25. Missing Pieces---Jack White
White's fixations are, by now, numerous and easy to list; alternating disgust for either all of woman-kind or himself, violent imagery, and a sizzling solo or two. MP combines all these elements, opening Blunderbuss with an immediate sense of embedded distrust, wiggling through bluesy movements on its way to handful of scintillating solos tucked neatly into its economic bridge.
An Awesome Wave is an album that takes a few listens, Alt-J's powers subtle enough to slip by those who neglect to listen closely. That all changes on Taro, a track set on commanding your attention, paralyzing you with dynamics and force. The tune has an oceanic sway to it, Joe Newman's voice at once feeling alone in a far away place, rushed forth by a swelling sea of instrumentation and gathering tension. Then it pops, spinning out into a brilliantly off-kilter guitar chug, one that pairs ax with sitar to breathless affect.
23. Please Don't Go Away---The Men
The four words that serve as this track's title also happen to be the only four uttered during the whole song. Trust me, there's no need for a fifth. The boys rock out with their typical sense of abandon, but there's a palpable longing behind that simple sentiment, pushed further out into the open by the desperation with which they jam their heads off.
22. Oro y Sangre---John Talabot***
Where most of John Talabot's glorious fin is content to sort of mist and swirl around with patience and depth, O&S is a downright confrontation. It's pulsating synths absolutely demand attention, an instrumental track completely discontent to fade into the background. Elements enter and exist, but the drive of the tune never changes, intercut with mysterious screams and buoyant drums.
21. Now We Hurry On---Bowerbirds
Clocking in at just under seven minutes, and serving as the closing ceremony to one of the year's best albums might sound like a recipe for unrelenting enormity, but not so fast. Sure, NWHO is sweeping in both scope and emotional impact, but it reaches that zenith without ever raising its voice beyond a delicate hush. Muted chimes and stirring violins guide us from one movement to the next, all as Phil Moore's effortless voice and affecting storytelling write a gorgeous final chapter to a novel of a disc.
20. Clique---Kanye West feat. Jay-Z and Big Sean***
To my mind, G.O.O.D. Music's Cruel Summer LP exists primarily to support this one song, but that's a pretty damn worthy cause. Atop a simplistic, foreboding beat that shares a sort of bass-y slither with a certain other West triumph, Clique features a good verse from Jay-Z, a better one from Big Sean, and an absolute marvel from West. As if realizing the moment, the backing turns down when Kanye grabs the mic, his verse alternating between humor, brilliance, schizophrenic subject changes, and a truly mind-blowing (and utterly glorious) lack of self-awarenes.
19. See What She Seeing---Dirty Projectors
One of the main things that Swing Lo Magellan has going for it (and trust me, there's a list) is the ability to marry unmitigated eccentricity with relatable pathos. SWSS is the disc's greatest example; it features a protagonist with an easily understandable need for love, but his demons are nastier than your average pop song would allow ("Mornings, I wake up hungover/Lower than mornings before"). Its lush harmonies allude to the beauty of solace, but that skittering, omni-present drum machine under-cuts these sentiments with unease. Both dreamily romantic, and admittedly insane.
18. Jonathan---Fiona Apple***
Fiona Apple writes love songs in a vein that few can emulate, and Jonathan stands as one of her finest accomplishments to date. Featuring elaborate production on an album often focused on sonic simplicity, the tune hisses and wheezes around Apple's beautifully uncertain piano line, possessing within itself both the allure and disappointment of doomed love."If she's part of the reason you are how you are, she's all right with me," is one of the most acute, troubling lines about modern love that I've ever heard... and who better to deliver it?
17. Just from Chevron---Dirty Projectors
A mysterious ode to the allure of capitalism, JFC only kinda-sorta befits its parent disc, but praise the lord that it made the cut. Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle usher us in with their surreal harmony, the sunny strings and mellow handclaps that dance lightly around them finally giving way to Dave Longstreth's surging, demented guitar line. He tells a story of a man determined to be remembered, to have mattered, the wrenching oddity finally bookended by the ladies' angelic interlude.
16. So Long You Pretty Thing---Spiritualized***
15. Sweet Moment---Bowerbirds
The shortest track on Bowerbirds' 2012 reputation-changer doesn't exactly ooze with ambition, but it's both comely and extremely delicious, a delightful morsel of woodsy bliss. Where so many artists of late use nature imagery as a sort of put-on, Phil Moore seems genuinely invested in the moods and textures of the natural world, using animals, plants, and seasons to explore notions at the very core of the human experience. And when he's not penning gold with his quill, he's creating a woolly harmony so warm you'll want to curl up in it.
14. Thinkin Bout You---Frank Ocean
Take a ride on a cloud with Frank Ocean. TBY is baby-making music through-and-through, as soft around the edges as cotton candy, and while this might seem simple-minded for an accomplished story-teller like Ocean, his sincerity wins out. His pleas for love, understanding, and forward-thinking ("Or do you not think so far ahead?/'Cuz I been thinkin' 'bout forever") feel so lived-in that it's easy to read that now-famous letter as a prologue to this gorgeous ballad. But it doesn't matter if it's real; Ocean, armed with mind-boggling falsetto, convinces us that it is.
Where did you come from, Henrietta? An absolute gem amidst a track list full of throw-aways, the tune uses pulverizing synths to grab your attention with fists squeezed tight enough to turn knuckles white. It's a trippy, propulsive jaunt, fraught with tension until it just sort of unfolds at the halfway point, ballooning out into something vaporous and heavenly. Everything, vocals, instruments, production, becomes a woozy, radiant blur, held together by a fidgety, mesmeric bass line.
12. Turn it Around---The Men
Raging punk rock seems like an odd genre in which to find the year's best, most bitter break-up song, but The Men are no strangers to wringing feeling out of chaos. "I want to see you write a love song/I want to see you going down/I want to see you when you try so hard/I want to see you when you turn it around," Mark Perro bellows as all hell breaks loose around him, the sentiment readily understandable to anyone who's ever been spurned. A glorious mission statement for the year's best rock album, TiA hooks you with thematics, and keeps you with pulse-pounding musical aggression.
11. Pink Matter---Frank Ocean feat. Andre 3000***
Tucked far away at the back of Channel Orange's extensive playlist is Pink Matter, my very favorite Ocean track from 2012 for a number of reasons. That dark, moody backdrop is an ideal showcase for both rich violins and that wintery, odd-ball vocal sample. Then there's Frank's voice, given the stage to positively wail on some of the most impassioned notes you'll ever hear. Then, just when you think things can't get any better, Andre 3000 stops by to drop a killer verse, funny, slippery, and careful not to over-shadow the track's other tantalizing elements.
Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2012:
Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2012: