The Self-Hating Hipster’s Top 52 Tracks of 2012

8 Feb

You may notice that this list is all over the place.  I could have picked two or three songs off of each album on my Top 12 Albums of 2012, but that would have taken up over half of the list.  So it became my intention to spread the love and highlight as many album peaks as possible.  The list started with approximately 125 artists and 650 songs.  As promised, below you will find the SHH’s top 52 tracks of 2012.  As expected, it’s late as hell…

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Alt-J - An Awesome Wave52.  Alt-J – “Breezeblocks”

An Awesome Wave

Despite the fact that I found Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave to be an overrated record, it did have its moments and “Breezeblocks” is one of those moments.  “Please don’t go / I love you so” is innocent, but why is a woman being held down with “soggy clothes and breezeblocks?”  If you don’t sense the grim undertone, check out the wonderfully warped in reverse music video.

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The xx - Coexist51.  The xx – “Angels”

Coexist

If you liked The xx’s debut you’re going to like their sophomore release and the lead single off of Coexist, “Angels,” is proof.  The London trio was able to pare down their already simple dream-pop formula to develop a sound that is more accessible than the former despite their admitting the influence of “club music.”  The harmony’s somber tone and the lyrics which dip into the ethereal invoke a warm love song for a recently passed lover.

Aside:  Please reference the movie Ghost.

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Dum Dum Girls - End of Daze EP50.  Dum Dum Girls – “Season In Hell”

End of Daze EP

Dum Dum Girls owe their name to both Iggy Pop’s “Dum Dum Boys” off of The Idiot and The Vaselines 1989 debut album Dum Dum.  If nothing else the names suggests that these four girls have good taste in music.  End of Daze is their third EP in three years and “Season In Hell” shows that they continue to hone their craft.  Unlike a lot of their songs which sound like garage rock moved to the bedroom, “Season In Hell” has a goth meets twee pop feel to it.

Aside:  I was hardly surprised when I searched “Dum Dum Girls Black Tambourine” to find that they covered “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge.” Like I said, these girls have good taste…

Although it has been a “season in hell” with broken hearts and tears, the song forecasts a new dawn that looks divine.

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Cat Power - Sun49.  Cat Power – “Manhattan”

Sun

Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, sounds her sunniest to date on her aptly titled ninth album, Sun.  The minimalist percussion and three-chord piano progression build a ballad that compliments her vocals, allowing them to take the forefront on “Manhattan.”  Cat Power’s departure from the melancholy of her two most recent albums in The Greatest and Jukebox is surprising but not disarming.  When listening to the song, one cannot help but envision the Manhattan skyline with its myriad lights in skyscraping towers.

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Astro - Astro48.  Astro – “Colombo”

Astro

Astro’s self-titled record came to me recommended by way of NPR and to their credit few publications are as dedicated to trying to keep the public informed about world music.  Astro is a Latin psychedelic pop/rock band (not to be confused with the Japanese electronic artist).  Though part of me wished that the manic “Colombo” was a song about actor Peter Faulk, the actor who portrayed the LA detective Columbo in the 1970’s series of the same name, it’s actually a song about bunnies having a party in Spanish.

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David Byrne & St. Vincent - Love This Giant47.  David Byrne & St. Vincent – “Who”

Love This Giant

Most every music-lover’s interest was piqued when David Byrne and Annie Clark announced that they would be doing a collaborative record in 2012.  I was super-psyched because Talking Heads are one of my favorite bands and St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy was my number one album for last year.  Love This Giant is a record that grows on you with continued listens, but it ultimately failed to really wow me.  And the album cover screwed with little cutie Annie Clark’s jawline…GUH!  That aside, the opening “Who” has a funky, off-kilter sway to it, complete with campy, Kung Fu hoo-ha-ing.  “Who” should encourage repeated listens.

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Matthew Dear - Beams46.  Matthew Dear – “Headcage″

Beams

Matthew Dear is approaching the 10 year anniversary of his microhouse debut, Leave Luck to Heaven.  Beams had a number of oddities, but there was something fascinating about aquatic sniffling of “Headcage.”  2012 saw its fair share of estranged pop releases, but the “Your mama won’t care” refrain at the end of the song sounds like Trent Reznor produced Wang Chung.

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Animal Collective - Honeycomb (Single)45.  Animal Collective – “Honeycomb”

Honeycomb 7″

Animal Collective’s Centipede Hz fell below critical expectation this year, but prior to the album’s release AC released a 7″ single of “Honeycomb”/”Gotham” that was nowhere to be found on the LP.  The bustling tumble of “Honeycomb” did forecast the bizarre anti-pop twist of the forthcoming album, but was better than any track on the album that followed.

