Thursday, January 19, 2012

Favorite Songs of 2011

Figured I may as well share some tunes and get my favorite songs of last year off my back. Feel free to download by right-clicky, or just push the link and stream the goodness. Get a taste while the government still lets you. Then go buy the albums and support art. Either way, please enjoy.

Some great tuneage to come out this year, hard to order things like this. I figure 40 was a good place to stop. Many artists are repeated, and some of my favorite albums of the year aren't even represented. Oh well. Thousands of songs and these were my very favorites this year. In fact, it really only starts being officially "ordered" around 25 or so, but who cares right? GO.

40. Revolving Doors
by Gorillaz

39. Godless Brother In Love
by Iron & Wine

38. Hex Girlfriend
by Neon Indian

37. Colomb
by Nicolas Jaar

36. Weekend
by Class Actress

35. Unluck
by James Blake

34. The Wall
by Yuck

33. Paradise
by Coldplay

32. My House
by Hercules and Love Affair

31. Belong
by Pains of Being Pure At Heart

30. Moon
by Björk

29. Radio
by Rapael Saadiq

28. Abducted
by Cults

27. Rubber
by Yuck

26. Päivät Valuvat
by Regina

25. Baby Missles
by The War on Drugs
A lovely Springsteenian piece of adrenaline.

24. Bizness
by tUnE-yArDs
Probably be higher if it was still as enjoyable after the initial shock wears off. Still great though.

23. Eyes Be Closed
by Washed Out
This beat was in my head constantly this year. Space-tastic groove.

22. Last Night At the Jetty
by Panda Bear
Always bringing the harmonious psychedelia. Sounds like riding a small row boat on a cloud of cotton candy. With drugs.

21. Helplessness Blues
by Fleet Foxes
Don't be sad. Just listen. Function like a cog.

20. Lotus Flower
by Radiohead
Because it's dub-awesome and Thom does a jig.

19. Midnight City
by M83
Synths, sax, and sass. Sounds like a Tuesday night to me.

18. Dinner
by Blood Orange
His best beat, his most addicting Prince imitation, and it's not even on the album.

17. Amarillo
by Gorillaz
"Put a little love into my lonely soul." - 2D
A wonderfully sad bit of Gorillaz gorgeousness.  

16. (I Wanna Live In A Dream In My) Record Machine
by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds 
A power ballad in the vein of them old school Oasis classics. Still love you, Noel. 

15. Michicant
by Bon Iver
On an album that mostly ditches the subtlety of his first record, it's this sparse little nugget that pleases me most. But you really do need to hear Beth/Rest as well. So there you go.

14. Shuffle a Dream
by Little Dragon 
I never use the word "phat" when describing music, but that's really the only word possible in this case.

13. Artists' Valley
by Bibio
Damn, I used my "phat" quota already...

12. The Edge
Jazzy, hip-hoppy, synthy, flutey, bassy, smoothy.
But you don't have to take my word for it. Da-nuh-nuh!

11. Separator
by Radiohead
Boy, do I love when Radiohead decides to make us some good slow jams. Convincing the wife to make out to Radiohead is that much easier now.

10. Under Cover of Darkness 
by The Strokes
Not that the new album is terrible, but they used to make entire albums full of these. I'm just sayin'.

9. Before
by Washed Out
 I can't understand a word he's saying. But I don't need to. I get it.

8. She Found A Way Out
The aching guitar riff that carries the pain all the way to its blaring climax is the aural equivalent of the heartbroken lyrics around it. Perfection.

7. Ice Cream
by Battles (feat. Matias Aguayo)
It kind of helps to have the visual accompaniment of the music video with this one. It looks exactly how it sounds. Which is awesome. (Be warned, it has some very PG-13 ladies)

6. Go To Hell
by Raphael Saadiq
Glorious power gospel like they used to do. I dare you to try and dislike this song. If you do dislike, go to hell.

by James Morrison
Every album he puts out, there's at least one track that completely soothes my hidden desire for that ultimate pop song. Doesn't matter how cheesy it is, the man can SANG. And sang he does. I'm just waiting for the day we all find out there's actually a hearty black man dubbing over his records. Bring it home, Jimmy.

by The Go! Team (feat. Bethany Cosentino)
To be fair, half of Rolling Blackouts could've made this list. But this is a decent shout-out representative. This song, for whatever reason, hits my nostalgia button with a giant sledge hammer. It's the sound of your greatest adolescent birthday party. The one where you first started noticing girls as GIRLS. Pure, uninhibited, no-nonsense childhood bliss.

