Best and Top of Everything : Top 10 Songs of 2012

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Top 10 Songs of 2012

10. Can, “Graublau”

Back in 1969, the German art-rock quartet Can recorded the score for the forgotten movie Ein gro├čer graublauer Vogel. More than 40 years later, the band has edited it into a scalding 17-minute garage-rock suite, with the late Michael Karoli’s psychedelic guitar and Irmin Schmidt’s organ riffing battling for space against waves of shortwave-radio noise. It’s an incandescent, relentless piece and a useful reminder that extraordinary music from decades ago may be sitting unheard in an archive somewhere.



9. The Belle Brigade, “No Time to Think”

Despite its lengthy songs, Bob Dylan’s 2012 album Tempest frequently seemed less epic than simply long-winded. Or maybe its problem was just its performances: there’s often more to the master’s songs than he’s willing to offer in a recording studio. On the Amnesty International–branded tribute album Chimes of Freedom, California country-pop duo the Belle Brigade excavated this previously interminable late-’70s Dylan lyric-gush (which he’s never played live) and somehow made it riveting and gorgeous for nine straight verses.

8. Pussy Riot, “Putin Lights Up the Fires”

What do you call a punk-rock band whose members get sentenced to two years in prison camps for political protest? Badass, that’s what. This Russian feminist art collective managed to provoke the fury of President Vladimir Putin and the Orthodox Church. During a trial for three of its members, Pussy Riot released this single, an old-school punk rager with four chords and a mob of Rioters yelling even more invective at Putin. Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were convicted of “hooliganism” and are still imprisoned. It’s a human-rights travesty — and it also means that Pussy Riot have had a greater real-world political impact than any other punk band.

7. Nicki Minaj, “Roman in Moscow”

Can an artist as omnipresent as Nicki Minaj really be said to have had an off year? Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded was a No. 1 album, but it didn’t go anywhere near its predecessor’s sales. On the other hand, this gloriously deranged throwaway — a “preview” of Reloaded that she ended up leaving off the album — encapsulates what’s great about the rapper. Minaj boasts that she didn’t bother coming up with a bridge or third verse, but what she does offer includes a hilariously bizarre conceit (her psychopathic, misogynist alter ego “Roman Zolanski” riffing on the premise of Michael Jackson’s “Stranger in Moscow”), some quadruple-lutz rhymes (“bike gear,” “nightmare,” “Buzz Lightyear,” “white hair”) and the best-ever apropos-of-nothing deployment of the term camel toe.



6. Skrillex, “Bangarang”

The superstar DJ Skrillex has done for the hyperactive, bass-gorged subgenre of dubstep what nobody’s done for underground dance music in a long time: he’s given it an actual hit single. Skrillex, a.k.a. 24-year-old Sonny Moore, got the title and hook of this jittery cut-and-paste job from the movie Hook, which came out when he was 3. Might it also be a reference to Stranger Cole’s 1963 Jamaican hit? Who kn—oh my God here comes the DROP!!!

5. Parquet Courts, “Master of My Craft”


 Speaking of indie records that are deeply concerned with coolness, this New York City quartet’s debut, Light Up Gold, is exactly what one wants New York City rock ’n’ roll to sound like: attitudinal, casual, funny, trickier than it seems, a little bit mean-spirited and in a big hurry to get to the good parts. Its opening track is a swift, urgent slapdown aimed at somebody who’s a lot less likely to be a Taylor Swift type than, well, a member of Parquet Courts. “FuhGEDDaboutit!” singer-guitarist Austin Brown sneers, by way of a hook.

4. Taylor Swift, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

This is one of the all-time great vernacular pop performances. Taylor Swift tweaks the way teenage girls actually talk, with high-rising terminals, vocal fry and “like” for emphasis, until it turns into music. Her dripping sarcasm on the line about “some indie record that’s much cooler than mine” is particularly sharp, but the song’s highlight may be Swift’s deadpan, cold-eyed “what?” in the middle of the first verse. Or maybe it’s the dryly protesting-too-much “Ever” in the middle of its title.



3. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”

Like “Gangnam Style,” the way everybody was hyping this song, quoting it and parodying it for a couple of months made it seem a little oppressive. (Cookie Monster’s “Share It Maybe” on Sesame Street might have been the last straw.) The arrangement is incredible, though, with synthesized orchestral strings playing a tense pizzicato loop through the verses and stabbing around Carly Rae Jepsen’s voice like fireworks on the chorus. Jepsen is a subtly fantastic vocalist too: check out the way she spins every phoneme in the line “And all the other boys/ Try to chase me.”



2. PSY, “Gangnam Style”


Roll your eyes if you must. The fact is that 20 years from now, you’re going to remember this as the song of 2012. The YouTube meme, a good-natured, mind-bendingly catchy lampoon (in Korean!) directed at a particular neighborhood of Seoul, turned into a global obsession. Now, how many curious listeners are going to track down more K-pop and Korean hip-hop? Probably not many — but if you’re one of them, you might want to start with G-Dragon’s “Crayon” video.

1. Usher, “Climax”

It never gets to a climax itself: Usher’s magnificent performance here, which is justifiably much louder than anything else on the recording, is all tension building and no release (it starts with his 800-thread satin falsetto), and pulls back every time it seems like it’s building toward a lunge forward. You could say the same for the song itself, with its lyrics that are phrased like a seduction but are actually about a dead-end relationship. It denies its listeners the pleasure of a destination; instead, we get to focus on the thrill of where it is at every moment.