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Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music44.  Killer Mike – “Big Beast (feat. Bun B, T.I. and Trouble)”

R.A.P. Music

As Killer Mike makes absolutely clear in “Big Beast” and his new album at large, “I don’t make dance music, this is R.A.P. / Opposite of the sucker shit that they play on TV.”  Killer Mike’s new record is, plainly put, “real G shit” and this track features T.I. among others (Bun B and Trouble were new to me).  As I mentioned in my Top Albums of 2012 article there really were strong rap releases in the East, West and South; Atlanta-based Killer Mike was the mouth of the south this year.

Aside:  1) I knew that most musicians hated Ronald Reagan, but Killer Mike goes as far as to compare him to the devil.  2) Native Georgians loathe the term “Hotlanta.”  If you know somebody from Atlanta, or the South in general, purposely drop “Hotlanta” in casual conversation and see what sort of hot water you end up in.

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Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action at a Distance43.  Lotus Plaza – “Dusty Rhodes”

Spooky Action at a Distance

“Dusty Rhodes” is the first of two tracks with a pro-wrestler’s name on this list, though it has nothing to do with the “Amewican Dwee-um.”  When doing the review of Spooky Action I learned that there are more than a few Dusty Rhodes: a San Francisco Giant’s outfielder, a Western novelist, a soccer player, a 1960s country music producer and musician Robert Fripp’s touring name with Peter Gabriel.  As far as I can tell, the song in question doesn’t have anything to do with any of them; instead, Lockett Pundt softly coos like an adolescent child to his first love, “If there comes a day when I must go / Would you come with me? / So we won’t be alone.”

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Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls42.  Alabama Shakes – “You Ain’t Alone”

Boys & Girls

Alabama Shakes began as a cover band in Athens, AL.  Their debut LP, Boy & Girls, has several standout tracks that are more upbeat than “You Ain’t Alone,” but Brittany Howard’s soulful vocals, evocative of Janis Joplin, are never stronger.  Howard asks “1, 2, 3 are you afraid to dance for me?”  Truthfully, yes.  That is unless I’ve been fed martinis steadily at a wedding…then I’m a dancing machine.  “You Ain’t Alone” should act as a confidence-booster for anyone who has convinced themselves that asking someone to dance is too much of a risk.  If that doesn’t quite do it, I personally recommend martinis.

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The Men - Open Your Heart41.  The Men – “Open Your Heart”

Open Your Heart

On their third LP, Open Your Heart, The Men sound like a combination of the Foo Fighters before they got shitty and You’re Living All Over Me era Dinosaur Jr.  The title track leans toward the latter and melds the sentiment of “In a Jar” with the speed and abrasive guitar work of “Lung.”  “Open your heart to me / I’m lost I’m found I’m tugging at your sleeve.”

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The Magnetic Fields - Love at the Bottom of the Sea40.  The Magnetic Fields– “Andrew in Drag”

Love at the Bottom of the Sea

What would a Magnetic Fields album be without a gender-bending, Freudian field day single?  “Andrew in Drag” is definitely that, opening with “A pity she does not exist / A shame he’s not a fag / The only girl I ever loved is Andrew in drag.”  Love at the Bottom of the Sea marks The Magnetic Fields long-awaited return to synth and over what sounds like a Latin Casio, Stephen Merritt uses his wit a la “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits” to tell a twisted yet funny love story.

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Thee Oh Sees - Putrifiers II39.  Thee Oh Sees – “Flood’s New Light”

Putrifiers II

The Oh Sees have been one of the most productive garage rock bands of the 21st century, though some of their releases have come out a little soft.  Putrifiers II is one of their best efforts.   Singer John Dwyer’s airy vocals and the mindblowingly simple “ba ba ba” chorus of single “Flood’s New Light” seep quickly into your lobes and can take hours to drain.

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TOPS - Tender Opposites38.  TOPS – “Go Away”

Tender Opposites

When I heard TOPS’ first single, “Turn Your Love Around,” I thought to myself “Finally, a hipster Fleetwood Mac!” (I mean that in the nicest way possible.)  Then I heard their debut album.  Tender Opposites is unfortunately weighted in near-misses and even the aforementioned single’s pop sheen began to tarnish a bit.  That being said, the cutesy track right before it about a secretive lover found its way onto a handful of my playlists this year…the top 52 tracks playlist included.

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Tim Hecker_Daniel Lopatin - Instrumental Tourist37.  Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin – “Intrusions”

Instrumental Tourist

Producers Tim Hecker (not to be confused with Tim & Eric’s Tim Heidecker) and Daniel Lopatin (otherwise known as Oneohtrix Point Never) collaborated to form the first in what is to be a series of collaborative records released on the sonically adventurous Software Label.  Lopatin had been on my radar since his 2011 release of Replicas which I added to my Top Albums of 2011 as a late penalty.  Tim Hecker was an unknown to me at the time that Instrumental Tourist was released, but I have Software to thank for introducing me to his back catalog.  “Intrusions” is an awkwardly comforting cut and fold of the two producers’ visions.

