Last year, I came to you with on this date with my nine favorite songs to that point in 2011. This year, there have been 10 songs released I feel similarly motivated to tell you about, in alphabetical order by artist. Enjoy.
ARCTIC MONKEYS – “R U MINE?”
As they did with “Leave Before The Lights Come On” after their debut album, Arctic Monkeys unleashed this bone-crusher as a non-album single a few months after the release of Suck It and See. “R U Mine?” is a terrific combination of the Black Sabbath-esque power trips they’ve attempted the last few years and the inescapable energy of their early era. When I hear “R U Mine?” I’m reminded of the pissant teenagers who dominated my college musical tastes. Is this a sign they’re moving away from the melodic Suck explorations, and going back to the angry tones that made them famous more than a half-decade ago? We may know in the coming months.
BEACH HOUSE – “LAZULI” FROM BLOOM
My favorite album so far in 2012 has been this Baltimore dream pop duo’s fourth album, Bloom. The first two songs, “Myth” and “Wild,” are tunes I regard as much as any on this list. But it’s “Lazuli,” the third song and the centerpiece of Bloom‘s knockout opening, that makes me fall deeper in love every time I hear it. It’s clearly defined by its two halves with a shift from the first to the second coming literally in the middle. Following the delicate hums of the first part, we’re whisked away by the soft arpeggios of the latter part. The song just feels huge in every spot. Victoria Legrand’s voice soars everywhere and never sounds better when she hits that refrain: “Like no other you can’t be replaced.” There’ll likely be no other song this year that replaces how I feel about “Lazuli.”
CHROMATICS – “KILL FOR LOVE” FROM KILL FOR LOVE
I was naturally smitten with Chromatics when I fired up their fourth album, Kill For Love, and the first track was a synthed-out cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).” It didn’t hurt that the following title track encapsulated everything great about this release from Johnny Jewel and Ruth Radelet’s group. The pulsating drums, the longing guitar riffs, the breathless vocals, the perfectly-timed synth expressions, the general feeling of weightlessness: It boils down dream pop to its essence, a success for anyone attempting mastery of 2012’s most imitated indie subgenre. Does it make me feel like it’s 1988 all over again? Indeed. Yet, I was two years old then. So “Kill For Love” will have to placate me for now, and I’m fine with that.
HOT CHIP – “FLUTES” FROM IN OUR HEADS
London electronerds Hot Chip have established themselves as one of the most consistent, highly-regarded dance rock groups around. The absolute no-doubt-about-it apex of their fifth album, In Our Heads, is the intense, angry, destructive “Flutes.” Clocking it at over seven minutes, it accomplishes two difficult tasks for any song of its ilk: mixing fiery ferocity with delicious danceability. It builds and builds and builds some more until breaking down just past three minutes in. “All this talk is getting me down,” Alexis Taylor croons. “Nothing’s making sense in my brain.” As if we’re inside that brain, the drama rises up once again. There’s so much going on here, with one voice after another, drums that could be real or mechanized, even an ’80s-inspired marimba sound pops up. It ends somewhat softly, but the point is made. Then you hit the play button again.
JACK WHITE – “SIXTEEN SALTINES” FROM BLUNDERBUSS
Jack White has rarely been about subtlety. On his first solo album, “Sixteen Saltines” represents perhaps his least subtle attempt ever at ear-bleeding rock. The deafening main riff reminds me of what attracted me to White the first time I heard “Fell In Love With A Girl” 10 summers ago. This is certainly one of those songs that doesn’t require a drawn-out explanation: it rocks, it rocks hard and White clearly doesn’t care about anything here but causing hearing loss. The classic organ tinges behind the bridge riffs, the high-pitched guitar squeals leading up to the end, White practically screaming throughout the entire song: it all fits perfectly into exactly what we expect from White.
