“What are you listening to right now?” If you work around music, you get this question a lot. The following list is my way of answering. Every year about this time, I like to take a quick look back at the best songs released so far. Music comes at us so fast and furious that it can be hard to keep up, but these are the songs I keep returning to.
But this is far from an exact science. These are songs that came out from Jan. 1 to March 31 in some fashion, regardless of whether the album is out yet or the song appeared on a previous EP or was already out in the U.K. (or Iceland). And this just represents my opinion with suggestions from other staffers here at Paste. Our year-end list is bound to look a lot different. Here are my picks for the best songs of 2012 so far
20. The Men – “Open Your Heart”
The Men draw equally from garage-y Stooges, indie Sonic Youth and guitar-god Van Halen for a six-string feast.
19. Miike Snow – “Paddling Out”
It’s been awhile since we’ve populated our Turntable.fm room and instituted DANCE LAW™, but this track from Sweden’s Miike Snow will be the first song I play next time we do.
18. Hospitality – “Friends of Friends”
Amber Papini’s vocals follow her guitar line while Brian Betancourt’s bass provides the counter on this joyful tune, but it’s the horns that take it over the top.
17. Dr. Dog – “That Old Black Hole”
With a perfect little guitar riff, Pennsylvania’s Dr. Dog delivers on the promise of capturing “the fast tempos and dirtier nature” of their live shows on the band’s seventh album Be the Void.
16. Odd Future – “Oldie”
I’ve made it clear that I’m not a fan of much of Tyler the Creator’s lyrics or antics, but—admitting credit where it’s due—the epic closer from Odd Future’s latest offers a nice counter to the alienating verses he drops elsewhere: “This is for the niggers in the suburbs / And the white kids with nigger friends that say the N-word / And the ones who got called weird fag bitch nerd / ’Cause you was into jazz, kitty cats and Steven Spielberg.”
15. Punch Brothers – “This Girl”
Chris Thile has assembled one of the finest groups of musicians to play folk instruments since Bill Monroe hired Earl Scruggs. But it’s much more than string-plucking wizardry at work here with competency, creativity and entertainment all turned up to 11.
14. Sharon Van Etten – “We Are Fine”
The quiver in Zach Condon’s voice provides a nice counter-balance to Van Etten’s fluid vocals on this beautiful ballad, a worthy follow-up to “One Day.”
13. Frankie Rose – “Interstellar”
There’s a spacy vibe to the aptly named “Intersteller,” the title track off latest from the former member of Dum Dum Girls, Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls.
12. Michael Kiwanuka – “Home Again”
The album isn’t out yet in America, but this soulful, folkie Brit has already won the BBC’s Sound of 2012. The laid-back vibe makes for a great entry on an early-morning playlist right between Otis Redding and Ray LaMontagne.
11. Justin Townes Earle – “Memphis in the Rain”
Justin Townes Earle grew up in Nashville and live in the East Village, but it’s the sounds of Memphis, Muscle Shoals and even a little New Orleans that shine through on his latest album.