I’d like to call bullshit on half of 2013 already being over, but the calendar says July 8th and since I have a complete inability to keep track of days, months, years, and whatnot, I’m going to have to believe what all of my electronics are preaching. The iPhone does not tell a lie, although Siri is a conniving little bitch…
If you’re looking for new music, I’m going to dispense some suggestions for 2013 Records of the Year (to date). If you haven’t heard these artists, first seek them out, give them a listen and then come back and berate me on any number of contestable faults such as (but not limited to) hipsterism, zeitgeisterism or prosaic assimilation to the alt-music institution. Without any more blabber, the 30Hz Top 10 Records of 2013 (to date).
Last year I plugged POOLSIDE, a band with aspirations no greater than inspiring you to chill out and drink adult beverages next to a sterile body of water. The ocean, most likely. I definitely don’t see them advocating a stagnant pool or freshwater lake. This year, I’ve got another fantastic candidate for chill-the-fuck-out record of the year. I submit to you: VONDELPARK. Critics seem to call them dream pop, but that doesn’t really translate here. Vocals are whispy, synthy and minimal. Listen to this:
Call it what you will. Lo-fi 80’s R&B. Bedroom glitch soul. Perhaps. Whatever it is, this entire record is electric and should get moved to the front of any of your “to-listen playlists.” The video’s pretty damn cool too. This record has that Poolside feel to it, the kind of fun, soulful record that just won’t give up its hold of the turntable.
Every year has a first. The first great song. The first great album. The first disappointing album. The first interview with a band pretending to discuss their disappointing album without calling it disappointing and instead opting to call it a “departure.”
I heard “Borrowed Time” from the Parquet Courts on XM last week. It earned an on-the-go Shazam tag. All this means is that I may or may not remember to look it up sometime in the near future. Well, I remembered. And I’m currently loving this record.
Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold
The Sound: The the NY-via-Texas Parquet Courts cites Pavement and Guided By Voices as immediate influences. I’d add The Feelies or Sonic Youth into that equation. It’s stripped-down guitar-driven indie rock/post-punk with the aim of sincerity. There’s no sense of self-awareness or indulgent posturing. In many ways it is the intersection of the now scarce rock and roll earnestness of the 70’s and early 90’s and Light Up Gold sounds like a classic record. Parquet Courts is dabbling in familiar frequencies, but owning them, making those Sonic Youth riffs entirely their own.
If pinpointing the 40 best albums was an exercise in wandering futility, selecting 100 favorite tracks from a single year is, at best, herding cats, if those cats were also tripping balls on hallucinogens. I’ve called them the “best” because “favorite” admits potential fault. And since these are the Interwebs I must portend to be an all-knowing musical deity with the confidence to say that these 100 tracks (okay, 101. I cheat) were the best that 2012 had to offer. Anywhere. Ever. Until the end of time. Shit. Forgot that Tennis song. (Fine. 102) The reality is that so much great music gets released that it would be impossible for anyone to confidently say they even agree wholeheartedly with their own list. Sigh. Yes, Peggy Sue, I forgot about you as well. (103) That in mind, this is the best of what I heard in 2012. (And for the record, that Gotye song came out in 2011. Stop putting it on 2012 lists.)
Now a note about how I compile this list every year. Whenever I connect with a track at any point during the year it gets tossed into a playlist called “20XX Hits.” At the end of the year I go through the list and move my absolute favorites into the “20XX Final.” I try to be as honest as possible. Keep this in mind when you :facepalm: the No Doubt track or a certain Canadian pop star down near the bottom. It’s a goddamn earworm, okay. Of course, certain bias always creeps into the selection process. A desire to namedrop an artist of which you’ve never heard is a strong, burning impulse deep down in the pit of my soul, like a urinary track infection. But if you have a track you think I overlooked, maybe I did. Tell me about it. I don’t hate, I just appreciate discovering new stuff. There’s also a bias towards tracks that have stuck with me all year. If a track barely made the countdown, that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of a Top 20 spot, just that it hasn’t had the time to fester, to become essential. I’m looking at you, Cult of Youth. Before I commence, let it be known that I did not love Frank Ocean (though “Pyramids” was pretty epic), Kendrick Lamar, Death Grips, Purity Ring, Dirty Projectors or Fiona Apple or many other buzz artists of 2012 and I’m not just going to include them because everyone else can’t stop talking about them. They just didn’t connect. Especially Death Grips. For me, that’s still a headscratcher. I mean, yeah. Whatever. I can’t explain that band. I’ll add notes and video as I go. Check back for updates. Also here’s the link to the entire Spotify playlist. Embed below.
