Compiling a “best of anything” list is such a subjective effort. It’s human nature to want to compare things, rank and file them, and then argue relentlessly over the findings, defending a position vehemently as you try to convince your friend why one single from your favorite band is better than some other single from their favorite band. It’s a timeless debate, and one that usually leads to nothing but dead ends and blood-spilling.
As much as we’d love to imagine our readers quarreling with one another over what the best songs of the year have been so far, we decided it was best for all of society to give you a rock solid list of the top 25. This is our little way of settling arguments, mending broken relationships and essentially righting all wrongs. If this doesn’t settle it, feel free to hit the comments section and argue.
Here are The Best Songs Of 2012, So Far…
25. Danny Brown – “Grown Up”
There is a thing in our bodies—maybe an organ, maybe just some little piece of fatty tissue near our heart or tucked between the skull and brains—that picks up on nostalgia. It’s more than an abstract idea that we recognize through sight, sound, smell, or whatever; it must be another sense, with it’s own piece of body. It’s triggered by the smell of someone you used to love, old photos of people that died too young, or some perfect combination of chords and words that immediately sends your brain into rewind.
Danny Brown’s mostly lunatic flow has hit a lot of notes, but none like “Grown Up.” Over a boom-bap style beat by Party Supplies, Danny touches on that feeling rarely touched by hip-hop—it’s that “93 ’til Infinity” vibe, and it’s so close to being feel-good, but it’s deeper than that. It’s nostalgia.
24. Tanlines – “Brothers”
Album: Mixed Emotions
Tanlines debut album Mixed Emotions is a lush record that suits beachside barbecues and sunshine drives to perfection. The first track off the album, “Brothers,” boasts warm, tropical production which melds perfectly with the smoothly yearning vocals, resulting in an understated slice of ruminative synth-pop. Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm, the duo who make up Tanlines, had been working on this album for over two years, and their love and attention is there for all to see on a record that you’d do well not to sleep on.
23. Beach House – “Myth”
Pretty much the whole of Beach House’s rich, swirling new album Bloom could be on this list, but the one track that stands out is their poppiest and most accessible to date. Without losing any of the multi-layered atmospherics that mark out these dream-pop practitioners, songs like “Myth” pack catchy choruses and instantly memorable riffs, and this ability to evolve between albums without drastically changing their sound is to Beach House’s credit.
22. The Walkmen – “Heaven”
The Walkmen returned to prominence earlier this year with the release of their seventh studio album, Heaven. It’s one of those full efforts that you could blindly select a song from and likely find any and all highly enjoyable, but the main stand out for us has always been the first single and title-track, “Heaven”. With its clockwork-like guitar reverb backbone, the record speaks to holding good memories close your heart and never forgetting all that is fought for. Inspiring, catchy and relatable.
21. Meek Mill ft. Drake & Jeremih – “Amen”
Album: Dreamchasers 2
Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers 2 mixtape really put the MMG spitter on the map, and one of the most impressive, and somewhat surprising songs off the tape is “Amen”. While we’re used to hearing Meek smashing his way through grandiose, ominous beats, here he brings his celebratory, champagne glasses in the air flow, and does his thing over some piano led KeY Wane production. Amen to that.
20. The Tallest Man On Earth – “1904”
Album: There’s No Leaving Now
A lot of the best songs of the year so far are good in a 2012 kind of way. They’re all about the style, the current sound, and the context. The Tallest Man On Earth’s “1904” is acoustic guitar and voice. It’s a Bob Dylan-esque song that could have just as easily been released in the ’70s, and it’s one of the few songs this year that truly is timeless.
19. Action Bronson x Party Supplies – “9-24-11”
Album: Blue Chips
We’ve been major advocates of both Queens-bred mic wrecker Action Bronson, and eclectic producer Party Supplies, for a while now. Our interest was certainly piqued when we heard the two were pairing up for a collaborative project, and the Blue Chips mixtape didn’t disappoint. It was such an impressive body of work that selecting just one song for this list was difficult, but to us “9-24-11” is the one track that best embodies the spirit of the entire project. Party Supplies creates a killer beat out of a Dean Martin sample, and Bronson flows literally out of his skull as he lumbers his way through comedic, lyrical flubs. These two clearly had fun working together and the enjoyment shines through in this record.
18. Grimes – “Genesis”
Our favourite Canadian pop weirdo Grimes has had a huge 2012 so far, releasing a critically acclaimed (and stupendously fun) debut album, a great video for “Oblivion”, and being confirmed for a tour with Diplo and Skrillex. Long may Grimes’ success continue, and long may she continue to make shimmering, pulsating, skewed pop like “Genesis,” which is a perfect introduction to her ethereal vocals and disco flecked productions.
