It’s that glorious time of year again. Time to compile and share our Top 25 songs of 2012. Theresa and I spent the better part of the 6-hour return drive from Idaho sifting through iTunes, listening and re-listening to tracks from our favorite 2012 albums. It’s quite a task to undertake, but we hope you enjoy listening to this playlist as much as we enjoyed making it. As with any “best of” playlist, there are notable absences, so our apologies if we left off some obvious candidate.
As usual, we have a .zip file with all the MP3s + custom album art in case you want to plug this into your phone or iPod. However, this year features a new twist: a Spotify playlist! Now you can listen to all the songs with a clear conscience. As with last year, each artist’s name links directly to their website, so if you hear something you absolutely adore, we strongly encourage you to go grab their album.
Without further ado, here is the Orange Juice, ETC Top 25 Songs of 2012. In alphabetical order by artist.
Download: Zipped MP3s (165MB)
Or: Open in Spotify
If you missed last year’s playlist, don’t fret. Here it is.
1. Bahamas – Lost in the Light
A mellow, simple, soulful track. The kind of music that makes you want to close your eyes and gently bob your head. And when those backups singers kick in, it’s magic. This entire album is fantastic, one of the best of 2012 in my opinion, and if you aren’t familiar with Alfie Jurvanan’s music you ought to give it a spin sometime.
2. Beach House – The Hours
When it came time to make our selection from Beach House’s 2012 album Bloom we found ourselves having a difficult time. The problem is that there’s not a weak song on the album. After much deliberation we landed on “The Hours” which encapsulates everything that is wonderful about Beach House. Turn it on, and submerge yourself in this dreamy, wave-washed soundscape.
3. Ben Howard – Esmerelda
Ben Howard has become something of a staple in our household since his 2011 release Every Kingdom. It’s the album that inevitably gets turned on every time we drive through the North Cascades, or head to the ocean. Naturally we were thrilled to discover that he was releasing a 4 song EP in 2012. Esmerelda is the standout track from that EP, and the best way to describe it may be “darkly beautiful”. Imagine if you will, a storm-whipped ocean swell, and you’ll begin to get the idea.
4. Benjamin Francis Leftwich – Pictures
Ok. We’re cheating here a little bit. Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s album Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm was released in 2011. However, we didn’t discover this little gem until about a month ago, and it’s been playing nonstop ever since. Mr. Leftwich creates beautifully wrought, guitar-drive songs, and “Pictures” is one of his finest.
5. Brandi Carlile – 100
Sometimes it seems like Brandi’s been with us a long time now. But in reality she only just burst onto the scene in 2006; her kerosene soaked vocal chords burning holes in our heart with every smoky wail. I wouldn’t be suprised if she goes down as one of our generation’s greats. The James Taylor or Paul Simon of our era. Despite her rough edges, Brandi is capable of creating heartwarmingly sweet, simple songs. The kind of melodies that you can’t get out of your head. “100” is a fine example of Brandi at her best.
6. Bright Moments – Tourists
There’s so much to enjoy about this song. The percussive complexity, the infectious melody, or the heavenly trumpet arrangement that closes the song out. But it’s that soaring falsetto in the bridge that gets me every time. It’s well worth the 2 minutes and 43 seconds of toe-tapping goodness before things really take off.
7. Daughter – Home
Spacious reverb, piano, and some delicious percussion make an ideal backdrop for Elena Tonra’s hauntingly beautiful voice. The standout track from Daughter’s little 4 song EP leaves us wanting more.
8. Delta Spirit – Time Bomb
Delta Spirit is another band whom I’m convinced will go down as one of “the greats”. Their third album finds them exploring new sonic territory without losing the things that make them great. I’ve decided that “Time Bomb” might be one of my all-time favorite songs. Ever. That seems like a bold statement to make for a song that’s not even a year old, especially when you think about all the brilliant songs there are to choose from. But for me, this is as good as it gets. I’m not going to try to describe it, just put it on next time you have a quiet moment and soak in Delta Spirit’s genius.