No more chit chat. The Top 100101102 103… or whatever. The 100 Best Songs of 2102.
103. “Fools Rush In” – Peggy Sue
I love that my list opens and closes with a cover this year and I didn’t even plan it. Despite all the greats that have covered this Johnny Mercer tune (Elvis, Sinatra, Bow Wow Wow), Peggy Sue nails it harder.
102. “Medicine Man” – The Bamboos, featuring Ella Thompson
This one sat in my Spotify hits list all year. Makes the list out of pure determination to not go away. Standard female pop vocal fare over the Bamboos’ funk and soul simplicity.
101. “In A Big City” – Titus Andronicus
“I grew up on one side of the river / I was a disturbed and dangerous drifter / Moved over to the other side of the river / Now I’m a drop in a deluge of hipsters.”
100. “Man and Man’s Ruin” – Cult of Youth
My introduction to Cult of Youth came far too late in the year to really creep up the charts. But this is a band I could grow to love. They call this music neo-folk, which is just another micro-genre minsomer Look for hints of the Pogues if the Pogues were fronted by Lou Reed.
99. “Somebody” – Niki & The Dove
Stockholm electro-pop band that recalls Robyn’s near perfect 2010 record, Body Talk… with less success. But this track stands out because of a good hook and soaring synth.
98. “I Don’t Wanna Pray” – Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
Edward Sharpe’s Here is a seamless album without any superstars. This perhaps is an unlikely track to single out but I did so because it feels wholly sincere and unashamed of its inspiration.
96. “The Black Mill Video Tape” – Pye Corner Audio
According to their website, they’ve been “magnetically aligning ferrous particles since 1970.” That’s as good as any description of this electro-dub-audioscape outfit. This album played on a loop in my head for weeks, the score to my entire life. And the most exciting bits were backed by “The Black Mill Video Tape.”
95. “Leave the Lights On” – Meiko
Meiko’s better than you think. Really. And this song not only showcases her flinty singer-songwriter pipes but also a lyrical edge (albeit a semi-rounded edge).
94. “Sing Me a Reprise” – Hip Hatchet
Just a brilliant album that nobody’s heard. “Leaving home ain’t pleasant / The road can be cold and cruel / When all that you’ve learned is present / In these familiar ruins.”
93. “My Better Self” – Tennis
Tennis does the retro-60’s update better and more sincerely than those other bands with more publicityand less talent.
92. “The Fall” – Frankie Rose
A horribly overrated and forgettable record… and this, an understated afterthought tacked on at the end. This song is so good that it often forces me to return to the album, thinking I missed something. I haven’t. It’s still boring.
91. “Atlas” – Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves of Destiny
The album cover – two naked female bodies blessed with lion heads – provided enough inspiration to check out the record, which turned out to be sweet and simple singer-songwriter fare blended with intermittent David Bowie glam. So, not folk music at all. “Atlas” is disjointed and sounds like three or four songs in one. Sometimes I think it’s a disaster of a song. Most of the time I can’t get enough.
90. “When the Lights Go Out” – Crybaby
An anomaly on the record from the Atlanta-based band. Kelly Sirmons croons like an angsty Bobby Darin over a lax beach-guitar riff. It’s a terrific cut that shouldn’t overshadow the rest of the excellent album. But it does.
89. “Looking Hot” – No Doubt
The best part about pop music is that I don’t have to justify this shit to anyone. No Doubt’s record didn’t sell but it’s loads better than 2001’s awful Rock Steady. And because Gwen Stefani is pretty much an ageless goddess, here’s a video.
88. “Hands on the Wheel” – Schoolboy Q, A$AP Rocky
One of the big arrivals in hip hop for 2012, Schoolboy makes a strong case for the utility of “weed and bros.”
87. “Cry for Judas” – The Mountain Goats
Offbeat lyrics, lush musicality, horns and a catchy hook. Vintage Mountain Goats.
