If you’ve had trouble playing the audio to the first 30 tracks posted, hopefully they will be more accessible now that I’ve updated the format of my blogs. Yes, I’m an idiot and just realized you can post excerpts leading to a page that is devoted solely to the one blog entry. I think you’ll find some pretty amazing songs in my top 30, and my hope is that someone out there discovers a song that will have the same affect on them that they’ve had on me. Enjoy, and Happy Holidays! (Top 40 Albums coming next week…)
30. “East Harlem”
This past summer my brother, his wife, and I went to Portland for a week of hiking. After several days of strolling through the lush Pacific Northwest landscape, we got a hotel near the airport to prepare for our return home early the next morning. But I wasn’t ready to wrap up my trip just yet, so I made a last-minute decision to take a cab by myself to see Beirut play at the legendary Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland. The show was absolutely phenomenal. The music, the ballroom, and the people made me feel like I was in some type of dream world. To this day, when I listen to Beirut’s “East Harlem,” that night and the sheer joy felt returns to my heart and mind.
“Wildfire” is undeniable. The melody and the beat will have your head bobbing and shoulders swaying within seconds. Play this for a room of people, and then sit back and watch the song’s energy spread across the room like a wildfire.
28. “Palm Tree Corpse”
This is not a gimmick pick, I promise. Yes, the notion of a man who wants to “take a tree branch and ram it inside you” is a bit outlandish and silly, but I promise you, I absolutely love this song (and not simply because it makes me giggle). There is no other song in 2011 that is this horrifyingly mysterious and in-your-face. By the time Ian Fernow’s freak-out arrives at the 2:55 mark it becomes glaringly clear that this is more intense than any black metal in 2011 (no distortion necessary).
The first track on Bon Iver’s highly anticipated self-titled album, “Perth” eases you into the album with a calming guitar riff alongside a soft choir of Justin Vernons. Soon after, the snares arrive, building toward what I would describe as a Sufjan-esque explosion. When it finally spills over and arrives, trumpets, distorted guitars, and double bass drum pounding proclaim that Bon Iver has arrived.
26. “Beat and the Pulse”
Layer upon layer upon layer upon layer. This song builds up, one part at a time, all materializing before your ears like a box of magic-self-assembling Legos. It all comes to its jubilant culmination when Katie Stelmanis finally bellows “Feel it break! Feel it break!”
Tyler, the Creator
I felt compelled to use the video for this one:
I gave Tyler’s “Goblin” quite a beating earlier this year, and deservedly so. The two best songs on the album, “Sandwitches” and Yonkers,” came out as singles prior to the recording of the album. It was rap production at its worst, although it did somehow get Tyler widespread notoriety. ”Yonkers” is a reminder of what a young talent is when not attacking silly targets like bloggers and Fox News. Let’s hope he keeps his focus on speaking his mind like he does on “Yonkers” and not trying to simply shock people.
24. “Burn that Cat”
If I had a list of the best liner notes for 2011, UV Race’s offering in “Homo” would win hands down. For each song, the band describes with blunt detail what each song is about. My favorite song summary has to be for “Burn that Cat”:
The second song is Burn That Cat. This song came about from a bad dream I had. I dreamt that I was walking down the street and a cop stopped me and asked to look in my back pack. I said sure and then he pulled out a 1kg bag of cocaine and then whispered to me you’re fucked now. He then put his hand down my pants and started to finger my rectum and was laughing in an evil way. He then turned into a cat and I took him home and chucked him in the fire. I was shouting burn that cat burn that cat I was very angry at the cat. I really like the chorus of this song “I’ve been having bad dreams.”
“Vomit” starts as a slow, plodding song, telling the story of a broken-hearted soul-searching for love. If you feel like the first four minutes drag-on-and-on with a viscous melancholy, than you get it. That’s the point. At the 4:30 mark the song takes a turn toward desperation with a gospel choir arriving, their voices providing hope for this hopeless romantic, lost and only looking for someone to “come in to (his) heart”.
22.”Mr. Broken Bird”
La Big Vic
For some reason, saxophones became cool again in 2011. Bon Iver, Lady GaGa, and even Katie Perry took advantage of the instrument that hasn’t been considered cool since Kenny G put it to rest in the late 80s. Amidst all the saxophone tomfoolery in music today, the best melody honked out of the legendary horn in 2011 can be found on La Big Vic’s “Mr. Broken Bird.” The saxophonist on the song is no Clarence Clemons or Collin Stetson, in fact the sax on the song sounds a little like a middle schooler robotically finding his way around the horn. Yet this amateurish quality gives the saxophone breaks in the song their charm.
