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Staff Picks: Best Songs, Albums And Concerts Of 2012

By: Curtis Sindrey

1. Joy Formidable – “Wolf’s Law”

Welsh trio Joy Formidable’s first single from their forthcoming LP Wolf’s Law is an electric track that begins with a haunting piano ballad, but soon bursts into its epic conclusion which plainly asserts that we need to reconnect with ourselves and the planet. With an accompanying video, which defines that while humans may feel invincible in the world, there are many elements that make life fragile and something not to be taken lightly. If you think “Whirring” was their swan song, think again.


2. Regina Spektor – “All The Rowboats”

Regina Spektor’s effective use of synths and a whodunit-style theme propels the classically trained pianist above and beyond her colleagues and cements herself as a pop artist who is willing to take chances.


3. Alabama Shakes – “Hold On”

Indie rock rookies Alabama Shakes’ single “Hold On” sent a jolt down the spine of the music industry when it was released back in February with its blues/rock style riff and soulful vocals from lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard.


4. Alt-J – “Something Good”

2012 Mercury Prize winners Alt-J and their single “Something Good” is arguably the future of music. With their use of folk guitars, haunting rhythms and lush vocals, this U.K. indie rock quartet will soon take the North American music industry by storm, one song at a time.


5. Kanye West, Pusha T and Ghostface Killah – “New God Flow”

While the album where this song calls home, Cruel Summer, fell flat as a standalone album, “New God Flow” is one of the defining moments of the record because it brings about a holy book of dark ambience along with the often-soulful rhymes from West and company.


By: Stephen McGill

1. Foxy Shazam – “I Like It”

This song is just so damn fun, it’s hard not to get drawn into its raucous party atmosphere, not to mention it has one of the most entertaining choruses I’ve ever heard. The rest of the album holds up quite well, but this track is definitely the star.


2. Titus Andronicus – “In A Big City”

The single off the new Titus Andronicus album is probably the most apt description of what this band does and will continue to do. It’s a battle cry for movement and the death of apathy that the character can’t help but be drawn into for the pursuit of money.


3. Greys – “Telegraph Hill” 

Greys is probably the best punk band in Toronto, and the closing track off their cassette release from this year merely solidifies this. It’s a seven minute sonic blast that closes out an already packed release.


4. Craig Finn – “New Friend Jesus”

This is one of the cuter tracks of The Hold Steady frontman’s debut solo album, chronicling the character meeting Jesus and becoming friends with him, and then using that to try and impress a girl. It also contains the absolutely brilliant line of “People say we suck at sports but they don’t understand, it’s hard to catch with holes right through your hands.”


5. Alabama Shakes – “Hold On”

The lead single, and opening track, off their acclaimed new album Boys & Girls “Hold On” is the perfect song to introduce listeners to singer Brittany Howard’s incredible voice. They’ve been on a meteoric rise this year and who can guess what’s next for them.


By: Alex Lee

1. Miguel – “Adorn”

Sonically, Miguel’s “Adorn” takes cues from the various landmarks that give what music critiques call PBR&B its distinctive flavour: sparse, minimalistic productions that often strive for detail rather than anthemic textures.

The poster boys currently dominating the genre, namely Frank Ocean and Toronto-native The Weeknd have perhaps paved these stylistic blueprints in defining the genre. With added touches of bleak lyrics aching about moral bankruptcy, unrequited love and decadence, what we now know of PBR&B is that it’s a moody genre. The sounds are nonetheless hauntingly beautiful, but the content is often crippling with a sense of melancholy.

This is where Miguel differs. While he nails just about all the stylistic aesthetics of the genre, he brings back traditional R&B sensibilities often replaced in his fellow PBR&B peers’ work with lyrical poeticism and artistic debauchery. Instead, Miguel’s words are simple, direct, and most of all, ridiculously sexy, reminiscent of the sheer 90‘s romanticism as sung by D’Angelo.


2. Beach House – “Myth”

Beach House’s “Myth” puts in work the sonic elements that have sculpted the dream-pop duo’s efforts in the last eight years. From Alex Scally’s hypnotic guitars to Victoria Legrand’s intimate, sultry vocals, “Myth” is yet another brilliant entree to the duo’s expansive collection of breathtaking pop tunes. What makes it so sonically derived from the duo’s previous efforts, however, is all the little details within the song. The layers of echo and airy expansiveness would make one think it would subdue the sound, while the effects are polar opposite. The song’s production revolves around a minimalistic approach, yet the combination of Scally’s sparkling guitars and rich reverbs make the song sound bigger than Beach House has ever sounded before.


3. The xx – “Angels”

The xx’s “Angels,” on the surface, plays very much like any other xx song. It’s melodic and powerful despite its ethereal, almost muted production. The track seems more like whispered sweet nothings, as Romy Madley-Croft’s silky vocals glide smoothly against her reverb-doused guitar line. Like all The xx songs, the hollow atmosphere is more of an advantage, adding intimacy and infinite elegance. The live percussion towards the end is a new approach for the trio, with the rhythm section as provided by producer Jamie xx featured only electronic elements. The drums are ominous and distant, providing the last finishing touches to perfect this bittersweet love song.