86. “The Reflection of You” – Bear in Heaven
Bear in Heaven’s brilliant album boasted a slough of worthy tracks, but go ahead and just try to ignore the background synth in “The Reflection of You.” It’s infectious and lush and filled with bleeps and bloops aplenty.
85. “Lord Knows” – Dum Dum Girls
Just when you thought the Dum Dum Girls were a one-note shoegaze act, they go and release this End of Daze LP. Lacking the hooks of it’s forebears, End of Daze instead focuses on sweeping and sultry.
84. “The Allure” – Beats Antique
Formed by a dude from Vermont, Beats Antique borrows sound from French gypsies, Eastern Europe, hip hop. reggae, flamenco and ties it all together with some slick electronic production. I dunno, you name it, it’s probably in there. I also love Beats because they list bandmember Zoe Jakes as a “belly dancer, composer and arranger.” At the same time I hate Beats Antique because they stopped in Pittsburgh the month before I first heard their record.
83. “Bobby Brown” – The Soft Pack
I didn’t love this track when I first heard it, but it kept coming up on shuffle and I wondered who the hell was responsible. It won me over through attrition… all the way up to #83. I blame the killer sax solo at the 2-minute mark.
82. “Eighth Avenue” – Hospitality
One of my favorite new artists this year plays an accessible brand of three-piece retro-styled indie-rock. I picked “Eighth Avenue” but three or four other tracks could have made appearances on this list instead. This is just happy music… with a darker lyrical underbelly struggling to get out.
81. “Woolgatherer” – Conveyor
I literally JUST heard this track last week. It rocked my world a little bit. I hope it rocks yours a little bit too. Unfortunately the available videos are of the band performing the song acoustically. And, to be perfectly, honest, they need to not do this anymore.
80. “Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U)” – Grimes
If you’ve paid any attention to the over-reaching genre known as indie-rock this year, you’ll know that Grimes was the queen, the jester and the dominatrix of 2012 all in one package. For a change of pace, I’ll refrain from hyperbole. She’s a beats and loops chick with a decent voice and killer timing.
79. “Flutes” – Hot Chip
I called this track a jam from the first time I heard it on XM/Sirius Radio. First impressions can often be wrong. Not mine, though. I’m rock solid.
78. “Fitzpleasure” – Alt-J
If you know what’s going on in this song, I’d love a synopsis. Then again, maybe I don’t. I’m probably just infatuated because I don’t have a m’f’ing clue. Is it even English? From a certain angle, it reminds me of Flight of the Conchords.
77. “Who” – David Byrne & St. Vincent
Love This Giant proved to be a solid (but uneven) showcase for both artists, but in my mind, this is the only track where both Byrne and St. Vincent get to jam righteously, without compromise for the greater good.
76. “Make Up Your Mind” – Here We Go Magic
I don’t remember if I loved this track before or after I saw Here We Go Magic earlier this year. It’s a chicken and the egg kind of thing. I hope it’s as good as I think it is. If you have a chance to see them live, they put on a great show. And this song is a standout in the act. Though I’ve just learned that two members of the band quit so that particular lineup won’t be traveling to a city near you. So it goes.
75. “Child of Glass” – Sam Flax
Laid back synth-driven 80’s chillwave that had to come on cassette. (And oh look! It does did.) Also, make sure to check out the full record. It just barely missed my Top 40 countdown… and even now I’m regretting not finding it a place somewhere in the 20’s. Maybe 24 2/3.
74. “The Knife” – Great Lake Swimmers
Canada’s the Great Lake Swimmers create predictable, simple, soulful folk music from the frozen north. The plucked strings haunting the background strike a chord in this slow burner.
73. “Follow Through” – Freelance Whales
This record escaped any legitimate mainstream attention… which is a little bit of a crime. A lot of people wrote this band off after their debut for being too twee. Listen to “Follow Through” and tell me there isn’t legitimate musical depth here.
72. “The Night” – School of Seven Bells
A band shakeup resulted in a more radio-friendly sound for So7B. Those that tired of their whispy, breathless shoegaze fare might want to revisit the band. The record and EP released late this year showcased a band entertaining — dare I say it? — a little bit of bombast.