3. Shook Down
by Yuck
If "Buy Nothing Day" is the sound of childhood, "Shook Down" is the sound of the awkward teens. You've already noticed girls as GIRLS, but now you notice they can break the hell out of your heart, too. It's the sound of looking back at mid-90's me and thinking "Don't worry, kid. You'll get over it." The final line is George McFly at his most genuine: "You could be my destiny/you could mean that much to me." And the drummer looks like Toad from Super Mario World.

2. Give Up the Ghost
by Radiohead
One of the only songs on this list to truly give me goosebumps the first time I heard it. Imagine sitting around a campfire singing a tune with some ghosts. But they're ghosts of people you know. So, instead of being scary, it ends up being hauntingly beautiful and kind of sad. This one also had a bit of a personal attachment (aside from just being Radiohead), as it sort of became my personal theme song to the tragedy of the Japan earthquake earlier this year. Feeling so close to Japan it was an event that really affected me. Once again, Radiohead becomes the soundtrack of my life.

1. Lindisfarne I and II
by James Blake
Yeah, it's two songs technically. But, only because they're separate tracks on the album. Nobody has any business just listening to one or the other. Even the video fused them together. I don't know how to describe this other than it's probably the most unique and emotional "pop" piece I have heard in years. I found myself listening to this same 5min43sec over...and over...and over. I never do that, I can't stand doing that. But I did that. I couldn't get enough. James Blake knows how to fill every space (even the ones without notes) with tangible emotion. Minimalist perfection. If the whole album had been close to this caliber, it would have blown away all others. It wasn't. But because of Lindisfarne, I am eagerly awaiting this young man's inevitably wonderful career.

Well there you have it. I think I should give a shout out to three songs from years passed that I didn't discover until this year that absolutely ruled my iPod:

Feel It All Around by Washed Out -
might have been #1 if it came out this year.
Nightcall by Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx -
completely made the Drive soundtrack, but was officially released in 2010.
Boy 1904 by Riceboy Sleeps -
I had the album when it came out, but it didn't really hit me until this year. The sound of peeking into heaven when nobody is looking.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Top 10 Albums of 2011

Don't spoil it...
30-11 HERE!
READ ON. You know you want to.
#10. Mind Bokeh 
by Bibio

 Unlike some other album's slow rise to 2011 prominence, Bibio has hovered around the 10 spot for most of the year since its March release. While not as brilliant or cohesive as previous effort Ambivalence Avenue, it does house some of the most deliciously produced beat driven nuggets you're likely to hear.  Unfortunately, an occasional awkward misstep or two disrupts the flow and keeps the album from reaching the top. The guitar driven "Take Off Your Shirt," for example, isn't exactly terrible, but it has absolutely no logical reason to be here. Good thing tunes like "Wake Up!" and "Artists' Valley" help you forgive and mostly forget. The kind of genre-mash grooves your headphones will love you for.

#9. Era Extraña
by Neon Indian 

Though I was a big fan of the first album (especially after seeing their lusciously psychedelic live show), I was initially lukewarm on this sophomore effort. It wasn't until I saw the movie Drive and subsequently became obsessed with the film's nostalgic cool and hazy melancholy that I noticed a strikingly similar emotion coming from Era Extrana. The more I explored this realization, the more I came to absolutely love this album's heart thumping, mind numbing, electro-shoegaze. Its exceptionally pleasurable on "Fallout," as Alan Palomo repeatedly laments "Please let me fall out of love with you..." until the song fades out slowly like a boom box being dropped into the ocean. At least it sounds like that's what he's saying. Not being able to clearly make out the words is part of the appeal.

#8. Stone Rollin'
by Raphael Saadiq

Ah, how sweet it is. I sure do love that Motown sound. This is the kind of R&B flavor I prefer these days. While a few artists (particularly The Weeknd) are doing wonders with modern twists on the genre, they're still a bit too "bitches n' hoes" for me to fully digest. But Raph brings the throwback so gloriously once again with this album, and I really do appreciate it. The party going down on the cover is perfect. They look old school, but the comfortable racial mix of folks including the hip Nicki Minaj-ish chick up front seem to throw it back into 2011. (Not to mentoin Rajon Rondo behind her.) There's a moment on standout track "Radio," at about the 2:34 mark, where Raph belts out an epic James Brown yelp that sends my mind into euphoric bliss. In fact, that moment alone might be enough to solidify it comfortably in the top ten. That and a cameo by Yukimi Nakano ("Movin' Down the Line") will always get you far. Speaking of Yukimi...

