The 75 Best Songs of 2012

by PopMatters Staff

2 December 2012


55 - 46



It wasn’t too long ago that iamamiwhoami was a viral whisper: a “who the heck is this?” project where people were more concerned about discovering who the mystery woman in all these surreal YouTube clips was than enjoying the world-bending, post-Bjork experimental madness that was going on in iamamiwhoami’s music. Now that the principal behind it was revealed to be little-heard singer Jonna Lee, the project suddenly took on a poppier, more song-oriented vibe (while sacrificing absolutely none of the weirdness that made this collaboration so unique), and before long, a full-length album appeared. So concise was the vision that the highlights are almost too numerous to name. Yet if we were to boil this project down to just one essential song, “Play” would be it, those synths sounding like the very life is draining out of them during the verses, resulting in an emotionally naked track that sounds like absolutely nothing else before it. When Lee cries out about making up songs for us to sing, she wasn’t kidding. “Play” is a stone cold classic that you only have to hear once before falling under its incredible charms. Evan Sawdey


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Kendrick Lamar

Review [21.Apr.2017]


Kendrick Lamar
“Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”

When Lady Gaga offers up a demo to Twitter of one of your songs that you collaborated on, but didn’t make the cut for your album, you know that you’ve pretty much arrived. But don’t let the big name throw you as a listener. The version that made the cut for Kendrick Lamar’s exceptional good kid, m.A.A.d city is still worthy of superlatives, and may just be all the better for not featuring the colourful chanteuse. When Lamar sings, “I am a sinner who’s probably going to sin again,” it comes across as so powerful and impassioned. And when he offers up, “Sometimes I need to be alone,” it’s such a universal sentiment that one can easily relate to. In fact, if you listen to the Gaga demo, it just doesn’t work—it’s such a masculine sentiment that Lamar is offering up here, that having a female voice singing the chorus detracts from the, urm, vibe of the song. So don’t let the star power fool you. Lamar’s album version and clear single is one of those songs that offers up some universal truths that any red blooded male can share and understand. Zachary Houle




Ever since frontman Ross Farrar declared he was “sick of Black Flag, sick of Cro-Mags”, these Rohnert Park punks have slid further and further away from their hardcore roots in favor of the more angular sonics of P.I.L. and Wire. While the move has afforded Ceremony enough newfound fans to warrant its signing to mega-indie Matador, they haven’t entirely forsaken outright aggression. “Hysteria”, the cripplingly catchy lead track and lead single from this year’s paranoid post-punk eye-opener Zoo, dials listeners in to Farrar’s judgemental bum-out trip. Simple gang vocals hypnotize as thunderous drums and jagged riffs drone into a mix that, while predictable, is practically perfect. Gary Suarez


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Cloud Nothings


Cloud Nothings
“Wasted Days”

For me, 2012 started off as a smoldering mess promising death and despair. The first record that I heard was Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory, which acted as a perfect summation of 2012’s bleak promise. “Wasted Days” was its pinnacle. With an increasingly frustrated chorus of “I thought I would be more than this”, Dylan Baldi managed to capture the essence of young-adulthood angst. In its guitar freakout mid-section was the chaos of impending doom and in its final moments, the ultimate disappointment and accompanying anger. “Wasted Days” was the song of 2012 because it was 2012’s song. Steven Spoerl


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Alice Smith


Alice Smith

One of 2013’s highlights was already upon us in 2012—the return of Alice Smith. After nearly seven years since the Grammy-nominated artist debuted with For Lovers, Dreamers & Me, she returned with a brand new single, “Cabaret”. Her voice is among the most remarkable instruments currently on iTunes, as the song’s 40-second a cappella introduction reveals to scintillating effect. Smith’s band is a driving presence on the track, with crisp drum beats and percussive accents fueling the rhythm. If the quality of “Cabaret” is any indication, Smith’s forthcoming album She may even surpass the critical reception of her debut. Anyone needing a primer on Alice Smith should simply start with “Cabaret” and “Let the lady carry you away.” Christian Wikane


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Ryan Bingham

Review [28.Nov.2016]


Ryan Bingham
“Heart of Rhythm”

Best known for his Oscar-winning song “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart, many would label Ryan Bingham as a country singer with a little bit of rock in him. Well, with his foot-stopping, gritty album Tomorrowland, Bingham shows just what he can do for rock and roll. Never is this more apparent than in the album’s most addictive track, “Heart of Rhythm”. Bingham belts out simple-minded lyrics about a man asking a woman for a chance—a chance you have to imagine is given considering the propulsive beat of the accompanying drums and swaying sound of dual guitars. Ben Travers


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Icky Blossoms


Icky Blossoms
“Heat Lightning”

What an appropriate title for this song, the music within replicating in aural fashion the visual of electricity flashing across the sky. Throbbing with droning beats, the syncopation is offset with a sinuous guitar line and singer Sarah Bohling’s wounded, yet resilient, vocals. She intones lyrics of emotional ambivalence, alternately reflecting upon and advancing beyond a relationship that flared with the intensity and brevity of an electrical discharge. With the accelerated dance rhythm of the chorus and Bohling’s pensive pronouncements, the yielded effect simulates the notion of a midnight drive across a dry desert highway, hoping to either outrun the past or recapture a moment’s ephemeral ecstasy. Cole Waterman



The Coup
“The Guillotine”

Funk upon a time called now… the Coup are knocking at the doors of the rich and powerful, and they’ve got their guillotine to execute their own brand of justice. It’s an apocalyptic vision of today, where the have-nots watch the sky for the military helicopters whole plotting the revolution, to the rhythms of the best block party ever. Boots Riley walks us through this people versus the powerful scenario, with swiftness and visual flair. His ethos this year is to party and fight at the same time: “Let’s keep it bangin’ like the shotgun.” Dave Heaton


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Bat for Lashes


Bat for Lashes

I’ve seen more than a few would-be internet detectives trying to suss out the “true identity” of the titular character in Bat for Lashes’s stunning “Laura”. Is she a film actress, a fictional character, a pseudonym? The pointless exercise threatens to distract from the brilliance of Natasha Khan’s piano ballad, in which the British songstress imbues her character with such universal pain that Laura becomes whomever we need her to be at the current moment, including a bit of ourselves. Laura, devastated that “the party died”, only wants her companion, the song’s narrator, to join her in a “dance upon the tables again.” All that friend, in Khan’s aching performance, can offer is a few paltry words of comfort—“you’re the glitter in the dark”, “your name is tattooed on every boy’s skin”. There’s a gulf between these two people, the same space that separates our ideals from our reality, but the love Khan expresses here feels well enough in reach. Corey Beasley


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Review [28.Jun.2017]


“A Piece of the Sky”

The penultimate climax of Swans’ latest magnum opus, “A Piece of the Sky” covers more terrain in its 19 minutes than most bands manage in a career. The song progresses, slowly but inexorably, from tension to tranquility: apocalyptic moans feed into a tense ambient roar; a positively cinematic swelling of overlapping guitars subsides into a trembling Angels of Light-style refrain. “Are you there?” wonders Michael Gira over ghostly backing vocals and scattered banjo clucks. “Is that really you?”  It’s really Swans, delicate as it is, and more than any piece on the album (including the half-hour title cut), “A Piece of the Sky” approximates The Seer’s formidable scope. What’s more, the track encapsulates the album’s most staggering trait—that besides its penchant for suffocating gloom, The Seer is also capable of arresting beauty. Zach Schonfeld

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