The 50 Best Songs of 2012

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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.

40. The Magnetic Fields – “Andrew in Drag”
The glory of “Andrew in Drag” can be plucked from any of the song’s lines, but especially these: “I’d sign away my trust fund, I would even sell my jag/If I could spend my misspent youth with Andrew in drag.” The only thing better about the Magnetic Fields’ feel-good ditty is how damn campy it is, and the fact that it talks about cross-dressing without coming close to making jabs at a guy wearing a dress.—Hilary Hughes

39. Alt-J – “Tessellate”
Though Alt-J has four members, the band is driven by the power of threes. “Alt-J” is, in fact, the keyboard shortcut for delta symbol (Go ahead, try it). Of all the tracks on the band’s Mercury Prize-winning debut, An Awesome Wave, “Tessellate” is the most representative of their allegiance to the energy of the triangle. Introduced by a series of weighty keyboard chords, the song proceeds with frontman Joe Newman’s nasally vocals singing “Triangles are my favorite shape / Three points where two lines meet” before ultimately suggesting, “Let’s tessellate.”—Ryan Bort

38. Chromatics – “Kill for Love”
In the post-Drive era, we’ve heard plenty of slow and dreamy electro-pop. But few do it as well as New Jersey foursome Chromatics, and the title track from their April release, Kill for Love, demonstrates why. Opening with a shimmering pitter-patter of synth, the first quarter-minute is the auditory equivalent of seeing stars. Soon, singer Ruth Radelet enters with an alto that’s both rich and airy, invoking pills, booze, hazy memories and counting herself to sleep. Around her, restrained bass and drum synths ball-change in a one-two rhythm until, finally, an effects-laden guitar whisks us away. It’s about as close to slow-and-dreamy pop perfection as you’re likely to get — this year.—Rachel Bailey

37. Tanlines – “All of Me”
Resembling an uncountable number of Brooklyn trends, these miniaturists’ most consistent trait was their impossible knack for stacking hook over hook, atop a Pointillistic synth march and boxy 4/4 choogle. Tanlines’ “All of Me” burst at every wall with some new sticky bit—love that Indestructible Beat of Soweto-via-Mantronix breakdown at three minutes. If the Killers aren’t scared of the ease with which Tanlines assemble these Happy Meals, well that’s their latest mistake.—Dan Weiss

36. Jack White – “Sixteen Saltines”
The now 37-year-old Jack White makes teen angst sound cool again in “Sixteen Saltines,” off his solo album Blunderbuss. The song handles an obsession with a woman in a way only White could. With surreal imagery and a killer guitar riff, “Sixteen Saltines” is a rock song for any indie kid who’s been snubbed by the opposite sex.—Taylor Evans

35. Grimes – “Oblivion”
In the opening of “Oblivion,” Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, is terrified of what could be looming in the dark. The music sets that tone, with synth sounds that wouldn’t sound out of place in an ‘80s slasher flick. Grimes needs someone to accompany her through the dark, and as she becomes less afraid, she mocks the shadows with a light, little “la la la la la.” In a year where ear-shattering bass and dubstep ruled, Grimes brings humanity back to dance, ready to skip through the darkness rather than fear its looming presence.—Ross Bonaime

34. Purity Ring – “Fineshrine”
With the release of their debut Shrines, Purity Ring easily met audiences’ high expectations, emerging from the musical womb with a fully realized live show and a stockpile of hits. The title-ish track, “Fireshrines,” shakes a cocktail of ebullient production, grotesque imagery and carefully enunciated, glassy vocals. “Fineshrine” turns cacophony into beauty, challenging listeners without pushing them away.—Philip Cosores

33. 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. Opening with a full minute of synths and ethereal vocals that could soundtrack trippy interludes from Terrence Malick, the song shifts into propulsive riffs that could have #NASAMohawkGuy nodding his head and thinking beyond Mars.—Josh Jackson

32. Vintage Trouble – “Blues Hand Me Down”
Opening with a stark drum/yowl/electric guitar figure, it’s hard to tell where Vintage Trouble’s The Bomb Shelter Sessions is heading. World-class journeymen bar-banders? Or something more primal? “Blues Hand Me Down” makes a grab for the mantle of the Exile-era Stones (sans Gram Parsons influence) and injects it with a modern-day fervor, tambourine shaking. We’re left breathless as the song gains momentum and shrugs off any vestige of the common place.—Holly Gleason

31. Killer Mike feat. Bun B, T.I. and Trouble – “Big Beast”
Killer Mike  comes out swinging on “Big Beast,” the lead track off the triumphant R.A.P. Music. Recognizing the chance to grab the spotlight in the cluttered Atlanta rap scene, the vet quickly establishes his dominance as the angry rapper to beat. Mike’s unyielding fury with each rhyme is proof enough, but just for good measure Bun B and T.I. lay down their best guest verses in years, and in perhaps the most fruitful collaboration of 2012, El-P provides a hammering beat that lends a frightfully real weight. Always technically gifted and respected, Killer Mike finally willed forth a classic album and signature track with “Big Beast” to solidify his best-in-game status.—Zachary Philyaw

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