21. “Putting the Dog to Sleep”
The Antler’s “Burst Apart” will tug at your heartstrings throughout, and by the time the final track, “Putting the Dog to Sleep,” arrives, you’ll double over in agony. The song could be about the end of a relationship, a continuation of the themes conjured up on their last album “Hospice”, or literally about putting a dog to sleep. Whatever the case, the message is clear: “I don’t want to die alone.” If that doesn’t put a lump in your throat, you’ve probably already been put down.
20. “Zombie By the Cranberries”
Andrew Jackson Jihad
If Woody Guthrie were still alive, he’d probably write a song like “Zombies By the Cranberries.” It features all Woody’s best attributes: it’s honest, funny, and tragic.
19. “Playing House”
Active Child (featuring How to Dress Well)
When I first listened to Active Child’s album “You Are All I See,” it reminded me a lot of How To Dress Well’s 2010 release “Love Remains.” So you can imagine my surprise/elation when I saw that Tom Krell offered up his skills on the song “Playing House.” The result is R&B-falsetto-debauchery.
18. “Witchhunt Suite for WWIII”
Ariel Pink and the Haunted Graffiti
This year marked the 10 year anniversary of the attacks on 9/11, and leading up to September 11th, news channels were inundated with stories looking back at that somber day. 10 years ago Ariel Pink began work on his own dedication to the events that led up to that day and the witch hunt that followed. The song and its video present an outsider’s view of the attacks and the “war on terror.” It’s a weird song, and an even odder video, resulting in an experience that will boggle and challenge your mind.
I recently heard someone say that we are all two or three bad decisions away from being homeless. Sobering words in this time of uncertainty. Richard Buckner’s gruff voice captures best how close we all ride on the precipice of poverty (at least the 99%):No one’s ending up with what they thought they’d figured out. Well, this is what they get, cold and lost, close calls take their tolls some days. The threads hang down; pull one out, the world falls away.
I got into BOAT because they write catchy songs, write hilarious lyrics, and sound a lot like Pavement. It also didn’t hurt that they provided the soundtrack to the briefly run TV show “Brewmasters” (Anheuser Busch = Satan). But something different drew me to BOAT’s “Landlocked.” It wasn’t the humor, or the melody, or even the Pavement comparison – the song has a bittersweet sentiment that is hard to ignore.
15. “Bad Worn Thing”
Wire is still kicking out great songs after all these years, and with “Bad Worn Thing” the prove they have pop-hit chops, even though I doubt you’ll hear lyrics like this on Hit Radio:
They clip their speech
They clip your wings
The absent tribe
Of missing links
Of vodka kings
The over crowded
Nature of things
14. “It’s Real”
How can a guitar lead be so simple yet so great? How can a chorus be so generic yet stick in your head so quickly? The fact that these two qualities overshadow my hatred of love songs, and it’s clear why “It’s Real” is the real deal.
13. “A Little Bit of Everything”
On paper I should hate the Dawe’s song “It’s a Little Bit of Everything.” It’s a little bit melodramatic, a little bit predictable, and a little bit over-produced. Despite these attributes, the tragic stories told in this song will have you captivated and possibly in tears. The song would have probably ranked even higher on the list if it weren’t for the schmaltzy final story of the pretty girl preparing for her wedding day. I get that Dawe’s wanted to bring a message of love and hope to the song, but it comes off as such a huge let-down after the first two crushing tales. Call me morbid.
“Cruel” is part angelic, part funk, part dance, part post-punk, and entirely amazing.
11. “Get Away”
I know, this song sounds a lot like Superchunk, and Dinosaur Jr., and Teenage Fan Club; just accept it and enjoy the irresistible melody of this 90s-indie-rock-platter.
10. “Fire Fire, Water Water”
It was love at first listen with Rafter’s “Fire Fire, Water Water.” When I’m checking out new music, I often peruse YouTube, and my first experience with Rafter’s brand of noisy pop music was this song. Of course, I couldn’t get enough of the jangly distortion that tries its darndest to mask the infectious melody. I’ve listened to the rest of the album and as much as I try to enjoy it in its entirety, I just keep going back to “Fire Fire, Water Water” to get lost once again in its manic melody.
In June, I dared readers not to get chills from listening to Low’s “Majesty/Magic.” This dare in still in play. I know I have my crutches as a writer, and the terms “epic” and “emotional swells” get dallied around quite a bit (even in this list), but those two descriptors have never been more true than when describing this masterpiece by Low.
