10)Taylor Swift- We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
Like fancying someone who already has a really hot girlfriend, I’ve held a sneaky little infatuation with Taylor Swift for a very long and probably inappropriate time. Somewhat reserved, shy and ‘totally in it for the music y’all’, she redefined the girl next door aesthetic for the noughties generation, only strengthening her poor little doe eye shtick when mean old pantomime villain Kanye West stole her big award moment. Luckily for us, in 2012 is seemed that she decided it was time to finally grow up and utilise her unique talent for putting the thoughts of teenage girls into music in a truly catchy, and frankly, less lame manner. Put simply, she’s seen the success of the likes of Katy Perry and Jessie J, and realised that the perks of being a wallflower are simply not on the same competitive level.
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together will change Swift’s life forever. Like Sandy leathering up at the end of Grease, Swift is no longer playing the victim, her experiences of trying to get rid of a slightly stalkerish ex-boyfriend, complete with exasperated Americanisms comes across with just the right level of sass and tongue in cheek humour. This is a girl who has dated the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Taylor Lautner and now Harry Styles – she is clearly not as inexperienced with the opposite sex as her previous albums made out.
Then there is the music itself, which is annoying at best, to a new listener. But after a few snippets blasted from car windows, over tannoys in cafés…. that little ‘never ever’ earworm begins to settle, bringing with it a desire to jump up and down on the mattress in your childhood bedroom. For bringing back fun and helping ‘teenybopper’ become less of a dirty word, Miss Swift, I salute you.
Key Lyric: ‘I'm really gonna miss you picking fights/And me falling for it screaming that I'm right/And you would hide away and find your peace of mind/With some indie record that's much cooler than mine’
9) Jessie Ware – 110%
Compared to young Swifty, Jessie Ware is an artist who nailed sophisti-pop right away. Having fallen in with the right crowd of hipster London types back in the day, committing vocals to records my SBTRKT, Sampha and Joker, her background of Garage and Electronica permeates her honeyed tones, creating a blend that whilst perhaps not as original as many are claiming, is still a gripping listen. Danceable, but with a core thread of subtle empowerment, 110% is by far her most unique offering from her reasonable debut, her talent for floating on top of each note rather than belting it creating a very feminine but effortless tone. Perhaps not the saviour of music that everyone seems intent to tout her as, but certainly someone who has earnt their chops and will hopefully continue to create interesting work, collaborations or not.
Key Lyric: 'Won’t dance, not without you/Small steps, they lead only to your heart/You keep me wishing in the dark’
8)Frank Ocean – Thinkin Bout You
If Watch The Throne was 2011’s defining Hip Hop record, then Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange was a dummies guide to how to write skilful RnB in 2012. The recipe is simple: masterful vocals, witty wordplay and a confidence that intrigues but never overwhelms. Exploring these elements, Ocean has produced an RnB record with the sort of character that hasn't been seen since Justin Timberlake released Justified 10 years ago. One for the ladies (and indeed the boys, in light of Frank’s beautiful open letter declaring his bisexuality) Thinkin’ About You is Channel Orange’s pinnacle, complete with falsetto chorus and lyrics that make you want to take him home, introduce him to your parents and let him whisk you off on a romantic candlelit dinner that ends in nothing more sinister than a kiss on the cheek. Make space on those bedrooms walls for his poster.
Key Lyric: 'A tornado flew around my room before you came/Excuse the mess it made, it usually doesn't rain/In Southern California, much like Arizona/My eyes don't shed tears, but, boy, they bawl/When I'm thinkin' 'bout you’
7)Everything Everything – Cough Cough
Earning themselves a cult following with their debut album Man Alive, before slinking off into the night, Everything Everything’s 2012 return came as something of a unexpected (but pleasant) surprise. With their hands firmly on the reins, producing all video promotional content themselves, they appear to be deciding on the kind of band they really want to be. Luckily for us, Cough Cough is more of what they do best – jittery, scale clambering vocals, strong drums and a sense of circus freak theatrics. With lyrical themes this time a little less nonsensical, and many of the other tracks from upcoming album Arc sounding a little more, dare I say it, mature, we’re in for an interesting ride. Freaky fans, do not fear though: described by lead singer Jonathan Higgs in an interview with XFM as being about ‘waking up and seeing the world as an unfair place and then slipping back under the spell of greed", their quirky edge is still intact.
