Staff Lists: Top 100 Tracks Of 2012

Top 100 Tracks Of 2012

Honorable Mentions Of 2012 | Top 100 Tracks Of 2012 | Top 50 Albums Of 2012

Picking out our favorite songs of the year is a bit trickier than any other list-making endeavor. There are a lot of things to consider: the song’s crossover appeal, artistry, cultural impact or just downright catchiness among them. That’s why on Tactile Tracks’ top 100 tracks list you will see songs of all styles and audience ranges, from the radio smashes to obscure seven inch releases.

This is the first year that we have tried to compile a list like this as a staff, but after years of personally trying my hand for years, it’s only becoming more difficult to round up all of the best tracks of the year. The growing prominence of the Internet gives artists more avenues than ever to have their songs heard; a song can be recorded one day and a hit the next. As hard as it is to keep up with it all, we do our best, and have gathered all of our favorite individual songs of the year in an attempt to come up with a consensus top 100.

There are always interesting things that come up when we construct these lists, and our top 100 tracks list this year is no exception. From our staff of eleven, 247 tracks were submitted in total, without a single unanimously voted track. Our number one track was the most voted, so it rightfully racked up the points to earn the top spot. Our number two track was voted as the number one by two of our staff members, the most times to be in the top spot, but ultimately lacked the consistency across our diverse tastes. Kendrick Lamar, El-P, Hudson Mohawke and Big Sean each pop up on the top 100 three times (perhaps earning them a shared spot as our 2012 MVP and even more interestingly showing how prevalent hip-hop is on our list), with each appearance by the latter being a guest spot.

Enough of the stats. Enjoy the top 100, and you can find a Spotify playlist at the very end with most of the tracks from our list.


Purity Ring - Belispeak II (Feat. Danny Brown)100.
Purity Ring
“Belispeak II (Feat. Danny Brown)”
Album
[4AD]
Download: Direct

Just when you thought that Purity Ring’s nightmarish landscapes couldn’t sound any more hellish, enter Danny Brown. The Detroit emcee actually breathes a little bit of reality into “Belispeak,” a song originally entirely steeped in fantasy, relaying his all-too-real accounts of what it’s like to wish for a belly full of food.


Stagnant Pools - Dead Sailor99.
Stagnant Pools
“Dead Sailor”
Temporary Room
[Polyvinyl]
Buy: Amazon MP3

The Enas brothers, Bryan and Douglass, defy all logic as to what level of volume and immense power can be created by only two people. On “Dead Sailor,” it seems as if thirty-five drummers power the track along, stacking underneath a wall of guitars, but it’s just Bryan and Douglass, plugging away on a guitar and drumset, respectively. The song combines drone guitar elements and melodic wonder in Bryan’s vocal, showing that noise can be beautiful.


El-P - Oh Hail No98.
El-P
“Oh Hail No (Feat. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire & Danny Brown)”
Cancer For Cure
[Fat Possum]
Buy: Amazon MP3

It was a big year for El-P. In addition to providing the entirety of new partner-in-crime, Killer Mike’s, album, he turned in one of the most dynamic and unique hip-hop records in recent memory, Cancer For Cure. On “Oh Hail No,” a standout from his first Fat Possum offering, he gets a little help navigating his warped production from Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire and Danny Brown.


Disappears - Joa97.
Disappears
“Joa”
Pre Language
[Kranky]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Disappears show all the most wonderful parts of Krautock on the cerebral riffing of “Joa.” The guitars spiral around one another with no regard for melody, yet sound completely enhanting. Singer Brian Case howls atop their wild west-style psychedelic stomp as the band pounds out their infinite sprawl.


DIIV - Home96.
DIIV
“Home”
Oshin
[Captured Tracks]
Buy: Amazon MP3

In the context of Oshin, DIIV’s debut LP, album closer “Home” serves as the perfect landing strip for the record’s deep emotional ties to the feeling of loss, of being alone. With its sparse guitar accompaniment, Zachary Cole Smith’s distant vocal feels as if he’s made his last attempt to connect.


Benoit And Sergio - New Ships95.
Benoit & Sergio
“New Ships”
New Ships [EP]
[Visionquest]
Buy: Beatport

Benoit & Sergio’s “New Ships” is what happens when ideas outrun technology.Thick, syrupy bass permeates through a lo-fi daze, making the propulsive dance track hover somewhere in the grey area of club-ready and bedroom-built. In the end, the driving beat is too undeniable, and the listener’s bedroom will likely turn club.


Dirty Projectors - Gun Has No Trigger94.
Dirty Projectors
“Gun Has No Trigger”
Swing Lo Magellan
[Domino]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Brooklyn art-rockers Dirty Projectors don’t do anything by the books. Whether the obscure acoustic strummins of Dave Longstreth’s early recordings or the band’s more fleshed-out work of late, they do things their own way. It’s this confidence, combined of course with extremely high proficiency, that makes the haunted syncopation of “Gun Has No Trigger” so infectious. Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle surround Longstreth’s shaky falsetto with eerie “oohs” and “ahs,” making the track play like a ghost tour through an opera house.


Sea Wolf - Old Friend93.
Sea Wolf
“Old Friend”
Old World Romance
[Dangerbird]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Alex Brown Church’s Sea Wolf project may have achieved mainstream notoreity with their inclusion on the Twilight Saga: New Moon soundtrack, but none of the artistic credibility has been sacrificed in the price of fame. “Old Friend” sees Church plugging along with his cozy indie folk stylings, sounding like Sufjan at the campfire as he sings the line, “I know you don’t believe me when I believe in you / I know it could get much easier if we want to.”


Meek Mill - Burn (Feat. Big Sean)92.
Meek Mill
“Burn (Feat. Big Sean)”
Dreamchasers 2
[Maybach Music Group / Warner Bros.]
Buy: Amazon MP3

As hip-hop fans, sometimes we need to just not think, sit back, and bounce. Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group has been chief proprietor of huge bass, speaker-rattling hip-hop since its 2009 inception. Philadelphia newcomer Meek Mill has quickly established himself as the group’s welterweight champion; his giant tracks and fierce energy light up everything he touches. “Burn” has put him on the map, showing others in his class that his title won’t be easy to take away.


Titus Andronicus - Ecce Homo91.
Titus Andronicus
“Ecce Home”
Local Business
[XL]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Titus Andronicus couldn’t have started their third full-length any better. Singer Patrick Rickles greets the listener in his traditional warm fashion; “Okay I think by now we’ve established everything is inherently worthless.” It’s been the New Jersey band’s modus operandi to deliver these messages of anti-hope in society and with “Ecco Homo,” they succeed not only in decimating hope, but in doing so with the energy and melodic gusto we have come to expect.


Ab-Soul - Black Lip Bastard90.
Ab-Soul
“Black Lip Bastard (Remix) (Feat. Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, & Jay Rock)”
Control System
[Top Dawg Entertainment]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Black Hippy has had a huge year. Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, and Kendrick Lamar have released acclaimed records with Jay Rock delivering one of the greatest verses of the year on the latter’s, and of course there was that whole Interscope deal. “Black Lip Bastard” from Ab-Soul’s Control System sounds like a celebration, given all things. The collective each take turns displaying their lyrical gifts as well as their varying styles, from Schoolboy Q’s and Jay Rock’s streetwise toughness to Ab-Soul’s and Kendrick’s twisted wordplay.


Dr. Dog - That Old Black Hole89.
Dr. Dog
“That Old Black Hole”
Be The Void
[ANTI-]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Dr. Dog is nothing if not consistent. The Philadelphia sextet has been blending pop sensibilities of yore with psychedelia–also of yore–in a way that makes their music feel utterly timeless. “That Old Black Hole” mixes circus organs and a barroom jaunt to somehow form an indelible pop son. It’s quintessential Dr. Dog in that only Dr. Dog could ever pull it off.


