Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The 2011 Ultimate Music Megapost: Top 50 Songs of the Year, 20-11

20. M83 – “Steve McQueen”

As I write this, it’s my current obsession. That’s always dangerous. In two months I may regret this song not being in the top 10. Or who knows, maybe I’m overrating it. But it’s burning up my car’s CD player right now with the best, frenzied percussion build of the year. It breaks into a swarming, 80’s-tinged anthem that is golden to play loud. And amazingly it’s not even the best track on the album.

19. Fleet Foxes – “Montezuma”

If introspective tunes are your kind of thing, then you’ll love “Montezuma”. Robin Pecknold worrisomely ponders his current state (“Well now I am older/than my mother and father/when they had their daughter/now what does that say about me?”) and his future deathbed state (“I wonder if I’ll see/any faces above me/or just cracks in the ceiling/nobody else to blame”). Set over typically excellent Fleet Foxes harmonies, it’s a certain top track.

18. Coldplay – “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”

For me, this one was a grower. Tossed aside as a pretty good track with an awful name, I learned to appreciate more with every listen. But there it is, the guitar that breaks in around 50 seconds in, the synth focus, the pulsating beat. And don’t forget the more typical Coldplay parts, such as anthemic ending or feel-good lines like “I’d rather be a comma/than a full stop”. Over time I’ve grown to appreciate how much this track continues to be Coldplay while still moving in a new direction. Did I mention I hate the name of the song, though?

17. Gauntlet Hair – “Top Bunk”

Emerging out of a mess of sound, “Top Bunk” is a song where I can’t hear many of the lyrics, and I don’t really care. The song is fun and energetic and better the louder you play it.

Link to free download:

16. Mat Kearney – “Chasing the Light”

Returning to his spoken word style that he abandoned in his unfortunately lacking sophomore album, Mat Kearney doesn’t exactly return to full force on album #3, with the major exception of “Chasing the Light”, which could possibly be his best individual work yet. All the things that make Kearney great are here: the innate grasp over storytelling, the alternation between spoken word and smooth vocals, and resolute determination to stay positive that shines through whether relating sentimental memories or thinking about the future.

15. Chief – “Night & Day”

This late 2010 release slipped through last year, but I felt it was still small enough to give notice to. It first came to me in January, and I’ve liked it equally from the moment I first heard it. “Night & Day” is a haunting, pensive track that strikes a great balance between the interesting elements of indie and the singability and immediate grab of pop.

Link to free download:

14. My Morning Jacket – “The Day is Coming”

My Morning Jacket have had plenty of great songs over the years, with an amazing breadth between rock, experimentalism, and beautifully moving tracks. “The Day is Coming” might just take the cake for most beautiful though. With a rhythmic piano reminiscent of Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” and a brilliant insertion of strings, this is one of best tracks MMJ has made to date.

13. Death Cab for Cutie – “You Are A Tourist”

An uplifting Death Cab for Cutie track? It’s true, and it’s also very good. Death Cab have specialized in some of the most forlorn indie epics, but on “You Are a Tourist” they combine a crazy good guitar riff with an ultra-positive message.

12. Bon Iver – “Beth/Rest”

A much discussed track of 2011, Bon Iver hits you with a track straight out of 1980’s adult contemporary. And sure, you could give him credit for messing with a highly chastised sound and succeeding, but I’d be being disingenuous if I didn’t confess that I have no ill feelings towards that sound at all. I own Phil Collins, Richard Marx, and Bruce Hornsby, and do so without shame. So hearing an artist as talented and emotionally potent as Justin Vernon guide Bon Iver in a song like “Beth/Rest” is both immediately satisfying and wonderfully nostalgic for me.

11. Radiohead – “Codex”

In the electronic era of experimental music, it would probably be fair to dub Radiohead as the kings of mood. Turn the lights out or set out on a night walk or night drive while listening to “Codex” and you’ll hear, and likely feel, something special. On Thom Yorke’s soaring wail could make a simple word like “dragonfly” so affecting.

Return to 30-21                              Move on to 10-1

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The 2011 Ultimate Music Megapost: Top 50 Songs of the Year, 30-21

30. Perfume Genius – “All Waters”

I want a job as the guy who picks music for movies just so I can insert this song into a critical scene. At just over two minutes, “All Waters” builds and builds and leaves you wanting more. It’s gripping, stirring, moving, and so much more, born out of so little.

