Okay, first: what is this? Am I mental? Have I forgotten what year it is? Answer: sometimes, but not today. So. Here’s something that’s always bothered me.
Every time I compiled a list of “The Best” of some year, it nagged at me: well, I haven’t seen every movie or listened to every song or read every book…how the hell can I honestly say this is what I consider to be the best, when it’s really “the best of what I managed to consume”? And when you do that for a given year, you’re screwing some stuff that came out in December, or some stuff that didn’t rise high enough to make it on your radar.
[ad#longpost]So I thought: what if…what if I did make an actual attempt to listen to a huge sampling of the previous year’s releases (I started this project last year)? That way, it’s a still a massive set of releases…but it’s finite. Nobody can, in January of 2013, release more 2012 music. It either came out in 2012 or it didn’t.
So…I did that. I sampled every conceivable record I could lay hands upon, via iTunes or Spotify or YouTube or whatever…that had a release date within the 2012 calendar year.
What do I mean by “conceivable”? Well, there are certain genres that I’m just not going to get into. Deathcore Metal is not my thing, just as New School Country Music is not my thing. (New School Deathcore Country Metal, though…would have some promise.) There are certain genres that simply are not present because I don’t like them, pretty much across the board. If there was ever a chance that I might like something, though, I gave it a shot…after all, “avant garde metal” is the description I found for my favorite album of 2012…so if I had dismissed it out of hand, I would be sorely bereft of awesome stuff. That being said, I gave special attention to genres showing up around the world. Hip-hop from Poland? I’ll bite. Alternative thrash metal from Brazil? Sweet, bring it. Surf music from Japan? Okay, sure. So sure, some music shows up that everybody knows and has listened to until they’re sick of it (except for me, since I don’t listen to any radio…except Rob’s show, obviously) but there’s also some stuff I had honestly never heard of before…and based on me ranting about it to others, neither had anyone else around here.
Of the albums I listened to, did I listen to every track on every album? No. If I went three tracks in and the album just wasn’t working for me or was actively turning me off, then I skipped to the next album. But some albums are good and you’re happy you listened to them once…so if it was working, I let it work. Hence, there’s an entire list of my favorite songs that weren’t singles from 2012. Instead, they’re tracks off an album that stood out above and beyond the album as a whole. Not that the album wasn’t good…it might be the rest was good and that one track was simply great.
Even excluding genres that aren’t my bag, did I manage to listen to or sample every album that came out in 2012? No. While I tried to go as far abroad as I could manage, I’m sure I’m going to find some amazing 2012 album from Indonesia or something and it will only hit my radar in 2016. That being said, if it was a 2012 release and I found it in 2013, it went into the pool of things to listen to. There’s no way to ever have this be as complete as I want it to be.
The lists will be as follows: singles, songs (tracks that were not released as singles), EPs, albums and then a miscellaneous category. If an album is on the album list (or an EP on that list), any singles it might have had are absorbed by that entry. Because if the whole album’s awesome and six tracks were released as singles, then this list becomes redundant. So if you’re confused as to why X song isn’t on this list, relax. It may show up later in this progression. And if it doesn’t, and you disagree with any of my choices, well, I look forward to your list. This list is characterized as my favorite music, not the best of the year, for that very reason. I wish I had kept track of how many tracks I sampled over the course of this. (I am doing this for 2013, so you have that to look forward to.) But I’m fairly certain it reached a five digit number.
One last note, specifically about this list, and one that follows, my favorite EPs. I had to struggle to differentiate between singles and EPs (Extended Play) and also EPs and albums. Because they get all mixed up and singles and EPs are used pretty much interchangeably…and it gets very confusing. Wikipedia, which is always right, quotes this definition from the UK’s Official Chart Company: it “defines a boundary between EP and album classification at 25 minutes of length or four tracks (not counting alternative versions of featured songs, if present).” I tried to adhere to this as best I could, to differentiate. So a release that has a song and then five remixes of that song…is a single. An EP has to have four different songs on it (not just remixes), otherwise I counted it as a single. I think I made one exception (which may have turned out to be a 2011 release when I double checked it) simply because it was five or six tracks but was so short a release it was still only eleven minutes long or so. It just didn’t feel like an album and it seemed unfair to put it up against much longer works.
Does that all make sense? No? Good. Here we go. A slew of my favorites, unranked and in alphabetical order by artist, then followed by my five favorites, ranked.
501 featuring Belle Humble – “Headrush”
Rob turned me onto dubstep. I understand it’s not everybody’s bag. I play it in the TechnoCave with headphones on, because it makes Cosette want to punch not nuns, not kittens…but kitten nuns. For me, it’s the perfect soundtrack for working, since it’s the equivalent of the “sky flowers” used to distract zombies in Land of the Dead. I play tracks like this one, the insane, distracted parts of my brain say “ooh, pretty” and the serious part of me can get things accomplished. Also in this track’s favor is the fact that I enjoy a nice balance of distorted and chaotic sounds with a female vocal on top of it. It has to be balanced, though. And this works for me. Nice and quick buildup before explosions and arse kicking. 501 is based out of Finland while Belle Humble is from London. (Amazon: CD; MP3.)