71. “Windy City” – People Get Ready
Formed by former members of David Byrne’s tour band and Yeasayer, People Get Ready fancy themselves an “interdisciplinary” band, incorporating their music with live choreographed dance performance. My initial reaction: meh. My reaction after watching said dance performance: uhhh, meh? I just like a few tracks on the record.
70. “Bad Thing” – King Tuff
A throwback axe-grinder. He calls his guitarJazijoo and plays rock ‘n roll.
69. “Lost and Found” – Katie Herzig
Sweeping melodrama folk-pop from Fort Collins, CO. She’s been a regular on prime time television, landing spots on Grey’s Anatomy, Smallville, One Tree Hill, Bones, Bored to Death and Pretty Little Liars. Technically this album came out in 2011 but I came upon it late. So I’m bending the rules for this song.
68. “Big Beast” – Killer Mike, Bun B, TI and Trouble
I very much enjoy jarring genre shifts on my year-end playlists. This track is the opening thumper from 2012 breakout rapper Killer Mike. In my mind, the second best rap album of the year.
67. “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It” – Stars
Stars return to Set Yourself On Fire form and borrow a bass line from New Order.
66. “The Mother We Share” – CHVRCHES
So far, this is one of two original songs we have from Glasgow’s electro-pop outfit CHVRCHES. But they’re from Scotland (most great music per capital of anywhere in the world, I’m convinced), feature a former member of The Twilight Sad’s tour band and they can apparently straddle the sad/euphoric tightrope with ease. It’s a little bit Knife, a little bit M83 and a little bit Robyn.
65. “Some People Say” – Allo Darlin’
On any given day, this could have been any other song from Allo Darlin’s brilliant album. It just so happened that on the day I made this list, “Some People Say” struck a chord. I had five songs from this band on my “Hits” list. Five.
64. “Marathon Runner” – Yellow Ostrich
Alex Schaaf started Yellow Ostrich as a one-man loop show with a four-track recorder in his bedroom in Wisconsin. Now that he’s added two other talented musicians to the lineup, the sound is bigger and a little bolder. I miss the simple four-track days (and it’s possible the availability of more musicianship has led to some growing pains) but their latest album boasts plenty of inspiration to make amends for some unnecessary histrionics.
63. “Millions” – Eternal Summers
I added the first four songs from this album to my “Hits” list. It’s a little frontloaded and it just came out earlier this month, so it’s possible that this album still has more to give.
62. “Museum of Flight” – Damien Jurado
“So On, Nevada” also barely missed the cut. Damien Jurado has been around for fifteen years making heartbreaking and simple indie-folk. I’m not sure he’s ever made a bad record… and it’s possible this is his best yet.
61. “This Head I Hold” – Electric Guest
The 2012 Fitz & the Tantrums award for funkiest retro track you just can’t get out of your head.
60. “Time to Run” – Lord Huron
Michigan to California in an indie-rock soundscape.Zane Grey imagined as indie-folk-roots-rock buzzband.
59. “Sunset” – The XX
It became cool to diss The XX at some point in 2012 with too-hip hyperbole. Here’s another edition of the 30Hz straight talk: The XX makes the same aching, fragile music as on their debut. It’s a lot of the same. But that record was pretty damn good and so is this one. The individual tracks might not stand on their own quite as well, but I found something mesmerizing in the understated “Sunset.”
58. “Without Warning” – The Pass
Indie-pop record of the year.I’d play you a live version of the song, but it apparently doesn’t exist. All I can tell you about the band is that they’re from Louisville and sound like Passion Pit if Passion Pit wanted to be stellastar.
57. “Serpents” – Sharon Van Etten
56. “House” – Kindness
The one-man disco/funk unit. Adam Bainbridge is a more dancey Talking Heads, a less electro-oriented LCD Soundsystem. Each track on the album is a sample of something different, a fun pack of Halloween candy. “House” stands out – it’s the soundtrack to the post-dance club hours, the wee waning hours of pre-dawn recovery.
55. “To Just Grow Away” – The Tallest Man on Earth
Dude’s a poet. And I’m not saying I get what’s going on in this song, but the lyrics encourage a proximity to the source. Inject your own meaning.