Link to download:

29. Mutemath – “All or Nothing”

Mutemath continue to exist as one of the best balancers between alt rock experimentalism and mainstream listenability, and I’m thrilled that they’ve emerged ever so slightly in popular music. While they often keep it up tempo, Mutemath often succeed so well when they keep it atmospheric, giving us tracks like “All or Nothing”, which has so much more going on than you might first hear.

28. Jack’s Mannequin – “Casting Lines”

I don’t believe anyone does piano-based pop better than Andrew McMahon, and my weak spot for the guy that has fronted both Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin continues. “Casting Lines” is a classic example of vintage McMahon, building from simple piano into a rousing closing number about coming home.

27. Iron & Wine – “Godless Brother in Love”

Close your eyes and enjoy. Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam has long utilized hushed vocals, but here he transitions further into singing, and never before has he done so over so pleasant a sound.

26. The National – “Exile Vilify”

“Does it trouble your mind the way you trouble mine?”, Matt Beringer asks. This song is both dark and beautiful, proving that The National write better songs for video games (Portal 2, in this case) than most bands write for major releases.

Link to download:

25. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – “Misspent Youth”

There’s something truly wounded sitting behind “Misspent Youth”. Both the musical aesthetic and the resigned delivery of lines like “there’s a permanence to the memory of a bruise” merge to create a song that’s altogether interesting and moving.

**To listen go to this link and find #6**

24. Wires in the Walls – “Soft Shirt”

The award for obscure pick of the year goes to alt rockers Wires in the Walls and their track “Soft Shirt”, a free download that turned into repeated listens across the summer. Building out of one of better guitar lines of the year (around 1:20) to one of the more rousing choruses I heard, Wires in the Walls flash their potential. Time will tell whether this is just a flash in the pan.

**To listen follow this link**

23. War on Drugs – “Brothers”

The first of two entries from surprise band of the year, War on Drugs, whose album climbed high into my favorites for the year. “Brothers” combines all the elements that make me love them: the almost psychedelic sound reminiscent of The Verve and nearly Bruce Springsteen-ish lines like “Wondering where my friends are going/and wondering why/they didn’t take me”.

22. Foster the People – “Houdini”

I have to admit I was downright surprised how much I loved Foster the People’s album. Everyone knows “Pumped Up Kicks”, but I was excited to find that “Pumped Up Kicks” practically stacked up as an average track next to many tracks on this album, most of all the rambunctious pure fun of “Houdini”. When all the electronics and falsettos collide for “focus on your ability”, you can’t help but move.

21. Against Me! – “Because of the Shame”

Sometimes when all of the real fans of a band you don’t care for rail against a band’s “new sound”, it’s the perfect time to try them again. So color me shocked when I first heard Against Me!’s “Because of the Shame” and the opening piano bit followed by not only the typical rush of guitar, but a perfectly powerful, rousing song with a compelling story. The energy behind the song compares to some of the best of The Hold Steady, but with a life of its own.

Return to 30-21                                       Move on to 20-11

Monday, December 26, 2011

The 2011 Ultimate Music Megapost: Top 50 Songs of the Year, 40-31

40. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Ffunny FFriends”

Can a song live by guitar hook alone? Sure, there’s more to this song than just the guitar line, but that’s the part that’s drawn me in and put the song on repeat. I mean, really, there are words here, but can you hear any of them other than “funny friends”? Doesn’t matter to me. I’m hooked.

Link to free download:

39. Wild Beasts – “Thankless Thing”

Blows my mind a little bit that this track didn’t make Wild Beasts’ actual studio album, instead hitting the web as a single. The blend of electronics, percussion, and guitar make this sort of minimalized psychedelic piece, perfect for the pensive evening with your headphones.

Link to download:

38. James Blake – “The Wilhelm Scream”

So much praise has been heaped upon James Blake and his stripped down take on dubstep; “post-dubstep” apparently is now a term. I may have not fallen as hard for dubstep or post-dubstep as some people, and I found only some songs on his album worth owning, but “Wilhelm Scream” trumps all. You might not even know you love this song until you catch yourself singing “all that I know is I’m falling, falling, falling, falling…” repeatedly. It’s definitely a song I appreciate more with every listen.

37. Sarah Jarosz – “Come Around”

My strange taste for bluegrass-pop (“newgrass” apparently?) surprises even myself. But Sarah Jarosz has the chops to heal the most wounded of Nickel Creek fans, and “Come Around” is her best work, combining her obvious musical abilities with the most pleasant of melodies.

