The 75 Best Songs of 2012

by PopMatters Staff

2 December 2012


15 - 6


Django Django
“Life’s a Beach”

Readily compared to Beck, the Beta Band, and Super Furry Animals, London-based Django Django does share those artists’ signature penchant for shuffling electronic beats and rhythms. In fact, you would not be out of line in mistaking them for one of those aforementioned acts. “Life’s a Beach” also shares some common tones with ‘60s era surf rock, most significantly in that its infectious grooves demand you to get up and start bouncing around, or if location prevents, begin bobbing your head and toes against the steering wheel, bus seat, or cubicle desk. It’s a good-time song that resonates simply for its pulsating rhythms rather than the often undecipherable lyrics. While the band’s self-titled album seems to center around the theme of a failing and crumbling relationship, the resulting negative effects that accompany such emotional upheaval are temporarily shelved during this song’s catchy and uplifting arrangement. For a few minutes at least, forget your troubles and heed the meaning of the song’s title. Jeff Strowe



Gotye (feat. Kimbra)
“Somebody That I Used to Know”

There’s a reason why Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” remained No. 1 for eight weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the third longest running number one single of the year. It’s fucking brilliant. It’s also baffling to think that a track so atypical of a number one song managed to capture the hearts of so many world round—perhaps mainstream music isn’t as doomed as we thought. Gotye manages to balance real nuanced emotions of a tortured heart bested only when the woman he is pouring his heart out to takes the stage revealing his inability to see past his own nose. Accented by a near-perfect music video featuring a naked Gotye and Kimbra, the track is definitely the biggest success that Gotye will ever see, and that’s fine. His stylistic approach to songwriting isn’t long for a prolonged spotlight in the mainstream music scene, but who would’ve guessed that a little tune recorded in his parent’s house could have garnered such monumental international success. Good show. Enio Chiola



“The Keepers”

Santi White’s sophomore release Master of My Make-Believe improved upon her 2008 self-titled debut in both message and presentation. While “Disparate Youth”, the album’s preceding single, laid out the album’s arguments amid some intriguing sonic flourishes, the new wave hooks of “The Keepers” made the critiques of America’s obliviousness to the everyday even more deliciously subversive. As an added bonus, its smartly demented (and self-directed) music video is one of the best of the year. Maria Schurr


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Killer Mike


Killer Mike
“Big Beast” feat. Bun B & T.I.

Killer Mike is brazen from the get-go on this album opener for R.A.P. Music. “Ain’t shit sweet ‘bout the Peach / This Atlanta clown,” he reminds us, staking claim on his home turf and then roping in verses from other natives Bun B and T.I. to gang up on us. But despite all the bluster and fire here, there’s plenty sweet about these rhymes, from Bun B’s cool don flow to T.I.‘s mile-a-minute, impossibly smooth delivery in which he takes us on a tour of Atlanta streets and the food chain of crime contained within them in what may be the verse of the year. But Mike returns in the end, all fire and fury after his laid-back friends, and takes aim at poppier rappers that end up on the TV. He’s “eyeballin’ all of y’all lames”, and with the venom he spits with here, those lames would do well to watch out. “Big Beast” is a brash, angry, loud, and excellent first song, the kind that’s tough enough to follow for Mike himself, even on a classic album like R.A.P. Music, and impossible for any other rappers in 2012. Matthew Fiander


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Taylor Swift

Review [16.Jul.2015]
Review [14.Jul.2015]


Taylor Swift
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

Working with Max Martin and Shellback hasn’t diminished Swift’s chops—if anything, “Never” is the craftiest Miranda Cosgrove song ever, from the witty opening line (“I remember when we broke up / The first time”) that she smartly rhymes with “‘cuz like”, to the extra “ever” that ends each chorus. Might also be the hookiest Taylor Swift song ever, with those primeval cries of “weee-eeeeee!” and an overdubbed Swift army marching resolutely to the beautiful closing harmonies. You probably love this song; if you’re disappointed it’s “not country enough”, our conversations about it will be exhausting. Josh Langhoff