Hungry Ghost - Powerman88.
Hungry Ghost
“Powerman”
Hungry Ghost
[Self-Released]
Buy: Direct

A supergroup of sorts (the three members come from bands like Unwound, Irving Klaw Trio and The Drags), Portland, Oregon’s Hungry Ghost represents everything great about rock and roll music. “Powerman” combines a punk-like attitude with bluesy riffing in the style of some of rock’s greats, giving the band’s self-titled debut record a healthy mix of both the past and present. The band draws inspiration from their past work while never aping it or having their songs feel like carbon copies of all of their previous work, making tracks like “Powerman” feel fresh yet confidently performed.


Physical Therapy - Drone On (Supreme Cuts Mix)87.
Physical Therapy
“Drone On (Feat. Jamie Krasner) (Supreme Cuts Mix)”
[Hippos In Tanks]
Download: Direct

Though Physical Therapy, the electronic project of Daniel Fisher, has made a name for himself remixing other artists’ tracks, the EP he released of original material serves to best describe what he has carved out for himself to this point. “Drone On” was the record’s greatest individual statement, with Fisher’s melodic radar as fine-tuned as ever before and singer Jamie Krasner elevating his simple, yet completely involved production to greater heights than before. The song made for perfect remix material, and Supreme Cuts, the duo of Mike Perry and Austin Kjeultes have taken the track in a completely different direction. The song ebbs and flows, seemingly constantly peaking in complex maximalism, while still retaining the skeleton of the track that made its simplistic beauty something to behold.


Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin - Vaccination For Thomas Mann86.
Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin
“Vaccination (For Thomas Mann)”
Instrumental Tourist
[Software]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin’s Instrumental Tourist came on like an ambient fan’s dream album. The two have been separately pushing boundaries their whole careers; experimenting with subtle sound manipulation in innovative and powerful ways. “Vaccination (For Thomas Mann)” is a culmination of each of their styles, Hecker’s ghostly chord progressions buoy Lopatin’s tortured choir samples, all in amazing real-time improvisation.


Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Baby85.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
“Baby”
Mature Themes
[4AD]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Ariel Pink’s bassist recently discovered and championed a lost seventies soul classic in Donnie & Joe Emerson’s Dreamin’ Wild. Pink and funky frontrunner Dâm-Funk recorded a cover of “Baby,” one of the record’s soulful cuts, to be part of a compilation, but the track was used as not only Pink’s album closer, but also as lead single. The Emerson’s classic songwriting shines through as Pink and Dâm-Funk sound like a modern-day Righteous Brothers.


Yeasayer - Glass Of The Microscope84.
Yeasayer
“Glass Of The Microscope”
Fragrant World
[Secretly Canadian]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Few bands have redefined themselves so often in such a short time span as Yeasayer. They came on like worldly cave-dwellers with advanced electronics, then somehow discovered eighties pop, and now, with Fragrant World, sound like lysergic messengers of the future. Album closer, “Glass Of The Microscope,” sees a wash of ambient keyboards give way to thundering rhythms and twinkling synths–the song resembles the band’s shape-shifting tendencies and perhaps points to their future.


Lotus Plaza - Monoliths83.
Lotus Plaza
“Monoliths”
Spooky Action At A Distance
[Kranky]
Buy: iTunes

Lockett Pundt, the introverted half of Deerhunter’s songwriting team, might not be coming out of his shell, but he seems to be inviting more people into it to look around. “Monoliths” applies his sonic experimentation with building walls of sound with a keen sense of melody that shows he has truly found himself as a songwriter. His songs on Spooky Action At A Distance stand on their own as powerful works, and as he sings, “One of these days, I’ll come around.” It seems he is inviting us along for the ride.


Matthew E. White - Big Love82.
Matthew E. White
“Big Love”
Big Inner
[Hometapes / Spacebomb]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb label is bringing it back to the old school. The Richmond, Virginia collective is setting out to bring artists that they champion to record with their house band, creating a sort of Motown-era vibe of community and musical freedom, while carving out Spacebomb’s place in the musical landscape. White’s Big Inner is the first release in what will hopefully be a long line of releases in this vein; White’s gospel-folk storytelling permeates through funky arrangements and timeless production qualities that are to serve as the label’s footprint. “Big Love” is Spacebomb’s greatest achievement on the record, with White coolly navigating huge horns and string arrangements, with his biblical imagery guiding the track along to their collective future.


METZ - Wet Blanket81.
METZ
“Wet Blanket”
METZ
[Sub Pop]
Buy: Amazon MP3

METZ frightens me. I’m not ashamed to admit it, and I love every second of the fright the Toronto trio’s debut causes me. “Wet Blanket” is the penultimate embodiment of that fright; Alex Edkins’ guitars force their way into my head with explosive fury, causing as much debilitating damage as possible, combining with Hayden Menzies’ and Chris Slorach’s indelibly tight rhythms. Punk never sounded so menacing.


Passion Pit - I'll Be Alright80.
Passion Pit
“I’ll Be Alright”
Gossamer
[Frenchkiss / Columbia]
Buy: Amazon MP3

“I’ll Be Alright” is a completely accurate representation of where Passion Pit is, as a band, these days, as well as where singer/songwriter Michael Angelakous is, personally. The frenetically layered samples seemingly come at you from all directions, tied together through rich melodic textures and Angelakous pleading he’ll be alright. Given the frenzy surrounding his vocal, it sounds like the small voice of his conscience giving itself a small glimpse of hope in overwhelming trouble.


Dawnbringer - V79.
Dawnbringer
“V”
Into The Lair Of The Sun God
[Profound Lore]
Buy: Amazon MP3

This is an interesting era for music where the sound of today’s songs tend to go in either direction: towards the past or towards the future. Given how much music there is today, it is hard for something to have a sound that seemingly defines the now, so things usually scew in one direction. Dawnbringer’s Into The Lair Of The Sun God is somewhat of an anomoly in that regard. It has elements of the past, a very distinct eighties metal sound blends well with ideals of where metal is headed, aggressive brutality meets with simplicity and technicality. “V” is the perfect embodiment of that cross-section; the song has an anthemic quality that characterized the best of the metal originals, but could never be mistaken for a dated record, giving it a timeless quality needed in metal today.


Feist - Black Tongue78.
Feist
“Black Tongue”
Feistodon [Single]
[Reprise]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Mastodon’s intense lyrical imagery has somehow never sounded so fierce as when Feist coolly intones, “You killed the life, you took the diamond / You killed the vine, death of the sun.” The typically menacing track from last year’s The Hunter is given a bluesy treatment for her’s and Atlanta metal titans’ Record Store Day split single. Though the bite of the dual guitar attack is gone, none of the eerie energy is missing on Feist’s version.


Japandroids - Younger Us77.
Japandroids
“Younger Us”
Celebration Rock
[Polyvinyl]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Japandroids’ second full-length, Celebration Rock, is youth culture revelry at its finest. Everything about the record embodies the carefree nature of being young, and perhaps the album’s finest mission statement of that is “Younger Us.” When Brian King recalls his personal days of old by saying, “Give me younger us,” he gives the sense of longing, but the verses seem to acknowledge how little we truly know as kids. Today’s youth is lucky to have a band like Japandroids who can simultaneously soundtrack their coming of age and make sure they know they don’t know a thing.


Passion Pit - Constant Conversations76.
Passion Pit
“Constant Conversations”
Gossamer
[Frenchkiss / Columbia]
Buy: Amazon MP3

There was hardly a more troubled record released this year than Passion Pit’s Gossamer. Centered around Michael Angelakous’ battle with bipolar disorder, the infectious pop mastery of the Boston electropop band is highly conflicting with the hope-filled music. The sultry, R&B-laced “Constant Conversations” serves as both Angelakous’ low point and the record’s high point, creating a profound juxtaposition. Angelakous warps a soul sample into pleeing with his fiancee to stay with him through his troubles, and keeps his fans firmly rooted by his side in the process.


