Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On Warmer Music's Favorite Songs of 2012 [10-1]

Finally, we have arrived at my ten favorite jams from these past twelve months. And not only that, we've got all thirty songs available in one easy mix for your rocking pleasure, enjoy!

Download all 30 Songs As A .RAR
See Songs 30-21
See Songs 20-11

10. "Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus" - Titus Andronicus  Buy Local Business
Titus Andronicus tosses off punky bar anthems in the vein of Cock Sparrar with such ease that it's easy to forget that within those four minutes of rock lies at an upper-level term paper's worth of personal/philosophical speculation. First appearing this spring on the Titus Andronicus LLC Mixtape, the initial rough version of "Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape With The Flood of Detritus" featured shout-along vocals from Alex Levine of the So So Glos as well as some thoroughly pubish "ois," which were polished out of the album cut and replaced with sprightly sleigh bells. Listening to Stickles confront his own smallness and mortality in the face of a world full of people blinded by their own narrow focus has proven surprisingly comforting throughout 2012. It is true however, that sometimes I just turn of my brain, tune out the lyrics and rock the fuck out instead. After all, someday all that will remain in these wise words are stains - we can't change it so we might as well find some perverse way to celebrate it.
9. "Heartbreaker" - The Walkmen  Buy Heaven
Few groups have embraced maturity quite as well as the Walkmen, who, over the course of the the past decade, have managed to move from tortured outcasts to confident rock veterans. "Heartbreaker" is one the more charged songs on the mature Heaven, but its lyrics reflect that hard-won confidence. Backed by undeniably angry guitars that are also somewhat downplayed in the mix, Hamilton Leithauser's lyrics are forceful and powerful yet also have nothing prove. It's a song about moving past the drama and tumult of youth and embracing middle-aged - practically an audio antidote to This Is 40. "These are the good years / The best we'll ever know" - in the context of the song, Leithauser is making a confident assertion regarding his life, in the context of the band's career, it's hard not to read it as a musical statement as well.
8. "Harbor Bridges" - The Sea and Cake  Buy Runner
In my Spectrum Culture review of Runner, I singled out "Harbor Bridges" as a standout song not just on the album but of the Sea and Cake's career:

The album’s quiet centerpiece, “Harbor Bridges” is unique within the Sea and Cake catalog. The song sports soft acoustic fingerpicking that calls to mind the bedroom folk of early Iron & Wine backed by soothing electric guitars that faintly resemble pedal steel. “Harbor Bridges” is less experimentation than it is sighing acoustic pop. It is quite simply, achingly gorgeous, with an appeal broad enough to make it a gift to people who don’t normally like the Sea and Cake and a revelation to those who do. It may not be ostentatious, but “Harbor Bridges” lifts a curtain that allows us to see an entirely different direction this band could have successfully taken, had they been so inclined.
My appreciation has only grown since then, the song becoming the soundtrack to every sun-dappled late-afternoon hike or daydream. It's gorgeous, please download and enjoy.

7."Stay Useless" - Cloud Nothings  Buy Attack On Memory
Fittingly enough, the Cloud Nothings exploded onto my radar with a force not dissimilar to that which burst out of a heavy grey sky to cut their set cruelly short at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival. Since downloading their album shortly afterwards, few songs have manifested the ebola-like catchiness of "Stay Useless." Mixing the heavy guitars and slacker-friendly lyrics of '90s alt-rock with a tempo and sense of purpose  that would put much of that genre to shame, it's a slice indie rock with the fury of it's original '80s godfathers. Much as Dylan Baldi might claim otherwise in this song, the man has shown incredible ambition, turning his bedroom pop recording project in a searing and challenging full band. "Stay Useless" perfectly straddles the line between angry noise and cutting melody and remains the kind of song that I keep telling myself legitimately could be a big radio single, given the right break. Oh well, at least it's blowin' up the blogs...
6. "The Wrong Song" - BBU  Download bell hooks
"Won't stand up for your Star-Spangled Banner / Won't get played on your Clear Channel / I'm not ashamed to have something to say / I'm so bored with the U.S.A." It might have been those powerhouse opening lines that made me first fall in love with the sadly-departed BBU. Politically conscious, pissed-off, intelligent, articulate and carrying the badges of punk and hip-hop proudly side-by-side, those few lines represented everything that was necessary about BBU this year. Driving by a manic beat, "The Wrong Song" is a blur of angry questions that indict the singers, the listeners and society as a whole in the same breath. "We dance to all the wrong songs / We break all the wrong laws / We fight all the wrong wars / Barrack, what's going on?" the female chorus asks, a question that should have been asked by every disillusioned liberal, societal commentator or person with a pulse and a brain in 2012.

