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There is so much more to a year in music than a top ten list. I boil my list down to the records I simply loved the most. It's not a well balanced list — there's no jazz, hip-hop, classical, world or country — but with all art I find a natural attraction and I don't fight it. I listen to a wide scope of sounds all year (and rate everything I hear) but my favorites are my friends, the ones I put on and sing to.
I'm still a sucker for songs and the craft of songwriting. Many of these songs on these 10 records show a shift in songwriting, an evolution that I think defines 2012. It's the same sort of evolution we saw at the birth of progressive rock. Music got more complex with time signature shifts and new ways of arranging and building music. This is what I heard in 2012, only with songwriting — songs within songs; shifting sounds within songs. The verse chorus verse chorus model is being jettisoned for new narrative forms. It's what ties the music of Frank Ocean with the sounds of Alt-J, Grizzly Bear, Patrick Watson and Dirty Projectors. I find it so exciting. It's been such a good year.
I try to rate every song I listen to. The lowest rating is one star and the best is five. These ratings are often first impressions, but I find that my first impression often sticks throughout the year. Here's my list of five-star songs for 2012. Some of these are by artists who made just one song I loved this year, but many made more than one (you'll see some familiar names from the albums list above). I kept my selections to one song per artist. The list of 30 songs is in descending order, and there's a Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page. Feel free to share.
1. Dirty Projectors, "Offspring are Blank"
2. Kishi Bashi, "Bright Whites"
3. Alt-J, "Tessellate"
4. Fun., "We Are Young"
5. Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra "Smile (Pictures Or It Didn't Happen)"
6. Spiritualized, "Hey Jane"
7. Sharon Van Etten, "Give Out"
8. Icona Pop, "I Love It"
9. Grizzly Bear, "A Simple Answer"
10. Exitmusic, "White Noise"
11. Cate Le Bon, "What is Worse"
12. Swans, "The Seer"
13. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Walk Like A Giant"
14. Patrick Watson, "Into Giants"
15. Sean Rowe, "Horses"
16. THEESatisfaction, "QueenS"
17. Adam Arcuragi, Oh I See"
18. JEFF the Brotherhood, "Six Pack"
19. Alabama Shakes, "Hold On"
20. Mynabirds, "Generals"
21. Jack White, "Sixteen Saltines"
22. Father John Misty, "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings"
23. First Aid Kit, "Emmylou"
24. Japandroids, "The House That Heaven Built"
25. Sleigh Bells, "Born to Lose"
26. The Ting Tings, "Guggenheim"
27. The xx, "Angels"
28. Rufus Wainwright, "Montauk"
29. Regina Spektor, "All The Rowboats"
30. Sinkane, "Jeeper Creeper"