Top 10 of 2012: Personal Radio Pop JamsJams. A subjective descriptor, but otherwise expertly defined as this: the hits on your internal radio station. They tend to be untroubling but subtly complex; share a common thread (tempo, length, moods); sturdy enough for nearly any situation (but mainly for driving...especially for driving). Sometimes they're embarrassing and you don't share the love. Quite often they're the same song every damn person loves. Sometimes they're b-sides or remixes. And more often than not, no one else you know agrees. But there they are again. Waiting. For you. So I'm not saying they're the "best" songs of the year. I'm just saying that, whenever I checked in with that internal hummable pop radio station late in 2012: goddamn, do these guys ever change their playlist?
Definitely in no particular order.--
Frank Ocean - 'Lost'
I've been heavily into short, crisp, minimalist sounding pop songs this year. (Know any of that ilk? Send them my way.) Stuff that just needs a single chord change or sole production quirk to announce a chorus -- a minor verse and major change helps. 'Lost' best exemplifies such a thing. Starts with just a beat from Garageband, a modular run of notes leftover from Warren G and Nate Dogg's heyday, before Ocean's creamy voice sidles into the room. Stabs of strings flutter around the chorus. You only need one good, slightly yearning line of plain speak to nail a universal hook: the vernacular of "now you're lost / lost in the thrill of it all" being an exquisite example.
Matthew Dear - 'In The Middle I Met You There [ft. Jonny Pierce]'
This song wasn't on Matthew Dear's 2012 album Beams. Which is a shame as 'In The Middle I Met You There' is the best thing he released this year. Out in January as part of the pre-Beams EP, Headcage, the song features Jonny Pierce of The Drums (a band I came around to last year—after kind of hating them—thanks to their self-recorded, melodically superior and moody synth LP, Portamento). The song is Dear's hypercolour sponge - showing off all the lessons Dear has perfected from the minimal tech suitcase that he's been lugging through a pop landscape over the past couple of years. Following up his near flawless 2010 record Black City was going to be a tough ask. So this song proved a red herring in his timeline, but as bridging tunes go it's essential.
Jason Lytle - 'Somewhere There's A Someone'
Strictly not a jam, unless we're talking late night '70s AM radio. Imagine that Neil Young released this as his new single in 2012. 95% of all music media melts down. Glee and X-Factor book in his entire back catalogue. Radiohead and Arcade Fire break up. Will.I.Am cries to death in the street. The Grammys begin chiselling his name into every trophy they can find. Peace is declared in the Middle East. Wars end. Dogs sleep with cats. Adele covers it.Alas, the reality is that the ex-Grandaddy singer's cold-tundra-of-the-heart tearjerker is the most glorious bedroom-recorded song about being abandoned in the wilderness (of...the heart!) you didn't hear this year. PS: it's all about holding out for the chorus.
Solange - 'Losing You'
Beyonce's sister enlisted UK indie-outlier Dev Hynes of Lightspeed Champion and promptly made the best song Madonna never did. But probably wishes she did. Hell, Beyonce probably did too. In a year's time, it wouldn't be shocking to hear the older Knowles enlisted Dev herself. Or even, gulp, Jay-Z.
Nicolas Jaar - 'And I Say' ft. Scout LaRue and Will EpsteinPretty sure this is the song I've listened to most in 2012. Quietly released at the turn of the year, the production wiz crafted here some weird, milky jam out of pottering drums, a distant "woo" and Scout LaRue's excellent vocals. Like the song's construction, each lyric seems to cut off before its logical end point, evoking a trancelike aspect to the tracks sturdy propulsion. "I have a bath and all my skin / my hair done like a lion's mane." *sax* "covered up with garden dirt / with just one glance you tear my skirt / and I say..." *sex*.
Divine Fits - 'Baby Get Worse'
Divine Fits' debut record, A Thing Called Divine Fits, was probably my favourite record this year. If such a thing can be rated solely by how many plays it lodges from beginning to end. It's not a record that breaks new ground especially; more an exercise in songcraft. As befits the meeting of two idiosyncratic songwriters with success in the indie-pop realm—Spoon's Britt Daniel and Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs' Dan Boeckner—it's an album of expert symbiosis; of rock and electro, soul and spunk, cold production nouse and loose, lively performance. Lyrically Boeckner dominates with his nagging barbs borne from the dissolution of his marriage (something that, as far as we could tell in August this year, he first told TheVine) - exactly the kind of emotional purpose required here to offset the cries of "supergroup". This album wasn't just an idea - it was a necessity. It sounds like it. 'Baby Get Worse' isn't the most revolutionary song on the record, but it does scan as the band's immediately timeless template.
Kindness - 'Swingin Party'
This is a cover song. Which explains why there's nothing else on Kindness' debut World You Need A Change of Mind that's remotely as good. Kindness (aka 29-year-old Adam Bainbridge from London) turns the Replacements shabby '85 ode to falling through the cracks into a wistful, cool drive through the autobhan at night. (If that was a sticker on, I don't know, Rod Stewart's inevitable Christmas album, I'd buy it in a second. DID YOU KNOW: the original version of 'Sailing', the song Rod Stewart covered and made famous, sounds nearly exactly like Neutral Milk Hotel -- a delicious quirk in the fabric of music history.) French producer Phillipe Zdar got the clicky drum sound on 'Swingin' Party' by tapping it out on his boots. True. And why he makes better records than you.
Major Lazer - 'Get Free'
If there's an attractive thing about Diplo, beyond his relentless enthusiasm, is it's that he's not precious. Tinny sounds, lopsided mixes, unafraid of off-pitch tunings...all in the service of fun. And that his best songs are usually based around just one sales pitch: "Melancholic reggae with the singer from Dirty Projectors." Coming right up. "A killer K Pop song based almost entirely on a bubble sound." Sure. Combined here with Amber Coffman's "I just can't believe what they've done to / we could never get free / I just want to dream" Diplo had the most unlikely affecting anthem-against-injustice of 2012.
Tame Impala - 'Feels Like We Only Go Backwards'
The thing I love about this song (and album) is how AWFUL it sounds. I mean, was it recorded on mini-disc? Christ. What mixer Dave Friedmann must have salvaged from Kevin Parker's home recorded mess deserves a "recoverable files" award. But it's also exactly why the whole thing feels fantastic. Parker's jumble of degraded audio—clicks, pops and hisses—serve his molasses-thick alterna-world well. Throw in the dreamiest "why hasn't anyone thought of that before" hook of the chorus and it's every building block you need to project your own universe of longing upon.
Father John Misty - 'Hollywood Forever Cemetary Sings'
Back to that minimal thing. One second into this song—enough to hear the cavernous boom of a reverbed out bass drum—the song is poking you in the chest. By 21 seconds in, as the hanging, repeated chord resolves its arrangement, mood and "Jesus Christ girl / what are people going to think / when I show up to one of several funerals / I've attended for grandpa this week / with you / with me / someone's gotta help me dig." Then the bass comes in with a tambourine and this classic, traditional four instrument configuration sounds more essential than the million other bands waving instruments around. Not to mention that—as J Tillman's first introduction of his music to the world post-Fleet Foxes—it renders the memories of his old band as, well, old. The fact that the live version of this song traditionally ends in a white noise wig-out...well: stick a fork in me, I'm done.
If you're wondering why there's a lack of local artists here, it's because I already wrote up such a thing for Who The Hell. See here.
Marcus Teague (@marcusTheVine)