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Sun Kil Moon - Among the Leaves36.  Sun Kil Moon – “UK Blues”

Among the Leaves

“UK Blues” is the height of humor on Sun Kil Moon’s Among the Leaves.  The entire album feels like a tour with Mark Kozelek name-dropping a city or cross-street at every turn, but it’s the constant take-offs and landings in “UK Blues” that make one feel like a sad stranger in a sad, strange land.  The song is a homesick yet hysterical travelogue through Europe: plane to hotel to show and repeat.  Kozelek sorrowfully groans, “London, London / It’s all the rage if your favorite color’s beige… / Look right, look left / makes me think of death.”  Bristol’s apparently made up of “Cobblestone streets, [and] people missing teeth.”  Each show he plays is a comedy of errors, be it a heckling crowd member at a small venue or playing new songs to an audience that only wants to hear Red House Painters’ early singles.  I’ve always wanted to see Great Britain, but this song has me second-guessing travel plans.

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Breakbot - By Your Side35.  Breakbot – “One Out of Two (feat. Irfane)″

By Your Side

What would happen if you trapped a French electro producer in a room for a month with Wonder Bread, Nutella, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and Hall & Oates’ Voices and then demanded that he record an album?  Likely a record like Breakbot’s By Your Side.  Breakbot puts a sugary spin on the end of disco and the beginning of 80s radio pop.  The lyrics are light and absurd but Irfane’s vocals and the snappy beat will have you dancing before you try and figure out why a robot needs potion to find love.

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Django Django - Django Django34.  Django Django – “Firewater”

Django Django

“Firewater” begins sounding almost identical to Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” before dissolving into a psychedelic folk song about the perils of getting totally sideways.  Vincent Neff adds a bit of humor with lines like “My liver’s up and left me / The devil thinks I’m great.”  Since their conception, Django Django have been compared the Beta Band and “Firewater” certainly validates the comparison in some ways: the heavy guitar strums and the slight echo of the layered vocal harmonies.  Drummer Dave Maclean also happens to be the younger brother of the Beta Band’s John Maclean which doesn’t help to separate the two bands.  Regardless of their sonic kinship to the Beta Band, Django Django can definitely stand on their own two feet and, in the case of “Firewater,” even if they’re hobbling.

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First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar33.  First Aid Kit – “Emmylou”

The Lion’s Roar

First Aid Kit’s “Emmylou” is plain and simple one of the cutest songs that I’ve heard all year.  Sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg celebrate the duets between Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons and June Carter and Johnny Cash, asking sweetly that their own little darling sing along.  The song is so purely sentimental that one forgets that both Parsons and Cash were junkies.  Oh well, I hope that I someday find a Kathleen to my Justin…that’s Kathleen Edwards and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver).

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Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror32.  Sleigh Bells – “Crush”

Reign of Terror

Sleigh Bells’ “Crush” borders on Joan Jett-fueled arena rock.  Alexis Krauss’ delivery is her most anthemic and her empowered lyrics border on riot grrrl: “I’ve got a crush on… / I’ve gotta crush you now!”  In a way the album cover is perfect; there’s some blood on a cheerleader’s Keds, but who’s to say that it’s hers?  Where other songs on Reign of Terror were a little too much (think “True Shred Guitar”), “Crush” kicks just the right amount of ass.

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Beach House - Bloom26.  Beach House – “The Hours”

Bloom

“The Hours” is the first song to materialize out of the dreamy haze of Bloom and is certainly the closest thing to a single on the album.  It’s looping guitar and pleasantly redundant chorus need but a spin to ensnare the listener; however, like the album et al “The Hours” has an icy undercurrent.  The message of “The Hours” is cryptic.  A pair of “frightened eyes” are told in the same chorus that they will be protected and yet they shouldn’t have any care for their guardian.

Aside:  Because I could not understand exactly what was going on lyrically, I made up my own lyrics picturing Victoria Legrand on a crowded New York City subway: “Frotteurised / You’re looking right at me / Change your mind / Don’t rub against me.”

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Angel Haze - Reservation EP30.  Angel Haze – “Werkin’ Girls”

Reservation EP

It cannot be easy for a lesbian to permeate the rap industry, but if anybody’s made it look easy it’s Angel Haze.  It might be a little easier to envision given the aggressive tone of “Werkin’ Girls”; in the first verse she refers to herself as “Rambo” and admits that she’s trying to find an ass that she can put her foot in.  I wouldn’t stand in her way, particularly when she claims that “You niggas ’bout to be bitches / You bitches ’bout to be Casper” in the hook.

Aside:  I’m assuming that I would be crying in an ICU somewhere.

Her flow is as quick, funny and filthy as Lil Wayne and she’s got pair of stones that are bigger than mine.  Angel Haze has an unlikely formula that could see her rapidly climbing the rap ladder.