I lose my ways to drown / And aimless flee / And while you’re thrown to lose / It’s still right here / With me
54. “Wild” – Royal Teeth
Royal Teeth released a six-track EP this year and “Wild” headlined the collection. I think they listen to a little Paul Simon. Also, they won some CNN contest to showcase the band on CNN’s music blog. The subsequent video is a poorly recorded, sluggish version of “Wild,” that probably repelled potential listeners. So odd. Watch the following performance instead:
53. “Penitentiary” – Houndmouth
I don’t have a clue where I first heard Houndmouth but the 4-track EP got thrown on the too-listen list at some point. They remind me of the excellent band Shovels & Rope, with a slightly-darker sampling of Americana. The background “woo-hoo-hoo” will stick with you. They’re from southern Indiana/Kentucky so you know they’re legitand that facial hair is probably non-ironic.
52. “Fitta Happier” – Quakers
Another dose of juxtaposition. From roots rock to a 38-man old-school hip hop consortium courtesy of the Quakers and a big ol’ marching band.
51. “Run My Heart” – Twin Shadow
In the “Run My Heart” versus “Five Seconds” war of Twin Shadow tracks, I was always pro-“Five.” But “Run My Heart” just needed time to wine and dine me. While it didn’t get the rose in the final ceremony, I will always wonder what might have been… and whether it was the one that got away.
50. “Forever” – Haim
Haim? Haim? WTF is Haim? (They’re three sisters, btw.) Also, what kind of name is Haim? (Well, uh, it’s their last name and of Hebrew origin, dating back to the Middle Ages.) So many questions… but oh, by jolly, this band knows a delicious 80’s hook when it hears one.
49. “Take A Walk” – Passion Pit
Surely a nomination for Earworm of the Year is in the works. “Take A Walk” doesn’t rival “Sleepyhead” but not a lot does.
48. “Applying Myself” – Only You
This track came out of nowhere when I was browsing the White Iris record label after stumbling across the band Line & Circle (see below). Some jangle pop and heavenly female vocals by Rachel Fannon, (a more melodic Chrissie Hynde). They’re the intersection of the competing 60’s and 80’s retro fads.
47. “Hollow” – Port St. Willow
I saw Port St. Willow open for Antlers last year. Because much of the music is hushed and melodic there’s plenty of opportunity to overhear idle crowd conversation. Such as “They’re killing cats” to “Just beautiful.” For what it’s worth, the balance was way off and the band had set reverb to stun.
46. “Yet Again” – Grizzly Bear
Somehow Grizzly Bear got lumped into the “You might be a hipster if you listen to…” bands. Let me take this opportunity to set the hipster record straight. There are three kinds of people in this world: the people non-hipsters think are hipsters, the people that aren’t hipsters but people think are hipsters because they listen to music they’ve never heard of, and legit hipsters (who are really scenesters). Got it?
45. “Lucky One” – Pure Bathing Culture
Another band that has little to offer, but what they have to offer is gold, Jerry. Gold! In a perfect world they become something as big as The XX.
44. “Hopeless Wanderer” – Mumford & Sons
So you’re over Mumford & Sons. That’s fine. More for me.Just a hint: Listen to the b-side of Babel.
43. “Brothers” – Tanlines
“All of Me” appeared on a crapton of year end lists. So many, in fact, that I was almost convinced I didn’t like “Brothers” better. But, phew, like, I totally refused to bow to external pressure to be cool.
42. “Kill For Love” – Chromatics
The second best song on my favorite record of the year. Damning praise.
41. “Get Away With It” – Animal Kingdom
I’m super tired of coming up with remotely interesting things to say about the songs on this list.
40. “Sixteen Saltines” – Jack White
Music. Fuck yeah.
39. “It’s Time” – Imagine Dragons
Separating the song from the overplayedness is hard. I once thought this song was the bees knees but then my 3yo and everyone else got a hold of it. And now I hear it in my sleep.
38. “Shut Eye” – Stealing Sheep
Liverpool trio slapped with my second least-favorite micro-genre label: psych-folk. Seriously, who comes up with this shit? When a band gets labeled psych-shoegaze, I quit. Just because a band is doing something different doesn’t mean we need to micro-genre them. Psych-folk sounds as appealing as overcooked broccoli.