 #7. Soita Mulle
by Regina 

I can't even remember how I came to know of this group now. They just sort of appeared. And the next thing I knew, this Finnish dream pop album was gracing my top ten with it's beautifully melodic sweet nothings bouncing about. I'm pretty sure this is the highest ranking foreign language album (excluding Sigur Ros and a handful of Japanese albums) that I've ever had. There's a distinct mood of nostalgia in tunes like "Päivät Valuvat" that make my emotions remember something my mind can't. The audio equivalent of a fuzzy but happy childhood memory. It is a shame the cover has such misplaced and wretchedly orange typography displaying the album title. Not shameful enough to keep me from loving the hell out of this thing though.

I think it was Matt Lorke that showed them to me. Thanks, Matt.

 #6. Ritual Union
by Little Dragon 
Like many, I didn't know of this group until Yukimi's two euphoric appearances on my favorite album of last year, Gorillaz's Plastic Beach. Her voice is a magnet to my soul. Naturally, an entire album of such heaven can't be bad, right? RIGHT. With a slightly less straight forward approach than previous album Machine Dreams, Yukimi kicks it up a notch in the vocals department while the band dub-steps alongside her ever so slightly. Yukimi has an amazing ability to roll around tracks like "Please Turn" with a subtle yet soulful ride on the offbeat. Elsewhere, cuts like "Shuffle A Dream" and "Crystalfilm" perfectly display the range of emotions on hand with the synthy romp of the former and spacey minimalism of the latter. The album is a smooth Swedish karate chop to the groove gland. And I very much enjoy it.

#5. Within and Without
by Washed Out
Boy am I glad Washed Out dropped on my head this year. I happened upon this album's fantastic lead single "Eyes Be Closed" and was immediately intrigued. Seeing that an official album was still a month or so away, I searched out Ernest Green's previous work and like a punch in the face, "Feel It All Around" from Life of Leisure became the most played song on my iPod this year. I had no clue who this guy was, and almost overnight his first full length was my most anticipated album of the summer. Upon arrival, I was slightly disappointed at the album's easy going smoothness. But then I realized it wasn't simply was SMOOVENESS. That's right, this album is SMOOVE. Persistent beats with a hypnotic delicacy highlighted by Greene's subtle melodic whispers. Its a direct link to whatever it is that produces endorphins. To put it simply, it sounds exactly like the cover looks.  

#4. Yuck
by Yuck

While a couple groups hinted at 90's revival this year, Yuck decided to smack you right in the face with a 90's tennis racket. Luckily for them, I happened to really enjoy this era of rock, and thus really...REALLY...enjoyed this album. And judging by the attention they got in 2011, I wasn't the only one. Gritty, fuzzy guitars chug along as if they didn't even know the last 10 years of laptop rock ever happened. My Bloody Valentine ("Rubber"), Pavement ("Get Away"), a hint of old school Smashing Pumpkins ("Operation")...these are all groups that could be credited with influencing Yuck. Still, they do bring a slight modern flare to it all. In fact, the group I first attached to wasn't a 90's band, or even a real band at all: Sex Bob-Ombs anyone? When I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and soaked in its monstrously enjoyable soundtrack (which cracked into my top 20 last year), I couldn't help but think "Man, when are bands gonna start sounding like again?" Right now, it turns out.

#3. Dreams Come True
For whatever reason, my love for Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest has dwindled slightly since it sat pretty at #2 on my '09 list. I think its Daniel Rossen's voice. Good thing this side project by that band's bassist/all-star producer (with help from Twin Shadow) is nothing like it. In fact, though it is more of an experiment in the electronic side of things, it has more in common with Yellow House which, on the other hand, has aged magnificently since '06. Similarities lie in the understated melodies, subtle shifts in form, and a dream-like atmosphere. While opener "Too Late, Too Far" has a Prince-meets-Grizzly Bear vibe, songs like "Believe" let Neon Indian take a stab at chamber pop with extremely pleasing results. But the album truly soars on "She Found A Way Out," which starts out quiet enough focussing on acoustic guitar and Taylor's incredible voice (eat it Rossen). But it soon crescendo's into a wall of sound and Taylor capping a doomed relationship (his own?); "She finally found a way out."A beautifully sad, wonderfully produced album of experimental pop. 

