Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Top 250 Singles of 2012

Here is my annual singles list. I've included a Spotify playlist which I hope you'll enjoy. For tracks that you can't find on there, I put an asterisk (*) next to it just so you don't miss anything and can look elsewhere on the Internet. Keep an eye out for my best films list in February.

1. Xenia Rubinos - Hair Receding

Since I started getting intensely into music during the mid '90s, I've always been attracted to eclecticism in my songs. Getting a daily dose of Beck, Cibo Matto and various others will do that to your tastes. "Hair Receding" doesn't have any of the quirkiness or irony often associated with alternative acts from that decade, but its willingness to mesh genres is just as enthusiastic. One moment it's free jazz, then the next it employs an American dubstep break and Rubinos makes the whole mixture even more off-kilter with a folk-styled vocal approach. As dizzying as that all is, Rubinos essentially pours her entire soul over the track, giving the song a stronger than expected heart, especially when her voice ascends during the bridge. That emotional lift is a huge part of what keeps me coming back. The pieces here come from familiar places, but the combination forms a sound that's truly original.

2. M.I.A. - Bad Girls

This is the kind of accessible sound that newer M.I.A. fans were hoping for. The follow-up to her breakthough album, Kala—which contained the crossover hit, "Paper Planes"—was still enjoyable in my opinion, but turned out to be intentionally abrasive so as to distance herself from her hook-laden smash and to prevent becoming the soundtrack in a million malls. On "Bad Girls," M.I.A. managed to strike a balance between the global sounds that defined her ever since she arrived in 2005 and the expectations that come with being a worldwide star. It's fun without sounding like anything else that is on the radio and feminist enough for M.I.A. to feel like she's not abandoning her politics. I'm willing to bet big money that Timbaland and Missy Elliott are kicking themselves for not creating this song first.

3. Big K.R.I.T. - Boobie Miles

The inspirational message at the center of "Boobie Miles" is very simple: stay ambitious and be the best you can be. I'm at a point in my life where that's particularly relevant and like a lot of my favorite songs when I was younger, I could relate to it on a personal level. Often times when it comes to art, I'm more concerned with how it's about it instead of what's it about. I simply don't need to be convinced any more of something I already believe in. Big K.R.I.T.'s approach is sincere and soulful enough to overcome any cynicism I have about being told what I already feel. It's no secret that he's a student at the school of Outkast, Scarface and UGK, but what I love most about him in general, and what he also brought to "Boobie Miles," is the expressive, contemplative qualities of Dirty South music that he puts an emphasis on, a side of the genre that often gets overlooked. You know that smarter people in the world exist, but when you get a track as touching as "Git Up, Git Out," "Smile" or "Boobie Miles," you feel as if you're getting the best advice ever.

4. Willis Earl Beal - Monotony

Each guitar strum, as rudimentary as it may be played, feels fragile, as if the strings were going to collapse any second from despair. The simplicity of it all cuts straight to the core and invites you into a small, enclosed space where only you and Willis Earl Beal are allowed. In this space, you're face to face with despondency in all its stripped-down dullness and there's no escape. You're watching a soul reveal every strand and fiber of its existence with nothing left to hide. Above all, you're watching vulnerability in corporeal form.

5. Neneh Cherry & The Thing - Dream Baby Dream

Neneh Cherry has only made a few sporadic appearances over the years, which can be frustrating in an era where we expect new product from our favorite artists every couple of years. All is forgiven though when the results are as sublime as this cover of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream." Over the course of her career, Cherry has been adept at the role of chameleon and this collaboration with avant-garde jazz band The Thing is no different. It was as if she was meant to rise up out of the nightclubs and ascend to the clouds to create music for the deeper stages of REM. "Dream Baby Dream" is a near nine-munute exercise in floating without the help of narcotics.

