Kicking this shitstorm of a year into the past, one last look at many great songs in 2012...
A Silent Film Anastasia, This Stage Is Your Life
Alpines Empire, Chances, Got Me Wrong
AVAN LAVA Sisters. Merry Xmas To Me
Tori Amos Flavor, Precious Things, Cloud On My Tongue
Thomas Azier Metropolitan Tribe
Katy B Aaliyah (with Jessie Ware)
Azealia Banks 212
Sara Barielles Sweet As A Whole, Lie To Me
The Barr Brothers Beggar In The Morning
Bat For Lashes Laura
Tom Baxter Sugarcane
Justin Bieber Catching Feelings, Beauty And A Beat
Bim Scream. Monster
Boy George Video Games
Bright Light Bright Light Feel It, Moves, Waiting For A Feeling (Trouser Enthusiasts Mix), Blueprint, Cry At Films
Gabriel Bruce Perfect Weather
Paul Buchanan I Remember You
Andy Burrows If I Had A Heart, Because I Know That I Can, Company
Reuben Butchart Nameless And Awake
Melanie C Both Sides Now
Mara Carlyle The Devil And Me
Cassie King Of Hearts
Kelly Clarkson Catch My Breath
Chery Cole Telescope
David's Lyre English Roses, Heartbeat
Deacon Blue The Hipsters, Here We Are In London Town
Deadmau5 Telemiscommunication (with Imogen Heap)
Lana Del Rey National Anthem, Radio, This Is What Makes Us Girls, Off To The Races, Video Games, Ride
Donkeyboy Silver Moon
Rose Elinor Dougall Hanging Around
Dragonette Untouchable, Let it Go, My Ghosts, Lay Low, My Legs Go Out Late, Giddy Up, Merry Xmas
Ed Drewett Good Morning (Monsieur Adi Mix)
Mark Eitzel I Love You But You're Dead
Paloma Faith Picking Up The Pieces, Blood Sweat and Tears, 30 Second Love Affair
Skye Ferreira Everything's Embarrassing, Ghost
Fibes, Oh Fibes! Goodbye To Love
Florrie Shot You Down, I'm Gonna Get You Back
Foxes Warrior, Echo
Garbage I Hate Love
Melody Gardot My Heart Won't Have It Any Other Way, So Long
Glee Cast The Scientist
Girls Aloud On The Metro, Every Now And Then
Gold Fields Dark Again
Goldfrapp Melancholy Sky, Yellow Halo
Gossip Perfect World, Casualties Of War, Get Lost, Move In The Right Direction,
Ellie Goulding My Blood, Without Your Love, I Know You Care, The Ending, Dead In The Water
Vivian Green Anything Out There
HAIM Don't Save Me, Forever, Send Me Down
Ren Harvieu Through The Night, Open Up Your Heart, Summer Romance
Richard Hawley Don't Stare At The Sun
Imogen Heap You Know Where To Find Me
Missy Higgins Unashamed Desire, Set Me On Fire, Everyone's Waiting
Hot Chip Don't Deny Your Heart,
Icona Pop I Love It
The Irrepressibles Two Men In Love
Carly Rae Jepson Call Me Maybe, This Kiss
Elton John vs PNAU Sad
Jillette Johnson Torpedo
Ronan Keating Love You And Leave You
R Kelly Feelin' Single
Alicia Keys When It's All Over
The Killers Flesh And Bone, Here With Me
Liane La Havas Lost And Found, Gone, No Room For Doubt
Ladyhawke Black White and Blue, Cellophane
Lexy And The Kill Rope Swing
Amelia Lily You Bring Me Joy
Madonna Love Spent, Falling Free, Beautiful Killer, I Don't Give A, I'm Addicted
Amanda Mair Said And Done, Skinnarviksberget, Leaving Early, You've Been Here Before
Man Without A Country Iceberg
Marina And The Diamonds Hypocrates, Power And Control, Sex Yeah, Valley Of The Dolls, How To Be A Heartbreaker... all of it
George Michael White Light
Miguel Adorn, Don't Look Back
Mika Origin Of Love
Kylie Minogue Hand On Your Heart, I Believe In You
Alanis Morissette Magical Child, Havoc
Jason Mraz The World As I See It, Who's Thinking About You Now?