#2. The King of Limbs
by Radiohead
 Dangit...I sure do hate admitting Radiohead didn't have the greatest album of the year. Even if it was close. Like everyone else, I was let down by the King of Limbs at first. But like all of their albums, after a little marination in my skull the rewards have been plentiful. Yes, Radiohead is my favorite band of all time, and I have a slight bias. People tell me, "You wouldn't like it as much if it wasn't Radiohead." On the contrary, I think we all would like this album much more if it WASN'T.  This album's reception has suffered because of the name it's attached to and the back catalog its up against. No, its not even close to the caliber of In Rainbows. In fact, as far as Radiohead goes, it is sort of "just ok." But the fact is (and I'll argue this until I die), a mediocre Radiohead album is still better than almost everything else. In my opinion, it's better than all but one album! As always, the production is amazing, the tunes are intricately layered, the overall flow is impeccable, and Thom's voice is as good as ever. Listen to "Bloom" and "Morning Mr. Magpie" loudly in great headphones. Hell, listen to the whole thing loudly in good headphones. And be sure and watch the From the Basement live special. The bonus tunes added, and the live versions of the songs I though were boring at first ("Little By Little", "Codex") are incredible. Speaking of the b-sides, every time I hear the gems that didn't make an album, I'm reminded that Radiohead are amazing editors of their material. Radiohead still have yet to make a song I dislike since their debut. 

#1. Rolling Blackouts
by The Go! Team
This will surprise many. It sure has surprised me. And like I said, it was close. It wasn't until I started doing my "math" and looking at all the pro's and cons and analyzing my inner soul that I let myself admit that this album completely kicked my trash from start to finish, the entire year. In fact, I first heard it at the end of 2010 (thanks again Matt), so one might say it's had the advantage of time. Then again that could be a disadvantage if the album isn't solid. There aren't many surprises here if you've heard the band before. But while they don't change the formula too much from album to album, there isn't another band like them that I know of. This album is a front to back compilation of nearly perfect pop. "Secretary Song" throws me back into the streets of Tokyo (and I thought that before I saw the video), while "Ready To Go Steady" and "Buy Nothing Day" makes me wish Cults would've tried just a little harder to make their own punk-meets-Motown formula this addicting. About five songs in you start waiting for the next track to be a dud. But it simply never happens. Just as you wind down from the previous track, the next socks you right in the gut yet again. Though I loved the first, I didn't hear their second album. And I wonder if that "rest" from their barrage has given Rolling Blackouts more pack to its punch. Perhaps it's because it sounds like cities in Japan look, perhaps it's the fact that it sounds like it could be a greatest hits of my favorite Saturday Morning Cartoons themes... not sure. Whatever it is, I can't get enough.

Well, there you have it. If'n yer lucky, I just may make my songs and movies list as well.

Smother by Wild Beasts
Tom Boy by Panda Bear
Wasting Light by Foo Fighters
Fluorescence by Asobi Seksu
Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron & Wine
WHOKILL by Tune-Yards
Passive Me, Aggressive You by The Naked & the Famous
Port Entropy by Shugo Tokumaru
Odd Soul by Mutemath
Audio, Visual, Disco by Justice

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ressurection: Albums of 2011.


Happy New Year. 

I have resurrected this Bloggish Realm.  

Why? Well, I want to talk about stuff online, of course. But I want to make it look decent too. To the best of my ability, anyway.  Facebook is too bland. I'm sure there are plenty of better blog sites that give me more control and what not. But, I have this one already, and I can't be bothered with all that other stuff. So, for now, I shall press forward. 

And with that, what better way to start anew on this New Year's day than with my...
You guys know how I like my lists. 'Specially them music listations. So here are the albums that tickled my fancy oh so nicely this past year (30-11 first, so as to keep from getting to winded at once). 
I tried something I've never done this year: I attempted to mathematically justify my positions. 

I took these albums, assigned them a point each (out of 10) for the following:
Creativity (does it push them boundaries?)
Catchiness (do the songs get in your head and never leave?)
Consistency (is it cohesive and constantly delivering in the first two categories?)
Connection (after all that, was it an enjoyable experience?).  

Then, I took the average. Its the most math I've done in years. The numbers themselves aren't very interesting, many were "mathematically" tied (because of that I probably won't show them here). But this gloriously nerdy approach helped me personally eliminate any possible bias and made it a little easier to "see" the pros and cons of each while I decided which albums truly kicked my arse. 

That's right, I am a true music nerd.

(Also, if you so desire, on Facebook I did post some playlists of albums I enjoyed this year. A sample of all these are included in such. Linky:  FACEBOOK PLAYLISTS)

With that, lets get to it already...

