Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 20 Albums of 2011

Presented, as last year, with limited comment. Spotify and Grooveshark links for all.

20. Beastie Boys
Hot Sauce Committee, Pt 2

RIYL: The Beastie Boys

The Beastie Boys returned in style after the mostly 'meh' To the 5 Boroughs. Solid hooks and clever lines throughout.

19. Tim Hecker
Ravedeath, 1972

RIYL: Droning bliss, the world's most melodic air conditioner

The year's most surprising album. I gave it a preliminary listen thinking I would easily discard it. That shit is haunting.

18. Panda Bear

RIYL: Watery sounding music, lots of vocal layers, The Beach boys being played in a really big room.

Lots of highs, a couple dry spots in the middle. Still enough on the high end to come back to again and again.

17. Sims
Bad Time Zoo

RIYL: Doomtree, Really wordy rappers, books about 'Occupy wall street'

Sims rubs me the wrong way a lot of times, so the instant I preordered his CD, I wondered why I had done so. I proceeded to love it.

16. Drake
Take Care

RIYL: Really rich people humblebragging constantly.

I don't know exactly how I got to this point. The dude just makes catchy music that works as great as driving music during summer or winter, day or night. The production on his tracks fascinates me.

15. Dessa
Castor, the Twin

RIYL: Jazzy female fronted rap, High swagger to body weight ratios

I had already heard a lot of these arrangements at Blowout VI, but the jazzier live band really gives Dessa that "chanteuse in a smoky bar" vibe that really fits these songs.

14. The Weeknd
House of Balloons

RIYL: Lurid, debauched parties, Smooth crooning, drugs.... lots of drugs, sex

How to become a really big deal in 2011... work your ass off, release three albums worth of material. Oh yeah, make incredibly catchy songs that make six minutes feel a quarter that long (also, talk about sex and drugs a lot).

13. Blue Sky Black Death

RIYL: Huge sonic landscapes, instrumental hip-hop that doesn't have anything to do with hip-hop.

Nothing could ever replace Endtroducing, but at times this feels like a slightly more cinematic version of that DJ Shadow masterpiece.

12. Kurt Vile
Smoke Ring For My Halo

RIYL: Acoustic guitars, cynical lyrics

Smoke Ring For My Halo was a welcome surprise. I didn't expect much out of it, since I'm not big into the wandering acoustic rock thing. Vile's arrangements just feel so much fuller than most of his genre.

11. James Blake
James Blake

RIYL: Soul/Dubstep hybrids... are those a thing?

I didn't listen to a lot of Blake's output last year (I'm sure I'll remedy that soon enough), but this worked as a good introduction. Surprisingly good vocals and well constructed songs.

10. Viva Voce
The Future Will Destroy You

RIYL: Pretty much anything. Seriously. Why aren't you listening to these guys?

Husband/wife duo Viva Voce are a great band that I haven't been able to get anyone into yet. They make good rootsy rock music. Sometimes she sings, sometimes he sings. Listen to their music.

9. Doomtree
No Kings

RIYL: Vaguely indie-ish rap that doesn't succumb to standard indie rap tropes

With "No Kings", Doomtree really branched out their production to new places. Almost all of them worked for me, and the rappers themselves sounded fresh and up to the challenge, ready to tear into that new direction.

8. Childish Gambino

RIYL: Clever lines and good hooks, smartasses, rappers who enjoy Rugrats

This album is kind of a combination of the bite I wanted from a Tyler, the Creator CD mixed with the pop and R&B sensibility that Drake infuses everything with. Thanks to Andrew for the heads up.

7. Cults

RIYL: Catchy, retro tunes with dark secrets, small, coastal new england towns

I didn't buy the hype last summer, but the debut album was alluringly dark, yet catchy. It was sort of like if Best Coast joined... well... a cult.

6. The Antlers
Burst Apart

RIYL: Sad songs, songs about the endings of beautiful things, the end of Old Yeller

I'm slowly coming around on The Antlers. Not just this album, but their whole discography. This one still reigns supreme, though. A thoroughly emotive and exhausting listen.

5. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
Tao of the Dead

RIYL: Doodling dragons on the back of your chemistry notebook

Trail of Dead keeps insisting on making the music bigger and bigger, at this point it's in for a penny, in for a pound. That means, that for every tightly spun barnstormer, there's a 17 minute proggy beast. Luckily, I enjoy it all.

4. Radiohead
The King of Limbs

RIYL: The Kid A side of Radiohead, Thom Yorke, Skittery Beats

I'll admit, if this wasn't Radiohead, I don't know if I would have given it as many listens as it needed to grow on me. Once it did, though, it stuck with me. There's not a weak track on the album.

3. TV on the Radio
Nine Types of Light

RIYL: All thing funky, the vocal stylings of Tunde Adebimpe

I was sort of surprised to see how much this album got slept on. It's definitely moving further toward TVotR's funky side than their previous offerings, but hearing songs like "Second Song" proves that's actually a pretty good thing.

2. The Go! Team
Rolling Blackouts

RIYL: Cheerleaders, explosions (of confetti), saying everything in double dutch time

The formula hasn't steered them wrong yet, why would they change it - especially when they seem to have come closer to perfecting it here than ever before.

