I was planning to do my top 50 tracks of 2012 at the end of the year, but I’m pretty sure that would be too long and dull, so I thought to myself, “Why not split the list up into two shorter and hopefully less dull lists spread evenly across the year?”
For those interested, this list has two rules:
- The track must have been released between January and June 2012 inclusive. For those of you who want to be completely pedantic, if it’s been released as a single and on an EP/LP then I’m counting the single release date.
- The tracks are ordered based upon how much I enjoy listening to each one. That’s it.
On paper, the collaboration between electronica producer Jon Hopkins and singer-songwriter King Creosote seems slightly odd. Listening to the music, however, it clearly works, spawning the Mercury-nominated Diamond Mine and earlier this year the double A-side John Taylor’s Month Away/Missionary. Missionary is a beautiful track, despite the ugly subject matter of an unsatisfactory one-night stand.
24. Portico Quartet feat. Cornelia – Steepless
Experimental jazz isn’t a genre I’m often drawn to, but Steepless is a track I’ll make an exception for. With hauntingly beautiful vocals, hollow percussion and limited instrumental accompaniment, the track definitely lands more on the experimental side of the scale. It’s minimalist, but memorable.
23. Pulled Apart By Horses – Wolf Hand
Pulled Apart By Horses have both a wonderful name and a seemingly ceaseless ability to create quality post-hardcore rock. Wolf Hand sits at a happy midpoint by managing to have a heavy guitar track without sacrificing the listener’s ability to identify a melody. It’s lyrically uninspiring, but that’s made up for by its boundless energy.
22. Jay-Z & Kanye West feat. Frank Ocean – No Church In The Wild
Watch The Throne did occasionally sound like a lazy and arrogant attempt by Carter and West to reinforce their position at the top of their field. At other times, as in this track, it was just fantastic. OFWGKTA’s Frank Ocean provides ever impressive vocal support, while West and Carter discuss religion in a way that doesn’t feel like cynical headline grabbing.
21. Haim – Forever
Forever is an irresistible mix of acoustic guitar, well-produced percussion and fast-paced vocals. It’s a perfect summer lo-fi pop wonder; instantly likeable, but endlessly entertaining.
20. MMOTHS feat. Keep Shelly in Athens – Heart
Heart is the audio equivalent of floating in a mixture of milk and honey. It’s five minutes of gentle ambience that lets you slowly drift away from reality.
19. Jessie Ware – 110%
I was seriously torn between 110% and the Disclosure remix of Running, but eventually this track pulled through. It’s quite a soothing track, despite the strange distorted samples, and Ware’s vocals remain fantastic throughout.
18. Mike Snow – Paddling Out
Filling the gap Calvin Harris left when he started making complete trash, Paddling Out is a piano-led electro-pop track with an instantly memorable chorus. It’s not particularly deep or original, but its ability to make me instantly dance around like a lunatic makes it well worth a place here.
17. Death Grips – I’ve Seen Footage
Experimental doesn’t really begin to describe Death Grips’ sound. Not quite hip hop, not quite punk, not quite electronic: I’ve Seen Footage is simple but unique. It’s definitely not easy listening, but it’s well worth it.
16. Rudimental feat. John Newman – Feel The Love
Feel The Love moves in exactly the right direction in a music world that really should be over dubstep by now. Rudimental have taken bass-inspired music back to its drum and bass roots with slight adaptations to make it fit in 2012. There’s a catchy vocal hook with production that complements it rather than sounding like a clashy mess; something Skrillex could learn a thing or two from.
15. Jack White – Love Interruption
Blunderbuss didn’t see White in the happiest of moods, but in Love Interruption he’s feeling particularly under the weather. It’s an ode to heartbreak and emotional pain, and while the melody itself doesn’t quite express this, the lyrics shine through in their ability to truly portray White’s state of mind, and in doing so exact a moving response in the listener.
14. Electric Guest – This Head I Hold
I’m a complete sucker for a good piano hook, so This Head I Hold didn’t have to put in too much effort to attract my attention. The track then continued to shine though, with Electric Guest conjuring a vintage sound coated with falsetto vocals that make me incredibly envious.
13. Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine?