37. “Bend Beyond” – Woods
If you want to call a band psych-anything, it might as well be Woods. Because they jam a bit, I guess. This was another act that got my attention via a killer live set opening for The Walkmen. If you have the opportunity, go, watch them play their guitars. They rock harder than you think.
36. “Flying to Berlin” – Savages
London post-punk that is both sweet and, well, savage. Good luck finding a recording of a live performance that’s not distorted as all get out.
35. “Mountain Sound” – Of Monsters And Men
The other song my wife and 3yo tried to kill for me. IT’S NOT GOING TO WORK, FAMILY!
34. “I Belong In Your Arms” – Chairlift
It was easy to write Chairlift off as a one-hit wonder. “Bruises” had been a huge hit from their 2008 album Does You Inspire You. And then the first single from Something was met with tepid indifference. And with good reason. “Sidewalk Safari” was the least interesting song on the record. A whole heap of MEH. “I Belong In Your Arms” incorporates all the best things about Chairlift, seductive synth, crystalline vocals and a driving beat.
33. “Cold Nites” – How To Dress Well
Everyone could probably pick a different favorite song from this record. And no one would be wrong. “Cold Nites” gets me. How to Dress Well (Tom Krell) is like Keith Sweat of lo-fi electro-pop.
32. “If Only We Remain” – Two Wounded Birds
I will now sell three copies of Two Wounded Birds’ debut self-titled LP.
31. “Myth” – Beach House
The hype-machine catapulted Beach House into the stratosphere this summer. And as a result, Beach House became another band about which it was cool to be aloof. Get over it. This record kicked your ass. And when the record was done kicking your ass, “Myth” hung around for the “Finish him!” curb stomp.
30. “All Your Gold” – Bat For Lashes
I prefer this one to the more understated “Laura” because of the infectious chorus, but I’m willing to haggle.If you don’t know Bat For Lashes yet, get wise. She’s produced three consistently excellent records that have earned her Bjork comparisons for no discernible reason.
29. “Don’t Save Me” – Haim
A Haim! A Haim. My kingdom for a full-length Haim LP.
28. “Roman Ruins” – Line & Circle
A friend of mine called Line & Circle “the Gin Blossoms as a U2/Smiths cover band, if they stared at a Cure poster on their ceiling every night before they went to sleep.” I see nothing wrong with this.
27. “Heaven” – The Walkmen
Incredible live act. Killer song. Heaven starts at the 3:50 mark if you don’t want to hear them talk about the Philly meth heads that used to jam to their practice sessions.
26. “Replicate” – Fanfarlo
A certain brand of music receives a lot of undo criticism in indie-rock circles for being overly accessible. I remember reading a lot of negativity about this Fanfarlo record when it was released. And that’s a goddamn shame. HYPERBOLE ALERT! Fanfarlo has nailed the mid-tempo indie-pop song and does the Talking Heads-thing as well as anyone since the Talking Heads.
25. “Zero Dark Thirty” – Aesop Rock
Aesop Rock does it #likeaboss. A great rap act that always seems to get lost in the shuffle of the new and *now* artists. All you need to be happy is this beat.
24. “Horn For The Whole Damn World” – Lazarus and the Plane Crash
This song takes the Squirrel Nut Zippers thing and jacks it up on moonshine. Blurb on their bandcamp page says “Deranged gyspy rock meets Tom Waits.” That’ll do. I wish I could find a video for this band.
23. “Tessellate” – Alt-J
Removing one track from the Alt-J record is like pulling a bottom block on Jenga. But here I’ve gone and done it twice. The flowers tower are is still standing.
22. “Only In My Dreams” – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
If you judge a band by your inability to label them, Ariel Pink must be your all-time favorite. I’m sure some asshole calls them psych-folk though.Oh, alright, in this case it might actually be warranted.
21. “Day Four” – Bloc Party
Months after I bought the Bloc Party record I finally discovered this song. I love this song because it is everything you wouldn’t expect or want from Bloc Party. Does that make sense? Fuck no. But this slow-burner is a gem.
20. “I’m His Girl” – Friends
Another album from which I tagged a handful of worthy tracks. This one’s less an earworm and more the ear roach Khan deploys in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Also the video’s f’in cool.
