This year was certainly not uneventful. We witnessed, among other things, the rise and dominance of electronic dance music, the mainstream crossover of indie folk rock, celebrations for the Rolling Stones' 50th anniversary, global mass hysteria over Gangnam Style, the passing of legends (the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch and Whitney Houston) and the second coming of industry veterans including Madonna, Lionel Richie and Bobby Womack. As the supposed end of the world came and went, we're ushering in the new year with the 15 best songs (in no particular oder) of 2012.
THE XX/ CHAINED
After their hugely successful Mercury Prize-winning debut back in 2009, the British electro minimalists return with an eagerly anticipated second outing, Coexist, and Chained is one of the album's standout tracks. Startlingly sparse and contemplative, the song cleverly plays to the band's strengths with an intriguing vocal interplay between Oliver Sim and Romy Madley-Croft. Together they seem to be echoing one another: ''Separate or combine/I ask you one last time/Did I hold you too tight?/Did I not let enough light in?'' If you think that's genius, wait until the guitar riff washes over you _ only these guys can make heartache sound so thrillingly exquisite.
THE RICHMAN TOY/ THIDA PRAJAM AMPHUR
Known for incorporating elements of luk thung (Thai folk music) into their music, Smallroom's indie rock four-piece the Richman Toy, aka TRMT, cranks out a new single Thida Prajam Amphur (The District's Beauty Queen) taken from their third studio album, The Richman Thai. Starting with light post-punk guitar riffs and sparkling keyboards, the track wastes no time in putting a smile on our faces with cute lyrics delivered by the ever-charming frontman Veeranat Tippayamonthon. The lam tud-inspired (Thai-style antiphonal singing) breakdown during the song's second half is probably one of most fun moments in Thai music in recent memory.
MIA/ BAD GIRLS
Forget her cameo on Madonna's passable Give Me All Your Luvin' because MIA manages to deliver a bang and then some on Bad Girls. Originally included on MIA's Vicki Leekx mixtape back in 2010, the track features slithering Middle Eastern beats coupled with the ridiculously low-brow hook that repeats: ''Live fast, die young/Bad girls do it well.'' Don't bother digging for a hidden political agenda here as there's none. Bad Girls serves up fun attitude and no-nonsense catchiness, thanks to the help of hit-making producer Danja (Britney Spears' Gimme More and Madonna's 4 Minutes).
JONQUIL/ IT'S MY PART
UK indie-pop foursome Jonquil return with Point of Go, the band's third studio outing and their most accessible yet. The first single, It's My Part, represents everything that is good about this album _ it's pop music with substance. One of our favourite male vocalists in the indiesphere, frontman Hugo Manuel (who also goes by the name of Chad Valley for his solo projects) effortlessly sings in and out of a falsetto over sun-drenched guitars and percussion. ''It's my part,'' he declares in the tone that's assertive, yet endearing, ''and I'll play how I want.''
BOBBY WOMACK/ PLEASE FORGIVE MY HEART
The '60s R&B soul legend's re-entry onto the music scene after a break of more than a decade is a formidable feast. Released earlier this year, The Bravest Man in the Universe is co-produced by none other than Blur frontman Damon Albarn (not that much of a surprise since the two previously worked together on the Gorillaz track Stylo). The first single, Please Forgive My Heart finds Womack making the best use of his unique timbre, showing off his vocal calisthenics to the piano-driven R&B melody. ''Please, forgive my heart/'Cause not that the problem lies anywhere in there/I'm a liar, I'm in a dream/Going my way, nothing to rely on.'' With such brutal honesty in the chorus, Womack is the perfect man to deliver it.
If a pixie took on human form, Vancouver native Claire Boucher, who goes by the stage name Grimes, would be it. After two albums (Geidi Primes and Halfaxa) and one EP split with fellow Canadian artist D'Eon, Boucher offers us Oblivion, the first taste of her upcoming album, Visions. Here she has moved away from her usual offerings of atmospheric sounds and gobbledygook and treats us to unrelenting loopy pop beats. And her voice, though at times leaning towards whiney, is at its most endearing and adorable. It's accessible enough to catch on while still retaining Grimes' signature flair for quirkiness.
FSUHARIT SIAMWALA (FEATURING KONGDEJ JATURANRASAMEE)/ LOVE LIES BLEEDING
Seasoned Thai DJ Suharit Siamwala shows us his rocky side with Love Lies Bleeding, his latest single featuring guest vocals from veteran indie group See Tao Ter frontman Kongdej Jaturanrasamme. Singing in English, Kongdej reminds us of Gene Kasidit back in his Futon heyday, which is not at all a bad thing. We are head over heels in love with the post-punk inspired guitar riffs that run throughout the song. If Suharit keeps this up, he should really consider quitting running for Bangkok mayor and consider starting his own rock band.