Laura Mvula She, Like The Morning Dew
Nashville Cast No One Will Ever Love You
Ne-Yo Stress Reliever
Niki And The Dove Taylor, Somebody
No Doubt Settle Down, Looking Hot, Push and Shove, Undone, Easy, Dreaming The Same Dream... all of it
Frank Ocean Bad Religion, Sweet Life, Thinking About You
Of Monsters And Men Little Talks
Beth Orton Mystery
Parade Light Me Up
Passion Pit Take A Walk, Love Is Greed, Where We Belong, It's Not My Fault I'm Happy
Katy Perry Wide Awake
Pet Shop Boys Leaving, Face Like That, Winner (Andrew Dawson Happy Sad Mix), Breathing Space
Pink Just Give Me A Reason
Polica Dark Star
Poolside Slow Down
The Presets Promises
Gemma Ray Alright! Alive!, How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall?
Dawn Richard Intro (Call To Hearts)
Rihanna Stay, Nobody's Business, Diamonds, Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary, Get It Over With
Royksopp Running To The Sea (with Susanne Sundfor)
Saint Etienne Tonight (Richard X Extended Mix), I've Got Your Music, DJ, Last Days Of Disco, Over The Border.. all of it
Saint Lou Lou Maybe You
Emeli Sande Next To Me, Heaven, Daddy, Lifetime, Mountains,Wonder
Scissor Sisters Let's Have A Kiki, Only The Horses, Baby Come Home, Inevitable
Smash Cast Crazy Dreams
Snow Patrol New York, Garden Rules, This Is Not
Solange Losing You, Lovers In The Parking Lot, Locked In Closets
Jimmy Somerville Taken Away (Fred Falke Mix), Kite
Sam Sparro The Shallow End, I Wish I Never Met You, Hearts Like Us,
St. Lucia Paper Heart, September
Stars The North, Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Get it,
Summer Camp Better Off Without You
Frida Sundemo Indig, Snow
Tegan And Sara Closer, I'm Not Your Hero
Tracey Thorn Joy, Snow, Hard Candy Christmas
Kristina Train Dream Of Me, Saturdays Are The Greatest, Dark Black, Stick Together, Lose You Tonight
Two Door Cinema Club The World Is Watching
Usher Climax, Looking 4 Myself, Numb
Van She Jamaica
Rufus Wainwright Out of The Game, Jericho, Barbara, Sometimes You Need
Richard Walters Young Trees, Regretless, Blossom
Jessie Ware Running, Devotion, Wildest Moments, Night Light, No To Love, Something Inside... all of it
War Of Words Battleground
Zak Waters Skinny Dipping In The Deep End
Robbie Williams Be A Boy, Reverse
Yuna Decorate, Lullabies
Zedd (with Foxes) Clarity
Bertine Zetlitz Get Me Out Of Bed
December 28, 2012
A strange year for pop, with very few really stellar albums. So I've become more selective: the albums below were solidly played, with additional great records listed further down. As I said on an earlier list, I wish that many albums this year had been EPs. There's no real need for 11 songs if only 6 are truly worthy. Of course, it's all subjective: one man's perfect playlist is another man's argument. Several of my reviews below were first published in an alternate form in the American (print) magazine, Instinct. Have at it...
Album Of The Year is a TIE
Jessie Ware Devotion
Play the flawless Devotion for the first time in the dark, with wine. London’s Ware – formerly a backup singer for Paloma Faith - is living proof that less is more: she knows when to hold back and when to give. Devotion’s sleek tunes recall the era of Sade and Lisa Stansfield, with a contemporary edge. The pounding drums on killer single Wildest Moments anchor the story of a love affair that only the lovers understand ("From the outside / Everyone must be wondering why we try"). Night Light’s cellos and cascading electric guitars create a seductive bed from which Ware can cut loose vocally. This is goosebump territory. [full review]
Standout tracks: Not a dud track on Devotion, but I'll choose Night Light and Wildest Moments as my favorites, followed by No To Love, Something Inside and Running.
Marina And The Diamonds Electra Heart
I love that everyone thought this album might be doomed. It's actually perfect. Marina pulls off an amazing trick: carpet-bagging it to her much adored Hollywood to record with chart topping producers. That the final LP still sounds like Marina is not only testament to her X factor, but to the strength of her artistic vision. At the end of the day, Marina Diamandis has something to say. Bonus points for writing several songs with longtime legend Rick (Belinda, Stevie) Nowels. If this were 1984, Electra Heart would have sold 10 million.
