Congratulations, you've survived the apocalypse. Now, it's time to celebrate the end of the year (but not the world) with the best songs of 2012. We remember how alt-pop songwriters made it big, indie-rock heavy weights returned with awesome new records, beloved songwriters reappeared, and fresh new voices redefined hip-hop. To get the party started, we collected the tracks that stuck with us, listen after listen. Read on and let us know what other songs you had on repeat. Then, take our Spotify mix on the road. Dancing not required, but definitely recommended.
29. Carly Rae Jepsen — “Call Me Maybe”
Technically, "Call Me Maybe" wasn't even released in 2012, but don't tell that to the Olympic swim team. Quite simply, no track had the staying power, the catchiness, or the charm of Carly Rae Jepsen's mild-mannered anthem. Love it or hate it, "Call Me Maybe" was undeniable.
28. Tomas Barfod — “November Skies” [MP3]
"November Skies" was subtle and infectious in all the right ways: a perfect mix of mid-tempo house and Swedish pop that expertly employed Nina Kinert's pillowy vocals. The track also spawned a great remix EP featuring folks like Jerome LOL, Nite Jewel, and Sepalcure that is well worth checking out, too.
27. HAIM — “Forever”
These Los Angeles sisters have been on the scene for a while, but 2013 is looking like the year they'll blow up. And if they do, "Forever" will be the reason. The song's '80s pop and funk grooves has already brought the HAIM sisters from the clubs of L.A. to the pages of Vogue (not to mention Refinery29).
26. Tanlines — “All Of Me” [MP3]
Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm's tropical pop project took a huge leap forward with the release of the band's debut LP, Mixed Emotions. "All Of Me" is the best of what they do: danceable, anthemic, and, yes, emotional.
25. Wild Nothing — “Paradise” [MP3]
Earlier this year Jack Tatum's dream pop act, Wild Nothing, released a great sophomore album, Nocturne, and "Paradise" shows the band to be capable, yet again, of boyish melodies that hearken back to the days of C86 indie pop. Jangly guitar and bittersweet lyrics at their best.
24. Blood Orange — “Champagne Coast”
This isn't the last time you'll see producer/writer/bandleader Dev Hynes on this list, but "Champagne Coast" was a standout for his R&B-leaning debut as Blood Orange. For smooth vibes and subtle pop, Hynes owned 2012.
23. Azealia Banks — “Van Vogue”
While Azealia didn't quite reach the impossible heights of her first smash, "212," 2012 saw a series of singles that broached new territory and solidified her star status. On top of fantastic production from Machinedrum, Banks' flow on "Van Vogue" is an unstoppable cascade of high fashion and pure personality.
22. Beach House — “Lazuli”
There's something to be said for consistency, and Beach House may be the most even-tempered band in music today. Beach House completely owns its dreamy corner of the universe that 100 more songs like "Lazuli" couldn't make us happier.
21. How To Dress Well — “& It Was U” [MP3]
Tom Krell is known for his heartbreaking experimental R&B, but occasionally he throws together a pop song that's more dance-y than it is dire. "& It Was U" is his catchiest track to date, and also his best.
Illustrated by Riikka Sormunen
After a few years out of the spotlight, Natasha Khan's Bat For Lashes project returned, giving us a more, erm, intimate look at the art-pop maven than ever. "Marilyn," a synth-driven ode to its movie star subject, is as catchy as it is heartbreaking.
19. Cat Power — “Ruin” [MP3]
A happy Chan Marshall is something we're certainly not used to, and Sun — her first album since 2008 — had its moments of depression and despair. Still, "Ruin" showed Cat Power to be capable of lighter sounds, and her return to music brightened the year.
18. Tame Impala — “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”
Australian rockers Tame Impala just keep getting better, and its new record, Lonerism, was an opus of experimental rock 'n' roll that sounded timeless after just one listen. While we loved the monster thump of "Elephant," it was the sweet psych sounds of "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" that got the most relistens.
17. Kindness — “House”
"Eclectic" is the word that best defines British pop experimentalist Adam Bainbridge (a.k.a. Kindness). His unlikely cover of The Replacements' "Swingin' Party" and his forays into New Jack Swing on his LP, World, You Need a Change of Mind, kept us guessing. Of all the tracks, though, "House" was Kindness at his effortless best.
16. Chromatics — “Lady”
We could have picked more than a handful of tracks from Chomatics' Kill For Love, but "Lady" happens to be our favorite of the moment. The cool factor of Johnny Jewel and Co.'s ode to Italo remains unrivaled.
15. Kanye West — “New God Flow.1”
Most outrageous boast of the year goes to Pusha T in the opening lines of "New God Flow" — "I believe there's a god above me / I'm just the god of everything else," he raps like he actually believes it. Then, there's Ghostface's late-added verse where he relives his "hustle days." Cruel Summer may not have been the masterpiece we were hoping for, but "New God Flow" is nearly flawless, all-star hip-hop.
