Jake Robinson’s Top 50 Songs for 2012

Posted on January 31, 2013

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First there was Triple J’s Hottest 100, and now there’s YDE’s Top 50. Join Jake for his eclectic countdown of 2012’s 50 best songs for Stereo In A Forest.

50           Bruce Springsteen – We Take Care of Our Own

Another fist-pumping, stadium-sliced piece of America from the Boss. Like my other favourite moments of latter-day Bruce, (“The Rising”, “Girls in Their Summer Clothes”) “We Take Care of Our Own” relies on a simple melodic strain that is brought to life magnificently by the E Street Band.

49           Muse – Madness

“Madness” somewhat divided fans but, after the gargantuan sonic madness of their Olympics theme “Survival”, it was refreshing to see Matt Bellamy and co strip it back a bit and show off their ability to write beautiful little pop songs. And kudos for the Brian May-esque guitar solo.

48           Jack White – Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy

After the inevitable death knell of the White Stripes and a few years meddling with the Raconteurs and the Death Weather, Jack White finally delivered his first solo album Blunderbuss. “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” is one of those trademark whimsical songs from which White has made his name and will hopefully continue to do so, whatever guise he chooses in the future.

47           Fun – Why Am I The One?

After the incredible success of “We Are Young” it seems that New Yorkers’ Fun may have been a contender for one-hit wonders until “Some Nights” expanded their range and revealed increasing emotional depth. But my favourite song of Some Nights is this more reflective piece, which also features a great sing-out-loud chorus.

46           Adele – Skyfall

Channeling Shirley Bassey from Bond hymns of old, Adele delivered one of the best Bond songs for one of the best Bond films ever. Hearing it across the characteristically surreal opening credits of the film was spine tingling.

45           Cloud Nothings – Stay Useless

With the inevitable move towards ’90s retroism, Cloud Nothings are clearly influenced by some of the alternative rock bands of the early ’90s. However, Cloud Nothings offer much more than that, and “Stay Useless” highlights their ability to deliver great pop rock songs.

44           Japandroids – The House That Heaven Built

Vancouver two-piece Japandroids seem to have struck a nerve throughout (primarily) North America with this song, scaling the heights of many critical appraisals of this year. “The House That Heaven Built” is a foot to the floor rocker that, despite initially seeming long at nearly five minutes, grows on you with every listen.

43           Bat for Lashes – Laura

Natasha Khan wrote this song with the man co-responsible for Lana Del Ray’s “Video Games”, Justin Parker, and this gorgeous little tune was a highlight from The Haunted Man. Subtle arrangements only add to the grandeur as Khan’s voice swells.

42           Yeasayer – Reagan’s Skeleton

Just when you thought Yeasayer couldn’t get any weirder, they release a song about (I think) being attacked by a zombie horde led by the ex-cowboy/President. Bafflingly bonkers but endearingly fun.

41           Psy – Gangnam Style

Though it’s been played quite literally a billion times, this song is arguably the most important song of 2012. Armed with the jockey dance and a video that still makes me smile whenever I see it, Psy’s worldwide smash hit marks the moment when K-Pop became a worldwide phenomenon. Whether that’s a good thing will remain to be seen…

40           Tame Impala – Apocalypse Dreams

If the supposed Aztec apocalypse of 2012 seemed like a year-long overblown media obsession, at least we have the dreams. “Apocalypse Dreams” is what a galloping troupe of horseman from the late ’60s-’70s might be humming as they signal the end of days. I find the song structure particularly fascinating, too. Like many of the other songs from Lonerism , this one seems to evolve in a string of linear sections before bending back and collapsing on itself.

39           The Presets – Ghosts     

While Pacifica never quite reached the extremely high standards set by The Presets previous efforts, “Ghosts” showed that they never lost their ability to write great dance pop songs. “Ghosts” is a song that is ill-at-ease with this, though: “merry old times don’t count for nothing/ Cocaine, song and women and wine/ Memories blur and they make me shudder”. If Apoccalypso was revelling in the moments of glorious excess then Pacifica feels like the comedown.

38           Passion Pit – Take A Walk

After a first album supposedly primarily inspired by personal relationships, Passion Pit mastermind Michael Angelakos has had to follow a path well worn by many other songwriters. Under the gaze of an awaiting public, Angelakos has had to find additional inspiration from a life increasingly defined by a transient touring schedule. “Take a Walk” details the struggles of a young immigrant to start up a new life in America and, though attempts to solve this with character songs can often feel a little condescending, Angelakos manages to keep it heartfelt.

37           Leonard Cohen – Going Home

After his critically acclaimed financially forced return to touring, Leonard Cohen followed up with his first album of new songs in eight years, Old Ideas. Even when he was younger Cohen’s soulful baritone was drenched in the memories of wisdom; love, sadness and age has only made it more poignant. “Going Home” is  wondrously simple, but it is the fascination with Cohen’s dignified eloquence which holds it together.

36           Dirty Projectors – About To Die

“About To Die” bounces and rattles, a myriad of beats swarming around David Longstreth’s vocal melodies. The complexity of the various elements of this song is wondrous, while the main lyrical hook, “Where would I ever be without you?”, is simple but tender.

35           Django Django – Default

34           Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)

The first taster from the new album heading our way in early 2013, “Swim And Sleep” is an intriguing insight into where this band may be heading. Feeling like a more organic band here than in some of the more processed elements of their debut album, “Swim And Sleep” has a glorious dreamy quality to it.