Standout tracks: Radioactive, Hypocrates, Power And Control, Starring Role, Sex Yeah and Valley Of The Dolls, but it's all great.
...and more fantastic albums/EPs, in no order:
Bright Light Bright Light Make Me Believe In Hope
Rod Thomas – or BLx2 as I say – was one of a handful of men doing literate pop music in 2012. This is electro with a beating heart. Songs like Disco Moment have an honest emotional core beneath the strobe-lit keyboards. Make Me Believe is stacked with highlights, from the ecstatic Cry At Films, a collaboration with Scissor Sisters' Del Marquis, to the summer jam Feel It. The latter’s wailing diva - actually a man - was the C and C Music Factory moment we didn’t know we craved. “Just open up your lips and say you love me.” We did, Rod.
Standout tracks: Feel It, Disco Moment, Cry At Films, Debris, Waiting For The Feeling
No Doubt Push And Shove
Gwen Stefani is the Great American Girl, isn’t she? She's still got her SoCal style and accent and her red, red lips; the only roots she’s ever denied are in her hair. Amazingly, Push And Shove is the band’s first album since 2001. “Everything’s changed, I’ve changed a lot,” she sings on Heaven, but this band still has the tunes. Gwen, Tony, Tom and Adrian deliver eleven near-perfect songs adding up to what may be the most listenable, kick-ass pop record of 2012. For more, see my full review on Idolator.
Standout tracks: Dreaming The Same Dream, Looking Hot, Push And Shove, Easy, Settle Down, Undone.
Gossip A Joyful Noise
When the iconic Beth Ditto released her 2011 dance EP, there was a collective wail of "more please." She and her band come through with the aptly titled A Joyful Noise. Producer Brian Higgins (of Girls Aloud fame) takes the trio's melodic rock and sprays it with a sleek disco sheen. The dark Perfect World literally glistens with twilight synths, while Casualties Of Love is a rare Gossip ballad, with Ditto turning down the volume for a tune documenting quiet heartbreak ("I'm fighting tears, you couldn't tell. I'm not as strong as you thought I was."). Get A Job is built on a slayer hook: "I’d love to stay and party, but I gotta go to work!" This is the sound of a band letting its pop heart shine through. [full track by track]
Standout tracks: Perfect World, Move In The Right Direction, Casualties Of War, Get A Job and Love In A Foreign Place
David's Lyre Picture Of Our Youth
David's Lyre - now defunct - was the professional moniker of Paul Dixon from Manchester, UK. After a long gestation, he independently released this sublime debut in February. Vocally, he reminds me a bit of Dr Robert from Blow Monkeys, but the sound fits right in with Patrick Wolf and even, at times, groups likes Camera Obscura. Some of the tracks have an 80's Scottish pop feel (English Roses), while others (Heartbeat) are totally in the now. This is not the indie bedsit fuckery that sometimes pops up on bandcamp (where you can buy it); it's an accomplished - and very British - gem of an album.
Standout Tracks: English Roses, Heartbeat, Only Love
Tracey Thorn Tinsel And Lights
In the heap of plasticine Christmas albums, Tracey Thorn's holiday offering was a crisp, silvery bauble. Her song choices range from country-hip gems like Dolly Parton's Hard Candy Christmas to lesser knowns, like Sufjan Stevens' gorgeous Sister Winter. The presence of Scritti Politti's Green Gartside (whose voice has miraculously not aged) on Low's Taking Down The Tree is a particular gift to longtime fans. Occasionally, as on Like A Snowman or the self penned title track, the arrangements take you - thrillingly - back to the pre-electronic era of her group, Everything But The Girl. With a voice as comforting as any fireside Christmas classic, Tracey Thorn remains a gift to the wise men and women who love her.
Standout tracks: Joy, Tinsel And Lights, Hard Candy Christmas, Snow
Solange True EP
Hey, don't call her basement baby, m'kay? #rude Our beloved boho goddess Solange hooked up with Dev Hynes to produce a Brooklyn hipster chick manifesto. I'm excited to hear how she translates this to a full length album in 2013. This is fucking cool... be there or be square.