19. “Destiny” – John Talabot, Pional
In the late 90’s, I was an electronic music junkie. I subscribed to electro-specific music magazines even. By 2002 or so, the genre had grown stale as mainstream pop music began co-opting anything that was wholesome and turning it into curdled milk. But there’s something exciting going on again in the genre right now. See bands like Zombie Zombie, Sand Circles, Actress, Pye Corner Audio, Beak >, etc. The renaissance began in earnest a few years ago; it’s time to collect the benefits. Start with this song.
18. “Gone Tomorrow” – Lambchop
Apparently this record is polarizing. I’m going to be a dick here and say that if you don’t like this record (or this song), you’re just wrong. We’re not dealing in the realm of opinion here.
17. “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are” – Keaton Henson
He might as well be singing about the flying Dumbo ride at Disney World. His voice would still break your heart.
16. “The House That Heaven Built” – Japandroids
I bore myself by putting this song in my Top 20. Not only does everyone have this song in their top whatever list, but I think the album is a little overrated. This particular song, however, is anthemic and worth every accolade.
15. “Call Me Maybe” – Carly Rae Jepsen
If you don’t feel pure joy when watching this video of Carly Rae playing “Call Me Maybe” on toy instruments with the Roots and Jimmy Fallon, you might be dead inside.
14. “Wet Blanket” – METZ
I love that I take this list from Japandroids to Carly Rae and then back to METZ. It’s a Carly Rae sandwich between two slices of RAWK. (It’s also a Canadian three-peat.) The primary quality of METZ’s music is “loud.”
13. “Default” – Django Django
Alt-J may have bested them for the Mercury Prize, but Django Django comes out ahead on the list that matters. My favorite songs list. I’m sure this keeps them warm at night.
12. “Why You Wanna” – Poolside
If I could have just made the top ten a bunch of Poolside tracks, I would have. So what if there’s nothing particularly deep about this band? Why do we need meaning in everything most everything we do is entirely meaningless? It’s music. Just enjoy it. Have a margarita during lunch once in a while. Shit.
11. “Normal Song” – Perfume Genius
I’ve exhausted my energies talking about this band during 2012. Yet I’m still not sure I sold any more records for them. That’s the kind of power I have.
10. “Doused” – DIIV
DIIV is the pet project from Beach Fossils’ Zachary Cole Smith. And in my mind, this is leagues better than anything the Beach Fossils have ever done. The music is largely instrumental and laced with familiar jangle riffs and basslines from the 80’s-alt scene. Doused begins at about the 3-minute mark in the video below.
9. “Genesis” – Grimes
You got a problem that I picked “Genesis” instead of “Oblivion”? “Oblivion” always seemed like Grimes’ Top-40 hit while “Genesis” was the other track, the b-side that fans of her music actually liked and used to judge people in conversation. “Oh, hey, you listen to Grimes? What’s your favorite track? Oblivion? Pfft. Lame.”
8. “Speak in Rounds” – Grizzly Bear
I said my peace about the Grizzly Bear/hipster thing earlier. I don’t need to bring it up again, but just in case I do, here’s a Hipster Bingo game that might help you spot real hipsters. Also, they won’t be listening to Grizzly Bear.
7. “Open” – Rhye
I shouldn’t love this song. It’s whispy, repetitive and a little too precious for its own good. But the simplicity and strings just get me every time.
6. “Pilgrim” – Balmorhea
Words can only detract from the greatness of Balmorhea. Put on your best headphones, lay down on the floor and play this song at a very high volume. You will be transported to your own personal sanctuary. Wherever that might be.
5. “Five Seconds” – Twin Shadow
Ahhh… the home stretch. Five more to go. And now a rhetorical question for all artists whose work is buoyed by artificial components. Why do you feel the need to appear and play your songs acoustically? I understand the need to showcase your raw talent, etc. and so on… but production and synth and these other “artificial components” are a skill too. Just like plucking a guitar. Take “Five Seconds.” This track is a near perfect exercise in pop/electronic craftsmanship. It’s catchy, multi-layered and begs repeat listening. (So yeah, I heard that acoustic version you did on XMU, Mr. Twin Shadow. It was not good.)
