The Best of 2012, Part 2, Songs
2012 has been a great year for music. In fact there has been so much parity between a number of excellent releases it’s been very hard to choose favorites this year. I toyed with the idea of expanding the best songs to the top 20 this year, but in the interest of staying focused on the cream of the crop I stuck with 10. An extended playlist will be coming up with a LOT of songs, so stick around for that. In the mean time, I give you hMsM’s 10 favorite songs of 2012 (Note: you can click on each of the album titles in the headlines to get a stream of the full album):
Beck: “I Only Have Eyes For You” and “Corrina, Corrina”
Beck hasn’t released an album since 2008′s Modren Guilt, but the judiciousness of his musical output in the last few years is impeccable. This year he released a reworking of the music of Philip Glass, a goofy rap track with Childish Gambino, and two covers. The first, “Corrine, Corrina” (this version is named “Corrina, Corrina”) is a classic blues song first recorded in the late twenties. It’s since become a standard in various versions in many musical styles. Beck’s take is quite bare-boned. But in this, and in “I Only Have Eyes for You”, it’s the emotive power of his voice that carries the song away. Sometime around the release of Sea Change an ironic distance Beck had with his listeners began to shrink, and on “Corrina, Corrina” it sounds like he’s right here in the room with you.
“I Only Have Eyes for You”, written by Harry Warren all the way back in the the thirties and made famous by The Flamingos in 1959, was always a very spacey tune. Beck adds even more reverb and his voice sounds like it’s wafting across a giant wind tunnel filled with flowers. Truly beautiful and unconventional the melodic turns taken by this song, and Beck is extremely faithful to the original in that respect.
Sun Kil Moon, a.k.a. Mark Kozelek, is a picture of consistency. Over five albums the former Red House Painters front man has made music at the intersection of folk and alternative rock, honoring the former while mining only the worthwhile of the latter. “I Know It’s Pathetic…” is the touching story of a woman Kozelek met backstage after a show. He liked her, and she liked him, but “she said she had friends she had to go see.” Later that summer he picks up the mail and finds a letter. “‘I used up my minutes calling hotels / to find you that night, but to no avail. / I know it’s pathetic,’ she continued to write , / ‘but that was the greatest night of my life.’” This song accomplishes more in 1:48 than many albums over their duration.
Japandroids sophomore LP Celebration Rock was received with even more critical acclaim than their debut Post Nothing a few years ago. Post Nothing is, to my ears, still a significantly better album, but Celebration Rock did offer some great tracks including this, the opener. “We don’t cry for those nights to arrive, we yell like hell to the heavens,” sings duo Brian King and David Prowse over simple sus-chords, grinning and covered in mud. Japandroids make confusion music, the stuff you hear in your head when you’re stumbling through a packed and sweat-scented bar 10 minutes before last call. The band is still undecided on whether it will make more records, and you can only get so much mileage out of a guitar-drums-”WHOOOOOAH, WHAAAAOOOOOAH”-lineup, but I hope this isn’t the last we hear of Japandroids.
“I threw your shit into a bag and kicked it down the stairs!” Awww, c’mon Icona Pop, that stuff was fragile! Besides, I’m only like four years older than you “I don’t care!” But you’re ruining my life and I’m worried you may have a coke problem, “I love it!” I know you do, Icona. Hey speaking of which, where have you been all night? “I crashed my car into the bridge!” Yiiikes, you’re in trouble huh? “I watched, I let it burn”. That seems reasonable. Why have you been so unkind to me lately? “You’re from the seventies, but I’m a nineties bitch!” Icona, we’ve been over this, I was born in 1984. “I don’t care!” I know you don’t, Icona. I know you don’t care.
I have a hard time rationalizing leaving Maine again. I moved away for a few years and moved back “just to be back in Portland for a while”. Now I drive in to work next to the still steam rising off the ocean into the sun. I walk among the trees and take deep breaths of clean air. I eat and drink and I listen and laugh. I love this place and I don’t want to leave it. I think that’s why I connected so personally with this song, a random cut from Lord Huron’s outstanding debut LP Lonesome Dreams. This song is about being so connected to a place you see its past and future all around you. “Lie where I land, let my bones turn to sand / I was born on the lake and I don’t want to leave it,” Ben Schneider sings over a delicate backdrop as ghosts waltz on the ice in the moonlight.