Standout tracks: Losing You, Lovers In The Parking Lot, Locked In Closets
Saint Etienne Words And Music By Saint Etienne
Flat out stunning. A band that hits full stride on its eighth studio album, a concept record about loving music. With shimmery disco pop (DJ), wistful spoken word (Over The Border) and rubbery 90's jams (I've Got Your Music), this trio finds the sweet spot in their 40's.
Standout Tracks: DJ, Last Days Of Disco, I've Got Your Music, Over The Border, Popular, Tonight
Pet Shop Boys Elysium
Elysium makes it to this list with a serious technical note: It is a very flawed long player. The album is an uneasy mix of stunning tracks and weak tracks (including a failed experiment or two). What would have been ideal is if the Boys had released an EP including some of the extended versions (think Introspective), highlighting the more pastoral sound of the record. To that end, this is the playlist I'd create for it, which is close to a full-length in running time:
Elysium (XO's version): Leaving (I Believe In PSB mix), Invisible, Winner (Andrew Dawson Extended HappySad Mix), Face Like That, Breathing Space, Memory Of The Future (Ulrich Schnauss Mix), Requiem in Denim And Leopardskin.
Rufus Wainwright Out Of The Game
Although it was recorded in New York, Rufus Wainwright’s smooth seventh studio album sounds like it was rolled in the haze of the LA canyons. Working with producer Mark Ronson, he created a low-key 70’s style singer/songwriter pop gem. The title track, like a Honky Chateau leftover, seems to be sung to his younger self with trademark wit: “You’re only a young thing, about to sleep with a sea of men. Just hanging around, wearing something from God knows where. Just having a ball.” Another highlight, Jericho, ambles along like he recorded it with The Band. "The openhearted have nothing to fear" he sings on a middle eight punctuated by swooning strings. Out Of The Game is a sweet return from one of today's best songwriters.
Standout Tracks: Out Of The Game, Jericho, Montauk, Respectable Dive, Sometimes You Need
More solid records this year:
Madonna MDNA (another that would make a better long EP)
Stars The North
Missy Higgins The Ol' Razzle Dazzle (best album title)
Andy Burrows Company
Deacon Blue The Hipsters
Lianne La Havas Is Your Love Big Enough?
Kristina Train Dark Black
St Lucia St Lucia EP
Amanda Mair Amanda Mair
Passion Pit Gossamer
What did I forget? Please comment or bellow at me/kiss me on Tumblr, lastFM, This Is My Jam and Twitter.
top photo by Hedi Slimane
December 26, 2012
This is like a novella... do get a cup of tea.
Artists of the Year: Saint Etienne. I have a soft spot for a band that nails it 22 years into their career with a concept album about loving pop music. Diverse sounds, crisp production and performance, coupled with a great tour and tons of bonuses for fans. Marina And The Diamonds, essentially flawless throughout 2012; from her promo images to the range displayed on her sophomore album, which came in a multiple versions, throwing iTunes purists into chaos. And little Jessie Ware for creating a debut record with 11 subtle masterpieces. God bless her for putting up with all those people who confused her with [shudders] Jessie J.
Killer EPs: Another year of a brilliant format! St Lucia's debut EP, Solange's Brooklyn-cool True, Alpines' Early Hours, Jimmy Somerville's Solent, Sky Ferreira's Ghost and Florrie's Late.
Albums That Should Have Been Epic EPs Instead of Long Players: Madonna's MDNA and Pet Shop Boys' Elysium.
Singing Voice(s) Of The Year: Sky Ferreira, who finally found her true voice on the Ghost EP. Rod Thomas, aka Bright Light Bright Light, whose pure, honest singing enhances the emotional themes on his pop debut without ever gilding the lily. True of the Jessie Ware too.
Saddest Record I Cannot Play For Fear Of Doing A Sylvia Plath: Ellie "There's trouble ahead, I can feel it" Goulding's forlorn (if overproduced) Halcyon.
Performance Of The Year: Easy. Frank Ocean performing Bad Religion on Fallon. His first TV appearance was the most emotional performance of the year. His sweet smile when Fallon thanks him at the end reminded me of when Sia was on Letterman several years ago and you could tell she knew she had fucking slayed it. Fallon was a well-earned career moment for Frank.
