Sunday, 6 January 2013

Sam's Top Songs of 2012

Just my opinions.  Would love to hear what others have to say, and your list of top 10 for 2012.  Also happy to be just be ignored!

Here is a YouTube playlist of the songs, in countdown order!

10. Tame Impala:  Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.  Album: Lonerism
A straight up slab of psych rock n roll by the band who is making serious waves worldwide. This song is catchy, it takes its time (but isn't too long) and tells a pretty sad love story.  Much like Passion Pit (see below), sometimes the dark/sad lyrics of Tame Impala are drowned by the instrumentals and music style.  But in this song, the Lennon–esque voice of lead singer Kevin Parker wailing: "I've got my hopes up again oh no, not again / It feels like we only go backwards, darlin'" is perfect, and feels truly tragic.

9.  Macklemore/Ryan Lewis:  Same Love (feat. Mary Lambert).  Album:  The Heist
Don't have to be a genius to know what this song is all about.  But its clarity in the lyrics makes it immediately accessible to all listening, helping it spread its message easily.  Cute piano riff, great vocals on the chorus by Lambert (with accompanying HORNS - woo!).  Lyrics could get overly preachy, but refuse to do so throughout the song - instead taking the route of making it relevant to current day, and to each of us: our preconceived heterosexual/homosexual stereotypes (baseball = hetero; cleaning = homo), the words people use on Youtube comment streams and other internet forums; as well as successfully using the historical example of racial divide in the US.  There is also a lot of religious references, but they are never anti-Religion or very pro-Atheism, which is good.  Instead, Macklemore tries to be reasonable, and instead attacks people using religion for their own political or social causes, saying that discrimination as part of religious teachings is fundamentally wrong, and opposes the essence of what good religion can and should be: "They taught me something else / If you preach hate at the service / Those words aren't anointed / That Holy Water that you soak in has been poisoned".  And "We paraphrase a book written 3500 years ago".  BOOM.  Ultimately, the message is of hope, and optimism for the future:  "Love is patient, love is kind (not crying on Sundays)"

8.  Kendrick Lamar:  Swimming Pools (Drank).  Album:  good kid, m.A.A.d city
Kendrick Lamar has been one of the biggest music stories of the year. Can't say I'm a HUGE fan (though I do like his music), but this is a great, great song. Commenting on the ridiculousness how far people go in the interests of having a "good night", he uses the image of a "swimming pool full of liquor". He goes further, highlighting the issues of peer pressure in to social situations where people feel forced into drinking more than they want to/can handle. The "Pour up DRANK Head shot DRANK Sit down DRANK...." bridge that starts and ends the song brings home the message - no matter what you doing, you should DRANK. And keep on doing it.  Lots of songs offer good commentary on social issues, so why is this top 10? It has a sweet beat, good use of different voices (Kendrick, Kendrick's conscience, the guy telling him to drink more etc.) and has a super super catchy chorus.  Definitely one to plug headphones in for and enjoy.

7. ∆: Breezeblocks.  Album:  An Awesome Wave
These guys are seriously creepy. If this song isn't enough, try "Fitzpleasure" which is based on a section of a novel which discusses the gang rape and then brutal murder of a prostitute in Brooklyn.  These issues need to be discussed and it is good that they are.  But it's the method of songwriting.  Any band who starts a song with "She may contain the urge to run away / But hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks", in a sultry, lullaby voice over a laid back and soft instrumental backing, is a bit creepy.  But it's super good.  Breezeblocks, as the lyrics make fairly clear, is a song about a man who is so desperately infatuated with a woman that he can't let her go. So he kills her. Brutally. As the song progresses, both the lyrics and music highlight his descent into insanity, and his loss of touch with reality. For the first half, the song is for the most part a slow burner, that in the second half then builds up to the big "Please don't go please don't go" conclusion, which gives the sharpest insight into the mindset of the man, either before he kills her, or just after, when he has realised what he has done.  He pleads:  "Please don't go I love you so".  But it's too late.

