Music Features

Top 40 Tracks of 2012: Part One

2012 marks the tenth anniversary of No Ripcord’s annual albums of the year list and to celebrate we’ve decided to introduce another exciting countdown. Below, you’ll find twenty of the tracks that have caught our attention this year. They’ve got stuck in our heads, they’ve had us rushing online to learn more and they’ve made us play them again and again, such is their magnificence. We’d love to know what you think of our chart, so please leave your comments.

Want to check out numbers 20-1? Then click here.

You can click on any of the song titles to hear the track and - if available - watch the video on YouTube.

40. Tame Impala
Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
(from “Lonerism” on Modular Recordings)
With current and upcoming shows selling out, Tame Impala have fans and media buzzing and tweeting. Here’s why: songs of hypnotic perfection like this one, a singer who sounds like John Lennon circa Instant Karma, and a muscular rhythm section that makes air drumming compulsive. The song is about a stalemate in a relationship, but there’s nothing drab about it. Kevin Parker’s prodigious songwriting has conjured a deep-hooked joy, focusing on the blind optimism of someone who desperately seeks lasting love. The widescreen, kaleidoscopic production could put a smile on George Martin’s face. Certainly one of the year’s finest tracks. Angel Aguilar
39. Saint Etienne
I’ve Got Your Music
(from “Words And Music By Saint Etienne” on Heavenly / Universal UMC)
Saint Etienne made a welcome and glorious return in 2012 with Words And Music By Saint Etienne, the English trio's love letter to pop and how it shapes our identity, influences our youth and leaves an indelible stamp on our memories. With their trademark light-as-air melodies adorned with stylish electro-pop production, I've Got Your Music draws on the sound of 1980s Eurodisco as Sarah Cracknell coos with the breathy warmth of Kylie Minogue. In an era where the airwaves are thick with listless androids singing generic pop-dance, Saint Etienne are a breath of fresh air. Peerless pop with perfect passion. Gary McGinley
38. Chairlift
Wrong Opinion
(from “Something” on Young Turks / Columbia)
A common pitfall that thwarts most eighties-leaning acts is how they rely on replicating the past with an obsessive level of exactness. What differentiates Chairlift from their peers is the way they implement stirring melodies with substance, and they do so in Wrong Opinion with an electrifying array of liquefied synth lines and sparkling embellishments that move in constant motion.  It also benefits from the strength of singer Caroline Polacheck, whose honeysuckle tone offers an arresting contrast with the song’s brisk arrangement. It was a year rich with forward-thinking pop, yet Chairlift still managed to stand out with effortless ease. Juan Edgardo Rodriguez
37. The Men
Open Your Heart
(from “Open Your Heart” on Sacred Bones Records)
The Men are an emotional bunch. Okay, so they play heavy rock music and play it hard; they’re all about sweat and guts, moshpits and deafening rhythms, but this is a love song. Just because you aren’t regurgitating this morning’s half-digested, over-priced bagel doesn’t mean it’s not about love. After all, swooning strings and doe-eyed popstars present an imagined, or imaginary, concept of love; one completely foreign, I would suggest, to most people’s experience. The Men may not represent your idea of what love is; they represent their own. It’s real and you can feel it. Whether from the saliva they spit off stage, or in the agony which rattles your bones in the chorus, Open Your Heart resonates because it’s raw, painful and unapologetic. That might not suit some people, but you can’t deny it. Matt Bevington
36. Lana Del Rey
(from “Born To Die – The Paradise Edition” on InterscopePolydor / Stranger)
Although Ride barely troubled the UK charts and failed to tell us anything that we didn't already know about Lana Del Rey (newsflash: she favours luxurious string arrangements and lyrics about being troubled), it still ranks as the finest pop song she's delivered since Video Games. I thought her debut album, Born To Die, was a promising effort with a handful of strong tracks, but none of those boasted a chorus to match that of Ride, released as part of the expanded Paradise Edition. If she can maintain this standard and introduce some new lyrical themes, album number two could be very interesting indeed. David Coleman
35. Little Mix
(from “DNA” on Syco)
Winners of music-based reality shows continue to be as-good-as-guaranteed commercial successes as a result of their new-found fame. Of course, that success can be dependent upon their popularity rather than the quality of their music and in these cases, as their popularity fades, it isn't long before interest wanes and record sales rapidly decline. With the release of their uninspiring debut single, Cannonball, a cover of Damien Rice's 2002 track of the same name, Little Mix appeared to be heading down the same path as so many of their predecessors. But then came the release of Wings, their first single of original material. Upbeat, aggressive and catchy, yet mature, well-structured and original - it's a breath of fresh air for the industry and an outstanding pop record that points towards a very promising future for the group. Craig Stevens
34. The Mountain Goats
Harlem Roulette
(from “Transcendental Youth” on Tomlab)
