The Top Tracks of 2012

We’ve compiled as many of these tracks as are available into this Spotify playlist.




[Secretly Canadian]

There are a few ways that bands can introduce themselves. Some hit it big right away with a set of great songs, but become doomed when they don’t know how to follow them up. Some toil for years in obscurity, searching for their own sound, before making the right adjustments and becoming successful. And then some, like Brooklyn’s Exitmusic, arrive fully-formed, armed with a complete set of ideas from the outset and knowledge of how to execute them.

But, as the lead single and first track on Exitmusic’s debut album, “Passage” has humble beginnings. It starts with just the twinkling sound of a few solemn piano notes. Fireworks dissipate in the distance. A rich, wordless falsetto gradually enters the picture. It’s a brilliant anticipation-builder; from the start the song sounds like it could collapse inward at any moment, when in reality, what is about to occur is quite the opposite. What happens next is a series of crescendos, punctuated by the rich, chilling, operatic cries of singer Aleksa Palladino and throbbing guitar notes that bubble just under the surface before winding the song down with a Portishead-like chord progression. It’s an exercise in two things: 1) how to completely blow out and maximize a crescendo, letting sound bleed all over the place but in a controlled fashion, and 2) how to make the most out of your introduction to the world.

David Wolfson



“How Long Have You Known?”

[Captured Tracks]

On “How Long Have You Known,” DIIV (née Dive) have delivered one of 2012′ s best indie singles, guitar lines rippling into one another like sun-dappled pools of water, proving in the process the power of economy. Wait, hold on, apparently this wasn’t even released as a single? But they had that video with the blender and fireworks, right? No? Well anyway, something to note is that this entire song is comprised of a mere thirteen individual words; to put that in context, that’s five less than the name of the new Fiona Apple record. I was adamant that the title getting repeated over and over made up the chorus and the verses were buried under some lovely effects, indistinguishable but still present; apparently not the case. I guess I was transfixed by Zachary Cole Smith’s soaring vocals on the bridge as the whole band bursts into the chor— that bit only happens once? Seriously? Welp, I’ve listened to the song about thirty times and apparently I can’t remember a thing about it. But every time I put it on I get lost in my imagination, picturing the way Smith twirls around in his oversized tees with a carefree abandon that could only be the product of youthfu— he’s how old?! Wow. You probably should have assigned this to someone else. Great song though.

Gabriel Szatan


Perfume Genius



“You would never call me baby, if you knew me truly,” Mike Hadreas sings over his familiar reverbed layers of piano and melancholia. But then the song explodes into bass and crashing drums; turns out Hadreas has more under his musical “hood” than he’d previously let on. He’s a gifted storyteller who, like Hemingway, never says a word more than he needs to. With “Hood,” he lets the music do most of the talking, and it reveals an unprecedented instrumental breadth even as it condenses classic pop tropes — the structural rise and fall, the tension between verse and chorus, the stirring climax, the graceful outro — into a scant two minutes. In fact, this song is pretty much just the chorus, sung twice, and a quick bridge. By paring down his music to its most basic essence, Hadreas proves himself not only a capable pop songwriter but more importantly a smart experimenter. An exercise in pop music minimalism, “Hood” signals any number of potential progressions for this gifted artist.

Josh Becker


Julia Holter

“In The Same Room”

[RVNG Intl.]

“In The Same Room” flows in on waves of interlocking organ and synth, with Julia Holter’s wordless vocals flowing nicely over them, instantly attracting the ear with the layers of beautiful melodies. In a casual listen, “In The Same Room” can come across as a straightforward song, Holter’s divine voice leading the way through a gorgeous three minutes of resplendent gothic-tinged pop, laced with a number of ear-catching melodies. However, deeper listening to the song’s lyrics, and the seeming conversation going on between the two different voices Holter has in the song, reveals there’s much more to it. Holter conjures fantastic imagery, asking “In this very room, we flew across the sea in the ship Saturnia, don’t you remember?” to which the spectral second voice responds “I can’t remember your face, but I hope the ship will carry us.” This admission of being unable to remember faces or places is repeated several times through the song, and suddenly what seemed like an innocent admission starts to seem to be hinting at madness , especially in the way the song hides these words in the mix. The track eventually winds down into a more ambient ending, with sounds and words floating around untethered, Holter intoning wistfully “I don’t remember when, but I hope we’ll meet again, in the same room” and letting the sounds drift off like a beautiful dream of a memory once shared, full of hope where perhaps there should be none.

Rob Hakimian


Ty Segall

“You’re The Doctor”

[Drag City]

Ty Segall and the faithful trio that followed him during his ceaseless quest to conquer 2012 performed “You’re the Doctor” on The Late Show with David Letterman last month to support the release of Twins. It was kind of amazing. You should go watch it. The cameramen/editors don’t seem to know which angle quite captures Ty Segall’s freakout seizure best and the light guy obviously just said “fuck it” after the first ten seconds. Then the extended twin guitar meltdown at the end seems to barely qualify as appropriate for television. Really, CBS just broadcasted two minutes of a basement show. The only thing that was missing was the mess of kids two inches away from the sonic onslaught. “You’re The Doctor” will do that though. It’s hard to believe the amount of chaotic hooky-ness that Segall fits into a single two minute cut. The feedback-addled lead guitar line is blistering and addictive and it’s impossible not to shout the chorus of “IN MY BRAIN” in time with those punctuating snare/cymbal crashes. “You’re The Doctor” is a literal crash course of Ty Segall’s whole appeal in 121 seconds.