Key Lyric: ‘I’m coming alive/I’m having it now/ And that eureka moment hits you like a cop car/And you wake up just head and shoulders in a glass jar’
6)Grizzly Bear – Yet Again
This year, Grizzly Bear went from being ‘that band I like who have that really awesome song Two Weeks’ to being a group I wholeheartedly love. This is mainly thanks to my boyfriend taking me with him to their gig (one of the best of the year), but also because Shields is their most consistent record to date. Whilst I could have picked the kaleidoscopic wonder of Speak In Rounds or the epic Sun In Your Eyes as a top ten track, I plumped for Yet Again, the second single that truly introduced this album to the world. With Ed Droste in fine, crooning voice, it builds and builds into a glorious finale that relinquishing into itself like the slighty geeky, shy boys they seem to be. I heart them. So should you.
Key Lyric: ‘Take it all in stride/Speak, don't confide/We barely have a case/It's done before we try/It's darkened and by night/A desert in deface'
5)Lucy Rose- Shiver
Speaking to SafetyInSound back in January 2012, a modest Lucy Rose told me about her debut album, explaining that she hoped we ‘could expect something great, but right now I have no idea what’s going to happen.’ Later in the year, she confessed to me that she had no expectations for the critical or even commercial success of her debut album Like I Used To, released the same week as Mumford & Sons second record and ‘definitely not likely to go into the top whatever.’
Miss Rose couldn't have been more wrong. 2012 was the year she established herself in her own right, dispelling any ‘shrinking violet’ stereotypes with a series of fun on-the-road style videos, notably the Good the Bad and the Ugly homage that was Bikes. Hitting the number 13 spot, Like I Used To was a lovingly crafted collection of the songs that helped swell her fanbase over the past two years, most notably Shiver. Never recorded before, it presents itself of as the gem of a record instantly, harking back to that air of vulnerability as she delicately enunciates each note that tells the story of a failed relationship.As pretty as it is dark, it’s the kind of track that will make even the most ardent Bombay Bicycle Club fan see her as a whole different ball game.
Key Lyric: 'And we stole/Every moment we had to make the other one feel bad/And we hoped that we could be what we knew/We'd never turn out to be real/And I loved the way you looked at me/And I miss the way you made me feel'
4)Bat For Lashes- Laura
Sometimes, as a music journalist, you encounter something that truly makes you catch your breath. These moments are precious, because I don’t need to tell you that the sheer amount of music in the world right now is bigger than it has ever been,and a lot of it is mediocre, soulless and contrived. They are 4 or so minutes to be cherished, and even more so when it comes from an artist you never knew you liked. I’d dismissed the earlier works of Bat For Lashes in my youth – not knowing very much about her, I thought it was gimmicky pretentious artpop, more concerned in its dressing up and posturing. However, with her third album The Haunted Man casting away all garments and pizzazz (quite literally, if you see the artwork), the artist known as Natasha Khan became exposed and fragile, and yet with an inherent strength that eminates from someone who has taken on the music industry and won. The track that gave The Haunted Man to the world was Laura. A natural follow on to 2009’s Daniel, it’s a song full of warmth and sepia comfort towards on old friend, a fallen siren left at the end of the party as the loneliness sets in. Both inherently personal and distant, it’s the musical equivalent to happening upon your grandmothers wedding dress in the attic, holding it close and feeling the history and magic whirl around you. Classic and Romantic, it’s a reminder that sometimes the most critically acclaimed artists really are worthy of attention.
