As chosen by the Arts Staff of The Cornell Daily Sun:
1. “Pyramids” by Frank Ocean: This year's darling of the R&B genre, Frank Ocean isn't too keen on holding back. His debut album, Channel Orange, was pushed out a week early due to fawning reviews, and he publicly discussed his sexuality on Tumblr. Similarly, “Pyramids” breaks a whole lot of precedents. Clocking in at just under 10 minutes, our favorite song of 2012 is a sprawling, ambitious track that contains more ideas than most discographies. It moodily explores the limits of R&B, wedding early Prince and Daft Punk to extraordinary success. Ocean even throws in an angsty John Mayer guitar solo. The lyrics, meanwhile, weave together ancient history and a sexy fantasy in which our doleful singer is Cleopatra's pimp. A daring affirmation that Ocean is here to stay, “Pyramids” glides from melancholy to celebratory with audacity and sophistication. 10 minutes have never gone by faster.
2. “Wasted Days” by Cloud Nothings: In an interview with Stereogum last year, Cloud Nothings mastermind Dylan Baldi bluntly revealed, “The Wipers are undoubtedly the biggest influence on Attack On Memory. Nowhere is that more evident than on “Wasted Days,” the eight minute epic that is the standout track on one of the year’s strongest albums. Like the Wiper’s “Youth of America” — always worth a listen — “Wasted Days” is a complex and intricate musical achievement that stays within the realm of rock, but also tests its boundaries. What makes Baldi stand apart from his acknowledged predecessors is his penchant for introspective lyrics, centering his composition around the revealing and repeated refrain, “I thought I would be more than this.”
3. “The House That Heaven Built” by Japandroids: Hipster evocations of irony, acoustic guitars and pretension have ruined rock music. Japandroids are here to remind you that all you really need to change your life is a guitar, a drum set and lyrics screamed at the top of your lungs. “The House That Heaven Built” mixes heart-on-your-sleeve (read: emo) introspection with Springsteenian grandeur. The key line sounds like the greatest epigraph ever scrawled onto a bathroom stall: “It’s a lifeless life with no fixed address to give / But you’re not mine to die for anymore, so I must live.” This song is the sound of riding your bike in a thunderstorm with a thirty rack in your backpack, not giving a damn if you crash. Anybody who’s too cool for this kind of stuff is lying to themselves.
4. “Myth” by Beach House: When Baltimore duo Beach House released the follow-up to its 2010 breakout Teen Dream, expectations were at an all-time high. Bloom proves to be yet another extraordinary record right from the get-go with soaring opener “Myth,” a gorgeous fusion of synths, operatic guitar and Victoria Legrand’s smoky vocals. “Myth” kicks off the album on a heavy note as the layers of beats and synth effects build to an explosion culminating in Legrand’s longing howl, “Help me to make it, help me to make it.” Just when we thought the song couldn’t get anymore epic, in comes one of the most stunning and memorable guitar solos of the year. “Myth” is a triumph: It’s beautiful, nostalgic and, well, just so delightfully Beach House-y.
5. “Oblivion” by Grimes: Despite being the second single of Grimes’ new hit album, Visions, “Oblivion” is her more distinguished track. Singer Claire Boucher’s unique lispy voice is, as usual, fun and playful. The electronic music of the track reminisces the original synth-fuelled era (also known as the ‘80s), but with the characteristic Grimes strangeness. Perhaps the best part of the track is the subtle but interesting background chorus of “la la la”s. The fear that Boucher expresses about walking alone at night certainly hits close to home as well; "I never walk about/After dark/ It's my point of view/ That someone could break your neck.” Some may question the new style Grimes has pursued in Visions, but with a song this catchy and thoughtful, who cares?
6. “I Love It” by Icona Pop: In a year fraught with misplaced nineties nostalgia and irresponsible bass drops, Icona Pop captured the essence of both, with a handy assist from the always-effective Charli XCX. “I Love It” is the aural equivalent of mainlining Pixie Stix. Combining a snotty vocal delivery most reminiscent of the Spice Girls (nineties bitches if there ever were any) with an EDM beat that forgoes any sort of build-up or subtlety, “I Love It” examines the surrounding destruction — a devastated economy, an incendiary Middle East, a supposed lack of morals among the youth of today — and announces: “I don’t care! I love it!” Never has apathy sounded so joyous.
7. “Oldie” by OFWGKTA: After a 2011 spent expanding their brand, getting into a scuffle with Tegan and Sara and inspiring a classic Mos Def freakout following their insane performance on Fallon, Tyler, The Creator and his comrades in Odd Future were risking oversaturation by keeping themselves in the spotlight. But while the Tipper Gores of the world just wished they would go away, Odd Future just kept releasing music: “Oldie” is their mission statement. 2012’s ultimate posse track proved that Odd Future’s bench is deep. Everyone, from the emergent Hodgy Beats to the gravel-voiced Mike G to perennial jokester Jasper Dolphin drop quoteables. The highlight, though, is Earl’s return to the fray, a display of verbal acrobatics unmatched by any verse this year. Any song where someone rhymes “Four Loko in a cobra clutch” with “dunkin’ scrotum in a Folger’s cup” is a force to be reckoned with.
8. “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen: For better or for worse, 2012 was the Year of “Call Me Maybe.” From frat parties to Obama-based tribute videos, Carly Rae Jepsen’s breakout song was everywhere, spending nine weeks at the top of the Billboard Top 100 chart. Luckily, the year’s most ubiquitous pop song was also one of its best, a classic bubblegum tune that became popular for a reason. The lyrics and music are simple, almost to the point of redundancy, but they hide the truth about “Call Me Maybe:” The song is a classic pop tune, dealing with mature emotional themes of attraction, anxiety and rejection. And it’s fun to dance to.
9. “Who?” by David Byrne & St. Vincent: The opening track and lead single from Love This Giant, the collaborative album born of the union between indie luminary Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, “Who” is as delightfully absurd as one would hope from the high-profile pair. Whereas many of the songs on the album fell short of expectations, on “Who?” Clark and Byrne’s distinctive aesthetics coexist on an equal plane: Intermittently trading verses and singing in unison, they oscillate between whimsy and philosophical inquiry, while a lively brass arrangement interjects at every pause. The flurry of sound that results is both charming and perplexing, a musical love child of eccentric origins.
10. “Gangnam Style” by PSY: When we chose this year’s top songs, this wasn’t part of anybody’s list. But someone decided to tack this on as a “bonus,” and soon we agreed that it earned a spot. This mimics how the song exploded: It’s so ridiculous that no one, not even K-Pop fans, can take it seriously. Its popularity is not simply its ridiculousness; it denies offense and criticism at every angle without seeming as outrageous as the song itself — philosopher Slavoj Zizek sounded silly when he called the song a “pure ideological phenomenon” of capitalism. Stripped of our cynicism and divisions, there’s nothing we can do but the horse dance — 835 million times and counting.