The 50 Best Songs of 2012

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Paste’s Best of 2012 series continues through Dec. 31 and is made possible by our friends at Tretorn.

With the rise of Soundcloud and Bandcamp, the single has begun to make daily music headlines. Whether it’s a giant like Leonard Cohen leaking out a track through YouTube or a newcomer like Allah-Las sending out their first songs through a stream, we’ve got our ears out for quality new tunes. After tallying ballots of Paste staff and writers, which included nearly 300 different selections, we present our top 50 songs of the year. Comment in the box below with your own favorites, and check under the No.1 entry for a full Rdio playlist of the top tracks.

50. Howler – “Back of Your Neck”
It’s tough to pick a track from among the many near-perfect garage-pop gems off Howler’s debut America Give Up, but “Back of Your Neck”—with its ’50s vibe guitar and background vocals will certainly do.—Josh Jackson

49. Kanye West – “Clique”
Spearheaded by Hit-Man, the producer behind last year’s smash “Niggas in Paris,” Kanye West reunited with Jay-Z once again for “Clique,” the headline track off of Cruel Summer. “Clique” is immediately recognizable for its production, highlighted by a dark and brooding beat layered underneath verses from Jay-Z, West and G.O.O.D music newcomer Big Sean. With such a foundation, all three rappers utilize this dark tone to flex their respective muscles, to great results. Never one to shy away from his ego, West unleashes on a particularly arrogant list of topics including his relationship with Kim Kardashian, but he backs the arrogance up with a great song (and chart dominance). Hip-hop newcomers like Kendrick Lamar are making plenty of noise, but West and Jay-Z have proven time and again that they still set the standard.—Brian Tremml

48. Lower Dens – “Brains”
There’s something to be said for consistency, and the rhythmic palpitations of “Brains” are so perfect that Lower Dens have me drooling over the surgical precision of that cymbal tap. “Brains” takes the keys and drives you down a looping highway—guided by a simple, no-frills snare beat—with clashing keys and dueling chants for company. Hitting “play” on the breakout track from Nootropics sets the course for the best possible five-minute mental vacation—and it’s a playlist must for those back-to-reality treks, as well.—Hilary Hughes

47. Lotus Plaza – “Monoliths”
On Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest, Lockett Pundt wrote the brilliant “Desire Lines,” which dealt with growing older and how we lose focus of our goals with each passing year. On his second album as Lotus Plaza, Pundt’s “Monoliths” works almost as a more optimistic sequel to this idea. He’s living in the moment with no faith for what’s beyond, yet in the song’s second half, he joyously offers a glimmer of hope declaring, “one of these days, I hope I come around.” “Monoliths” is more compact than “Desire Lines,” but just as effective, an ode to those who believe they will one day find something to believe in.—Ross Bonaime

46. Perfume Genius – “Hood”
Perfume Genius’ sophomore album Put Your Back N 2 It saw songwriter Mike Hadreas overcoming alcohol and personal demons to construct a deeply personal and emotional 12-track collection. One particular standout, the two-minute “Hood,” was a haunting, melodic reminder of the power of story. Hadreas doesn’t rely on cheap gimmicks; he delivers the lyrics overtop a simple piano, building to a powerful instrumentation that demands attention.—Shaina Pearlman

45. 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.——Josh Jackson

44. Mac Demarco – “Dreaming”
Easy instrumentals are the perfect preface for Demarco’s relaxing vocals, which amble along at an appropriately airy pace while maintaining the weary, well-traveled vibe of 2.—Dacey Orr

43. DIIV – “Doused”
Sometimes, you just need to dance alone: chin down, hair in your face, arms at your sides, feet anchored, while the rest of your body responds to the ebbs and flows of the set unraveling before you. DIIV’s “Doused” is perfectly suited for this kind of vibe, so make your own basement show by turning it up somewhere dark and letting every riff run you.—Hilary Hughes

42. Passion Pit – “Take a Walk”
While Passion Pit’s debut album paired heartbreaking lyrics with the most sunny, carefree dance-pop imaginable, frontman/songwriter Michael Angelakos lets the music carry some of the weight on the best song from the band’s solid follow-up Gossamer. It’s an ambitious turn, an epic song tackling immigration and financial troubles—a definite maturation from the band that gave us “Sleepyhead.”—Josh Jackson

41. Allah-Las – “Tell Me (What’s on Your Mind)”
If you were asked to present an album that typifies the Southern California lifestyle, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than the Allah-Las’ self-titled debut, which was recorded entirely on analog with Nick Waterhouse behind the boards. The Allah-Las’ laid-back, psychedelic surf pop harkens back to artists like The Byrds, Love and early Rolling Stones—their debut is the perfect soundtrack for a sunny weekend trip to the beach with surfboard in tow. Though solid from top to bottom, the album’s standout track is “Tell Me (What’s on Your Mind),” a gliding, energetic plea for a lover to clarify her intentions.—Ryan Bort

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