Arctic Monkeys – “Black Treacle”
Arctic Monkeys – “R U Mine?”
Ah, the fun of having time between albums wherein you can just overlap with singles. That’s how you get “Black Treacle” from Suck it and See, which was released in June of 2011, showing up on this list, since it was released as a single in January of 2012. Then you have “R U Mine?,” originally released as a single in February of 2012 which then showed up on AM in 2013. They’re just both superbly crafted rock singles–both eminently with the band’s sound so you can’t mistake it for anyone else, yet dissimilar enough that they don’t annoy me. For example, some bands have songs that pretty much all the sound the same but a lot of times I don’t care. Green Day is like that for me. The Arctic Monkeys all share a sound but run off in different directions and at slightly different angles. Either way, both singles are excellent and AM is already on my list for 2013.
High Rise – “Yes I”
A fairly kicking reggae track from Guam’s eight-piece High Rise, “Yes I” is both energetic and laid back and has the killer ingredient–smooth horns to accompany the smooth vocals. I think I found this on a music blog at some point, but after listening to it repeatedly and getting addicted, it took me some digging to figure out where to find info on the band. So here’s their Facebook to save you some time. (Amazon: MP3.)
Jakwob featuring Rocky Nti – “Blinding”
Utterly ridiculous. And the live version they did for BBC Radio is even better. Just a simple synth-driven song with Nti’s vocals telling a story that I think everybody has encountered at one point: dealing with someone, or perhaps even yourself, who got exactly what they wanted and are exactly where they want to be…but don’t realize it or don’t take advantage. A gorgeous entreaty to wake up and move, but so, so smooth. Love it. (Amazon: MP3.)
Joker featuring Buggsy and Otis Brown – “Lost”
From The Vision, probably the first dubstep record I encountered, much to the chagrin of everyone in my household. The album is varied electronica and mayhem from Joker, aka Liam McLean, with this rapid-fire rap by Buggsy coming over synths and children’s choir sampling. An excellent release which because this got released as a single in 2012, it makes the list somewhere. We do what we can.
(Amazon: CD; MP3; Vinyl.)
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – “Thrift Shop”
Rap and hip-hop–it’s a genre I’m very selective about. I need a specific blend between the beats and intelligent and/or humorous lyrics. And this song hits both categories–in fact, it’s so goddamn funny it could be considered a novelty song. But it manages not to be, partly because of its full-on celebration of thrifting (I’ve been an Unclaimed Baggage believer for years) and partly because Macklemore does manage to sound manic while taking about the economics of ridiculous clothes prices. It’s hard not to like that. There were some other excellent tracks on The Heist (“Who wants to eat a coyote?”) but this worked best for me. (Amazon: The Heist: CD; MP3; Vinyl.)
Madeon – “The City”
Madeon – “Finale”
Listen, don’t be disgusted by the fact that French remixer/producer Madeon is only twenty years old. Be disgusted by the fact he’s twenty and he’s got two singles on here. I like music from trailers…I like music that makes you want to direct a trailer in your head for a non-existent movie. The opening for “Finale” makes me think of a massive starship every single time. I have no idea what the hell that starship is up to (it’s not building a city on rock and roll, to be certain), but it’s there in my head. Apparently this track has been used a lot for video games and whatnot…but I don’t play games on a regular basis, so it was new to me, anyway. I think I first ran across his stuff with his ridiculously awesome extended remix of “Raise Your Weapon” by deadmau5. And as is so often the case when I latch onto a song like that, I proceed to look up every other goddamn thing the person has done. Thus, here we are with “The City” as well, which contains party-infused vocals by Zak Waters and Cass Lowe. Earworm territory, to be certain. (Amazon: “The City” MP3 / “Finale” MP3.)
Bruno Mars – “Locked Out of Heaven”
So yes, this is probably the song out of this list (if not all of my lists) that received the most radio inundation. But of all the pop music I’ve been exposed to, this is the poppiest and yet least annoying. I mean: a Police-inspired riff with large percussion and synth…and it’s a song about having really great sex and wanting more of it. I think I appreciate that it’s so brazenly and unashamedly pop. Sometimes you just want the sonic equivalent of toffee-infused popcorn. Bad for your teeth but you can’t stop eating the damn stuff. I make no apologies. (Amazon: MP3 Single; Unorthodox Jukebox album: CD; MP3; Vinyl.)
Nero – “Must Be the Feeling”
As stated, this album Welcome Reality and the above single from Joker were the first two dubstep albums that Rob hit me with and thus my productivity increased. Both albums were in ridiculous heavy play and I occasionally break them out and play them several times through. Both albums are from 2011 but again, the singles came out in 2012 and thus are eligible. This track’s Carmen sample and the ensuing string samples and all-around fuzz definitely work for me. The seventh single off the album? Just damn. (Amazon: Welcome Reality+ CD; MP3.)
