The 75 Best Songs of 2012

by PopMatters Staff

2 December 2012


45 - 36


Saint Etienne

If you were to choose a band to make the perfect love letter to the experience of pop music, Saint Etienne would be among the leading candidates. Out of all the Valentines to the power of pop the trio delivers on its return-to-form album Words & Music, “Tonight” is the best and most memorable. Through her breathless, barely-keeping-it-cool vocals, Sarah Cracknell captures the internal monologue of anyone who’s been eagerly anticipating her favorite band hitting the stage, while living in and for the moment. Yet “Tonight” conveys those feelings not just in words, but also in, well, the music, as producers Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs seamlessly mix-and-match decades of pop trends from girl-group vocals to disco grooves to indie charm to state-of-the-art technique. In short, “Tonight” realizes just the kind of experience it imagines. Arnold Pan


cover art

The Shins

Review [15.Mar.2017]


The Shins
“Simple Song”

James Mercer returned as frontman of the Shins with this single off Port of Morrow, the fourth album after 2007’s Wincing the Night Away. With a revamped line-up for recording (and another one for touring with the new material), Mercer easily found his footing again, crooning above a busy undercurrent and allowing a playful interlude before exploding into inviting choral harmonies. According to Mercer, the poetic line, “When you feel like an ocean made warm by the sun,” was an inspiration attained on a tour bus. The song celebrates Mercer’s new domestic life while also propelling him into the next chapter for the band. Jane Jansen Seymour



La Sera
“Please Be My Third Eye”

In 2012, La Sera’s Katy Goodman pushed aside Neko Case as Indie’s Great Pop Diva. A dazzling strawberry blonde armed with killer garage-punk hooks, Goodman’s blistering “Please Be My Third Eye” is an urgent pop anthem that’s irresistible on first listen: “Be my third eye / I want to see the light / Please don’t leave me blind.” What’s blinding here is Goodman’s demure girl-next-door pose and wry sense of humor. It masquerades who she really is: a pop lioness in full roar. John Grassi




Music fans had been waiting to hear something new from Adele. Movie fans had been waiting four years for the next Bond flick. Those two worlds collided into one awesome song that left people talking for weeks. Generally speaking, “Skyfall” sounds like it walked straight out of the early ‘60s, complete with dramatic instrumentation, a soaring chorus, and vague yet expressive lyrics. Some complained that the word “Skyfall” was repeated too much. Those people are not cool. James Bond-like cool, that is. If this song doesn’t make you imagine yourself driving in an Aston Martin to a high-stakes poker game where the world’s biggest super villains have gathered, then you have no imagination whatsoever. Let’s hope 2013 sees the best Bond theme in decades win a Grammy and an Oscar. Jessy Krupa


cover art

Murder By Death


Murder By Death
“I Came Around”

Six albums on, and Murder By Death still write songs like “I Came Around” that sound as the quintessential distillation of all that makes them great. There aren’t many groups that can tackle the subject of a man attending a reprobate’s funeral just to make sure he’s dead, only to wind up converted to the deceased’s grandeur of character, but Murder By Death pull it off convincingly. The tune flows in its shifting like the plot of a film, a slow opening building to a crashing mid-section replicating the bacchanalian fray the lyrics describe, all coming to a halt with a mourning hangover. The quirky instrumentation of an accordion and a cello fused with a rumbling low-end, a strong narrative involving death and drunken debauchery, deft characterization and equal doses of grief, joviality, regret and wry humor are what make this Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon’s strongest cut. Cole Waterman


cover art



“So Long You Pretty Thing”

Jason Pierce has spent so much time over the past decade wallowing in despair, even skirting death, that “So Long You Pretty Thing”, the show-stopping finale of Sweet Heart Sweet Light, can’t help but feel like a benediction. At one point it seems as if Pierce has again reached the breaking point, fragilely intoning, “Help me Lord, it’s getting harder / ‘Cause I’m losing all the time / I got no reason to be living anymore.” But then the clouds seem to part as if awakened from a chemical-induced stupor, ushering in a transcendent coda with a refrain so heart-swelling it evidences a future for Spiritualized far beyond what many might have anticipated. He may be working his way back up from rock bottom, but there’s solace to be had in the fact that Pierce is somehow now making the most inspiring music of his career. Jordan Cronk


cover art

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra


Amanda Palmer
“Melody Dean”

