Top 100 Songs of 2012 (10-1)

To the end at last. 2012 has been my favourite year of music in quite some time. The art of song remains a lingering, laudable luminescence. Here are my top ten songs of 2012:

10. Icky Blossoms – Perfect Vision

Loops upon loops upon loops upon stoops,

Around and around and around, they abound;

Driving sounds through sounds on top of sounds,

Around and around and around, they abound;

Trumpets blast, aspersions cast, players cast,

Around and around and around, they abound;

They’re shrinking, growing, coming, going,

Around and around and around, they abound;

A sound’s a sound, seeking only renown,

Around and around and around, they abound.


9. a) One Direction – What Makes You Beautiful

Timed to perfection. The manufacturing of five eager, wholesome, good-looking lads is never a horrible well to draw water from, but that can’t be all there is. To get as big as One Direction have become, you need “the song.” What is “the song?” It’s one defining hit that’s inescapable, redoubtable, world-conqueringly massive. But bands like One Direction don’t always get “the song.” The Backstreet Boys had “I Want It That Way”, ‘Nsync had “Bye Bye Bye”, and now, One Direction, have theirs in “What Makes You Beautiful”. No one can ever take that away from them. Obviously from the Swedish hit factory that’s held a monopoly on domination-pop for the last 15 years (40 years if you want to go back to Ace of Base, and ABBA before them), “WMYB” checks off all the “to-do’s” on the list and laughs when it’s done. “WMYB” is so big One Direction can live off of its name for years. They’ll have to, as they almost certainly will never have a pop song this perfect cross their paths again.


9. b) Paul Banks – The Base

With “The Base”, Paul has joined the long line of Banks’ that’ve done it big: Carlton Banks, Azealia Banks, Canadian Banks, Lloyd Banks, Tyra Banks, Ernie Banks, Philip Banks, German Banks, Ashley Banks, The Hobbit’s Banks’, but probably not Vivian Banks and definitely not U.S. Banks.


8. Alt-j – Something Good

Alt-j have issued something good, nay, something extraordinary with this song. There’s so much minutia, so many tricks and layers (sticks, stones, bones, and prayers) in this song, one can listen to it 100 times and still not hear everything. But still, the melody is startlingly simple, fresh, authentic. The instrumentation and production are pristine, lovely, perfect. The video (featured below) — one of the best of the year — is a stunning visual companion to the song. The biggest compliment I can pay them is to say that I can’t compare them to any other bands, English or otherwise, heavyweight or otherwise, because to me, they’re already, inescapably, Alt-j.


7. a) Wintersleep – Resuscitate

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I can’t believe how good they’ve become. They are an absolute juggernaut of a band. They’re comfortable doing such a wide range of pop-alt-rock songs, and they’re amazing at all of them. Hello Hum is a fantastic album, and “Resuscitate” is its crown jewel. The band has a seemingly preternatural connection with one another, and each individual’s talents are obvious for all to see. They’re honest, compelling, hard-working and uber-talented. I wish the whole world had Wintersleep in its hands, ears, hearts.


7. b) Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks/Dirty Paws

From their masterful debut album, Of Monsters and Men have issued two brilliant tracks in “Little Talks” and “Dirty Paws”. “Little Talks” got all the publicity, and deservedly so; it’s a charming, gambolling, call-and-response gem of a tune, concocting an Icelandic take on a mishmash of Arcade Fire and Mumford and Sons sounds. It has one of the best, prettiest videos of the year (featured below). With all the attention and accolades “Little Talks” garnered, “Dirty Paws” seemed to receive the slightly shorter end of the stick; too bad, as it’s a mega-sized, deliciously made and impeccably delivered ditty in its own right. Of Monsters and Men already, one album in, have a supremely sophisticated way with pop music and songcraft. Here’s hoping there’s a lot more where that came from.