Nosaj Thing featuring Kazu Makino – “Eclipse/Blue”
So apparently there’s an awesome dance/projection/art/performance piece set to this song. It’s pretty goddamn fantastic. You can find it here. A few people have watched it. Here’s a fun fact: had no idea it existed until writing this up, honestly. From the 2013 album, Home, by L.A.-based producer Nosaj Thing, it features vocals by Kazu Makino from Blonde Redhead. It took me freaking forever to concentrate hard enough to fully process the lyrics, since listening to this, the combination of haunting, gorgeous vocals and the minimal electronic backing just tends to put me in a trance faster than a half-dozen Thai coffees. It sort of feels like it wants to explode at any second…doesn’t. It’s fantastic. The MP3 is available for free from Amazon. Also, available on vinyl. (Home available from Amazon: CD, MP3, Vinyl.)
Passion Pit – “I’ll Be Alright”
This release has so many things going for it. I have some sort of weird attraction to songs that sound happy and peppy but the moment you start to check out the lyrics and delve, your reaction becomes “Whoa…shit.” That notion of oh yes, I’m great, go on, don’t mind me…woo-hoo, having a great time. Saying this the entire time you’re self-destructing. And the chaotic opening makes a helluva lot more sense when you read where it came from, since you start with that and then go into seeming pop nirvana. Then the synth and pop combine into a sonic smoothie just in time for the song to brake to a halt. Again, I think the juxtaposition of everything just appeals to my own twisted brain. This is from Passion Pit’s album Gossamer. (Gossamer from Amazon: CD; MP3.)
Pond – “You Broke My Cool”
From Australia comes Pond and their single from Beard, Wives, Denim, “You Broke My Cool,” just seems like to me to be the epitome of psychedelic rock. Fantastic old school sounding organ is joined/smashed into by drums and guitar which sticks with the psych vibe, only slipping into a wild countrified riff, just in case you were getting too complacent as a listener. And then at the end it just sort of fuzzes itself out of existence. It just works for me, rather a lot. And their next album, entitled Hobo Rocket, was obviously targeted at Rox. (Album available at Amazon: CD; MP3.)
Okay, now here comes the Top 5.
5. Skrillex – “Bangarang”
Yes, the EP of “Bangarang” was a 2011 release (but only just). But the single came out in February of 2012. And I know a lot of people seem to find Skrillex annoying. I don’t understand the concept of a “live” DJ show, since all people appear to do is jump up and down, hit an occasional button and ask the audience to sing in place of a sample here and there. After really appreciating this stop on my dubstep/dance progression, I was terribly disappointed in the recent Recess album…but prior to that, his stuff is relentless and mind-pounding. Which is exactly what I need given my diseased brain. And the final sample on here just makes me laugh my arse off every time. Well, we’ll always have the EPs. (Amazon for the EP: CD; MP3; Vinyl.)
4. Sleigh Bells – “Comeback Kid”
I wish I could remember where I saw the review of their debut album from 2010, Treats, in which the reviewer expressed the sentiment of the release perfectly. I’m paraphrasing, but in essence, they said: “This album just doesn’t give a fuck.” And it truly did not. It was a little over a half-hour of fuzz-noise-rock with female vocals that felt like a bomb going off. When this was their follow-up single, I was thrilled. Couldn’t wait. Alas, this track is the best part of Reign of Terror, which I think I described elsewhere as though Cocteau Twins just somehow became very, very angry. But still, this opening single contains more punch than most entire albums, so it will have to do for now. (Amazon: MP3.)
3. St. Vincent – “Cheerleader”
What’s hard about this 2012 single from the 2011 album Strange Mercy is trying to decide which I like better–the A-side normal version or the B-side acoustic version. “I know honest thieves I call family. I’ve seen America with no clothes on.” The lovely ambiguity of her lyrics just endears her stuff to me. Is America naked or is she? Or both? Are her family members actually thieves or are they just a surrogate family of thieves? It could go any direction. And it all works. (Amazon: CD; MP3; Vinyl.)
2. Everything Everything – “Cough Cough”
The lead single from their 2013 album Arc, this bizarre vocal battering ram that veers between percussion, synth and then rock poppishness before circling back to begin again…I have no idea how many times I listened to this back to back upon first encountering it. The uncertainty of the vocals at the beginning becomes a very certain uncertainty, just underscoring the awkwardness of it…all that follows, what can be okay if we’re still getting paid, whether or not we are actually coming alive. Is it a polite cough or is the person speaking actually ill? These are the things I didn’t stop to think about until about the 50th play. The rest of the album didn’t crank my tractor as much as this track, but few things do, in reality. (Amazon: MP3.)
1. Woodkid – “Run Boy Run”
Yes, you see: I didn’t know “Iron” from fifteen different commercials and twenty-three different video games (or whatever it was). So seeing the videos coupled with this sort of mad would-be symphonic soundtrack just hammered home that I couldn’t wait for Woodkid’s first album. But in the meantime came this single and what is quite possibly my favorite music video Of All Time. This because it’s like my childhood in microcosm. That and where the story picks up with the next video for “I Love You” sums up the unseen end of this portion of the story. Music video or no, the song is truly majestic and incredible. That being said, if seventy-three seconds into this video you’re not hooked on it, then I have no idea who you are. (Amazon: MP3.)
Okay, there you go. When we re-convene, I think we’ll tackle EPs from 2012.