2012 provided another year of incredible music, from both Boston bands and the wider world. Music continued to transport us, to provide opportunities for celebration and for solace. Our simple mantra, that "music is important," drove us to engage with it in more and deeper ways, and -- not coincidentally -- our care and attention consistently was rewarded by bands finding new methods of knocking our proverbial socks off. And so we arrive at the end of the year, where we cast a long look back, we take stock of our ITunes playcounts, we think about the songs that occupied our mind and heart. The fruits of that examination are below, where we present our 10 favorite songs of 2012. Frankly, there are certain songs we are surprised not to see there (Karl Hendricks Trio's "The Men's Room At The Airport" immediately jumped to mind). But what did make the cut are tunes that moved us and continue to move us many months on. Expect to see our top albums list later this week, and perhaps lists from Michael and Edward before the year is out -- or before the new year has off-gassed a substantial amount of its newness -- as well. For now, we wish you and yours a peaceful and hopefully joyful balance of the year. If the songs below are not yet in your life, take some time and get into it.
1. Sun Airway -- "Close" -- Soft Fall
We try to stay sort of scientific with our top picks of the year, relying largely on data (basically, ITunes play counts). But there is also something to be said for the aggregate amount of time one spends singing a song to himself, something you will see us reference over and over below, and Sun Airway's "Close" ranks highest for us in 2012 based on that metric. The lovelorn lyric "I tried to get close to you," delivered by Sun Airway fronter Jon Barthmus, is among the most affecting of any this year, simple though it may be. The composition and arrangement on this brilliant single is anything but simple, however, with technicolor melodies and layered guitar and synths steadily spiraling around a stuttering rhythmic axis. Listen in via the embed below, and check out the amazing video right here. We reviewed the record for The Boston Phoenix in October right here.
2. Golden Gurls -- "I Can See The City" -- Typo Magic
A jaunty rhythm, big dense guitars modeled on Dinosaur Jr.'s Bug record, and a series of great melodies: what more can an indie rock fan ask for? "I Can See The City" is but one highlight of the Baltimore trio's exceptional debut full-length. From the undeniable, gestural guitar riff to the light, bouncing melody that complements it, to the peanut butter-thick guitars in the bridge, this is an understated piece of genius from one of the most thoughtful songwriters we've encountered in recent years. We're terrifically excited for Golden Gurls' planned sophomore set, but the band has set an extremely high bar for itself with Typo Magic and brilliant songs like "I Can See The City." We reviewed Typo Magic right here in May.
3. Everyone Everywhere -- "No Furniture" -- Everyone Everywhere (2012)
Although it opens with chugging fuzz bass and pummeling drums, Everyone Everywhere's "No Furniture" eventually exposes the still, desolate heart of the Philly punk heroes' second self-titled full-length, which the band self-released in 2012. The lyric describes the dismantling of a domestic situation, and at the tail of its second minute, the drums drop out momentarily, parting the composition like clouds to reveal the line "spare me the car ride home..." -- an indignity the apparently jilted just can't face. It's the receding water line chasing the final surrender of a narrator who's been worn down. And that moment of stillness that sets it off, it's also a momentary fissure in the fourth wall wherein our hero unburdens himself to us. In contrast to the quartet's prior two releases, Everyone Everywhere (2012) is substantially more mature, more emotionally weighty, as "No Furniture" perhaps best illustrates. We reviewed the record in September right here.
4. Swearin' -- "Movie Star" -- Swearin'
There were a number of excellent, excellent records in 2012 that we just didn't have the time to turn our critical ear upon, but that doesn't mean we enjoyed them any less. And so it was with Swearin's self-titled effort. The songs from the collection merged everything we love about pre-Warners Built To Spill -- you know, the brevity, the fizz and melodic sense -- with everything we love about The Breeders -- you know, the spunk and hooks... so pretty much the same thing, right? Chief among the songs on Swearin' in our cold little heart is the album closer "Movie Star." It's got insistent and scritchy guitar and bass, a patient pace, and the cheerfully self-effacing line "no one likes you when you're as old as we are." While we never got around to reviewing this record, we did play "Movie Star" during the September iteration of New Music Night and dozens and dozens of other times as well. Swearin' is an act we expect to hear a lot from for years to come, so if you do not yet know the name, mark it well. Dig the embed below.
