And so, at last, summer is upon us: we're halfway into 2012, the weather's getting stickier and sweatier, and we have naught to look forward to for the next few weeks save for watching a load of beefed-up athletic types running and jumping around a bit. Sounds fun, eh? Which is why we've decided to provide you, our fair readers, with some alternative entertainment by looking back over the past six months or so and bringing you a list of what we consider to be the finest songs of the year so far. Let us know your own choices below, too - and you can listen to our picks in our Spotify playlist at the end...
- Grimes - 'Oblivion'
- Death Grips - 'Get Got'
- Pond - 'You Broke My Cool'
- Jack White - 'Sixteen Saltines'
- Sleigh Bells - 'Demons'
- Nicki Minaj - 'Beez In The Trap'
- Alt-J - 'Breezeblocks'
- Savages - 'Husbands'
- Django Django - 'Default'
- Poliça – ‘Wandering Star’
- Plan B - 'iLL Manors'
- Azealia Banks - 'Jumanji'
- Jai Paul - 'Jasmine'
- Arctic Monkeys - 'R U Mine?'
- MIA - 'Bad Girls'
- SpaceGhostPurrp - 'The Black God'
- John Talabot - 'Destiny'
- Watch The Throne - 'No Church In The Wild'
- The Men - 'Open Your Heart'
- Haim - 'Forever'
Just think: a year or so ago, Claire Boucher had registered on a handful of discerning ears with her first two excellently off-kilter albums pop, but was flying under the radar of the masses. In 2012, she’s blasted off into the stratosphere of megastardom. And ‘Oblivion’ has been her rocket fuel: a disconcerting piece of magic made with sticky melody and squelchy synths, while Boucher’s butter-wouldn’t-melt tones disguise her dark ruminations. The year’s greatest pop star thus far? Photo: Cara Bloch/NME.
Truly, there is no trio on the planet right now capable of making the ungodly, unfettered and brutally visceral racket that Death Grips are spewing out. ‘Get Got’, from their stern second coming ‘The Money Store’, is a hyper-speed clash of souped-up synths and Ride’s glitch-ridden, gremlins-in-the-system rapping. Photo: Jo McCaughey/NME.
Tame Impala’s Dominic Simper must be kicking himself, we’d wager, considering that Pond – the group who count three of his cohorts (Nick Allbrook, Jay Watson and Kevin Parker) amongst their number – have made one of the finest dreamy psych-rock records we’ve heard in aeons. And ‘You Broke My Cool’ is their hazy, sun-drenched calling-card: if it’s not the official Anthem Of Summer 2012, there is no hope for any of us. Photo: Richard Johnson/NME.
“When I’m my by myself, I think of nothing else/ Than if a boy just might be getting through and touching you.” And thusly, over scorching blues-rock, did Jack White seemingly strip away years of carefully built self-mythology on his solo debut ‘Blunderbuss’. It may have been referencing his divorce; it could have been a parting shot to erstwhile White Stripes colleague Meg; it may have been neither. Whatever the truth, ‘Sixteen Saltines’ is Jack pulsing with more vulnerability and electricity than we’ve been privy to in aeons. Photo: Jo McCaughey/NME.
Be done with thee, subtlety! Away with you, po-faced experimentation! The most thrilling thing about Sleigh Bells’ return is how Derek and Alexis have unashamedly embraced their shocking, shlocky sides. Here, Derek hammers out a big, dumb and meat-headed riff on his guitar, while his cohort proffers one of the most marvelously hammy choruses of the year so far far: “Demons! Live! On!” Sing-alongs don’t come much more brilliantly daft than that. Photo: Jenn Five/NME.
There was a pretty mixed reaction to ‘Roman Reloaded’ – how welcoming you were depended on your stomach for europop radio smartbombs. But tucked alongside the Guettization was enough evidence that Minaj is still prepared to take the fight to the hataz, and she took down all-comers with the drip-drip Run-D.M.C. beats on ‘Beez In The Trap’. Topping it all was ex-Playaz Circle rapper 2 Chainz advising, “OK now, Nicki Nicki Nicki/Put it in your kidney”. Each of us can use that as a maxim for life.
Remember math rock? There’s something of the clever-clever, angular assault of Foals and Battles in Alt-J’s antsy fidgets, but – somewhere in the flood of percussion, exchange of quirky voices and bassy thrum – there’s an emphasis on the song rather than the exercise. ‘Breezeblocks’, one of the popper moments on the, uh, awesome ‘An Awesome Wave’, is a pleasing folk ditty in complicated clothing. Photo: Richard Johnson/NME.
A raging, buzzing nightmare of a track, slipping between calm and spasm in the space of a few seconds – ‘Husbands’ is a welcome shot in the arm. It’s three minutes long but feels way shorter as singer Jehnny Beth brings wild-eyed urgency to… what? Lyrics are sparse, hints tailing off, like a Wire single with extra snarl, and we’re left banging our heads off the table to a panic of bass and fiery squall of guitar, wondering what the blazes just happened Photo: Richard Johnson/NME.
