Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Climax Ushers in the year's best single

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The Canadian Press picks the top singles of the year.

 

1. Usher -- Climax

It was a year in which many fused R&B and electronic music with gloriously glum results, but absolutely nothing touched this pristine pop pearl. His falsetto spiralling toward the heavens, Usher sings with sorrowful frustration about a long relationship that's surrendered to inertia -- or as he sighs, "Don't wanna give in so we both gave up" -- while Diplo's breathtaking production lends the track a rain-slick sheen. The whole thing is so persuasively despondent it can leave you yearning for a heartbreak in which to wallow.

2. Grimes -- Oblivion

The highlight of the Vancouver-born, Montreal-based 24-year-old's stellar Visions, this piece of pop hypnosis perfectly encapsulates the unique appeal of the artist otherwise known as Claire Boucher: it's playful, menacing, propulsive, thoughtful, icy and warm, all at the same time. Here, Boucher's wispy vocals float like a spectre over a knotty web of synth grooves. And as she continuously coos, "See you on a dark night," it's clear her intentions are hazy even on her most jubilantly accessible track.

3. The Shins -- Simple Song

After five years away (and it felt like longer given the pebble-ripple effect of 2007's unjustly ignored Wincing the Night Away), James Mercer's wizards of winsome returned with the excellent Port of Morrow and this blast-of-cool-air power-pop delight. Really, it's packed full of so many brightly wrapped sweet flourishes, it's like a pop pinata: cascades of glossy guitars, chiming keys, a chorus of reverb-soaked vocal harmonies and -- if all that weren't enough -- perfectly wistful lyrics. In typical Shins fashion, the whole thing only seems straightforward.

4. Future -- Turn On the Lights

Over the course of his absorbing (if wildly uneven) fever dream of a debut, Pluto, this Atlanta MC established himself as an Auto-Tuned alien who inventively warped pervasive rap trends yet somehow wound up utterly pop -- like a knuckleballer whose each fluttering pitch landed right down the middle. But it's his less conventional tunes that were most impossible to forget -- chiefly this trilling search for love, on which Future's a sad robot warbling tenderly over thumping 808s and synths that sound like they're crying. Future is often fascinating, but rarely this moving.

5. Chairlift -- I Belong in Your Arms

A shimmering ballad that's as unapologetically moony-eyed as its title would suggest without a hint of irony (especially impressive since this duo is from Brooklyn). With singer/songwriter Caroline Polachek's honeyed vocals, synths that are summer-swim refreshing and a propulsive beat worthy of Hall & Oates, this sounds like a long-overlooked '80s classic that should have spent the past three decades being butchered by overeager karaoke participants. Well, at least Chairlift has given us a silver lining for Hollywood's inevitable flood of John Hughes remakes.

Bonus: Carly Rae Jepsen -- Call Me Maybe

As this demure disco-pop bon-bon ascended from a state of mere widespread popularity to inescapable global ubiquity, an unfortunate thing happened: the cheery tune became so pervasive it became difficult to appreciate. Jepsen's folk tune-turned-synth-pop marvel soundtracked high-school proms, root canals, schleps through the mall, the Grey Cup halftime show -- basically everything we did, to the point where queuing it up on an iPod felt sadly redundant (you're bound to hear it soon enough). And yet, if we've come to take the chart-topping hit for granted, in a few years its brilliance -- the strings as light as lemon meringue, Jepsen's perky crooning and that merry-go-round chorus so stubbornly catchy you'd need high-concentration bleach to scrub it from your brain -- should be impossible to deny.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2012 D4

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