5. "Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1" - Mountain Goats  Buy Transcendental Youth
John Darnielle's songs have always been about more than just character sketches and wordplay - they're little blueprints that try to help you navigate and scary, angry world that holds both beauty and terror at every turn. One of the 'Goats all-time great songs of uplift was the tale of youthful drunkeness "This Year," whose chorus heard Darnielle proclaiming "I am gonna make it through this year / If it KILLS me." Named in honor of Ms. Winehouse, "Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1" provides the thesis for which "This Year" provided illustration. No doubt inspired by his recent fatherhood, Darnielle sounds like he's giving advice to a son or daughter, telling them to "do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive / do every stupid thing to drive the dark away." Singing on top of scratchy acoustic guitar and the pounding rhythm section of Wurster and Hughes, the effect is an imperative delivered with the weight of the ages. This was yet another song that was all-too-easy for me to read personally and hold close to my chest. Thank God for music like that.
4. "Krokodil" - St. Vincent
Excerpted from my entry on Spectrum Culture's Top 25 Songs of 2012.
St. Vincent songs have traditionally mixed Clark’s viscous guitar work and ominous lyrics with cooing vocals and softer, poppier accents, using sweetness to cut (or enhance?) the menace. “Krokodil” explodes out of the gates with a filthy guitar assault torn directly from Steve Albini’s Chicago playbook circa 1987. Behind this wave of distortion and angry drums, Clark sings a tortured ode to the notorious Russian street drug Krokodil (Google image search not recommended for the faint of stomach), a destitute man’s heroin substitute, famous for devouring the very flesh of its unfortunate users. Playing on the drug’s animal homophone, the song’s lyrics seem to revel in the process of being consumed by addiction, likening it to a croc’s “sweet” bite. As aggressively post-punk as any Reagan-era Touch and Go release, “Krokodil” nonetheless sounds like an invigorating next step for Clark, who continues to take that abrasive indie tradition and bend it effortlessly to fit her own aesthetic.
3. "R.A.P. Music" - Killer Mike  Buy R.A.P. Music
Killer Mike finally had his full breakout this year, with a big assist from the signature production stylings of El-P. I've seen both "Reagan" and "Big Beast" popping up on a lot of these year-end lists and though both are great songs, I'm still partial to the album-closing statement-of-purpose that is "R.A.P. Music." With the contraction standing for Real African People, Mike positions hip-hop as religion, a force of good for a community torn apart from both within and without. Citing a lineage from Muddy Waters to Nina Simone to OutKast, the song is a testament to the enduring nature of faith, resistance and music throughout human history, but especially for black Americans. "This is sanctified sick / This is playa Pentacostal / This is CHURCH!" Mike screams, "What my people need / And the opposite of bullshit." As an outsider privilidged to witness the service, might I just add an "amen."
2. "The House That Heaven Built" - Japandroids  Buy Celebration Rock
Japandroids gave us an hour of catharsis with the aptly-titled Celebration Rock but the record was split in two halves. While the front end was heavy on celebration, the latter focused on what to do once you realize that the party's over and life must go on. In "The House That Heaven Built," Brian King tries to answer that question - by never forgetting how strongly you felt everything your first time around but still having the courage to keep going. Singing presumably about trying to find love again after having lost someone, King manages to make the courage of loving sound as muscular as it ever has. Built on frenetic, burnt-out guitar chords and massive-back-of-the-arena drumming, it's a song that sacrifices none of its emotional heft in achieving sonic grandiosity. Shouting along to the "oh oh oh ohs" of the chorus amidst a sweaty field of similarly-delirious fans this summer was one of the high points of my year and every time I hear those opening chords is like a I've bottled a small drought of that feeling for later consumption.
1. "Hold On" - Alabama Shakes Buy Boys and Girls
My entry from PopMatters' 75 Best Songs of 2012.
The Alabama Shakes’ Brittney Howard has pipes and she knows how to use ‘em. The Shakes rode into 2012 on a tidal wave of hype and responded by delivering a batch of rough, but solid songs, spearheaded by the monster single, “Hold On”. Although the plunking guitar is what first catches the ear, it’s Howard’s delivery that really steals the show. She starts out in a smokey croon that grows increasingly plaintive until she starts gaining steam in the chorus like an airplane taxiing on the runway. By the second time through, her voice is planted firmly in a range last seen in Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”. Though the rest of the Boys and Girls is a bit of mixed bag, consider “Hold On” a sizable down payment on that whole “future of Southern rock” promise. 

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