Tuesday, 11 December 2012

20 Best Songs of 2012: #20 to #11

11. Jets Overhead – “Boredom and Joy”
With “Boredom and Joy”, B.C.-based group Jets Overhead has created one of the most flawless alt-rock singles of the year. What makes it more than just an immaculately-put-together track, though, is its unconventional narrative, Adam Kittredge's lead vocals and the song's sheer force of personality. "Boredom and Joy" is a song that deserves to be played as loudly as possible, preferably while driving in a car and singing along with each "Hey!". Even in the middle of winter (in Manitoba, no less!), its sunny disposition is infectious.

12. Lavender Diamond – “Everybody’s Heart’s Breaking Now”
"Everybody's Heart's Breaking Now" achieves a perfect, delicate balance between the intimate and universal. It's all due to Becky Stark's incredible voice, both crystal-clear in tone and aching with longing; "Everybody's Heart's Breaking Now", as a result, sounds both effortless and deeply emotional at once. The song itself is just as impressive, starting out as a torch song-style lament before transforming into an urgent, but never maudlin, power ballad. If Stark hasn’t won you over within the first minute, don’t worry; she’ll have your heart in a chokehold by the end.


13. Clare and the Reasons – “The Lake
“The Lake” utilizes nearly every second of its four-minute length to draw the listener into its carefully-constructed sonic landscape. Each new lyric contributes to the anxiety created by the song’s insistent beat, up until the precise moment where its structure breaks apart and, as Clare Muldaur sings, “our world has been annihilated”. The fact that this moment of emotional release never fails to move me is more than remarkable – it’s kind of brilliant.

14. Leonard Cohen – “Darkness”
Given that most casual Cohen fans might base their perception of Cohen’s general demeanor and attitude towards life solely on the lyrics of “Hallelujah” (ie. dark, depressed and tortured), it may come as a surprise that Cohen also has a wicked sense of humour. “Darkness,” with its roiling undercurrent and bluesy vocals, may seem an unlikely example of Cohen’s dry wit, but it works. Sure, singing that he ‘used to love the rainbows’ might be a little much, but the way Cohen treats the subject matter of “Darkness” with both serious intent and self-effacement is a testament to the complexity of his songwriting.

15. Regina Spektor – “Open”
What We Saw from the Cheap Seats felt like Spektor rummaging around in her sonic toolbox so as to reaffirm her talent after the artistically disappointing Far. Unfortunately, the album had more lows than highs, but songs such as “Open” helped to remind the listener of Spektor’s considerable gifts. “Open”, with its ominous imagery, a stunning interlude (you’ll know it when you hear it) and an eerie, ambiguous ending, would be a highlight on any of Spektor's albums. That it ended up on an uneven record like Cheap Seats only helps to emphasize its ingenuity.

16. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe”
It’s a shame that Carly Rae Jepsen seems to have been labelled as some sort of insubstantial pop starlet. Not only is Jepsen a strong, confident singer both in and outside the studio, but “Call Me Maybe” has better lyrics – and accomplishes more in its three minutes and twenty seconds – than most songs of its kind in 2012 (and it’s not just the proud Canuck in me talking). The song’s endless spoofs and unfortunate association with Justin Bieber have pulled attention away from how good “Call Me Maybe” is, but I find myself hitting repeat, time and time again, and not regretting it once.

17. Kathleen Edwards – “Empty Threat”
“Empty Threat”, the lead-off track on Kathleen Edwards’ excellent Voyageur – a record inspired by a difficult divorce – establishes the album’s emotionally-charged narrative and is a great song in its own right. From its first few hazy, sepia-toned notes onwards, Edwards creates a perfect backdrop to such scene-setting lyrics as “the hottest days of the summer / brought us here together”. "Empty Threat"'s production dilutes the impact of its chorus, but lines as simultaneously defiant and dejected as “I’m moving to America / It’s not an empty threat” are some of the best lyrical moments of the year.

18. Jack White – “Love Interruption”
I didn’t know what to think about “Love Interruption” the first time I heard it; it’s a pop song about love, but it uses metaphors that seem more in line with the poetry of John Donne than a mainstream song. (It’s also the most unusual lead single from any album I’ve heard as of late, with the runner-up being Regina Spektor’s “All the Rowboats".) Both White and backup singer Ruby Amanfu seem to thrive on the song’s atypical nature, though, providing vocals that are tender one moment and bitter the next - vocals, strangely, that make the song catchier than it should be.

19. Haley Reinhart – “Free”
With Listen Up!, Haley Reinhart showed that she could very well evade the curse of having her time on American Idol overshadow her output as an artist. No song on the album better expressed this potential than “Free”, which combines classic pop sensibilities with Reinhart’s remarkably expressive vocals to create one of the most underappreciated singles of 2012. It’s a breezy, assured first step forward, and now that Reinhart has left her major record label, let's hope it’s not the only opportunity she gets.

20. Old Man Luedecke – “I’m Fine (I Am, I Am)”
“I’m Fine (I Am, I Am)”, by Nova Scotia-born singer-songwriter and banjo player Old Man Luedecke, is a real delight. The song is filled with charming images like falling among roses, tinted with just the right amount of melancholy; that nod to the Eagles’ bittersweet “Tequila Sunrise” is no accident. Playful, sober and wistful all at once, it’s a great example of a song that seems straightforward on first listen but reveals its many nuances over time.

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