Hello friends. It has been a while, hasn’t it?! Recently, I have come to the realization that long periods of often pass without notice. Sure, the weeks are long and some days are worse than others. Bad days turn into bad weeks, bad weeks turn into bad months, bad months turn into bad years – where do we go from here? As I was saying, time passes in such a strange way. I was talking to a friend and trying to recount something from November, and then I realized November was almost five months again. Jesus, where does the time go? Clocks move, things fade, we float along wondering about this life. What can we do except for struggle, try to connect as humans, and attempt to find things that make the floating worthwhile? So in the spirit of getting back to a sporadically maintained popular culture blog, here are ten songs from 2012 and words about them (I don’t mean that sentence to be twee; that is really all this is. There is no hook).
Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe”
(Ed. Note – This song was released in 2011, but rose to prominence in 2012, so cut me some slack. We’re just trying to have a good time.)
It is very hard to write a hit song. Of course, no duh, but we tend to denigrate pop music as if it is easy to plant a song like “Call Me Maybe” in everyone’s consciousness for eight months nonstop. The song had been floating around since 2011, but I guess it didn’t blow up until Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez endorsed it. I don’t remember that. I do remember a coworker IM’ing me and asking, “How much do you love ‘Call Me Maybe?'” I hadn’t heard the song at that point, but that changed quickly.
Jepsen’s hit is definitely a grower. It did not catch me for at first since it is not ostentatious. There is an emphasis on beat and volume in the pop landscape today to which “Call Me Maybe” does not adhere. The dominant sounds are synthesized strings zipping around, adding importance to a song about meeting someone who suddenly sets your heart aflutter. It is a simple feeling that stays sweet and never verges on saccharine.
I heard this song a lot driving around during the spring and summer. It is a great driving song. Announcing itself with plucks, waiting to ramp up, inviting singalongs. One day, I was on the parkway with someone I cared for when this song came on. We joked about the radio a lot, so I told her about a silly, crass version of the song I concocted. We laughed and drove and made jokes about other songs. Later, we were telling her roommate about it. Her roommate did not think it was as funny, but smirked and shook her head. She then brought up the bridge, “Before you came into my life/ I missed you so bad,” and how it was really beautiful for a pop song. That ties everything in the song together. “Call Me Maybe” is still fun and light, but once that line hits, there is a beautiful sentiment that gets added. There is newness and infatuation and anticipation. It is not easy to hit all those points in just over three minutes. It is very hard to write a hit song.
ScHoolBoy Q – “There He Go” / “Hands on the Wheel” (feat. A$AP Rocky)
The first three songs on Habits & Contradictions are one of the strongest runs of the year (I track album sequences. Advanced metrics). “There He Go” is the best song from 2012 to sample Menomena and “Hands on the Wheel” is the best song to sample a live cover version of a Kid CuDi song.
I think it was the 2012 Hypemen reunion episode of Jensen Karp’s podcast when Karp asked who the Rosenthal brothers who would be the next member of TDE to break out after Kendrick Lamar. They said obviously ScHoolBoy. It almost sounded like they were only considering Ab-Soul and Jay Rock since they thought Q had already broken out. That always struck me as funny. Q’s ascendancy is a matter of when rather than a matter of how.
These tracks are strong and confident in very different ways. From Q’s advice to Dr. Dre about Detox on “There He Go” to the reckless prowess brags on “Hands on the Wheel,” ScHoolBoy Q is confident in a way that plays off the heady leanings of the rest of the crew, while engaging in his own next level sounds. His vocal stylings almost lend themselves to catch phrases. At least they did in my mind, because I think I spend most of March 2012 walking around work and saying, “THERE HE GO” as my coworkers shook their heads.
Chairlift – “I Belong In Your Arms”
Yeah, that’s the Japanese video of the song, but it’s still great. The album version of the song is incredible too! The song shimmers and bounces. It joyfully overwhelms you. Chairlift has written poppier songs before, but they take a lot of interesting turns on Something. “I Belong In Your Arms” proves you can try new things and twist sounds while making wonderful pop tracks
On day months ago (maybe even 2011? Just at a point before this album came out) I was eating at the bad pizza place around the corner from work. Chairlift was recording at a studio in the same building as my job, so they stopped by the pizza place. The guy who owns the place (who kind of sucks) kept talking on the phone while they were looking around. The only pizza available was some old Hawaiian so Chairlift and friends high-tailed it. Maybe this song is about pizza and how the pizza belongs in Chairlift’s arms. Everything is better being about pizza.
Love songs are malleable by nature. “I Belong In Your Arms” is between the singer and the singed-to, but it is a general expression that can apply itself to so many couples in the moment. It is warm, joyful, and reminds you how right it can feel to be a lover, to be loved. Depending on your situation, you can twist it from love to longing. You might not be in the arms you want to be in, but they are out there and oh sweet lord, one day you will be melting into the arms and everything will be perfect just perfect.
Perfume Genius – “Dark Parts”
When Put Your Back N 2 It was set to come out, Matador put an ad for Perfume Genius’s “Hood” in front of other YouTube videos. YouTube was dumb about the whole thing, and banned the video from the site for a bit since it was not family appropriate or something. That is very silly because the video is pretty tame from a standards perspective. There is a pornographic actor cradling Mike Hadreas, but you can find shirtless men all over YouTube. Hopefully, Perfume Genius got a ton of visibility from this “controversy.” Mike Hadreas is a treasure and we should value him.
