12 songs from 12

There is, of course, a huge amount of music that I consumed (what an awful word to use when we really mean “appreciated”) through 2012 that came outside of the context of albums. I gather, from The Internet, that many people in 2012 ‘consume’ most of their music this way – individual tracks, singles, remixes, mixtapes (whatever they are), and so on and so forth (I’m, of course, being disingenuously naïve here).

I don’t keep up with bite-sized chunks of music as much as I should or could – I haven’t the time or energy, partly, to keep up with the infinite array of individually great one-off tracks by any old Tom, Dick, or Harry out there – but I do get to hear some stuff, either via 6music or through saturation of opinion and discussion on Twitter or various forums. So I have heard “Gangnam Style” and “Call Me Maybe”, for instance, but I’ve heard bugger-all other big chart pop singles this year. It’d be great to have my finger on the pulse as much as I did in 2002 or 2003, but I was a decade younger then, and had considerably more time, interest, and impetus to do so.

So, once again, this list of individual songs from 2012 is by no means definitive; they’re just the ones I really liked, and feel are worth commenting on. I’ve pointedly left out tunes from the 12 albums I wrote about before Christmas, even though, obviously, some of them are obviously big individual favourites too. Oh, and there’s more than 12. Why not?

NB. And I’ve added some more today (New Year’s Day) down at the bottom, just for good measure.

Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here? (Daphni Mix 2)
Spectacular remix by Dan Snaith of a track by this ambient duo that I’ve not heard – a few years ago we’d have called this “psy-trance”, my colleague Lou (who definitely knows about these things) informed me. Whatever, this is 7-minutes of repetitive, sensual, psychedelic bliss.

Beth Jeans Houghton – Sweet Tooth Bird
Heard this on 6music and bought the album, which this opens – the album’s OK, but nothing matches the blast of trumpets and energy and melodic momentum of this moment of deranged psyche-folk-pop.

Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine?
I’m not, as a rule, a big fan of Arctic Monkeys – we have the debut album (out of curiosity more than anything else) but nothing else since, and I wasn’t really aware of what they’d become since then, if they’d become anything different at all. It turns out that they’ve become a really good studio rock band, a kind of northern-England pop version of Queens Of The Stone Age. The video for this was awesome too – that singer dude air-drumming and lip-syncing to his own tune while driving around a nighttime city in a van.

Orbital – New France
I initially liked, and still do quite like (just not massively) Orbital’s new album, though it felt a little too functional at times (and that feeling of functionality probably caused my esteem for the album to wane a little over the year). This obvious radio-friendly-unit-shifter, though, despite being the most functional of functional tracks on Wonky, still stands out in my mind as a great moment of the year, though. Maybe, once again, it’s just 6music airplay over-familiarity

Chromatics – Kill For Love
An awful lot of hype for Chromatics’, admittedly very stylish and on-trend, Nicolas-Winding-Refyn-film-soundtracking, album, but the entire thing didn’t completely translate for me – cool, but vatic. As a highlight that nails the aesthetic and ties it to a song that adds a smidgeon of substance, the title track will do as a stand-alone representation of these immaculate, crepuscular, synthetic, neon soundtracks.

The Antlers – Drift Drive
In which the tiny, beautiful, Jeff-Buckley-alike Pete Silberman sees the rabbit hole and decides to take a look; The Antlers could very easily lose their songwriting foundation and give it all up for drifting, psychedelic lullaby-grooves like this. I wouldn’t mind.

David Byrne & St. Vincent – Optimist
The whole album by this unexpected-but-obvious musical partnership is very good, and I enjoy it, and I love the way it uses brass as a main instrument, and the way his voice combines with her guitars from time to time, and so on and so forth, but it’s a thing I admire and appreciate more than adore. Except for this, which Annie sings, and which finds that sweet spot of emotion which might be joy-at-sadness or might be sadness-at-joy. The melody; her delivery; the subtle, quietly burgeoning arrangement: it makes me swoon.

BEAK> – Wolfstan II
Plenty of krauty goodness (Lower Dens) and also badness (Toy) this year; but Geoff Barrow’s BEAK did it best; rather than sounding like kids playing at bolting a krauty drumbeat onto a crappy indie song, they just outright played kraut. This track is monstrous and instantaneous and irresistible.

Cat Power – Manhattan
Oh Chan Marshall. Sun has some decent songs, but it’s a mess, a hodge-podge of sounds, a textural toybox opened and splashed over everything, obscuring the good stuff that lies beneath. It seems fine on first contact but it fades, fast. Apart from this, mimimal, motorik, piano-and-drum-machine-and-voice-and-emotion. By far the standout song of the record.

