My Best of 2012 Playlist

GaslightAnthem

After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. Basically, every week I go to Amazon to see what records are coming out and make a note of ones I think I might enjoy or have heard good buzz about. Then, if they’re on Spotify (which I’d say about 95% are), I listen to them. If I like a record enough, I buy it and it becomes eligible for this list. If I don’t, no harm done.

So here is a CD-length mix culled from my favorite tracks of my favorite albums of 2012. The criteria for favorite track is pretty loose – it’s just whatever song jumps out at me the most. Sometimes I’m surprised by my own picks. In years past I’ve had something of a biographical dimension in these lists (“what was I doing when I heard this song,” etc.), but this year the songs and track order are pretty much just based on what I think sounds good, so don’t go psychoanalyzing me unless you think it will be really interesting.

Anyway, on with the list. BTW, here’s a Spotify playlist of all the tracks that are available.

1. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals – “The Lion The Beast The Beat” (from The Lion The Beast The Beat): By far this was my favorite track off my favorite record this year. It’s like a six-minute masterpiece that says “hey Eric, everything you think is cool about music actually is cool.” From an epic intro to biting harmonized guitars to a vocal wail Axl Rose in his prime would be jealous of, this song is basically rock perfection.

 

 

2. Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built” (from Celebration Rock): This song makes me want to drive down the highway at 90 mph. It’s just this exhilarating, non-stop sonic assault, and it’s coming from only two guys – a drummer and a guitarist! This whole album is really great, but for me this is the standout track simply because of the imminently sing-along-able chorus of “whoa-oh”s. Also – best band name ever.

 

 

3. Ben Folds Five – “Draw a Crowd” (from The Sound of the Life of the Mind): If Ben Folds Five’s reunion album had just been okay, no one would have room to complain. The fact that BFF went above and beyond to produce an actual vibrant, relevant work of pop/rock music just confirms that they’re every bit as great as we thought they were 15 years ago. I picked “Draw a Crowd” not just for the hilarious chorus (some of the sagest lyrics of 2012 right here, I tell you what) but also because of that bouncy piano hook that takes us into the song. So catchy!

 

4. Foxy Shazam – “Holy Touch” (from The Church of Rock & Roll): This is a band I picked up on through some positive buzz/their opening for The Darkness, and I’m glad I did. This song/album is tremendous – like The Rocky Horror Picture Show without all the strange sexual politics. In general, 2012, especially at the start, was a great year for hard rock.

 

 

5. Van Halen – “She’s the Woman” (from A Different Kind of Truth): I would have bet that Different Kind of Truth would have been a joke record, the St. Anger of Van Halen. Turns out that it just straight-up rocks. Apparently the reason for that is because a lot of its songs are just reworked demos from Van Halen’s earliest days. That’s fine. This is the band’s best record since, I think, 5150; it perfectly channels Fair Warning-era Van Halen which, let’s be honest, is the best era.

 

6. Scorpions – “Across the Universe” (from Comeblack): Two things about this cover: 1) I probably like it more than any other human being on the planet.  2) It’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be. While I won’t defend this as a good cover, necessarily, listening to it is when it really clicked for me that I just like hearing Klaus Meine sing anything.

 

 

7. The Ting Tings – “Give It Back” (from Sounds from Nowheresville): While I’m not sure this record lived up to the Ting Ting’s impressive debut from a few years back, there are definitely some bright spots on it. “Give It Back” is one of those; it’s a track that feels like it would’ve been at home on an earlier release, a bouncy, retro pop song with a nice edge.

 

 

8. Heartless Bastards – “Skin and Bone” (from Arrow): Arrow is the best alt-country album I’ve bought in a long time. It reminds me of bands I practically idolized in college, like The Snake The Cross The Crown. This is probably the bounciest song on the record (which isn’t saying much); it’s propulsive, energetic, and delivered well.

 

 

9. Bruce Springsteen – “Rocky Ground” (from Wrecking Ball): There are a few standout tracks on Wrecking Ball, but “Rocky Ground” is unlike any other in Bruce’s career. He’s in full-on preacher mode here, and his earnestness is palpable. Also, while some were turned off by the mid-song rap, I actually thought it sounded fresh… even fly (okay, not “fly”).

 

 

10. Bowerbirds – “This Year” (from The Clearing): I like this song because it sounds like Bon Iver. I like Bon Iver. So sue me.