John Darnielle is known for centering his songs on unique, fleshed-out, and often tragic characters of his own creation, and though this year’s Transcendental Youth features many such characters, one of the album’s strongest tracks, Harlem Roulette, instead chooses a grown-up and destitute Frankie Lymon as its subject of misery. Though this might make Harlem Roulette sound like it could be little more than a portrait of a fallen ‘60s child star, Darnielle still manages to find hope in even the most tragic story. “And four hours north of Portland, a radio flips on / And some no-one from the future remembers that you’re gone.” Through this line, Darnielle reveals an interesting fact about pain: no matter where, or even when, you’re from, it’s one of the few things that we as humans can always relate to one another with. Peter Quinton
33. PS I Love You
Sentimental Dishes
(from “Death Dreams” on Paper Bag)
From its very first saturated, open guitar chord, Sentimental Dishes sets the tone for the entirety of Death Dreams. At the core of this tune (and album) is a guy who always wanted to be a rocker, but was just too much of a quirky wallflower to follow through on his dreams. Instead, he does what he knows best: creates a panicky, angst-ridden piece of music that plays much like the motivational theme song for the underdog of a feel-good geek comedy. Singer/guitarist Paul Saulnier packs every second of this tune with as many big-sounding chord structures, guitar acrobatics, and vulnerable, yelping vocals as its three-minute frame can hold. The track progressively builds until it is overflowing with an odd blend of ecstasy and anxiety, at which point it has no other choice but to collapse in on itself in a fit of unwieldy feedback. Andrew Ciraulo
32. Mac DeMarco
Ode To Viceroy
(from “2” on Captured Tracks)
Mac DeMarco’s tribute to his favourite smokes may be one of the most sincere and romantic proofs of love to one’s own habits in recent memory. The pacing of Ode To Viceroy is that of a gentle drift, a lubricious guitar drifting slowly away and leaving behind a smoky aroma. DeMarco could’ve expressed himself with that of a joker’s eye, as his imprudent character usually depicts, except that in this case it gives more insight about a peculiarly eccentric individual. Ode To Viceroy speaks to anyone who functions through any form of release, leaving a tingling, relaxing sensation that lasts long after the kick goes away. Juan Edgardo Rodriguez
31. Willy Moon
Yeah Yeah
(stand-alone single on Island Records)
Willy Moon could be the most interesting popstar-in-waiting of recent years; a tall, spindly New Zealander bedecked in quiff and sharp suits who peddles his own brand of mashed-up hip-hop and classic rock n’ roll, accompanied with equal amounts braggadocio and slightly awkward dance moves. All of which is very much in evidence in Yeah Yeah, a bold statement of intent - what with its confrontationally rhetorical, “how d’you like me now?” refrain and its promised “brand new beat”, which was mostly composed of a sample of the titular syllable - that inevitably ended up in an iPod commercial (say what you like about Apple, but they know good advert soundtrack fodder when they hear it). Mark Davison
30. Japandroids
“The House That Heaven Built
(from “Celebration Rock” on Polyvinyl Record Co.)
While at a Japandroids concert earlier this year, Brian King, confessed that this track was one of the most difficult the band had ever written. At first, this confession sounds surprising: the song is structurally quite simple, and it features the kind of bombastic guitar/drum dynamics seen in pretty much every other Japandroids song. But somehow, the stakes just seem higher this time around, as King and Prowse, already known for putting 200% of themselves into their music, perform the song like they’re moments away from death. King pushes his vocals to their most physically straining, and the songs propulsive rhythm and monstrous chords create the effect of a crescendo even if the song never really changes form. The song carries Japandroids to heights they probably never even thought they could attain, and while they may have not reached heaven yet, the band has never before sounded so divine. Peter Quinton
29. Tindersticks
(from “The Something Rain” on Lucky Dog Recordings / City Slang / Constellation)
Tindersticks have form in the wryly comic spoken-word epic – My Sister from The Second Tindersticks Album being the best example of the form – but there’s something a little different about Chocolate. The way the scene is set for our hero, an unassuming odd-job man living in a bedsit, displays almost filmic characterisation, and his tale of clicking with that special someone on a Friday night out is beautifully touching. This is all underpinned with an unobtrusive, jazz-flecked score, which enhances the story rather than interrupts. It’s also perhaps the only song that should come with a spoiler alert, so if you haven’t heard it yet, find it as soon as you can, and don’t take your ears off it for a second. Joe Rivers
28. Purity Ring
(from “Shrines” on 4AD / Last Gang Records)
Megan James’ vocals feel like they’re floating just out of reach, like reminiscing about a beautiful summer day spent with the one you love. Her vocal delivery and superb sense of timing are enough to make Fineshrine stand out among its dream-pop peers while the other half of the duo, Corin Roddick, displays the beat-making talent that made it perhaps the most remixed song of the year. Roddick cuts a vocal stifle and staggers his beats to emphasise emotional urgency as James’ superb body imagery ensure that more than just create a mood, Fineshrine provokes a genuine emotional reaction. It’s an undeniably sweet tune, with a chorus that will make you smile ten times out of ten, and the musical chemistry between the two is so apparent it feels like they are making music only for each other. But it’s precisely that level of intimacy that makes Fineshrine so affecting. Forrest Cardamenis