6.  Grimes:  Oblivion.  Album:  Visions
Released early in 2012, the album has had a lot of success recently on end-of-year lists. To me, this is comfortably the best song on it.  "Oblivion" is SUCH a good song. So danceable. I dare you to listen to it without at least tapping your feet or bopping your head.  Has so many sounds going on, which build up and die down, melding into a collection that fit perfectly together.  But the real success is in the simple genius of the concept of the song.  On one hand, she is talking about her street smarts, and her knowledge of the dangers roaming around the streets after dark ("It's my point of view / That someone could break your neck / Coming up behind you always coming and you never have a clue"), yet on the other she sings "La la la la la" over the top, which drowns out the other lyrics.  This, combined with the title, give the outward idea that she is simply prey waiting to be attacked, despite her defiant inner thoughts.  It's a struggle between the inner belief that you will be safe, and the reality of the scary world out there.  And the song ends with 2 minutes of sinister synthesiser, overlaid by "See you on a dark night", repeated over and over, suggesting in this battle, you lose.

5.  Hot Chip:  Motion Sickness.  Album:  In Our Heads
Hot Chip!  New album, and this song (1st song on the album) perfectly brings together all the elements to form a song that can make you dance around the room; or sing along; or just chill to.  Builds up from a basic drum and electronic beat, to add other percussion and then a soaring brass section that carries throughout much of the song (man I love brass sections).  The build up continues, until you are lost in the song, and hope it will just keep on continuing.  But it must end.  And it does, satisfying, with a decrescendo, back to our simple drum and electronic beat that started us all off.  It forms a nice little coda to a powerful and satisfying track.

4.  Spiritualized:  So Long You Pretty Thing.  Album: Sweet Heart Sweet Light
A tremendous song, that is in no rush, and that despite lots of repeated refrains, never gets tiresome or boring.  The first part is a short little duet intro, which was actually written by the lead singer's 9 year old daughter (and both her and her dad sing together - cute).  We then get into the reflective part of the song where the narrator is singing to God and Jesus, pleading,verse after verse, for something.  Anything.  He's "got no reason to believe in anything", and is "hoping for a reason to be here".  He feels that he has wasted life on frivolous things, and is bearing great remorse as he approaches the end of his life.  It's touching, and sad.  The vocals dominate this part, with the instrumentals providing the slow, reflective accompaniment, as he pours out his soul.  And then SUDDENLY.  The instrumentals build up and swell, and the point of view seems to switch.  It's not clear if the man's pleas have reached God, perhaps they have, or perhaps he is having an epiphany of understanding.  His life of music has not been wasted.  And his soul is not lost.  He has been saved.  And he can now die peacefully.  "So long you pretty thing....Sail on, so long".

3.  Passion Pit:  It's Not My Fault, I'm Happy.  Album:  Gossamer
Wow.  Powerful.  Exhausting.  Definitely an involved listening experience.  Depending on mood, can be extremely inspiring and uplifting, or can be deeply depressing.  Have read a few different interpretations, and the one I feel most strongly about is that the narrator is a victim of abuse (possibly sexual, possibly violent, could be other).   He explores the different feelings that victims experience following an attack, starting from misplaced and unnecessary ("Sorry I couldn't be there", perhaps talking to a friend/family member, referring to an missed due to the attack or the aftermath), to reflection/feelings of difficulty of expression ("But there is no easy way to tell them so, the things you know") and later to anger and frustration at the world, for not understanding your plight, and the difficulties you are experiencing ("It's not right, it's not right"  "Who says those bastards don't deserve to pay" "It's not fair, it's not fair").  The narrator uses a lot of collective pronouns, perhaps talking about others stuck in the same situation as him, and painting a rather bleak image:  "we don't stand a chance".  But ultimately, it is a story of one person against the world.  We are told of how the violation of the victim means they have lost their previous vigour and personality ("I used to glow, once I had a love to show") but now they are just isolated, left to pick up the pieces alone.  In the end, we can take the depressing story of the lyrics to peacefully reflect, to get angry, to be sad, or to be inspired to do something more to help those in need.  Even if it is to simply to try and help them to feel supported, and no longer feel alone.

