Here they are at least, the Top Ten Indie Rock Songs of 2012.
While this is a list of songs, in some ways this is also the Top Albums of 2012. Most of these bands put out more than one great song this year. But if I included more than one song by each band there would have been less bands overall, and each of these bands deserves recognition. But I swore I would never do another Best Albums list so this is what you get: the best song by my top artists of the year. It is hard to rank songs this good, so as part of weighing them, I sometimes ranked a song higher if their album had many songs that were just as worthy of being on a Best Songs List.
As mentioned previously, I’ve used the phrase “indie rock” very loosely here. This blog is focused on underplayed gems, so you will find we keep it all indie here, whether it’s rock, pop, dance, hip-hop, or some genre that’s yet to be named. If you want to check out the top indie songs from other categories, they’re listed at the bottom of this post.
There’s a ton of bargains on this list; some of these full albums are selling on Amazon right now for less than four dollars.
As usual, to download the song, right-click on it and choose “Save as.”
Top Indie Songs 2012: Rock
- Japandroids – Adrenaline Nightshift
From Celebration Rock May 2012Japandroids’ Celebration Rock is one of my favorite albums of the year. It’s an aptly-named robust and raucous LP that rewards repeated listens. I adore “House That Heaven Built” and “The Nights of Wine and Roses” as well, so I had to turn to the lyrics to help make my decision. That wasn’t easy either. Lyrically, their poetry is much like their songs: everything flows out in a thrilling rush. It’s like magnet poetry written from the Celebration Rock set of magnets.From “Adrenaline Nightshift”:
Whoring my heart / On the wings of a Western night
Busting my guts / On a riot dose of paradise
When a red-blooded daughter / Slowed my gunfire run to rest
With her blitzkrieg love / And a roman candle kiss
On an album that closes and opens with fireworks, it’s fitting that her kiss is like a firecracker. The whole album is like this, full of fiery imagery. With this riot dose of poetry, “Adrenaline Nighsthift” won out on a razor-thin margin for best song on the album.
- Alt-J – Fitzpleasure
From An Awesome Wave Sept. 2012With so many great songs on Alt-J’s album An Awesome Wave it was difficult to pick a favorite. I think “Fitzpleasure” wins because no matter how many times I hear it, the bass drop at 27 seconds in always gives me a little thrill.It’s hard to classify Alt-J. They’re darker and less synth-y than indie pop, but the textures of the songs put them closer to dreamwave than other indie rock bands like the Japandroids. They have the gorgeous harmonies of bands like Fleet Foxes, but Joe Newman’s strange voice puts them in a whole other genre. Alt-J is one of those bands that somehow fits into the larger scene while having a sound all their own.One of my top picks for Best Album of 2012, other standouts on An Awesome Wave include “Tessellate,” “Breezeblocks,” “Matilda,” and “Something Good.”Buy An Awesome Wave
- Father John Misty – I’m Writing A Novel
From Fear Fun May 2012″I’m Writing A Novel” is just one of many great tracks from one of my favorite albums of 2012. You may know the man behind Father John Misty if you’re already a Fleet Foxes fan, as that’s just one of the quality indie bands that Josh Tillman has been a part of. He said he split from Fleet Foxes for this album because he felt that the serious tone of his former band didn’t fit with the light-hearted lyrics that finally found their way onto Fear Fun.Even if you don’t like J. Tillman’s previous solo works, let this quotefrom him show you how he’s taken a new direction with Father John Misty:
“Songwriting for me had always only been interesting and necessary because I saw it as this vehicle for truth, but I had this realization that all I had really done with it was lick my wounds for years and years, and become more and more isolated from people and experiences. I don’t even like wound-licking music, I want to listen to someone rip their arm off and beat themselves with it. I don’t believe that until now I’ve ever put anything at risk in my music. I was hell-bent on putting my preciousness at stake in order to find something worth singing about.”
Now with a little understanding of Tillman’s approach on this record, hear the honesty and humor in the opening of “I’m Writing A Novel”
I ran down the road, pants down to my knees
Screaming “please come help me, that Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me!”
And I’m writing a novel
because it’s never been done before
The whole album is filled with enough snark reckless abandon it could be a the long-lost LP from Hunter S. Thompson. So many songwriters get successful, lose their voice and fall into the sophomore slum. Josh Tillman loses his voice and finds a the best album of his career.