The next time some deadly bore begins the same wheezing argument about the ‘death of guitar music’, chuck a copy of ‘Default’ at them: the psychedelic highlight of their self-titled debut that’s bursting at the seams with skittering invention and weirdly warped harmonies. Infectious innovation at its ear-wormy finest. Photo: Tom Oxley/NME.
The Gayngs collective brought us the strange blend of Poliça, featuring occasional Gayngs singer Channy Leaneagh and produced by Ryan Olson. Chillwave Minneapolitan style is a complex, jazzy fusion of fluid, rubbery bass and ambient synths that feels vital even while stirring up a gloopy swamp. Leaneagh sounds detached, smoothed into the mix with human edges blunted by Auto-Tune, but the effect is soothing. Photo: David Mcrindle/NME.
So many of 2012's songs could have been written in any time period where men and women have been causing each other sexy problems. Mainly sexy problems in clubs. Not Plan B andh is Ill Manors though, which takes a string sampling beat heavy swipe at Cameron and his ham faced posse of champagne chugging, donations for favours, lend-us-your-horse-you-can-hack-that-phone faced rich kids while shouting about The Olympics, closed high streets and more. Photo: Ed Miles/NME.
In which we learned for sure that Azealia intends to “rule bitch, all day, Uptown Broadway” – as if we didn’t know. Produced by Hudson Mohawke and Nick Hook, this steel drum-kicked stomp came on like Missy Elliott in its swift spit of rhymes and outlandish beats. Zig-zagging synths give ‘Jumanji’ a flashy sheen but the direct flow and lolloping gait nail it to the street, a block or two from the dancefloor skip of ‘212’. A clutch of online releases down the line, Azealia’s still mixing it up. Photo: Tom Oxley/NME.
‘BTSTU’, last year’s debut single from north-west London singer/producer Jai Paul, ended up sampled by Beyonce so clearly the sky’s the limit now. He seems to have spent eons getting ‘Jasmine’ into nice enough to shape to woo us, but woo us it does, hitting a groove despite its muggy atmosphere as Jai Paul hitches his (inevitably) Princey falsetto to a heavily treated wah-wah guitar line. It’s like 2010 vintage James Blake crowbarring some soul into his glitch.
We hail the prowess of the Monkeys so often we’re beginning to sound like a stuck record, but allow us to thump their tub once more, because ‘R U Mine?” is ruddy brilliant: a snarling, riff-heavy beast (with a mighty fine falsetto from Helders to boot) that gives us tingles for the future as we daydream about where they’re heading next... Photo: Dean Chalkley/NME.
“My chain hits my chest when I’m banging on the dashboard” – MIA swaggered back in with the gangsta stance, rebooting and polishing up a track from New Year’s Eve 2010 mixtape ‘Vicki Leekx’. Danja’s at the controls of this revisionist take and – after the 90% headfuck of ‘///Y/’ – it’s a return to the more chart-friendly Arulpragasam of ‘Paper Planes, with pop chords and proper chorus included. Don’t get too settled though: she’s gonna have us “trembling”. Ooh. Photo: Magnus Alke/NME.
Rap’s newest wunderkind – the 20-year-old real-life Muney Jordan – couldn’t give a toss about the gaudy luridness of chart-bothering hip-hop. Instead, ‘The Black God’, taken from his ‘Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles of SpaceGhostPurrp’ – is dark and sinister, blending self-aggrandizing rhymes (“I got to have the world in my palms/ I’m a god, no longer a black man”) with otherworldly, reverb-heavy beats. Deity status is beckoning him.
The latest breakout act from the Barcelona dance scene, John Talabot follows in El Guincho and Delorean’s footsteps to bring a bit of sunshine to the club. ‘Destiny’ is a collaboration with fellow Spanish producer Pional (aka Miguel Barros), and together they find a chugging groove that flutters with exotica and synthesized marimba – and a hint of cowbell – to recreate a 1988 Ibizan sunrise without the weary head of the night before.
Once more Frank Ocean is the scene-stealer on this standout from last year’s ‘Watch The Throne’. To be honest, he looks like he’s going to rule 2012 with his own stuff, but here he brings the hope-free soul to Kanye West’s rant about his girl problems. ‘No Church In The Wild’ is a grisly, doomstruck yomp around samples from Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera, James Brown and hoary old rock band Spooky Tooth, and rains down like a crazed preacher’s hellfire. Photo: Photo: PA.
While lesser mortals peddle greyer, limper wares, The Men have captured the hearts of the NME office by plumping for a full-frontal, foot-to-the-pedal assault on our earlobes. ‘Open Your Heart’ may have liberally half-inched from the Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen In Love’, but pilfering the odd influence doesn’t matter a jot when you twist them into something as raucous and foaming-mouthed as this. Photo: Gene Glover/NME.
The buzziest belles of this year’s SXSW, Haim (comprised of sisters Danielle, Alana and Este) are a madcap proposition made into genre-defying reality: on ‘Forever’, they proffer a swoonsome mix folk, classic rock and RnB , with the resulting concoction sounding a bit like Destiny’s Child riffing over Stevie Nicks’ ‘The Edge Of Seventeen’. And who wouldn’t go all weak-kneed for that? Photo: Dan Dennison/NME.