TAYLOR SWIFT/ WE ARE NEVER EVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER
American Country darling Taylor Swift fully embraces pop on the first single taken from her forthcoming fourth studio album, Red. Produced by renowned pop hit-makers Max Martin and Shellback, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together features breezy acoustic guitars and pumping bass drum coupled with Swift's sweet croon. As the title suggests, the song conveys Swift's real-life predicament of her ex wanting to get back into her life. And, of course, being the independent woman that she is, she casually brushes off the offer, singing: ''You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me/But we are never ever ever ever getting back together.'' While the song itself offers nothing new to write home about, it's refreshing to see Swift channelling the more sassy side to her personality.
FRANK OCEAN/ BAD RELIGION
The American R&B crooner and part of the LA hip hop collective Odd Future, Frank Ocean caused quite a buzz when he wrote an open letter about his same-sex first love. Quite appropriately, on Bad Religion, from his second outing Channel Orange, Ocean openly laments unrequited love of another man. ''If it brings me to my knees, it's a bad religion,'' he wails despairingly over awe-inspiring organ and strings. ''Unrequited love to me is nothing but a one-man cult/And cyanide in a styrofoam cup,'' the man sings to brilliantly sum up his grief.
PALMY/ NA RI KA RUEN GAO
Her 2012 release, 5, didn't disappoint, thanks to a slew of hits including Kid Mak, Cry Cry Cry, Crush and Shy Boy, a collaboration with Kings of Convenience's frontman Erlend Oye. The Thai pop bohemian continues her winning streak with the album's only ballad, Na Ri Ka Ruen Gao (An Old Clock). Over antithetical fixed-time keyboards, Palmy alternates between lengthening her breath and sucking in air, creating a heart-wrenching effect that fits impeccably with the lines: ''An old clock has stopped ticking/No signs of life, it's been a while/The old clock that's been stopped in our hearts/Our time.'' For the full impact, check out the video that accompanies the song, directed by Sophon Sakdaphisit, the man behind the Thai horror blockbuster Laddaland.
KANYE WEST, JAY-Z AND BIG SEAN/ CLIQUE
The trifecta of rap's top players come together on Clique, a highly infectious number taken from Good Music's latest compilation, Cruel Summer. Big Sean starts the show with light-hearted lines such as: ''It's a grind day, from Friday, to next Friday/I been up straight for nine days, I need a spa day,'' before Jay-Z does a roll call of his posse: ''Yeah I'm talking Ye', yeah I'm talking Rih/Yeah I'm talking Bey,'' (that's Kanye, Rihanna and Beyonce). West then concludes with typically outrageous and zany verses: ''I'm way too black to burn from sun rays/So I just meditate at the home in Pompeii/Got me feeling Israelian/Like Bar Refaeli, Gisele, nah that's Brazilian.''
THE SHINS/ SIMPLE SONG
After giving us acoustic rock gems such as New Slang and Caring is Creepy, the US indie rock outfit returns after a four-year absence with a new single, Simple Song, from their upcoming fourth studio release, Port of Morrow. Don't let the title fool you, Simple Song is far from simple. Essentially a twee pop piece, James Mercer and co don't just stop there. The band fleshes it out with a touch of grandeur, adding a combination of catchy guitar riffs, drums and organ and Mercer's warmer-than-a-summer's-days vocals. It simply warrants multiple plays.
SKY FERREIRA/ EVERYTHING IS EMBARRASSING
American pop upstart Sky Ferreira follows up her 2011 debut As If! with Everything is Embarrassing, a cut from her upcoming EP, Ghost. The song pays homage to the shiny pop sensibilities of the late '80s/early '90s (think Whitney Houston and Gloria Estefan) while still keeping it fresh and contemporary. ''Maybe if you let me be your lover/Maybe if you tried then I would not bother,'' Ferreira delivers her layered coo over a simple drum machine. While this may not scream instant chart topper, there's no denying that this is one of the most unassuming yet effective pop numbers we've heard all year.
JAKE BUGG/ TWO FINGERS
The 19-year-old singer/songwriter and Nottingham native appeared on the music scene like a breath of fresh air, especially in an era seemingly dominated by electronic dance music artists and boy bands. With looks that resemble a young Ian Brown from the Stone Roses and a sound evocative of Bob Dylan, Bugg also exudes a good old rock 'n' roll swag when it comes to music. ''I drink to remember, I smoke to forget/Some things to be proud of, some stuff to regret/Been down some dark alleys in my own head/Something is changing, changing, changing,'' he sings, like a seasoned troubadour with a worldly poise well beyond his teenage years.
FUN (FEATURING JANELLE MONAE)/ WE ARE YOUNG
New York-based indie pop outfit Fun teams up with soul queen Janelle Monae to give us an anthem to end all anthems _ We Are Young. Taken from the band's upcoming second album, Some Nights, the track starts with dynamic drumming as frontman Nate Ruess sings: ''Give me a second, I need to get my story straight/My friends are in the bathroom, getting higher than the empire state.'' The song then paces itself down to an anthemic chorus: ''Tonight we are young/So let's set the world on fire/We can burn brighter than the sun.'' We Are Young truly captures the spirit of youth in us all.
About the author
Writer: Chanun Poomsawai