6. a) Jessie Ware – Wildest Moments

This is what the best pop aspires to be. Endlessly catchy, but with a simmering soul inextricably tied to its grandeur. From the first kick of the kick drum, the immediacy of “Wildest Moments” is achingly apparent, and a sad nostalgia is evident in Jessie Ware’s voice and lyrics. It’s all sensational. Every last word, every last note, every drop of plangent power that pours from the pores of this pop phenomenon is perceptive, precise, a paragon.


6. b) Azealia Banks – 212

Whoa. Azealia Banks has risen with flaming, cussing, balls of fury on “212”. It’s a statement of intent from a starving girl whose appetite is voracious. What’s she hungry for? Well, everything apparently. Banks is the opposite of a mountebank; she’s menacing, furious, easy on the mic like she could roll out of bed, smile, and swallow you whole without batting an eyelash, more likely to give you whiplash from how quickly you’ve been gobbled up. The lyrics are borderline unintelligible, but the song works in spite of this (or maybe because of it). The beat/hook is ridiculously catchy, and the production is a controlled frenzy. Azealia is unabashedly youthful in “212” — angry, rude, playful, and focused. Her star exploded in 2012; it seemed like everyone wanted a taste of Azealia. I guess that c*nt gettin’ eaten after all.


5. a) Muse – Madness

Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-mad-madness. And my, how it is. Bonkers, nuts, silly, preposterous. All of it. From the opening sounds of “Madness,” Muse have thrown every pre-conceived notion of what box they belong in out the window. “Madness” is a Mt. Olympus-sized amalgam of Queen and U2, where the devil with a matte black guitar lays down one of his best ever vocals. The production is perfect. It was designed to be a world-conquering behemoth, and it probably even exceeded that. I wish Bellamy’s guitar solo was 40x longer than the 19 seconds it is (3:07-3:26). It’s on the short list of best songs they’ve ever done, and without doubt, it’s the most surprising, out of left-field effort they’ve ever produced.


5. b) Die Antwoord – I Fink U Freeky

Zef. To death. “I Fink U Freeky” is simply one of the best songs of 2012. Rave, rap, pop, techno, all wrapped into the gnarliest ball of batshit crazy you could imagine. Die Antwoord are not so much diamonds in the rough as they are pieces of coal that died long before they could ever hope to sparkle, on the precipice of fading into oblivion as time and dust render them speckles of dust among the vastness. Only, instead of becoming what was, they halt the process, say “screw that,” and proceed to reform as coals. These new coals work tirelessly to ensure they never become the shining gems they were fated to be. The desire to remain dirty, soot-spreading objects that froth with frenetic, furious, demented energy is the impetus that brought them back to life, unified them, set them free. That’s so Zef.


4. Ed Sheeran – The A Team

What a voice. What a melody. What a talent. “The A Team” has been out for quite some time now, but no matter how many times I hear it, it remains a graceful, precious, melancholic lullaby, its ginger raconteur mesmerizing as his voice massages and caresses the melody. Sheeran’s couplets are extremely evocative, his wordplay a calling card, coup de foudre — an amazing accomplishment for any artist, let alone a 21-year old. It’s crystal clear, with “The A Team”, and his phenomenal debut album, +, Ed Sheeran is just getting started. He could have an effortless 40-year career in music, such is his talent. They don’t make many like him. 


3. Bloc Party – The Healing

Kele Okereke often sounds vulnerable; it’s clear he’s in touch with his emotions, and the resulting effect on the listener is regularly striking. But “The Healing” is more than striking. It’s more than a pulsating wave of emotional resonance. It’s more than just a Bloc Party song. It’s more than just a song. It’s breathing. It’s forgiving. It’s living. Musically, despite a gorgeous melody, it’s a relatively linear song without too many tricks or complicated arrangements. But that’s not the point. It’s the softest, warmest, most authentic, most confident, most charming I’ve ever heard Kele. There’s a sage energy infused at the core of this track that’s more magnetic than even the mighty Magneto. I feel like “The Healing” is, in some ways, a sonic and lyrical companion to “I Still Remember” (from A Weekend In The City), and a wiser, more experienced friend to “Sunday” (also from A Weekend In The City).  Bloc Party have released a number of amazing songs over the course of their already sterling career: “Like Eating Glass”, “Banquet”, “This Modern Love”, “Blue Light”, “So Here We Are”, “Hunting For Witches”, “I Still Remember”, “Sunday”, “Signs”, “Biko”, and “Ion Square” to name several.