36. The Head and the Heart – “Down in the Valley”

In need of a travelin’ song? As a frequent military migrant and misser of home, I have a special place in my heart for road songs such as this one. “I know there’s California/Oklahoma/And all of the places I ain’t ever been to” they sing, but in the end they are “on my back to where I started”. The Northwest indie-folk band grew in popularity this grew, and in my mind, this is their best track by far.

Link to download:

35. Library Voices – “The Prime Minister’s Daughter”

I am usually the last to love the political song, but I make an exception for this one. First, it’s Canadian, so call me a poli-sci nerd, but I have fun singing a refrain like “parliament’s making cuts!”. Second, it’s just so darn peppy, which makes for a whole lot more fun than the typical sky-is-falling political song we so often hear. So go ahead and enjoy this Shins-y track from Library Voices, even if the gist of the song is that parliament is making budget cuts.

Link to download:

34. Radio Dept. – “Never Follow Suit”

For a couple odd weeks I was entranced by Swedish band Radio Dept., and their best track is the dreamy, catchy “Never Follow Suit”, the kind of track that perfectly blends an interesting sound with pop sensibility.

33. NEEDTOBREATHE – “White Fences”

Why do I like writing my own blog? Because in the end, I get to decide what I like and what I’ll plug, even if it may break from convention. So here I present “White Fences”, which can be classified anywhere between mainstream rock and Christian rock, but with definite Southern Rock flair. It is in no way indie, and it’s not even really alt rock either. But boy is fun to sing, soaring thanks to some great vocals from Bear Rinehart and great grasp on melody.

32. Switchfoot – “Restless”

Let’s just keep it rolling on the pseudo-Christian rock front, where crossover rockers Switchfoot continue to show their penchant for the slow building, emotional rouser. Front man Jon Foreman’s delivery is impeccable as ever as he hits the major swelling point on “Restless”.

31. You Won’t – “Television”

If #33 and #32 weren’t your cup of tea, then you’ll probably gladly welcome You Won’t and their ultra-simple “Television”. Handclaps and piano; no more, no less. For a track that is so endearing, it’s amazing how little goes into it, and it’s better for it. You’ll be wanting to hear it again the minute it ends.

Link to download:

Return to 50-41                        Move on to 30-21

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The 2011 Ultimate Music Megapost: Top 50 Songs of the Year, 50-41

50. Seryn – “We Will All Be Changed”

Many times I reach for indie-folk because of its soothing elements, but not here, where Seryn delivers an uplifting, multi-instrumental, snare drum-hammering, group-chorused piece of goodness. When the music dies down and the voices swarm to sing “We can shake but can’t control/these possibilities to grow”, it’s a top moment and a worthy start for the list..

Link to download:

49. Panda Bear – “Last Night at the Jetty”

What would The Everly Brothers sound like if they existed in 2011? Maybe like Panda Bear, a side project of Animal Collective frontman Noah Lennox. There’s a definite throwback element to songs like this that harken back to yesteryear vocally, updated for today musically.

Link to download:

48. Boy & Bear – “Feeding Line”

Australia’s answer to Mumford & Sons? Right down to the ampersand even. “Feeding Line” not only suckers me in with my weakness, the mandolin, but its forward-moving chorus is makes for a perfect blend of pop folk and rock elements.

47. GIVERS – “Up Up Up”

The perfect song for the indie summer was all over mid-year lists, but seems to have been forgotten by years end. “Up Up Up” is catchy and swirling, the right choice for an 80 degree day, driving in your car with the windows down.

Link to download:

46. William Fitzsimmons – “Fade And Then Return”

The new album may have been a little disappointing after 2008’s “The Sparrow and The Crow”, but there’s nothing disappointing about this one, which combines Fitzsimmons’ penchant for hushed tones and emotional vulnerability with newfound use of subtle electronics.

Link to download:

45. Drake ft. Stevie Wonder – “Doing it Wrong”

Drake purists may not have liked the new album, but that’s probably for the same reason I found some of it (some…definitely not all) compelling. Most of all is this moody, slow burner that features a harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder of all people. The song is stripped down, simple, and distant, and sets the scene for an apologetic-yet-unsurprising breakup.