The Most Repetitive Imagery Award goes to Lippy Lana Del Rey. Daddies, mobsters, Marilyn, Jesus, trashy dumb girls, gun molls, Vegas, old men. The lyrics are like a word cloud of seven or so images repeated over and over.
Imagery I Was Most Uncomfortable With: Madonna's gun obsessed opening act on her MDNA tour. And we all know that I'll be the one who's called a killjoy in this scenario but, sorry, it was [sips tea] reductive.
Unadulterated Fail of the Year: 7 Digital being forced to cave to international licensing issues, thus making it impossible for fans to buy music from other territories' shops. This problem remains an inexplicable blight on music sales. Said it before: Work it out or we'll find a way to get the music elsewhere.
Producer Of The Year: Dave Okumu and Julio Bashmore for their work on Jessie Ware's cool and accessible Devotion. And Dev "Blood Orange" Hynes for his double whammy of the Solange EP True and Sky Fereiria's whip-smart single, Everything Is Embarrassing
Have You Seen This Band? Award: Scissor Sisters, for the unrecognizable Magic Hour (a record many did like). The only truly Scisstery song on it was also a sleeper hit: Let's Have A Kiki.
Best Website: Popjustice Forums, and its parent site, of course. Idolator too, which I sometimes write for! Does Soundcloud count as a website? If you're an artist who doesn't use it, I am probably not listening to you.
Biggest Album Cover Fail: Gossip's dire Joyful Noise cover image, which completely counteracted the title and actual sound of the album. Aside from the fact it was scarily off-putting. Beth Ditto deserved a truly iconic image for that pop disco LP.
Album I Wanted To Like But Just Could Not Play Neneh Cherry's aggrojazz return with The Cherry Thing. #dontunderstandit
Worst Website: The Blogger backend redux, which came close to killing my love of blogging.
Live Show Of The Year: Grace Jones going down with the ebulient ship that was New York the night before Hurricane Sandy. Her Roseland show was a life moment for me (my review). Also loved Gold Fields / St Lucia at U Street Music Hall in DC. Also love Saint Etienne at Webster Hall in NYC and Dragonette at the Black Cat in DC.
The Where Does This Career Go Now Award: Lana Del Rey. Seriously, what next?
Best Indie Acts: Autoheart, AVAN LAVA, St. Lucia, Bim, Bright Light Bright Light
Worst Video Performance: Little Boots embarrassing Every Night I Say A Prayer (good tune though).
Favorite Non Blog Piece I Did: A fun, casual chat with Darren Hayes at the start of his fall tour. Tied with a 20th Anniversary review of Madonna's Erotica for Idolator.
Best Video Performance: Pink, doing modern dance in Try. Anything with Marina Diamandis, especially Power And Control.
When Friendly Fires Walk Away From Pop, Another Band Will HappReplace Them: New Aussie guys Gold Fields.
Best Artist To Be A Fan Of: Bright Light Bright Light, because there's something new almost every week: a mash-up, a video, a remix. And a bare ass in Attitude Magazine. Sharing is caring.
Best Christmas Tunes: Tracey Thorn's wistful Joy, along with funny tracks by AVAN LAVA (Merry Christmas 2 Me) and Dragonette (Merry Xmas Says Your Text Message).
Best Remasters: Everything But The Girl's first four albums.
Best Summer Album: Make Me Believe In Hope by Bright Light Bright Light
Best Musical Man of Tweet: Once again, Aaron Gilbert of Delays, who only this week (in response to me asking where my Christmas card was) tweeted to me "I sent it ages ago with Butt Plug (XL)." And Cher! Always Cher.
Best New Artist: Haim (group), Jessie Ware (female solo) and Bright Light Bright Light (male solo).
Most Clever Album: Good Morning To The Night, the "new" Elton John album produced by Aussie whizkids PNAU. The Sad single was the most lush, lovely moment this summer, capturing Elton's voice at it's most expressive.
The "Your Music and Your Look Are Exceedingly Middle Aged" Award: Emeli "I'm only 25, really!" Sande and her debut LP, stacked with ten ballads. Pretty songs, but lighten up belle!
Most Favored New Social Media: This Is My Jam because it's so simple to use and I truly have found new music via friends' jams.
