Music

The 75 Best Songs of 2012

From the triumphant dream pop of Grimes and the boundary-pushing R&B of Frank Ocean to the tough, frantic British hip-hop of Plan B and the chart-topping country pop of Taylor Swift, PopMatters counts down 2012's 75 best songs.

Artist: Bob Mould

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Bob Mould
"The Descent"

What a year it was for Bob Mould fans. Sugar’s classic music from 1992 to 1994 was given a wonderful spit and polish, Mould was playing Copper Blue live for the first time in ages, and in the process, the former Hüsker Dü member rediscovered his love of good, loud powerpop. Backed up by a powerhouse rhythm section, the album Silver Age marked a return to the scorching power trio sounds of Sugar especially, and the best of the lot was "The Descent", which was quintessential Mould, juxtaposing deep self-loathing with searing, soaring pop hooks. He could always make his misery sound glorious ("Here’s the rope that made me choke"), and his wry tale of emotional collapse turned into one of the most incessant and rich rock singles of the year. Adrien Begrand

 
Artist: The Afghan Whigs

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List number: 74

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The Afghan Whigs
"Lovecrimes"

The second of the reunited Afghan Whigs’ newly recorded songs, this Frank Ocean cover, proves they’ve lost none of their soulful sultriness. A slice of fused neo-R&B and alt-rock savagery, it’s as accomplished a song as any the Whigs cut in their mid-'90s heyday. With its sweeping violins, a piano you can envision smoke billowing from, a synthesized bass line vibrating with menace and walls of distorted guitar, the songs serves as a mood piece befitting a film noir. The consummate reinterpreter of others’ songs, Greg Dulli makes "Lovecrimes" sound as if he wrote it, the lyrics that lace affection with threats being an art he perfected. All told, the song gives longtime Whigs fans another reason to lament they broke up in 2001, but also vindicates their faith that the reunion would be nothing less than stellar. Cole Waterman

 
Artist: El-P

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List number: 73

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El-P
"The Full Retard"

What better way to kick off the lead single to El-P's excellent album, Cancer 4 Cure, than to loop in a hook from his late friend and rapper Camu Tao. Even more fitting is that Tao is insisting we "bump this shit, like they do in the future." And, well, they certainly will. Over a shadowy but razor-sharp beat -- one of El-P's finest, which is saying something -- El-P spits his labyrinthine flow and builds hope in a world that has let go of naïve notions of peace and harmony. Despite his acerbic nature -- "fuck your droid noise" he spits at lesser producers -- under it is a strange hope that once all the rubble settles, we might build something better. That's the fire behind El-P's rhymes here, and while they're tough to keep up with, they're brilliant when you latch on to what he's saying. On one of the year's best albums, this song finds El-P at his absolute peak, as both producer and rapper. Matt Fiander

 
Artist: Menomena

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List number: 72

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Menomena
"One Horse"

The early reports surrounding Moms tossed around terms like "pathos" and "brutally raw" pretty freely -- bold claims for the Portland outfit behind records as playful as Friend or Foe. I was skeptical, but the clincher comes in "One Horse", Moms’ majestic, cello-painted stunner of an encore. Over a murmur of piano and sighing, cinematic string loops, Danny Seim signals the emotional denouement of his obsession with motherhood and mortality: "Boulder canyon / You made a son out of me", the songwriter trembles, his voice shaky and worn. "I had a mother who swam in your streams." Then the spiraling catharsis ("From dust to dust / Roots will pass through us"), as devastating as Friend or Foe is whimsical, and then the fade-out. It’s weighty stuff from a band known for patchworks of quirk. Really, it’s weighty stuff from anyone. Zach Schonfeld

 
Artist: Sun Airway

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List number: 71

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Sun Airway
"Close"

Opening with a crafty nod to Heaven 17's similarly elegant "Let Me Go", "Close" quickly and completely floods your ears with blissful, artful pop. The lush synthesizers and trebly guitars are straight out of New Order/Cure land, but the primal, pounding drums and layered orchestrations reveal a flair for modern psychedelia. Throw in a Bob Dylan reference that Mr. Zimmerman himself would be proud of, and there is little doubt "Close" was the Number One song in Heaven in 2012. John Bergstrom

 
Artist: Laura Gibson

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List number: 70

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Laura Gibson
"Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed"

I’m guessing that neither Laura Gibson, La Grande or "Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed" will figure much in any other best of 2012 lists. It’s a shame as she belongs in such company. The lead track from the album La Grande "Milk-Heavy, Pollen Eyed" is an achingly beautiful love song. Simply arranged -- acoustic guitar, flute and minimal drum -- accompanied by the sweetest, yearning voice, this record gets me everytime. It's hard not to be moved as Gibson softly coos "Try as I may to carve my path / I cannot keep myself from stumbling back to you." Gibson is a great American songstress whose light hopefully won’t be kept under a bushel for too much longer. Jez Collins

 
Artist: Pet Shop Boys

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List number: 69

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Pet Shop Boys
"Leaving"

Although critics generally damned the serenely beautiful Elysium album with faint praise, most agreed "Leaving" was something special. I'd go so far as to suggest it's the finest Pet Shop Boys single since "Being Boring" way back in 1990. Like that career high, this is a requiem for the ghosts of lovers and love lost. Crushing, grown-up pop offering one steady outstretched hand to lead you and your heavy heart out of the abyss and "Some hope to believe in love." Oh, and that heavenly instrumental break around the two-minute mark? Kills me everytime. A real keeper and a guiding light for many a long, dark night ahead. Matt James

 
Artist: Dum Dum Girls

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List number: 68

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Dum Dum Girls
"Lord Knows"

Lead Dum Dum gal Dee Dee clearly has an affinity and aptitude for the disconcerting dream-pop aesthetic of Julee Cruise’s work with Angelo Badalamenti. Look no further than "Lord Knows", the de facto single from this year’s morose and magical End of Daze EP. Worthy of a place on David Lynch’s Zune, the sumptuous composition basks in the greying echoes of drummer Sandy’s spare rhythm and Dee Dee’s cautious, damaged coo. Those astute curmudgeons who recall the Cowboy Junkies’ saturnine take on the Velvet Underground’s "Sweet Jane" may find some similarities, but where Margo Timmins descended Dee Dee soars, finding ever more substance in the resplendent shadows. Gary Suarez

 
Artist: PS I Love You

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List number: 67

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PS I Love You
"Sentimental Dishes"

The sophomore album that this Canadian two-piece (three-piece, if you see them live) released this year, Death Dreams, polarized critics: they either loved it, or were indifferent to it. However one feels about the long-player, you have to admit that its lead-off track "Sentimental Dishes" is a paranoid, nightmarish vision of guitar shredding that recalls, just a little bit, the overall vibe of Hüsker Dü’s "I Apologize". With its instantly catchy guitar riff, and singer Paul Saulnier’s caterwauling vocals, this is an instantly pleasing song that should live on well into the intervening years. A true power-pop gem, "Sentimental Dishes" is worthy of endless playing and replaying on repeat. Zachary Houle

 
Artist: Islands

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List number: 66

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Islands
"Hallways"

"Hallways" is a great indie track that has all the warmth, fun, and ramshackle appeal of an olde-tyme piano parlor. How often can those words be said about any song? As four hands tickle the ivories and a stomping shuffle rhythm keeps things marching along, Nick Thorburn makes the best of being given the ol' cold shoulder. Thorburn's ace in the hole? Those barbershop quartet backing vocals. "Hallways" makes being let down gently seem oh so overrated. John Bergstrom

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