Tracking 2012's Best Songs: Sleigh Bells, Grimes, Usher x Diplo

Every week, we keep track of and discuss the best songs of the year. This week, hear new additions from Sleigh Bells, Grimes, Usher, AlunaGeorge and Rhye.

Every week, we keep track of and discuss the best songs of the year. This week, hear new additions from Sleigh Bells, Grimes, Usher, AlunaGeorge and Rhye.

My favorite song on Sleigh Bells’ killer 2010 debut Treats was “Kids.” Maybe not as direct as “Infinity Guitars,” maybe not as sexy as “Rill Rill,” “Kids” is great because it’s totally incendiary, because everything is distorted, because of that firey, dangerous propulsive energy that never, for a second, lets up. The band’s follow-up Reign of Terror is a little more, um, reined in (those power ballads!) but it has a “Kids” too, naturally – “Demons,” a song that sounds like its title. The band pile on the aurally assaulting layers – Derek Miller’s knife-sharp guitar cuts from face-melting riff to face-melting riff as quick as the shower scene in Psycho, Alexis Krauss shouts and croons at the same time, drum machine sounds like it’s falling apart under the strain of being so loud and so fast. As good as their slow-burners are, Sleigh Bells are incontrovertibly at their best when they remind you that they can and will f-ck you up, and “Demons” is the kind of song that will absolutely f-ck you up, the kind of song that makes this band exciting. Reign of Terror is out now.

Listen on Spotify

GRIMES – "Skin"
On lesser records than Visions – the first real (and indeed, the most cohesive) release from the Vancouver electronic and visual artist Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes – “Skin” might be the best it had to offer. “Skin” is not the best track on Visions, but it stands out from the others as it’s probably the closest Grimes will ever get to a slow-burner. It’s not exactly a lighters-up anthem though, what with all those layers of percolating dubby percussion and one of Boucher’s customary midway-through spine-tingling emersions from underwater. “Skin” is so good because for a song about feeling human it still sounds alien, futuristic, otherworldly, as far from human as you sometimes paradoxically feel at those times of intense emotion Boucher details (“soft skin / you touch me once again and somehow it stings / because I know it is the end”) in That Falsetto. Of all the songs on Visions, it’s the most stunningly emotionally bare, the most vulnerable – and that, in the context of such a glossy, futuristically chromatic record, is something. Visions is out now.


USHER – "Climax" p/ Diplo
And now for the most auspiciously titled track of 2012 so far, the impressively collaborative effort that is Usher and Diplo’s “Climax” (also on hand in the production and writing arena: Redd Stylez and Ariel Rechtshaid, who plays bass in Foreign Born and produces for Glasser). We’re not one to deny Diplo’s tweeted assertion that “in 9 months there are gonna be a lot of new babies that this song is responsible for,” what with Usher showing off his finest last-dance falsetto croon in high style, that pulsating, skittering beat (might as well look up “conducive to grinding” in, uh, whatever dictionary that would be in), all those slow, palpable crescendos and their – well, you know. We wouldn’t be surprised if this one ends up our generation’s “I’ll Make Love To You.”


ALUNAGEORGE – "You Know You Like It"
London’s Aluna Francis and George Reid have been quietly recording and releasing their sexy, slinky, absolutely now music under the moniker AlunaGeorge for a little while with criminally scant recognition – that is, until a Skins slot got their irresistible, candy-sweet single “You Know You Like It” noticed. And rightfully so – the duo’s production blends the best trends of bass-inflected pop (that bubbling bass recalls recent hits from SBTRKT and Katy B) and UK artstep (that stuttering, deconstructed drum machine); Francis has a great and unique voice and sexy-saucy delivery that’ll instantly get stuck in your head; the complete package pulls from so many disparate trends that it sounds at once completely contemporary and completely futuristic. Helps that “You Know You Like It” has got a nouveau-“Single Ladies” attendant video. We’re looking forward to more from such a young, promising group – stay tuned. You can listen to their brief output (four songs) on Spotify.


RHYE – "Open"
We still know next to nothing about the secretive L.A. duo Rhye except that they’re awesome. Anyone who can make such hay smoothing the “don’t fuck with me” out of Jai Paul’s hyper-minimalist sugar-sweet falsetto and blending the whole thing into orchestral horns-and-strings twee-pop instrumentals that sound cookie-cut out of Architecture in Helsinki’s 2003 debut Fingers Crossed is a hero in our book. And whose idea was “Open,” a song that’s so intimate and confessional (“I’m a fool for your belly…”) it’s easy to feel like you shouldn’t be listening to it, like you’re listening to someone’s impeccably produced diary? “Stay open”? You shouldn’t even have to ask; our ears are, now and forever.