When I graduated high school, like most young lads and lasses, I received a lovely bounty of riches. At the ripe age of seventeen, I had more money than I had ever had, and most likely, more money than I would ever have again. It must have been two hundred dollars. And like most people at that age when gifted a large sum of money, I blew it all within a few weeks. The most notable of these purchases, both monetarily and on the shaping of my life, was a portable satellite radio.
Back in those days, satellite radio was just starting out and the cost was quite high for the device. But I was flush with funds, and more importantly, XM had just signed a deal to broadcast Major League Baseball games. From June through October, nary a second was spent with that XM not listening to baseball.
And then autumn came. For a few weeks, I left that XM radio in the glove box of my car. Tossed aside like a forgotten lover or forgotten sandwich. Really, anything that was forgotten would fit there. Anyway, one serendipitous day, I busted out the radio from its hiding spot and shuffled through the stations. Being the pretentious person that I am, I settled on XM 52 'Unsigned.' It played zero bands with record deals. Zero. For some reason, I liked the idea of listening to poor, starving artists play music.
My life changed.
Now, I didn’t go anywhere without the oversized radio in my pocket. Seriously. The thing looked like Zach Morris’s cellphone. Thankfully, this was before skinny jeans became fashionable, so it fit comfortably in my pocket despite its immense bulk. These days, I’d have to keep it in my fanny pack. Ahem.
Anyway, this satellite radio came with the capacity to record songs, and it wasn’t long before I filled it to capacity with tracks. And as a result, I began filling my computer hard drive with these tracks. XM 52 went the way of the dodo bird two years later, merging with XM 43 to become XMU, and while the station now featured a mix of unsigned and indie artists, there was no going back for this guy. Once a man’s eyes have opened, he simply cannot stand to blink. Or something.
That was a long-winded, likely boring story in need of pictures, and for that I apologize. Sigh. And here’s the list of the best songs from 2012 that I heard. According to my expansive iTunes library, I deemed 487 songs from the most recent year as worthy of being retained. Who knows how many didn’t make the cut. Probably twice that amount.
13. “Five Seconds” by Twin Shadow
Like a B-side from some underground album from the 1980s, Twin Shadow stepped out of M83’s shadow with a track worthy of ranking right alongside M83’s second-tier tracks. Let’s be real. As good as this song is, M83’s best songs are on a whole different plane.
12. “Man On Fire” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
Though this song failed to generate the kind of buzz caused by the band’s prior hit, “Home”, it is just as good. Listen to this three times on repeat and singing along is impossible. Trust me. I was in the sauna at the time when I did it, and this old guy who ignored the no nudity sign didn’t appreciate my rendition.
11. “You As You Were” by Shearwater
This is an old-fashioned rock song masquerading as hard folk, and frankly, deserved to be the long-standing band’s breakout hit into the mainstream. Instead, it was yet another overlooked gem. Prior to this song specifically, I had viewed Shearwater as the little brother to Okkervil River. After this song, I rethought every decision I had ever made.
10. “Emmylou” by First Aid Kit
Country music isn’t typically something I seek out, let alone love, but First Aid Kit is an exception to the rule. The Söderberg sisters pay tribute to country stars from years gone by while establishing themselves as the first great country duo of the new decade. If First Aid Kit is a sign of a changing of the guard with country music, I may be driving a pick-up truck on the way to a square dance festival with my cousin at this time next year. Stereotypes are fun.
9. “All Of Me” by Tanlines
Tanlines did something interesting with this song. Somewhere along the lines, the group decided to abandon any concept of a verse, opting instead to stack hook after hook on top of one another. The result isn’t life changing, but it is catchy. This is mainstream radio pop at its finest. Unfortunately for Tanlines, however, this never really found the mainstream radio. While the band sobs in microwave containers of noodles, hipsters everywhere high-five in jubilation.
8. “Fineshrine” by Purity Ring
For some reason, it took around ten listens for this song to really resonate with me. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention the first nine times. Maybe I am getting soft at my old age. Either way, somewhere along the line, resonate it did. It features challenging yet inviting lyrics that provide weeks of internal speculation. Or, if you’re lucky, you can discuss them with a friend. I’m lonely.
7. “Laura” by Bat For Lashes
In less than five minutes, Bat For Lashes manages to create a character with a detailed history, and somehow, despite the limited running time, we feel for the creation. The music video suggests that the song is about a transgender, and whether or not this is the case, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that the subject of the song needs a hug, and I want to be the one to give it to him/her. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Natasha Khan has one of the best voices in the business.
6. “Stay With Me” by No
My favorite music video of the year belongs to No’s “Stay With Me.” I was exposed to both at the same time, and so it is difficult for me to know whether my adoration for one affects the other, but I don’t care. Chicken or the egg, they both taste good with ketchup.
5. “Hold On” by Alabama Shakes
This almost didn’t make the list. Not due to the song, but due to the finicky nature of its release date. But being the ultimate badass that I am and since I didn’t have a 2011 list, I am qualifying it for the 2012 list. Alabama Shakes mixes vintage blues with new age rock and freaking awesome female vocals, and no song better exemplifies this than the group’s first foray into the world. One day soon, Alabama Shakes is going to be huge. And I, and now you, can say ‘I knew them way back when.’ Let’s hope we don’t get slapped.
4. “It’s Not My Fault I’m Happy” by Passion Pit
Something about this song makes me want to jump up and down. And so I do. Though the subject of the song can be described as dour, it is delivered in such an upbeat presentation that it is hard not to smile. The pleasure this song brings is infectious. Never before has a song potentially about sexual assault and or domestic disputes been this much fun since I completely misread the meaning of Miley Cyrus's 'Party In The U.S.A.'.
3. “The House That Heaven Built” by Japandroids
Japandroids is a rock group stuck in the indie world. This is guitar riffs and dumb, repetitive lyrics. Yet for some reason, it works, and it works well. Rock and roll has been watered down in recent years, with generic bands conforming to a certain song-writing style. Japandroids is anti-conformity. They’re a throwback group doing things like in the old days. Picking a favorite song from the group’s latest album is like choosing a favorite child. Easy. It’s this one.
2. “Breezeblocks” by Alt-J
One of the best music videos of the year goes along with my second favorite track of 2012. Alt-J utilizes an unorthodox lead singer and unorthodoxer instrumentation. It’s a word. Possibly. This is avant-garde music fused with the best qualities of TV On The Radio. And again, please watch this music video. Pretty please. It features an ending that would be reminiscent of the film’s of M. Night Shyamalan if he didn’t suck so bad since 1999.
1. “Pyramids” by Frank Ocean
Seriously. Find a better song than this from 2012. It took me a while to warm up to Frank Ocean’s specific style of song crafting, but once I did, I knew there was no turning back. It is just a few ticks shy of being ten minutes long, and honestly, every time it ends, I wish there were more to it. Like a fifty minutes more. As is, I am forced to listen to it eight or nine times in a row. Not only is this easily the top track of 2012, it is the early front-runner for song of the decade.
Until next time, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.