4. “Emmylou” – First Aid Kit
The song that refused to go away. This was the first track that earned a spot on the 2012 Hits list. It’s a seductive little slice of Americana played by Sweden’s First Aid Kit. A stellar album fronted by this bittersweet ballad about just needing someone to make beautiful music with. Also, if you only watch one video on this countdown, make it this one. Brilliant editing and cinematography.
3. “Yeasayer” – Longevity
From Pitchfork’s review of the record:
“Yeasayer’s third album, Fragrant World, is their first and only consistent LP. It not only proves that Yeasayer can make an unremarkable song, but that they can make 11 of them in a row.”
That’s harsh. Though, here’s the truth: I felt nearly the same way after first listening to the record. Live they sounded muddy and flat and left the room cold (to be fair, it was before the record came out). A few months later, I realized that I kept playing the CD while driving. At first, I told myself I was just reconsidering my stance on the record. That CD is still one of six in my car. It hasn’t left all year. And when “Longevity” comes on XM, I always listen. I always turn it up. I always sing along.
2. “Stay Useless” – Cloud Nothings
Between METZ’s “Wet Blanket” and “Stay Useless” I’m a little surprised the speakers in my Volkswagen are still intact. If I were a sixteen-year-old girl, I might say that this song was “my anthem.” Okay, I’ll still say it. This shit’s my anthem for 2013. It’s a two-minute rager that always ends before you’ve gotten your fill.
1. “Into the Black” – Chromatics
….and my number one, goddamn best song of 2013 is…. a cover of a Neil Young song? Wut?
Okay, for the record, the first time I heard “Into the Black” I felt like I’d heard the song somewhere before but couldn’t quite place it. It wasn’t until much later that I recognized it as a Neil Young song. The Chromatics slow down an already sluggish tempo to a dangerously lugubrious pace. It could have tortured. Rather, they showcase a perfect sense of musicality and timing that extends the breadth of this amazing record. This also marks the first time in the seven or eight years that I’ve been doing these lists that my favorite song has also come from my favorite record.
Live videos of the Chromatics appear to be scarce. This is a fan-made video with surprisingly good audio. “Into the Black” begins around the 1:00 minute mark.
See you in 2013. You can find my list from 2011 here.
With excessively arbitrary panache we decide that, ever year, December 31st is the end cut off for our scourge of “Best Of” lists. I’m guilty for creating. You’re guilty for reading (and maybe creating, as well). We’re all in this together. And we’ll wallow in these lists for the next few months like pigs in shit. Nevermind the industry hurtles round and round. The industry, the artists, they don’t care about December 31st. Maybe they do. But music isn’t like the movie industry. The Academy Awards have the power to fuel box office and drive profits. Your blog, my bl-g, we have nothing but our own narcissism to offer these bands that probably won’t be up for a Grammy or an AMA or (god forbid) a CMA because of our recommendations. Maybe I sell one more record for a few of these bands. If I do, I’m ecstatic for promoting, what I consider, excellence in the vapidly expansive music biz.
With any of my year end music lists, remember I am just one guy. I cannot possibly listen and consider every record evenly. Every year a few records slip in under the wire and forge an immediate connection. But, by and large, these records are the ones that stuck with me, demanded repeat listens and engaged me on some superficial fun time vibe (Poolside, Fanfarlo), ethereal (John Talabot, How to Dress Well), primordial (METZ, Quakers) level. I’m not going to pretend that these picks are going to change the world; we all know that Wyld Stallyns are destined for that job. Some of these records received harsh, hate-mongering from various review sites. I particular enjoy loving a record that Pitchfork lambastes without remorse or scruples (Yeasayer, Alt-J). So here they are, the 30Hz Recommended: Top 40 Records for 2012. And, yes, I am allowed to change these picks should I find another record that grips me by the balls and won’t let go. Even with 40 those last few decisions are heartbreaking (sincere apologies to Lau, Bat for Lashes, Crybaby, El-P, The Lumineers and Freelance Whales). I throw you some videos for 1-15 and hopefully fill in some more later.
I will save this picture on the off chance that one day I can build my DREAM house and find this architect and this decorator and tell them to make me a dining room like this. I think it's one of the first formal dining rooms I've ever really liked.