The 75 Best Songs of 2012

by PopMatters Staff

2 December 2012


25 - 16


“Kill for Love”

Proof that Johnny Jewel can write killer pop songs as well as music for chiselled, beautiful folk to look enigmatic ‘n’ moody to. As lushly romantic and upliftng as any pop radio jam released this year and when that celestial chorus goes skywards it takes your heart with it. That killer almost metal riff, such a release it could cause whiplash. A Champagne supernova designed to send chills down your spine and have you reachin’ for the stars even if your heart’s in the gutter. One addictive shot-in-the-arm rush of glamorama euphoria that’ll have you jonesing for more. Matt James



“I Belong in Your Arms”

On their second album, Chairlift achieve pop nirvana time and time again, but nowhere does the duo sound more lush and undeniable than on “I Belong in Your Arms”. From the song’s slick Duran Duran-esque production to its irresistible melodies, Chairlift craft one of the best little slices of art-pop you’re going to hear this year. During the verses, singer Caroline Polachek (at her most slinky and sensual) devotes herself completely to a lover… and then that killer hook arrives with a breathless rush. It’s young love encapsulated in under four minutes, and it’s damn near flawless. Billy Hepfinger




With Coldplay recording with Brian Eno, Muse lost in their own pretentiousness, and Snow Patrol between albums, it was a progressive rock band that used to dabble in doom metal that came forward with they year’s most stunning slice of rock melancholia. British band Anathema had been gradually shedding its metal roots over the years, but with the two-part, 12-minute suite “Untouchable” they went for all-out mainstream stadium rock, with electrifying results. “Part 1” is rote in structure—tender beginning, slow crescendo, explosive climax—loaded with maudlin lyrics, but singer Vincent Cavanagh sells his lines with conviction, building up to his impassioned lines, “I’ve never seen a light that’s so bright The light that shine behind your eyes.” After the breathless conclusion of the first half, “Part 2” segues into a quieter, more plaintive interpretation of “Part 1”’s chord structure and melody, with Cavanagh and singer Lee Douglas engaging in a sweetly gorgeous duet over piano. Shamelessly and hopelessly romantic, “Untouchable” was made for mass audiences, and deserves to be heard by far more people than Anathema’s small cult following. Adrien Begrand


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Pepe Deluxé


Pepe Deluxé
“A Night and a Day”

This is one of the most ridiculous songs on one of the most ridiculous albums ever made. With its garage pop maximalism surging over a warped house bassline and hip-hop break, the first true single from Queen of the Wave comes off like some kind of twisted game show theme or deconstructed DJ Shadow/Beach Boys mash-up. With its black and white magician and mysticism video evoking some mixture of Ed Wood and Kenneth Anger, complete with a Korla Pandit type prophet called Yol Gorro and Miss Dominican Republic 2008 playing the character of Anzimee, the daughter of the Atlantean emperor, their visuals mystify and confound as much as their sonically dense, progressive sound. Alan Ranta


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Death Grips


Death Grips
“Get Got”

The fact that Death Grips don’t come onto the ballpark swinging and still manage to sound exhilarating should be extra credit. In fact, the rave flicker synth and jittering juke-ish beat soundtrack more of a sweaty fever dream than the group’s standard group-assault stance. MC Ride, as he stutters or “hydroplanes” the vestige of total darkness, waxes an “abraxas” of introspection. Unlike the vapid party music of 2012, Ride drinks and drugs just as hard, but it’s to suppress monsters, to avoid the cold determinism of being “Born wit a ski mask / On my face.” As the lead-in to The Money Store, this is but a throat clearing for the nightmare that follows (“So many ways / Ta Skin the Frame”), but it’s also perfectly unique brew bubbling anxiety in its own rite. At one point, Ride burrows a hole in his head to feel the breeze and even on the other side of the speakers you too can kind of feel that chilly wind blow, proving Death Grips are maybe even creepier when their knives aren’t drawn. Timothy Gabriele


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Carly Rae Jepsen


Carly Rae Jepsen
“Call Me Maybe”

Sometimes, even in the fractured popular music landscape of the 21st century, a song is well-written and catchy enough to appeal to pretty much everybody. “Call Me Maybe” is one of those songs. The song’s quiet verses, backed by pizzicato strings, perfectly set up the explosion into the dance beats and bowed strings of the chorus. The lyrics are simultaneously innocuous and universal (“I wish that attractive person would notice me!”), hallmarks of a good, disposable pop song. The internet, with its naysayers, not to mention thousands of parodies and inept covers of the song, may have fooled you into thinking that “Call Me Maybe” is terrible. But the internet also provided us with the best possible example of why the song is great: Jimmy Fallon and the Roots joyous version, played on classroom instruments while Jepsen confidently belts out the song in her natural voice with no digital assistance of any kind. Chris Conaton


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Alabama Shakes


Alabama Shakes
“Hold On”

The Alabama Shakes’ Brittney Howard has pipes and she knows how to use ‘em. The Shakes rode into 2012 on a tidal wave of hype and responded by delivering a batch of rough, but solid songs, spearheaded by the monster single, “Hold On”. Although the plunking guitar is what first catches the ear, it’s Howard’s delivery that really steals the show. She starts out in a smokey croon that grows increasingly plaintive until she starts gaining steam in the chorus like an airplane taxiing on the runway. By the second time through, her voice is planted firmly in a range last seen in Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”. Though the rest of the Boys and Girls is a bit of mixed bag, consider “Hold On” a sizable down payment on that whole “future of Southern rock” promise. John Tryneski


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Father John Misty

Review [6.Apr.2017]


Father John Misty
“Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”

There are some people that are convinced 2012 will be the Year of Reckoning so it makes sense that the best single to emerge from it would be shrouded in confusion and dark mystery. Father John Misty’s “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Blues” taps into a bluesy Gothic post-punk transcendence not heard since Nick Cave’s masterwork Abattoir Blues. In the song former Fleet Fox J. Tillman leads his band through an aching song about his grandfather’s death and the girl that’s with him as he goes through the motions. Graceful melodies and arrangements abound and it all adds up to 2012’s best single, with 2012’s best music video to match. Steven Spoerl


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The Avett Brothers

Review [15.Jul.2016]


The Avett Brothers
“Live and Die”

From the group’s second record on a major, “Live and Die” doesn’t offer much that we haven’t heard from the Avetts before, but it’s so nice to hear it. You could argue that 2009’s I and Love and You was a touch too polished and piano-based, but The Carpenter finds the band and producer Rick Rubin hitting that folky, harmony-laden sweet spot more squarely and more often. A little Biblical imagery, a little yearning and temptation, a lot of love for life: this is the sound of the Avetts moving forward, but smartly reaching back to make sure they don’t leave their identity behind. Andrew Gilstrap



“Under the Westway”

Well here’s one we didn’t see coming. Blur haven’t been an ongoing concern for almost a decade now and have released only three new songs since reuniting with guitarist Graham Coxon in 2009. Released in conjunction with what was falsely rumored to be Blur’s final gig, “Under the Westway” is an absolute miracle of a song that can hold its own against anything from band’s formidable catalogue. A stunningly gorgeous piano ballad built around one of Daman Albarn’s most achingly beautiful melodies and rendered to life by Coxon’s yearning, spectral guitar and some carefully controlled thunder from the rhythm section, “Under the Westway” packs everything that’s wonderful about Blur into four heartbreaking minutes. If this song is indeed the band’s epitaph, they will leave us at the very top of their game. If it marks the rebirth of their recording career, however, the possibilities are truly endless. Daniel Tebo

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