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of Montreal - Paralytic Stalks29.  Of Montreal – “Spiteful Intervention”

Paralytic Stalks

Of Montreal is a band that I listened to all the time in high school and college but hadn’t impressed me since 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?  To my chagrin Paralytic Stalks in 2012 was no exception (click here for my review).  The album which is heavily influenced by David Bowie circa 1980 registers as a bit of a flop, but lead singer Kevin Barnes makes an interesting meta-musical comment at the very end of “Spiteful Intervention”: “Lately all I can produce is psychotic vitriol / That really should fill me with guilt, but all I have is asthmatic energy.”  Barnes could definitely benefit from a breather, but his desperate chorus of “I spend my waking hours haunting my own life. / I made the one I love start crying tonight and it felt good!” is too memorable to dismiss.

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Death Grips - NO LOVE DEEP WEB28.  Death Grips – “Lock Your Doors”

NO LOVE DEEP WEB

I decided to picture the censored album cover for those of you who don’t feel like seeing a giant dick with Sharpie all over it.  In any event, NO LOVE DEEP WEB was the second LP that Death Grips released in 2012, the album that dissolved their contract with Epic.  “Lock Your Doors” is one of their most explosive beats with what sounds like the automated female self-destruct voice of sci-fi flicks in the background.  Stefan Burnett less raps than shrieks threats to those who are too stupid to lock their doors.  The song breeds paranoia in the listener and with good reason as Burnett goes as far as to yell “memento mori, dead man’s curve” in the middle of the track.  Just when I thought Death Grips couldn’t sound any more frightening…

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Action Bronson_Party Supplies - Blue Chips27.  Action Bronson/Party Supplies – “Ron Simmons”

Blue Chips

Action Bronson is one of the most interesting rappers to emerge in the 2010s.  First of all, despite the fact that he makes a point of saying “Don’t ever say my fucking music sounds like Ghost’s shit!” Action Bronson sounds very much like Ghostface Killah.

Aside:  Action Bronson was actually featured on a Ghostface track called “Meteor Hammer” and hearing them on the same track is a strange experience; without paying close attention one  might not even realize that Action Bronson picks up a couple of bars after Ghost’s intro.

Action Bronson is also surprisingly white.  He looks like he could have been the third member of the pro-wrestling tag-team the Natural Disasters which makes the fact that he raps about pro-wrestler Ron Simmons (aka Faarooq) even more interesting.  Samples of old wrestling tape commentary play over a supremely funky beat compliments of producer Party Supplies.  All I can say is “Damn!”

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Julia Holter - Ekstasis31.  Julia Holter – “Goddess Eyes II”

Ekstasis

Ekstasis is an arresting album as a whole, but part of what makes “Goddess Eyes II” so tremendous is the fact that it seems to speak for the album as a whole.  Holter revisits the robotic chorus of “Goddess Eyes I”: “I can see you but my eyes are not allowed to cry,” however, this time the chorus is rich and human.  The electronic buzz is sublimated, the vocal loops and a warm keytar backbone allow the track to meander tonally, establishing something that’s not so much a song but an Ekstasis sampler.

Aside:  I discovered the music video for the song only a few weeks ago.  It’s a really inventive set and to confirm my suspicion Julia Holter does have gorgeous, green goddess eyes.

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Chairlift - Something25.  Chairlift– “I Belong In Your Arms”

Something

Chairlift’s second album, a duo after Aaron Pfenning’s leave, shows a marked improvement over their debut, Does You Inspire You.  “I Belong In Your Arms” is a gushing love song that one would hardly expect on an album beginning with a song about a girl threatening to run over her ex on the sidewalk.  The harmony of “I Belong In Your Arms” echoes a-ha more than any other band and could easily be slid in between “Take On Me” and “Train Of Thought” on Hunting High And Low…that is if singer Caroline Polacheck could get an octave or two higher.

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Swans - The Seer24.  Swans – “The Seer Returns”

The Seer

Swans’ “The Seer Returns” is an extremely visceral track.  After the 32-minute long title track, Gira growls the lyrics which flesh out the devilish creature that is The Seer: “He’s a greasy beast / Heaving in a field of sticky black mud.”  There’s also an awful lot of light going in and out of mouths and despite how mortified you might be of your destination, an anti-Earth on the verge of completely shattering, Gira and The Seer make you aware that “You have A-rrived!”

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Twin Shadow - Confess23.  Twin Shadow – “Golden Light”

Confess

The best way I’ve been able to describe Twin Shadow, alias of George Lewis, Jr.,  is Caribbean Phil Collins, although the album cover’s portrait of what could be the child of Prince and Phil Oakey is equally fitting.  “Golden Light” is a song that glimmers on an album that otherwise glows.  A warm wash of synth and ghostly marimba ushers in the initially brittle sounding Lewis over a pulsating beat.  The chorus hits the ground running and Lewis turns up the volume and strength of delivery.  Confess’ 80s pop/R&B pastiche is thusly reinforced and Twin Shadow’s own golden light shines that much brighter.