1. Bon Iver
Bon Iver, Bon Iver

RIYL: Beards

It's the fashionable pick this year, but it got that way for a reason. I tried to resist the siren call, it didn't work. Each of these songs feels like part of my daily life at this point. If the lyrics don't quite have that naked emotional honesty that The National struck last year with High Violet (and I don't think they quite do), the music itself does more than enough speaking. It whispers, it strains, it breathes, it squalls - and Justin Vernon's weirdly compelling voice sails the album through that storm. In the Grammy nominated (!?) Holocene, he sings "...and at once I knew, I was not magnificent..."

Meh, I disagree.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 30 Songs of 2011

Yeah, ya heard. Thirty. Because twenty wouldn't have been enough. I made a Spotify playlist out of these songs. They all require a listen, so go ahead and do that.

Also, I had written all of this list down, along with writeups that I was feeling pretty good about (probably somewhere in the range of  1000 words. I was proofreading everything, when suddenly my computer rebooted, and when I came back, Blogspot had saved precisely nothing. My fury is undying.

Enough complaining, on with the list.

Edit: The Spotify Playlist is now live. A few of the songs aren't available on Spotify, but 24 of them are.

30. Tim Hecker - The Piano Drop
Ravedeath, 1972

The first time you hear this song, it sounds like noise. Each subsequent listen reveals just a little more until suddenly you're finding yourself riding along with the rattling lower sounds and feeling giddy every time the higher sounds start pulsating from left to right. Listening to this song on a good sound system in a completely dark room is one of the more revelatory experiences of the year.

29. Wugazi - Sleep Rules Everything Around Me
13 Chambers

Okay, so maybe there is a clear number so far as machups are concerned. Hearing Raekwon's and Inspektah Deck's raps from "C.R.E.A.M." laid over the haunting piano from "I'm So Tired" makes it feel like those song were meant for each other in the first place. By the time Ian MacKaye comes in singing "I'm so tired/sheep are counting me", I wasn't sure I wanted to hear them any other way.

28. Cults - Abducted

Boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy, boy emotionally abducts girl, knowing that he'll never feel for her what she feels for him - it's a classic story, but Maddie Follin sings it with such conviction that it still feel fresh. "It tore me apart, cause I really loved him." Ah, haven't we all been there?
27. Jonathan Coulton - Want You Gone
Portal 2

"Still Alive" was, in its own little way, a huge thing that sort of came out of nowhere. It would have been easy for Jonathan Coulton to rest on his laurels and write a silly song about cake and lies. Instead, he easily tops his earlier success with "Want You Gone". "I used to want you dead, but now I only want you gone." is one of my favorite lyrics of the year, comedic or no.

26. Florence and the Machine - Shake It Out

I mentioned te other day that I'm kind of over Florence and the Machine as an album artist, but every so often, they can still craft a hell of a song. "Shake It Out" has everything I want from them - huge voice, huge hook, huge arrangement. Florence's voice has never sounded like it deserves to be booming from every radio on earth to the extent that it does here.

25. Cage the Elephant - Shake Me Down
Thank You, Happy Birthday

After yesterday, you knew it ad to be on here somewhere. The last minute or so of the song is obviously what lands it a spot here, but taken as a whole, it's just a good throwback rock song.

24. Elbow - The Birds
Build a Rocket Boys!

Like I said, Guy Garvey knows how to craft an epic tune. He and the rest of the band make this 8+ minute song seem half that long.

23. The Antlers - No Widows
Burst Apart

It took a while for me to warm up to Burst Apart, but I took to "No Widows" instantly. The lyrics are haunting, the roiling undercurrent of the song is the perfect kind of dark churn, and Peter Silberman turns in one of his most understated vocal performances on the album. It never kicks it up a notch - it doesn't have to. When you've got a song with that much character, you don't need to add theatrics.

22. Childish Gambino - Heartbeat

Who would've known that a beat that sounds like it was lifted from a Justice b-side would be the perfect vehicle for an emo-rap about post-relationship limbo? The last verse here owns.

21. Kendrick Lamar - A.D.H.D.
Section 80

This might be the most atmospheric rap song of the year. The lyrics are sharp, the hook is memorable, and the production feel like it's breathing. I didn't hear the album early enough for it to really have a chance to sink in, but this song hasn't left my iPod for more than a day or two since I first heard it.

20. Viva Voce - Black Mood Ring
The Future Will Destroy You

The absolute highlight of one of themost underrated albums of the year. The ending, where Anita just sings "I won't be coming back" over and over and the almost country-sounding guitar locks in and slowly fades out is another favorite moment of mine this year.
19. Doomtree - Beacon
No Kings

Dessa songs are generally my favorite Doomtree songs. When she teams up with P.O.S., it's even better. This one was a guaranteed hit with me based on that alone, but then you consider the almost video game inspired beat and great lines like "You called it in the air/It landed on its edge/when the crowd gathered round/you turned tail/I turned heads" (another favorite lyric this year).