44. Lana Del Ray – “Video Games”

I suppose it’s my role to explain why I like a song, but I have trouble here. Perhaps it’s in Lana Del Ray’s delivery, like how she sings “you da bestest”, or how it’s impossible to tell whether she’s playing the part of man’s perfect girl or coldly chiding her unappeaciative partner when she sings “go play your video games”. The swelling cinematic orchestra, complete with harp, doesn’t hurt either. Explainable or not, there’s an allure here.

Link to download:

43. Cold War Kids – “Skip the Charades”

I came down pretty hard on Cold War Kids’ newest album, but nothing I said applies to “Skip the Charades”, which is much more in the mold of classic Cold War Kids, one of the more underrated bands out there. If only I could tell them to “skip the charades” and stop transitioning to arena rock.

42. Cider Sky – “Northern Lights”

Twilight may not be my cup of tea film-wise, but I always appreciate Pacific Northwest cinematography and their soundtracks have given us originals from the likes of Bon Iver, Band of Horses, Grizzly Bear, and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. The newest edition lacks the big indie name, but newbie Cider Sky’s dreamy and positive “Northern Lights” fills that gap more than admirably.

41. The Black Keys – “Gold on the Ceiling”

Just in time, The Black Keys complicated year-end list making with a December release. Thankfully I got to it in time to hear “Gold on the Ceiling”, a rousing classic piece from The Black Keys with some of the most toe-tapping and infectious sounds of the year.

Check out #’s 40-31

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Real Favorite Song of the Year Was Not From This Year, So It Won’t Be #1, But You Should Hear It Anyways, Just in Case You Haven’t Already

A great challenge in running this blog on the side, fully funded by myself, means that sometimes I just flat out miss songs from previous years. Oh to work for a magazine where I get free music. I can dream right? Anyhow, I’ve struggled because my true favorite song that I’ve heard this year is actually a 2009 song. Not only that, it was apparently a fairly big deal in the United Kingdom. I just didn’t feel right sticking it at the top of the list of 2011 songs, despite the fact that I usually allow myself a little leniency. But that leniency is usually reserved for previous year songs, not for songs over 2 years old. So rather than slip it in there, I’ve decided to dedicate a spot to this song in a pre-top 50 blog. Therefore:

As I’m sure Holly could tell you, my most played, loved, and, heck, overplayed song of 2011 was actually 2009’s “Many of Horror” by Biffy Clyro. There were many, many times where I kicked the bridge (about 2:20 into the song) up to max volume in car. Enjoy!

If you liked it, follow this link, look near the bottom, and enjoy permanently!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The 2011 Ultimate Music Megapost: The Top 15 Albums of the Year

15. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

January, oh so long ago, brought with it a new album from Iron & Wine, their first full album since “The Shepherd’s Dog”. Talk about a challenge, since “The Shepherd’s Dog” is high on my all-time list (I listed it #5 of the decade). The results are enduringly positive, especially on tracks like the lush “Walking Far From Home” and the soft, moving “Godless Brother in Love”. It may not be the #5 album of the decade, but #15 of the year isn’t so bad.

14. Death Cab for Cutie – “Codes and Keys”

Now that front man Ben Gibbard has lost indie darling Zooey Deschanel, I expect big things from Death Cab’s next album, and maybe we can all win from his loss. Until then, we get an album from the then married Gibbard, and the tone is swelling with more optimism than has ever been seen on a Death Cab album before. Title track “Codes and Keys” swells we strings and uplifting lyrics, and one of the year’s best (and one of their best ever), “You are a Tourist”, headline an album that’s brightest spots remind us why Death Cab are the kings of Northwest indie.

13. Mutemath – “Odd Soul”

Before this year it was actually Mutemath that owned the last five star review from me. “Odd Soul” gets an ever-so-solid three and half stars, and maybe I can finally stop thinking of Mutemath as the band that wowed the Idaho version of me back in the day. “Odd Soul” has a pep to its step, led by tracks like “Blood Pressure” and “One More”. But don’t forget their grip on the slow stuff: “All or Nothing” and “In No Time” showcase with a band with talent for both song structure and mood.

12. Frank Ocean – “nostalgia/ultra”

One thing is for certain, this is my favorite free album of all time. Handed out on his tumblr following a record label dispute, Frank Ocean’s “nostalgia/ultra” can be hit and miss, but the hits are more than memorable and the album is interesting to the core. There is a dark and misty mood to the drugged up crooning on “Novacane”, which provides quite the contrast to the pseudo-cover of Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing”. “Swim Good” might be radio-ready, and don’t forget to notice the piano that underpins the chorus. Ocean’s best characteristic, though, is the vulnerability underneath his player ways, showing no fear singing a song called “There Will Be Tears” that deals honestly with the subject of his absent father.

