1. Grimes, "Oblivion"
Though it wasn't the lead single from the Artist Also Known As Claire Boucher's 4AD debut "Visions" (that was "Genesis"), "Oblivion" might as well have been, for this nouveau dream pop triumph is surely the album's calling card, the definitive encapsulation of everything that makes the record (not to mention the musician behind it) so beguiling to listen to. Boucher's helium-light voice darts along like a precocious youth over a squelching synth figure, and her gossamer background harmonies glide about and intertwine with one another as much as they rise and fall in sing-song fashion. Lyrically "Oblivion" is wracked by anxiety over the dangers of walking alone at night, and though the earworm melodies and tinkling textures put a carefree face on the circumstance, hearing Boucher sing "And now another clue / I would ask / If you could help me out / It's hard to understand / 'Cause when you're really by yourself it's hard to find someone to hold your hand" breaks the heart, as it candidly communicates how vulnerable she truly feels. By the time the last bottom-heavy tones of the track finish winding down, it's unclear if she ever found someone to dote over her health after all - or if she even made it home. - AJ Ramirez
2. Japandroids, "The House that Heaven Built"
If we were building a case for the reemergence of authenticity, Japandroids could be the subject and "The House That Heaven Built" could be the thesis. Alternating between unmatched exuberance and a lyrical refrain to "tell them all to go to Hell," the Vancouver duo crafted the biggest threat to melancholy this side of Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life." It's not just a song with a great chorus that you absolutely should scream along to on your way to your miserable job; it's also an admission of hope, an assurance that everything will work out, and moment of pure uninhibited ache committed to tape. Sorrow, you've just been put on notice. The rest of you need to put your fists in the air and start building your own heaven. - Scott Elingburg
3. Frank Ocean, "Pyramids"
For all the buzz around "Channel Orange," most of the album's pleasures are sneaky and quietly ambitious. "Pyramids" is the exception, for its length, content and split personality structure. He spends the half singing (dreaming) about Cleopatra cheating on him and being taken away, while cheetahs and thieves abound, and the second half waking up to sing, as a pimp, about the prostitute he's in love with. Musically it's as split: an almost dance track, with interruptions, and then a more downbeat slow jam. There's fantasy in the story and music, yet in both halves it's clear the man is building a mythology around a woman he doesn't really know. You'd think by now artists would have exhausted prostitution as a metaphor, but here it's fresh. - Dave Heaton
4. Fiona Apple, "Every Single Night"
As the lead single and opening track on Fiona Apple's fourth album, "The Idler Wheel ..," "Every Single Night" functions as a raison d'être for the project. Lyrics like "every single night's a fight with my brain" and "I just want to feel everything" set the tone for the album, and the instrumentation feels appropriately novel while still retaining her signature Jon Brion-esque carnivality. Vacillating between quiet and loud, the music echoes Apple's mood, as she grapples with and ultimately embraces the dualities of her approach to songwriting and interacting with the world outside her brain. The song makes clear that, while she may only release an album once or twice each decade, the battles that she chronicles in her music happen nightly. Fortunately for us, every so often, she lets us see what's going on in there. - Matt Paproth
5. Plan B, "Ill Manors"
Taken from his soundtrack to his debut film appearance, "Ill Manors" is a furious attack on the media portrayal of working-class, predominately black, youth in the UK, or "chavs" as they are dismissively called (think "trailer trash" in America). While Plan B venomously spits out the verses, it's the breakdown and chorus that provides the emotional intensity to the song. The use of strings add to the sense of portentousness and violence that is captured on screen as real life images of police violence and youths rioting are intercut with fictional scenes from the film. This is tough, frantic British hip-hop/ rap at its best. Plan B is developing in to Britain's very own Eminem. - Jez Collins
6. alt-J, "Breezeblocks"
Tweaking vocals and pounding keys offer an unsettling opening on alt-J's stunning and propulsive single, "Breezeblocks." Ostensibly about suppressing a lover's desire to leave with concrete weights, it was 2012's best pop song prominently involving a murder. This claustrophobic and troubling creation evolved into a full blown monster in its second act, a building and repetitive round of lyrics and melody, climaxing on the lyric, "I'd eat you whole," easily the most bizarre lyric that you might have found yourself repeating this year. While the lyrical content was all Jeffrey Dahmer, the music channeled a series of strange harmonies and jagged arrangement shifts. It was the looping melody and haunting vocals that proved adhesive, something of the repetitive mania of loving someone too much, or a band or a song too much. "Please don't go," you might have thought. And the band didn't, killing its audiences and hurling concrete blocks all the way down. - Geoff Nelson
7. Beach House, "Myth"
To paraphrase Rob Gordon in "High Fidelity," "Myth" is one of the all-time great "Side One, Track Ones." Starting simply with music-box percussion, it all builds slowly to Alex Scally's howling guitar solo. Victoria Legrand tells a devastating, enchanting tale of lost love, using her husky voice and careful phrasing to mine her words for every last bit of portent. "Myth" is a distillation of Beach House's entire appeal. They seem to make very little movement on the surface, while a chasm opens underneath. - John Bergstrom
8. Lianne La Havas, "Is Your Love Big Enough?"
The best pop song of 2012 that nobody heard, Lianne La Havas' "Is Your Love Big Enough?" takes a surefire groove led by a handclaps section to die for and uses an anthemic element throughout a hook that is impossible to get out of your head. It may not be the most sizable single of the year, but part of its beauty lies within its understated aura. The track was one of the many highlights off her 2012 full-length debut of the same name, and it was the perfect introduction to the mainstream aimed at solidifying her place among pop-soul's biggest players. - Colin McGuire
9. Hot Chip, "Night and Day"
Not content to let the absurdity of One Life Stand's lead single "I Feel Better" go unchallenged, Hot Chip put out the most fun song of 2012 in "Night and Day," accompanied by an equally bizarre music video. (Which, by the way, wins the award for the Best Terrence Stamp cameo, ever.) But for all of the sci-fi nonsensicality of the "Night and Day's" film, what makes this Hot Chip's best single to date is one simple but crucial ingredient: THE BASS. Whereas past singles like "Ready for the Floor" and "Boy from School" were danceable but treble-heavy, "Night and Day" opts for the low end, producing a synth bassline that's at least twenty times catchier than any other popular single this year. What's surprising about this song, however, is that despite being the "party track" of the philosophical "In Our Heads," it doesn't feel at all out of place, proving yet again Hot Chip's ability to simultaneously move feet and be moving. - Brice Ezell
10. Jessie Ware, "Wildest Moments"
Ambivalence is not an emotion typically associated with R&B, the musical province of extremes, be it pure carnal lust or the unhinged rage of a scorned lover. But "Wildest Moments," only one of the gems on English singer-songwriter Jessie Ware's debut, "Devotion," makes soulful pop bliss out of emotional odds and ends. "Baby, in our wildest moments / We could be the greatest," Ware croons in sultry restraint, "Baby, in our wildest moments / We could be the worst of all." Poised at the point where a relationship could take off into new heights or descend into untold misery, Ware treads the line with grace. A steady breakbeat and staccato keys punctuate her reflections with a hypnotic rhythm, and it's all but impossible not to feel enraptured by the way the song seems to slowly fold around you. It's a comfortable place to stay, that moment where anything is possible. - Corey Beasley
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