A CD's worth of the year's best songs, generally from off the beaten path.
If you dig these songs please consider buying them. Most can be had for less than a buck. They will also be hosted at Pruning Shears until Thursday, so you can try before you buy over there.
Here are my favorite songs this year from my RSS feeds. I use Sharp Reader as my aggregator but it requires the .NET framework, which older computers may not have. Feed Reader doesn't need it and is good too. See the "Free MP3 sites" part of my blogroll for my current feed list.
Most weeks I burn as many new songs as I can fit onto a rewritable CD and give it a thorough listen (usually five times), so in that spirit I keep the list under the same limit. In a way 80 minutes is arbitrary, but it's also respectful of listeners to show some restraint. If you fall in love with my taste in music drop me a line and I'll get you the rest of the songs I considered but didn't have room for.
On the reckoning of time
I age songs by release date, not recording date. Until I get my grubby little hands on it, it doesn't exist as far as I'm concerned. When it first makes it out to the public it is new, no matter how long it may have been gathering dust somewhere.
In addition to the ones mentioned in the list here are the albums in 2012 I enjoyed front to back:
Tender Trap - Ten Songs About Girls
Howl Griff - Fragile Diamond. Both this and Ten Songs will probably get pigeonholed as some kind of neo-Twee revival or something. What they really are, though, is first rate pop albums. I can always make room for one of those in my collection.
Rush1 - Clockwork Angels. After Roll the Bones I basically gave up hope for Rush, though I kept buying their albums. (They provided the soundtrack for my youth, and the pull of nostalgia is strong.) Clockwork Angels is a pretty amazing return to form, though. It has a few Spinal Tap moments, but they are mercifully brief; aside from those missteps the music is stronger than it's been for a long time. And "Headlong Flight" has Alex Lifeson's best guitar solo in about thirty years.
Teen - In Limbo. A little slice of lo-fi heaven.
The Finks. I don't know if they offer their music for sale anywhere, or if they just periodically throw songs onto Soundcloud. Whatever, it's great stuff and definitely worth a listen.
James Yorkston & the Athletes - Moving Up Country (10th Anniversary Edition). I know Dreamin' Wild by Donnie And Joe Emerson is the sentimental choice for many due to its remarkable journey (and earnest rawness), but Moving Up Country sounds like the work of a fully formed artist. Adding "The Lang Toun" to the first disc (it was originally left off for space) and the various demos on the second are a real treat as well. Also: "Cheating The Game" is the best song ever written.
I usually reserve an Honorable Mention spot for a longer song. Most years there's at least one 7+ minute song that I like quite a bit, but since I try to get lots of different artists on the list I don't want a single tune to crowd out several other candidates. When a longer song really blows me away (like "Bushels" by Frog Eyes in 2007) I'll make room, but overall I prefer to keep my selections under five minutes or so. This year there was no such song, so instead I went with:
22. "Borrowed Skin" - The Grates (Buy)
(And yes as proof of concept I burned them on to a CD using Winamp.)
21. "Let It Go" - Cherri Bomb (Buy)
20. "Don't Save Me" - Haim (Buy)
18. "Throughout This Night" - Cara Mitchell (Twitter)
17. "Killing Time is Murder" - Whitehorse (Buy)
16. "Valentine" - Charli XCX (Home page)
14. "Homerun" - 1-O.A.K. (Twitter)
13. "If You Were Mine" - The Cornshed Sisters (Twitter)
11. (2012 Guiltiest Pleasure) "Waste My Body" - Tesla Boy (Twitter)
10. "Peter Sellers" - Stella Ella Ola (Twitter)
08. "Rainin' Inside" - The Trishas (Buy)
06. "New Bodies" - Bernice (Buy)
05. "King Kong" - Luu Breeze (Download mixtape) (Twitter)
04. "orion's belt (feat. riff raff)" - kitty pryde (Twitter)
03. "Choice Notes" - Alex Winston (Buy)
02. "Refill" - Elle Varner (Buy)
01. "Never Again" - Nook & Cranny (Buy)