2.  Frank Ocean:  Pyramids and Lost.  Album:  channel ORANGE
Lyrics: and 
Is this bending the rules to have two songs in one place?  Perhaps.  But I have good reasons to have these two together.  Firstly, they are back-to-back on the album, and I always listen to them as such.  Sometimes Pyramids before Lost, sometimes the other way.  But I always feel they are songs that complement each other well, and deal with similar topics.  Across the two songs, we hear about 3 different male+female couples, all of which seem to be controlled by the male figure at first, but where this is turned on its head in each case (the first Cleopatra has an affair and leaves her partner, the second Cleopatra work as a stripper pays the bills for her boyfriend, and in Lost, her love and support make him feel ashamed of the drug dealing life he is leading, and that he has failed both himself and their relationship).
"Pyramids" is just an amazing, brilliant epic song (a sort of RnB version of "Paranoid Android", as was mentioned to me - this sums it up nicely).  It's starts with a more upbeat and highbrow beat and sound, and then around the middle, sounds like we are (literally) travelling through time and space, from our original royal Ancient Egypt setting, to a modern-day run-down motel/strip club setting.  It's seamless.  The beats in the song, the sounds, the hook, the lyrics, they are all just fantastic.  And the songs 10 minutes seem to pass in the blink of an eye.
"Lost" is a fantastic, bouncy and addicting RnB song.  It highlights the smoothness of Ocean's voice, and his style, and has a beat and chorus that stick with you well after listening.  Going around and around in your head, until you hit the replay button and listen to it again.  This is the one track on the album that perhaps best demonstrates Ocean's ability to channel old-school RnB smoothness and style, but tackle modern day topics.  Very re-listenable.

1. Deep Sea Arcade:  Granite City.  Album: Outlands
So, at number one, after a top 10 containing a lot of dance, RnB and hip hop, we have an old-fashioned Australian guitar rock'n'roll song.  But "Granite City" is so so much more than that.  From a basic perspective, it has a terrific driving guitar, drum and bass beat, has the old-school psychadelic vocal sounds (a la Tame Impala) and the vocal backing in the chorus.  All pretty standard elements.  It also follows the verse/chorus/verse/bridge/chorus song structure.  So what's so special about it? When I first heard in many months ago, I really liked it, and came away with the feeling that the song was sadness, summed up in a song.  No judgment, just sadness.  Looking further into the lyrics and the meanings of the song, this is further vindicated.
It seems to be about the story of a man who is imagining a relationship with a woman whom he cares about very deeply, and to who everything just seems right.  He is happy to just spent his days "watching the world" with this woman and where her face is a familiar and warm reminder of what makes him happy.  The lyrics are fairly cryptic as to whether she was a partner who has passed away, or if the man has a mental illness and has dreamed her up and filled a story of them together, happy in paradise.  It's possible that both are true, and that following her death, the narrator is fighting the urge to hold on to her memory as long as he can, dreaming about her, and being with her, but realising that she is gone ("She's not there at all").  As the song builds up, he continues his struggle, defiantly saying "now I'm moving on" and that he will soon be better, to suggest he is getting past these troubles, and can get on with life after her.  But he also realises the difficulty and futility of this, knowing that he can't truly move on and live independently of her, for she will always be there with him, in his mind.  In the end, his hallucinations and dreams win out, and he gives up the fight to move on.  He lets his mind and soul slip away, forever in limbo, and forever content to remain "Watching the world with the granite city girl".

It's sad and dismaying, but for anyone with a special other (whether they be a husband or wife or boyfriend or girlfriend or best friend or child or parent), it is a feeling that is completely understandable.  The song reminds us all of the preciousness of life, and to savour the moments spent with those we love, as these will be all that remain once all else is gone away.

Unlucky songs:
  • Bat for Lashes - Laura 
  • Beach House - Myth 
  • Black Keys - Gold on the Ceiling 
  • Father John Misty - Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings 
  • Hot Chip - Now There is Nothing 
  • Major Lazer - Get Free 
  • Miike Snow - The Wave 
  • Sarah Blasko - I Awake 
  • Xavier Rudd - Follow the Sun 
  • The XX - Angels 

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