11. The Civil Wars – “Barton Hollow”

I’ve written so much about missing Nickel Creek that I’m starting to annoy myself. The Civil Wars are healing my pop-folk-bluegrass wounds though, and they do it passion and originality. Case in point is “Poison & Wine”, one of the more emotionally riveting songs I’ve heard. They don’t stop there, with “Barton Hollow” adding a jolt to the somber mood and “The Violet Hour” providing the year’s best pure instrumental.

10. Foster the People – “Torches”

It must have been a crazy year for Foster the People, who somehow rode the tidal wave of an unexpected pop hit with “Pumped Up Kicks”. The craziest thing? Listen to the album, because it’s actually really, really good, and “Pumped Up Kicks”, while good, is not nearly the best. Foster the People have that knack for catchiness but don’t sacrifice the intriguing and interesting elements in the music. The swarm at the end of “Houdini” is what did it for me, but don’t miss the electro-rock of “Helena Beat” or the simple piano drive behind “Warrant”.

9. Gotye – “Making Mirrors”

Here’s a prediction, doomed to fail I’m sure, but worth saying: somewhere in 2012 Gotye will release “Making Mirrors” in the United States and everyone will fall in love with “Somebody That I Used To Know”, the absolutely irresistible, poppy breakup track that had my wife concerned about my shifting tastes. If this happens I will willingly admit loving it through and through and singing to it awkwardly loud in my car. Peel past this immediate crowd pleaser and the album has more to offer: the soaring “Save Me”, the pulsating “Eyes Wide Open”, and the tepid “Giving Me a Chance”. This is a genre shifter, hard to peg, but listen after listen I love it, even if I can’t explain it.

8. M83 – “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”

Here is an album that is a lesson on cohesiveness. Taken on their own, track by track, I calculate an average rating of 1.95 stars per song. Taken together, the album is the 8th best of the year. In between the amazing power of album bests “Midnight City” and “Steve McQueen” lies a swarming symphony of electronics, alt rock, and moods. Bookended by stellar tracks called “Intro” and “Outro”, this album in unshuffleable and begs to be given an uninterrupted 73 minutes of darkness on your next road trip.

7. Coldplay – “Mylo Xyloto”

We’ve all heard the Coldplay jokes, but I’ve held strong. Even I’ll admit “X&Y” wasn’t their best, but with “Viva La Vida” and “Mylo Xyloto” even the ultimate hipsters at Pitchfork (I love you, Pitchfork, but it’s true) have to concede and bow to the goodness. Everything divisive about Coldplay is evident in “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”, a song with a title so wimpy and ridiculous that only the reality of the song’s awesomeness can make up for it. Fact is, “Mylo Xyloto” is a strong album, front to back, bolstered by some of the more un-Coldplay tracks to date, like “Major Minus” or “Princess in China”. Whether they are exploring new territory or delivering very Coldplay-ish tracks like “Paradise” or “Up With the Birds”, Coldplay manage to make an album that’s 100% strong, 100% interesting, and 100% still them.

6. The War on Drugs – “Slave Ambient”

Every year there’s an album that comes out of nowhere, led by a band I’ve never heard of. This year the band is the unbelievable War on Drugs and the album is “Slave Ambient”. Combining the distant, psychedelic rock and moods of The Verve with the Americana of Bruce Springsteen, the band puts together an album which such beauty and polish that it’s hard to believe they recently played a free show at a bar in Cincinnati. “I Was There” is the album’s best track, but it’s hard not to mention the grandeur of “Come to the City” or atmosphere of “Brothers”, which provided a migrant like myself with my lyric of the year when a pensive front man thinks aloud, “Wondering where my friends are going/And wondering they didn’t take me”.

5. Radiohead – “King of Limbs”

Watching Radiohead’s “King of Limbs” special on Palladia showed me a couple of things. First, they care about every tiny little sound you hear as much as it seems like they do. Second, the album really IS meant for and sounds like a small, dimly lit room. “King of Limbs” is the latest offering of the most consistent band in the world (tied with Spoon, I suppose), and it’s a perfectly amazing addition to the Radiohead discography. “Bloom” and “Little By Little” set the stage in a big way, and they aren’t even close to the two best tracks. That honor belongs to the moving “Codex” and the irresistible “Lotus Flower”.