But “The Healing” was love prima facie. A slate wiped clean, with a fond remembrance of what came before and peace for whatever will follow.


2. a) Robbie Williams – Candy

The King is back. “Candy” is the catchiest song he’s ever done. In a vast sea of amazing contenders, it’s the best pop song of the year. A joyous, romp of pomp and circumstance, a wily, wonderful worm of a dance. It’s so arresting, the first 50 DJs to play the song are still serving time. It’s so sugary, Wilford Brimley’s Diabeetus can’t go within 500 miles of the track without losing a foot. It’s a mammoth comeback tune, like an iPod resurrected from a Zune. From the opening playful sax bellowing through the addictive cymbal game of hide-and-seek to the brass flourishes at the end, “Candy” slays. Jacknife Lee’s production is impeccable, and Gary Barlow’s music is astoundingly seductive. Gary Barlow (“who?” to 99.8% of North Americans I’m sure) is one of the best pop maestros of the past 20 years. He has an uncanny gift for melody.

Upon first hearing “Candy”, I was gobsmacked, not having expected anything remotely this strong to come from Robbie’s mouth again. Not now anyhow. I thought his days of “wanting it” were far in the rearview mirror. But there burned embers in Robert Peter Williams’ soul — he still had it, he was just sitting on it. I hope to Hades this is the beginning of another great Robbie run. The best entertainer of the past 20 years is back. Life is good.


2. b) Maximo Park – The Undercurrents

It’s downright criminal that the video for “The Undercurrents” has less than 20k views on Youtube since its release in late September; I’m also miffed that the song hasn’t received more attention. It’s probably the best song the always (and I really mean always) consistent Maximo Park have ever done. Its melody is breathtaking. The hooks are beyond plentiful. The emotional heft of Paul Smith’s voice, as he sings lines like “we both have a lot on ow-er plate, somehow the walk was worth the wait,” is weightier than a walrus wearing a woolly mammoth. Maximo Park are a truly special band, mixing heartfelt lyrical sincerity with a phenomenal understanding of songcraft and pop structuring. I wish more of the world would see that, and hear this song, but if it’s destined to be forgotten by the masses, I’ll never forget it. I’ll keep it close, forever an electrical charge, coursing through, living in, my undercurrents.


1. a) The Helio Sequence – October

I have a confession to make. I had anxiously waited four years for The Helio Sequence’s fifth LP, Negotiations, the follow up to the staggeringly brilliant Keep Your Eyes Ahead. I was beyond excited for it. And when I finally got my hands on it, I listened to it for a bit, liked it, and put it aside. I suppose I wanted to listen to something else at the time. I am but a fool with follies for all to see.

Then, on a damp, dark November night, I discovered “October”. The Helio Sequence were playing at The Horseshoe Tavern, and after a stellar set by Ramona Falls, The Helio Sequence came on stage, and I recalled, from the first note, why I fell in love with the band in the first place. They are without question, one of the best live bands on the planet. Brandon Summers’ croon is often hypnotizing, and Benjamin Weikel is flat-out, the best drummer I’ve ever seen live, and probably on the short list for best drummers on the planet. They had me capitulating to every song; “Downward Spiral”, “One More Time”, and “December” were new songs that sounded fantastic and resonated with me deeply, while “Hallelujah” and “Keep Your Eyes Ahead” — two of my favourite songs of all-time (yes, like, ever) — temporarily eviscerated me. And then there was “October”.