Key Lyric: 'Drape your arms around me and softly say/Can we dance upon the tables again?/When your smile is so wide/And your heels are so high/You can’t cry'
3)Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine
A blur of brillcreemed hair, tight fitting leather and spiky riffs, R U Mine sped into existence for Record Store Day, surprising even the most ardent of their fans. Far more simplistic in structure and lyrical theme than some of their earlier works, the rock riffs sit at odds with their most recent album Suck It and See, but indicate a back to basics, grungier future, more befitting of the bands new found ‘hells angels gone high fashion’ visuals. Boasting one of the best videos of the air, featuring Alex Turner and Matt Helders air-drumming to their own song in glorious, egotistical spinal tap fashion, it’s a far cry from the spotty, jogging bottomed oiks who rose to fame back in 2005.Toto, we’re not in Sheffield anymore.
Key Lyric: 'She's a silver lining/Lone ranger riding/Through an open space/When she's not right there beside me'
2)The Maccabees – Feel To Follow
Having redefined what it means to have a ‘golden year’, The Maccabees are now one of the biggest guitar acts in Britain, headlining festival stages, touring incessantly and releasing one of the very best records of the year in the form of Given To The Wild, a wintery bluster that had all the charm and wide eyed wonder of Raymond Briggs The Snowman.Its magical aura slipping slightly unaccompanied by it’s video, second single Feel To Follow is the most unequivocal touch point to demonstrate just how skilled Orlando and co are as craftsmen of musical melody and tension, taking the best elements of old favourite No Kind Words and feminising them, softening the edges until it becomes an emotional hurricane. It’s enough to makes you want to don a heavy coat, switch off your phone and go off into the countryside to get good and lost for a few hours. Over the year, it has grown into something, very, very special live, prompting a eyeleak from even the most casual of Maccabees fans.
Key Lyric: 'How was I ever to believe it/It's never too late/Until it's too late and i'll be stranded/I need something'
1)Hot Chip- Flutes
Every year has its album release where each of the 11 or so tracks are pure, unbridled belters, potential singles in their own right due to their imminence and integrity. 2011 had The Vaccines (say what you like about their integrity, that album had ‘right time right place’ written through it), 2010 had Two Door Cinema Club (pop brilliance) and 2009 had Florence And The Machine’s Lungs. All critical darlings, all heralded as the saviour of something or other, all marketed as good looking youngsters with a strong fashion sense and a targeted audience. In 2012, things changed. Sneaking out of the corner of the mainstream where they had been burrowed for the past few years, feverishly making music that consistently improved were Hot Chip. That’s right. The most unlikely popstars around produced one of the best dancepop records in years with their 5 effort In Our Heads, all slapped bass, funky synths and lyrics that’ actually meant something, because they were mature enough to have lovingly collated their influences into something that is uniquely their own.
Most notably, In Our Heads harnesses the voice of Alexis Taylor, in all its glory. In many ways, the bespectacled, middle class 20-something is the owner of the perfect pop voice, loaded with the suppressed euphoria that makes Hot Chip's brand of dance music so affecting. To his credit, Flutes is hereby the undisputed song of the year, growing and swimming in such a way that you forgot it runs for nearly 7 minutes. Clearly influenced by Kraftwerk (the album was made on the German band’s own mixing desk), it is pop songwriting at Harvard level; whilst the chorus might be nothing more than an Agadoo worthy instruction of movement ‘Work that inside outside/Work that more/Work that right side left side/-More and more’, it seems to be so much leaner and sleek than anything Xenomania could have dreamt up, and nowhere near as pedestrian.as likely as it to make you fist pump in a club as it is to make you run that extra mile on the treadmill as it is to soundtrack a creative evening sat at the computer, it appears to be a song for all occasions, which is surely what any truly great track can hope to achieve.
Key Lyric: 'I know it's nothing more than flutes/But something in my heart is loose/There's never been a better day'