JOHN MAYER – “A FACE TO CALL HOME” FROM BORN AND RAISED
Born and Raised is not John Mayer’s best work. My initial disdain for the album has been greatly tempered since that first listen, there are more good songs than poor, however some still make me say, “Shit, this should be a B-side.” Yet I couldn’t possibly say that about the perfect, penultimate “A Face To Call Home.” Alongside two previous Mayer epics, “In Repair” and “Edge of Desire,” “Face” is the third in a Mayer self-examination trilogy. Where “Repair” is about not being together (but getting there), and “Edge” deals with being together but with scared uncertainty, “Face” finds Mayer at his most content while still bringing his incredible blues-rock chops to give the song his signature feel. “Maybe I could stay a while / I’m talking like all of the time.” This isn’t a Mayer we’ve heard before. I always wondered what happy Mayer would sound like. I love the answer.
PASSION PIT – “I’LL BE ALRIGHT” FROM GOSSAMER
In 2009 Passion Pit came out of nowhere with Manners, which doubled as the best debut album I’d heard in years and the album that provided me a turning point as a music fan. Gone were the days when I eschewed sounds made by machines. Michael Angelakos, Nate Donmoyer and the rest turned me on to the magic of electropop. There’s no 2012 album I’m anticipating more than Gossamer, which I can’t believe won’t be out for three more weeks. Lead single “Take A Walk” is tremendous, but it’s the second tune released, the gigantic-sounding “I’ll Be Alright,” that takes me back to the best parts of Manners. The frenetic pace, heavenly Angelakos vocals, squawking samples and out-and-out optimism tells me Passion Pit isn’t skipping a beat with their sophomore effort. I can’t wait to hear more.
THE SHINS – “SIMPLE SONG” FROM PORT OF MORROW
I never really listened to James Mercer’s longtime rock excursion the Shins before the sterling Port of Morrow was released this year. What I found was an album overpopulated with future classic rock radio staples for whenever 2012 earns “classic rock” status. There probably won’t be such thing as “classic rock radio” when that happens, but I digress. “Simple Song” has become its biggest song, bursting with arena-rock, Dennis DeYoung gravitas. It presents itself as a simple song about love, but it’s not entirely clear it ends well. Mercer successfully trumps up those awkward interactions (“Remember walking a mile to your house / Aglow in the dark / I made a fumbling play for your heart / And the act struck a spark”) we’ve experienced while the guitars jam along. Makes you feel like a teenager again, doesn’t it? That’s what good rock should do.
SLEIGH BELLS – “COMEBACK KID” FROM REIGN OF TERROR
Few indie rock acts have been more polarizing in recent years than Sleigh Bells. I haven’t encountered many people lukewarm on the duo’s scorched-earth style. It’s a love-hate thing and for the most part, it’s been a love thing for me. The finest song on their polished second album is “Comeback Kid,” which hits just about everything we’ve come to expect: Alexis Krauss’ sweet vocals meshed with Derek Miller’s power chords, a wild mess of percussion and a time signature you need a degree in physics to figure out. It manages to be far from predictable while still an easier listen than much of freshman effort Treats. Will they ever be more than a niche indie novelty? Will they ever appeal to more than a sliver of listeners? Will they ever get an actual fucking drummer to play with them live? If they keep making songs like “Comeback Kid,” I don’t care about the answers.
TEAR TALK – “SLEEPWALKING” FROM PORT SUNLIGHT EP
I know pretty much nothing about this band. From what I can tell, they are from Liverpool, they have one EP (which I still haven’t heard in full) and their Facebook page had a robust 172 likes as of Saturday (myself included). I came across this song on an indie rock mix torrent that comes out every month. Finding something worthwhile from an unknown artist on one of those is a trying task, but I unearthed a gem in “Sleepwalking.” Quick down-stroked guitar dominates alongside the reverberated vocals and there’s a terrific deep drum sound that reminds me of Bryan Devendorf’s work on High Violet. I love the fun keyboard line that drives the melody amongst hushed vocals. Sometimes it takes a little digging to find good music. This is one dig that paid off.
In the second half of the year I’m looking forward to new music from Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, Dave Matthews Band, the xx, David Byrne & St. Vincent, Two Door Cinema Club and Dum Dum Girls in addition to Passion Pit. It’s shaping up to be a very good year.