Welcome to Part 2 of the Best Songs of 2012. I’ll be back tomorrow with the best five songs of the year. Check out these tracks and their videos here, or head over to Spotify for this playlist with songs 40-6 all there. Have I missed any good tracks? Are these songs total crap? Let me know what you think! Thanks for reading!
20. “Europe” by Allo Darlin’ // It’s pure pop in vein of the New Pornographers or Belle and Sebastian, and it’s absolutely delightful. Wonderfully cooed lyrics, great strings and a smooth rhythm drive things along. The upbeat melody is only rivaled by the sincerely jubilant refrain phrasing, “I just want to be closer to you, and there’s nothing left we need to prove / You said this is life and this is living.”
19. “Speak in Rounds” by Grizzly Bear // Perhaps the darkest song from Grizzly Bear, “Speak in Rounds” represents a phenomenal blend of the layered folk of their earliest work and the experimental amplified sound they’ve trended toward. Place it atop a drum that barrels ahead almost-but-not-quite out of control, add in a surprising horn part near the end and you’ve got a truly great song on a disappointing record.
18. “Risk” by Trampled by Turtles // Not like the sort of emotionally charged or lyrically interesting pieces heard on the rest of Stars and Satellites (it’s an instrumental song), but the breakneck pace and exceptional banjo create an electric atmosphere unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. Let the banjo plucks and fiddle bows in. It’s a ton of fun and your ears will thank you.
17. “Fire’s Highway” by Japandroids // Celebration Rock is absolutely stacked with outstanding guitar rock, but this is one of two songs that legitimately rises above the fray. From the distinctive, slight-echo opening, to the rousing fist-pump refrain, the whole thing is a physical and jubilant rocker. Even the mid-song guitar feels right, not forced. Turn it loud, and take it in.
16. “Missing Pieces” by Jack White // Jack White’s first solo record pushes most of the right buttons, but its opener is the real highlight. The expected guitar antics are well-executed, re-affirming White’s status as a modern guitar god. But it’s the extra stuff that keeps you coming back. An organ solo, briefly-macabre dream-like lyrics, and a solid coda make this a memorable first individual effort from the rock star.
15. “Endors Toi” by Tame Impala // It’s not as innovative or original as others would have you believe. Psych-rock isn’t new and plenty of others have mimed John Lennon’s voice. But the execution is spot-on. Tight bass pulls together the singing, the wild drums and the fuzzed out guitar. “Endors” is arguably the least exploratory track on Lonerism, but it performs better than anything else.
14. “Sixpack” by Jeff the Brotherhood // There’s nothing complex about “Sixpack.” Seriously, the lyrics involve having a six-pack, a bag of ice, wanting to cool down and get wasted (because it’s too hot in the room right now). But it feels so right. Straightforward riffs, a simple tempo, a DIY vibe that fits with the very everyman scenario. A gritty, simple rock song that clicks.
13. “Simple Song” by The Shins // “Simple Song” is lyrically one of the clearest songs in The Shins catalog. So often, James Mercer disguised troubling, depressing themes with quick, bright pop. But this time, what you hear matches what you’re supposed to feel and it’s very satisfying. It’s a sincere ode to lover with brief admissions of difficulty. But it comes around and resolves, fittingly, with love.
12. “The Only Place” by Best Coast // This early frontrunner for song of the year lost its luster as 2012 progressed, but the track is still excellent. You’ve already heard it’s a tribute to California, but the improvement over past Best Coast really makes this a delight. Clear production, bright singing, and the balance between jangle guitar and distortion result in a great pop song.
11. “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart” by Ty Segall Band // It took me a while to warm up to Ty Segall, but this is the song that broke me. Everything about his work screams “Rock and Roll” in the best way. “Inside Your Heart” has the workmanship and brevity to be expected of punk, with the showstopping moments we want from the most impressive musicians. The breakdown at 2:26 is especially great because of the eruption at 2:50. Rock is alive.
10. “The Jig is Up” by El-P // Others will tell you the best El-P song is “The Full Retard,” but I’ll stand behind “The Jig” because of sonic setting. In both cases the lyrics are sharp daggers and the rapper’s timing impeccable, but the foreboding monster bass at the outset of my pick creates a much better atmosphere. Instantly you’re moved into a very dark setting, and it lets the music around the repeated “wouldn’t wanna be a part of any club” pop even more.
09. “Fall In” by Cloud Nothings // “Stay Useless” gets the headlines, but “Fall In” is the catchiest song on the phenomenal Attack on Memory. It’s a structurally simple tune, but the quickly repeated musical phrasing only helps to drill the song into your head during its brief 3:15 playtime. Add the appropriately noisy production from the rest of the record, throw in a blazing guitar solo, and you’ve got one of the best punk songs of the year.
08. “Give Out” by Sharon Van Etten // Sharon Van Etten has become one of my favorite songwriters thanks to her jaw-dropping 2010 album. Here, Van Etten recaptures that magic, describing her seat between love and loathing. She laments as the person she sings to is both “the reason why I’ll move to the city or why I’ll need to leave.” Her voice sounds weary, full of pain, and the spare instrumentation (rightfully) makes the singer the center of the song. Stunningly beautiful.
07. “Ruin” by Cat Power // A late, but easy addition to this list. Chan Marshall has been known for sorrow and, recently, her unstable mental health. It’s a shame then, that this feels like a product of her difficult thoughts. A defiant-sounding track that details the troubles in the world, reflecting on the audacity of those well-off. “Bitching, complaining when some people ain’t got shit to eat,” she notes. Almost a companion piece with similar angry tones to last year’s PJ Harvey record, it hits hard with vocal strength and angry intonation. Intense, meaningful, and a great song.
06. “Comeback Kid” by Sleigh Bells // The opening 25 seconds of this track capture it all, doing what dubstep only wishes it could do. The transition from intro to main song happens in the best kind of sonic explosion of the year. Gloriously noisy, the blend of fuzzed-out guitar and relentless drums lends a physical force to the song. When mixed with the unabashedly positive lyrics (reinforcing that even though you’ve fallen, “You’ll come back someday”), “Comeback Kid” becomes a curiously uplifting song that brings the body to motion and a grin to your face.