6. BJ The Chicago Kid feat. Kendrick Lamar - His Pain II

It's been quite the year for Kendrick Lamar, but for me, his best performance was on this track from Pineapple Now-Laters. He sounded nothing like his usual self, but more like a man who was on the verge of bursting into tears. In this sense, it's very reminiscent of Ghostface at his most mournful and thoughtful—who has often sounded on the verge of breaking down on his songs—but there is no room for the humor or showy details that he usually manages to sneak in on "His Pain II." There are just too many gaps and hiccups in Lamar's delivery, which is genius in execution and also begs the question what dark places he had to go to in order for it all to sound so effective. Over a ruminant piano loop that plays throughout, both K. Dot and BJ The Chicago Kid display a level of anguish that can be responded to only by silence once the song is over.

7. Yuna - Live Your Life

Few things excite me more in the world of music than the idea of Pharrell Williams working with a female artist. The results usually turn out fantastic (Kelis, Latrelle, Solange, just to name a few) and when I look at a list of some of my favorite songs, that combination has reared its head on a few occasions. Maybe I was predestined to adore Yuna's "Live Your Life" before I even heard it. I distinctly remember rushing to check it out solely for the fact that Pharrell was involved and the artist's named sounded feminine. It's one of the ugly, subjective corners of fandom that some people refuse to admit to when your mind has already been made up. The familiar Neptunes trademarks were there: warm keys and a gliding 4/4 beat—but the addition of Yuna to the mix brought a new dimension to territory that would usually be reserved for R&B and pop singers. "Live Your Life" stayed at a tranquil level for its duration, just to make sure that the idea of spending your time here on Earth with no fear didn't escape you and seeped into your subconscious. There's no need for a bridge or a breakdown where her vocals soar, because you'll simply be lulled steadily into the song and its message. Yep. I had no choice but to fall in love with this song.

8. King L - Val Venis

One of my favorite flows in hip hop right now belongs to King L, formerly known as King Louie, who cracked the top 20 on my singles list last year. It's this weird place between Southern nonchalance, Midwestern nimbleness and East Coast finesse. "I'm the man/little do they know" went the chorus, and when held up to the rest of the song, it's not a boast but an accurate statement. King L manifested cool on "Val Venis" with a dexterity that was as precise as it was laid-back, which is practically the definition of cool by making the difficult look easy. On this track, produced with sub-woofer abusing authority by C-Sick, you can actually hear the growth that King L has made from his mixtapes. All of his influences were exhibited here in a tightly compressed package that hinted at the heights he could reach.

9. Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX - I Love It

The 2012 theme song for IDGAF-affected kids was provided by a Swedish pop duo at their most brash. By taking the loudest and most likable traits of trash pop and removing everything obnoxious about it, Icona Pop was able to deliver one of the year's most intense and charismatic joyrides. The bratty nature of the song inevitably led to it being so catchy, because honestly, how could two girls screaming "I don't care!" over an explosive rave beat not get your fists pumping? If you needed to create an instant party, you'd look no further than "I Love It."

10. Jessie Ware - 110%*

This seductive slice of robo-samba was the high point of Devotion, my #1 album of 2012. Ware's voice has a strong alluring power where even the slightest coo can provoke titillation. When she sings of keeping the dancefloor warm as she dances by herself, I imagine her presence alone being enough to keep the temperature high. It's believable for me because everything about this track screams warmth, from the lush electronic production to the passion provided by Ware. It's the kind of song you soak yourself in instead of just listening.