4. The Antlers – “Burst Apart”

Count me as one of probably many people who doubted whether The Antlers could ever conceivably follow up “Hospice”, one of the most gripping albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of becoming obsessed with. But on “Burst Apart” front man Peter Silberman proves that he’s more than just a flash in the pan, opening the album with one of the year’s best tracks, “I Don’t Want Love”. Elsewhere, stellar tunes like “French Exit”, “Parentheses”, and “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out” show that The Antlers don’t have to be singing painful epics or diving into a complicated concept album in order to be great. This album did nothing but grow on me.

3. The Strokes – “Angles”

The critics of the world are pretty united that “Is This It” is essentially not only The Strokes’ best work, but is an album worthy of a home on many a decade-level or all-time list. Truth is, I think that album is very very good, but I don’t believe it is as great as it’s labeled. This is why I admitted in my initial review that I have no shame in admitting that is in 2011, long past the era of The Strokes’ peak popularity, that their best album has been created. From the opening guitar line on the catchy and amazing “Machu Picchu” to the toe-tapping “Under Cover of Darkness” to the amazing “Taken for a Fool”, this album should not be dismissed as a forgotten album from a band past their prime. This is a gem.

2. Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues”

Give me a few more months, and maybe every song on this album will be at least a four star. It’s just that good. Emerging from the massive success of their folk-pop opus of a debut album, Fleet Foxes may have had nowhere to go but down. But they didn’t just equal their stellar debut, they topped it. “Montezuma” sets the stage, with an introspective Robin Pecknold imagining his own death bed while the trademark harmonies swell around him. Tracks like “Sim Sala Bim”, “Lorelei”, and “Helplessness Blues” could be career defining for some bands, but on this album they are practically standard issue. But they save the best for last with “Grown Ocean”, the biggest and most propelling song they’ve ever made.

1. Bon Iver – “Bon Iver, Bon Iver”

I’m pretty certain that I practically broke this album due to overplaying it for the entire month of July, and I can practically feel the summer Ohio heat listening to it. From the opening snare drum on “Perth” to the soothing pensiveness of “Calgary”, this album has no flaws. The guitar work on “Minnesota, WI”? The visuals on “Holocene”? The gentle piano on “Wash.”? Special, to say the least. And then there lies “Beth/Rest”, the so-called controversial and almost Richard Marx-ish track, borrowing from some of the most criticized styles in music. I find no controversy in it; it is a pure and simple amazing song, beautiful in every way and emotionally stirring, just like this entire album. It’s the perfect end to a perfect album

Just Missed:

· The Black Keys – “El Camino”

· Boy & Bear – “Moonfire”

· Drake – “Take Care”

· Florence + The Machine – “Ceremonials”

· Mat Kearney – “Young Love”

· My Morning Jacket – “Circuital”

· NEEDTOBREATHE – “People and Things”

· Panda Bear – “Tomboy”

· Sarah Jarosz – “Follow Me Down”

· The Weeknd – “Thursday”/”House of Balloons”

· Youth Lagoon – “A Year of Hibernation”

Check out the Top 50 Songs of the Year

Friday, December 16, 2011

The 2011 Ultimate Music Megapost: An Introduction


Hello friends and random internet readers, and welcome to the 2011 edition of the now fourth annual Ultimate Music Megapost! As you can see I’ve got my Critic Face on (I am also listening to an ipod while adjusting unfamiliar knobs on the keyboard…Holly was nice to play along), so let’s get to it. Every year I view this post as the ultimate culmination of my hobby, where I pull together every Saturday morning spent pouring through music blogs, every long drive soundtracked to my current favorite songs, and every excited purchase of a new album. Each year I highlight what I feel was the best music of that year in a broad range of categories and then open it up for what I hope will be spirited discussion.

As with every year, I must start with a disclaimer. I’m a big fan of music but by no means is this a profession, which means that I don’t get free music sent to me by bands. This means primarily two things: 1) I haven’t heard EVERYTHING, though I venture to say I’ve heard quite a bit and 2) there are sometimes things that get released in the year prior that don’t make it to my collection until the next year, meaning I’m pretty liberal about allowing 2010 songs into the 2011 list, but try to avoid going too far back. If the point is to highlight good new music to the casual fan, then I do not want to leave off a solid track. I also try not to get carried away with single bands, so even if I might feel like one album was so good it might justify having seven songs on the list, I’ll leave that commentary for the Best Albums section and diversify the Top 50.

