Top Tracks 2011: In 80 Minutes or Less

I’ve given you 2011’s best albums. Now, behold, the year’s top tracks in 80 minutes or less, as selected by a distinguished panel of me.

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NB: For about half these artists, I would’ve chosen more than one track (esp. Fleet Foxes, Twin Sister, Dawes, Real Estate). So there are some pretty great tracks that didn’t make the cut.

"Chinatown" by Destroyer & "Stop" by Twin Sister: It’s difficult for me to separate these two out, because I love them for very similar reasons. Both feature dueling male/female vocals, romantic themes, 80’s soft-soul ambiance, and just the right touch of silliness and excess. This was the sound of 2011 in my book.  (“You can’t believe/The way the wind’s talking to the sea/I heard that someone said it before/I don’t care/I can’t walk away/I can’t walk away…”)

"Calgary" by Bon Iver: I’ve never been an admirer of Vernon’s vox, but "Calgary" comes off like the omega to Another Green World‘s alpha. It is quite possibly the most unusual song I heard last year, and also, quite possibly, the very best. Amazing video too.

"It’s Real" by Real Estate: Although I missed the wonderful nostalgic haze of Real Estate’s debut on 2011’s Days, the band’s second LP featured some flip-floppingly breezy garage-pop goodness. "It’s Real" is perhaps the best cut, a sing-along inducing nugget that makes the case for Real Estate being one of the best bands on the block.

"Bedouin Dress" by Fleet Foxes: "Innisfree" is apparently some sort of mythical paradise of Celtic lore, and after hearing Robin Pecknold’s joyful paean to the place, I’m inclined, in the words of Liz Lemon, to "want to go to there." A huge stylistic leap for an already great band, and they nail it. (“And I can’t/No I can’t get through/The borrower’s debt is the only regret of my youth…”)

"Us Against the World" by Coldplay: Chris Martin has to be one of the most under-appreciated songwriters in the world today. True, I’m sure the guy gets "appreciated" mighty well in the pounds-sterling department, but the point is the dude can write a freakin’ song. It’s that point where Martin’s voice ascends into the lyric mimetically that slays me: "If we could float away/Fly up to the surface and just start again/Lift off before trouble just erodes us in the rain…"

"Dear Avery" by The Decemberists: Ready to weep? Listen to this song, envision that bit about grabbing the child "by the knape of [the] neck", and then realize that Meloy wrote this song from the perspective of a parent sending their son off to war. Like "Tears of Rage" without the bitterness(?), this one just makes you want to sigh hallelujah. (“There are times life/Will rattle your bones and will bend your limbs/You’re still far away the boy you’ve ever been/So you bend back and shake at the frame/The frame you made/Don’t you shake alone/Please Avery, come home…”)

"Civilian" by Wye Oak: Last year I included Wye Oak’s "I Hope You Die" on my best tracks list. This year, I’ve included the driving, downtrodden rocker "Civilian", a tune that seems to owe quite a bit to Neil Young’s folk-rock period. Builds from a circular guitar figure into a storm of distorted catharsis, it’s a harrowing take on loneliness, and features great drumming. ("Perfectly able to hold my own hand/But I still can’t kiss my own neck")

"Hard Times" by Gillian Welch: It’s a simple little story of the wearing down of sincere promises, a ballad of poverty, will, and the inevitable. I wasn’t greatly impressed by Welch’s 5th released last year, but this ranks among her very best songs. Listen to those lyrics, and try not to cry. ("C’mon sweet ol’ girl/I bet the whole damn world/We’re gonna make it yet to the end of the road/Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind…”)

"Million Dollar Bill" by Dawes: It starts with that slow-tempo drumming that instantly calls to mind The Band, Big Pink-era, fronted by Richard Manuel. It would be unfair and simply stupid to draw all things Dawes back to The Band, but with "Million Dollar Bill", they offer up something that is unmistakeably a tribute to one of their biggest influences, showing that they are every bit as capable of Robertson’s brotherhood of creating "melt-your-face" Americana. ("When it hits me that she’s gone/I think I’ll run for president/And get my face put on the million dollar bill")