Last year’s Suck It and See represented a serious return to form for Alex Turner and co. after 2009’s mildly disappointing Humbug. Despite not actually appearing on the album, R U Mine? continues its trend. It places the focus back on carefully constructed lyrics and instrumentals, and is all the better for it.
12. Alt-J (Δ) – Fitzpleasure
Sure, Breezeblocks is great song, but Fitzpleasure is easily the best track from An Awesome Wave. Opening with an a capella section, 25 seconds in you reach the drop, and from there the style wanders all over the place, maintaining a dark melody and captivating vocals. Speaking of vocals, it’s virtually impossible to make out the lyrics, but I sing along regardless.
11. Major Lazer feat. Amber Coffman – Get Free
Considering the project’s previous work includes the pioneering Pon De Floor, it almost feels like Major Lazer is taking a step backwards with Get Free. Alternatively, it could be seen to be bucking the trend by producing a modest track that doesn’t rely on a strong sub-bass to push it forward. Get Free is uplifting without feeling clichéd, which is an achievement in itself.
10. Sleigh Bells – Comeback Kid
One of Sleigh Bells’ more subdued tracks, Comeback Kid is a riot of a track with distorted guitars, jagged synths and aggressive drums. Everything’s exaggerated but the outcome’s great fun.
9. Azealia Banks – Liquorice
Banks recently announced she was giving up on being a rapper to focus on being a “vocalist,” which is a genuine shame, as she’s invigorated hip hop in a way that Nicki Minaj (the artist to whom she’s inevitably compared) could only dream of. After the energetic swear-fest that was 212, Liquorice tones things down (very) slightly and discusses racism and ethnicity while still managing to make multiple references to genitalia. Impressive.
8. Perfume Genius – Hood
If you’re listening for the first time, you might be quite surprised to find out that Hood is the most cheerful track on the album, Put Your Back N 2 It. It’s a two-minute stream of melodic self-doubt and insecurity, which is both morose and shockingly beautiful.
7. Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe
This would probably be considered a guilty pleasure for many people, but it’s better than that. Yes, it’s manufactured; yes, it’s shallow; yes, she happens to be friends with Justin Bieber; but none of these things detract from it. Call Me Maybe is a pure, unashamed pop song and I love it.
Continuing The Black Keys’ global blues-rock domination, Gold on the Ceiling is a good example of how a band can attract a larger audience without making musical compromises. Distorted guitars still hold centre-stage but the production is slick and the chorus intentionally anthemic. Some may claim they’re selling out, but if the music is of this quality then quite frankly I don’t care.
5. Animal Collective – Honeycomb
Animal Collective burst back into my life in May with Honeycomb/Gotham, allowing me to remember exactly how much I’d missed them. Honeycomb is an odd track in that it’s not exactly music, more a random assortment of sounds with a melody forced on top of them. It’s experimental psychedelia, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
4. Grimes – Oblivion
I first listened to Oblivion having never heard Grimes’ work before, and the title is somewhat misleading. Having expected some form of metal track, I was greeted to a slice of dream pop, which somehow manages to sound simultaneously jolly and sinister.
3. Jai Paul – jasmine (demo)
Jai Paul has attracted a surprisingly large amount of attention considering his discography consists of only two songs, but listening to jasmine you begin to understand why. It’s an understated RnB gem with a hook that doesn’t so much instantly draw you in as gradually infect your subconscious mind. In a good way, obviously.
2. NZCA/LINES – Atoms & Axes
I’ve played this song more than 100 times over the last few months, and it’s still as brilliant as when I first heard it. Contrapuntal melodies, smooth synths, moving falsetto vocals; it’s the perfect piece of electronic music.
1. Plan B – ill Manors
After going for a Radio 2-friendly soul sound with The Defamation of Strickland Banks, Ben Drew (aka Plan B) has returned to his hip hop roots with this, the title track from his forthcoming third album. A modern-day protest song, ill Manors is designed as a response to last summer’s riots and challenges both the UK’s political powers and the way the general public perceives Britain’s eternal class divides. Drew has taken something he believes strongly in and translated it into three minutes and 46 seconds of brilliantly produced raw emotion. Whether Drew succeeds in spreading his message remains to be seen, but what he has done is created a modern classic that is easily the best song of 2012 (so far).