As always, I welcome any and all commentary, both positive or negative. This is a massive project to undertake, and although I have fun with it even if barely anyone reads it, it’s always nice to know that people are giving it a try. It would make my day to know that I helped someone find a new band that they love.

Over the next few days and weeks I will be posting different categories, from albums to songs to lyrics. You can start below by clicking on the link. I hope you enjoy it!

The Top 15 Albums of the 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

New Music Review: M83 - "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming"


A quick glance at the overall song ratings of M83’s new album doesn’t begin to tell the story. The overwhelming 22 track album provides quite the daunting visual to the casual listener, and I’ll admit it took a few deep breaths to even begin to dive into it. Twenty-two tracks, a whole lot of soaring songs, and a heckuva lot of atmospheric instrumentals. And within those 22 tracks is a purely enjoyable, albeit challenging, album.

I used this album to get me through a couple papers I’ve written for school, and it' makes good homework music. I’d get distracted every now and then by the appearance of a great track. “Steve McQueen” comes to mind, with its percussion steadily increasing until the song’s breakout. The song is immediately enthralling. Preceding this song though, is a 4 track spread of, while not technically all instrumentals, atmospheric and dreamy numbers. The overall ambiance exists, but tracks won’t lend themselves well to shuffle on your iPod. Here they exist to bolster the overall feel of the album. And thus here is an album that puts 22 tracks together, where many of the tracks don’t stand on their own, but where the overall coalescent feel of the album manages to still be outstanding.

I don’t think I’d feel that way if there weren’t so many fully outstanding individual tracks spread throughout. Take “Midnight City” for instance, a surefire year-end favorite, which breaks beyond the perhaps more expected shoegaze-y sound with a full force alt rocker that still stays true to M83’s sound. It’s a song I’d pay $20 to see live, even if I didn’t see anything else. Elsewhere, opening track “Intro” has a power of its own, with soaring vocals taking the place of the dreamy, distant vocals that so often are found in M83. When the third track, “Reunion”, closes, I was quite sure I’d already found my favorite M83 work to date.

There are a few others worth highlighting as well. Swimming out of the atmospherics is the gentle guitar plucks and strings that begin “Soon My Friend”, along with the moving, haunting refrain of “I’ll be yours/someday” sung hopefully over an ever-increasing line of strings. There’s also the French influence (M83 hails from France), present in the amusing-and-strange-yet-somehow-alluring storytelling of “Raconte – Moi Une Historie”, which you would surely know as the “frog song” upon listening to it, and “Echoes of Mine”, told by a much older Frenchwoman. And as a closer, “Outro” is as successful as “Intro”, bookending a surprising album spectacularly.

This is not an album to shuffle or to listen to in bits and pieces. It’s album meant to be consumed as a whole, and should be understood as such, more so than many albums today. “Midnight City” and “Steve McQueen” do warrant your individual attention though, and I’ve posted the former here and the latter can be listened to here. If you like them, consider giving the album a try.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bon Iver: New Artist? The Grammy’s Do Not Understand Time, and Other Thoughts

I have always viewed the Grammy’s not as the awards for the best music, but as the most popular music. While the occasional person complains that the Oscars never recognize the movies people actually see en masse, the Grammy’s are quick to dole out nominations to Katy Perry or to Pink for a song called “F***in Perfect”. Last year the Grammy’s finally got something right when they not only nominated The Arcade Fire (aka, the best live band I’ve ever seen) for Album of the Year, but actually gave them the award. Then this year they made another great choice by nominating the amazing Bon Iver for Record of the Year for the track “Holocene”, giving him a chance to win in the overall category and not just in the alternative category where bands normally featured in the Past and the Pending land. However, I cannot believe that Bon Iver also landed in the Best New Artist category. Really?? Not only is this not Bon Iver’s first album, but his actual first album was a pretty big deal. Among many others, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Q, and Spin all had debut album “For Emma, Forever Ago” in their top album of, get this, 2008. Observer even had it at #1, while Rhapsody listed it in their best albums of the decade, and here we are in the next decade. I reviewed it so long ago that you can find it archived on Myspace for crying out loud!  I recognize that being “new” is subjective and usually has more to do with when you hit it big, but if you’re The Band Perry, do you really want to lose to a band in the new artist category who had a mega critical following starting in 2008?