18. Lana Del Rey - Blue Jeans
Video Games

I thought that "Video Games" was alright, but "Blue Jeans" was the one that really grabbed me. "I will love you til the end of time/I would wait a million years" might be one of the most heart-wrenching lines of the year. If Lana Del Rey can follow up with anything even remotely this good, she'll be worth the hype.

17. Adele - Rolling in the Deep

Yeah, it got super overplayed, and it seemed for a while like it was all they played on the radio. There was a reason for that. This is a tune. It burns with a controlled anger ("You're gonna wish you never had met me", indeed). Adele owned 2001, and rightfully so.

16. Panda Bear - Tomboy

There are lyrics to this song. I only really know that because I looked them up online. They're not particularly important, because Noah Lennox's voice is just another instrument in this song - but what an instrument. They overlap, dart, and weave into the very fabric of 'Tomboy'. They (and the guitars, I suppose) make this my favorite Panda Bear song to date.

15. Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks

Right before this song surprisingly got huge, people acted genuinely surprised that this song had a dark undercurrent. I don't see how that's possible. The bassline bleeds menace. It's really the bassline that does a lot of the heavy lifting in this song. Sure the hook is catchy as hell, but there's always that bassline, just waiting for you to get too comfortable...

14. M83 - Midnight City
Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.

I'm not breaking any new ground by calling 2011 the 'year of the saxophone'. Bon Iver used it, so did The Rapture and Destroyer. Hell, even Lady Gaga and Katy Perry released singles that prominently featured the saxophone. Even still, the winner for 'Best Saxophone of 2011' has to go to "Midnight City". Sorry, Katy, at least you had that video with Kenny G.

13. Burial - Stolen Dog
Street Halo

When Street Halo was announced, I was hoping that it would have the traditional Burial sound. I needn't have worried, I guess. The best song on the EP is "Stolen Dog", which is maybe the best distillation to date of what Burial does very well. There's plenty of artists who employ the skittering future garage beat, but I can't think of another artist who does so which this much warmth and bona-fide human feeling to it.

12. Bon Iver - Calgary
Bon Iver, Bon Iver

I like "Holocene" and all, but I was surprised to hear that the majority consensus is that it's one of the best songs of the year. I'd say it's not even the best song on the album (that would be this one, just so we're clear).

11. The Vaccines - All in White
What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?

"All in White" sounds vaguely like something that Interpol would've made a few years ago. That's by no means a bad thing. Justin Young's exasperated exclamation of "Lord I know your type..." is great.

10. ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Summer of All Dead Souls
Tao of the Dead

Trail of Dead are pretty good at making rock music sound big. Some people have lamented the fact that that's the type of music they want to make now. I'm not one of those people.

9. Beastie Boys - Make Some Noise
Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2

The video's fantastic, but this song for me meant one thing above all.

The Beastie Boys are back.

8. James Blake - The Wilhelm Scream
James Blake

It's just one phrase, repeated over and over again, deteriorating a little bit every time, until staticy electronica threatens to overtake the whole song. Then James Blake does something genius, he brings it all back into focus for one last run through. "I don't know about my dreams/I don't know about my dreamin' anymore/All that I know is/I'm fallin', fallin' fallin'/Might as well fall in".

7. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong

Crunchy guitars, soothing vocals, superhuge chorus. A great anthem.

6. TV on the Radio - Second Song
Nine Types of Light

In yesterday's list, I made note of the fact that this song made me smile more than any other song this year. It's absolutely true. The hook is just so funky. It demands movement. I hate dancing, and I grooved to this song every time it came on in the car. The song will not be denied.

5. The Weeknd - House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls
House of Balloons

It's the sample. Mindless Self Indulgence used it and became stars in their own super-weird way. The Weeknd appropriated it, and made the most undeniable party song of the year. Every time I heard this song, I instantly wanted to start one of those lurid, almost kind of creepy parties. Then 'Glass Table Girls' starts, and everyone remembers why those parties are usually terrible ideas.

4. Tyler, the Creator - Yonkers


I mean, how could Goblin not be awesome with a lead single this good??

3. The National - Exile Vilify
Portal 2

I'm still not sure exactly what this song has to do with Portal 2. A radio in one of the test chambers is playing this haunting, piano-driven piece. I carried that radio around the entire chamber, it was very inconvenient to do so, but I didn't even consider leaving the radio behind. Come to think of it, I didn't leave the radio behind on any of the subsequent playthroughs, either.

2. Radiohead - Codex
The King of Limbs

This song could easily be the sequel (or maybe prequel?) to "Pyramid Song". Same structure, with a somber piano providing the skeleton, and Thom Yorke giving his best vocal performance on the whole of The King of Limbs.

1. The Go! Team - Buy Nothing Day
Rolling Blackouts

Give Ian Parton a lot of credit, this song was recorded before Bethany Cosentino became huge with Best Coast. Only this blows away anything she's ever done with that band. It's just a bomb of up tempo bliss that caught my ear and wouldn't let go. It's been a long time since I've just flat out enjoyed a song this much. Expect tambourines, expect fun, and expect the catchiest song of 2011.