Here it is, friends. My Top 10 Songs of 2012. I’m so intensely excited to be telling you all about these tracks that meant so much to me this past year. I like to think that these songs encompass the full spectrum of emotions and beauty that I felt over the course of 2012, which was arguably the most difficult year of my adult life so far. So many people I know that died, so many that got married, so many that got sick, and so many that lost (and later found) jobs. It was a whirlwind of happiness, sadness, celebration and grief. At the start of every year, I consciously hope that everything will turn out for the best, and that it will be 12 months of a joyful high. That’s what we all want in our lives – a pure sense of contentedness. But as many will tell you, the highs seem that much higher when you’ve also experienced your fair share of lows. While I’m looking back on 2012 with a sense of disappointment and regret, the lights are most definitely burning brighter for 2013. With that belief and that hope, let me tell you in greater detail about 10 songs that held me close in the bad times, brought me higher in the good times, and made me feel like a champion even as my world was crumbling around me. These are my Top 10 Songs of 2012.

10. Beach House – Myth
There isn’t really anything about “Myth” that would cause you to mistake it for a song by another band. No, this is quintessential Beach House, and they’ve been making songs like this years before 2012 came around. They’ve just never done it quite so perfectly before now. Whereas 2010’s Teen Dream marked an entry into stadium-sized dream pop for the band, somehow this song takes it even bigger and better. The devil is in the details, and an aching echo here or an effervescent glow there does so much more than you might expect it to. “What comes after this momentary bliss?” Victoria Legrand asks at one point in the song. That’s the same question I ask myself after listening to “Myth.”
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9. Fiona Apple – Anything We Want
At its heart, this song is about the desire for connection with another human being. The “storyline” centers around Apple trying to elicit some sort of response from a lover as she subtly tries to seduce him. Her hope is that once they do finally hit that same wavelength, the clouds will open up and the world will be their oyster. The way she sings the chorus of “And then / we can / do anything / we want” with those light pauses in between hints at an excitedness but also an uncertainty of what “anything” might imply. Sometimes you just need to take that emotional leap and hope for the best on the other side.
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8. Grizzly Bear – Yet Again
Grizzly Bear are well described as a meek band, sounding best in the most pastoral of settings and the quietest of moments. They are a Sunday morning cup of coffee on the porch as you watch two squirrels run around the lawn. On occasion though, they try to go big, bold and more anthemic. “Yet Again” provides a great example of that, crashing out of the gate like a horse in mid-stride, paired against the dreamy yet irrevocably calm vocal of Ed Droste. Towards the end there is a build up of intensity before the track comes crashing in on itself and collapses under the weight. Rarely has listening to this band been more satisfying.
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7. Bat for Lashes – Laura
A somber piano ballad such as this is really nothing new for Natasha Kahn aka Bat for Lashes. What makes the song so compelling then are two different elements. The first is Khan’s vocals, which are characteristically infused with such intense emotion and empathy for Laura that you can feel it in your bones. I’d argue that this is the most emotionally intense vocal of the year. But the song also gets us interested in the life of Laura, who we’re told is “more than a superstar.” For all the grand success and popularity that Laura has going for her, apparently Laura has become a shell of a person – a name in a tabloid newspaper rather than a human being with real emotion. At its heart, this track is about the objectifying of celebrity, and how we should look for the living, breathing person underneath the glittering lights and silver screen.
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6. Azealia Banks – 212
Of the many great hip hop records that came out in 2012, the single best track I heard out of all of them didn’t appear on a record at all. Well, at least not on a full length record. While “212” was a self-released single that many heard in the fall of 2011, it’s official release came as part of the 1991 EP this past summer. Still, in that gestation period a crazy amount of anticipation built up as people began to hail Azealia Banks as one of hip hop’s next superstars. We’ll have to wait until early 2013 to hear what she can do with her debut album (it was pushed back from a fall 2012 release), but “212” is the freshest and most exciting hip hop track I’ve heard in a long while. She transitions between characters in the blink of an eye, sometimes sings, sometimes yelps, sometimes spits and gets shockingly vulgar without making a big deal out of it. She shuts down the haters and made an extremely impressive club-ready track at the same time. If even part of her album is as good as this, we’re in for a real treat next year.
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5. Tame Impala – Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
Picking a favorite track from Tame Impala’s Lonerism is a lot like picking your favorite Beatle. The choice is likely to fluctuate based on the particular day and your own mood. Why “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” is my particular choice for this list is relatively simple – I think it distills Tame Impala’s best qualities into a single track. On an initial pass through the song, you’ll likely be hooked right away thanks to the almost incessant number of times the hook is repeated. Sing-alongs are easier than pie. But outside of the track’s easy repeat value comes the secrets that lie beneath its surface. Listen closely to how the instruments function in the context of the song. Notice how the bass line veers off in a bunch of different directions or how there are small little differences in piano or drums with each passage of the chorus. How Kevin Parker put it all together is a mystery to me, but the guy must have an extremely sensitive ear to make something so complicated sound like one of the most charming and easygoing tracks of 2012.
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4. Frank Ocean – Pyramids
If you want to hear the most complex and challenging song that 2012 had to offer, look no further than “Pyramids.” The nearly 10 minute journey takes you from the ancient sands of Egypt and the era of Cleopatra to the modern day sleazefest that is a strip club. Somehow it’s also able to transition from a club-ready dance track into a synth-laden R&B ballad without calling attention to itself or coming off as awkward of clumsy. Throw in some vocal effects, a slice of AutoTune, and a John Mayer guitar solo at the end, and it’s a mid-record centerpiece that takes Channel Orange to even greater heights than what came before it.
[Spotify] [MP3] [Soundcloud] [YouTube]

