2012–A Pretty Good Year For Music: My 40 Best Tracks of The Year

POSTED December 19th, 2012

I keep reading about how this year represented the increasing fragmentation of pop music, but as I see it, two trends dominated: EDM-influenced pop-dance music, featuring increasingly complex machine-made rhythms beneath pop songs; and indie-influenced rock-pop with the reverb knob turned way up. R&B/Hip-Hop tended to be influenced quite a bit by the former–even the ballads (see Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar). EDM-pop rhythm has evolved to the point where the drum trackss on contemporary hits make those on hits from even a couple of years ago seem childish;  it will be exciting to see where things go from here. And echo has gotten so big on indie pop hits that Phil Spector must be smiling in his jail cell somewhere.  Some acts on my list combined both the rhythmic and the reverb sensibilities (Apparatjik & Lowell, for instance), and I think we’ll see more of that. And thankfully,  a lot of the best pop music had grand ambitions; Fun. came off like a cross between Queen, Kansas and REO Speedwagon, for instance–and that was all in the same song. Muse settled on just coming off like Queen, which sufficed.

Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” clearly 2012’s anthem, wins the award for “great song I never want to hear again–for now.” It’s the song that was so ubiquitous that one must work to remember how fabulous it was to hear it the first couple of hundred times. I’ll be ready to enjoy it again in 2020 or so, but it deserves to be at or near the top of everyone’s year-end list, even if you can’t bear to listen to it on the accompanying playlist.

My favorite track of the year is “Feel The Love” by Rudimental, a London-based EMD-pop act whom I assumed to be a one-hit wonder until they released their follow-up, “Not Giving In,” which also appears on my list. Very curious to see if they can cross the Atlantic with Guetta-like success. Rudimental isn’t the only act with two songs on my list: Emeli Sandé appears with “Daddy” and “Next To Me,” both very strong, traditionally structured, catchy pop songs which sneak in on the side of cool due to their very contemporary rhythm tracks (Fun. successfully pulls this same trick). She’s probably my Artist Of The Year, in that there were several other songs on her album, and on other people’s albums featuring her as a vocalist, that were contenders for this list. (For the record, Jessie Ware just missed having two songs on the list–I included “Wildest Moments,” but if you expanded the list to 41 places “Night Light” would have made it as well.)

And finally, big props to Jimmy Cliff, whose brilliant comeback album magically encompassed the last 50 years of Jamaican music while sounding completely fresh. Usually, legacy artists in reggae wind up in some roots-reggae rut; Cliff happily trotted out ska, rock-steady and both 70’s and 80’s influenced reggae. It’s like if if Paul McCartney released an album that simultaneously sounded like “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Sgt. Pepper,” “Band On The Run” and “Coming Up.” I’d like to imagine that somewhere Bob Marley is smiling.

And with that said, the list:

Rudimental – Feel The Love – feat. John Newman
Tame Impala – Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe
Fun. – Some Nights
Alabama Shakes – Hold On
Emeli Sandé – Daddy (feat. Naughty Boy)
The Shins – Simple Song
Frank Ocean – Thinkin Bout You
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Same Love – feat. Mary Lambert
David Guetta – Titanium – feat. Sia
Elle Varner – Refill
KES the Band – Stress Away (4d Riddum) [Original]
Jimmy Cliff – World Upside Down
Regina Spektor – Don’t Leave Me (Ne me quitte pas)
K’NAAN – Is Anybody Out There?
Jessie Ware – Wildest Moments
Apparatjik – Shake Him Off
Haim – Forever
Kendrick Lamar – Swimming Pools (Drank)
Stooshe – Black Heart
Lianne La Havas – Is Your Love Big Enough?
Burns – Lies – Radio Edit
Jack White – Love Interruption
Labrinth feat. Tinie Tempah – Earthquake – Full Version
Muse – Madness
Rizzle Kicks – Mama Do The Hump
Eleanor Friedberger – My Mistakes
Melody’s Echo Chamber – I Follow You
Emeli Sandé – Next to Me
Rudimental – Not Giving In – feat. John Newman & Alex Clare
Plan B – Playing With Fire – feat. Labrinth
Marina And The Diamonds – Primadonna
Avicii – Levels – Radio Edit
Sam And The Womp – Bom Bom – Radio Edit
Jose James – Trouble
Kelly Hogan – Dusty Groove
DJ Fresh – Golddust
Asaf Avidan & the Mojos – One Day / Reckoning Song (Wankelmut Remix) – Radio Edit
Alicia Keys – Tears Always Win
Best Coast – The Only Place

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