Beach House - Irene75.
Beach House
“Irene”
Bloom
[Sub Pop]
Buy: Amazon MP3

As time goes by, it becomes increasingly acceptable for the merits of a song to rest solely on its beauty. For a long time, technicality reigned supreme, or aggression and energy dictated a record’s standing. Beach House relies on beauty. Their songs move at the patient pace on a linear path to finality–with that finality inevitably being loveliness. The thing that makes Beach House interesting and non-formulaic is the way they can achieve that beauty with simplicity. Bloom’s closer sees a very subtle crescendo of shoegaze guitars and organs laird down by Alex Scally support Victoria LeGrand’s dramatic, full vocals.


Fiona Apple - Hot Knife74.
Fiona Apple
“Hot Knife”
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do
[Epic]
Buy: Amazon MP3

“Hot Knife,” the closing track from her latest record, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do, shows exactly why we love the New York songstress’ music. She snarkily weaves her voice around in a sing-song fashion, saying, “If I’m butter, if I’m butter, if I’m butter then he’s a hot knife,” turning her ragtime sexuality into a sort of mantra or even a childlike folk song. With each successive release, Apple has grown as an artist, expanding her sound and the dynamic ability she has to keep her music familiar but constantly push the envelope for what she is capable of. “Hot Knife” is an extension of that; the track is unlike anything she has ever done, yet completely recognizable.


Jessie Ware - Wildest Moments73.
Jessie Ware
“Wildest Moments”
Devotion
[PMR / Island]
Buy: Amazon MP3

It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Jessie Ware’s voice come to define the direction we see pop music heading in the future. The British songwriter delivers simmering performances on everything she touches; the raw quality of her voice is something that doesn’t come along too often and is a huge step for pop music as the genre caves under massive dance beats and studio wizardry. What you see–or hear–is what you get with Ware. “Wildest Moments” is one of Devotion’s standouts with her stunning voice propelling the R&B-tinged track to the pantheons of pop.


Justin Bieber - As Long As You Love Me72.
Justin Bieber
“As Long As You Love Me (Feat. Big Sean)”
Believe
[Schoolboy / RBMG / Island]
Buy: Amazon MP3

One thing I don’t get about guilty pleasures is that I typically never feel guilt in taking pleasure from them. I take no shame in belting out the chorus to Justin Bieber’s first grown-up hit, “As Long As You Love Me.” The track comes like a typhoon in a long line of “_____ Goes Dubstep” headlines, Bieber’s voice soulfully mixing with technology in a fascinating blend of radio-friendly accessibility and an uncanny amount of artistry. Big Sean once again proves he has an ear for hits as well, with his verse blending well with Bieber’s soaring vocals.


Leonard Cohen - Going Home71.
Leonard Cohen
“Going Home”
Old Ideas
[Columbia]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Though time has taken its toll on Leonard Cohen’s voice, he has proven time and time again that it can’t touch his music. With Old Ideas, his twelfth studio album, Cohen once again shows he is still one of America’s greatest songwriters. The record itself is one of his best in years, and the lead track, “Going Home,” is a snapshot of his rugged workman’s touch of beauty. His calming vocals is embellished with rich instrumentation and choirlike backup vocals, giving his practically spoken lyrics a gospel-level grandeur.


Titus Andronicus - In A Big City70.
Titus Andronicus
“In A Big City”
Local Business
[XL]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Though many think that Bruce Springsteen connections to Titus Andronicus’ music ends with the New Jersey borders and blue collar figurehead statuses, but when you hear a song like “In A Big City,” you can see that the connection lies much deeper. Massive, clap-along rhythms lead the band through a chant chorus that could fill arenas much in the same way some of The Boss’ most beloved tracks can. The separation lies in the fact that Titus Andronicus doesn’t want their chants to fill arenas–they’re perfectly content seeing kids screaming them while crowdsurfing in tiny clubs.


Cloud Nothings - Stay Useless69.
Cloud Nothings
“Stay Useless”
Attack On Memory
[Carpark]
Buy: Amazon MP3

I don’t even think that Cloud Nothings expected Cloud Nothings to make a record like Attack On Memory to follow up their self-titled record. I fully believe the Cleveland band gathered in their practice space, picked up their instruments, and poured out their aggression for hours, emerging with one of the most electric rock records of the year. Pretty good for a band once dwelling dangerously close to the “pop punk” realm. Much of the melodic prowess is present on “Stay Useless,” the track blends with dissonance, raw energy and genuinely catchy moments perfectly.


Flying Lotus - Getting There68.
Flying Lotus
“Getting There (Feat. Niki Randa)”
Until The Quiet Comes
[Warp]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Flying Lotus is constantly redefining not only what his music is, but what electronic music can be. On the early record standout from his latest, Until The Quiet Comes, Stephen Ellison takes jazzy rhythmic syncopation and places it firmly in the world of astral hip-hop he has so comfortably built for himself over the years. Niki Randa lends a gorgeous vocal that seems to come from a distant planet.


Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Mladic67.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
“Mladic”
‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
[Constellation]
Buy: Amazon MP3

For Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s first full-length record in over a decade, the Montreal octet knew they had to re-introduce themselves to the world in proper fashion. ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! opener, “Mladic,” couldn’t have accomplished that any better. The track begins with an eerie, Middle Eastern-inspired drone before giving way to angry, tumbling guitars that point to the fact that Godspeed hasn’t lost any of their desire to show fans the world still needs a lot of saving. Much like their earlier recordings, “Mladic” points to the fact, with sheer emotional volume, that it can be saved.


Killer Mike - Untitled66.
Killer Mike
“Untitled (Feat. Scar)”
R.A.P. Music
[Williams Street]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Killer Mike is one of the most interesting figures in hip-hop. On one hand, you can lean back in your car seat and bounce to his massive, southern-fried , owing as much to street-peddling bass harbingers like Young Jeezy and T.I. as Outkast, and on the other, you’ve got one of the brightest minds delivering lyrics to this day. Mike weaves street-level tales together with highly political rants all over the El-P produced R.A.P. Music, and Scar provides one of the very few hooks to be found on the supercharged “Untitled.”


Pig Destroyer - Baltimore Strangler65.
Pig Destroyer
“Baltimore Strangler”
Book Burner
[Deathgrind]
Buy: Amazon MP3

No one does grindcore quite like Pig Destroyer. For nearly fifteen years, the Richmond band has been providing a punishing and inclusive look into the genre, allowing even those who may not be as receptive to the style a window into their world. As soon as the methamphetamine-personified poem sample of, “I destroy homes. I tear families apart,” gives way to the intense riffing of “Baltimore Strangler,” it seems they have no intentions of letting anyone from the outside in. The track is brutal, loud, offensive, and somewhat terrifying. In other words, it’s Pig Destroyer and it’s perfect.


Simian Mobile Disco - A Species Out Of Control64.
Simian Mobile Disco
“A Species Out Of Control”
Unpatterns
[Wichita]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Simian Mobile Disco, the electronic project of James Ford and Jas Shaw, make their living on the dancefloor. Their records have always had a flare for the finer points of dance music, intricately layered production serving as brain candy for those dark nights and dish headphones, but the real place for songs like “A Species Out Of Control” is in the chaos of a strobe-lit dancefloor. The Unpatterns behemoth is a lesson in locomotion; from start to finish, it is constantly moving, constantly shifting from one futuristic beast to another. It’s one of those songs where you could be sitting in a cushy office chair and you’ll find yourself grinding your teeth and sweating profusely by the end of it. As unpleasant as that reaction may be, it’s a good thing for a band like Simian Mobile Disco.


Mac DeMarco - Ode To Viceroy63.
Mac DeMarco
“Ode To Viceroy”
2
[Captured Tracks]
Buy: Amazon MP3

With Mac DeMarco’s second record, the aptly-titled 2, the British Columbian songwriter proves just how dynamic he can be. “Ode To Viceroy” has brightly strummed guitars lilting along a languid rhythm, sounding like a stoned Pete Townsend floating down a lazy river. The track shows DeMarco’s uncanny ability to acheive a kind of balance between the immediately accessible and artistically viable, with straightforward structure yet the type of lyrical zaniness fans of his have come to expect.