5. Infinity Girl -- "Please Forget" -- Stop Being On My Side
This tune explodes out of the gate, even more so when the Boston quartet plays it live, and we never got tired of spinning it this year. In fact, we don't envision getting tired of spinning it any time soon, although the tunes on Infinity Girl's brand new Just Like Lovers EP certainly give this one a run for its money. If it had money, you know, which it doesn't, 'cause it's a song. What were we talking about? Oh, right: "Please Forget," the uptempo, visceral and blurry highlight of Infinity Girl's powerful full-length debut that we reviewed here in June. It's a tidal wave of melody, noise and sentiment.
6. Hop Along -- "Lament" -- Get Disowned
It was really a toss up, which tune to choose from Philly's Hop Along. The promo track "Tibetan Pop Stars" is an unabashed, high-octane, big-statement rocker with a killer hooks and a barely contained rage. But the deeper album cut "Lament" surpasses even that excellent number on the strength of a percolating, addictive vocal melody in the chorus and the greater degree of sophistication in the arrangement. We suppose it helps that the chorus has shouty vocals apparently abetted by at least one of the dudes in the late, lamented Algernon Cadwallader, whose label Hot Green Records released Get Disowned -- a windows-wide-open-to-the-gathering-heat, coffee-cup-in-hand kinda record -- last summer. And every time we listened, when fronter Frances Quinlan hit the line "the one on the left said to the one on the right," we couldn't keep from singing along. A brilliant, brilliant song.
7. Speedy Ortiz -- "Taylor Swift" -- "Taylor Swift" b/w "Swim Fan"
At the top of this piece we referenced singing songs to ourself, and Speedy Ortiz's very catchy single "Taylor Swift" was another we found ourselves absent-mindedly singing a lot. Which made us laugh. And so we made that the hook to a brief piece we wrote for The Boston Phoenix last spring. What's funny is the chorus, "I've got a boy in a hardcore band..." certainly doesn't apply to us, but that didn't make us sing it any less. Speedy Ortiz is a band destined for a national profile, and its facility for pop hooks paired with muscled compositions boasting big guitar parts is the reason why. Years from now, fans will probably remember this single as the thing that started the whole train rolling. It's certainly unforgettable. Dig "Taylor Swift" via the embed below.
8. Dikembe -- "Not Today, Angel" -- Broad Shoulders
Apparently one never outgrows an affinity for the beautiful, brooding ballad, as Florida-based emo heroes Dikembe's "Not Today, Angel" echoes the sort of heart-rending slow burners we loved in the early '90s from bands like Codeine and Seam. We've marveled for month and months at the understated, left-field production on this number: the odd clattering percussion, the guitars just slightly feeding back to fill the ambient space, gathering like a thick, quick fog shifting around the cycling melody. The tune isn't wholly representative of the rest of the music on Dikembe's amazing full-length, Broad Shoulders, but it also isn't completely out of character either. It's a beautiful, slow-spinning center of a collection of songs bristling with energy, edge and promise, and we listened to it a hell of a lot of times, reflecting on things so remote now that they might as well have happened to completely different people.
9. Los Campesinos! -- "Tiptoe Through The True Bits" -- Hello Sadness outtake
So it's a non-album track from an album released last year, but Cardiff-based indie rock giants Los Campesinos! gave "Tiptoe Through The True Bits" an unofficial release via its blog earlier this year and the patient, pretty song permanently burrowed its way into our subconscious not long there after. Fronter Gareth Campesinos! explained that while the tune was his favorite from the sessions for the band's excellent 2011 collection Hello Sadness, the band all agreed that it didn't sit well within the context of the rest of the songs on the album. The song is amazing and soulful, but -- more importantly for us -- it speaks to our fixation on bands' unreleased material. If Los Camp! had never put this song on its blog, few of us would ever have known about it and how awesome it is. What other gems does the band, or others, have laying around? That's the sort of thing we think about a lot. Perhaps almost as much as we sang the chorus "I've been waking on your side of the bed..." to ourself this past year. Download the song here, or stream it via the embed below.
10. Johnny Foreigner -- "3 Hearts" -- Names EP
As prolific as Birmingham, England's noise pop titans Johnny Foreigner are, for some reason we were surprised when the quartet released an EP this fall. Given how monumental the task of creating and promoting 2011's epic Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything must have been, we just didn't think the band would have much in the tank. But happily we were wrong, and Johnny Foreigner in late October released its brilliant Names EP, which we reviewed here last month. The short set was released both in the US and in the UK, with each territory having one exclusive track. But it is the EP closer "3 Hearts" that sticks in our head most. The tune memorably repurposes the line from Talking Heads' "Girlfriend Is Better" to power a characteristically overdriven, exasperated tale from the quartet. The tune provides a series of huge moments that make us very, very excited about what the band will do next, an excitement that has stuck with us for going on about six years now.