3. Icona Pop – I Love It
It was the middle of spring the first time I heard “I Love It,” and for me the title said it all. Very few pop songs click with me so rapidly, have lyrics that are so memorable and a melody that’s just insanely fun. So is the video, which is exactly how I envision the song succeeding at clubs around the world. I don’t go into enough clubs to know if it was being played all the time this past summer, but I thought the track was destined for Top 40 radio popularity and future world tours opening for Lady Gaga or someone similar. Your familiarity with the song may be a good indicator of how well it actually did, because the only time I heard it in mainstream culture all year was in the trailer for a terrible movie. Just because much of the world didn’t grasp onto what I feel is one of the best pop songs of 2012 doesn’t mean I didn’t treat it as such. This was my song of the summer, and the fact that I’m still not tired of it after excessive replays I think proves its worth as a great track worthy of your time, in no small part thanks to the also-great talents of Ms. Charli XCX who played an essential role in bringing this song to life.
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2. Grimes – Oblivion
If you talked about music with me for any reasonable length of time this past year, or even read my site enough, I think you’re aware of my affinity for Grimes. I think that Claire Boucher is the next generation of pop star – pop 2.0 if you will – and her DIY aesthetic and latest record Visions is filled with so much evidence to help prove that. It’s no wonder she was the most blogged about artist in 2012. Of the many great songs that album, her rise truly started thanks to “Oblivion,” a track that I think best displays her multi-faceted, future-leaning talents. The vocal overlays, the echo effects, the wobbly synths, and that plinking piano solo all create a unique melody that comes off like The Knife gone mainstream pop. It goes through transitions without losing its shape, and harbors a secret darkness beneath its glossy, hyperactive and rather addictive surface. If only all pop music was this smart and complex.
[Spotify] [MP3] [Soundcloud] [YouTube]

1. Japandroids – The House That Heaven Built
One of the greatest things about Japandroids is that they make pure rock music that strives to be life-affirming and positive. Sure, dealing with other people and relationships can be complicated and difficult sometimes, but we shouldn’t let that get in the way of trying to get the most out of the time we have on this planet. Unlikely though it seems, if the world were to end on December 21st, would you feel good about what you’ve accomplished in your life up until this point? One of the best parts about being human is our constant desire to better ourselves and strive for perfection. It is an endless and sometimes fruitless pursuit, yet like a moth to a flame, we can’t help but continue to move towards it. Hope is the driving force in our world, to the point where even Presidents have been elected for running on that platform. When we don’t believe in ourselves, we place our hope and faith in others to do the right thing and try to make the world a better place because it functions as part of the greater good. Sometimes we’re looking for a savior, because we’re in desperate need of saving. It is with those thoughts that I submit “The House That Heaven Built” as the best song of 2012. This is a song that is a battering ram of emotion, charging through your ears like lightning in the middle of a hurricane. It is a life perserver for the drowning, and extra fuel for the already motivated. The lyrics suggest that one day we will all be kings, and the world will kneel before us to worship at our feet. “When they love you and they will / Tell them all they’ll love in my shadow / And if they try to slow you down / Tell them all to go to hell,” are the lines that form the chorus of this rock and roll anthem. Crowds already shout those lyrics at the top of their lungs at every Japandroids show, and they will continue to do so for the rest of the band’s history. They don’t do it because the words are easy to remember or because of the sheer force and energy that Brian King and David Prowse expel on stage. No, they do it out of the most earnest belief that a song can save your life if you let it. I like to think that’s the reason music exists in the first place.
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For more of The Top 50 Songs of 2012, please check out the following posts:
The Runners Up: Songs #100-51
Spotify playlist featuring The Top 50 Songs of 2012