The Walkmen - Heaven62.
The Walkmen
“Heaven”
Heaven
[Fat Possum / Bella Union]
Buy: Amazon MP3

The Walkmen’s latest record, Heaven, couldn’t have been named anything better. The Brooklyn band has been specializing in Dylanesque rock music for most of their careers, and this time around they have holed themselves up in a studio in the woods and come out with something a bit more pastoral. The title track from the record is bit more grounded in the band’s more rock-friendly roots, with singer Hamilton Leithauser wailing atop saloon-style pianos.


Haim - Forever61.
Haim
“Forever”
Forever [EP]
[Self-Released]
Buy: Amazon MP3

If musical history serves as truth, or at least the highest possible average of truth, siblings just seem to be born to make songs together. Haim follows through in a long line of sibling greatness in music; the sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim continue in the tradition of displaying an ESP-level of musicianship together. With “Forever,” the Los Angeles trio combines tightly-knit, soulful guitars and futuristic world rhythms to form a blend of nineties-leaning pop music that feels less like an homage and more like a misplaced record that is simply just now emerging. Their three-song EP of the same name came seemingly out of nowhere, but with the uncanny tightness the trio performs “Forever,” they should be around for a long time to come.


Jack White - Sixteen Saltines60.
Jack White
“Sixteen Saltines”
Blunderbuss
[Third Man / XL / Columbia]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Whether it is with The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, or finally as a solo artist, Jack White has constantly proved himself to be dynamic as frontman, face in the crowd, drummer, or finally as ringleader, respectively. The Detroit guitar slinger has progressed from trashy blues garage to the more recent country stylings of his new Nashville surroundings. “Sixteen Saltines” is actually an amalgamation of each of his phases; though the rich history of the south is certainly audibly present in the jangling guitars, but the raw energy of his early work colors the song with a bit of his Detroit grime.


King Tuff - Bad Thing 59.
King Tuff
“Bad Thing”
King Tuff
[Sub Pop]
Buy: Amazon MP3

There is a lot to love about King Tuff’s “Bad Thing.” The track comes on like a surf-rock classic, except instead of recalling fun times in the sun, the Los Angeles outfit fronted by Kyle Thomas present themselves like the kids who took their boards straight under the pier and pound beers all day before stumbling out into the night. Thomas does well to play the role of ironically cocky frontman singing about his tough guy demeanor and Stratocaster coolness factor (which is actually quite high considering the slithering riffs present on the King Tuff single.


Twin Shadow - The One 58.
Twin Shadow
“The One”
Confess
[4AD]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Twin Shadow, the leader of the new wave of new-wave fronted by George Lewis, Jr., doesn’t do anything simply. His latest record, Confess, is a dance record at heart, completely infectious pop music propels “The One,” yet Lewis spins tales of breaking hearts, something he seems quite adept in. The way he can deliver memorable dance tracks, shred on the guitar like a boho Prince, and write lyrics that he is able to slyly slip into what can be perceived as love songs is what sets Twin Shadow apart from other acts in his class.


Disclosure - Latch 57.
Disclosure
“Latch (Feat. Sam Smith)”
Latch [Single]
[PMR]
Buy: Amazon MP3

It’s somewhat ironic that the young British duo of Guy and Howard Lawrence, known as Disclosure, have become the face for UK garage, given the fact that the two tend to obscure their image in press photos with sketched faces atop theirs. It goes to show that their music speaks for itself; it’s rare for an electronic act to have such a clearly definable sound simply through signature programming and signature propulsion, but Disclosure have proved once again with “Latch” that they can do just that. The Sam Smith-aided track is completely irresistible and, of course, danceable, which shows exactly why the Lawrence brothers are the faces of a genre without ever having released an album.


Kanye West - Mercy (Feat. 2 Chainz, Big Sean, & Pusha T) 56.
Kanye West
“Mercy (Feat. 2 Chainz, Big Sean & Pusha T)”
Cruel Summer
[Def Jam / GOOD]
Buy: Amazon MP3

“Mercy” is one of the few tracks on GOOD Music’s Cruel Summer compilation that can actually stake claim as a summer hit. The song was released well before the record, helping to build the hype for the upcoming release, and showed exactly what there is to love about Kanye West’s collective. It also shows Kanye’s full embracing of club-ready beats; Lifted and Hudson Mohawke provide a warped dancehall sample for Big Sean, Pusha T, Kanye, and finally 2 Chainz to deliver self-inflating lines that somehow come across as just plain fun rather than cocky.


Bat For Lashes - Laura 55.
Bat For Lashes
“Laura”
The Haunted Man
[Parlophone]
Buy: Amazon MP3

If Natasha Khan experienced profoundly crippling writer’s block while trying to work on The Haunted Man, it doesn’t show. The record is her most intriguing to date, the music within matching her bared figure on the sleeve–it’s her most stripped-down to date. “Laura” is the perfect embodiment of her shedding the pain that came with her writer’s block; her lone vocal is accompanied simply by a gorgeous, lightly tapped piano, but the emotion behind the performance propels the song into perhaps the greatest heights that Bat For Lashes has ever reached. It’s almost as if she is talking to herself in the soaring chorus, reminding herself of her own humanity by saying, “You’re more than a superstar.”


Major Lazer - Get Free 54.
Major Lazer
“Get Free (Feat. Amber Coffman)”
Major Lazer Frees The Universe
[Downtown]
Buy: Amazon MP3

“Get Free” is incredibly reserved for Diplo. Under the Major Lazer name, the Philadelphia producer has carved out a name for himself in turning in frenetic, high-energy records that are geared completely for the dancefloor. The lead single off of his upcoming record is geared for the dancefloor, sure, but Diplo has chosen to embellish the track with subtle dub styles and allow the intricacies speak for the track as opposed to the energy. Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman has a personal sing-off with all of her overdubbed vocals, making for a veritable choir of her own voice. Each separate vocal track builds upon the next, combining with the delicate programming that Diplo has underscored for her in amazing ways.


Hot Chip - Flutes 53.
Hot Chip
“Flutes”
In Our Heads
[Domino]
Buy: Amazon MP3

It seems Hot Chip can do no wrong. The English electropop quintet have never made a track that you couldn’t dance to, and with their latest record, In Our Heads, they have achieved perhaps their finest balance of danceability and artistry. Where their sound has seemingly been a mashup of all different styles and sounds, combining to form some sort of neon-colored stew that was impossible to resist, songs like “Flutes” show a subtler side of the band. Stretching out over seven minutes, the band allows their chirping synthesizers to bubble beneath the surface, building a tension within the track that makes the release of ecstasy all the more meaningful.


Woods - Size Meets The Sound 52.
Woods
“Size Meets The Sound”
Bend Beyond
[Woodsist]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Woods occupy a space all their own. Their sound is highly psychedelic, highly organic, and highly addicting, rooted somewhere deep in the acid-faded sixties where every melody, no matter how darkly embellished, comes like a ray of sunshine. Their latest record, Bend Beyond sees all of those elements of the Brooklyn band amplified more than ever before, as well as Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Taveneire’s songwriting at their most precise. “Size Meets The Sound” is one of the highlights of the record, the band weaving in and out of black-lit psychedelia and sun-soaked joy.


Korallreven - Sa Sa Samoa (Feat. Julianna Barwick) (Elite Gymnastics Remix) 51.
Korallreven
“Sa Sa Samoa (Elite Gymnastics Remix)”
Sa Sa Samoa [Single]
[Acéphale]
Download: Direct

Everything about Korallreven’s “Sa Sa Samoa,” right down to the ecstasy tablet-laden cover art, screams to be played over massive club speakers. The song originally had a rave culture’s dream atmosphere to it, but the Minnesota duo Elite Gymnastics have bathed it in glowstick innards and Vick’s vapor rub, completely engulfing the track in that attitude. It’s a completely celebratory remix, complete with pitch-shifted Whitney Houston sample and incredible, high-speed drum and bass breaks, making for a physical yet also intensely cerebral take on dance music. It’s impossible to not want to move to the track, but the intensity with which it is cut makes for a headphone experience like none other as well.