Picture a washing machine on full blast with waaaaay to much detergent, and you get a pretty good idea of what Purity Ring’s music sounds like. All bubbles and shadows and spinning, it’s a vibe that informed their entire debut album – to its benefit for a unified sound, and to its detriment for a lack of sonic variety. “Fineshrine” is a perfect encapsulation of its prevailing themes of corporeal disconnection and the ways our bodies are (and are not) a part of who we are. “You make a fine shrine of me,” sings Megan James. Her voice makes you want to live inside this music with her, even if you have to push some ribs and internal organs around to get comfortable…
The cover of Swing Lo, Magellan the sixth studio album from Dirty Projectors, features front people David Longstreath and Amber Coffman talking something over with a dude who looks like literally every adult male in Northern Maine. With Swing Lo, Longstreath decided to take a shot at making a “woodsy” album that was more stylistically anarchic yet more listenable and less challenging. He did. “Gun Has no Trigger”, the lead single, is one of those songs (along with #4) that feels like it has more instruments than it does. Behind Coffman’s backing vocals which swirl and leapfrog into a chord progression, Longstreath sings packed lines like: “You’d see the oceans swell and the mountains shook / you’d see a million colors if you really looked.” And my personal favorite: “If you had looked, you might reconsider / Or, just maybe, you already have…”
As I was walking back to the car with some friends after a show in Boston recently, I began performing this song. I do not use perform loosely. I started snapping my fingers in half-notes and after a moment led in with “You don’t have to caaaaaall meeeee…” At this point one of my friends joined in, and she and I sang most of the song, then we sang most of the song two or three more times in the ensuing hour. I only mention it because it was then that I realized the perfect simplicity of this song’s construction. The instruments are as follows: finger snaps, voice, drums. Not a lot to get excited about on paper, but Tom Krell creates something dangerously sexy and cool, taking lemons and making ambrosia.
I had a hard time selecting a song from Kendrick’s debut good kid, m.A.A.d. city, for inclusion on this list. It was a good problem to have though; there are about 5 songs on this album that are each this good (“Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, “The Art of Peer Pressure”, “Good Kid”, “Sing about Me”, “Swimming Pools”). I chose this song for a few reasons. First off, it’s essentially two songs in one; the first section describes the paranoid realization that your city is out to kill you. And then the song shifts gears, it’s like waking up from a nightmare into another nightmare. “Wake yo punk ass up,” beckons Compton legend MC Eiht at the beginning of the second section. Before later adding a smooth verse (“shots in the crowd theeeen er’ybody raaaaan”).
But the real reason I chose this track is Kendrick’s final verse, which begins: “If I told you killed a nigga at 16 would you believe me?” Then his flow gets chopped and screwed, pitched down demonically as the verse turns from: “…and it’s safe to say that our next generation maybe can sleep/ with dreams of being a lawyer or doctor / ‘stead of a boy with a chopper / who hold the cul-de-sac hostage / kill ‘em all if they gossip.” Then he “hits the powder” and his voice’s pitch begins to ratchet up again before the verse in punctuated by one of the most filthy and gorgeous West Coast Dre-style outros you can possible imagine. Brilliant.
On June 8th, there appeared something new from Frank Ocean called “Pyramids” that was the first track released from something called Channel Orange. I was sold on Frank from my first listen to nostalgia, ULTRA last year, so when I heard this song my reaction was something along the lines of freaking the hell out.
Because “Pyramids” wasn’t only a 10-minute epic that spans centuries to paint a fresco of feeling — excavating dusty desire and updating it against a backdrop of green lasers and smoke — it was a statement, a claim. Frank Ocean has not been particularly humble when talking about Channel Orange, because he knows as well as everyone else that it’s an incredible work. Folks will be listening to “Pyramids” long after the Luxor has closed and been replaced with something even more ugly and anachronistic.
There’s a spot in the woods on my favorite disc golf course. Each time I play the course we always take a break at that spot and listen to some music. It’s serene, surrounded by old growth. It feels like a forest with a soul, one very old, and one with very good taste in music. Listening to “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” at that spot this summer was, as goofy and random as it sounds, something I actively looked forward to when I knew I was going up there to play. As the song seeped out of the tiny speaker on my smartphone it seemed to fill the woods, the air seemed to dance, everything locked in rhythm.
That spot is magical, but it will forever be more magical because of this song. Kevin Parker knows how heavy is the foot that steps in the right direction. Life may be hard for him, but he sure has an easy time singing about it.