Richard Hawley – She Brings The Sunlight
In which Hawley moves from 50s crooner to late 60s groover. Some might compare it to early Verve, but really he’s gone back to source. The album’s immaculately recorded and observed, an obvious lovesong to psyche, swooshing airplane guitar tones and feedback and beautifully-rendered hi-hats and buried vocals, but the whole thing is perhaps a little much.

Japandroids – Younger Us
Emma loves Japandroids, and I don’t mind; they capture that listless energy of youth brilliantly, even while singing about trying and failing to capture it. Just two guys, drums and guitars and shouting. We saw them live and it was noisy and sweaty and primal, hooks and riffs and wordless choruses ripped through and repeated with complete, whooping abandon. Hüsker Dü for kids?

Fiona Apple – Hot Knife
Julia Holter – Marianbad
Let’s deal with these two together: Tom played them both at us at Devon Record Club the other week at out end-of-2012 meeting, after me being intrigued to hear both of them for months and months. Apple got the full album playback, but Holter only got the opening track relayed to us, and both blew me away. So I bought both albums. The former song is a majestic, euphoric, looping jazz chant, whilst the latter is a modernistic, layered exploration of the human voice. Had I got hold of the albums earlier, they’d probably have been in that list. But I didn’t, so the songs are in this list instead.

Mary Epworth – Black Doe
Banjo-and-drone post-folk with sudden bursts of cacophonous organs, synth-brass, and guitars over a moaningly powerful chorus. I have no idea what it means, but I like it a lot.

Alt-J – Mathilda
The Maccabees – Pelican
Let’s deal with these two together, too. The Maccabees’ tune was all over 6music early in the year and I grew to like it, I suspect through familiarity more than anything else. The album was hyped in certain circles when it arrived, and wanting an early-year hit, I bought it. I regretted it almost straight away – shrill, substance-less, indie “maturity” signified by borrowed tropes from U2 – slow intros that fade from ambience, reverb, those plodding basslines – no oomph, no character, no originality, barely any tunes. I still like “Pelican” fine, but it sounds like a child’s toy version of a real thing. The Alt-J album I bought blind on the basis of the growing word-of-mouth hype, assuming it must be a grower, have staying power, have substance. But it has no more than The Maccabees album. Indie stuff that interpolates tropes and signifiers from other things, adding nothing new other than the pop equivalent of white gallery space to hang a collection of paintings in, and in seemingly random order; why have this strange facsimile when you could have something real? I’m not talking about ‘authenticity’, for what it’s worth – the BEAK record isn’t authentic, but it succeeds where these fail by not being an ugly, try-hard hybrid, by having some integrity (whatever that is) and purity of vision, even if it lacks originality or invention. Plus the Alt-J guy sings like a farmer. “Mathilda” is the only tune I took away from it, an unexpected ambush of sweetness and melody that escaped the clever-clever framework of the rest of the album.

Willy Moon – Yeah Yeah
I’ve seen almost literally nothing written about Willy Moon, and only heard his music on TV – first on Jools Holland, where he whirled and twirled like a fucked-up shopkeeper’s dummy on a fairground ride, and then on the latest iPod adverts – and I have no idea if he has any kind of credibility or cache or even any kind of audience. But I do know that, in a year of wall-to-wall eurohouse-derived bullshit misogyny pop stuffing our charts, this (and maybe, at a push, that Rizzle Kicks tune) were about the only ‘pop’ I heard and didn’t think was insulting. This sounds like it samples Wu Tang Clan at one point, is insanely catchy and danceable, and notably didn’t feature in the New Year’s Eve Top of the Pops, which was wall-to-wall eurohouse-derived bullshit, pretty much.

The Invisible – Generational
The Invisible’s debut album about three years ago was produced by Matthew Herbert, had links to London’s F-ire Collective (which begat Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland, amongst many others), and inhabited that post-Radiohead territory between rock and electronic music (with a tiny pinch of jazz). I liked it well enough, but something about it felt a little sickly – a lot of post-Radiohead territory stuff does; you have to be really good to pull it off, and not many are. So I wasn’t compelled to investigate their new album this year, but somewhere along the way I heard and liked and picked-up “Generational”, which grooves and pulses and repeats and is sinewy and makes me wish I could justify buying the album so I could soak the rest of it in.


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