11. Kendrick Lamar feat. Dr. Dre - The Recipe
Embodies the '90s West Coast aesthetic without feeling like a retro track.
12. Thundercat - Walkin'
Two minutes and six seconds of smoothed-out, rubbery bliss.
13. Jessie Ware - Wildest Moments*
Understated in mood, epic in scope.
14. A$AP Rocky - Goldie
Incredibly addictive, smoked-out slapper.
15. Frank Ocean - Sweet Life
Arguably the best song was indeed a single.
16. Carly Rae Jepsen - Call Me Maybe
As catchy a diary entry that 2012 saw.
17. La Sera - Please Be My Third Eye
Fuzzy indie pop that would probably be perfect for driving down the road with the wind whipping your face.
18. Leah LaBelle - Sexify
Another winner produced by Pharrell that doesn't skimp on the fun or naughtiness.
19. Hospitality - Friends of Friends
Could easily be mistaken for a great obscure Scottish indie track from the early '00s if the accent wasn't so clearly American.
20. Solange - Losing You
It's like an '80s dance party held in the jungle with the blessing of Lionel Richie.
21. Frank Ocean - Pyramids
The midnight hour took Frank's woman and won't let her go.
22. Sleigh Bells - Comeback Kid
If they end up being the go-to band for ad agencies for the next five years, I will not be upset.
23. Ne-Yo - Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself)
Provides the main thing that is missing from the Euro-house trend in pop: emotion.
24. Nas - Daughters
Grown men rap. This is what an MC reaching 40 should aspire to.
25. Beck - I Only Have Eyes For You*
Two decades into his career, he delivered his best vocal performance.
26. Kanye West feat. Pusha T, Big Sean and 2 Chainz - Mercy
Responsible for making the club sound devious and 2 Chainz's best verse of the year.
27. Beyoncé - End Of Time
I wouldn't mind seeing Bey take on more MJ stylings like this.
28. Wynter Gordon - Still Getting Younger
Some mighty damn fine pleading on the chorus.
29. Purity Ring  - Fineshrine
Indie approach to R&B with a hazy filter.
30. Gorillaz feat. Andre 3000 & James Murphy - DoYaThing*
Sounds like the perfect combination of all three parties involved. Check out the 13-minute version for extra insanity.
31. The Mynabirds - Generals
The kind of grimy riff that makes you and everyone else pound on the bar in unison.
32. AlunaGeorge - Your Drums, Your Love
Velvety electro R&B with a heavy dose of yearning.
33. Justice - On'n'on
There are times when I don't want the wordless chorus to end, probably because it reminds of an old TV theme song.
34. fun. feat. Janelle Monáe - We Are Young
Bright-eyed and openhearted with a feeling of invincibilty. Should be an arena anthem for years to come.
35. Ice Choir - I Want You Now And Always
New Romantic longing that wouldn't have been out of place in MTV's rotation circa 1983.
36. Smash Cast feat. Megan Hilton and Katharine McPhee - Let Me Be Your Star
High-caliber Broadway panache for the dreamer in you.
37. Fiona Apple - Every Other Night
Minimal Fiona can be just as good as Lush Fiona, so I learned this year.
38. Kylie Minogue - Timebomb
Let this woman bring you back to life and everything will okay. She's done this sort of thing before.
39. Monica & Brandy - It All Belongs To Me
Men of the world, we clearly need to be scumbags more often if we wamt our '90s R&B divas to record impassioned songs with sass.
40. Sleigh Bells - Born To Lose
Sounds like a feedback-drenched carnival that may or may not include scary clowns.
41. Dirty Projectors - Gun Has No Trigger
Those harmonies seem to always catch me by surprise because logic says they shouldn't fit, but they're always welcome.
42. Miguel - Adorn
Excuse me as I make my way round second base and head to third.
43. Jeremih feat. Marcus French - Keep It Moving*
A slowed-down "Electric Relaxation" sample made this one of the smoothest R&B cuts of the year.
44. Steve Aoki feat. LMFAO & Nervo - Livin' My Love
Some people might say that this is annoying, and I would tell them that they hate fun.
45. Nas feat. Amy Winehouse - Cherry Wine
Salaam Remi brings back some of that winning Frank magic.
46. The Flaming Lips feat. Erykah Badu - First Time Ever I Saw Your Face*
Beautiful in its imperfections and the audacity to warp a well-loved classic into blissful oblivion.
47. Esthero - Over
Keep this one queued up for your next break-up.
48. Flo Rida feat. Sia - Wild Ones
I don't care who it's by. I could care less that it sticks so closely to trends. All I know is that I feel alive whenever I hear this being played loudly and I want to wave my hands back and forth.
49. Cookie Duster - Two Feet Stand Up
I couldn't stop smiling the first time I heard this. Now I'm starting to think it's because it reminds me so much of 1994.
50. Miguel - Do You....
Mocks cliches in a waft of smoke.
51. Melody's Echo Chamber - I Follow You
What Tame Impala might sound like they if took up residency at a lounge.
52. Killer Mike - Reagan
Hate to be such an old grump, but we used to get controversial, politically minded hip hop like this on a regular basis in the '90s. This gave me Cube and Geto Boys flashbacks.
53. Elle Varner - I Don't Care
I'm in love with the slight rasp in her voice, especially when she lets loose Mary J. style.
54. Young Jeezy feat. Jay-Z, and Andre 3000 - I Do
When I think of "love & hip hop" in 2012, this song is the first thing that comes to mind. I'm aware that was judgmental and I don't care.
