Year End Music Countdowns #11: 2012

These lists are bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-N-A-N-S

These lists are bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-N-A-N-S

Wowie zowie, what a year for music! Despite some occasional bombs here and there, the diagnosis shows that good music is alive and well in 2012.

This was a year where:

– American Idol execs said “Wait wait, hold on- people AREN’T crazy for lite rock ballads about achieving your dreams? What’s popular then?”, and promptly released a coronation single (Home) that you know, actually sounded relevant.

– An instrumental soundtrack to a first-person shooter game (Max Payne 3) was one of the most thoroughly listenable albums of the year.

– The year’s viral pop hit (Gangnam Style) was subversive AND fun at the same time.

– Most of the biggest Top 40 songs (Call Me Maybe, We Are Young, Glad You Came, Boyfriend, What Makes You Beautiful) were actually well-written earworms and deserving of the cultural touchstone status they achieved.

– The main theme to a major motion picture (The Hobbit) was actually memorable instead of just stock epic film score.

– Finally, this was the year when rock finally developed a definitive new sound for the new millennium. When future generations ask what the “hot new sound” of big rock was in 2012, the clear answer will be “mainstream indie”. It’s strange that this anthemic trend took so long to explode, considering Arcade Fire’s ‘Wake Up’  laid the groundwork nearly eight years ago, but now that it’s here you can hear it everywhere from Imagine Dragons to AWOLNATION to fun. to Youngblood Hawke to Of Monsters and Men to Florence + The Machine. Mixing and matching elements like big bombastic drums (and mid-song tempo switches), folk accoutrements, and waves of maximalist sound, it’s a sound even Top 40 acts are aping. Detestable lite rock titans Lifehouse use it in “Between the Raindrops”, as do national treasure Nickelback in “When We Stand Together”. Taylor Swift nabbed it for “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, and of course Rihanna’s obnoxious ‘Diamonds’ swipes the rhythm-du-jour as well. For the most part though, artists who aren’t corporate puppets have employed the style well, and it’s good to finally have a relevant audio fingerprint for our generation.

Geez, I’ve already blarfed all over the page and I haven’t gotten to the countdown yet. K, here we go:

The Top 25 songs of 2012

25. No. 1 Against the RushLiars

24. SimmerSilversun Pickups

23. Waves at NightMoons

22. Born to DieLana Del Rey

21. UnknowThe Maccabees

20. You as You WereShearwater

19. Terminal HorseIndian Handcrafts

18. SulkTrust

17. Cry Like a GhostPassion Pit

16. HouseKindness

15. Hit the Ground (Superman)The Big Pink

14. Windshield SmasherBlack Moth Super Rainbow

13. R U Mine?Arctic Monkeys

12. SilhouettesAvicii

11. Round and RoundImagine Dragons

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10. IscariotWalk the Moon

 

The widely parodied second season finale of The OC worked so well in part because of the pitch perfect song choice. Imogen Heap’s ‘Hide and Seek’ lacks conventional song structure, allowing for a powerful build-up to the now legendary “mmm whatcha say” drop. ‘Iscariot’ works in a similar way, with the choruses hinting at the epic conclusion but allowing for a natural progression into it. If The OC were still running to this day, this song would no doubt be featured over a dramatic closing montage, complete with quick cuts, pained close ups, and in the last quiet 20 seconds, a fade to black cliffhanger.

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9. LeathersDeftones

 

2010’s Diamond Eyes was a serviceable enough album, and after 4 years of no Deftones it was most certainly welcome, albeit very safe. The lead single/title track plodded along in a very predictable, mainstream radio way. Deeper album cuts were decent, but the age-old Deftones formula of { heavy/screaming Chino + spooky ethereal Chino drawling out his syllables through molasses} bordered on parody at times. Koi No Yokan is no radical departure for the band, as they do stick to the tried and true for a good part of it, but there’s a renewed energy and willingness to experiment present on the record. Lead single ‘Tempest’ is six minutes long and features an aggressive riff missing from the band’s recent repertoire. ‘Leathers’, the promo single, starts with 40 seconds of ambience before kicking into a vicious verse and a melodic chorus where Chino sings with real conviction. It’s the sound of a band back in shape and ready to move forward.