"Turn A Light On" by Kathryn Calder: Of all the tracks on 2011’s Bright And Vivid, "Turn A Light On" most recalls the pleasantly noisy pastoral beauty of Calder’s 2010 debut LP. It emphasizes all of the things that have quickly made her one of my favorite new artists – the airy acoustic strum, the angelic melodies, the gracefully crafted harmonies and dissonant flourishes – and fits in perfectly with the album’s overall theme. ("Throw the table/It began to waver/The wine is cloudy too/So I watch it go/You wonder if/When it’s almost gone/So what’s the use/If you missed it all/We’ll make the rounds/But what’s the use…")

"In My Eyes" by Givers: One of the band’s more "downbeat" tracks, "In My Eyes" is nevertheless still pretty bouncy and catchy and all that. But there’s more texture here, a narrative arc more dynamic than some of the band’s more prominent tunes. The breakdown at the end is one of the band’s best moments, showcasing all of their strengths. Love those voices, love that tropical post-punk sound.

"Supercollider" by Radiohead: 2011 was the full realization of Radiohead’s independent dream. They released not only their shortest album to date, but a couple of outstanding non-LP singles as well. "Supercollider" is the best of the lot, a tense builder that recalls the bleak tunefulness of In Rainbows, the icy synthscapes of Amnesiac, and the utter brilliance of Thom Yorke’s voice.

"Ring Them Bells" by Sarah Jarosz: Oh Mercy! How did this one ever get dropped from the pile o’ Dylan classics? , Thank Jarosz for digging it up. Her voice owns it, and the bluegrass accompaniment weds it with humble joy. (“Ring them bells ye heathen from the city that dreams/Ring them bells from the sanctuaries ‘cross the valleys and streams/For they’re deep and they’re wide/And the world’s on it’s side/And time is running backwards/And so is the bride…”)

"Days Like This" by Over the Rhine: The best cut on Over The Rhine’s latest wasn’t their own tune, but a composition by Kim Taylor. It’s the kind of simple song that lets the strongest of strengths shine forth for Linford and Karin…that voice, the moody instrumentation. Perfection. ("All I wanna do is live my life honestly…")

"Tree By The River" by Iron & Wine: An optimistic and warm address to Mary Ann. "All the thorns and the roses/Beneath your window panes…" A lovely peace of nostalgia.

"One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)" by Wilco: Gorgeous, epic, blissful, unsettling, final, hopeful, sad, wow. Holy blessings what an amazing song. Quite possibly the song that Wilco was destined to make. (“Outside I look lived in/Like the bones in a shrine/How am I forgiven?/Oh, I’ll give it time…”)

Quick Review (LP): Civilian by Wye Oak

Wye Oak
Civilian
Merge; 2011

My Rating: C (49/100)

Best Tracks: "Civilian", "Fish"

NOTES:
– Jenn Wasner sounds an awful lot like Victoria LeGrand from Beach House, which on whole is a good thing.
– Hmmmmm….sounds a bit cranked out, a little too modern rock-ish.
– Beach House comparison are inevitable. Whereas Teen Dream sounded untamed and inter-dimensional, this sounds a little boxed and predictable.
– Compare this to the EP they released last year. There were some amazing tracks there, huge, nuclear songs where the band sounded full of passion. In comparison, they sound a bit over it here.
– "Civilian" is a pretty cool song. Very Neil Young-ish. Nice guitar solo.
– "Plains", I think, is an example of what is wrong with this record. It sort of plods most of the same way, and is periodically interrupted with an explosive passage. The only problem is that it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Seems lazy.
– All in all, this is either a much more subdued and meditative record than last year’s EP, or it is simply not as good. Unfortunately, I’m leaning towards the latter.
– "Dogs Eyes" has a very 90’s indie sound.
– I really appreciate the fact that Jenn Wasner can SING. 
– Both Pitchfork and AMG dig this album. I think they could do a lot better.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (3.5/5)
Consequence (3/5)
Consistency (3/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