Rhye - The Fall50.
Rhye
“The Fall”
The Fall
[Polydor / Seven Four / Innovative Leisure]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Los Angeles-based duo Rhye has created an air of mystery around their music. “The Fall” seemingly appeared out of thin air, accompinied by a minimalist sexuality serving as its cover image, a bare back hinting at ambiguity and promised satisfaction. That ambiguity is practically bursting their music at its seams; a strong, soulful voice easily bounces along the playful piano-driven production, seemingly of the next in line to be crowned as the next Sade, but in reality the vocal is provided by Mike Milosh. The track shows that there are no limits to where music is today, and who can be the music world’s stars, no matter what norms are in place in society. Not to mention “The Fall” is one of the catchiest, wooziest strokes of pop genius this year.


Joey Bada$$ - Survival Tactics (Feat. Capital STEEZ)49.
Joey Bada$$
“Survival Tactics (Feat. Capital STEEZ)”
1999
[Self-Released]
Download: Direct

“Survival Tactics” is the Progressive Era at its best. Joey Bada$$ and Capital STEEZ expertly navigate a boom-bap beat, delivering anti-violence rhymes in an aggressive way that to untrained ears could seem highly violent in intensity. It’s a testament to their lyrical gifts that they can decorate such an intense track with irony and wit–but perhaps most importantly–intensity. Joey Bada$$’ 1999 mixtape is among the greatest achievements in hip-hop due to the young emcees pure throwback lyrical skills, and “Survival Tactics” is easily its crown jewel.


Beach House - Other People48.
Beach House
“Other People”
Bloom
[Sub Pop]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Bloom is Beach House’s strongest work to date, expanding on their ever-gorgeous silverly strands of dream pop. With “Other People,” Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scally inject a bit of rock and roll prowess into their typically slow-paced music. Don’t get it mistaken; this isn’t some sort of towering guitar rock epic; the powerful beauty to be found within Beach House’s patience and attention to building songs brick by brick is still present, it is just obvious that the Baltimore band has found some new tricks up their sleeve.


Chromatics - Into The Black47.
Chromatics
“Into The Black”
Kill For Love
[Italians Do It Better]
Buy: iTunes

Neil Young has never sounded like this. The sultry opener to Chromatics’ Kill For Love sees the Portland band turn Young’s Rust Never Sleeps hit, “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black),” into a steamy electronic late night tale, substituting Young’s simmering guitars with bright synthesizers, his road-weary live vocal into Ruth Radelet’s hushed, neon-tinged interpretations. It’s a bold move by the band to begin their record with this sort of artistic statement; in taking rock and roll canon and bringing it to the dancefloor haze, Chromatics proves they can do just about anything.


Todd Terje - Inspector Norse46.
Todd Terje
“Inspector Norse”
It’s The Arps [EP]
[Smalltown Supersound / Olsen]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Bold statement time. Nothing this funky has ever come out of Scandinavian country. Norwegian producer Todd Terje goes against the grain of the typically stark white, glacial music by delivering the absolutely rapid-fire electro technicolor-tinged It’s The Arps EP like the snowlands of Eastern Europe have been painted over. Highlight “Inspector Norse” is constantly funky–you’ll be dancing from start to finish, perhaps well after.


Carly Rae Jepsen - Call Me Maybe45.
Carly Rae Jepsen
“Call Me Maybe”
Kiss
[604 / Schoolboy / Interscope]
Buy: Amazon MP3

If you somehow avoided hearing Carly Rae Jepsen’s mega-hit “Call Me Maybe,” what in the world are you waiting for? It’s pure fun; sure, she comes off as slightly promiscuous–dishing out those digits on first meeting is a little suspect–but sometimes you’ve got to be to dominate the radio waves like the young Canadian songstress did. The song carries more than a memorable hook; the undeniable dance beat has intricacies buried deep within the superficially straightforward radio fodder.


TNGHT - Goooo44.
TNGHT
“Goooo”
TNGHT [EP]
[Warp / Luckyme]
Buy: Amazon MP3

The one thing that seems to be unanimously agreed upon about TNGHT is that they “go hard.” It’s one of those phrases that I simultaneously can’t really wrap my head around yet completely agree with. The dynamic duo of producers Lunice and Hudson Mohawke definitely go hard. “Goooo” sees the two weave trap music theatrics and video game nerdiness to an effect that puts them somewhere in the arcade (gun)fire territory, and firmly rooted in beatheads’ hearts.


Woods - Bend Beyond43.
Woods
“Bend Beyond”
Bend Beyond
[Woodsist]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Woods’ “Bend Beyond” is modern psychedelia at its best. The band typically known for never breaking away from pleasing melodies made it well known that their new album would be a much darker affair, and in making its title track the album opener, they firmly back up that statement. The song starts like a smoky country song before giving way to dark psychedelia; the band does their best Velvet Underground impression with serpentine guitars winding around one another in a maddening frenzy before bursting back out into the song’s chorus of, “Just to see, just to know, just to bend beyond the light.”


Ty Segall Band - Wave Goodbye42.
Ty Segall Band
“Wave Goodbye”
Slaughterhouse
[In The Red]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Ty Segall gives the people what they want. People want Ty Segall music, and he gives it to them in massive amounts. This year alone he released a record with White Fence, a solo record, and one with the Ty Segall Band. “Wave Goodbye” comes from the latter’s Slaughterhouse, easily the heaviest record the San Francisco garage wunderkind released this year, and comes on like a blast of guitar feedback, screeching vocals, all-around fun and pure rock and roll energy. Segall recently asked Pitchfork, “All these kids who are growing up on Skrillex and all this digital music– what are they gonna think when they hear rock’n’roll?” Well, when it’s done as well as on “Wave Goodbye,” I have a feeling they’ll love it.


Death Grips - I've Seen Footage41.
Death Grips
“I’ve Seen Footage”
The Money Store
[Epic]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Death Grips’ “I’ve Seen Footage” is one of the most unique tracks in recent memory. Combining a punk rock-like attitude and what is traditionally thought of as hip-hop music, the Sacramento group is hard to pin down into one specific genre. MC Ride practically screams his rapid-fire lines at you while Flatlander’s grimy production warps whatever straightforward aspects of hip-hop could possibly be present in their music. Drummer Zach Hill provides pounding rhythms that sound like the foundation of the building crumbling around you, making their first–and only, given the massive fallout with Epic–major-label record, The Money Store.


Jack White - Love Interruption40.
Jack White
“Love Interruption”
Blunderbuss
[Third Man / XL / Columbia]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Jack White claims that the songs on his first solo album, Blunderbuss, were both the first tracks that he felt comfortable putting out under his own name and tracks that he only felt comfortable putting out under his own name. The lead single, “Love Interruption,” came as a complete surprise to the music world, announced and released in one day. What was most surprising about the song is the completely new direction of the music for White. A sparse soul-country ballad of sorts, White is accompanied only by organs and the perfect vocal foil of Nashville starlet Ruby Amanfu.


The xx - Angels39.
The xx
“Angels”
Coexist
[Young Turks]
Buy: Amazon MP3

The xx’s music sounds like snowfall looks. Each note is placed meticulously across their sparse arrangements, dropping slowly and seeming warm and inviting in the empty spaces left within them. However, when you look deeper, allow their music to engulf you, you can truly feel the cold despair that lies within. “Angels,” the lead track off Coexist, is about as uplifting as they get but we don’t look toward The xx to be uplifted. We look toward them to be engulfed.


Flying Lotus - Putty Boy Strut38.
Flying Lotus
“Putty Boy Strut”
Until The Quiet Comes
[Warp]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Flying Lotus’ Until The Quiet Comes is the Los Angeles beat wizard’s–the analogy applies; he’s like the Dumbledore of beat making–most dynamic record to date. The entire thing plays like a dream, vividly physical yet taking place entirely within the deep contours of the psyche. “Putty Boy Strut” is the part of the dream when the sharks swim out of your bathtub drain, when the dog has your own face, the wholly bizarre yet unquestioned element driving it along. Video game-like programming playfully guides the track to help tie together the confusing, intoxicating world Flying Lotus has created.