Top Remixes Of The Year: Bright Light Bright Light Waiting For The Moment (Trouser Enthusiasts Mix), Pet Shop Boys Leaving (Believe In PSB Mix), Ed Drewett Good Morning (Monsieur Adi Mix), Pet Shop Boys Winner (Andrew Dawson Extended Happy Sad Remix), Jimmy Somerville Taken (Fred Falke Mix), Cause And Effect Happiness Is An Alien (Ecotek and James Egbert Club Mix), Bright Light Bright Light Feel It (Vinny Vero / Steve Migliore Remix). There should be many more mixes here. Tell me in the comments what I missed!
Best Stoner Anthems of 2012: No Doubt's Easy ("I've got to get the taste of greenery / I'm on a hit and run / A yummy yummy yum.") and Rihanna's self-medication brooder Get It Over With ("I see you rolling it / Let's get it over with / Get high and float again").
Most Welcome Guest Vocal On A Pop Song: Mykal Kilgore providing Rod Thomas the wailing bridge vocals on Bright Light Bright Light's summer anthem Feel It. I also fell for that kid Egypt, the toddler spawn of Alicia Keys, on the end of When It's All Over (AK: Can you say eh? Egypt: No!").
Most Unwelcome Guest Vocal On A Pop Song: Chris Brown and Rihanna carrying on about how it's none of our "bi'ness" while they're tooting up on twitter every other day (this is on her track Nobody's Business). That loathsome douchebag brings Riri down to his level: She's at her most unlikeable when defending their dysfunctional "love." Let us all hope she escapes. Seriously.
Biggest Surprise Return Album: No Doubt's blazing pop resurrection with Push And Shove. It did virtually no business. Likewise, the uncool but talented Deacon Blue released a solid album with a perfect single, The Hipsters. Jimmy Somerville also did his best work in years.
Best Cover Songs: Boy George doing Llama Del Rey's epochal Video Games, the Glee Cast's version of Smooth Criminal with those dueling cello dudes. Thrilling. Kylie also produced the definitive version of her own Hand On Your Heart.
Albums That Sounded Like One Perfect Single With Nine B-Sides: Ladyhawke's lifeless Anxiety (Cellophane was the lone masterpiece) and Van She's Idea Of Happiness, which failed to live up to the summery perfection of Jamaica.
Other Disappointing Albums: I mention these because I really do think the artists are talented and generally worthy of attention. Keane's Strangeland was Mehville. Pink's rehash of everything she's done before on The Truth About Love (songs about her ages-old breakup with her husband? Really?). Alphabeat, Robbie Williams, Gypsy And The Cat, Bertine Zetlitz, Paloma Faith, Melody Gardot, Fibes O Fibes all died on my turntable. I found that my Mika ship had sailed. And I also didn't like the Garbage album (except for I Hate Love), but I think that may have just been me?
Best Look: The clever campaign of images for Marina's Electra Heart project. Pop scandal: The "don't try this at home" two-tone hair turned out to be a wig on top of real roots.
Worst Look: Well, clearly Xtuna Aguilera takes a special Lifetime Achievement Award in this category. But let me pick some higher hanging fruit: Ellie Goulding, for her pleather and death obsessed videos. I'm not even touching the Wonder Twins matching hairdo she did with her boyf Skrillex. Hey lovebirds, leave the shaving to Cassie, who did it first (and did it hot).
The Please Come Back Award: Sia, for writing the best songs on various other artists' albums (see Blank Page on Xtuna's Lotus and Diamonds by Riri). Both of those tracks have moments of subtle beauty uncharacteristic of their vocalists.
The PR Award: Really? You Expect Me To Fall For This? Azealia Banks. One perfect song (212) does not a career make. The press and fashion worlds have anointed her their goddess. Play me the songs. This could change, of course.
Worst Trends: Everything on the charts sounding like a clusterfuck of Dr Luke/ Katy Perry/ Riri/ Calvin Harris/ EDM. Worst offender? The pointlessly derivative debut by Rita Ora, a very pretty singer with very bad taste in men (Jonah Hill and a Kardashian). The other worst trend (or worse trend) is easily the disgusting resurgence of Chris Brown. Who exactly are these Chris Brown fans?
The We Still Cannot Understand What The Fuck You're Singing Award. Tori Amos, on her otherwise incredible single, the sweeping Flavor. The way she says the word "jurisdiction," it ages me.
