There was no way I was going to finish this list “in time” for New Year’s Eve, so it’s a good thing I hold the quaint belief that art, even bubblegum pop art, doesn’t have a best by date.
Here are some songs I listened to compulsively in 2012, and which I think are still worth listening to and talking about in 2013. Check out the entire 8tracks mix below, or click on individual song titles for YouTube links. xx
The Weeknd – The Morning
In a beautiful bit of synesthesia, “The Morning” sounds the way crisp winter air feels, or dry ice looks. I love how Abel Tesfaye has managed to take ingredients that essentially feel cold and transform them into one magma-hot groove.
Rihanna – You Da One
A sonic dream of guilt-free sexual bliss, this song—actually, make that this video—marks the exact moment Rihanna became very role-model important to me. “Yes I’m fallin’ for ya, but there’s nothin’ wrong with that.”
Usher – Climax
Here’s where I compare Usher to a fine wine and marvel at how this man’s voice only gets better with age, my god.
Beyoncé – I Miss You
A minimal, sinewy production provides the perfect backdrop for Beyoncé’s twin vocals—one hushed, the other belting—layered over each other in a startling representation of how composed we can seem on the outside, even while we’re gasping for breath underneath it all. I’ve read some YouTube comments complaining that there isn’t a version featuring both Beyoncé and the song’s co-writer, Frank Ocean, but I find Bey’s performance so nuanced, it’s already a duet.
Rebecca Ferguson – Nothing’s Real But Love
“I put it all away / Holding it back for a rainy day / But what if that day don’t come.”
Emeli Sandé - Heaven
“Heaven” is the sound of your life flashing before your eyes, of your soul leaving your body. It does not go gently.
The xx – Angels
What’s heaven without its angels? Romy Madley Croft’s honest and earnest words, sung simply, are what make this song so special. “Angels” marvels in the quiet fact of love, with no frills on.
The Drums – Money
I haven’t been able to bring myself to listen to The Strokes’ back catalogue in years for fear of tipping salt into the permanently oozing wound of growing older; so, this summer, when I wanted to think about New York City boys in New York City bands, I listened to “Money” and it eased a fraction of that pressure.
Solange – Losing You
“Losing You” reminds me of a Robyn song in its insistence on resolutely dancing through life’s various disappointments. Solange’s voice may flutter like chiffon in the wind, but you never once doubt her ability to outlast her own heartbreak.
Lianne La Havas – Tease Me [Live]
When La Havas sings “I am not lonely / I’m all right,” her voice strains with familiar feelings of disbelief and smoky resignation. “Tease Me” is a wisp of a song, like the ghost of a fire after you’ve blown the candles out.
Fiona Apple – Anything We Want
I could have chosen any number of songs from The Idler Wheel, but it was always going to be this one.
Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
LDR is the queen of perfectly calibrated affect/lack thereof. Really, it’s the apparent ‘flatness’ of her performance that makes “Born to Die” so profoundly, unexpectedly moving.
Jessie Ware – 110%
A song about being suspended in that deliciously frustrating moment between anticipation and action: Jessie’s opened the door to new love, but the person she’s waiting for hasn’t walked through it yet. Hurry! She can’t keep the dance floor warm forever, you know.
Miguel – Adorn
Miguel’s voice is excellent—one of the best in the world right now—and I think he must know it. It’s an incredibly versatile voice, able to transition from guttural growl to seductive whisper, culminating in a creamy falsetto that has women throwing panties, and critics throwing Marvin Gaye comparisons, at him with equal voracity. It’ll be interesting to watch Miguel’s talent (and his attitude toward that talent, especially in his live performances) evolve, but for now, “Adorn” is a classic-in-waiting; sweetly sexy and romantic.
The Wanted – Glad You Came
Whenever this song comes on the radio my brain lights up like a pinball machine. I’m not sure any other intro has elicited such a pure, Pavlovian response this year.
Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe
There is so much I want to write about “Call Me Maybe,” much more than I could squeeze into a year-end list. For now I will just say that this song is the musical equivalent of a thousand exclamation marks and all the heart emoji in the world, and when I hear it I feel a little less likely to kill myself.
Ne-Yo – Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)
A great example of how an intuitive singer can elevate his or her material. The way Ne-Yo turns that repetitive banger of a chorus into a kaleidoscope of emotions (to my ears: reassurance, desire, and finally, ecstasy) makes “Let Me Love You” a prime candidate for this year’s “We Found Love.”
Kelly Clarkson – Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)
Lyrically, “Stronger” is nothing more than a string of easy aphorisms (“Just me, myself, and I!”), but it practically soars on the strength of Clarkson’s conviction…and our (my) own willingness to believe.
Nicki Minaj ft. 2 Chainz – Beez in the Trap
Azealia Banks – 1991
Azealia is so easy-breezy-beautiful on this track. Insta-like!
Kendrick Lamar – Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe
Fighting words spit from between gritted teeth, issuing forth from a bruised lion heart.
Frank Ocean – Sierra Leone
Maybe other songs off Channel Orange were ‘best,’ but this one just makes me feel good. “Baby girl, if you knew what I know.”
Jai Paul – Jasmine
Hoping to get laid to this in 2013; wish me luck?