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Frank Ocean - Channel Orange22.  Frank Ocean – “Pyramids”

Channel Orange

Frank Ocean’s debut, Channel Orange, won him universal accolades as one of the most impressive R&B (or should I say “Urban Contemporary”) records of the past decade.  While some of that praise is undoubtedly inflated, it’s difficult to argue to greatness of the ten-minute centerpiece “Pyramids.”  Ocean tells the story of a character “Cleopatra” in three separate lives: 1) his black queen, the Egyptian Pharaoh of lore to a dripping dance jam, 2) a modern-day exotic dancer who works at a club called The Pyramid, under the thumb of a pimp who sips champagne, over a sexy laid back burn, and 3) the same stripper seen from her unemployed boyfriend’s eyes.  The jam finally winds way down with some tricky reverse guitar work from John Mayer of all people.  Don’t ask me…

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Grizzly Bear - Shields21.  Grizzly Bear – “Sleeping Ute”

Shields

As per usual Grizzly Bear has an incredible introductory track on their 2012 LP.  Shields begins with “Sleeping Ute” which sounds like a not-so-distant cousin of Jeff Buckley’s “So Real.”  Bear’s quirky time signature and Rossen’s dainty little riffs and finger-picking are at the forefront with jarring percussion at every turn.  “Sleeping Ute” forecasts much of what is to come on the album: angelic guitar work, fluid major to minor shifts and rich, sprawling soundscapes.

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Cheap Girls - Giant Orange20.  Cheap Girls – “Gone All Summer”

Giant Orange

The opener of Giant Orange is a track that speaks to those who would feel like they could go on an endless bender for better or worse.  The narrator has “seen eleven days and thirty-six nights,” the exhaustive bender’s cycle that extinguishes more than sixty percent of daylight.  At first he doesn’t know when he’ll be due back around, but as the song goes on he’s not even sure if he’ll make it back to Earth; either way, he admits that it might “be for the greater good.”  It’s definitely a summer fun song to be sung with a beer in one hand and a burger in the other.  Enjoy responsibly!

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Jaill - Traps19.  Jaill – “Perfect Ten”

Traps

Jaill failed to impress me with Traps but the album’s strongest track, “Perfect Ten,” is one of the most listenable songs of the year.  Most often Jaill sounds like a revved up rip of The dB’s, but “Perfect Ten” is  weighted in glam and 60s pop/rock.  The dorky narrator who has slipped into the “friend zone” wonders if he might be admitted back into his best female friend’s life as a lover.  Picture Marc Bolan wearing safety glasses.  The brief, warbling solo also achieves more than others on the album.

Aside:  If you’re into all things nasty, check out the nonsensical music video.

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Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory18.  Cloud Nothings – “No Future / No Past″

Attack On Memory

Cloud Nothings’ singer/songwriter Dylan Baldi immediately shows a maturation with Attack on Memory’s opening track “No Future / No Past.”  One half of the title rings true; if you hadn’t heard any of Cloud Nothings releases prior to Attack on Memory, their past would be almost unrecognizable.  The track functions like a palate-cleanser, but it’s a bitter cleanse.  Baldi sounds as though he’s experiencing sheer mental anguish as the track builds.  He finally explodes for the screamed chorus of “No future and no past!”  As for there being no future…well that’s likely a load if they continue to release albums this good.

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Mac DeMarco - 217.  Mac DeMarco – “Cooking Up Something Good”

2

Mac DeMarco is clearly indebted to acts like Ariel Pink who are in turn clearly indebted to the grandfather of lo-fi, R. Stevie Moore, but that doesn’t change the fact that DeMarco’s eponymously titled second album is a lo-fi corker.  DeMarco playfully strums slightly off-key chords on “Cooking Up Something Good” and tells the story of a screwed up family that is reminiscent of R. Stevie Moore’s “Cool Daddio.”  In the case of “Cooking Up Something Good,” the narrator has a mother who can cook, a father who can cook meth and a brother in the ballet.

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Jessie Ware - Devotion16.  Jessie Ware – “Wildest Moments”

Devotion

At a first listen of “Wildest Moments” all one hears is a wonderful pop song and a beautiful voice, but Jessie Ware’s “Wildest Moments” actually documents a dysfunctional relationship that some of us know all too well.  She sings in the chorus “Baby in our wildest moments / We could be the greatest , we could be the greatest / Baby in our wildest moments / We could be the worst of all.”  “Wild” isn’t always positive; there is the wild adventure and spontaneity of a healthy relationship as well as the wild fights and anxiety of those that are failing.  At the very beginning of the song Ware questions “Everyone must be wondering why we try / Why do we try?” and if you’ve ever ignored the writing on the wall in a relationship you’ll know exactly what she’s talking about.

