13.04.12

Words by: Charlie Jones

The best 20 songs of 2012 so far

As Spring springs soggily into action, we thought we’d take a second to count back over the best songs since 2012 kicked off. Here they are, in order of amazingness. As usual, our sensibilities are staunchly liberal, with no definitions made between album tracks, Soundcloud uploads, singles or EPs. If it came out in the last three and half months and it makes the board of this website swoon, it’s in.

Also, after scrambling your browsers with 40 YouTube clips like an 08-era MySpace page on previous lists, we decided to make a playlist of all songs rather than displaying them individually – scroll down to the bottom to play. And please, as ever, tell us what we missed, either in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter. Enjoy!

  1. Dean Blunt (feat Inga Copeland) Track 2 [self-release]
    While in practical terms it surfaced on YouTube in mid-January, and appeared on Dean Blunt’s ‘The Narcissist II’ mixtape in February, in many ways this sucker-punch soul song came way out of nowhere. Masters of catching minds off-guard, Blunt and Copeland set aside for a moment their pursuit of ambiguity to dance around each other in an exchange of weary, love-worn calls. It’s the music that does the most talking though, thick with a poignant sense of loss. [RS]
  2. Jam City The Courts [Nights Slugs]
    A clever, playful, and compelling piece of body music sculpted by south London’s Jack Latham that touches the territories of grime, techno and funk. [KKYC]
  3. Jessie Ware Running [PMR]
    Smooth soul sung with an aching heart, made by three of today’s best rising Brits (Jessie Ware, Julio Bashmore and Dave Okumu from The Invisible). Flooring. [CRJ]
  4. Grimes Be A Body [4AD]
    While Genesis and Oblivion are undoubtedly big tunes, the most powerful song on Grimes’s breakthrough album ‘Visions’ is Be A Body. From the omnipresent face of “post-internet” music, it’s a rich statement in itself: an ode to being present, to disconnecting from the ether. But beyond that, it’s the tensions between the musical layers that Grimes plays off one another that makes it the sexiest track released so far this year. [RS]
  5. Julia Holter In The Same Room [RVNG]
    A fresh sound, and a new spirit, Julia Holter’s backstory (you know, the whole Greek tragedy and classical composition thing) can often override the sheer songwriting ability of the LA singer. On this track, she balances a lovely hook with a sparse backing and a great lyric, as though changing music is the easiest thing in the world. [CRJ]
  6. Frank Ocean White [Sony]
    Frank Ocean is unlike most of his OFWGKTA counterparts. His dreamy take on R&B seen on the ‘Nostalgia, Ultra’ mixtape and his impressive songwriting credits have positioned him as one of the most creative young artists in the genre. His lyrical emphasis on personal relationships sets him apart from the shock factor of Odd Future, and White really captures the essence of his honest and self-reflective style. [LM]
  7. Nite Jewel One Second Of Love [Mexican Summer]
    Bold of heart and big of hook, the title track to Nite Jewel’s triumphant studio album has an energy that divides and conquers in one fell swoop. It’s the contrast at the heart of it that does it: that wobbleboard bass that runs underneath, providing an earthy funk grounding to the sweetness of Nite Jewel’s vocal wonderings/wanderings. [RS]
  8. Kodiak Spreo Superbus (Actress Uraeus mix) [Numbers]
    A plaintive R&B jam descending into chaos and clawing its way back out again, this is a deranged but perfectly poised take on a dancefloor smash that makes you itch for the new Actress material. [AW]
  9. Evian Christ Fuck It None Of Y’All Don’t Rap [Tri Angle]
    A song we found on the last day of 2011, and one of the best of 2012, this swaying, fuming, funny juke tune from the Merseyside producer Joshua Leary is a simple, sympathetic statement of intent, and a mark of a great new talent. [CRJ]
  10. Elite Gymnastics h e r e, i n h e a v e n 4 & 5 (CFCF Remix) [Acephale]
    “Starting at 5:35 my heart explodes silently, and the rest of the song lets me die peacefully” reads the accompanying text to the YouTube upload of CFCF’s rework of Elite Gymnastics’ much-remixed h e r e, i n h e a v e n 4 & 5. YouTubers rarely get it so, so right. The lightness at the heart of CFCF’s reimagining of this track reaches for sheer elevation. [RS]