55. AVAN LAVA - It's Never Over
Would have fit in nicely with the Scandinavian R&B/pop movement in the mid '00s with the likes of Junior Senior and Private. Funky and carefree.
56. Frank Ocean - Thinkin' Bout You
Falsetto of the year.
57. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Thuggin'
Perfect easygoing beat for the nonchalant hoodlum in us all.
58. Todd Terje - Inspector Norse
21st century disco for the intellectuals.
59. PSY - Gangnam Style
Wouldn't have even cracked my list unless I heard it without the visual aid of the zany video and saw the effect it had on a crowd on people. When the pre-chorus hit for the first time, I had an epiphany.
60. Teyana Taylor feat. Wale - Make Your Move*
When will someone realize that her best songs are the ones that display the most attitude? Explore this, A&Rs of the world.
61. Jack White - Love Interruption
Sly painful imagery that sounds like a countryside lullaby.
62. Quakers feat. Oh No - Fitta Happier
This explosive marching band sample of Radiohead's "The National Anthem" makes you wonder why no one thought to rhyme over it before.
63. St. Vincent - Krokodil*
Annie Get Your Naked Raygun.
64. Joey Bada$$ - Waves
Let the Golden Age return.
65. Sky Ferreira - Everything Is Embarrassing
I thought she was killing the pop game with "One" and "Red Lips," but this new level of depth is something to behold.
66. The 2 Bears - Warm & Easy
Just about the slinkiest and sexiest thing once the verse kicks in.
67. Usher - Climax
The most dramatic production Usher has ever worked with to date.
68. Javiera Mena - Luz de Piedra de Luna
Yes, it's South American house music. Of course part of the percussion includes timbales. No, it won't matter at all that you know it's coming.
69. Die Antwoord - I Fink U Freeky
Abrasive, aggravating club banger.
70. Haim - Forever
If Madonna were a 22 year-old hipster in the year 2012, it might sound something like this.
71. Opossom - Blue Meanies
Psych-rock that you can surf to.
72. Justin Bieber feat. Nicki Minaj - Beauty And A Beat
In just a few short years, you've gone from putting your hands on the shoulder of your date at the school dance to placing them on her hips.
73. Big Sean, Kanye West & Jay-Z - Clique
This beat is amazingly sinister. I feel like I would be doing it a disservice if I didn't listen to it while wearing all black.
74. Slow Club - Beginners
Twee-affected indie pop with one of my favorite guitar tones of the year.
75. Gunplay - Jump Out*
Gun shots + heavy beat x Tazmanian Devil = this song.
76. Norah Jones - Happy Pills
Ten years on and she's actually become progressively more interesting. The production for this record is dipped in a sepia tone.
77. Demi Lovato - Give Your Heart A Break
Don't let the bursts of sunshine fool you: Demi's got a bit of bite.
78. KW Griff feat. Pork Chop - Bring In The Katz
I feel like my life won't be complete until I shout out this chorus in public.
79. First Aid Kit - Emmylou
Probably one of the sweetest and charming love songs I've heard in a few years.
80. Teresa Jenee - Ode To October*
Jazzy infatuation with autumn that's so loving it would make summer turn green.
81. Zebra Katz feat. Njena Reddd Foxxx - Ima Read
Makes me want to do nothing but put my hands up in the air on the dancefloor and grind on a nubile young woman while I say "Aw damn! Class is in session!"
82. Japandroids - The House That Heaven Built
Raise those fists till your arms become sore. Shout until your vocal chords strain and you go hoarse.
83. Laetitia Sadier - Find Me The Pulse Of The Universe*
Euro bossa nova or what Stereolab would sound like if they went to the beach.
84. Saint Etienne - Answer Song
If you weren't aware, they still have the ability to crank out some ridiculously gorgeous pop music.
85. Slowdance - Boyfriend
Sounds like first love on the boardwalk as the sun is setting.
86. Smashing Pumpkins - Panopticon
It was rousing guitar rock like this that made them my favorite band in the 8th grade.
87. CHVRCHES - The Mother We Share
Synth-pop warm enough to make chocolate fondue in.
88. Justin Bieber - Die In Your Arms
Granted, my exposure to The Biebs has been limited, but the way that harpsichord banged gained all kinds of points with me.
89. Alabama Shakes - Hold On
It's Brittany, bitch.
90. Santigold - Disparate Youth
The soundtrack for two lovers that have just survived the apocalypse.
91. Cloud Nothings - Stay Useless
Husker Deux.
92. Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas - Young, Dumb and Drunk*
Dust, a dim moonlight and a jug full of heartache.
93. tUnE-yArDs - My Country
First song in a long time that's made me want to do nothing but skip.
94. Crocodiles - Endless Flowers
Buzzing dream pop steeped in leather jackets and hormones.
95. Eux Autres - Home Tonight
Jangly and bittersweet.
96. Eric Church - Springsteen
Teenage love and a pickup truck.
97. Sonnymoon - Nothing Thought
Sounds like a '98 version of Esthero after a downing a bottle of wine under a red light bulb.
98. THEESatisfaction - Queens
I love this groove too much to funk with it, ladies Sorry for the misunderstanding.
99. OMG Girlz - Where The Boys At?
Colorful teen pop with swagger to spare.
100. Twin Shadow - Five Seconds
New wave that's nocturnal enough to send Robert Smith into a fit of envy.