8. “It Takes Time To Be A Man”
The Rapture’s 2011 album “In the Grace of Your Love” sounds quite a bit different from their classic 2003 release “Echoes,” and the song “It Takes Time To Be A Man” sounds vastly different from the rest of the songs on “In the Grace of Your Love” (if that makes sense…). It’s not post-punk nor is it electronica dance. It’s 1960s soul music. Yes, soul music. For a bunch of white guys, The Rapture sure do know how to bring it.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
On June 8th, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks released a song called “Senator” with the memorable line “what the senator wants is a blow job.” Anthony Weiner resigned from his position as senator on June 21st after his habit of sexting multiple women pictures of his penis was exposed. Coincidence? I think not. The power of Malkmus compels you.
6. “Jesus Fever”
Don’t get me wrong – Kurt Vile’s “Smoke Ring For My Halo” is meant to be listened as a whole. It’s an “album man’s” album. But of all the great songs on this album, “Jesus Fever” stands out the most. Amidst an album of solemn, personal songs, “Jesus Fever” provides a moment to breathe with its steady drum-machine and cheery guitar riff. Just don’t pay attention to the borderline suicidal lyrics, and you’ll be just fine.
5. “Riding For the Feeling”
This summer I saw Bill Callahan perform, and as you can imagine, when he performed “Riding For the Feeling” near the end of the show, it felt as if he were speaking to me and the others in the crowd. In the song, he captures the intimate relationship between an artist and its audience, that moment at a show where there is a connection made through the music. And like a one night stand, the artist goes on their way, leaving the audience reeling for more. What makes the song even more remarkable is the honesty with which Callahan portrays the comedown that follows a show. The artist returns to their hotel room, alone and questioning what they could have done differently. But they always have to move on, riding for that feeling that comes with each performance. In the end, it’s a song about living for those moments of communion with others (no matter how brief).
4. “The Other Shoe”
There just aren’t enough anthemic rock songs about “Dying on the inside,” are there? On “The Other Shoe” Fucked Up make depression exciting. Instead of hiding those empty feelings away, Pink Eye’s raspy growl screams out a celebratory declaration that, yes, I’m dying on the inside, and I love it. Back in the 70s John Lennon immersed himself in Primal Scream Therapy, and I’m pretty sure he would approve of Fucked Up’s “The Other Shoe” with its ability to release those repressed feelings, expelling the pain with each hearty bark.
I’m a single male, no kids, and overall, I’m pretty content with this arrangement (or was). Then along came the Fleet Foxes’ “Montezuma,” disrupting my entire existence. The opening lyrics will send any person between the ages of 25-40 into a premature mid-life crisis: “So now I am older than my mother and father / when they had their daughter /now what does that say about me.” By the time the chorus “Oh man what I used to be” arrives, you’ll be questioning every choice you’ve ever made in your life. It’s a “Road Not Taken” for the 21st century.
2. “Niggas In Paris”
Jay-Z and Kanye West
A week ago Kanye and Jay-Z performed “Niggas in Paris” ten times in a row to close their show in Los Angeles. This is something you’d expect from a one-hit-wonder like Skeelo (“I Wish I Was A Little Bit Taller”), but Kanye and Jay-Z both have such deep catalogs of music that it seemed like a strange playlist choice. Then again, watching any YouTube video of the encore will prove that not only did the crowd enjoy the multiple performances of the song, each time riled the masses up even more, leading to a frothing sea of zombie-fans. And who can blame them? The fuzzy breakdown for the final minute of “Niggas in Paris” is the type of head-nodding bedlam that reminds everyone why these two are head-and-shoulders above any other hip-hop act when it comes to production value. There’s no need to “defend the throne” boys; I think you’ve got your status pretty well secured.
1. “Peace On the Rise”
With most songs on this list, I can provide a reason why I love them. Maybe it’s the lyrics, the complex structure, or even the dissonance of the guitars, but with Chad VanGaalen’s “Peace On the Rise,” I can’t specify what attracts me. The lyrics of a dream-land are ambiguous, the song doesn’t divert from its simple, steady rhythm, and the guitars are only masked by a hint of reverb. Despite its simplicity, I am absolutely consumed by this song. This past summer I couldn’t quit listening to it or watching the strange cartoon video that goes along with it. I guess it all comes down to the visceral reaction I have to the song. 2011 may not have been a peaceful year, filled with protests, poverty, and political unrest, but for those four and half minutes, this song will wrap you in its comfortable confines, stirring up a serene solitude within.
Here’s to peace in 2012.