Following on from our Albums of the Year, we’ve decided to keep the lists coming with our top 10 songs of 2012 (spoiler alert: no ‘Gangnam Style’). Like our Albums list, this list was composed of our writers’ and readers’ votes, and to whom we’d like to thank again for making these articles possible. Happy holidays everyone.
Skilfully blending influences from garage, dubstep, and house to create their own sound, Guy and Howard Lawrence (a.k.a. Disclosure) experienced moderate underground success in 2012 with single ‘What’s In Your Head’ and their remix of Jessie Ware’s ‘Running’. However, it was ‘Latch’, released in October and reaching number 11 in the UK charts that brought them to the attention of electronic music fans everywhere.
Lyrically, the song deals with the fairly standard theme of falling hopelessly in love, but this is anything but your average pop ditty. Disclosure’s trademark jagged bass stabs and complex percussion provide a superb backdrop to Sam Smith’s ethereal vocals. “I’ve got you shackled in my embrace/I’m latching on to you” croons Smith over a bassline that is all at once heavy, dark, and danceable.
At the ages of just 17 and 20, the South London duo are already joining the ranks of British electronic music’s finest, and represent the British antidote to the aggressive sound of American ‘brostep’. Their headline set at dollop in October was one of the most hotly-anticipated for a while and clearly demonstrates that things can only continue to improve for Disclosure.
Hotly tipped to be one of the forerunners of British music in 2013, four-piece, Savages, burst onto the scene earlier this year, causing tidal waves of hype. The music press’ hype, led by NME (who else?) was not unfounded, thankfully, as their debut double A-side demonstrated.
‘Husbands’ is a brutal yet beautiful song. Led by Ayse Hassan’s grooving basslines and Fay Milton’s insistent drumming, this is three minutes of glorious post-punk that would not have been out of place in the British music scene thirty years ago. Jehnny Beth shrieks and screams convincingly, recounting her tales of entrapment and female empowerment, while Gemma Thompson’s guitar is violent and feedback-ridden, yet manages to remain gentle on the ear.
Savages have, as you would expect, been compared to a range of post-punk greats, ranging from Joy Division to Siouxsie Sioux. However, they are not simply a pastiche of what has gone before them; they bring an intensity and sincerity that has been missing from British music for some time.
Armed with one of the most entrancing and powerful live shows on the current circuit, 2013 could well be Savages’ year. You certainly wouldn’t want to argue against them.
‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ may be one of the most scathing songs to have emerged from the Hip-Hop world this year. Something of a Trojan horse, Kendrick Lamar set his sights on the party culture that saturates the scene from within to deliver a personal tale of alcohol soaked existential crisis.
‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ satirises the world of partying, the world coveted by the likes of Kanye West & Jay Z, a world of tuxedos, Rolexes, V.I.P. Areas and Moët. Kendrick delves right into the heart of this culture and presents its vapid, hedonistic qualities for great effect.
The personal sentiment to this song is what stands out the most, “All I have in life is my new appetite for failure/ And I got hunger pain that grow insane”. However, beyond the intellectual merit of the song is the fantastic chorus, which furthers the message of the song while being catchy as hell – I get to have my cake and eat it.
The song tackles peer pressure, substance abuse and alcoholic escapism, from the murky synths that open the song, ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ remains a dark and poignant critique throughout.
Sometimes a song comes along to remind you that everything is alright with the world, that humanity’s inevitable journey towards oblivion isn’t finished quite yet, and there is at least some sense of order in our topsy-turvy lives. On its release in June, ‘Apocalypse Dreams’ did just this, reassuring us that the two-year gap between the release of Innerpseaker hadn’t spoiled Kevin Parker’s ability to craft beautiful music.
It is classic Tame Impala, at once introverted and expansive, with a focus on space but not at the cost of melody. Lyrically we see Parker’s insecurities laid bare (“Everything is changing and there is nothing I can do”) but musically it is so self-assured, effortlessly moving from a Revolver-era Beatles opening section to a psychedelic extended outro in which layers and layers of synths wash over the listener like a hug from a koala. It sounds like it’s from 1979 – it’s certainly comforting now.
‘Yet Again’ is the second single on Grizzly Bear’s album Shields. The grandiose strummed opening is reminiscent of the piercing and abrasive style I fell in love with in Horn Of Plenty and Yellow House. Upon listening to this song, images of a non-descript number of friends attempting to have cohesive conversation after a liquor filled evening filled my mind. These ideas were mirrored further by the meandering crescendos and heavy instrumentation littered left and right, as if to be scrapping for attention without a purpose or consistent trail of thought.
Compared to previous and popular singles such as ‘Two Weeks’ from 2009’s Veckatimest, a distinct lack of light piano chord use and catchy hooks does not go amiss. While directions like this are a step towards the classically erratic Grizzly, the chorus lingers on the accessible and calm, seemingly to appease both newer and older fans of their music.
Considering the closing of the song, it appears there was almost certainly a revisiting to the experimental foundations of the group due to it’s excessively chaotic nature. ‘Yet Again’ has demonstrated to me that the memorable innovation and creativity sprouted out in 2004 still remains.