How To Dress Well - Set It Right37.
How To Dress Well
“Set It Right”
Total Loss
[Acéphale / Weird World]
Buy: Amazon MP3

“Set It Right” is about as atypical of R&B as you can get, making 2012 the perfect time for it to have as much impact as possible. In a genre that for so long has fallen victim to a lack of emotion, lack of honesty, and more importantly humanity, it seems its time for R&B’s resurrection. Tom Krell turns a seering sample and experimental beat into the opportunity to tell all of those he has lost in his life that misses them. The simplicity and relatability of his message are things that R&B has needed for a long time.


fun. - We Are Young (Feat. Janelle Monae)36.
fun.
“We Are Young (Feat. Janelle Monae)”
Some Nights
[Fueled By Ramen]
Buy: Amazon MP3

fun. lie somewhere in that grey area of commercial juggernauts and artistically fascinating, which, in today’s world, leaves them in the category of completely disrespected. It seems the minute something breaks through the mainstream barrier, it becomes instantly uncool in the indie realm it once occupied. What makes fun. so great is the fact that they are helping to shape the mainstream. With “We Are Young,” they prove that not everything on radio has to be formulaic and written with radio in mind. They force us to play by their rules and it’s an incredible step in the right direction.


Jessie Ware - Running35.
Jessie Ware
“Running”
Devotion
[PMR / Island]
Buy: Amazon MP3

I think the minute that the funky guitar interlude of Jessie Ware’s “Running” kicked in for the first time was the only time this year I showed audible excitement while listening to music in the solitude of my office this year. I can’t recall the specifics–whether it was an “Unh!” or an “Oh, shit!,” but an involuntary noise came out of me. The slow-burning, patient track calls to mind the best moments of ’90s R&B stars like Sade, while never sounding like a mimic; her sound is wholly her own.


Killer Mike - Reagan34.
Killer Mike
“Reagan”
R.A.P. Music
[Williams Street]
Buy: Amazon MP3

“Reagan” is like nothing else to come out this year. The Atlanta emcee Killer Mike combines dirty south bombast with intensely pointed political lyricism, sounding like a manifesto off the top of Mike’s stoned, yet completely bright mind. The track’s menacing lines are actually more frightening than any of the shocking violence prevalent in today’s hip-hop, proving that the truth is far more powerful than any gunplay posturing.


Poliça - Amongster33.
Poliça
“Amongster”
Give You The Ghost
[Totally Gross National Product]
Buy: Amazon MP3

I have never been to Minnesota, but I have the unfair assumption that I would hate it. As a southerner, I’m always hoping for snow but am completely over it after a day once it falls, so I probably would be miserable there. After collaborating together in indie supergroup Gayngs, Ryan Olson and Channy Leanagh formed Poliça, both acts filled with vibrancy and life, dispelling any notions I have about Minnesota’s culture reflecting its climate. On “Amongster,” Leanagh creates an orchestra of her own manipulated vocals, the band toeing the line of R&B and electronica.


Alt-J - Tessellate32.
Alt-J
“Tessellate”
An Awesome Wave
[Canvasback]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Whatever you have come to expect from pop music, forget it. Alt-J prove time and time again on their debut, Mercury Music Prize-winning record, An Awesome Wave, that there should be no limits placed on where music can go, shunning accessibility for artistry yet somehow achieving accessibility far greater than many of those aiming for it. “Tessellate” is a standout from the record, traveling along a shaky African path of jittering rhythmic guitar lines, before finally giving way to a blues-like half-time thump. The British group don’t stay in one place for too long, but there is a cohesion to their music that is inexplicable given that fact.


Baroness - Take My Bones Away31.
Baroness
“Take My Bones Away”
Yellow & Green
[Relapse]
Buy: Amazon MP3

In today’s world, it would seem like there isn’t much of a place for Baroness. The sludge metal band originally from Savannah live in a time when guitars just aren’t cool, guitar solos are just about the most uncool things imaginable, and rock and roll is on life support. Despite all of that, they have made a breakthrough with Yellow & Green, a guitar player’s dream record–packed with guitar solos, I might add–and obviously one that didn’t get the memo about the state of rock and roll. “Take My Bones Away” combines the chugging riffs of Baroness’ past with genuinely well-crafted melodies to show that rock is alive and well.


Screaming Females - Doom 8430.
Screaming Females
“Doom 84”
Ugly
[Don Giovanni]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Ugly is easily Screaming Females’ strongest record to date. Whereas the New Jersey trio has fallen somewhere in the sea of muddied garage punk bands that seem to have completely proliferated the aughts, songs like “Doom 84” show the true talent held within the group. Marissa Paternoster makes good on the band’s name, but instead of raw energy propelling the track along (there is plenty of it, but it’s not the song’s sole force), progressive, completely enchanting guitar riffs seem to be spilling from every side. At nearly eight minutes, the song couldn’t possibly be packed more full with guitar mastery, showing that the energy that has been captivated on Screaming Females’ past records was only but one of their many assets.


Clear Soul Forces - Get No Better29.
Clear Soul Forces
“Get No Better”
Detroit Revolution(s)
[Self-Released]
Download: Direct

Clear Soul Forces’ lead single from their debut record, Detroit Revolutions, ends with the line, “Let’s show the whole world what they can’t take from us.” The line can be interpreted many ways; the Detroit hip-hop group staking their claim on the genre, simply their individual gifts, or as a rallying cry for all those who can hear them to stand up and unite–whatever the cause, it can’t be taken away. It’s a powerful message in a slew of powerful messages in “Get No Better.” Ilajide, Noveliss, L.A.Z. and E-Fav are all incredible lyricists who trade off lines like they share a mind. Obviously they are united in showing the world their music can never be taken from them.


Ty Segall & White Fence - I Am Not A Game28.
Ty Segall & White Fence
“I Am Not A Game”
Hair
[Drag City]
Buy: Amazon MP3

“I Am Not A Game” sounds like the circus traveled through San Francisco and picked up some degenerate punk rockers to help bolster their music. Ty Segall and White Fence (the grimy garage project of Tim Presley) are sort of the perfect combination in today’s music; all throughout Hair, the pair trade off massively fuzzy guitar riffs, shrieking unintelligable vocals and an all-around energy that somehow far exceeds each of their own individual work. It’s as if they feed off of one another on “I Am Not A Game,” constantly trying to best the last freely flying guitar riff.


First Aid Kit - Emmylou27.
First Aid Kit
“Emmylou”
The Lion’s Roar
[Wichita]
Buy: Amazon MP3

For whatever reason, some of the best Americana music is coming out of Sweden. Whether the Dylan-like croonings of The Tallest Man On Earth or the Söderberg sisters of First Aid Kit, harmonizing like they picked it up in a rural Southern Baptist choir, the blues-inflected folk music of American Appalachia isn’t so American these days. It is interesting, however, that First Aid Kit’s breakthrough hit, “Emmylou,” channels the spirit of the music that shaped it not only in sound, but in lyrical qualities as well. Klara and Johanna Söderberg sing, “I’ll be your Emmylou, I’ll be your June if you’ll be my Graham and my Johnny too.” They make no secrets about where they draw inspiration.


Spiritualized - Hey Jane26.
Spiritualized
“Hey Jane”
Sweet Heart Sweet Light
[Double Six / Fat Possum]
Buy: Amazon MP3

It seems impossible but Spiritualized may have actually gotten better with each successive release. They have the cliched “fine wine” effect, the inexplicable greatness that comes with age and familiarity, but in reality it seems they are actually getting better. “Hey Jane,” the lead-in to Sweet Heart Sweet Light, sees J. Spaceman and company expand on the space rock style built upon repetition and trance-like vocals, adding in rolling guitar riffs and rejuvenated energy that show the band is looking to the future, to their next and (if history serves) greater release.