33           Dappled Cities – Born At The Right Time

32           Allah Las – Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind)

31           Animal Collective – Today’s Supernatural

30           Bloc Party – Octopus

29           Oh Mercy – My Man

28           The Shins – Simple Song

27           Deep Sea Arcade – Steam

26           Chromatics – Kill For Love

25           The Magnetic Fields – Andrew In Drag

24           Tame Impala – Elephant

23           Jack White – Sixteen Saltines

22           Carly Rae Jepson – Call Me Maybe

21           Frank Ocean – Pyramids

20           Sleigh Bells – End of the Line

19           Solange – Losing You

Previously known as the younger sibling of the pop singer Beyonce Knowles, Solange has made the a great case to be seen on her own merits. Build on a bedrock of rhythmic samples, it is the second half of this song—with soulful vocals and swirling synths—which elevates it into Solange’s own territory.

18           Josh Homme & David Sardy – Nobody to Love

While we wait for a new Queen’s of the Stone Age album, Josh Homme was able to team up with Oasis Jet and LCD Soundsystem’s (among many others) producer Dave Sardy for this song off the End of Watch soundtrack. Crunchy guitars, swaggering vocals and a catchy chorus hook—this certainly makes the wait easier.

17           Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine?

After a quiet year by the prolific standards of Alex Turner, Arctic Monkeys managed to put out their strongest single in several years. Simultaneously heavier and darker than 2011’s Suck it and See, while retaining the poignant lyrical wit and keen melodic sense that Turner’s famous for, “R U Mine?” offers an intriguing snapshot of what may be coming soon.

16           Grimes – Oblivion

15           Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Baby

14           Blur – Under The Westway

13           Alabama Shakes – Hold On

12           Bob Dylan – Soon After Midnight

11           Chairlift – I Belong In Your Arms

10           Hot Chip – Motion Sickness

I’ve always believed that Hot Chip are an excellent singles band rather than a group who can maintain a consistently great output over the course of an entire album. However, 2012’s release In Our Heads  may just be the most consistent album they’ve ever recorded. While no single song scales the heights of “Boy from School”, “Over and Over” or “Ready for the Floor”, “Motion Sickness” had a delectable wave of beats and synths that makes this as good as anything they’ve done before.

9              The Magnetic North – Bay Of Skaill

“When someone comes to you in a dream and tells you to make an album about your homeland—the Orkney islands—would you disregard it? Especially when that someone is Betty Corrigall, the Orcadian girl who in the 1770s killed herself having been cast out by her village after becoming pregnant by a visiting sailor?” The result of Erland Cooper’s spectral inspiration was to team up with ex-Blur/the Verve/Gorillaz guitarist Simon Tong and multi-instrumentalist Hannah Peel for this gloriously eerie song. With its soft tinkle of bells, gentle refrains and transcendent choral finish, “Bay of Skaill” makes you wonder why more ghosts aren’t commissioning more compositions.

8              Beach House – Myth

Elegant and charming, this first song off Beach House’s 2012 release Bloom was a brilliant example of what this Baltimore duo are capable. It’s also a potent tour de force of the “dream pop” genre that has increased incrementally in popularity over the past few years. The simple guitar arpeggios are complemented by the thudding bass-drum booms and Victoria Legrand’s dusky melodies.

7              Crystal Castles – Wrath Of God

“Wrath of God”, like any good dance song, is all about the build and release. It alternates between moments of tender melodic beauty and the vast demented harshness of aural power.

6              Grizzly Bear – Yet Again

Shields was a much more “difficult” album than the previous efforts of Grizzly Bear. However, with each passing listen, the album reveals new treasures for your ears to discover. Likewise, “Yet Again” is a song that grows better with each listen.

5              Sigur Rós – Varúð

While the Icelandic band have been slightly criticized this year for their perceived repetitiveness, no one could argue about ‘Varúð’s sheer beauty. Atmospheric chords and soaring vocal lines build into a glorious demented crescendo.

4              Grimes – Genesis

The artist born as Claire Boucher had one of the breakout years in alternative music and, led by “Genesis” and “Oblivion”, it’s not hard to understand why. Although she uses the relatively simplistic Apple programming systems to make her music, it by no means undermines the quality of the music. The echo and reverb swirl this song into a cavernous epic, driven along by synth riffs as good as any other this year.

3              The xx – Angels

The dutiful simplicity of this song’s chorus hook, “being as in love with you as I am”, is disarmingly brilliant. The xx have made a name by producing moments of brilliance from the bare bones required. A couple of simple ascending chords, a couple of taps on the drum machine, a few thrums of the bass and voila: another beautiful song.

2              Frank Ocean – Thinkin Bout You

Frank Ocean’s breakout solo success this year was co opted by his announcement on twitter that he had previously had a relationship with a man, a seriously taboo topic in the notoriously homophobic rap world. While this adds an additional layer of thought behind “Thinkin Bout You”, it is the simple beats, gushing synths and Ocean’s beautiful falsetto that stand out.

1              Tame Impala – Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

Tame Impala had a massive year, propelled by Lonerism. What makes the album’s success even more impressive is that there’s not an obvious candidate for a single. “Feels Like We Only Goes Backwards” is probably the only song on the album that could have a recognizable chorus hook. But it’s not just that which makes this such a fantastic song. Kevin Mitchell’s John Lennon-esque vocals drift along on a sonic underground layer, while the other instruments float and fold back on each other. This song’s opening seconds only heighten the feeling that it has been delivered from some backwards draft of musical history.

Jake Robinson is You’re Dripping Egg’s music columnist. You can catch his column, Stereo In A Forest, every second Tuesday. 

What do you think of Jake’s picks for Songs of 2012? Agree? Disagree? Just want to sing along to “Call Me Maybe” one more time? Sound off in the comments

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