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8. Young and ColdThe Raveonettes

 

In a ‘Watchmen’-like revisionist timeline, 1960’s pop might have sounded more like this. It’s a downright pretty melody begging to become a songbook standard, but the dark lyrics and the group’s trademark shoegaze distortion will probably prevent that from happening. Which is a shame, because campfires around the world would benefit from eminently singable tunes like this.

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7. Simple SongThe Shins

It’s hard to write a love song that isn’t mawkish and cloying. Emotion tends to override eloquence in the recording studio and most modern ballads contain lines like “your love gets me high like an airplane flying really high in the clouds.” James Mercer has always had a way with words though; The Shins have been classified as ‘lit-rock’ by music publications due to his proficiency with the English language. It’s not like he’s throwing 5-dollar words all over the place, however. As the title implies, the sentiment is understated and rather than verbosity it’s the little thematic links that stand out. Following “you feel like an ocean/made warm by the sun” with “my life in an upturned boat/marooned on a cliff/you brought me a great big flood/and gave me a lift” is at once clever, charming and ultimately appreciated.

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6. Good ThingsThe Menzingers

 

Working class punk really started to gain traction this year, with Gaslight Anthem’s ‘Handwritten’ being a commercial success and Canada’s own Japandroids bursting into the mainstream with their own fervid (and very excellent) spin on the sound. The Menzingers stay true to the sound as well, crossing a lot of Replacements with a little Nirvana and ending up with a catchy, concise rock belter.

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5. GenesisGrimes

 

What’s really striking about this song is that it contains all the same elements a Top 40 pop starlet’s single might, but sounds radically different than anything on the radio. Katy Perry once had a single called “E.T”, but it was more turgid death march than cosmic anthem. “Genesis” actually sounds like it’s from the outer reaches of space. Theremin solos and undecipherable lyrics float around for four minutes through something that has the structure of a pop song, but ascends skywards far beyond the top of the Billboard charts.

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4. Close to YouNeon Trees

It’s difficult to discuss the merits of this song without acknowledging the band’s shortcomings. This isn’t a band out to push limits, weave a massive narrative concept, or create a musical legacy. Neon Trees, in all honesty, are third-tier New Wave revivalists who were lucky enough to secure a spot on a future one-hit wonder compilation (2010 single ‘Animal’). But man, they know how to nail the sound of 1983 like nobody else. This is still the best Police tune the Police never wrote.

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3. Five SecondsTwin Shadow

 

Imagine a really angry, leather-clad Peter Gabriel circa 1984 playing with a post-punk band and you’ve got a good idea what this dark one-man project sounds like. New Wave isn’t a genre known for raging frontmen, so the bitterness and callous lyrics create an interesting contrast with the sweeping synths and chiming guitars found on Twin Shadow’s 2012 effort ‘Confess’. “There’s no way to forget it all!”, George Lewis Jr. yells several times on the track, speaking directly to whomever spurned him. It’s a blunt, honest approach that eschews his past romanticism, but doesn’t devolve into boneheaded post-grunge finger pointing accusations. “I’m not trying/to make you cry” Lewis sings. He’s just getting it all out the best way he knows.

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2. Bloody MouthMoons

 

One of the most mysterious new artists to come along in a while, Moons has no proper album, no label, and barely any online presence. What’s not a mystery though, is that this one-man project has a great track record. All TWO of his tracks are powerful, dark, tense, and perfectly titled. Where ‘Waves at Night’ (#23 on this countdown) sounds like a night on a dark beach, with dissonant digital haze smeared across keyboards from the bottom of the ocean, ‘Bloody Mouth’ is a harrowing, orchestral plea for relief. It’s that dark discomfort that not only hangs over the vast soundscape, but brings it to life.

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And my favorite song of 2012 is….

1. Flesh and BoneThe Killers

 

I should warn you, if excessive fanaticism turns you off, please turn away. The following three sentences might be slightly hyperbolic.

This song is the reason our ancestors began creating patterns of sounds on crude stone and wooden instruments. Thousands of years of music have led up to this moment. This is the culmination of all previous human experiments in audio.

