Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 50 Best Songs of 2012: #5-1

I want to thank everyone so much for tuning in over the course of the past ten days - your oh-so-kind feedback and mutual appreciation for these songs has made my little heart sing. As always, it's been just a blast for me to revisit some of the most incredible, thought-provoking and timeless songs of this past year - and I hope that you, like me, can use this countdown as a helpful reference in years to come when you're looking to remember the melodies that encapsulated such a fabulous year. Without further adieu - but with plenty of thoughtful calculation and surveying - here are, without a doubt, what I believe were the most incredible five songs of this past year.

Happy New Year! Wishing you all the happiness (and good tunes) that 2013 has to offer.

#5. "Fitzpleasure" - ∆ (alt-J)
After listening to alt-j's debut release An Awesome Wave, it quickly becomes obvious that not much was able to top the experimental alt-rock band's coolness in the past year - despite the fact the album was only released to North America in late September. Their dynamic blend of dub-pop, grungy guitars and unprecedentedly quirky vocals was astounding; immediately raking in critical acclaim in the form of the 2012 British Mercury Prize and BBC Radio 6's Album of the Year title. On this track, there's no way the choirboy vocal introduction can prepare you for the wild ride that begins after the drop of the first heavy, stage-rattling beat. Watch out for what this band will do.

#4. "You Ain't Alone" - Alabama Shakes
The above band crafted something almost entirely new and unparalleled, while this group of Alabaman high school pals almost accidentally built upon a golden sound from decades ago - making their Southern-caked, real blues-rock equally as intriguing and worthy of the year's spotlight. 23 year-old leading lady Brittany Howard, ingeniously channeling the vocal love child of a Janis Joplin, Robert Plant and Otis Redding m√©nage √† trois, came out of nowhere along with her modest, old soul band mates - spitting whining guitar lines, tales of hope and an already legendary, guttural howl that will inevitably appear on every "best of" list from here until after the day she's left us.

#3. We Can't Be Beat - The Walkmen
Returning with their seventh album since 2000, the old boys of Manhattan's indie-rock scene are audibly at peace with maturing, and melodically managing to reach new heights. From the first upbeat chord of Heaven's title track rock ballad, their piano, pretty chord and croon-infused post-punk sound still exists - but with an inspiring dose of perspective as men who've been rockin' and rollin' for over a decade and are now incredibly accomplished family men who've laughed in the face of their music technically being "Dad-rock." If it is that, it's the best possible kind. As arguably one of the best albums of 2012, any one of Heaven's tracks could have made this list - but it's the waltzy, moonlight sway of "We Can't Be Beat" that stands alone. Hamilton Leithauser's expertly belted wise words of tested, monogamous love and the band's harmonic build-up before swooping into that unforgettable jangly finale are veteran talents that could put many of this year's young rockers right to shame.

#2. "Bad Religion" - Frank Ocean
As the breakout superstar of 2012, and one who hasn't gone without strife and suffering, 25 year-old Frank Ocean stopped the world in its tracks for a number of reasons. Whether it was coming out of nowhere to release Channel Orange - that striking compilation of eclectic R&B songs after his early career spent ghostwriting for some of the industry's biggest names - or announcing (from within a sometimes homophobic industry) that he'd fallen in love with someone of the same sex before, Christopher Breaux deserves all the glory this year's music calendar has to offer. On "Bad Religion," the piercing church organ drone under Ocean's candid and conversational confession ("Taxi driver, be my shrink for an hour/ Just outrun the demons, could you?") is an immediate snag on each listener's heartstrings - because Ocean successfully did with one song what so many artists, and human beings in general, struggle to actually do. Over the course of the 5-minute song, he tells the whole truth. On this chilling story of "unrequited love"- whether about the man he loved or God himself - Ocean brings us all to our knees.

#1. "Myth" - Beach House
The fact that any single song off dream-pop duo Beach House's best work to date could easily have made the top ten list was a signifier to me that this start-to-finish arresting album possessed the song fit for the highest spot. Baltimore's Victoria Legrand is undoubtedly the most underrated front woman of recent years; her haunting contralto vocals (the deep pitch usually convinces listeners her male band mate, Alex Scully, is in fact the lead singer) paired with the ethereal and dramatic instrumental hooks heard on Bloom, is like a psychedelic time warp. Bloom starts with "Myth," the sonic welcome mat for the rest of the album's atmospheric and soaring tracks - two handfuls of starry, multi-faceted anthems that explode with more colours, light and meaning than any of the band's previous releases. On "Myth," Legrand's dark howl floats over glowing piano chords and the eventual orchestral climax to the song, drawing you in as she convincingly aches, "What comes after this momentary bliss? The consequence of what you do to me." Bloom is exactly what the track listing does from one song to the next, and if this gorgeous album is a representation of the duo's musical progression, than Beach House is on their way to solidifying themselves as one of the greatest rock bands of their time.

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