Best of 2010 (EP): Top 3 Extended Players

I’ve never been a fan of filler, so I prefer a great EP to a decent full-length, especially because bands often reserve their most obtusely interesting moments for them. Chronic Town, 7 Songs, A Beautiful Place Out In The Country…I could go on. EP’s are less frequent affairs though, so I’m restricting the list to a Top 3 in this category. The competition was stiff. I reviewed 6 EP’s in the last few months of 2010 alone, and I gave 4 of them A’s. Wye Oak and Real Estate both put out strong offerings in this category, and I didn’t even get around to reviewing Crocodiles’ Fires of Comparison (def. solid) or any number of short offerings from newcomers.

 

from famous-painters.org

My Top 3 EP’s of 2010

3. The Seance EP by Stars…With the exception of the last one, the tracks here certainly rival most of the material on The Five Ghosts as synth-pop heavyweights. Exceptionally mix-worthy, as they say. These are the songs you listen to on the way home after the show has ended, with the windows rolled down and the cold night air keeping you awake. And the last one may not be as poppy, but it recalls The Cure’s darker and more ambient work, which fits the same vibe. Nicely done. (read my original review) [listen to “Opinion vs. The Sun”]

2. The Years EP by Memoryhouse…”Sleep Patterns” is fantastic enough to make a new Nickelback EP worth a listen (no it’s not), but the fact is that the other three tracks here measure up as well. This is super-sleepy, even for dream-pop, and it’s the ambient layers that make all the difference. Where a similar act, say, Beach House, emphasizes dynamics and the wall of sound, Memoryhouse prefers drones and blurred over synth effects. Heck, “The Waves” is a dead-ringer for 90’s infomercial new-age ambient kings Enigma. Gotta respect that. So, yeah, Memoryhouse – fantastic nostalgia-rock, chanting Hindi dude not included. (read my original review)  [listen to “Lately”]

1. All Delighted People EP by Sufjan Stevens…Already raved about “All Delighted People.” The rest of the EP is incredible too. Thought I could have done without a “Classic Rock” version of the title track, there’s no denying that Sufjan represents here. “Heirloom” and “From the Mouth of Gabriel” are favorites, and the vocal work on “Enchanting Ghost” sends chills up my spine. Still, it’s “Djohariah” that’s the true wonder here, a birthday tune he wrote for his little sis. Dang prodigies… (read my original review) [listen to “Heirloom”]

Quick Review (EP): My Neighbor/My Creator by Wye Oak

wye-oak-neighbor-creator-cover-art Wye Oak
My Neighbor/My Creator EP
Merge; 2010

My Rating: A-

Best Tracks: “I Hope You Die”, “My Neighbor”

Very nice. “I Hope You Die” was already one of my favorite tracks of the year, and the first three songs are all done really well. Jenn Wasner has a great voice, and the band comes off like a Beach House/Tiny Vipers hybrid, a good thing all around. Again, I’m impressed by the strength of these four songs. I will plan on exploring the rest of their releases after hearing this. My one complaint is that I could have done without the last track, “That I Do”, an indie-rap-folk hybrid of sorts. They just don’t make it work, and it comes off a little silly. Thankfully, it is situated at the end of the playlist, which means that it can be safely ignored. That being said, My Neighbor/My Creator is one of the best EP’s of the year. Highly recommended.

Band Myspace site
Pitchfork review

Top 10 Tracks of 2010 (Midway)

from thesecretstereo.com

This is a bit hastily thrown together, but here it is, 8/23, and I haven’t done it yet, so here goes. No comments, no order, only criteria is that it was released between 1/1/2010 & 6/31/2010. Links provided for samples:

Follow the Train – “Movin”
New Pornographers – “Crash Years”
Memoryhouse – “Sleep Patterns”
Stars – “Fixed”
Cerebellum – “Crawl Out of the Water”
Wye Oak – “I Hope You Die”
Beach House – “Walk in the Park”
Broken Social Scene – “World Sick”
Venice is Sinking – “Tugboat”
Strand of Oaks – “Bonfire”

So there.

Yours?