This year, Killer Mike provided the enigmatic highlight of a career – which has so far defied simple classification – in R.A.P. Music. With El-P on production, Atlanta-born Mike’s beefy, “country-shit” flow pleasantly juxtaposes with El-P’s quirky, synth-heavy production.
These factors are never clearer than on one of the album’s most enjoyable tracks, ‘Reagan’. Killer Mike shows his ability to masterfully switch subject matter without any awkward transitions in this song, tracking a political narrative of the Reagan administration in which Mike himself grew up. The song contains two contradicting quotes from Reagan concerning the Iran-Contra Scandal, highlighting the deeply unjust nature of this particular period of American politics. It would be simplistic to just view this song as a critique of the Reagan regime alone. For Mike, the problems are more far-reaching. He sees the problem as rooted in the American economic system (“prisons turned to profits” and “We invaded foreign soil, going after oil” illustrates Mikes interpretation of events).
The song is accompanied by a sublime music video whose visceral nature combined with the propaganda-styled art scheme augments the song’s message. In ‘Reagan’, Killer Mike has produced one of this years most incisive pieces of political music.
The whole feel of ‘Hacker’ is disintegration. MC Ride’s lyrics are a jumble of pop-culture references and surreal threats, and he sounds like a malfunctioning schizophrenic robot. The title could be about computer hacking or just the old-fashioned kind with an axe, and both would make sense in context. The beat is a trashy sounding 80s disco-ish rhythm, glitching all over the place, but full of small touches and shifting dynamics that you never really feel like you have a hold on it, and over the top you have an angry man shouting stuff like “My existence is a monetary lapse of reason!”
And that seems to be the point of the song, it’s traditional hip-hop gangster posturing taken to ridiculous, absurd heights, by a character who seems to be a combination of every rap stereotype taken to an extreme. The result is rap music that’s genuinely unsettling while also being po-faced satirical. For instance, MC Ride makes a veiled reference to punching a pregnant lady at an Apple store so that she gives birth, boasts “your crew’s gonna name sandwiches after me”, and says in the future he’s going to be “front-row at the mass games”, like a sci-fi dictator.
It’s rap megalomania at a level never seen before, with a kind of wink and nod under the scowl which prevents the song ever becoming like a slog. And somehow, although trying to unsettle, the song still has an incredibly memorable hook, which is just MC Ride shouting that he knows where you live and he’s going to take your shit. It’s full of contradictions – it’s threatening yet hilarious, abrasive yet catchy, and sounds like it’s falling apart when it’s actually meticulously designed. As well as that, it sounds like nothing else released this year, or ever.
A beautifully beguiling tale of love and loss herein sees Ocean’s trademark seductively creaky falsetto; sexy and spaced-out soar far over his past Odd Future connections, the standout track from his stunning debut album, channel ORANGE.
His intense lyricism is in equal parts both sensual and endearing “it will never get old, not in my soul, not in my spirit, keep it alive” as his now unmistakable vocals shift from slick R&B rap overtures to tangible falsetto at the flick of a switch. Backed by a sensual yet sparse arrangement of synths & guitars Ocean may have composed the most romantically restrained song of the year.
Following much internet hype and a double feature on the Watch the Throne record, Ocean performed ‘Thinkin Bout You’ at the VMA’s and for many, finally put a face to a much bandied about name.
Dirty Projectors habitually toe the line between a science of pop-catchiness, and of an exploration of the potential braininess of pop – which works only because Dirty Projectors do the former by virtue of the latter. But while much of their accessible new record Swing Lo Magellan was breezy handclaps, lilting guitar riffs, and even snippets of studio banter, lead single ‘Gun Has No Trigger’ was alien, even menacing. That’s because no other band could dispense with guitars in favour of a wall of vocal “Oooh”s, and pull it off – the way the vocals escalate is simply jaw-dropping, backed up by a belter of a chord structure.
The single was released, as a counterpoint to the now-obligatory Youtube/Soundcloud stream, in the form of a square 8×8” vinyl tablet, with the lyrics translated into Sumerian Akkadian cuneiform and etched onto the back. It wasn’t just an innovative way of creating buzz around a physical format, but it adds to the sustained mysticism of the song – what exactly does that accusatory 2nd-person mean? It’s a puzzle without a solution, a song that doesn’t just break a few rules as a trick, but to create something at once catchy and disorientating, even otherworldly.
Co-written by Natasha Khan and Justin Parker (the man behind Lana Del Rey’s smash hit ‘Video Games’), ‘Laura’ is a delicate ballad of immense beauty and passion and the stand-out track on Bat For Lashes’ acclaimed third album The Haunted Man. A delicate piano tune (remarkably similar to ‘Video Games’) gently builds towards the track’s sweeping chorus, enhanced by the subtle introduction of brass instrumentation.
Khan sings to the broken-hearted Laura as a pick-me-up after some sort of trauma: “You’re the train that crashed my heart/ You’re the glitter in the dark/ You’re more than a superstar”. The fragile instrumental arrangement perfectly complements Khan’s quivering voice which, racked with emotion at the song’s beginning, grows in strength by its climax. While the track is not the most complex and ambitious of the year, it is certainly the most poignant and powerful four minutes of music released in 2012, wrenching hearts and jerking tears with every note.