 

 

 

 

11. The Shins – “Simple Song” (from Port of Morrow): I always found the hype around The Shins a little overblown, but man, this song is just perfectly constructed. What a melody! What an arrangement! This is good, solid, major-key rock and roll. One of the standout tracks of 2012 for sure.

 

 

 

12. Best Coast – “How They Want Me To Be” (from The Only Place): The Only Place is one of my favorite records from 2012; it’s got a consistently upbeat, driving sound throughout that I found incredibly pleasing. Why, then, did I pick one of the few tracks to deviate from that high-tempo shuffle? I guess this one just stood out to me more; it’s got a beautiful vocal life (although the lyrics are a bit trite) and wonderful instrumentation.

 

 

13. Brandi Carlile – “100″ (from Bear Creek): There are a lot of songs on Bear Creek that could’ve made this list, but in the end I went with “100″ for a couple reasons. Besides its Neko Case-esque mix of pulsing bass drum and alt-country strumming, I really like the lyrical hook in the chorus: “If I live to be 100, will I ever cross your mind?” It’s a good question – do people you used to matter a lot to ever think about you? It’s one I ponder, anyway.

 

 

14. Jimmy Fallon – “Tebowie” (from Blow Your Pants Off): Think what you want about Jimmy Fallon as a late-night host, but his show undoubtedly has the best music in his time slot both in-house and guest-wise. Here, Fallon does a spot-on Bowie impression to take down one of the more annoying public figures of the past year. Few bits of music are consistently funnier to me than when Fallon says “This is Jesus Christ to Tim Tebow – please leave me alone.”

 

 

15. Childish Gambino – “R.I.P.” (from Royalty): I didn’t think Royalty was as good as last year’s Camp, but hey, the price was right. I do really like this track, though; it’s got a cool synth backing track and the usual Donald Glover mix of self-aggrandizement and surprising honesty. “Semen on my spacebar / tired of Skype sex.” That’s a surprising sentiment coming from one of the funniest, most talented and probably richest dudes in showbiz right now. (note: this track is not available on Spotify)

 

 

16. Passion Pit – “Carried Away” (from Gossamer): While “Take a Walk” was the breakout hit of this record, I found myself gravitating more and more towards this song with each successive listen. It’s just so bouncy and fun, and without all the embarrassing lyrics about the Great Recession (and yes, I realize I put Springsteen on this year-end list. At least that dude has earned his gravitas).

 

 

17. The Darkness – “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us” (from Hot Cakes): I was as surprised as anyone (who doesn’t follow music news) to see The Darkness return with a new record this year; I was doubly surprised that I dug it quite a bit. While I don’t think it’s Permission to Land-quality, tracks like this prove that The Darkness still know how to do their thing. Any guesses as to why this song is named after a hit track from the Mannequin soundtrack?

 

 

18. Bob Mould – “The Descent” (from Silver Age): I’m not going to pretend like I’m some Husker Du fanatic. But a friend of mine was psyched about this album, so I checked it out, and I love what I heard. Here is a guy who knows what he does and does it well – he’s nailing that late-’80s/early-’90s college rock sound like few bands can.

 

 

19. Billy Joel – “Moving Out (Anthony’s Song)” (from 12-12-12 The Concert for Sandy Relief): With so many great collaborations on this benefit album, I’m as surprised as you I went with this song. Listening to the album a couple times, though, I realized that Joel owned his hometown stage of Madison Square Garden that night. All the jokes comparing him to SNL‘s Drunk Uncle were rendered moot as soon as he proved that he sounds just as good, if not better, than he ever has. Here’s a great example of that. (note: this track is not available on Spotify)

 

20. The Mountain Goats – “The Diaz Brothers” (from Transcendental Youth): I have no idea what this song is about, but Transcendental Youth is yet another in the long run of Mountain Goats records that proves I will pretty much buy anything John Darnielle and his bandmates put out.

 

 

 

21. The Gaslight Anthem – “National Anthem” (from Handwritten): I can’t say that I lost anything too significant in 2012 – but listening to Brian Fallon, I feel like I did. I don’t know that I could name five singers that emote better than Fallon does; sometimes I don’t know that I could even name one. This is a great, great song from one of my favorite records of the year.

tags: ben folds five, best coast, billy joel, bob mould, bowerbirds, brandi carlile, bruce springsteen, childish gambino, foxy shazam, grace potter and the nocturnals, heartless bastards, japandroids, jimmy fallon, passion pit, scorpions, the darkness, the gaslight anthem, the mountain goats, the shins, the ting tings, van halen

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