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Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city15.  Kendrick Lamar – “Backstreet Freestyle”

good kid, mA.A.d city

“Backstreet Freestyle” is a track that is catchy as hell in spite of its intentionally juvenile delivery.  Imagine a teenage kid with some definite talent but an inordinate amount of gusto being told to rap over a beat.  In the case of “Backstreet Freestyle,” a young Kendrick Lamar begins by recalling the Dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and goes on to outline the details of his own Dream; whereas the late Dr. King’s dream was righting social injustices in order to have all men (and women) regardless of color created equal, Kendrick dreams of having a penis as big as the Eiffel Tower.  The lyrics are totally silly and borderline blasphemous, but the ironic intent is what makes it so funny and sharp.  The same artist that talks about the importance of giving back to one’s city at the end of his debut album skillfully raps about the recurring themes of gangster rap in the tone of an aspiring adolescent: gun violence (lead showers), drugs (pills in the lobby), fast cars (Maseratis that vroom, VROOM!) and fast girls (with asses beyond measurement).

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Purity Ring - Shrines14.  Purity Ring – “Fineshrine”

Shrines

Purity Ring is another bright pop artist to emerge in the 2010s from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  Stylistically the duo is similar to Grimes, but Purity Ring’s lyrics are intensely visceral in comparison.  On “Fineshrine,” the second single off of Shrines, singer Megan James coos: “Get a little closer, let fold / Cut open my sternum, and pull / My little ribs around you / The rungs of me be under, under you.”  Um, Megan, if you want a hug you can just ask…and usually it doesn’t require major surgery.  “Fineshrine” and the debut single, “Ungirthed,” released in 2011 almost propelled Shrines into my Top 12 albums of the year.

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John Talabot - ƒIN13.  John Talabot – “Destiny (feat. Pional)”

ƒIN

“Destiny” finds John Talabot paired up with kindred production spirit Pional and the result is magnificent.  Talabot has a gift for building tracks layer by layer.  What begins as a loop of muffled hoots at twilight ends up sparkling dance track that could double as a soundtrack for a romantic montage in an 80s action flick.  Towards the end of the song there is a refrain of “I’m destiny” and if Talabot’s multifaceted production continues to expand, he very well might be the destiny of IDM.

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Ty Segall - Twins12.  Ty Segall – “Would You Be My Love”

Twins

Ty Segall was a busy man in 2012 releasing three LPs, one as “Ty Segall Band,” one as “Ty Segall and White Fence” and one as just plain old “Ty Segall.”  Like The Oh Sees, Ty Segall is a West-Coast, garage rock powerhouse (not Slaughterhouse like his grungy release this past year as TSB) who has effectively kept hot blood pumping through the veins of the genre despite the cold-blooded refrain of “Would You Be My Love;”  The narrator asks to be loved despite the fact that he and his lover  “are ghosts / Living in [their] heads / Waiting for the notice that [they] are dead.”

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Japandroids - Celebration Rock11.  Japandroids – “The Nights of Wine and Roses”

Celebration Rock

At the same time that Japandroids sound contemporary I can’t help but think of some of the bands that I would listen to endlessly in high school, particularly Piebald.  I’m sure that this is owed in part to there being a heartfelt sentiment which balances almost perfectly with energy and sense of humor.  “The Nights of Wine and Roses” is the first track of their second full-length, Celebration Rock, and it appropriately begins with fireworks.  The song represents all that plagues the unsure, unmarried, disaffected 20-30-somethings in an anthem: “Long lit up tonight, and still drinking. / Don’t we have anything to live for? / Well of course we do, but until it comes true / We’re drinking!”

“The Nights of Wine and Roses” encapsulates all of the anxiety of those individuals who frequently suspect that they are letting themselves fall prey to self-sabotage because of their non-compliance to social norms or their complacency regarding their “lost boys” mentality.  Either way the listener is more compelled to “yell like hell to the heavens” along with the band than sit back and mope.

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Andy Stott - Luxury Problems10.  Andy Stott – “Luxury Problems”

Luxury Problems

Andy Stott’s Luxury Problems was one of the most exciting electronic releases of 2012 with one of the coolest album covers.  Stott beefed up his typically minimal, liquid production with the inclusion of samples of his former piano teacher’s vocals on his third album.  The wraith-like vocal samples create a phantasmagoric serenity on the title track.  Stott’s churning beat is made up of three underwater notes and what could be the gasp and collapse of an iron lung.  As the track progresses a loud chiming sample breaks through the surface at key points, jarring the listener…that is until they’ve heard the track enough times to not only anticipate, but look forward to the breakthrough.

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Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...9.  Fiona Apple – “Werewolf”

The Idler Wheel…

The sentiments expressed on “Werewolf” are indicative of the album as a whole.  Fiona is serious and bitter but there’s also a sense of humor in her analogies and an assumption of partial blame that are absent on tracks like “Johnathan,” the ex who can only utter sprinkles of hot piss.  Over some of the best piano work on The Idler Wheel, Fiona likens her presumable ex to a werewolf or a shark, but then again she admits to acting as a full moon and open wound to the former.

The song also ends with a rare, reassuring quip from Ms. Apple: “Nothing’s wrong when a song ends in a minor key.”  The song itself of course does end in a minor key, but the lyric also points to that rare break-up where the two parties can remain friends given some time to heal.  After all, the lines right before are “We can still support each other / All we gotta do’s avoid each other.”  That’s about as sunny as Fiona Apple gets.