K. Now let me just dial down the “James Lipton Platitudes” knob.

Even if you are not a fan of the band, there is one thing that you can’t deny about this song: this is the sound of a band that knows exactly who they are, and exploit those strengths to their full effect. It is without a doubt the best song they’ve ever written, because it mines all their past efforts and assembles the best parts with Voltron-like efficiency. The melancholic hook, the monolithic keyboards, the heartland rock guitar, and of course the lyrical melodrama, this time telling the underdog-turned-champion story of a struggling boxer. And then, in the last thirty seconds of the song, it all suddenly happens at once; a realization of the Killers’ entire conceit within a surging, triumphant final chorus.

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The 10 Best Albums of 2012

I haven’t listed my favorite albums for quite a few years now, but this was an exceptionally fruitful year for balanced, front-to-back records, and I would be remiss to exclude this list.

10. [Diver]- Lemonade (Choice Cuts: “Neptune”, “Vivid”, “Infinite Style”)

9. [Night Visions]- Imagine Dragons (Choice Cuts: “Round and Round, “Radioactive”, Bleeding Out”)

8. [Observator]- The Raveonettes (Choice Cuts: “Young and Cold”, “She Owns the Streets”, “Observations”)

7. [Born to Die]- Lana Del Rey (Choice Cuts: “Born to Die”, “Off to the Races”, “Video Games”)

6. [Mixed Emotions]- Tanlines (Choice Cuts: “Brothers”, “Nonesuch”, “Green Grass”)

5. [Celebration Rock]- Japandroids (Choice Cuts: “Fire’s Highway”, “Younger Us”, “Adrenaline Nightshift”)

4. [Ghostory]- School Of Seven Bells (Choice Cuts: “Scavenger”, “The Night”, “Reappear”)

3. [Max Payne 3 OST]- HEALTH (Choice Cuts: “Max:Panama”, “Pills”, “Pain”)

2. [Confess]- Twin Shadow (Choice Cuts: “Five Seconds”, “Run my Heart”, “Golden Light”)

1. ALBUM OF THE YEAR [Gossamer]- Passion Pit (Choice Cuts: “Cry Like a Ghost”, “Mirrored Sea”, “Hideaway”)

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So what’s left? Oh, right.

The Worst of 2012

I have decided to forgo a “Worst Of” countdown this year. For the past few years I feel I’ve been recycling my criticisms almost as much as pop music recycles their ideas OH SNAP BOOM HEADSHOT.

Anyway– you know what I’m gonna say at this point: “bla bla vapid lyrics, generic loops made by corporate committees, histrionic wailing, repetitive garbage, etc.”. It just feels redundant to criticize 10 particular songs for how bad they are when they are THE SAME as all the other tripe on the radio.

Also, like I mentioned (way) above, a good portion of the biggest pop hits weren’t even that bad this year. They were well-constructed slices of commercial product. While I’d never listen to ‘Call Me Maybe’, I’m not going to unnecessarily bludgeon it when it’s just a harmless earworm.

– BUT ok. Maybe a few things bugged me, and here they are:

– Madonna thinking she is still relevant and strutting her shriveled skeleton around the place. (Schadenfraude alert: Her comeback album tanked in every respect, YUSSS.)

– Taylor Swift abandoning her one saving grace (commitment to country-pop) and selling out and doing DUBSTEP. What?

– Rihanna just being a giant derp of a human being.

But nothing disgusts me quite like this:

Queen Garbage Face

Queen Garbage Face

Katy Perry released three awful, awful songs within the past year and a bit: “The One Who Got Away”, “Part of Me”, and “Wide Awake”.

There is absolutely no merit to these songs. NOTHING. NO POINT. But the worst part is, the producers know it.

They’re shovelware, F-grade forgettable filler thrown together within a matter of minutes and in a move that is beyond transparent, released as singles solely for the purpose of beating a chart record set by Michael Jackson. The producers slapped together a “deluxe version” of her last record (another egregious trend in pop music) for ill-gotten certification. They’re not even hiding their greed anymore; they’re trumpeting it from the rooftops. And the trumpets are horrible and hurt everyone’s ears.

And now I am finally done and can rest my weary frame upon my gilded throne.

If you have your own lists, or want to tell me how much I ROCK, sound off below!

GOOD NIGHT FRIENDS. Thanks for reading.