Feels Like We Only Go Backwards---Tame Impala
Entire worlds can be created and inhabited within a space of a mere three minutes, expansive and wide open to exploration. Tame Impala pulls off just such a trick, the best song that the band has yet written in their still-young career. Kevin Parker's lonely, Lennon-esque warble is cast amidst a sea of reverb, and where other Lonerism tracks make more sweeping lyrical gestures, the simple words presented here have a real impact. They speak to a love that is on the fringes, moving further and further out of reach each day, a lament worthy of the stirring instrumentation in which it's adorned. The climax, a collision of solo-ing drums, bass, and guitars that crash mightily under that repeated chorus is both emotionally riveting, and a spectacle of rock 'n' roll awesomeness.
& It Was U---How to Dress Well
Wait... wait... is that really Tom Krell... really? The man behind the ghostly R&B music of How to Dress Well is something of a Debbie Downer, especially on his latest disc, Total Loss, which is just as down-tempo and down-trodden as its title would suggest. & It Was U comes out of absolutely nowhere, Krell's marvelous voice un-blurred by the sonic fuzz that overwhelms the rest of the album, placed front-and-center to glorious, energetic, poppy effect. His backing is minimal, a few clicks becoming a light rumble that adds layers with sneaky confidence, and an eye on the dance floor. Like attending a funeral that's suddenly interrupted by the party-time spirit of Jacko himself, &IWU suggests an alternative career trajectory for Krell if he ever decides to lighten up, setting bodies in motion with something catchy, kinetic, and just plain fun.
Wave Goodbye---Ty Segall Band
Wave Goodbye starts out like a roller coaster; you can almost hear that ominous clicking sound as the track ascends threateningly. And then, the drop. Truth be told, WG is a slow song by Slaughterhouse standards, but in giving up speed, Segall's band gains weight in muscle, launching assaultive power chords through speakers that land with foundation-rattling force. It's a brooding, pitch-black tour through grungy rock's hellish underbelly, gritty, glorious grime smudged over every symbol crash, every pummeling note. The outro finally steps on the gas, each member of the outfit shifting into attack mode, earning their perfectly understated post-song celebration.
You know what a Beach House song sounds like, right? Glittering, woozy beauty, floating out there intangibly in the night-time air? Lazuli is a brew poured out of the very same batch, taking the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it idiom, and riding it all the way up into heaven. If there's a discernible adjustment to be noted, it's in the even-lo(wer)-fi sonics, which conjure up innate senses of emotional intimacy and openness. Otherwise, it's all familiar, but in that same magical way that returning home is familiar, or the embrace of a lover. Gorgeous doesn't even begin to describe the thing; Lazuli is the sound of celestial wonderment, of being a small, ponderous thing in an immense, shimmering, erratic, and magnanimous universe.
6. Once There Was a Hushpuppy---Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer
No 2012 offering was a bigger emotional kick-in-the-pants than this closer to the bewitching soundtrack to the bewitching film Beasts of the Southern Wild. The track plays over the movie's final moments, and then all through its credits, which likely serves to bolster the emotive and reflective powers it holds over me. But is that really so different than any other song, and one's individual connection? Don't the best songs, the ones we're all most endeared to, bring back moments and memories of value and magnitude? All backstory aside, Hushpuppy is just flat-out spell-binding, riding all manner of bells, strings, movements, and motions to a place of almost mythic beauty. The instrumental track of the year, capable of leveling cynicism and flooding dry eyes in the course of a mere 6:32.4. (*tie*) New Town Burnout and Monkey Riches---Animal Collective
To all those who found Centipede Hz impenetrable upon the first listen or two, and ran straight for the exits thereafter, I offer this dizzying, technicolored one-two punch. Each stands as a bizarro offering (we are still talking about Animal Collective, yes?), but with none of the album's signature crowding. Sounds still pop out of nowhere, foreign and insane, but each track is open enough to support the madness, the various parts clicking into place with curious, captivating perfection. NTB is the more mellow of the two, Panda Bear's golden voice scooting along atop a beat as catchy and intrinsic as it is chilly and and covered with itch. It balloons out into angelic chorus singers before dissipating into the ether, transitioning into the triumphant lunacy that is Monkey Riches. Louder, faster, denser, and far less content to play nice, MR is a reeling mess of synths, symbols, and screams, all held together with vision and energy by that mad scientist known as Avey Tare. At first I couldn't decide which to rank higher, and then I realized why: The two are, in truth, one expansive, world-conquering piece, presented without an in-between-track gap on the album, and always played as a unit in concert. Why choose a stellar half when you can have a prodigious whole?
3. Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst---Kendrick Lamar
The subtitle attached to Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, reads A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar, though the moniker might have been better suited as the title for Thirst, a track that unspools over an all-encompassing twelve minutes. The song distills all of GKMC's themes, goals, and particulars into a haunting, generous narrative, presented in two movements. The first (and best) sprawls out over a minimal beat, possessing comely violins and smooth backing vocals, but focused on Lamar's steady, tell-all flow. His plays on words are head-spinningly acute, pontificating about his life and existence on a first verse that concludes with abrupt gunshots. Not the kind that playfully punctuated M.I.A.'s Paper Planes, but a sudden rat-tat-tat that leaves the track powerfully, ominously vacant, observing violence as the earth-shattering experience that it actually is. Suddenly, we switch story-tellers to a woman with a beef, her intentions ever-verging into Lamar's, blurring the line between protagonist and character. Expanding upon each verse would take us all day; what matters is that SAMIDoT is as troubling as it is smooth, enormous in scope, generous in empathy, and paradigm-shifting in the experiences that it observes.
Tuck the Darkness In---Bowerbirds
Tuck the Darkness In is an all-encompassing cycle like many others: curiosity to wisdom, life to death, night to day and night again. The Clearing's unchallenged figurehead opens with that now-standard indie-folk preciousness, a steady jaunt cloaked in Phil Moore's lazy hush, and lovely, varied instrumentation. This modest, measured genesis blossoms into something vast and cyclopean, each passing moment growing in size, density and sound until another song emerges entirely, one rife with chanting and rafter-shaking. Moore's lyrics are a treasure to behold, dissolving the ineffable truths of existence into immediate lines like, "Before the hours took over/.../Before I knew time was such a swindler/Uh oh, my dear friend/Everything falls to death/We tuck the darkness in/We tuck the darkness in." Sullen as the words might read on their own, the majesty of the crashing drums and earnest ax relay their true meaning: Life in an invigorating, devastating, miraculous, and universal experience, one worthy of admiration and celebration it its every facet.
About to Die---Dirty Projectors
Unlike the other two years that I've made this list, 2012 didn't have an obvious winner. In truth, the grandeur of my musical year might be best embodied by the whole top 10, not just a singular, sumptuous 4 minute entry. That said, when pressed to name a favorite, I fell back on the tune that I've listened to the most, smiled to the most, and considered from the most perspectives, and that was, undoubtably, About to Die. That erratic drum machine and its wacky pitter patter still sounds strange and alluring after all these listens, ever-hiccuping beneath Dan Longstreth's slippery vocals, and a resplendent backing harmony. It's everything that makes for a great DP song (interlocking vocals, absurdist storytelling, constant variance) and everything that makes a great pop song (singular melody, catchy chorus, familiar structure) all rolled into one wacky, life-affirming whole. Sure, Longstreth and his bandmates do declare his imminent death north of 20 times during the song's modest existence, but it mixes this morbidity with playfulness and jubilance to intoxicating effect. And why do we have to be so literal, anyways? This, 'death,' could be taken many ways, loving pronouncements peppering the lyrics ("Where would I ever be without you?") just as often as doomsday allusions ("Look there/The mirror/A zombie stands, staring/Vacant and glaring"), keeping you delightfully off-balance from one minute to the next. Is this the death of a relationship, a friendship, the end of the world, the end of a life, or something else entirely? About to Die is a boldly esoteric pop tune, a mystery that might just prove uncrackable, and it sounds like honey in both of my ears.
Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2012:
Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2012: