hop coolness and indie cred, the Dangermouse produced Electric Guest are yet another debut band from this year. Fans of Broken Bells should find this track the most obviously brilliant, on a solid album. This track stood out by a long way as the best thing they’d done, a subtle attack on western consumerism and with a pretty funny video too.
20 – Death Grips – Hacker
‘I’M IN YOUR AREA!’ Yells MC Ride, and he’s right. ‘WHEN YOU COME OUT YOUR SHIT IS GONE’. Death Grips followed up the revolutionary mixtape Exmilitary with the mind-blowing The Money Store album. Call it post-rap, industrial hip-hop, whatever you do, listen to it because you are witnessing a serious change in music. Amid all the chaos, the punk/publicity stunts, this track stands out as, well, almost a hit single. It fuses the anger and experimentalism that defines Death Grips with catchy hooks and incredible beats. ‘GAGA CAN’T HANDLE THIS SHIT!’
19 – The Gaslight Anthem – “45”
Back to proper rock now, its yet another opening track, a love song to either heroin or just music. Either way it may be one of the best things Gaslight ever wrote and an uplifting singalong chorus. It’s one of those lucky rock teacks that just works instantly, getting you right where it needs to. A proper hit.
18 – Tom Williams & The Boat – Neckbrace (Big Wave)
It’s tempting to try and squeeze in the TW&tB tracks ‘Summer Drive’ and ‘Trouble With The Truth’ both of which supersede ‘Neckbrace’ in terms of creating an atmosphere, and definitely do deserve a spot on this list (that has nothing to do with the fact that neither track is on youtube). However just for simple songwriting skill it earns its place. This song was the kickstarter of the second side of the boat’s second album, and became an obsession of mine for a while, its great lyrics and delicate melody are trademarks of a sound that the boat came to own with the album.
17 – Jack White – Love Interruption
Like Buggy’s effort a few numbers above, this song is deceptively simple. At first it sounds like a home demo, and then unravels with Jack’s impeccable songwriting emerging as well as his brutal lyrics.
16 – Purity Ring – Belispeak
Back to the sounds of the future, another track from the incredible Purity Ring. This track is laden with moments of absolute perfection, whether it’s in the ‘oh’ runs after the line ‘Grandma, I’ve been unruly’ or in the intense dampening on every pulse that keeps it as minimalist as it should be. Also, proper good creepy video.
15 – AlunaGeorge – Your Drums, Your Love
See, told you they’d reappear. This was the second single and arguably much much better. I’ll be yelling “I was there first” next year when they explode and become all famous and stuff. I still haven’t met anyone who doesn’t think this song is just brilliant. It’s modern, it’s dancy it’s poppy and it’s ever so slightly badass. Just a cracking tune. (for god’s sake watch in HD to enjoy the cracking art!)
14 – Alt-J – Dissolve Me
This was an Alt-J song they never released, but one that pretty much everyone who had the album for a month or so tended to agree was one of the best tracks on it. Something in the tiny parts of this song make it stad out so much. The little snare riff, the heavy heavy bass, or the fact that this is probably the closest Alt-J came to having a properly upbeat song on the album. While the album version is sonic perfection, I’m going to put an acoustic performance here, because I really think it’s a cool way to hear the tune. Also if you’re reading this and haven’t got An Awesome Wave, stop reading and get it now, it is that good.
13 – Friends – I’m His Girl
Yehhhh this one is cool. It’s a bit of an indie wet dream with its funky-as-hell bass line, semi-feminist lyrics (+ instagramtastic video), and all round postitive vibes. It’s fair to say this is the song Friends owe their career too, and it’ll be playing in Urban Outfitters everywhere for years to come.
12 – Poliça – Lay Your Cards Out
I can’t imagine there are few people out there who can dislike this song. The way it brings elements in from tonnes of genres and the deliate way it grabs and lures you into it. This is Poliça at their most perfect, all their elements of synth, bass, treated vox and twin drums working in tandem for the greater power of the song. It’s also got such a massive groove on it, the rhythm will get you, so just go with it. Epic track.
12 – Sharon Van Etten – Give Out
There’s some knack only folk singers seem to get for writing lyrics with characters and actions, but which can be incredibly emotive in so few words. This has never been more the case than with this song, as delicate melody and a motif repeats and repeats each time becoming more powerful and more emotive. It’s a masterclass in songwriting, and the best track on Etten’s album Tramp by a country mile.
10 – Purity Ring – Lofticries
An argument could be made that all of Purity Ring’s debut album is just repeated attempts at writing the same song. While that’s clearly bullshit, it is easy to imagine that Lofticries is what happened when they finally got it right. It is such a perfect tune. All the elements that feature in their songs, the glitchy electronica, the cut up vocals used as backing music, the layers of synth loops riding up and down, are present and combined as best is possible. It’s the pinnacle of what they’re doing, and as a bonus, it has a video directed by the same batshit insane guy that directed that Jack White mindfuck video.