I watched a lot of college football games from a specific room at home. I watched them alone, at first out of coincidence, but then out of superstition since the team I was rooting for did unexpectedly well. During one game, a car commercial started with the instrumental piano part from “Dark Parts.” It is pretty crazy that car company wanted a song about (I believe) a child learning of their mother’s abuse at the hands of their grandfather for a car commercial. The music is great though, with the brisk chords grabbing your attention. Get yours, Mike Hadreas.
Perfume Genius performed in New York last year. A friend got me some tickets to the show. I was really excited to see the expanded three person line-up. Mike and his boyfriend Alan still played the same keyboard on early songs, but the drummer/ percussionist really opened up the new tracks. The newer songs were big on record, so it was nice to see that sound carried to a live setting. When they played “Dark Parts”, the first half of the song was huge, with the keyboard marching while the drums worked along and the vocals swelled. Then, it’s just Hadreas and his keyboard facing some harsh truths of love. It is scary when we realize the people who care for us have their own hurt, but we love them, so we take the dark parts into our own hearts.
Rhye – “The Fall” / AlunaGeorge – “Just A Touch”
It’s weird being sexy (geez, put that in the museum of definitely-cool, not awkward sentences). Sure, there are the supremely confident among us, who can strut and glide and unwittingly occupy the dreams of every person they pass. For the rest of us, just walking around his hard enough, and then whoops you have tripped at the super market and the dozen eggs you were carrying landed one-at-a-time on your head. And knowing your luck, someone beautiful like James Brolin or Christy Turlington was standing right there and saw the whole thing.
In brief moments, though, we can fucking nail it. We had a good day, our heads held high, our smile a little bit brighter, our jokes a little funnier, our bodies a little more graceful. Maybe there is a person who inspires this, or maybe it’s just another silly day, but everything comes together. Every pore of your skin exudes confidence. Everything you do is captivating. All your touches are electric.
Songs like “The Fall” and “Just a Touch” can recall and create those feelings. You can be sultry. You can be smooth. You can know what you want and you can allure. Every move you make captivates, every touch electric.
Taylor Swift – “22”
At some point, I will probably go through my favorite albums of 2012. At that point, I will gush about Red because it is filled with a lot of wonderful songs. “22” might be the best. Whenever a highly-anticipated pop album is released, discussion follows about what songs will be the singles. After listening to Red, you know that at some point “22” will constantly be on the radio and whatever places still play videos (There is a bunch of speculation that Taylor just BURNS Harry Styles in the upcoming “22” video). It is a matter of time before “22” takes over the world.
Swift’s albums seem longer (16-ish tracks) than her contemporaries’ albums. This allows her to further separate her country inclinations from her continued pop mastery. “22” is not the most striking example (“I Knew You Were Trouble” and its bass drop gets that nod) but it is the most successful. Swift’s voice still twangs and her acoustic guitar chugs along, but the drums gain weight as every other element comes together for the atomic bomb of a chorus. I will sing this chorus from the highest mountains and deepest valleys and you will hear my voice boom with youth.
I am twenty-six now and that feels strange, but I am sure twenty-two felt strange as well. There are always younger people and there are always doubts, but goddamn it, Taylor, we can dance the doubts away.
Japandrois – “The House That Heaven Built”
I did not listen to the first Japandroids album when it came out. I was stubborn! Several friends loved it, and in turn were sort of disappointed with their latest offering. Everyone’s a critic! They have some points; Celebration Rock seems more straight-forward than Post Nothing. However, Celebration Rock is filled with powerful scream-along numbers like the most inviting track, “The House That Heaven Built.”
In making the album, Japandroids wanted to focus on the parts of the live experience that were most enjoyable to them. Hence the anthems, hence the pace, hence the RAWK. “The House That Heaven Built” stretches for almost five minutes. It is not the album’s longest song, but it is crazy that both Japandroids are able to keep up that pace and intensity. Lots of people can run for five minutes, but only Jason Bourne can sprint for five minutes.
This song just won a contest to be the Vancouver Canucks’ entrance song. It can definitely support that. Hockey has its own traditions and intricacies, but it’s also guilty of more general sports tropes. Each year is a new year and this year could be our year. We can’t look back. “You’re not mine to die for anymore/ so I must live.” We can look fondly on the past (“When they love you and they will/ Tell them all they’ll love in my shadow”) but we must recognize it is the past. We have loved and sometimes that love fades. But we loved and we can cherish. We can smile and be happy because of those memories. Now though, we have to move forward.
Usher – “Climax”
I also had a silly version of “Climax” – “Going nowhere fast/ We’ve reached the butt tax.” I am a comic genius!
Usher and Diplo just released another song (“Go Missin'”) which reminded me it’s been about a year since they dropped “Climax.” I want nothing more than for Usher and Diplo to commit to each other and just only work on each other’s music. Sure, they will be boxed in a bit, but I think if we got a full Usher/ Diplo album, it would be the cohesive statement fulfilling all the electric R&B promise of “Climax.”
For a song about the end of a relationship, “Climax” has a heat that the rest of Looking 4 Myself does not match (Usher seems to be at his best recently when relationships sour, as is the case in “Climax” and “Burn”). He effortlessly slips into falsetto, moving from pain to resignation. This is the way it ends with Usher; not with a bang but a whisper.
So! Those are ten songs that I really loved. I loved more songs too (“I Love It”, “Phone Sex”, “The Full Retard”, “Backseat Freestyle”) but sometimes it is best to limit ourselves. Of course this list is not definitive. Opinion cannot be. But these are songs I wanted to write about. So, you know. We’ll tak about albums sometime (Hi Frank Ocean! and Dirty Projectors! and more Taylor Swift!) but for now, these are ten tracks that were great in 2012. What do you think?