Mylo Xyloto 
by Coldplay

Pleasantly surprised by the shift in style here. Still, it is the first time a Coldplay album hasn't ranked in my end of year top ten. Despite that, I'm still not afraid to admit I like Coldplay. But can we all just agree that Rihanna needs to retire soon?

Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
by Mogwai

Mogwai doesn't change the formula too much with each release. But there are some uncharacteristically upbeat numbers here that are palate cleansing. Chomp!

Coastal Grooves
by Blood Orange

Worst album cover of the year. But a lovely Prince-ish jive helps shake that outta yer head. The singer is black, by the way. (That's only interesting after you hear him sing.)

by Cut Copy

Synths. 80's. Long songs. Dance. 


Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds

Hey, Noel! It kind of makes me happy that Noel's post-Oasis album wipes the floor with Liam's. Noel always seemed a nicer chap. While Liam took Oasis's grit, Noel takes the epic melodies and power ballads. Follow where you will, Oasis fans.

Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
by M83

This one is still growing on me, actually. The epic cheese of the 80's is represented here in a very hip, of-the-moment way. Quite a few albums taking cues from their dad's Adult Contemporary records this year.

by The Strokes

I admit I expected much more from this album when it arrived. But, thankfully, "just ok" Strokes is still pretty good. Probably their most eclectic album, which deserves props.

by The Pains of Being Pure At Heart

Expected more from this one too. Its still fun, but not as genuine as their first album. I sure do dig the Pumpkins sound that tends to emerge, though. A nice splice of great 80's and 90's sounds.

by Cults

60's girl groups. Power-pop choruses. Hair flipping. Sexy, but not sleazy. Thumbs up, heads up. 

Helplessness Blues
by Fleet Foxes

Everyone seemed to love this album much more than I did. I'm still trying to figure out why I don't love it more. But, for now, I do enjoy it enough to put it at #21. Great old-school grooves and harmonies reminiscent of the best 70's folk rock groups. Its probably a good idea to have it higher on your own list.

Blue Songs
by Hercules and Love Affair

Really odd, flamboyantly gay, and infectiously groovy dance tunes. The group sounds best when they ape the sounds of 90's house music, which they do on occasion here. Sega Genesis...Streets of Rage.

Gloss Drop
by Battles

One of the most unique sounds around town. I really have no idea how to explain this band's brain-melting bombast. They will beat you up with their awesomeness, if you let them. DO IT.

by Class Actress

Extremely fuzzy and extremely good synth pop. Hearing stuff like this really comforts my soul when compared to the excrement that's passed as "pop" on the radio. Take note, Mrs. Perry. I mean, stay hot...but take note.

Underneath the Pine
by Toro y Moi

Sometimes you just need a soundtrack to chillin' on the beach. Especially when you live in Utah. And the guy that'll give it to you is named Chazwick Bundick. Yes...he is.

Space Is Only Noise
by Nicolas Jaar

A chill, refreshingly strange collection of ambient electro goodness. There's really not a lot to it, but it does get in your head and stay there for awhile. Too bad Nicolas Jaar isn't as cool a name as Chazwick Bundick.

Drive - 
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
by Cliff Martinez and Various Artists

I usually don't count soundtrack/scores on lists like this, unless they're THAT good. The only thing keeping this from hitting my top ten is the unfortunate fact that the five (glorious) non-score songs weren't originally recorded for the movie itself. 
The Fall
by Gorillaz

(2-D's solo album?) Streaming online Christmas of last year, but saw a physical release in '11, so I count it. A somewhat melancholy electro-pop tribute to the  USofA, and an unfortunately overlooked gem of a recording, completely done on an iPad.

by Bjork

My favorite of her's since 2001's Vespertine. A smooth concept album that has the sound of small creatures doing big things. Like the score to an artsy nature documentary. What a true arteest. And a weirdo.

James Blake
by James Blake

Tons of respect for this dude. I don't think I've ever heard "pop"(?) songs like this. Imagine what singer-songwriters in the Bob Dylan vein might sound like in 3011. Electronic music with emotion as its backbone. If the second half were as good as the first, this album would be #1, no question. 

Bon Iver
by Bon Iver

For awhile I had this as the sure-fire winner of 2011. But for whatever reason it lost some of its luster. Still, an incredible album. Justin Vernon has an incredible voice and the bravery to break through the usual (and boring) limitations of indie-folk trends. And I'm so pleased at how comfortable "Beth/Rest" would fit on a Kenny G album.