17. A$AP Rocky – “Goldie”
The way A$AP Rocky blew up left a lot of uncertainty. He took off with the quickness after “Purple Swag,” and it left a lot of room for hurried mistakes. But Live.Love.A$AP was a success by most measures, and proved that he could replicate that runt of a style he has. He also showed that he’s not some blog-rap sensation that wouldn’t be able to transition into the spotlight—like him or not, the dude has charisma and that “it” factor that we always talk about. His first Hit-Boy-produced single, “Goldie,” furthers that transition and keeps the original fans satisfied in the process.
16. Chromatics – “Kill For Love”
Album: Kill For Love
The phrase “kill for Love” is not one to be taken lightly. If you’re to that point, things are probably pretty desperate and others should not be toying around with you. On the other hand, love really is the only noble thing left to kill for, and if there were ever a soundtrack written to usher in a death motivated by chivalry, it would be this record by the Chromatics. It’s the ripe with lush, over-flowing snyth-pop beauty and proves that the Oregon-based outfit still has the goods to produce high-quality, unique material. “Kill For Love” is the title-track of the band’s new, 1.5 hour long EP, which released in March.
15. Death Grips – “I’ve Seen Footage”
Album: The Money Store
For those of us already riddled with anxiety issues, Death Grips makes perfect sense. The music of the noisy punk hip-hop group is chaotic, aggressive, and feels like post-traumatic stress disorder in music form. Most of it is pretty hard to stomach, but “I’ve Seen Footage” finds the unlikely balance between a catchy, aerobic nod-along a la “Push It” and Death Grips’ usual dark room/disturbed man vibe.
14. Dirty Projectors – “Gun Has No Trigger”
Album: Swing Lo Magellan
The off-kilter, reaching vocals of this song sound like they’re about to recklessly veer off path, and that might be the most gratifying thing about this song, because they never do. It starts off like some kind of minimalistic, ghostly funk cousin of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” but it builds into this almost orgasmic peak (er, yes, calling the climax of a song “orgasmic” makes me cringe, but listen to that shit) and while it only brings a few elements into play, every element has a life of its own.
13. Willis Earl Beal – “Evening’s Kiss”
Album: Acousmatic Sorcery
Willis Earl Beal may have an incredible back story and an eccentric personality, but all of that fades into insignificance when that home-recorded guitar starts up, soon to be joined by a timeless, careworn voice. For most of us, “Evening’s Kiss” was our introduction to Willis, and the earnest simplicity of this downbeat lullaby hit a spot that is rarely reached by modern music. While “Evening’s Kiss” remains the most immediate, engaging song from his LP Acousmatic Sorcery, there are sure to be a a whole host of new Willis Earl Beal songs that find a place in your heart when he releases his debut studio album (hopefully) later this year.
12. Jessie Ware – “110%”
Over impeccably crisp, sparkling production from producer extrordinaire Julio Bashmore, British vocalist Jessie Ware shows off her sultry, smoky vocals with a performance of wonderfully poignant restraint. The timelessness of the subject matter and the warmth of Jessie’s vocals made this track an instant favourite, and just leave us even more excited to hear more from her forthcoming debut LP.
11. Swim Deep – “King City”
This song is the very essence of the hazy summertime escapism of youth. The sun is shining, you’re getting slowly drunk with your friends, and as worries slowly drain away, anything and everything seems possible, and you feel as if that blissful afternoon will last forever. “King City” is a four-minute slice of nostalgic perfection from this young British three piece, and it is a must have for any summertime playlist.
10. Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built”
Album: Celebration Rock
We’ve got another six months of great songs coming our way, but it’s hard to expect anything to top this one, in terms of sheer anthemic force. Japandroids have been making entire albums of bombastic rock, but “The House That Heaven Built” might just be their best to date. Part on-tour confessional, part just having a great time by raging at the rest of the world, it won us over immediately and we haven’t stopped playing it since its release. That isn’t stopping anytime soon.
But you’re not mine to die for anymore, so I must live”
9. El-P – “4$ Vic/FTL (Me and You)”
Album: Cancer For Cure
The underground hip-hop scene is far from what is was back in the Def Jux days. Not to say that’s a bad thing, and judging by his words on tracks like “We’re Famous,” it’s probably not something El-P dwells on. Now it seems like the underground has gone completely online, and while there are plenty new sounds in hip-hop, none have matched that industrial, mechanical onslaught that El-P mastered and nurtured. During a time filled with cloud rap, stream-of-consciousness flows, and a mostly obvious maintstream, El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure sounds sharper than ever, and “4$ Vic/FTL (Me and You)” is an epic example of that.