Kendrick Lamar - Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst25.
Kendrick Lamar
“Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst”
good kid, m.A.A.d city
[Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope]
Buy: Amazon MP3

After the harrowing story of young Kendrick Lamar’s loss to the troubles of growing up in Compton on good kid, m.A.A.d city, the sprawling “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” ties together all of the pain held within. Kendrick assumes the roles of people in his life who fell to the city too soon, and the retribution that can come from strong faith and family. The track is a breackthrough, in that regard. It serves as the revelatory moment for young Kendrick within the record’s story arc, as well as simply a breakthrough for hip-hop itself. This type of conceptual grandeur has been attempted before, but it has never worked as well as “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst.”


Perfume Genius - AWOL Marine24.
Perfume Genius
“AWOL Marine”
Put Your Back N 2 It
[Matador]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Mike Hadreas, performing under the name Perfume Genius, seems to operate from a place of pain. His hauntingly beautiful music digs deep into the heart of the listener and pulls emotions long dormant from its depths, using simplicity and honesty. “AWOL Marine” is a simple piece of piano music, but the emotion that Hadreas pours into the track, constantly stacking his powerful vocals atop one another and pulling the ghastly piano refrain in and out of the mix, actually makes for one of the most intense listening experience of the year. Substituting the strength of beauty and titanic emotion for the typical methods for achieving physical responses in music proves that Perfume Genius is one of the most important acts to emerge in 2012.


Sky Ferreira - Everything Is Embarrassing23.
Sky Ferreira
“Everything Is Embarrassing”
Ghost [EP]
[Capitol]
Buy: Amazon MP3

2012 will come to be defined as the year of the anti-pop star. There seems to be a desire for pop music fans to find a star that they can relate to, someone whose image isn’t the sole force behind their music, and who can feel wholly human while their music pours from the speakers. Sky Ferreira seems to be the perfect candidate to take on that role as the underrepresented majority of the world who don’t come prepackaged by industry standards’ figurehead. With “Everything Is Embarrassing,” Ferreira navigates the completely infectious backbone of the song with a disregard for pop music norms. The thing that gives her the crossover appeal she possesses is that despite her seemingly flippant approach to making music, she stumbles upon memorable melodies, in turn, a sort of pop stardom, with ease.


Grizzly Bear - Sleeping Ute22.
Grizzly Bear
“Sleeping Ute”
Shields
[Warp]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Grizzly Bear’s “Sleeping Ute” is as strong of an artistic statement as the Brooklyn band has possibly ever made. After the lushly arranged Veckatimest, a record where practically every vocal was colorfully embellished with vocal harmonization tumbling from all directions. As soon as Daniel Rossen’s lone vocal comes pouring out of the mix, it is evident that Shields is going to be a different record. The fact that the band took a step back and let simplicity reign supreme on “Sleeping Ute” shows the band is ready to step into their own.


Tame Impala - Elephant21.
Tame Impala
“Elephant”
Lonerism
[Modular]
Buy: Amazon MP3

For a song about a great lumbering beast, “Elephant” is quite the limber expression of psychedelia. Australian rockers Tame Impala rumble through spacey Pink Floydian riffing on the Lonerism single, with the intensity more like a mastodon than its more docile descendant. Kevin Parker shows why he is among the brightest stars in music today, taking music of old and recharging it with modern flare.


Kanye West - New God Flow (Feat. Pusha T & Ghostface Killah)20.
Kanye West
“New God Flow (Feat. Ghostface Killah & Pusha T)”
Cruel Summer
[Def Jam / GOOD]
Buy: Amazon MP3

GOOD Music’s Cruel Summer compilation will be remembered for a lot of things: odd Autumn release date, mega-radio hits, or even the absolutely bizarrely awful Kid Cudi track. The one thing that stands out to me, however, is the veteran presence on the record and how they vastly outshine those who should be hungrier within the collective. A prime example is “New God Flow,” a track helmed by Kanye West, Pusha T and Ghostface Killah. The three come at the track with verses like they have everything to prove, with Ghostface delivering the verse of the year.


TNGHT - Higher Ground19.
TNGHT
“Higher Ground”
TNGHT [EP]
[Warp / Luckyme]
Buy: Amazon MP3

If there is a subtle side to TNGHT, “Higher Ground” is it. The Glasgow/Montreal duo of Hudson Mohawke and Lunice weave a pitch-shifted soul sample into future garage tempos, all played with a dancefloor propensity for trap music, making for one of the most unique and evicting electronic tracks of the year. They’re not going to be making minimal techno anytime soon, but this might be as close as they’ll get.


Grimes - Oblivion18.
Grimes
“Oblivion”
Visions
[4AD / Arbutus]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Grimes’ “Oblivion” is a track that is going to come to define the sound of the time in 2012. The rattling dime-store synthesizers combined with Claire Boucher’s choir-girl gone wrong vocals make Grimes the postergirl for where music is today. Rather than image, her merits lie within her individuality and artistry; she is an incredibly empowering figure in music due to the fact that she celebrates and embellishes her personal idiosyncrasies and gives hope for those dwelling in the margins with her.


Burial - Kindred17.
Burial
“Kindred”
Kindred [EP]
[Hyperdub]
Buy: iTunes

Burial seems to be constantly reinventing not only his music, but electronic music as a whole. His 2007 record, Untrue, practically serves as dubstep primer, and the enigmatic English producer has been pioneering new avenues of the genre with EPs and singles ever since. “Kindred,” the titled track from his latest groundbreaker, stretches out to nearly twelve minutes of gyrating, skittering drums, ghostly vocal samples, rainy night drive atmospherics and bone-rattling bass. Basically, it’s quintessential Burial, and, in turn, quintessential electronica.


Andy Stott - Numb16.
Andy Stott
“Numb”
Luxury Problems
[Modern Love]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Andy Stott’s Luxury Problems was a step in a new direction for the British producer. After pounding out record after record of pulsating ambient techno, the type of throbbing affairs that rewire your heartbeat patterns, his latest, led by the twisted, sample-led “Numb,” sees Stott take a step into abstraction. It speaks to his ability that though this record is more obtuse, rhythms buried deep within burning synths and his childhood piano teacher’s fractured vocal samples, it is perhaps his most accessible. “Numb” is a gorgeous experiment of both melody and rhythm, Stott clinging to a pulse and pulling it in and out of the forefront with ease.


Tanlines - All Of Me15.
Tanlines
“All Of Me”
Mixed Emotions
[True Panther Sounds]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Brooklyn electropop duo Tanlines have crafted one of the standout hits of the indie world in “All Of Me.” The track is propelled along by high-energy, slinky basslines and four-on-the-floor rhythms that make it a perfect soundtrack for losing it on the dancefloor, but Eric Emm’s infectious hooks give it a pop crossover appeal. It’s perhaps the group’s finest attribute that they have the dance dynamic with such highly singable melodies.


Clear Soul Forces - Keep It Movin'14.
Clear Soul Forces
“Keep It Movin'”
Detroit Revolution(s)
[Self-Released]
Download: Direct

There is a video that the Detroit group Clear Soul Forces recorded for Single Barrel Detroit where the quartet of gifted emcees trade the rapid-fire lyrical assaults of “Keep It Movin'” while flipping through records in a record store. It’s a fitting sight; much of their sound’s appeal is owed to the fact that their soulful samples, complete with dusty vinyl ambiance, embody the crate-digging ideology of hip-hop’s soul. Not to mention the ease that L.A.Z.’s slow, stoned intonations give way to Ilajide’s frantic wordplay, or even E-Fav’s intellectual rantings to Noveliss’ pop culture references at warp speed is something to behold.


The Lumineers - Ho Hey13.
The Lumineers
“Ho Hey”
The Lumineers
[Dualtone]
Buy: Amazon MP3

The fact that a band like The Lumineers has achieved mainstream success shows how far we’ve come. The doors for sentimental folk-driven rock on the airwaves were burst open by Mumford & Sons, giving listeners choices on the radio that don’t involve huge club beats and lyrics involving some sort of alcoholic beverage consumption. With “Ho Hey,” The Lumineers have followed in Mumford’s footsteps and infiltrated radio without sacrificing any of their rustic, organic appeal. Built around simplicity and lovesick lyricism, the song is one that is instantly memorable as standing tall in the land of radio.