Other Grammy thoughts:

--I don’t expect to see Bon Iver win for “Holocene” when it’s up against Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”, which was a fantastic crossover hit that just about everyone liked. Mumford & Sons “The Cave” is a good song and all, but it was also released in 2009. I don’t get it.

-- Not a lot of good stuff in the Album of the Year category. Bruno Mars, I do not understand your appeal. Two categories in, and two noms.

-- I don’t actually expect Bon Iver to win the Best New Artist category up against Nicki Minaj, but who knows.

-- Good to see Coldplay’s “Paradise”, Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks”, and Black Keys’ “Dearest” get some love of the group performance category. Hopefully one of those gets the nod over “Moves Like Jagger”.

-- My wife would probably like to see Deadmau5 win out in the dance/electronica section, though I think the lead guy in Deadmau5 is probably the kind of guy who would never want to be called “Grammy award winning group, Deadmau5”.

-- Susan Boyle is now Grammy nominated

-- Based on who they nominated for Best Rock Performance, I’d like to see the award go to Radiohead for “Lotus Flower”, though Coldplay’s “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” is fantastic as well (despite the song name),

-- I wonder what Megadeth thinks about Sum 41 getting nominated in the hard rock/metal category

-- I think they really missed in the Rock Album category

-- The alternative category is well done overall, but this one should certainly go to Bon Iver, who likely will lose all the big categories but win this one. I’ve actually reviewed every album in this category, so I can say that it’s 5-star vs a two 4-stars a 3.5-star and a 3-star album. Not bad, Grammys!

-- Way down in the folk category is where we find the Fleet Foxes vs. Civil Wars battle of awesome albums. I’d give the nod to Fleet Foxes, but must say I’m surprised they weren’t in the alternative category. Folk-influenced for sure, but overall I wouldn’t describe their show as folk.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Music Review: Jack’s Mannequin – “People and Things”



Andrew McMahon has been a part of my life for a long time. Much like Jimmy Eat World, I have a connection to his music that transcends simply enjoying the structure of songs. Something Corporate’s debut album and song “Konstantine” (truly an all-time great song) were high school staples. “North” was a college staple. Then McMahon battled leukemia in the aftermath of debut Jack’s Mannequin album “Everything in Transit” and dealt with it lyrically in “Glass Passenger”. McMahon’s struggle is one of the few celebrity afflictions that I have felt personally moved by.

In many ways this newest album, “People and Things”, is the album that begins to move past the leukemia battle lyrically. “Glass Passenger”, the best Jack’s Mannequin album, was heavy and dark though bolstered by hope. According to McMahon, this album is about relationships, which makes it very much like many other records in the world. Perhaps that’s why it comes off a little more generic and average. “People and Things” is unfortunately fine, but not special. There are good tracks and okay tracks, and not much better or worse.

“My Racing Thoughts” and "Release Me” give the album a strong start, and the tracks harken back well to the debut Jack’s Mannequin album, which a renewed energy at the foundation of the tracks. Other tracks like “People, Running” and “Platform Fire” are strong suits as well, with “Platform Fire” effectively bringing it down a notch. The album’s best track is the classic McMahon venture “Casting Lines”, which displays McMahon’s knack for thoughtful lyrics and melody.

Unfortunately, many tracks here are also filler, doomed to take up space on my iPod, but never be played. It’s a worthy add-on if you’re already a fan, but not the place to start if you’re working through the McMahon discography. In fact, of the five major albums McMahon has made, it’s the last place I’d start. Since there are still many good tracks, this is as much an insult to the album as it is a compliment to his entire discography.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Some Random Tracks to Brighten Your Day

Rather than a full review today I thought I’d pop in to talk about a few singles that have caught my ear lately. Thanks to Spin’s free November playlist, I came across the band Gauntlet Hair for the first time, and their reverby alt rock sounds pretty great to me. Check out “Top Bunk” below and click on the link above to download it for free yourself so long as it’s still November.

This video is starting to make the rounds, and it should. What an amazing piece of work by an amateur photographer. He managed to practically give me chills when they hit my home state of Washington. But I also really noticed the song, a track called “The Sounds” by Waking Lights.

For some stripped down, mellower stuff, check out these two tracks. The first is Gotye’s “Giving Me a Chance” and the next is the very basic yet loveable song “Television” by You Won’t.

If you are using Amazon’s music service, here’s a link to a free download of Milagre’s track “Glowing Mouth” as well.

Hope you found something you liked!