- Of Monsters & Men – Love Love Love
From My Head is An Animal April 2012By now you’ve probably heard “Little Talks” and you know it’s topping many lists for Best Song of the Year. But this blog is about exposing people to music you haven’t heard sixty thousand times on the radio, and Of Monsters & Men have other great songs.. “Love Love Love” is the song I’m most drawn to, and it best captures the sound of the album. It’s pretty and sweet and melodic. The guitar is barely there but the melody is magical. There’s a full rest at 2:20 that shows what can be done musically with negative space. For some of the rockers and dancers that follow this site, Of Monsters & Men’s album may be too quiet. On the other hand if you love love love this song as much as I do, you should get My Head is an Animal. Buy My Head Is An Animal
- Everything Everything – Cough Cough
Album unreleased”Cough Cough” begins with layered vocal samples, so you may think it’s going to be a hip-hop song, but nope. In fact for the first forty seconds of the song there’s little more than vocals and drums, yet it feels full. This is rounded off with horns and synthesizers, but “Cough Cough” isn’t electro. There’s nothing disco about this song, despite the horns. If there are guitars, I don’t hear them, but “Cough Cough” is truly “indie rock”: it’s rock music that’s wavering at the edge of the definition of rock music. Everything Everything is an innovative band that’s combining familiar instruments in a new way.Everything Everything is so indie rock I can’t find their album anywhere. It’s not on Amazon or Bandcamp. If you can get your hands on it, buy it, because everything from Everything Everything is great.
- Pacific Air – Float (formerly Ko Ko)
from Long Live Koko Oct. 2012The artist formerly-known-as Koko has had this single floating around for a while before he released it on his Long Live Ko KoEP. While many of the songs on this list stand out for their gorgeous layering of synth, there’s little add-on here besides the back-up singers, electric maracas and whistling, to go over the catchy but none-too-heavy beat. What gets “Float” stuck in your head are the lyrics. It’s a sing-along song for sure, and if the drunks are singing “If I go all the way then the girl won’t stay” perhaps they’ll get some good advice stuck in their head for once.
Buy Long Live Koko
- Sharpless – Greater Than
Single released in February 2012Jack Greenleaf of Sharpless is here to let us know we need a warrior for our dreams and a saint for all our sins. “Greater Than” is an upbeat rock jingle in the spirit of The Polyphonic Spree, complete with boisterous pianos and half-sung, half-shouted choruses. There is no outro, “Greater Than” ends abruptly on the climax.Sharpless sings “We have gotten so old, we have gotten so old” but the more you hear “Greater Than” the younger you feel.Check out other songs by the band on the Sharpless homepage
- Daughter – Youth
From The Wild Youth March 2012Sometimes all you need is a pretty song and a guitar. Daughter gives you the Joni Mitchell treatment with a heaping dose of reverb and some occasional drums a la The Dodos. With a sparse acoustic sound I need lyrics that pull me into the song, and “Youth” is no exception. Daughter (Elena Tonra) sings:
And if you’re still breathing, you’re the lucky ones.
‘Cause most of us are heaving through corrupted lungs.
Setting fire to our insides for fun
Collecting names of the lovers that went wrong
It’s both so sublime and familiar, this subtle portrait of youthful angst. I picture freshly-jaded waifs loitering with cigarettes. She doesn’t name them as smokers, because it’s less important what they’re doing then why they’re doing it: to show off all that pain they’ve learned how to feel. When she sings “And you caused it,” the drums accentuating the emotion in her voice are positvely hypnotic.
- Patrick Watson – Lighthouse
From Adventures In Your Own Backyard May 2012Patrick Watson writes folk symphonies. Lighthouse starts as gentle as a lullaby, just a piano and him singing “shine a little light to bring us back home.” At two minutes there’s just a slight hint of a bass guitar. Vague stirring of violins at three minutes. Then at half a minute later all at once he drops in horns, backing vocals and drums. But it to distill it to its individual parts doesn’t do “Lighthouse” justice, any more than it does to explain the instruments in Beethoven’s Fifth. Listen to the song and those instruments will knock you like wave hits a rock. Yet even when the song is at its most climactic, “Lighthouse” is still soft and gentle. There’s one word to describe the songs of Patrick Watson: Equisite.Buy Adventures In Your Own Backyard
- Tame Impala – Elephant
From Lonerism Oct. 2012Every year there’s a band that choses as their forebears something hopelessly out of fashion. And most of those bands fail. Tame Impala is bucking the trends with a sound that is not like the eighties- and nineties-inspired music of the zeitgeist but harkens back further to classic rock. From the first measure, the heavy guitars sound like a Cream B-side and when the keyboards kick in the effect is far less Duran Duran and far more psychedelic journey. There’s no refrain in “Elephant,” instead the song grows more complex til the climax. The lyrics tell the tale of an intimidating fellow, with a turnaround at the end.You know you’ve captured the sound of classic rock when Todd Rudgren offers to remix your tune. I like his version even better than the original:Buy Lonerism or get the Todd Rundgren remix of “Elephant.”
That’s it for the Top Ten Best Indie Rock Songs of 2012. But hold on, the Top Ten Indie Pop Songs of 2012 are still to come. And I’m saving the best for last: this has been a great year for hip-hop, so I’m hoarding the Best Hip-Hop of 2012 for last. Miss the earlier posts? Want more? Head over to these links for more delicious downloads.