9 – Alt-J – Fitzpleasure
Now we’re into single figures and approaching the best song of the year, how about the song that launched the best band to emerge this year. It’s no leap of the imagination to say that half of Alt-J’s success is based off the absolute immensity of this track. It’s as ferocious as any major dubstep tune, but complete with elements of plainchant and folk, because no fucks were given as to what they could do to the song. Lyrically it is proper mental, and yet still literary, based on Hubert Selby Jr’s ‘Last Exit To Brooklyn’. If you haven’t heard it yet… I am jealous of what you’re about to experience.
8 – Savages – Husbands
There’s an energy and a ferocity in this track that is out of the league of pretty much any other song this year. Savages return to the early 80s, plundering Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees, but rather than become a complete parody, they ascend to new heights. Be scared of Savages, their debut LP may be the most anticipated record in the world at the moment and they are definitely number 1 on my list of bands to go and see whever you can. I could make this perfectly obvious if SOMEONE HADN’T TAKEN DOWN THEIR SODDING JOOLS HOLLAND PERFORMANCE WHERE THEY BLOODY WELL STOLE THE SHOW AND WERE INCREDIBLE, so you’ll have to make do with some Dutch TV, which makes them sound kinda funny. Haha Dutch…
7 – Alt-J – Taro
Phwoooaaaar I love this song so much. As a closer on the best album all year, it’s absolutely perfect (HANDMADE IS A SECRET TRACK YOU ITUNES LOSERS). Lyrically what could I love more than a reflection on photographer Robert Capa and his lover Gerda Taro, who died in the Spanish Civil War, of which Capa took some of the most iconic photos of all time. Musically hows about the only succesful fusion of Indian music into western rock that hasn;t sounded stupid. It’s a phenomenally powerful song, and so so so so so perfect.
6 – Lucy Rose – Shiver
The absolute standout of the album Like I Used To (she even used its lyrics to name her album), this has to be one of the most instantly obviously great songs. It should be cliche, the delicate singer-songwriter ballad, but it’s just too good for that. Even after drowning it in plays, I still keep coming back to it and realising just how brilliant it is.
5 – Django Django – Default
Aha! Surprise turnout from a band not on the list yet. Django Django pretty much founded this sound, and are yet to do it better on the dancy ‘Default’. The layers of rhythm and jangly guitars is really effective and the video isn’t half bad either.
4 – Palma Violets – Best Of Friends
“Whatttt another new band at this late stage, Sachin, you’re fucking with us surely?” I hear you cry. Well screw you this song is absolutely bloody brilliant. It’s proper rock’n’roll, more than a dose of The Libertines and nods to The Doors and Joy Division. Live… just incredible, the entire joiners went absolutely nuts to this song, and it was in our heads for two days straight despite not knowing half the words. If there’s a song to get you excited about playing rock music in a band, or just listening to music, this is that song.
3 – California Daze – Peace
Gah, this song could’ve been number 1 had it not been about California. This year Peace put out an EP whose 4 tracks were better than most albums released in the UK. While ‘Ocean’s Eye’, ‘Bloodshake’ and ‘1998’ all came achingly close to entry on this list, this track is just so damn good. There’s something very nineties about it, and its a proper ballad in the way that Oasis or Blur could have written, but better than that sounds. I keep putting this on, and being amazed by just how good it really is. Peace4everever
2 – Tom Williams & The Boat – Teenage Blood
At this point in the list we’re talking songs that are trying for songs of the decade, and this track might be contender for song of my youth more than anything. As anyone knows I’m a massive fan of this band and this was the title track for their second album. Lyrically brilliant, whether you take it as a requiem for teenage fuckedupitude (technical term) or a celebration of retaining youth. It probably wins the best chorus of the decade, and I can tell you it took about a day before I set out learning the chords and playing along with the record for ages. Even as I put this I’m really having to fight the urge to change that 2 to a 1, and have this as the best song of the year, it really is that close…
1 – Alt-J – Tessellate
…But I just can’t deny the impact this single has had. 2012 is shaping up to be the year of Alt-J, capped off with that fantastic Mercury Prize win. The most iconic single, and the song that can be best said to represent the ‘Alt-J Sound’ is definitely this one. Give it the intro of ‘Interlude I’ and it brings all their elements together. Lyrically it’s genius, combining maths and sex with fantastic lines about sharks and references to The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. The song is full of moments of genius, whether its the way the bit after the first ‘Let’s Tessellate’ weedles in, or that sniff, and with the line ‘Triangles are my favourite shape’ they inadvertently gave something for Alt-J fanatics to spraypaint over their facebook walls. It’ just the best thing released this year, and congratulations should go where they deserve for making such a brilliant song.