Will Ryan


Old Apparatus


[Sullen Tone]

London experimental electronic four-piece, Old Apparatus, has up ’til now taken enough sonic cues from their neighborhood peers to at least notice. The anonymous unit, a self-described collective, released four EPs in 2012, which drew more than a few allusions to weirdo hip-hop, industrial techno, classic drone, and, of course, UK bass. But the last entry in their 2012 quadrology, Harem, a noticeably darker and more ambient affair, sounds timeless, and its standout track “Mernom” is absolutely breathtaking. The cut barely scrapes past five-minutes, but a whole universe is contained in its brief runtime. Opening with waves of sheet metal drones and a suckling click-smack snare tangled with tiny fixtures of industrial texture, it settles into a barely-mobile rhythm while some vast dystopic synths arc out over a vast emptiness. The percussion drops out and a hushed voice echoes through an empty city before a colossus of synths like overwhelming, blinding daybreak rise with a giant, resounding, universe-filling pulse and it sounds like the whole world is coming alive.

Will Ryan


The Tallest Man On Earth


[Dead Oceans]

One of the surest signifiers of a great songwriter is the ability to do a lot with a little. Stripping away background noise to leave naught by the songwriter and their guitar has a potential for disaster if done to lesser artists, but it can also turn into a glorious display of raw talent in the great ones. On “1904,” Kristian Matsson shows that he belongs firmly in the latter category. The song is nothing short of a journey, managing to convey a wide range of emotions at will with only the aid of Matsson’s own acoustic guitar and an electric in the background. Within a span of four minutes, subtle vocal affectations bring him from bitter to sentimental to stern as if at the flip of a switch, before taking us all the way back across the range again. Of course, none of this would matter all that much if he didn’t have lyrics to match, but he does. Most of it remains open to interpretation, but through all the vivid imagery and symbolism it’s easy to discern that time and change are central themes to the song, contributing to the idea that “1904” isn’t just a story; it’s a journey.

David Wolfson


Purity Ring



It was no secret what Purity Ring was capable of by the time “Fineshrine” was released in late June. When the group first emerged with “Ungirthed” and “Lofticires” almost eighteen months prior, the group was rightfully lauded for Corrin Roddick’s effortless production abilities that melded the chilling synths of the Knife, finely tuned Southern hip-hop beats, and Megan James’ fragile voice and haunted lyrics. The addition of “Belispeak” and Obedear” to their repertoire only heightened the anticipation for their full length debut. Released a month ahead of Shrines, “Fineshrine” marked only the fifth track the Canadian duo had made public outside the confines of their live show. It also happened to be the most accessible summation of the group’s sound, as many of the vocal manipulations and Roddick’s experimental tendencies were toned down in favor of a more straightforward approach that highlighted James’ surprisingly affectionate morbidisms. Only in a voice as deceivingly innocent as hers can the phrase “Cut open my sternum, and pull my little ribs around you” sound like the most inviting devotional sentiment. Directness was also a suit the served Roddick well, as his undeniable pop sensibilities made for an arrangement that was both memorable and uniquely his. “Fineshrine” is an excellent point of entry into the group’s otherworldly sound, and a shining example of why the hype was actually right for once.

Ryan Lester


Mac DeMarco

“Ode To Viceroy”

[Captured Tracks]

Slack rocker Mac DeMarco loves the shit out of Viceroy cigarettes. Not only did he include four packs of red king-sized Viceroys on the rider for our CMJ show (along with whiskey and McDonalds filet-o-fish sandwiches) but he also happened to write an anthem about the cork-tipped cigarette.

Despite the absurdity of it all there’s something both inherently charming vulnerable about DeMarco’s songwriting here as he croons about his love for these discount cigarettes and their role in his life, “Viceroy, early in the morning/ Just try to let the sun in/ and open up my eyes.” It’s the truth. In an interview with the ‘fork he claimed, “Every morning I have a cigarette pretty much right when I wake up. Then, I go in the bathroom, hock a loogie, brush my teeth, and try to start feeling normal.”

It’s not clear how self-aware DeMarco is until he churns out the chorus: “and oh don’t let me see you crying/ ’cause oh honey I’ll smoke you ’til I’m dying.” It’s the relationship every smoker has with cigarettes; they’re just too alluring. But perhaps even more addictive than cigarettes themselves is the arpeggiated riff that closes off the track as Mac lackadaisically screeches over the track to remind us all that he’s going to keep on doing what he’s doing despite the consequences.

Evan Kaloudis


“Hey Jane”

[Fat Possum]

It seems like kind of a cheat to mention The Velvet Underground as an influence at this point in Jason Pierce’s tenure as Spiritualized. It should be assumed by now that he has a serious predisposition towards very specific aspects of their aesthetic. For the nearly nine minutes that “Hey Jane” builds, there is an expectation of VU level grandeur. From past experience, we know what Pierce is capable of and we want what we know he can give us. Despite catering to those of us who predictably want more of Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, “Hey Jane” never feels predictable or formulaic. As the track veers between space-age rave-ups and tangible elation, the listener is drawn deeply into the chorus of backing vocals and typically cathartic arrangements — all the while feeling at home among the swirls of electric guitar and sly winks at the song’s fundamental pop construction. Pierce has once again managed to turn our expectations into meaningless drivel, and “Hey Jane” is just his way of rubbing it in our faces. And I think I’m okay with that.

Joshua Pickard

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