27. Lower Dens
(from “Nootropics” on Ribbon Music)
Although Nootropics starts off well enough with the synth-funk of Alphabet Song, it’s only when Brains comes along that the album kicks into high gear. The fast-paced, steady beat offers the perfect platform for Jana Hunter’s subtle and slinky voice. As the music pushes forward, full verse lines are replaced by whispers that grow more and more intense until the song lurches forward into a rushing mix of synth, guitars and drums. If you own a car, this would be essential driving music for any road trip. If you don’t own a car, no matter – it is still essential listening. Joe Marvilli
26. Ty Segall Band
I Bought My Eyes
(from “Slaugherhouse” on In The Red Records)
Ty Segall has had quite a year. He collaborated with White Fence, released three albums, and put together a spectacular backing band featuring fellow fuzz-rocker, Mikal Cronin. However, out of all of the countless songs he’s put out this year, I Bought My Eyes is easily his most impressive of all. The track quickly shifts from a subdued, cleanly strummed intro to a full blown fuzz-laden nightmare. Segall and Croninʼs harmonized vocals are aggressive, yet strangely alluring and even kind of pretty. However, just before you become too entranced by his soaring vocals, Segall lets out a quick yelp and the track erupts into a chaotic cacophony of saturated, Sabbath-esque guitar solos. And just like the blind pauper described in its lyrics, the song slowly fades back into the familiar, quiet darkness from which it arose. Andrew Ciraulo
25. Spiritualized
Hey Jane
(from “Sweet Light Sweet Heart” on Double Six Records)
For Jason Pierce, the ‘60s are a state of mind. That elusive spirit of youthful freedom is captured here in this tale of a wayward girl. Equal parts Hey Joe and Hey Jude, this is that magical decade in a nutshell. The eight-minute-plus song is like a trip down memory lane. You can name-check the influences as you go along: a blues-based bouncy beat that brings to mind The Animals, a pulsing Kinks bass, a floating Beach Boys chorus, all leading to a mid-song freak-out. In the last movement, flesh gives way to spirit with a mind-expanding rush that ends with a mantra. It had been a while since the last Spiritualized album, but a track like this is a handsome reward for our patience. Angel Aguilar
24. Death Grips
(from “The Money Store” on Epic)
People take Death Grips too seriously. What’s happened to them this year certainly made an interesting news feed, but surely there was something funny about how a band so antagonistic got picked up and swiftly dropped by a major label. On Hacker, the closing track from The Money Store, the band seem to finally make light of their anarchism, flinging out outlandish, Mark E Smith-esque compulsive nonsense, only tangentially related to their technophobic, misanthropic semantic domains (but still pure idiosyncratic Death Grips) – “Visit Tesla’s grave for the ninth time today”, “Got the DNA of gothic lemons”, and perhaps most bafflingly, “The table is flipped now we got all the coconuts, bitch!” It is blissfully absurd, even self-parodic, yet no less menacing or zeitgeist-y than everything else they’ve done – and it’s also their most addictive, gratifying song yet. Stephen Wragg
23. The Magnetic Fields
Andrew In Drag
(from “Love At The Bottom Of The Sea” on Merge / Domino)
It's been nearly a whole year since the single Andrew In Drag surfaced as a bright and breezy taster for the album that heralded the long-awaited return of The Magnetic Fields, Love At The Bottom Of The Sea, but it still never fails to raise a smile. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for its slightly lacking parent album. Still, this is a list of top tracks and the critical question is: how many artists could completely nail a tragicomic song about falling in love with your friend's drag alter-ego? I think the answer is probably one, just Stephin Merritt. David Coleman
22. Rhye
(from “Open EP” on Innovative Leisure)
Trawling through the blogosphere in search of The Next Big Thing is a tiresome and largely unrewarding experience.  As it becomes increasingly easier for artists to upload and share their music, so the internet becomes ever more saturated with music, much of it mediocre.  But once every so often, a diamond shines through – a track that makes you stop, listen and pay attention.  A song that makes the hours of searching somehow seem worthwhile.  Such was my experience with Rhye's Open: a smooth, soulful falsetto voice gently singing over minimal instrumentation.  Mysterious words from an equally mysterious duo.  I was hooked on first listen and remain hooked now.  Together with former No Ripcord Single of the Week, The Fall, Open has helped to make Woman, Rhye's debut album, one of the most anticipated releases of 2013. Craig Stevens
21. Plan B
iLL Manors
(from “iLL Manors” on Atlantic)
The title track from Plan B's third album is an edgy piece of social commentary built around an unnerving cello figure and a hip-hop aesthetic. Inspired by the rioting which swept some of the UK's major cities in 2011, it's a brutally honest portrait of the mindset of Britain's disaffected youth; an uneasy yet exhilarating listen, with clattering breakbeats which double in speed to give extra urgency to spitting lines like, "We're poor round here / Run home and lock your door," and, "You could get robbed for real / Because my manor's ill". With resolutely British references, Plan B casts an uneasy spotlight on social unrest, inequality and class hatred. iLL Manors is a gritty document of our troubled times and a thoroughly modern protest song. Gary McGinley
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