Lyrick (Kopesetik Soul) — India Shawn, "Like Nobody Else"
This track off new artist India Shawn's Origins EP has a distinctive indie-folk-soul feel that catches your attention and speaks directly to your spirit. With thoughtfully written lyrics, a perfect arrangement and beautifully layered vocals, "Like Nobody Else" is not to be slept on. I couldn't be more excited to have found such an audibly delicious treasure.
Collin Estes (Lazy Spacemen) — Bonnie "Prince" Billy, "After I Made Love to You"
The ever-enigmatic Will Oldham's 2012 Now Here's My Plan EP is a collection of new recordings of his earlier material, often drastically re-worked and played with stunning dynamism and tastefulness by his band, which includes backing vocalist Angel Olsen. Perhaps the strongest track, "After I Made Love to You," features colorful, close vocal harmonies, while keyboardist Ben Boye and guitarist Emmett Kelly trade soulful fills in the spaces between the blunt and evocative lyrics. The unsung hero of the track, however, is drummer Van Campbell, whose restraint is like a master class on how dramatic and expressive percussion can be.
Ryan Spradlin (El Toro de la Muerte) — Bombay Bicycle Club, "Leave It"
I'd never heard of Bombay Bicycle Club until I was blown away by their performance at this year's Austin City Limits Festival. I picked up their A Different Kind of Fix album and probably listened to it five times in a row. "Leave It" is beautiful and interesting, and not too many songs meet those criteria these days. I like bands that can build layers and soundscapes without sounding pretentious or employing silly noises in order to be "interesting."
Chris Forsythe (Malakai, Tree of Woe) — Deftones, "Leathers"
While Koi No Yokan is really strong from front to back, this song epitomizes everything there is to like about Deftones. It's heavy, haunting and beautiful. If the Cure were a metal band, they would sound like this.
Heather Browne (Fuel/Friends music blog) — Macklemore, "Same Love"
In an election year when same-sex marriage remains a hot topic, Seattle hip-hop artist Macklemore supported his state's fight, and also took the discussion into a whole new arena: his genre of music. "If I was gay, I'd think hip-hop hates me," he says in "Same Love," one of most brilliantly honest, thought-provoking and important songs of 2012. Macklemore (Ben Haggerty) may be known more for his playfully clever songs like "Thrift Shop," or the massive brass-band gospel of "Can't Hold Us," but it's impossible to not be moved by the eloquent video for "Same Love" and the sentiment in a lyric like "We may not be the same, but that's not important / No freedom 'til we're equal, damn right I support it."
Ahmad Mitchell (Fidel RedStar, A Black Day) — Kimbra, "Settle Down"
I was in Best Buy looking for new tunes to marinate as I drove through town, and Kimbra's Vows album called to me. As soon as I put it in the car CD player, "Settle Down" came through with a force overtaking me. In a time where so many artists are writing about one-night-stands and waxing booties, it was refreshing to hear about commitment, love and having a beautiful child together.
Steven Huckaby (Inelements) — Deftones, "Entombed"
This track from the Koi No Yokan album is exactly what I was looking for — and have come to expect — from the Deftones. Chino [Moreno's] pained voice rides atop of the butterfly-like guitar riffs as he captures the feeling of being away from a distant friend or loved one. After more than 20 years, the Deftones are still releasing killer music.
Damian Burford (Mostly Harmless podcast) — The Menzingers, "Casey"
Having toured the world with the likes of Rise Against, The Bouncing Souls and Against Me, the Menzingers this year released On the Impossible Past, their third LP for the Bad Religion-owned Epitaph Records. The album, which explores the anxiety and excitement of their upward momentum in the punk rock scene, all comes to fruition on the track "Casey," as vocalist Greg Barnett remembers a lost companion and the simpler time they shared. His screams of the protagonist's name in the final moments of the song shake listeners to their very core with his love, pain and uncertainty about the future.
Austin Richman (Spiritwell) — Father John Misty, "Misty's Nightmares 1 and 2"
Josh Tillman left the comfort of the Fleet Foxes' success a year ago and by this past May had put forth his debut album as Father John Misty. My favorite track off of the bittersweet Fear Fun is "Misty's Nightmares 1 and 2," which lends an old country-soul vibe to a clap-steady driving rhythm, a slick pedal-steel motif, and a soaring choir-like backing vocal. The warm analogue feel of the overall production highlights the clarity of his aching voice as he sings, "Gonna take my life back one day," a plea Tillman bemoans perhaps in reflection of his real-life challenges in escaping the shadows of his past.