HBO’s Game of Thrones has reportedly enlisted Brooklyn-by-way-of-Minneapolis indie rockers The Hold Steady to cover “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” a song written by creator George R. R. Martin and an apparent popular tune within the story’s mythology.
It’ll be interesting to hear Craig Finn’s sing-speak rasp tackle lines like “He licked the honey from her hair” and “I’ll never dance with a hairy bear,” to say the least.
1. Frank Ocean – “Pyramids”
A self-produced, ten-minute, time-traveling, dizzying, dual-act, epic tale of two Cleopatras - the first half is a synth-driven cheetah chase through Ancient Egypt, the second is a slow-burn stripper anthem set in low-budget motels and divey booty clubs some two thousand years later - the scope of which no other song came close to in 2012, proves to be Ocean’s magnum opus, a literary watershed moment for this new wave of R&B, spellbinding storytelling the genre hasn’t seen since Prince’s Purple Rain, and solidifies the young artist as the upper-echelon singer-songwriter of, at the very least, the moment, and just perhaps, his generation.
“Top-floor motel suite, twisting my cigars / Floor-model TV with the VCR / Got rubies in my damn chain / Whip ain’t got no gas tank, but it still got wood grain / Got your girl working for me / Hit the strip and my bills paid”
2. Grizzly Bear – “Sleeping Ute”
Channeling the likes of Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, and even The Allman Brothers Band, Shields’ jaw-dropping opener is an ethereal, nervous, dream-like romp through the subconscious, simultaneously intimate and operatic, with crashing guitars, ominous keys, and a thunderous rhythm section, crafted by an uber-talented Brooklyn quartet with the special ability to make even the most mathematical of music feel like much more than zeroes and ones, and like an entire undiscovered world.
“Dreamed a long day / Just wandering free / Though I’m far gone / You sleep nearer to me”
3. Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built”
The jet-fueled escapist anthem of the year, made by two dudes who exhaustively jam-pack their catalogue with enough vim and vigor to convince listeners they might as well be an entire army, is living proof that, no matter what technological advances are made in popular music production, through hard-workmanship, unbridled passion, and the age-old belief that anyone can start a band, the punk spirit will never, ever die.
“When they love you, and they will / Tell ‘em all they’ll love in my shadow / And if they try to slow you down / Tell ‘em all to go to hell”
4. Kendrick Lamar – “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”
This intoxicating track, despite deviating from good kid, m.A.A.d city’s central narrative to position itself as an opening credit theme song / mission statement of sorts, highlights Lamar’s seemingly effortless execution of layering flow upon flow over a svelte, spaced-out beat and snare echoes that feel like splashes of cold water, creating a sound entirely his own (the Lady Gaga-hijacked demo was wisely scrapped), and making New West Coast’s strongest case yet for the young emcee as the genre’s bona fide poster boy.
“We live in a world, we live in a world on two different axles / You live in a world, you living behind the mirror / I know what you scared of, the feeling of feeling emotions inferior”
5. Fiona Apple – “Every Single Night”
The singer-songwriter and pianist has always been a bit of a therapist’s dream (or nightmare), but it’s the lead single off of The Idler Wheel… where she so candidly grants her listeners direct access to her twisted psyche in this three-and-a-half-minute, Being John Malkovich-style, point-of-view peep show, where her anxieties have never been higher, her desires have never been so unsuppressed, and her talent has never been so exposed and absolute.
“Every single night’s a fight with my brain / I just want to feel everything”
6. Frank Ocean – “Bad Religion”
Six days after a Tumblr post revealed in open letter format (originally intended as part of Channel Orange’s liner notes) that his first true love was a man, Ocean released his official debut studio album to near universal acclaim, an LP that included this raw, honest, organ-driven piece of poetry at its core, in which our narrator uses the back of a taxi cab to confess his struggles with his own sexuality to a potentially homophobic driver, symbolizing the artist’s concerns regarding the African-American music community’s ultimate acceptance of his identity.
“Taxi driver / I swear I’ve got three lives / Balanced on my head like steak knives / I can’t tell you the truth about my disguise / I can’t trust no one”
7. The Shins – “Simple Song”
Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State declared that James Mercer’s music “will change your life,” and his Portland-based troupe’s latest and greatest regains that early Shins magic (of which the frontman is the sole original member), bottling what only the best pop tunes are able to achieve - feelings of youth, nostalgia, and invincibility under the breezy guise of clever metaphor and Beatles-esque composition.
“My life in an upturned boat / Marooned on a cliff / You brought me a great big flood / And you gave me a lift / Girl, what a gift”