8. How To Dress Well – “Ocean Floor For Everything”
Album: Total Loss
When it comes to perfecting lo-fi, R&B infused pieces of beauty, few others do it better than Tom Krell (aka How To Dress Well). His 2010 project Love Remains was a mesmerizing piece of work, and he’s demonstrated nice growth and a fine-tuning of his sound with this year’s new single, “Ocean Floor For Everything”. It’s the sort of song you’d expect to soundtrack the separation scene of a climatic romance film. Lovely and atmospheric, yet heavy enough to invoke a sense resting pressure on your heart.
7. Rhye – “Open”
This mysterious European born, LA based duo came out of nowhere with “Open,” and as introductions go, it was pretty unbeatable. There is an elegance and beauty in the simplicity of the lovestruck lyrics, which is matched by swooning strings and gentle piano to form an outstanding slice of dreamy R&B.
“I’m a fool for the shake in your thighs/ I’m a fool for the sound in your sighs/I’m a fool for your belly/ I’m a fool for your love”
6. St. Lucia – “All Eyes On You”
Album: St. Lucia EP
St. Lucia sure does create a lot of sound for a one-man band. Jean-Philip Grobler is a well traveled individual. Hailing originally from Johannesberg, South Africa, he spanned various reaches of the globe performing as part of a boys choir school before finally settling in Brooklyn, NY. His music clearly reflects the international influences he absorbed during those adventures, with a distinctly fresh and tropical sound that bleeds through with inspiration from the 80’s. “All Eyes On You” can be found on the St. Lucia EP, which released in March of this year.
5. Perfume Genius – “Hood”
Album: Put Your Back N 2 It
Perfume Genius is one of those artists you can’t listen to all the time. Mike Hadreas makes brutally honest and pained music, and a trip into his world is not one that will leave you unaffected. Prior to “Hood,” all we’d heard were these desperately confessional ballads over simple, pretty pianos – classically structured singer-songwriter numbers that worked in the world and persona he was creating. With this one, Perfume Genius expanded the palette, and the music only got better because of it.
It’s still as painful and sad as ever, but the piano gives way to a full band and the themes move from intensely personal to personally relatable. It’s a powerful, catchy singalong about not being able to be yourself around the one you love. The fact that someone can make a song like that is a triumph in itself, and we are so happy it exists.
4. Nicolas Jaar – “And I Say”
This was a surprising combination to kick off the year with. Few anticipated to hear featured vocals from Scout LaRue (the daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis) on anything, let alone this foggy, minimalist-jazz drenched tune from American-Chilean producer, Nicolas Jaar. LaRue certainly sounds comfortable as she delivers one seductive line after the other over a bass thump, fluttering saxophone and set of hand drums. It’s a playfully flirty record, one which further demonstrates Jaar’s ever-expanding potential.
3. Purity Ring – “Odebear”
Describing Purity Ring as an “exciting new band” feels like an understatement. We haven’t been this excited for a debut in a long time, and just when bets were being hedged – they had only released three songs before this one, after all – they came out with “Obedear.” How a song creates a dystopian feel so well while still essentially being a singalong pop track is beyond our comprehension, but we still think the catchiest chorus of the year so far might just be about the sky being low. Purity Ring have created an entirely new formula, and it’s the one we’re most excited to hear more of.
2. Kendrick Lamar ft. Gunplay – “Cartoons & Cereal”
Album: good kid, m.A.A.d. city
How did Kendrick Lamar make a 7-minute, oddly structured rap song with a Gunplay feature into one of the best of the year? Just listen to “Cartoons & Cereal.” It’s well understood that Kendrick is one of the most technically skilled out of the new class of MCs, but he’s also one of the most creative, able to wrap his head around big concepts and to incorporate artistic integrity into pretty much everything he does. “C & C” isn’t his most accessible song to date, but his willingness to stray off the beaten path paid off, and it resulted in the best rap song of the year, so far.
1. Fiona Apple – “Every Single Night”
Album: The Idler Wheel…
We may not have even realized it, but we needed Fiona Apple. The world of music lacked that female voice that was both larger-than-life and incredibly human. With so many pop stars, personalities, and characters, Fiona has managed to cut right through the bullshit (and this world is bullshit, don’t forget it) and bring something raw, sharp, poetic, and much-needed in the trend-obsessed, internet-y atmosphere of 2012. “Every Single Night” is powerful enough to crack you open and spill you out, and no other song has had that strong of an impact this year… at least not yet.