Father John Misty - Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings12.
Father John Misty
“Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”
Fear Fun
[Sub Pop]
Buy: Amazon MP3

J. Tillman has completed perhaps the biggest transformation in music today. Whether as a solo artist or drummer in Fleet Foxes, he had been playing music within tightly constructed confines. As Father John Misty, however, there are no rules. The record sees Tillman assume the role of Misty, but more of Tillman himself is to be found within Fear Fun. “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” has subtle, dry humor and the human intricacies that have been missing in his music to date. Besides, it’s hard not to like the line, “We should let this dead guy sleep,” as Tillman details a romp in the graveyard.


Twin Shadow - Five Seconds11.
Twin Shadow
“Five Seconds”
Confess
[4AD]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Twin Shadow’s “Five Seconds” is one of those songs that will confuse listeners for years to come. The song sounds like it came straight out of 1986, but somehow like it came straigh out of 2012. This is perhaps due to the fact that new-wave never had this much bite. George Lewis, Jr. plays the role of the sort of anti-hero all throughout Confess, the unattainable dream of finding love perhaps reflected in how he feels after having achieved success. If that’s the case, it’s only going to get harder if he keeps writing sons like “Five Seconds.”


Usher - Climax

10.
Usher
“Climax”
Looking 4 Myself
[RCA]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Usher has nothing to prove. He has been a bona fide hit machine for decades, and he could phone it in from here on out and never lose that standing. Despite that, he just doesn’t stop. The Diplo-produced “Climax” combines Usher’s simmering falsetto of soulful inflections and Diplo’s schizophrenic electronic production to stunning affect. It sounds like nothing either artist has ever done, yet wholly entrenched in each’s identity.


Frank Ocean - Thinkin' 'Bout You

09.
Frank Ocean
“Thinkin’ ‘Bout You”
Channel Orange
[Def Jam]
Buy: Amazon MP3

As the lead track off of Frank Ocean’s critically acclaimed album, Channel Orange, “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You” couldn’t be any more powerful. The song sets up the major theme of the record in unrequited love, in addition to setting up the even more major theme of the Los Angeles R&B crooner’s immense vocal talent; he effortlessly switches from thick, bassy verses to the soaring falsetto of the chorus. Ocean’s greatest gift, aside from the stunning vocal performances throughout the record, is his lyrical prowess. He brings an air of humanity to the slow jam “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You” that has not been seen in R&B in decades.


Tame Impala - Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

08.
Tame Impala
“Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”
Lonerism
[Modular]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Tame Impala’s Lonerism is one of psychedelic rock’s finest achievements in years; the record has put the Australian band at the pinnacle of a resurgence of the genre that saw no clear leader, no voice to speak above the others and lead psychedelia into the future. It seems that Kevin Parker of Tame Impala has stepped up to assume that role. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” sounds like a rallying cry for the entire movement, inspiring forward motion and looking to the future in a realm that relies so heavily on the past.


Solange - Losing You

07.
Solange
“Losing You”
True
[Terrible]
Buy: Amazon MP3

If Solange Knowles has ever felt overshadowed by her sister Beyoncé, you’d never know it when listening to her confidently maneuver around Blood Orange’s chaotic beat on “Losing You,” the unquestionable breakout song of her career from her latest True EP. She has slowly been shedding the straight-laced R&B sound of her early work, and “Losing You” is her coming out party fully her own. The celebratory quirkiness of the production serves well to mask the heartbreak in the lyrics, and creates a very interesting juxtaposition for the world of pop.


Chromatics - Kill For Love

06.
Chromatics
“Kill For Love”
Kill For Love
[Italians Do It Better]
Buy: iTunes

“Kill For Love,” the lead single from Chromatics’ record of the same name, comes like a blur of slick, Italo-disco production and hushed vocals, a neon-tinged journey through the heart of both the dance underworld and the human heart itself. It’s a sentiment all lovers can relate to, all people can relate to, and the ease and coolness with which the Portland group delivers it makes “Kill For Love” something all music fans can relate to.


Cloud Nothings - Wasted Days

05.
Cloud Nothings
“Wasted Days”
Attack On Memory
[Carpark]
Buy: Amazon MP3

If you told me Cloud Nothings would pen an aggressive, dark, nine-minute punk epic like “Wasted Days” a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. The Dylan Baldi-led group, with the help of producer Steve Albini, have muddied up their sound, completely deconstructed it in the case of “Wasted Days,” and the band has never sounded better. The band has also never sounded louder, which is a huge plus. “Wasted Days” sees Baldi rip through nine minutes of menacing, growling guitars and no-holds-barred fury. Approximately thirteen Stratocasters were destroyed in the process.


Grizzly Bear - Yet Again

04.
Grizzly Bear
“Yet Again”
Shields
[Warp]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Ed Droste has every right to feel jipped by the Grammy Awards. The industry has proven they are willing to accept the merits of music that doesn’t make it billions of dollars, and few tracks like Grizzly Bear’s “Yet Again” combine artistic mastery and critical acclamation. It is what it is, however, and it seems Droste and Grizzly Bear will remain indie darlings for a while longer. On the emotive performance by the Brooklyn band, Droste carries the track with a choirboy’s clarity and marurity well beyong his years. The fact that the band has two such dynamic songwriters in Drose and Daniel Rossen will have them in the Grammy’s eye soon enough.


Kendrick Lamar - Backseat Freestyle

03.
Kendrick Lamar
“Backseat Freestyle”
good kid, m.A.A.d city
[Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope]
Buy: Amazon MP3

In the context of good kid, m.A.A.d city, “Backseat Freestyle” comes across as one of the more genius touches of hip-hop in recent memory. A young Kendrick Lamar rides around with his friends, pack of Black & Milds and a beat CD in hand, and reflects what he believes to represent the finer poins of hip-hop–hardness, sexuality, masochism, it’s all there. The fact that this is part of the overall arc of the story, showing where Kendrick’s head was at as a kid, combined with grownup Kendrick’s incredible lyricism and varied flows put it into a rich context, but sitting back and bouncing to the massive Hit-Boy beat and humorous wordplay works as a stand-alone as well.


Frank Ocean - Pyramids

02.
Frank Ocean
“Pyramids”
Channel Orange
[Def Jam]
Buy: Amazon MP3

Who would have thought that a twelve-minute R&B epic about a stripper named Cleopatra, serving as the centerpiece to one of the most high-profile records of the year would work so well? Frank Ocean did, for one. “Pyramids” sprawls out across the heart of Channel Orange, a funked-out triumph in R&B. Fast-paced bass lines give way to coiling synths, and finally a searing guitar solo by–of all people–John Mayer. The track shows that Frank Ocean can do pretty much whatever he wants, and he can do it well.


Japandroids - The House That Heaven Built

01.
Japandroids
“The House That Heaven Built”
Celebration Rock
[Polyvinyl]
Buy: Amazon MP3

The song of the year needs to be something that has the quality of embodying the year in music in a few short minutes. In a time when so much is going wrong in the world, many of us look to music for a little respite from that, a reason to celebrate. There was hardly as song this year that embraced the concept of putting all your troubles away for a while than Japandroids’ “The House That Heaven Built.”

The Vancouver duo of Brian King and David Prowse represent much more than that, however. With just a guitar, drums, and two voices, the band penned the most infectious and empowering song in recent memory, proving the transcendental power of rock and roll music. We’re in technological golden age for music, but Japandroids need only raw energy and memorable melodies. King says it best himself, “When they love you, and they will, tell them all they’ll love in my shadow / And if they try to slow you down, tell them all to go to hell.” Now is the time for Japandroids, and they are going to continue to do things their way.


Check out our Spotify playlist of what is available of our top 100 tracks list below.
spotify:user:1238574937:playlist:6FbNAdkZC7pEu9CgHvpCN6

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