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.

10. Father John Misty – “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” is almost a microcosm of what makes Fear Fun, Josh Tillman’s first album under his Father John Misty moniker, one of 2012’s best albums. It kicks off with the booming drums that Tillman is known for as a former member of Fleet Foxes, followed by a catchy chorus and somber-yet-hilarious lyrics, as he sings, “we should let this dead guy sleep.” Tillman’s song battles the physical urges, filled with drugs and sex surrounded by gravestones, with reverence for the dead. He’s living in the moment while facing his own future, mortality and uncertainty. He doesn’t know what comes next, but he knows that like his grandfather, we all will face the same end, but hopeful that someone will help us before the finality.—Ross Bonaime

9. Alabama Shakes – “Hold On”
Roots-rock group Alabama Shakes originally intended to be known as The Shakes, only being forced to add the word “Alabama” to their name in order to differentiate themselves from another group with a similar title. However, one listen to Alabama Shakes’ vocalist Brittany Howard should be more than enough to set their group apart from seemingly every band currently recording music. Arriving onto the scene in early 2012 with “Hold On,” Alabama Shakes immediately turned heads with their refreshing take on the traditional music that makes up their influences, headlined by Howard’s stunning vocals. With one of the best new voices in music and a commitment to making heartfelt and meaningful music, Alabama Shakes are clearly here to stay.—Brian Tremml

8. The Lumineers – “Ho Hey”
It seems like every year there’s an indie band that has a surprise hit on FM radio and ends up sharing the airwaves with the likes of Ke$ha and One Direction. This year, the title goes to The Lumineers. “Ho Hey” is a beautiful, simple song about unrequited love, a subject that everyone can relate to. Minimal instrumentals give the lyrics maximum impact. It also happens to have a very infectious chorus.—Taylor Evans

7. Miguel – “Adorn”
Miguel’s “Adorn,” the opening track to his breakthrough Kaleidoscope Dreams, is an invitation first and foremost. Within a few minutes, the R&B visionary unveils an album’s cornerstones: eccentric vocal quirks and manipulation, production reflecting both the basement and the studio, songwriting with eyes turned both backwards and forwards, and a voice that trumps all. The result is an open door to a colorful and distorted world, with Miguel’s earnestness providing its own adornment to an unmistakable technical gift of singing.—Philip Cosores

6. Of Monsters and Men – “Little Talks”
From its infectious horn-based jumpstart to the conversational and storytelling
harmonies of singers Nanna Bryndís and Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson’s, this hit single from Icelandic sextet Of Monsters and Men is irrefutably one of the catchiest, joyful songs of the year.—Hilary Saunders

5. Titus Andronicus – “Still Life with Hot Deuce on Silver Platter”
It was hard to picture how Titus Andronicus would follow up an album as outstanding as The Monitor. But Local Business’ second track, which takes a lead-in from the album’s outstanding opener, “Ecce Homo,” sets listeners up for life after The Monitor, introducing a more playful take on Titus’ sound that rips the best elements of New Jersey rock ‘n’ roll and ties them with frontman Patrick Stickles’ tongue-in-cheek lyrics.—Tyler Kane

4. Frank Ocean – “Pyramids”
A ten-minute epic that flows effortlessly from warped club banger to subdued electro-R&B to shockingly tasteful John Mayer guitar outro, “Pyramids” deserves a spot on the list for its pure audacity alone. Ocean never allows the track to overstay its welcome though, as his now signature croon remains captivating, even as he transplants ancient Egypt into a modern world of strip-joints and high-heeled women. If anything, “Pyramids” is a magnanimous experience of a song, showcasing Ocean as a standalone talent at his undeniably appealing best. Before the revealing Tumblr open letter, the late night TV appearances, and the critically adorned release of Channel Orange, Ocean kicked off the summer with “Pyramids” as a knowing foreshadowing that he would have the biggest 2012 of anyone.—Zachary Philyaw

3. First Aid Kit – “Emmylou”
Swedish siblings Johanna and Klara Söderberg pay tribute to the American country stars who inspired them on this sweet love song, singing “I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June if you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too.” Their simple yet stunning harmonies are the song’s true stars—shining bright enough to be worthy of the big names they drop.—Bonnie Stiernberg

2. John K. Samson – “When I Write My Master’s Thesis”
Countless days this year, I’ve found a different John K. Samson song stuck in my head, but it’s a happy morning when that song is “When I Write My Master’s Thesis”—a track about freedom from the rigors of academia. The Canadian frontman of the Weakerthans proves that power-pop can be just as powerful a vehicle to deliver clever and powerful lyrics as any coffeehouse strumming.—Josh Jackson

1. Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built”
On March 27, a Magic Johnson-fronted group bought the Dodgers, pink slime and the murder of Trayvon Martin continued to infuriate Americans, and The Hunger Games earned a cool 10 million bucks. But, you might best remember it as the day that you heard Japandroids “The House That Heaven Built.” After streaming the Soundcloud, your reaction was likely to listen again, and then again, and then again while sending the link to a half-dozen friends. Now, eight months later, the sincere and sweet words sound as anthemic as ever, the punk “ohs” still receive a raised fist in response, and the sweat-coated guitar swirls and drum fills evoke wonderful things, like youth and innocence, things that made you love rock ‘n’ roll in the first place.—Philip Cosores

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