Best Prince Imitation: Somebody by Niki And The Dove. Or maybe it's the Stand Back of 2012? Stand Back mixed with Little Red Corvette? Whatever, it's blazing.
Let's Admit It Ain't Gon' Happen Award: Cassie and Little Boots. Talented and doomed.
Worst Song: MDNA's utterly shit Give Me All Your Luvin, her weakest single in many years. Also: Girls Aloud's smug faux-humility ballad Beautiful Cause You Love Me, and Alphabeat's relentlessly perky Vacation. I'm leaving off artists I reallllly hate. What's the point?
Most Unexpectedly Gorgeous Song From An Otherwise Terrible Artist: Telescope by Cheryl (cough) Cole. More of this 70's ONJ wistfulness please, Ms Tweedy.
Best Not-The-Actual-Lyric: Actual misheard lyric on Marina And The Diamonds' Power And Control: "It's gonna be a fucking war." Actual lyric: "Eternal game of tug and war." Wishful misheard lyric: "I once wrote such Yiddish words for you" from Elton and PNAU's Sad. Actual lyric: "I once wrote such childish words for you."
Thank you to all who stuck with this blog in 2012. Please comment any time or find me on Tumblr, lastFM, This Is My Jam and Twitter. Lulz. I need a life!
image by Hedi Slimane
December 20, 2012
December 12, 2012
Thank God(dess) this year is over. It was, in a word, ass. That fact bleeds into the songs below, which tend to be of a theme. Doesn't matter because, as usual, music wins. Here is a mix of the most brilliant pop songs from 2012 (in no order).
1 Stars Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It CAN
SONG OF THE YEAR
I knew by the fourth play that this would be my favorite song. And the story couldn't be any sweeter: A literally pounding, New Orderish manifesto from an indie Canadian band over ten years into its career. We should have the song's lyrical peak, “Take the weakest thing in you and then beat the bastards with it,” stamped onto tee-shirts. This is the highlight of a glorious, too-hot summer.
2 Marina and The Diamonds Hypocrates UK
Not the most obvious cut from the essentially perfect Electra Heart album, but this track - co-written with the legendary Rick Nowels - is the album's most vulnerable. It's also, in a non-showy way, the most sophisticated in that it's not remotely trend seeking. "You let go of me." A sad one.
3 Jessie Ware Night Light UK
All year I waited for an artist to appear out of nowhere and thank God it was Jessie Ware. Night Light’s cellos and cascading electric guitars create a seductive bed from which she cuts loose vocally. This is goosebump territory.
4 Gossip Perfect World USA
One of the subtlest songs Beth Ditto's ever recorded (and from an unfairly maligned album). This dark anthem literally glistens with Xenomania's twilight synths. The way she sings "be my accomplice" is so intimate. Where Beth Ditto goes, I follow.
5 Pet Shop Boys Leaving (Believe In PSB Mix) UK
This old school extended mix amps the most beautiful aspects of Elysium's lead track. For me, it's all about the intricate puzzle of a chorus in which every syllabus and word seems to lead tightly to the next. "I will believe in love."
6 Madonna Love Spent USA
Say what you will about MDNA, but this money obsessed William Orbit collaboration was just what I wanted. Not only is it essentially two songs sewn together, but the unexpected banjo is the stuff that made M the legend she is. Note that the acoustic version is equally intriguing even if it sacrifices those "fireworks" in the final minute.
7 Usher Climax USA
The last thing I expected was to find Usher on this list. But Climax is undeniably a late career classic. Collaborator Diplo turns the dial down and lets Usher's octave climbing vocal lead a very sad song to a thrilling, if heartbreaking, conclusion."Where are you now, when I need you around?" This was on a loop.
8 Cassie King Of Hearts USA
Forever chasing a second album release, aggro birdy Cassie returned with a lush discopop sleeper. Who knew this girl had it in her? The "here we go" bridge is the finest Tennant/Lowe moment they've never recorded.
9 Rihanna Love Without Tragedy/ Mother Mary USA
Clear away your preconceptions of Rihanna for this progpop epic: it's one of her best songs. Two strangely amorphous tracks welded together, it feels like the former needs to be remixed as a standalone single. But then you hear that goosebump line at 2:50, when she sings so purely, "As time flies way above me, for you I've cried tears sea-deep." There's blues in the notes.
