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Monday, Sept. 29, 10:38 a.m.
Style & Culture

How I Hear It: Best songs from the past eleven months

This is the next-to-last paper of the year for The Maine Campus, which means this column is one of my last times to let you all know how I feel about what’s happening in music in 2012, hopefully giving you another way to hear things that you may not have heard about in the first place. So I want to thank you all for reading, even though I should stop studying journalism at the University of Maine, as online comments on past articles indicate.

Still, I manage to hold back the hurt and soldier on. I came up with my own top songs of 2012 list. I believe I have the floor, so here we go. Just note that I could decide on my top 10, but not on their rank. Instead, I ordered them based on the number of plays logged in my iTunes.

10. Alabama Shakes – “Hold On”

For reasons that don’t justify my lack of action, I ignored Alabama Shakes’ debut album, “Boys & Girls,” upon its April release. I finally checked it out a week or so ago and was blown away, especially by “Hold On.” To stand above the rest of the tracklist in a modern blues rock throwback opus of an album is Herculean. I would say it’s impossible to ignore, but I managed to for a few months and am a dumber human for it.

9. Neil Young – “Ramada Inn”

As I’ve written before, I was worried about this album, after 2010’s disappointment that was “Le Noise.” A highlight from their “Psychedelic Pill” album, “Ramada Inn” is one of the best long jams Young and Crazy Horse have ever done together. It clocks in at 16 minutes, but it’s a shame it’s not a half hour. The similarly impressive “Driftin’ Back” is, so we’ll have to make due.

8. Alt-J – “Breezeblocks”

Breezeblocks (demo) by alt-J

Seemingly coming out of nowhere, British newbies Alt-J went from releasing their first album, “An Awesome Wave,” in May — September in North America — to winning the Mercury Prize for it. The self-titled album and lead single, “Breezeblocks,” has been compared to Radiohead, but that’s what writers say when they’re struggling to describe an experimental rock band. So yeah, they’re like Radiohead.

7. Yeasayer – “Reagan’s Skeleton”

Yeasayer – Reagan’s Skeleton by lanewayfest

Although many reviewers have rated Yeasayer’s third album, “Fragrant World,” as their least impressive thus far, I’m going to pull a U-turn and say that it’s my favorite. The experimental, poppy danciness of “Reagan’s Skeleton” may be enough to lure the shy, dragged-to-the-party indie kid onto the dance floor for some uncomfortable but passionate moves.

6. The Men – “Country Song” / “Oscillation”

Separated mainly for navigation purposes, this 14-minute rollercoaster spends most of its time carrying up the track, which gets you excited for what the drop is going to be like. This punk group — à la The Ramones, not Blink-182 — gets about as close to country as they are comfortable with, incorporating slide guitar into the first part. But as it crosses over into “Oscillation,” the punk they’ve been holding back slowly slips out until the dam breaks, and they start to chug along at breakneck speed.

5. Trey Anastasio – “Clint Eastwood”

I know, it’s a Gorillaz song. I will probably die, lying in a hospital bed, opting to plug in my dying laptop playing the song instead of the various life support mechanisms surrounding me. But as far as covers go, and I apologize for the language, but this is darn tootin’. The slinky, band-oriented sound is only eclipsed by the excellent vocals of Jennifer Hartswick. If something has to replace Del The Funky Homosapien’s rap verse, this will do just fine.

4. Dr. John – “Ice Age”

A few months before performing a fantastic show at the Collins Center for the Arts in November, this bayou big boy released my favorite album of the year. “Ice Age” is a fine example of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s gumbo-soaked blues rock and idiosyncratic growl at their finest. The 72-year-old journeyman is aging like fine wine or the increasingly rare boxes of Twinkies everybody’s hoarding to sell on eBay.

3. Lotus Plaza – “Strangers”

Best known for his work with hipster heroes Deerhunter, guitarist Lockett Pundt does some other stuff in his free time, like releasing music as Lotus Plaza that sometimes eclipses those of his main gig in quality. “Strangers” shares many of the qualities of Deerhunter’s 2010 album “Halcyon Digest,” which means it’s an ambient-influenced, driving haze of an indie rock song.

2. Tennis – “It All Feels The Same”

Etta James, Bobby Vinton and their ’50s-and-early-’60s pop contemporaries would be proud. Tennis’ “It All Feel The Same” and its parent album, “Young & Old,” are tributes to these early greats in an emerging industry. The throwback vocals of Alaina Moore lay atop a contemporary but nostalgic backing band, creating somewhat of a déjà vu. I know the song incites an interest in classic pop for me. A song that is equal parts forward-facing, retrospective and good is rare.

1. Death Grips – “The Fever (Aye Aye)”

If you had told me on Jan. 1, 2012, that one of my favorite songs of the year would be by a controversial alternative hip-hop group who used a bathroom photo of a penis as an album cover, I would have thrown a stapler at your throat.

I absolutely hated this polarizing song and album when I first heard it. But, like that weird thing on my back, it grew on me and I’ve come to really enjoy it. Once I found one element of their unusual brand of bass-heavy, shouted hip-hop I didn’t mind — the chorus of “The Fever” for me — it became easier to tolerate the rest of it. Death Grips slowly poisoned my brain and somehow, I really like them now — a lot.