  11. Cassie King Of Hearts [Bad Boy]
    Cassie Ventura’s status as unwitting queen of post-dubstep was as surprising last year as her return this year. An R&B song with a pounding electro track is nothing new – or even that credible – but Cassie’s genius is, as ever, inhabiting the meaning of the song, uncovering layers of subtlety and meaning underneath the track. Plus, one of the best hooks of the year, clearly. [CRJ]
  12. Jai Paul Jasmine [XL]
    London producer Jai Paul released his second song in two years this month; blissfully brooding, it’s a track of mounting anticipation, and exquisite control. Jasmine is not only a totally enthralling listen, but the hallmark of a perfectionist, evolving a sound in his own sweet time. [AC]
  13. Kwes Bashful [Warp]
    Often mentioned in reports of Kwes’s productions is his synesthesia, the condition whereby sound bleeds into vision in the mind’s eye. It’s the perfect encapsulation of his music – it’s pop with no contours, blending into an ocean of sound, irresistibly grounded by his simple emotional punch, which this first EP for Warp shows so well. [CRJ]
  14. Lone Crystal Caverns 1991 [R&S]
    Lone’s latest full length ‘Galaxy Garden’ has thrown up this absolute head-spinner of a track. A simmering melody is constant throughout, but that’s about all that can be tied down in Crystal Caverns 1991. Its frantic playfulness is punctuated with a stabbing piano line unavoidably reminiscent of 90s rave, yet it maintains a freshness that keeps it completely modern. A triumph for Lone. [LM]
  15. Nicki Minaj Gun Shot [Cash Money]
    Late into the baroquely tasteless ‘Roman Reloaded’ is this gem of a track, tipped to become this year’s Superbass, and is as nice as a love song with a name like Gun Shot can be. A wonderful piece of lover’s rock dancehall, blessed with a Beenie Man verse, it’s the sound of house party kitchen singalongs the summer through. [CRJ]
  16. King Felix Spring 02 [Liberation Technologies]
    Laurel Halo, under her King Felix name, has created a wonderful EP that approaches techno and modern machine soul with simplicity and instinct. The sound of a young artist trusting her talents and stretching beyond her borders. [CRJ]
  17. Schoolboy Q feat. A$AP Rocky Hands On The Wheel
    It seems the A$AP crew are almost unstoppable at the moment, but Rocky takes a small side step away from the swell of their hype for this feature on a track from Schoolboy Q, who seems on track to become one of the most consistent and interesting rappers of 2012. One of the stand out tracks from his sophomore release ‘Habits & Contradictions’, Hands On The Wheel laces the LA rapper’s moody bravado with a dreamy, feminine vocal sample, and really showcases how well suited Q and Rocky are. [LM]
  18. Perfume Genius All Waters [Organs / Turnstile]
    A simple plea for the right to experience the simplest display of human affection – holding hands – without the fear of persecution or judgement is at the centre of the most moving song on Perfume Genius’s second album ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’. Just over two minutes, it speaks to the deep-in-denial times as much as it does the heart. [RS]
  19. Azealia Banks Fuck Up The Fun [self-release]
    This track encapsulates everything brilliant about Banks. Her refreshingly relaxed sex appeal, talent for rapid-fire wordplay and light-hearted attitude outwardly all come across well over this controversial Diplo production, yet you are also always aware that she is deadly serious about her craft and where she’s headed. Azealia Banks could go head to head with nearly any rapper in the game right now and more than hold her own. [LM]
  20. Burial Loner [Hyperdub]
    Burial barely needs an introduction these days. His ‘Kindred’ EP on Hyperdub was one of the most anticipated releases of the year so far, as fans have been desperately awaiting his new material for years. With this latest three track release, Burial did not disappoint. Loner is characteristic of his critically revered unique take on garage whilst also injecting a percussive techno element that ebbs and flows throughout in waves. [LM]