Opening with a light guitar line, the song gradually builds, adding drums, synths, backing vocals, and several other lovely, lush, laudable layers. And then, the climax. Led by a carefully side-stepping, shimmering guitar riff that quite frankly, weeks later, still has me in tatters, shattered by its liquidity, fundamentally, unequivocally, matter.

“Keep Your Eyes Ahead” and (especially) “Hallelujah” were and remain epic, hymnal blessings. They were both irrefutably immediate. “October” is different. And perhaps that’s why it took me a little while to wallow in its wonder. There’s an august autumn feel to “October”, a slightly sullen, moderately melancholic mood that’s juxtaposed by an unflinching hope — the kind of hope that isn’t fuelled by prayer or faith, but of listening, patience, openness.

Brandon Summers sings, “there will be a next time.” I hope so. The weeks will pass, and they’ll turn into months, years even. There will be other Octobers. But there’s only one “October”.


1. b) Yeasayer – Henrietta

Yeasayer are reflective of modern music, throwing everything and the kitchen sink and the dinette set and the floor boards and the armoire and the cat into the production, issuing a fractured amalgam of the sounds and styles we find on the airwaves, from different frequencies, in our minds. This fractured approach is what makes them beyond compare, and unfortunately, also what limits the scale of their audience. To be frank though, I don’t think they’re interested in such lilliputian things like how many people dig their records. I think they have their sights on something bigger than all-encompassing, pop culture domination. They have their eyes set on transcendence, and on “Henrietta”, they’ve found it.

Yeasayer’s “Madder Red” was my favourite song of 2010. It was infallibly catchy, a pop masterpiece (inasmuch as Yeasayer do “pop”), a hymn to a higher power. “Henrietta” is quite different. It comes from the same parents, but it’s less overtly poppy, less designed to catch, and it’s more vulnerable, compassionate, wiser, more spiritual even. It’s a song with two distinct halves, the first being the progenitor, the hook-carrier, replete with pulsating, accordion-style shuffling synths, buoyed by a huge beat and a bearish, beyond funky bassline. The second part is, well, the transporter

From 1:45 to 3:16, exploration breeds discovery — the discovery of a new dimension, a new time, a new force. It’s a beautiful, coruscating new realm, but it must be approached with caution, care, and calm, for it is not certain what lies ahead.

From 3:17 on, the exsanguination takes place. Miraculously though, there is no pain. Physical manifestations of existence are not necessary — no bodies, no blood, no space. There’s just soul, expression, energy. There’s just “Henrietta”. There just is.

Top 5 Songs of 2011

5. Foster The People – Helena Beat/Pumped Up Kicks

Absolutely ridiculous. A band, on their debut effort, shouldn’t be capable of releasing a song as good as “Pumped Up Kicks”, let alone have another one in the bag just as good (or better) in “Helena Beat”. To have hegemony over hoi polloi this early in a band’s career is scary. The chorus of “Helena Beat” might be my favourite of the year. It’s as if the science of memetics were symbiotic with calisthenics, infecting your brain with the need to move in celebration, subject to its inescapable domination. “Pumped Up Kicks” is a rapscallion of the first order. There are so many hooks, even Mobb Deep’s Ones Shook (both parts). Whistling in pop tunes seems to be making a comeback. I’m all for it if it sounds this good. Foster The People are the L.A. MGMT, kindred souls, melodically benevolent, and linear-path retiscent. A couple of pop-alt masterstrokes to start a career. No biggie.

