If pressed for an album of the year for 2012, I couldn’t give you one. Singles dominated the day, and a change in career and daily schedule meant I couldn’t find the right way to dig into entire albums. That meant finding few outstanding songs on my own, and relying on reviews, podcasts and friends to cull the best of what was presented in 2012. Still, there’s enough for everyone to share:
“Parted Ways” by Heartless Bastards
So straight-ahead rock as to invoke the tired truism of a band on the road, “Parted Ways” re-finds the reasons that such inspiration could be so fruitful. Great guitar work and handclap undercurrents infuse the plaintive vocals with such energy that the whole thing bursts beautifully at the 3:30 mark. It should be noted that the official video is terrible, which is especially disappointed given the evocative video treatment for “Only For You,” another great cut from Arrow.
“Silence” by The Ting Tings
If you wanted to write off The Ting Tings, you would say that the band combined some catchy electropop backings with enough bratty vocals to work on something as great as “That’s Not My Name,” and little else. But “Silence” makes such a reduction seem so very stupid. They put a wall of sound together piece by piece, and the patience pays off with a moment of pure ecstasy. It’s as if the Ting Tings are an animated band, reminiscent of Josie and the Pussycats. And at the 1:45 minute mark, the camera pans to the skies and the Buddy Christ of Dogma fame joins in on heavenly synthesizers.
“Grew Up At Midnight” by The Maccabees
Maybe it was exposure to Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” at an early age, but I’m a sucker for delicate songs building to crescendos that belie such soft beginnings. This song is relentlessly nostalgic, unrepentantly precious, and it works for every moment. The same cannot be said for the rest of the album, but we’ll always have “Grew Up At Midnight.”
“Simple Song” by The Shins
A cursory glance at end-of-year lists didn’t include many mentions of The Shins’ latest album. It could be legitimate opinion of quality, the lack of recency for a February release or that Shins fans have outgrown their initial fans while the new generation gags on any tangential reference to Garden State. But they’re missing out on an expertly crafted single, at the least. The squiggly guitar(?) line hidden behind James Mercer’s vocals really makes the song, as it adds a bit of dissonance to such polished surroundings.
“White to Red” by Fenster
“Restraint” would be the key word for this song, with “evocative” close behind. The simple melody burrows into your head, where the haunting vocals and tambourine-laden can really do their damage. I especially appreciate the unique ways the backing vocals complement the song when any rogue element could threaten the established fragility. An astute music supervisor in television or film could really crank up the creep with this as a soundtrack.
“The World is Watching” by Two Door Cinema Club
The version of myself from the year 2003 would have worn out this song. Then again, that version also paid good money for Travis’ 12 Memories, so he wasn’t always so trustworthy. It’s got everything a sadsack romantic could want, with nice-guy vocals hoping you won’t notice how egocentric (“You could be the one to set me free …”) the lyrics can be. And despite all that, these guys know enough to pump up the tempo just enough to make it absolutely irresistible. We can change, but only so much.
“Plumage” by Menomena
This band would have made my best of 2007 list with “Wet and Rusting,” a great song if for no other reason than the refrain, “It’s hard to take risks … with a pessimist.” “Plumage” is similar in how it bounces between the soft and the loud, and zigs when the odds clearly favor zags. Ultimately, what you think of this song depends on how you view the horn interlude halfway through the song. The rest of the song is such that it turns this potential mole into a beauty mark, capped by this lyrical gem: “I once was tragically hip and beautifully fine / Now my beautiful hips are tragically wide.”
“I Love It” by Icona Pop
That this song played on MTV’s “120 Minutes” isn’t an upset. (That someone still DVRs the show in its prime 5 a.m. Friday timeslot would be the bigger upset.) No, the surprise about this song is that I first heard it on NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast. Here I download thinking I’ll be getting the latest breathless updates on Jason Lytle’s solo career, and this song steps right up, exclaims, “You’re cute!” and proceeds to punch me in the face. It’s the cocktail Sleigh Bells continually attempts to brew, using overpowered synths to wear down your senses and reach some instinctual place that isn’t so self-conscious about such exclamations of youth and life.
“Great Love” by Vacationer
In some ways, the beat behind “Great Love” is almost as wonderfully dumb as the one in “I Love It.” It thuds along with a grandfather clock’s consistency, which allows the insistent main vocals and ethereal backing vocals to really shine. This song just edges out the Vampire Weekend-esque “Be With You” that closes the Gone album to earn the Vacationer spot on the list.
“Swaggs” by Mount Carmel
This stuff is so retro the album cover is a knockoff of the 19-freakin’-72 Topps baseball card design. This can’t be new music recorded on old equipment. Someone found these reels when digging through old shoeboxes searching for Carlton Fisk rookie cards.
“Fate” by Young Man
A quick look at the YouTube comments for this video (“Quick, don’t look directly at them lest ye lose all hope for man!”) claims this song was used on Emily Owens M.D., which sounds about right. Individual sections of the song provide the proper amount of windswept winsomeness for a CW show. But as a whole, it’s a great journey befitting the song title, with gradual changes making even the slightest shifts seem like peaks and valleys.