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Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes8.  Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – “Only In My Dreams”

Mature Themes

Ariel Pink released his second “proper” album in 2012; Mature Themes is actually Ariel Pink’s tenth album, but he tried to make a clear delineation between 2011’s Before Today and those albums that he released prior.  What is the difference?  A more traditional approach to an “album.”

As one of the youngest fans of the R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club, Pink was used to sequencing or re-sequencing 20+ pop oddities for a record like his idol, and listeners be both pleased and damned.  Of course there were always more than a few lo-if gems, but there was typically a stretch of pop misfits that challenged the listener beyond the point listening.

Mature Themes is still an extremely bizarre record (think “Schnitzel Boogie”), but “Only In My Dreams” proves that Pink is capable of writing a traditional pop song.  The Byrds-like melody is a perfect complement for the sweet tale of a man who dreams up the perfect girl because love doesn’t come naturally to him.  Pink’s “Only In My Dreams” is his biggest achievement to date…at least off of his “first two” albums.

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Chromatics - Kill For Love7.  Chromatics – “Lady”

Kill For Love

Chromatics’ “Lady” actually dates back to a 2008 demo which was, thank God, revamped for the release of Kill For Love in 2012.  The song begins with a pared down four-on-the-dark-disco-floor beat and some heavily processed guitar.  Ruth Radelet begins with “If I could only call you my lady / Baby, I could be your man,” which you’d swear you’ve heard somewhere before.

Aside:  I had this song on in the car some months ago when I was dropping my other off and she asked me “Oh, who’s this?”  I replied, “ ‘Lady’ by Chromatics.  It came out this year.“  She said, “No, I think this must be a cover of an older song.  I sat there for a minute and thought, “Shit.  ‘Into the Black’ was a mock-up of Neil Young’s ‘Hey Hey, My My.’  Am I missing something?”  As it turns out those lyrics are original as far as I can tell, but Radelet sings some moments later “Wise men say / Only fools fall in love” which is clearly a turn of Elvis’ lyric on “Fools Rush In.”

After the third “Baby, I could be your man” the beat really gets funky.  The percussion picks up and a bass-slide which sounds as though it was pulled from Talking Heads’ “Once” in a Lifetime” gets thrown in the mix.  The slaps you awake and makes you want to dance which is one the reasons why I played it for three weeks straight on my way to work in the morning.  It woke me up, but my office is not a place for dancing.

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Lower - Walk on Heads EP6.  Lower – “Craver”

Walk On Heads EP

Lower is one of the punk acts to have sprung up in the unlikely city of Copenhagen, Denmark.  The four songs on their Walk On Heads EP all pack a wallop, but “Craver” is the pinnacle.  The song begins with two simple drum rolls, a shrieking guitar and a surprisingly crisp bass line.  Then a Molotov cocktail lands at your feet.   “Ignited by boredom.”  Singer Adrian Toubro’s violent yet desperate “craving for oxygen” in the chorus combined with the heft of the feedback laden guitar is enough to puncture a lung.  The pulsing drums of the breakdown and anti-solos sock you in the face like jabs at a speed bag. There isn’t a prescription inhaler on the market that could quell the choked anxiety of “Craver.”

*     *     *

Death Grips

Death Grips - The Money Store5.  Death Grips – “Punk Weight”

The Money Store

“Punk Weight” is perhaps the track most indicative of Death Grips schizophrenically unpredictable sound.  It begins with what sounds like a Mumbai musical played on 2x speed before switching gears, or perhaps double-clutches to a heavy punk blast accented by shrill squeals.  Like one of rapper/yeller Stefan Burnett’s lyrics, “Punk Weight” spreads through you like wild fire.

It’s difficult to tell what is going on narratively in the song outside of the multiple meaning of “weight” (the beat’s heft, weapons one’s person and drugs), but that never seems to be much of the point with Death Grips.  There is no message per se, but instead an onslaught of words that when shouted together cause your head to bang and your lip to curl.  As a sharp spike in the album’s energy, it’s no wonder that Burnett feels like he’ll “never ever ever come down.”  By the time “Punk Weight” hits the listener is just as pumped as he is.

*     *     *

Grimes

Grimes - Visions4.  Grimes – “Oblivion”

Visions

If Grimes did one thing in 2012 it was finding a sound that was totally different and totally accessible.  “Oblivion,” the best track off of Visions, sounds like Mariah Carey collaborated with Depeche Mode and they were produced by Brian Eno (think the keys at the two-minute mark).  And the song grows on you with each listen.

Grimes told some interviewers that the dark lyrics are based on a physical assault that she experienced in Vancouver.  The song does begin with “I never walk about / After dark / It’s my point of view.”  With this in consideration, the upbeat nature of the song is flipped on its head, and “See you on a dark night” either suggests some prepared empowerment or a fatalistic acceptance.  Either way the track is strangely cathartic and vague enough for it to find a meaning with any listener.