4. Planningtorock – The Breaks

“We break too easily”. Truer words, Planningtorock, might never say. That’s where common sense ends a fiery, forlorn, fantastical death. Just for kicks, like a sated sadist, “The Breaks” devours its own hooks, boiling flesh and bones in a cauldron as it executes the most devlish of sacrificial dances. The song’s debilitating sadness, fury and searing heart are camouflaged so well within the deliberate, snake-like pace and comforting saxophone trot that it may very well lull you to sleep and abscond with your soul. I’d be watching my back if I were you. The sound of The Knife giving Planningtorock (a.k.a. Janine Rostron) a foot massage with oil made of cocoa butter, glycerine, cinnamon, shaved rock from the tip of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and dinosaur (Stegosaurus) eggs, in a spa made of bamboo sticks, crystals, crystal meth, clay and (large) intestinal fortitude. Don’t be seduced, until you know its truths: if you’re ripping out your eyes and burning down the tide, you shouldn’t be surprised. Them’s “The Breaks”.

3. Bombay Bicycle Club –  Shuffle

To understand “Shuffle”, you needn’t possess any complicated algorithm, like the kind that gives Al Gore rhythm. Just understand, that even Mr. Green Jeans can’t help but wax the shit out of the dancefloor when he hears this song. No one can. This is the best non-dance dance song you could ever throw your left leg over your right and bust loose to. It’s the rag-time piano loop. It’s the scat-beat rhythm. It’s the key changes. It’s the sunday-strolling bassline. It’s Jack Steadman’s double-tracked harmony with himself. It’s the incredibly deft musical layering. It’s the subtle electronic pulse. It’s the sound of a band barely out of their teens rocket-launching an earworm directly into your medulla oblongata. It’s those lyrics. “Once you get the feeling, it wants you back for more; now it gets ethereal, feet ain’t on the floor. One step, like you needed it, jumping at the wall; why won’t you believe in it, until it’s gone?” Amid such a decisively catchy and dance-tastic tune, the bridge comes out of nowhere, and Steadman breathlessly pleas, “you gave to me, all I know; I will stay here, I will not go.” Shuffle? More like on repeat.

2. College f. Electric Youth – A Real Hero

“A Real Hero” is the best soundtrack (Drive) song I think I’ve ever heard. The most appropriate marriage of a song to its movie I can recall. The sound of Toronto’s Electric Youth cashing cheques at break-neck speeds, producers screaming, “let me feature you please”. The sound of 1983. And 2011. And 2056. The sound of a deflating balloon, a plaintive, wounded croon. The sound of patience. The sound of a miasmal smoke, a new-found hope. The loss of earthly possessions. The gain of otherwordly compassions.

From the anodyne opening sounds of “A Real Hero”, I am dericinated from my station. Where exactly I go, I don’t know. It’s above ground, in the typical sense of the expression. It’s in the atmosphere, somewhere, but of what compound(s) this atmosphere is made up of, I’m not sure. It could be oxygen, could be helium, could be nitrogen, could be nostalgia, could be phantasmagoria. I don’t know. Maybe it’s irrelevant. I’m dazed. I’m comforted. I’m feeling.

1. (Gregorian calendar) Florence & The Machine – Shake It Out

Answer: Synesthesia. Question: What is “Shake It Out”. (Trebek couldn’t take time away from his busy schedule of pretending to know the question to every single answer ever mentioned on Jeopardy and talking down to the [imbecilic] contestants who dare get them wrong to approve the construction, but I feel comfortable he would if he had the time.)

When I hear “Shake It Out”,  I hear music, but it’s not a passive experience. My heart beats bigger, louder, stronger. My feet tap, my arms flap, my fingers snap, my senses — all of them — trapped, busy, engaged.  Florence Welch is a musical savant and “Shake It Out” is a juggernaut and whipsaw. It slays with those monstrous, mountainous, mutinous vocals and that gargantuan, tectonic-plate shifting beat. It’s probably the best song of the year, and it’s most assuredly the biggest.

I was a tad worried for Ms. Welch, after all, Lungs was a behemoth of a record, and contained three phenomenal songs, “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”, “Dog Days Are Over”, and “Cosmic Love”. By any normal measure, to have any song on the follow-up be as tremendous as the aforementioned three would be a clear-cut impossibility. Fortuitous for mankind, Florence (and producer Paul Epworth) don’t abide by normal measures, and being the thaumaturges they are, “Shake It Out” was birthed.

