The 75 Best Songs of 2012

by PopMatters Staff

2 December 2012


35 - 26


The Vaccines
“Aftershave Ocean”

In the midst of not having such a great year, the Vaccines managed to release an excellent song in the midst of their mediocre second LP, Come of Age. While it was unclear how many Columbia executives would have smaller expense accounts as a result of the rushed and ham-fisted sophomore flop, “Aftershave Ocean”, not even an official single, proved to be one of the best rock songs of 2012. Singer Justin Young, he of the vocal chord surgeries that may cost this band its potential, sings the melody right down the back of the main guitar lick, an infectious and fuzzy hook that is good as any downtown rock song since the first two Strokes LPs. Surely, “Aftershave Ocean” possesses more of a British sensibility, all moral victories and stiff upper lips in the face of grinding and unfortunate failure. Geoff Nelson


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Bruce Springsteen


Bruce Springsteen
“Death to My Hometown”

Harkening back to the Boss’ 1984 song “My Hometown”, Bruce Springsteen’s most powerful song on this year’s Wrecking Ball is also his most thoroughly potent blend of music and songwriting in years. In 1984, he was mourning the loss of his childhood home over a simply melody and a light beat. Now Springsteen is as angry as you’ll ever hear him. There’s a heavy, infectious beat behind his words and, at times, actual gunshot blasts. If this is the Boss’ idea of a rallying cry for the Occupy movement, here’s hoping for a few more protests… and soon. Ben Travers



Cat Power
“Nothing But Time”

Cat Power’s “Nothin’ But Time” proves you don’t have to pack an 11-minute song with excess ornamentation or “suites” to justify its length. Sometimes, all you need is a simple, driving piano riff and a sense of purpose. Written for a teenager who was dealing with all of the challenges that come with being that age, “Nothin’ But Time” is the sound of a survivor relaying their wisdom. Chan Marshall’s empathy (“You’ve got the weight on your mind”) mixed with a rallying cry of “You wanna live” makes you believe there actually may be some light ahead. And Iggy Pop’s warm, grandfatherly presence toward the end only reinforces that belief. Sean McCarthy



“Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It”

It’s surprising that on The North, on of Stars’ chilliest records, you’ll find one of the band’s warmest songs. While their thoughts about love usually come wrapped in nostalgia, wistfulness, and regret, on “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It”, the band uses its signature synth-pop to sound a note of hope (and, fine, indulge in a little bit of defeatism about the song’s chances of radio airplay). “Hold On” makes you wish that people still made mix tapes for each other, because this would’ve been a good lead-off song—something that could melt the heart and make you dance at the same time. Marisa LaScala



“Lay Your Cards Out”

Channy Leaneagh, the lead-singer and driving force behind POLIÇA, is all fecundity on “Lay Your Cards Out”, a sultry and distant drive towards an ironic pragmatism. Take the title, an urge to be straightforward, not surprisingly buried in reverb and, eventually, two drum kits. It’s almost unfair. Leaneagh’s layered and, seemingly vocodered, vocal is a swaying and sexy call to something allegedly simple. She urges us “to get your head right”, even when she well knows the band’s woozy and pulsing sound is half the reason her listeners might not know which way is up. Having gotten fully lost in the arrangement, the band dials down into the bridge, sparse synthesizers that give way to ratatat drums and Leaneagh’s closing argument, something tribal and beckoning. This was, perhaps, the only simple recommendation left. Geoff Nelson


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Wrongtom meets Deemas J


Wrongtom meets Deemas J
“At the Dancehall”

In the year Great Britain celebrated the Queen’s Golden Jubillee, the Olympics and even Andy Murray winning a tennis grand slam, “At the Dancehall” taken from the homage to London album In East London (the actual site of the Olympics) is a worthy song of the year contender. Bringing together elements of dancehall, ragga and jungle all wrapped in a furious vocal delivery by Deemas J and a sparse pulsing backing by Wrongtom this is an infectious, danceaholic track that will bring a smile to your face. It should have been the soundtrack for the medal presentations at the Olympics, I can just picture Usain Bolt skanking to this as he collected his golds! Jez Collins



“Some Nights”

fun. entered the pop culture fray in a big, brassy style, with “We Are Young” topping the charts for six weeks, soundtracking a Super Bowl commercial, and making people actually dig around and figure out who the Format were. Yet as impossible as it seems, “Some Nights” became a hit as well, and it could very well be argued that it was a better song. Its numerous Queen references could be pegged as cheap stylistic thievery if the band didn’t synthesize the group’s sound so damn effectively, Nate Ruess’ vocals careening between passionate and vulnerable, his rallying cry turning into a wide-eyed view of the amazing things around him, before turning back into a defiant anthem again. It’s a tricky juggling act—one that’s doubly difficult on modern pop radio—but fun. have never nailed the landing quite like they do here. “We Are Young” may get all the headlines, but “Some Nights” is a straight up classic pop song that is just what the world needs right now. Evan Sawdey


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Charli XCX


Charli XCX
“You’re the One”

It took Charli XCX mere months from cobbling together a seemingly intact aesthetic from ‘80s dance pop and the chart-friendly side of romantic goth on “Nuclear Seasons” to adding to it the one thing that no one could have noticed was missing: high contrast. As “You’re the One” begins, Charli is “dancing in the darkness” over a bleak, distorted bassline that shivers and stabs more than grooves. Her delivery is clipped, her voice high and tense, and the verse, true to form, admits little light. You can practically feel her pivot on her platforms as the chorus opens up and glimmers with adoration, and her vocals dip to a low and expressive warmth. By the time it’s over, she’s turned dancing in the dark from an expression of cold isolation into a celebration of devotion. And this doesn’t even account for the most charmingly melodramatic spoken word bit since T’Pau’s “Heart and Soul”. David Bloom


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Esperanza Spalding


Esperanza Spalding
“I Can’t Help It (Heads Up)”

The exceptional Radio Music Society is evidence that Esperanza Spalding exceeded even the most cynical critic’s expectations following her Grammy nod for “Best New Artist” in 2011. Almost any track from the album could hook a listener, but it’s the Stevie Wonder and Susaye Green-penned “I Can’t Help It” that Heads Up elected for single release. Spalding has included the song in her repertoire for quite some time but her version is more than mere nostalgia for Michael Jackson’s original recording. Produced and arranged by Spalding, “I Can’t Help It” is a prime vehicle for both Spalding’s singing and bass-playing talents (electric bass, in this instance). A guest spot by Joe Lovano on tenor sax only adds to an already perfect production. Classy, soulful, timeless—that’s what Spalding’s music society is all about. Christian John Wikane


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Jack White


Jack White
“Love Interruption”

“Love Interruption” has all the hallmarks of a classic track: simple instrumentation, a hummable melody, memorable lyrics with real emotion dripping from every word. In light of his highly publicized divorce and the sudden end to the White Stripes, “Love Interruption” could be seen as a kind of mission statement for Jack White, and it became the emotional centerpiece of Blunderbuss, an album packed with great songs. The conviction of the lyrics, the stolid strum, the doodling Wurlitzer and the utter lack of percussion gives the song an intimacy seldom found in White’s catalog. The knife twist of the male/female duet singing “I won’t let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me, anymore” gives the song a sense of strength, of shared purpose. It’s a hymn for the hopeful so deceptively simple and poignant that it’s a wonder no one had written that song before. But no one could have written it except Jack White. Adam Finley

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