10 Bright Light Bright Light Feel It UK
My friend Rod Thomas saved this 90's House gem for his album release. New Kids On The Block are surely weeping now. And Rod is generous: Mykal Kilgore's wailing diva bridge steals the show gloriously. “Just open up your lips and say you love me.”
11 Elton John vs PNAU Sad UK/AUS
Old and new, Sad is so shimmering and lovely, it literally soothes. "Beneath these branches I once wrote such childish words for you. I held a dandelion when summer burned the earth again."
12 No Doubt Dreaming The Same Dream USA
Gwen closes No Doubt's flawless pop return with this cellphone-waver anthem. There's a solid thread of melancholy throughout this track as Gwendolyn copes with a disappointing romance ("who taught you how to love?") The final 90 seconds surges into a chill-inducing stadium frenzy.
13 Frida Sundemo Indigo SWE
Technically not out until 2013, but I played a rip of it on an endless loop these last few weeks of December. Swedish electropop that pulls off the Robyn trick of being completely anthemic, yet so utterly heartfelt. The chorus is a real giver: "Whatever they said / Whatever they misread / I'm illuminated / You're an indigo / What they cut / You're able to build up / There's no doubt in my mind / You're an indigo."
14 Autoheart Control UK
My friend Jody Gadsden had an impossible task - to follow-up an amazing earlier single with something equally worthy. He did it. Listen for yourself.
15 Jillette Johnson Torpedo USA
An intrepid tweep brought this slayer to my attention. I screamed about it on social media, but oddly never blogged it. Every year we need an empowerment anthem and this year unknown New Yorker Jillette brings out the big-ass guns: check out the martial drums that take the song out at 3:13. "Get me right in the heart / Blow me up 'til you see my ghost / But I will not lay down in the road / I will not make it easy." If you feel Florence, you need to hear this.
16 Sky Ferreira Everything Is Embarrassing USA
The one where Sky Ferriera finally has her moment. Collaborating with Brit Dev Hynes, she builds an urban drama of indifferent love. "Telling me that basically you're not looking out for me." Figuratively and literally one of the best voices of 2012.
17 Missy Higgins Unashamed Desire AUS
I wish I'd had this manifesto as a teenager. The chorus is mammoth, but it's the bridge lyric that sends me into orbit: "We get one sweet moment in the arms of youth / I don't wanna waste time holding down the truth / I've got everything to win and only pain to lose / This is my / Unashamed desire."
18 David's Lyre English Roses UK
A strange tale. The album from which this is culled was held in limbo by a label and eventually self released this spring by David's Lyre creator Paul Dixon. And then he promptly abandoned the whole project. So love this Brit pop charmer as an introduction and a swan song.
19 Ren Harvieu Open Up Your Arms UK
I'll say this much, Ren's old school sweeping romance soothes the heart. There's something about that male backing chorus on the sax-laden (!) bridge that seemed to be singing directly to me. As good songs do, yes?
20 Gabriel Bruce Perfect Weather UK
With an album due out in 2013, I have no idea whether this is a one-off moment from Bruce, who brings a Nick Cave-like vocal to a horny uptempo that should only be available on 7". The video, with Bruce's retro badass sexiness and a surprising moment of interpretive dance, seals the deal.
21 Haim Don't Save Me USA
Three sisters who are like the cast of GIRLS with guitars, harmonies and proper tunes. I don't know where they're from, but they belong in LA on a hot summer's night. Love the baller video too.
22 Girls Aloud On The Metro UK
Lifegiving. "A hundred o's and x's lighting up the dark / Now they turn into a question mark." Viva forever, GA.
What did I miss?
Some songs that made it to this list and were cut and added and cut at various times:
1 Marina and The Diamonds Power And Control, 2 Bat For Lashes Laura, 3 Bright Light Bright Light Waiting For The Feeling (Trouser Enthusiasts Mix), 4 Chairlift I Belong In Your Arms 5 Florrie Shot You Down, 6 Saint Etienne DJ, 7 Lianne LaHavas with Willy Mason No Room For Doubt 8 Richard Hawley Don't Stare At The Sun, 9 Solange Losing You, 10 Deacon Blue The Hipsters, 11 Rufus Wainwright Out Of The Game and, of course, Frank Ocean's Bad Religion.
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photo by Hedi Slimane