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Mouse on Mars

Mouse on Mars - Parastrophics3.  Mouse on Mars – “They Know Your Name”

Parastrophics

Mouse on Mars came out with Parastrophics, the first of two releases in 2012, after a six year hiatus.  MoM has always forged new ground in the realm of electropop and Parastrophics is no exception; tracks like “Wienuss” and “They Know Your Name” incorporate elements of hip-hop, previously uncharted territory for the duo of Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma.

The latter is a funky, thumping track which initially evokes Daft Punk’s name-dropping homage “Teachers.”  It’s quite possibly as pop accessible as Mouse on Mars have ever been.  Heavily processed vocals call out the names of random people that supposedly “know your name,” but after doing some light research it would appear that they don’t exist.  Of course, none of that matters when you have a beat that could jumpstart a Mack truck.

Aside:  This remix set to video implies the Mouse on Mars might even know electropop music at a microbiological level.

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Tame Impala

Tame Impala - Lonerism2.  Tame Impala – “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”

Lonerism

There is only one song on this list that exceeded 150 spins in 2012, a testament to both its superior listenability and my lack of self-control; that song is Tame Impala’s awesome “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.”  As I put in my Top Albums of 2012 article, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” is a song that neo psych-poppers dream about writing.  Parker sounds eerily akin to the iconic John Lennon in his echoed vocals, the bassline is arguably as trippy as anything McCartney plucked from 1966-67 and the wasted-at-the-kit drum fills are enough to convince you that you’ve been dosed.  What’s miraculous is how the song is innovative in spite of its obvious homage to The Beatles.  Like the narrator who hears his named being called by his beloved in his head all day, it’s nigh impossible to get this track out of your head once it’s in there.

*     *     *

Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten - Tramp1.  Sharon Van Etten – “Give Out”

Tramp

At this point in the list, one will likely be surprised and certainly fatigued.  I myself was confused and ill-prepared when certain third parties who were privy to this list when it began (on DECEMBER 10th!!) approached me with, “So Sharon Van Etten’s number one, huh?”  These inquiries were usually followed with some combination of the following:

“Why, because you have some sort of crush on her?” – I can’t dismiss this entirely, but if this list were heavily populated by pop crushes, there would have been some other choice names, which I will not be disclosing for their peace of mind and my own, on this list with releases in 2012.

“Why, because you had an interview with her?” – I did have the pleasure of trading emails for a week with Ms. Van Etten by way of her PR rep, but there were other artists whom I interviewed this past year which all had tracks in the running for the Top 52 but were unfortunately ousted by the aforementioned 51.

“Is it really your most-played track of 2012?” – No, I just told you what that was and to be honest, I listened to a number of the tracks above more than “Give Out.”  But great songs aren’t always the ones you play the most.

So why am I so adamant that “Give Out” is the best track of 2012?  After much contemplation, it’s the affecting lyrics, their songwriter’s delivery and personal resonance.  Sharon Van Etten sings “Give Out” with the same heartache and self-doubt revealed in the lyrics to create something that is sad, beautiful and honest.  “Give Out” was all the more powerful live even though her overall presentation was surprisingly light.

What’s the personal business?  I happen to travel regularly back and forth to what everyone in New York State refers to as “The City”…New York City, the city that Ms. Van Etten now coincidentally calls home.  I continually second-guess my refusal to take chances and my somewhat complacent failure to launch.  I always said that I would never live in New York City, but I can no longer say that considering the potential opportunity to be had in a place where some of those closest to my heart live (one in particular)…not to mention the innumerable concert venues!  I’m not by any means saying I have my heart set on moving to New York City, but I do recognize that both “moving” and “leaving” are integral parts of growth.

And with that, I hope you appreciate those tracks which I have left in and don’t abhor me for those tracks which I have intentionally or unintentionally left out…

*     *     *

That’s another year in the books and I will no doubt disagree with the order and selection as soon as I hit “Publish,” but that’s per the norm.  I have to humbly beg your pardon, once again, for a year-end list being released in February of the following year.  But for the numerous recommendations that were made to me throughout the year and some editorial revisions from my generous girlfriend, once again, I compiled a top tracks list unassisted…and as you might be able to imagine, it takes a long, long time.  As sad as it is to say it, this will likely be my last top tracks article unless I can get some help at this year’s end or I decide to abbreviate the list to the point where such a small minority of tracks are honored.  I may instead highlight tracks throughout the year so that I don’t have this hulking project breathing down my neck when I’m busiest in my personal and professional life.  Either way, I hope you enjoyed it!

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One Response to “The Self-Hating Hipster’s Top 52 Tracks of 2012”

  1. Radioheadfreak February 28, 2013 at 11:25 pm #

    I Love you guys even More ! I sang Andrew in Drag to my boyfriend once , but he didn’t get it (idiot) . GREAT track picks but where are Night Moves ‘ Country Queen or Egyptian Hip Hop’s “SYH” ? I’m just saying .

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