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Jessie Ware


Jessie Ware
“Wildest Moments”

Ambivalence is not an emotion typically associated with R&B, the musical province of extremes, be it pure carnal lust or the unhinged rage of a scorned lover. But “Wildest Moments”, only one of the gems on English singer-songwriter Jessie Ware’s debut Devotion, makes soulful pop bliss out of emotional odds and ends. “Baby, in our wildest moments / We could be the greatest,” Ware croons in sultry restraint, “Baby, in our wildest moments / We could be the worst of all.” Poised at the point where a relationship could take off into new heights or descend into untold misery, Ware treads the line with grace. A steady breakbeat and staccato keys punctuate her reflections with a hypnotic rhythm, and it’s all but impossible not to feel enraptured by the way the song seems to slowly fold around you. It’s a comfortable place to stay, that moment where anything is possible. Corey Beasley



Hot Chip
“Night and Day”

Not content to let the absurdity of One Life Stand’s lead single “I Feel Better” go unchallenged, Hot Chip put out the most fun song of 2012 in “Night and Day”, accompanied by an equally bizarre music video. (Which, by the way, wins the award for the Best Terrence Stamp cameo, ever.) But for all of the sci-fi nonsensicality of the “Night and Day’s” film, what makes this Hot Chip’s best single to date is one simple but crucial ingredient: THE BASS. Whereas past singles like “Ready for the Floor” and “Boy from School” were danceable but treble-heavy, “Night and Day” opts for the low end, producing a synth bassline that’s at least twenty times catchier than any other popular single this year. What’s surprising about this song, however, is that despite being the “party track” of the philosophical In Our Heads, it doesn’t feel at all out of place, proving yet again Hot Chip’s ability to simultaneously move feet and be moving. Brice Ezell


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Lianne La Havas

Review [27.Jul.2015]


Lianne La Havas
“Is Your Love Big Enough?”

The best pop song of 2012 that nobody heard, Lianne La Havas’ “Is Your Love Big Enough?” takes a surefire groove led by a handclaps section to die for and uses an anthemic element throughout a hook that is impossible to get out of your head. It may not be the most sizable single of the year, but part of its beauty lies within its understated aura. The track was one of the many highlights off her 2012 full-length debut of the same name, and it was the perfect introduction to the mainstream aimed at solidifying her place among pop-soul’s biggest players. Colin McGuire


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Beach House

Review [16.Oct.2015]
Review [24.Aug.2015]


Beach House

To paraphrase Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, “Myth” is one of the all-time great “Side One, Track Ones”. Starting simply with music-box percussion, it all builds slowly to Alex Scally’s howling guitar solo. Victoria Legrand tells a devastating, enchanting tale of lost love, using her husky voice and careful phrasing to mine her words for every last bit of portent. “Myth” is a distillation of Beach House’s entire appeal. They seem to make very little movement on the surface, while a chasm opens underneath. John Bergstrom




Tweaking vocals and pounding keys offer an unsettling opening on alt-J’s stunning and propulsive single, “Breezeblocks”. Ostensibly about suppressing a lover’s desire to leave with concrete weights, it was 2012’s best pop song prominently involving a murder. This claustrophobic and troubling creation evolved into a full blown monster in its second act, a building and repetitive round of lyrics and melody, climaxing on the lyric, “I’d eat you whole”, easily the most bizarre lyric that you might have found yourself repeating this year. While the lyrical content was all Jeffrey Dahmer, the music channeled a series of strange harmonies and jagged arrangement shifts. It was the looping melody and haunting vocals that proved adhesive, something of the repetitive mania of loving someone too much, or a band or a song too much. “Please don’t go,” you might have thought. And the band didn’t, killing its audiences and hurling concrete blocks all the way down. Geoff Nelson

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