4. How To Dress Well – “& It Was You”

Tom Krell aka How to Dress Well has taken R&B to different lengths. Meriting lo-fi sensibilities with contemporary rhythm and blues, the majority of his work on his sophomore record Total Loss stylistically revolves around ambient and somber tones. “& It Was You,” however, is rhythmic and upbeat, leaving plenty of room for danceable grooves begging to be remixed by producers and the like.

Taking cues from 90‘s jack swing, the song is built on complicated beats, finger-snap rhythms and hypnotic drums, but most importantly, Krell’s abilities as a vocalist. With that said, “& It Was You” is one of this year’s most straight-forward approach to the R&B genre.


5. John Talabot – “Destiny ft. Pional”

It’s exhaustive to even begin looking at the onslaught of producers, all prolifically churning out their own rendition of their avant take on house music. Spanish dance producer John Talabot is, at first, one of these come-and-go producers. His song Destiny, however, begs to differ. The song brings to surface Talabot’s darker sensibilities, layering 80’s synthpop flavours with club-ready beats. The smoky, ominous vocals, however, is what really brings the song to its full limelight, giving full credibility to the blatant 80’s-revival vibe the song so dearly clings onto.


 By: Adam Harrison

1. Soundgarden – “Live to Rise”

Welcome back Soundgarden! Their first brand new single in 15 years is incredible. It transitions from a simply awesome guitar riff into a sweetly melodic verse and then to an in your face, powerful chorus. Chris Cornell’s uniquely haunting voice along with Kim Thayil’s fantastic guitar work, grant this song the top spot of 2012. A super-human song created for a superhero movie.


2. fun. feat. Janelle Monáe – “We Are Young”

Songs don’t get much catchier than this. Too bad their band name isn’t as unforgettable. Regardless, this song will have groups of friends linking arms in pubs and shouting along at the top of their lungs for years to come. I just wonder if fun. will be around as long, or will this fall on a list of one hit wonders?


3. Muse – “Madness”

After “Uprising” was such a smash hit, you’d expect any band to try and come out with something simlar to match that success. However Muse is not just any band and “Madness” is nothing like any other song of theirs. Inspired by Queen and George Michael, “Madness” is a much softer song their we’re used to from Muse, but still just as memorable. The build up to the epic bridge where Matthew Bellamy shows off his incredible vocal power will send shivers down your spine.


4. Big Wreck – “Albatross”

This out-of-nowhere rock anthem put Big Wreck back on the map, something they hadn’t enjoyed since the late ‘90s. The memorable guitar riff and resonating vocals really make this one stick. You’ll try and sing along to Ian Thornley’s unique sound, but you’ll never match it.


5. Mother Mother – “Let’s Fall in Love”

This Canadian band continues to grow after each album and their songs get catchier and catchier. The transition from verse to chorus will have you shaking your head around until you have whiplash and I dare you to say, “Mommy did it, daddy did it…” wasn’t stuck in your head for a week.


Honorable mentions: “Sleep Alone” – Two Door Cinema Club, “The Devil Takes Care of his Own” – Band of Skulls, “Heavyweight” – Our Lady Peace, “Can’t Hold Us” – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Ray Dalton, “Youth Without Youth” – Metric

By: Kayla-Jane Barrie

1. White Lung – Sorry

This Vancouver punk band knows how to put together a badass album. From start to finish heavy guitar and raw vocals fill your speakers. The ten-track album flows from the raging first song “Take The Mirror” to the dark and moody “Dead Beat.” “Bag” is the hardest song on the album; I just can’t get enough of it. White Lung is a reminder that three girls, and a guy, are the perfect mix for a melodic punk album.


2. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” 

It’s been over a decade since we’ve heard from the Montreal-based Godspeed You! Black Emperor and with their new album what a great comeback they have made. Their last album, Yanqui U.X.O, was original and musically beautiful. I can truly get lost in the mystic sounds of Godspeed You! Black Emperor from start to finish. Now lets keep out fingers crossed for a Canadian tour!


3. The Lumineers – The Lumineers EP

This American folk band knows how to explore the world of folk music to create a beautifully flowing album with great lyrics. If you’re not hearing it over the airwaves, “Ho-Hey” is a must for summer bonfires. Some other great tracks on the album include “Classy Girls” and “Dead Sea,” which will send chills down your spine. Instead of fogging up the world with another folk band, these guys stick to their roots and make a soulful album.


4. Green Day – ¡Uno!

Before you remember the last Green Day album, 21st Century Breakdown, take a breath and think about the early 90s. Dookie, Insomniac and Nimrod; this is what Green Day’s new album sounds like. Finally these guys go back to their roots! I will admit it does end on a slower note with the radio-hit “Oh Love,” however; the rest of album is smashing. Tracks like “Nuclear Family” and “Let Yourself Go” remind me of what it was like in the good old days of punk rock. Hopefully they can keep it up for ¡Dos! And ¡Tres! released later this year and early January respectively.


5. Mumford and Sons – Babel

With Babel Mumford and Sons took a step back and wrote a folk album, without sounding like their past work. This one really stands out to me compared to their last EP, Love Your Ground, and their debut album Sigh No More, simply because they have more mature lyrics and a bolder sound. Instead of being what every other folk band is, these guys created the folk album they wanted to hear this year. My top three songs on this album are the piano driven, “Hopeless Wonderer,” “Broken Crown,” and the catchy, “I Will Wait.”


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