14. Miguel — “The Thrill”
In a big year for R&B, Miguel's Kaleidoscope Dream managed to stand out with its eclectic mix of '80s-tinged pop and 21st century production. While "Adorn" was a favorite for many, "The Thrill" had party-anthem swagger and a monster hook that made us keep coming back.
13. Schoolboy Q — “Hands On The Wheel (feat. A$ap Rocky)”
It may have been Kendrick Lamar's year, but fellow Black Hippy Crew member Schoolboy Q also deserves credit for his jaw-dropping album Habits & Contradictions released back in January. "Hands On The Wheel" took a Kid Cudi cover by Lissie and melted the sample into a true earworm.
12. Diiv — “Past Lives”
This wasn't a big year for guitar bands, but Brooklyn's DIIV still managed to release one of the year's best debuts with the focus squarely on front man Zachary Cole Smith's instrument of choice. "Past Lives" is everything a great indie-rock song should be, right down to the big riffs.
11. Usher — “Climax”
The most curious thing about "Climax" is that it doesn't have one. The Diplo-produced track just builds, and builds, and then it's over. It's all mounting tension with no release, and the effect is mesmerizing.
With huge hooks and wide-eyed lyrics, Patrick Wimberly and Caroline Polachek's newest record, Something scored big. "I Belong In Your Arms," was particularly noteworthy, with it's maximal take on '80s-indebted pop.
9. Icona Pop — “I Love It" Feat. Charli XCX
Written by fellow up-and-comer Charli XCX for Swedish duo Icona Pop, "I Love It" is a wild ride through the night guided by two righteously fun-loving girls. "I don't care! I love it!," goes the refrain. So do we.
8. Earl Sweatshirt — “Chum - Explicit Version”
Thebe Neruda Kgositsile has always been the best rapper in Odd Future, but before his exile to Samoa, his lyrics looked very different. Older, wiser, and less angry (he's now 18), Earl's few recent works take his old penchant for poetic imagery and turns them in on itself. "Chum" covers his relationship with his parents, as well as Tyler, The Creator, and made for one of the most moving rap songs of the year.
7. Grimes — “Genesis”
Grimes had a huge year, but it's easy to get distracted by the wild videos and pussy rings, and forget how great her music actually is. "Genesis" was the standout on Visions, and displays the wonderfully weird avant-pop that got everyone talking about Claire Boucher in the first place.
6. Sky Ferreira — “Everything Is Embarrassing” [MP3]
When he's not making '80s makeout jams as Blood Orange, Dev Hynes mans the boards for other artists, like up-and-comebacking chanteuse Sky Ferreira. For "Everything Is Embarrassing," Dev teamed up with veteran producer Ariel Rechtshaid to help out Sky Ferreira, who is finally getting the recognition she deserves at age 20. "Everything Is Embarrassing" is anything but.
5. Fiona Apple — “Every Single Night”
Fiona Apple's return this year was filled with breathtaking live performances and an album that surpassed all expectations, right down to its crazily long title. First single, "Every Single Night," was an emotional roller coaster that shows Apple in full command of her art, if not her sanity.
4. Kendrick Lamar — “Swimming Pools (Drank) — Extended Version”
With Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, compton rapper Kendrick Lamar released one of the best hip-hop debuts in ages and solidified the mountains of hype surrounding him. "Swimming Pools (Drank)," is a great example of how he broke down conventions: a hip-hop party song about the negative effects of alcohol
3. Grizzly Bear — “Yet Again”
It had been a few years since Grizzly Bear released its last record, but fans rejoiced with the release of Shields. "Yet Again," right down to its title, could have been a victory lap for the band, but instead its raw new sound demonstrates Ed Droste and Co.'s unwillingness to stop innovating.
2. Solange — “Losing You”
At first listen, "Losing You" might sound slightly inconsequential. It's light, it's fun, and it's airy. Give it a few more spins, though, and Dev Hynes' deft songwriting starts to become more apparent. "Losing You" may have sounded great on first listen, but after five, or 10, or 20, it sounds downright magical.
1. Frank Ocean — “Thinkin Bout You”
There are many great songs on Channel ORANGE, but none as beautifully simple in its construction and sentiment as "Thinkin Bout You." It's not good to throw around the word "perfect" too often, but that's really what Frank Ocean has achieved here: a song that satisfying in every way. For us, "Thinkin Bout You" defined the year.
Don't stop here. Click over to the next page for our compiled Spotify playlist of all 2012's best songs. Play, smile, dance, then hit repeat.
Illustrated by Riikka Sormunen