101. Purity Ring - Obedear
102. DIIV - How Long Have You Known
103. Dawn Richard - Bombs
104. Jay-Z & Kanye West feat. Frank Ocean - No Church In The Wild
105. MNDR - #1 In Heaven
106. Melody's Echo Chamber - Crystallized
107. Rhye - The Fall
108. Black Bananas - TV Trouble*
109. MS MR - Hurricane
110. Wildcat! Wildcat! - End Of The World Everyday*
111. Sundress - California Dames
112. Tomas Barford feat. Nina Kanert - November Skies
113. Kendra Morris - Pow
114. Nelly Furtado - Parking Lot
115. Antibalas - Sare Kon Kon
116. Little Jackie - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
117. Chief Keef - Love Sosa
118. Echo Lake - Wild Peace
119. Tanlines - Brothers
120. Beach House - Myth
121. No Doubt - Push and Shove
122. Huxley - Let It Go
123. Poppy & The Jezebels - Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out
124. Eleanor Friedberger - Heaven
125. Kitty Pryde - Okay Cupid
126. Cadence Weapon - Conditioning
127. Stars - Backlines
128. Taken By Trees - Dreams
129. Chief Keef feat. Lil' Reese - I Don't Like
130. Zeus - Are You Gonna Waste My Time?
131. Taylor Swift - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
132. Sky Ferreira - Red Lips
133. Alison Valentine - Peanut Butter (& Moon Boots Remix)*
134. Lianne La Havas - Is Your Love Big Enough?
135. The-Dream feat. Pusha T - Dope Bitch
136. MNDR - Faster Horses
137. Best Coast - The Only Place
138. Schoolboy Q feat. A$AP Rocky - Hands On The Wheel
139. A*M*E - Play The Game Boy*
140. MGK feat. Waka Flocka Flame - Wild Boy
141. St. Vincent - Cheerleader
142. Divine Fits - Would That Not Be Nice
143. Doe Paoro - Can't Leave You
144. Dirty Projectors - About To Die
145. Ceu - Retrovisor
146. Baauer - Harlem Shake
147. Dent May - Best Friend
148. Ca$h Out - Cashin' Out
149. Chairlift - I Belong In Your Arms
150. Dawn Richard - Faith
151. Y.N. RichKids - Hot Cheetos & Takis
152. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Mary Lambert - Same Love
153. Mr. Little Jeans - Runaway
154. Nadia Oh - Slapper (Ayye)
155. Meek Mill feat. Drake & Jeremih - Amen
156. Rustie feat. AlunaGeorge - After Light
157. Julia Holter - In The Same Room
158. Skream feat. Kelis - Copycat*
159. Future - Turn On The Lights
160. Frankie Rose - Interstellar
161. Beak> - Mono
162. The-Dream - Used To Be
163. Little Big Town - Pontoon
164. Goldfrapp - Melancholy Sky
165. Tame Impala - Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
166. Echo Lake - Even The Blind
167. Puro Instinct - Dream Lover*
168. Azealia Banks & Machinedrum - NEEDSUMLUV*
169. Crystal Castles - Plague
170. Allo Darlin' - Capricornia
171. B.o.B. feat. Andre 3000 - Play The Guitar
172. Arctic Monkeys - Black Treacle
173. Ellie Goulding - Anything Could Happen
