It’s that time of the year when every music related website, from the big ones to pretenders like this blog, roll out their yearend lists. But of course I’m getting on that thing too. But this blog was never always updated when it comes to music, partly because I never really aimed to cover every base – so no mention of Kendrick Lamar or Frank Ocean here, because I never really heard their stuff, and everybody else seems to love them. What I’m doing here is a list of my ten favorite tracks of the year, a highly subjective list that inevitably skews towards my preferences and favorite artists – but then again, this is more of a journal than a journalistic endeavor. Soak on this while the blog takes a two-week break (I’ll be back on
7 January 6 January 5 January 4 January). Now, the songs, in alphabetical order. And tell me of your top picks too!
“Tessellate” by alt-J | It’s been a good year for the Leeds-based band after they won the Mercury Prize this year, and for good reason: their luscious mish-mash of trip-hop, folk and alternative rock successfully straddles the line between a jam session and the post-club drive home. It’s interesting how their sound captured the imagination while remaining slightly under the radar all this time. Their sound is best captured by their first single “Tessellate”, actually released last year (and was re-released when their debut An Awesome Wave hit stores): slightly chill but very trembly and very intense. (See my first take on the song here.)
“Emmylou” by First Aid Kit | It’s also been a good year for Johanna and Klara Söderberg: the moment they embraced Americana in their second full-length album The Lion’s Roar, everybody else did, with this song – a crafty, affecting country ditty taking off from Emmylou Harris and Gram Parson’s relationship – making many critics’ yearend lists. Having been a fan since the release of their first album, The Big Black and the Blue – although to be honest, I only really found them after a feature on Q magazine making me go “she looks like Lauren Froderman, doesn’t she?” – it’s nice to see the sisters get wider recognition for their throwback vocal harmonies. (See all that I’ve written about First Aid Kit here.)
“Nightlife” by Green Day | Green Day’s three-album return may not have gone the way they planned it, but there have been some positives, including this track off ¡Dos! that’s reminiscent of Iggy Pop, only with added swagger. One of the genuinely new things, in my opinion, that the California punk veterans have come with, especially after the epic scope of American Idiot and 20th Century Breakdown. (See my reviews of Green Day’s ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré! trilogy.)
“Walking On Heaven” by Haley Reinhart | Inevitably I’d post a Haley Reinhart song here, seeing that I’ve waited for the American Idol finalist’s album for a long time – she released Listen Up! almost a year after she was eliminated in third place. While the release unfortunately didn’t gain any traction – Interscope dropped her from their roster a few weeks back – the album’s heady mix of retro-soul and poppy jazz didn’t disappoint. I loved that album’s closing track, “Walking On Heaven”, for its optimism that captured the relatively happy-go-lucky vibe of the 60s with the moment’s need for it. If only the record bosses hung on for longer. (See my review of Haley Reinhart’s Listen Up! here.)
“Night Light” by Jessie Ware | Jessie Ware’s brand of sophistipop made waves in 2012, and while there aren’t much dull spots in her album Devotion, this song is a definite highlight: that moment when Jessie’s voice, which she never made a habit of stretching past her limits, takes on an fierce intensity. Jessie’s work with producer Dave Okumu has yielded some interesting results and I’d love to see what they come up with next… if they still work together by then. (See my review of Jessie Ware’s Devotion here.)
“Come Into My Head” by Kimbra | This has to be my favorite song of the year. I only discovered Kimbra early this year (and now because of that Gotye song) and blog readers will know how I warmed up to her wild vocal and her crafty pop songs. While the original release of Vows is strong enough, with her mish-mash of smooth funk, sultry jazz and crazy pop, the album’s American release – which sees seven new songs added – builds on those, and the culmination is “Come Into My Head”, an absolute stomper that wiggles its way into your head. Especially the bridge. And the music video. (See all that I’ve written about Kimbra here.)
“Lies Greed Misery” by Linkin Park | My sister and cousin were huge fans of Linkin Park – this was during their Meteora days – and I remember thinking if they could keep up with things when the years pass by and their grungy metal-rap-with-turntables hybrid would sound out of date. Their last two albums, A Million Suns and Living Things, have shown that they can, with a knack for melody and texture you wouldn’t have noticed before. (That, or I only really had an appreciation for them today, because when I was in my teens my sister made it all about how cute Joe Hahn is.) There seems to be a trend of harsh-in-bleeps rock from unexpected sources (see Bloc Party’s Four) and this is my best example, a bit like Radiohead’s early stuff with, well, Joe Hahn. The band’s proving to be more astute than my teenage self thought. (See my review of Linkin Park’s Living Things here.)
“Breathing Underwater” by Metric | This, unfortunately, isn’t the year when Metric would go big, but it doesn’t seem to matter much. Synthetica was a confident release from the Canadian indie-rockers, with songs of longing and finding yourself set against some ethereal pick-me-up beats. This song in particular – another critical favorite – is a strong case for why Metric deserves more recognition: depressingly uplifting, or upliftingly depressing, with Emily Haines’ delivery striking deep. “They were right when they say we should never meet your heroes” never sounded more urgent yet more resigned. (See my review of Metric’s Synthetica here.)
“Hurricane” by MS MR | This was also a year for glitchy-yet-accessible electronica, although we’ve really yet to get there. From Grimes’ Visions (I really have yet to listen to her album, but here’s a shoutout to “Oblivion” anyway) to AlunaGeorge’s “Your Drums, Your Love”, it seems the slow creeping in of dubstep’s more ambient function – and some of its bang – is in full swing. One of those songs that struck me if from New York duo MS MR, purveyors of glitch pop that toes the line nicely between slinky and jagged. The song always struck me the few times I heard it – an echo chamber full of haunting-ness, if I could put it that way.
“Open Up Your Arms” by Ren Harvieu | Ren Harvieu almost didn’t make it this far, after an accident left her with a spine injury that almost derailed her career. Thank heavens she made it through: the Lancashire lass’ debut, Through the Night, updates the sweeping 50s and 60s sound, or keeps it, whatever, with her sweet yet pained voice. (And then she proves she can do more modern sounding stuff with “Dancing On Her Own”.) It may seem that the retro-soul trend is winding down, but Ren (and everybody else behind her record – and there are a lot of them) is one of the many who are keeping it alive – and doing so successfully. (See all that I’ve written about Ren Harvieu here.)