9. Electric Guest – Under The Gun
Electric Guest make their second appearance on Orange Juice ETC with this fine track. Their song “This Head I Hold” appeared on our Hipsters Workout Mix. “Under The Gun” pairs a sublte, buzzing bass-line with percussive piano lines. The melodies are gorgeous and the vocals somewhat reminiscent of Michael Jackson. Overall it’s a thoroughly enjoyable pop track with a sorrowful edge.
10. Father John Misty – Well You Can Do It Without Me
Father John Misty produced one of the finest albums of 2012 with Fear Fun. It was a challenge to pick the best song, and if I’m honest I might pick “Only Son of a Ladies Man” or “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”. However this raucous, delightfully clever song might be my favorite. It’s definitely the most fun, and when Joshua Tillman attempts to shred his own vocal chords several times it only adds to the atmosphere.
11. First Aid Kit – Blue
Speaking of brilliant female vocalists, not many do it as well as Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg of First Aid Kit. Their fine album The Lion’s Roar has been another constant companion for Theresa and I this year, and “Blue” is a fine example of the delicious harmonies and soaring vocals that are their trademark.
12. Foy Vance – Be The Song
“Be The Song” from Foy Vance’s lovely 4 song Melorose EP is quite a departure from his soulful debut album Hope; more Bon Iver than Stevie Wonder with a guitar. If we’re honest we’ll admit it was a bit of a disappointment at first, if only because we’d come to adore the style of his first album. However, after a few listens we got over it and began to appreciate the subtle beauty of this track. Our appreciation for the song was solidified upon seeing him live in Seattle. On stage, the power of his voice and his brilliant musicianship took the song to a whole new level.
13. Geographer – Lover’s Game
Geographer won our hearts with their 2010 EP Animal Shapes, and “Lover’s Game” from their latest album Myths delivers another addictive dose of danceable, synth-laden goodness. Lead singer Michael Deni’s voice is a unique blend of soothing and celestial, and when he kicks into his high falsetto, backed by Nathan Blaz’s cello, the result is heavenly.
14. Good Old War – Can’t Go Home
Yet another album I can’t stop playing. Good Old War are a bit of an enigma. Their music is so catchy, so infused with glee, and the joy of life, that I should be experiencing the equivalent of post-Halloween sugar crash after 2 or 3 times through the album. But I’ve listened to the entire album at least a dozen times now, and I just keep coming back for more. And that’s really the beauty of their music. They’ve somehow created super-catchy, feel-good folk-pop that is refreshing instead of nauseating. So fasten your seatbelts, put on your stomping boots, and prepare for a rollicking good time with “Can’t Go Home”.
15. Husky – Animals & Freaks
It’s always wonderful to witness a band just nail a feeling, both musically and lyrically. Husky have done it with this song. The best word to describe it is “haunting”. Lead singer Husky Gawenda’s clear high, slightly nasally voice suits itself well to the story. From the ethereal backing vocals, to the storyline of an old man haunted by a once-in-a-lifetime encounter, it’s pitch perfect.
16. John Mayer – Something Like Olivia
John Mayer and I have always had a bit of a standoffish relationship. I’ll accuse him of being an enormous tool, and he’ll come back at me with a perfect melody, and an oh-so-catchy blues riff. I’ll decide maybe he’s not so bad, and then he’ll do something toolish again and we’re back to square one. His recent album Born and Raised was no different. First there was that stupid hat. Then I heard the god-awful I’m-a-good-guy-with-a-spotty-past first single “Shadow Days”, (seriously this song should be a candidate for WORST songs of 2012) and I was ready to write off the whole album. But I toughed it out and listened through a few times, for Continuum’s sake, and what I discovered was an album just 2 songs shy of perfect. If you remove “Shadow Days” and the annoyingly-repetitive “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey” it’s seriously brilliant. And “Something Like Olivia” features all of Mayer’s best qualities. It’s bluesy, bouncy, heartfelt, and endearingly forlorn. And because I’m married to a real life Olivia, it’s carved out a warm little niche in my heart. Every time I hear it I think about how lucky I am to be married to Theresa. You win Mr. Mayer. You win.
17. Josh Ritter – See Me Through
Cut from Dylan-esque cloth, Josh Ritter’s lyrics are often sprawling, complex narratives. But in 2012 he released a lovely little 6 song EP called Bringing In The Darlings. Eschewing his usual narrative complexity, these songs are best described as simple and sweet, both lyrically and musically. That doesn’t mean they are any less wonderful than some of his more ambitious work. “See Me Through” is a delightful combination of gentle finger-picked guitar, and sweetly memorable melody.
18. Lord Huron – Brother
I’m always a sucker for a song about brothers. I have 3, and I love them all dearly. Theresa has no brothers but I know she can relate given the close friendship she has with her older sister. Whenever I listen to this song I’m carried away, remembering past adventures, and dreaming of future ones with my brothers by my side. And that seems to be what Lord Huron does best. Through the power of music, they create adventures for the mind, carrying you to distant lands, inspiring longing in the heart.
19. Lost Lander – Cold Feet
Lost Lander have created a lush musical atmosphere in this thoroughly enjoyable song. The production is impressive, as an array of digital and analog noises are skillfully woven into the fabric of this soaring tune. Buzzes, clicks, scratches, whirrs, bells, and whistles. All make their appearance as the song progresses. It’s an assault on the senses, but one you’ll find delightfully catchy.
20. Michael Kiwanuka – Bones
Michael Kiwanuka has the kind of voice any musician would kill for. It’s smooth, rich, and brimming with emotion. He brings to mind such legends as Bill Withers, or Otis Redding. So much so that the first time I heard one of his songs I wondered if it was an old 50’s song I’d passed by. But no, Michael is a mere 24 years old. “Bones”, the 4th single from his debut album, is a brilliant example of British soul at its best. I’d highly recommend you pick up his album Home Again as soon as you possibly can.
21. Nada Surf – When I Was Young
I was a little late to the game with Nada Surf. I never liked their big hit “Popular” from back in 1996, so when I was introduced to them by a co-worker sometime in 2007 I didn’t even realize it was the same band. I soon discovered that I’d missed out on 3 stellar albums. They’ve since become a staple in my musical diet. “When I Was Young” is a fine example why I love Nada Surf. They’re never going to blow you away with their lyrics or musicianship, but they consistently put out enjoyably refreshing indie rock. They’re probably not for everyone. But for me, there’s just nothing quite like a good Nada Surf song.
22. Santigold – God From The Machine
Santigold writes genre-blending R&B/rock/electronic dub songs that would make for great pre-fight music, should you ever need it. You can’t help but feel a little bit tougher with a track like “God From the Machine” pulsing in the background. Throw it on next time your working out, or if you just need a quick shot of badassery.
23. The Staves – Tongue Behind My Teeth
The Stavely-Taylor sisters – Emily, Jessica, and Camilla – were not born with silver spoons in hand. No, each was blessed instead with a set of flawless golden vocal chords. It seems they’ve taken the old proverb, “a chord of three strands is not easily broken” to heart, choosing to sing together instead of pursuing individual interests. And thank goodness. When those voices blend in three-part harmony, the only way to describe it is “angelic”. Enjoy.
24. The Tallest Man On Earth – Leading Me Now
Hailing from Sweden, Kristian Matsson aka The Tallest Man On Earth, creates distinctive, gorgeous, American-style folk songs. His voice takes a little getting used to, but like many fine things in life it grows on you, until suddenly you find yourself beginning to crave it. “Leading Me Now” is a fine example of his energetic finger-picking and earnest songcraft.
25. Youth Lagoon – Daydream
There seems to be a lot of home-recorded indie pop floating around out there. Most of it is pretty hit-or-miss, with the odd gem buried amidst the rubble. But Trevor Powers of Youth Lagoon has created an album that is fantastic end to end, filled with memorable hooks cloaked in swirling atmospheres. The tone throughout is hushed, almost child-like at times. At least at first. In “Daydream”, what begins as a quiet introspective lullaby builds gradually into something grander and more expansive. Most of the tracks on this album have the same effect, and you may find yourself delightfully surprised when these simple songs expand skyward in the space a few minutes.