The lyrics speak of a devil, a demon residing on one’s back, encumbering the ability to move (dance) freely, as is one’s right to do. So how does Florence go about ridding herself of this demon? She becomes sycophantic, regaling the devil with golden platitudes and a soaring siren’s song. Unluckily for her, Lucifer knows what he’s latched onto and isn’t willing to get off the gravy train. Luckily for her, the sheer strength of her voice eventually shakes the demon from her person, leaving her free to dance, celebrate, be.

Such is the power of the best Florence and the Machine songs — they’re free. They’re also transcendent tornadoes made up of melody, harmony, beats and breath. The four elements of Florence and The Machine. Life is born.

1. (Alternate space and time) Future Islands – Vireo’s Eye/Swept Inside/Inch of Dust/Walking Through That Door

These songs are not the best of this year because they’re not of this year. Technically, these four songs, from the indomitable In Evening Air, were released last year, but saying they’re “from” a particular year or fixed space and time is an incredible injustice I want no part in perpetuating. Most truthfully, they’re of all times, of all space, ether’s child, everlasting…

Like the songs in focus, Future Islands themselves are a band from another era, but strangely, this era cannot be pointed to with any degree of certainty. Is it the 80’s? The aughts? The Protozoan? I can’t be sure, and I’m not entirely sure it matters. What I do know is that despite their uncanny ability to fluctuate temporally, they’re also, here. With but one listen, they become inextricably, invariably, here. And my how I’m thankful they are.

“Vireo’s Eye”, The Immediate. A denizen of my consciousness from the first second I heard it, “Vireo’s Eye” is perfection. Gerrit Welmers’ synth-work is sinister and surreptitious. William Cashion’s bassline if forthright, feral, and ferocious. Sam T. Herring’s vocal is melancholic, medieval and meteoric. It’s one of the most catchy and compelling songs I have ever heard. Coup de foudre in its purest sense.

“Swept Inside”, The Exsanguinator. Toiling in my being like a sky-dive is freeing, my blood drains slowly, peacefully from my body when this song plays. And not just some — all of it. Miraculously, I am fully transfused by song’s end. I think the lyrics might have something to do with it. What brilliant, emotive lyrics. “When he was young, he had a dream, to be a star on the movie screen; but now it all seems a silly lie, as he walks alone in the days on fire. He says nothing seems the same, and I can’t feel a thing; my body’s like a wave, caving in on me. He says everything seems strange, holding back the tears; but he smiles just like a child, in the days at night.” I am, swept inside.

“Inch of Dust”, The Menace. The song is like a collection of lions inside a glass menagerie. They were always going to bust loose. They were just biding their time. The most ominous song on In Evening Air, it’s also the most patient. The Peeping Tom. Hidden in the shadows, “Inch of Dust” is lurking. Contains probably the most affecting single vocal line of the album, as Sam Herring sings “it’s never, put together”. Except he doesn’t really sing the line, he doesn’t really speak it, it just kind of…emanates from him. A prime example of a song practising Occupy Your Brain. The movement is gaining steam.

“Walking Through That Door”, The Insidious. The opening track from the LP, “Walking Through That Door” is a fascinating song. On one side of the door, it’s manic, it’s pressing, it’s paranoid, yet, when one walks through the door to the other side, it’s composed, it’s revelatory, it’s enlightened. Neat trick Future Islands, neat trick.

Sam Herring is an interlocuter with himself on In Evening Air, locked in a sometimes-schizophrenic battle with himself, leaving the audience feeling like voyeurs for listening to these deeply personal reflections, gasping for air, unsure of whether Mr. Herring will come out alive. He comes out all right, but strangely, he doesn’t come from whence he came. He’s in a different place. He’s, at once, in different places.

What a heinous crime it would be to be lost in between dimensions. How much better it is to be of them all, everywhere, a presence. To be Future Islands.