174. Angel Haze - Cleanin' Out My Closet*
175. Bat For Lashes - Laura
176. Angel Haze - New York
177. R. Kelly - Share My Love
178. Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen - Good Time
179. Frank + Derol - Barely Love You Too
180. Cassie - King Of Hearts
181. Daley feat. Marsha Ambrosisus - Alone Together
182. Westkust - Touch
183. Frank Ocean - Lost
184. AlunaGeorge - Just A Touch
185. Phillip Phillips - Home
186. Jaden Smith - The Coolest*
187. Carly Rae Jepsen - This Kiss
188. Marina and The Diamonds - Primadonna
189. FIDLAR - Cheap Beer
190. Aaliyah feat. Drake - Enough Said*
191. Bat For Lashes - Marilyn
192. Beach House - Wild
193. Rita Ora - How We Do (Party)
194. Slow Club - The Dog
195. Passion Pit - Constant Conversations
196. Smash Cast - History Is Made At Night
197. Sonnymoon - Kali
198. Diggy feat. Jeremih - Do It Like You
199. Chromatics - Lady
200. Sonnymoon - Just Before Dawn
201. Big Boi - She Said OK
202. Amanda Mair - House
203. Evy Jane - Sayso
204. Dawn Richard - 86
205. ERAAS - Fangs
206. Lianne La Havas - Forget
207. Kendrick Lamar - Swimming Pools (Drank)
208. Jeremih - 773 Love
209. Mannie Fresh - Heal The World*
210. The Lumineers-Ho Hey
211. Still Corners - Fireflies*
212. Jhene Aiko - 3:16 A.M.
213. Animal Collective - Honeycomb
214. Cher Lloyd - Want U Back
215. The-Dream feat. Casha - Kill The Lights*
216. Taylor Swift feat. The Civil Wars - Safe & Sound
217. Fiona Apple - Werewolf
218. Chiddy Bang - Ray Charles
219. Steve Aoki feat. Wynter Gordon-Ladi Dadi
220. SWV - Co-sign
221. Catcall - The World Is Ours
222. Tyga - Rack City
223. Smash Cast - The National Pastime
224. Big Boi feat. UGK & Big K.R.I.T. - Gossip
225. Juicy J feat. Lil' Wayne & 2 Chainz - Bandz A Make Her Dance
226. Scissor Sisters Vs. Krystal Pepsy - Shady Love
227. Drake feat. Rihanna - Take Care
228. Anna Lunoe & Touch Sensitive - Real Talk
229. Kathleen Edwards - Change the Sheets
230. Danny Brown - Grown Up
231. Charli XCX - You're The One
232. Emika - 3 Hours
233. No Doubt - Settle Down
234. AlunaGeorge - You Know You Like It
235. Gotye feat. Kimbra - Somebody I Used To Know
236. Stars - Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It
237. The Wanted - Glad You Came
238. Kids These Days - Doo-Wah*
239. Schoolboy Q feat. Kendrick Lamar - Blessed
240. Dawn Richard - Black Lipstick
241. Cold Cave - Believe In My Blood*
242. Avicii - Silhouettes
243. Trailer Trash Tracys - You Wish You Were Red
244. Teresa Jenee - Electric Yellow*
245. Flo Rida - Whistle
246. Elle Varner - Refill
247. Cate Le Bon - Puts Me To Work
248. Galactic feat. Mystikal & Mannie Fresh - Move Fast
249. Emmy The Great - God Of Loneliness
250. Alicia Keys - Girl On Fire

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