Though not even a single from the incredible Theatre Is Evil, “Melody Dean” is the pinnacle of that album’s fun-loving, pop-oriented focus. A love letter to late 20th century popular culture, over the course of four short minutes the song references The Facts of Life, Stephen Stills, and the Knack’s “My Sharona”, going as far as to emulate the iconic guitar line from that song. Elsewhere, “Melody Dean” boasts driving piano, triumphant trumpets, autobiographical lyrics about a lesbian tryst, and a flawless percussion-vocal breakdown that builds to an explosive, sing-along climax as satisfying as anything to come out this decade. Adam Finley




“Genesis” unfurls from the beginning in waves of warm and distant tones, hovering like wisps of smoke above the steady chug of the dirty, down-tempo bass line. Then Claire Boucher’s voice rises through the fog of electronics, her words nearly indiscernible beneath the dense atmosphere of reverberating sounds, and when the beat drops all of these elements merge into a pulsing, unified motion that will propel the song forward to its oddly infectious destination. Grimes is equal parts electronic experimentation and pure pop energy, and “Genesis” is the fullest realization of that balance, moving you to dance while at the same time pushing up against the boundaries of what we can call a pop song. Robert Alford


cover art

Killer Mike


Killer Mike

R.A.P. Music was released in May, and to this day no song from 2012 has so consistently chilled me to the bone as “Reagan”. Opening with ominous piano chords and our 40th president swearing he did not trade weapons for hostages, a controversy that would come to be known as the Iran-Contra affair. As El-P’s synths cut in, Mike’s first verse appears to be a criticism of much of what rap music symbolizes in rap music: strippers, expensive chains, gunplay. But the song takes a subtle shift as El-P cuts to Reagan’s admission that “my heart and my best intentions still tell me that is true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not”. Suddenly, Mike’s talking about all of the oppression on his community the War on Drugs brought to his life, turning everything on it’s head as he explains that “slavery’s abolished unless you are imprisoned” and quickly desecrates every following administration all the way to our current president. As the social truth of his lyrics continue with exceptionally brash assuredness, Mike’s paranoia rises to the point he sprints out of the booth with the words “I’m glad Reagan dead”, which is followed by a repetition of the phrase “Ronald. Wilson. Reagan. 6. 6. 6.” Regardless of your thoughts on Reagan’s overall term as president, Mike and El-P present a position that is not only exceptionally engaging musically and emotionally, but damn well thought out as well. It’s probably the scariest rap song since hip-hop’s political heyday in the early ‘90s, and that’s a great thing. David Amidon


cover art

Justin Townes Earle

Review [26.May.2017]


Justin Townes Earle
“Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now”

Despite its’ lengthy title, Earle’s track tells a rather simple story. The narrator has just broken his girl’s heart and she is obviously not happy. Over the course of the song’s four verses, he attempts to calm her pain and anger. Yes, he’s probably being a bastard and yes, she definitely deserves to be mad, but with a little time, effort, and perspective, things will eventually feel better. Earle’s song tells a common tale: boy meets girl, falls in love, and then for one reason or another simply falls out of love. Regardless of the circumstances or events associated with that feeling, the next step is to make a move and let her down (hopefully gently) and try and pursue what lies next. It’s not a noble task nor is it usually a painless endeavor to undertake. It is however, necessary, and Earle does a masterful job of showing understanding and empathy to both sides in this three-minute ditty jazzed up with some bittersweet Memphis horns that make the scene playing out even more realistic. Jeff Strowe

We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.


//Mixed media

20 Questions: Amadou & Miriam

// Sound Affects

"For their ninth studio album, acclaimed Malian duo Amadou & Miriam integrate synths into their sound while displaying an overt love of Pink Floyd.

READ the article