Tuesday, November 29, 2011

2011: My Favorite Moments In Music

2011 has been one of the more unique years in music for me as a listener. I listened to albums by hip-hop artists, dubstep artists, indie artist, punk artists, and even female artists. I enjoyed albums from bands I had never heard before, happy songs from one of the most depressing bands on earth, songs about being a "straight white male in America," songs about working in the fields, songs about plowing girls, songs about being a woman, and songs that tried to define America just based solely on its hyperbolic contradictions. 2011 expanded my music taste and produced more moments from more artists than any year in recent memory. Here are my ten favorite moments from 2011.....

10. The Breakdown to Lydia's "I'll Bite You"

I was very surprised not only by the quality of Paint It Golden but also how drastically it changed Lydia's sound. This December.... and Illuminate had the dreary dark piano driven sound of a well-written tragedy. Paint It Golden on the other hand has a summery guitar driven feel of the most watchable and well made Hallmark movie. Nothing shows off the quality of this change in sound better than the breakdown on "I'll Bite You." Leighton Antelman's distorted vocals perfectly match the clapping rhythm and the pressing electric guitar, his lyrics range from "love" to "not judging," and the breakdown leads into a gigantic almost celebratory chorus. "I'll Bite You" is shows Lydia's metamorphosis from a negative biting piano band to a summery band that wins over our young and golden hearts.

9. The opening verse to Bill Callahan's "America"

Apocalypse was probably the most surprising record for the year for me and that is because on paper it just does not sound like it is going to be that thrilling of a record. Bill Callahan almost has deep Matt Berninger like vocals, his lyrics are often weird and have nothing to do with "mainstream" topics, his songs are way too long, and he is more concerned with his songs flowing together than actually making great songs individually. But Bill Callahan's "weaknesses" end up being his strengths and Apocalypse ends up being a surprising and excellent record. Callahan's deep vocals give the songs a "I just arrived in America and am just stating my observations" feel, his weird lyrics fit his voice and the feel of the album nicely, the songs being long gives them more of a chapter feel instead of feeling like just simple three minute songs, and the album flowing together gives the album the feel of a "coming to America" novel instead of just a bunch of three minute songs from a very baritone singer. The opening verse to Callahan's "America" is the perfect summarization of his brilliance. The song starts off with a unique clapping beat led by a droning guitar and Callahan repeats the word "America" until the music allows him to begin to spout off his sarcastic observations. The opening verse of "America" firmly puts you in Bill Callahan's unique and weird America instead of putting you in an America where every song is three minutes and about relationships. I like Callahan's America much better.......

8. The Final Chorus of Andrew Jackson Jihad's "American Tune"

Knife Man is brilliant in the way it uses humor and immaturity as a way of social commentary. Every song almost serves as an over-aggressive pop-punk version of The Colbert Report. Every joke has a political meaning, every guitar solo means something more than a simple guitar solo, every verse is autobiographical, and most importantly just about every song is brilliant. Andrew Jackson Jihad walked the line between being preachy and being perfectly on "American Tune" and the end result is one of the best songs of 2011. The last chorus features screams of "I'm a straight white male in America/I got all the luck I need/shits gonna work out for me!" and these screams summarize the album perfectly. Immature lyrics are really a sarcastic statement about racism and race relations, a song just over two minutes ends up being an ironic anthem, and Andrew Jackson Jihad make one of their many brilliant songs.

7. The Opening Verse to The Weeknd's "The Morning"

House of Balloons was not just a ridiculously good album but it was an album that "brought sexy back." It "brought sexy back" because just about every song on HOB can make even the most unattractive person feel sexy. The Weeknd's smooth vocals, relaxed beats, and simple lyrics make you feel like Beyonce is about to jump out of your cake. The "sexy" atmosphere is clearly shown on the fourth track of HOB titled "The Morning." The song starts of with some mumbled vocals and a soft electric guitar vocals and then develops into The Weeknd spitting some gorgeous lyrics about getting drunk and taking off a young ladies clothes. HOB is an album that is indie enough to appeal to the indie folks, but hip-hop enough to kill our pitiful inferiority complexes.

6. The Chorus to Frank Turner's "Glory Hallelujah"

God has always had a place in popular music. You have musicians singing about how God saved them, singing about God's "amazing grace," musicians singing about how the people who do not believe in God are going to hell, and musicians who cannot imagine a place that is better than heaven. Even though I am a Christian, I am open minded enough to understand that their is another side to this argument and have always been perplexed at why "Imagine" has been the only real mainstream response we have gotten to Christian music. I always thought it was because being an atheist is never really good PR, a song about there not being a God really does not capture the imagination, and no one can say they are bigger than Jesus without having their record burnt. With "Glory Hallelujah" Frank Turner creates a fist pounding atheist anthem that even the most diehard Christian should be able to appreciate. The song is insanely catchy, well-written, has great instrumentation, and has one of the biggest choruses of the year. Props to Frank Turner for exchanging our shameless confirmation for our dancing shoes.

5. The Breakdown to Girls "Just A Song"

The greatness of Father, Son, Holy Ghost is found in the fact that it is just as brilliant as it is ambitious. Just about every song on FSHG seems to be trying to define a different genre and a different and difficult time in band leader Christopher Owens life. One song can sound like the Beach Boys and be talking about Owens relationship with his mother and the next song could sound like Radiohead and be talking about Owens looking for the love of his life. "Just A Song" seems to be the perfect culmination of all of these beautiful influences. It has an opening riff that sounds like something out of a Neil Young song, vocals that sound like a cross between Radiohead and Celine Dion, and a breakdown that sounds like a combination of the Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and Neil Young. How easily Owens combines all of these influences and how beautiful the music he creates is is almost impossible to put in words. But for Owens it is "Just A Song." A song that defines an album that seems like it is more of an experimental achievement.

4. The Breakdown to Radiohead's "Separator"

Radiohead did not change the world on The King of Limbs and for their diehard fans that was enough for the record to be labeled a failure. But in retrospect it was easy to see that we completely missed the boat on what TKOL was really supposed to be. TKOL was not supposed to define a genre, it was not supposed to define a generation, and it was not supposed to be a classic record. The album was just supposed to give us a new way to define this stage in Thom Yorke's life. For years Radiohead haters and even a small portion of their fanbase have wondered "what the hell is Thom so depressed about?" Well on "Separator," Yorke seems to be telling his critics that he is finally free from the weight of his depression, that he is finally at peace with his life, and that if you think this new energy and happiness is over then you are just wrong. On "Separator" Yorke is no longer the Ok Computer Yorke that could not deal with a changing capitalistic world, the Kid A Yorke that feared an apocalypse, or even the In Rainbows Yorke that could not deal with the pressures of middle aged life. On "Separator" Yorke is telling us that he is finally at peace with himself and the world around him. And this peace produces one of the best songs that Radiohead has ever done.

3. The Breakdown to Fleet Foxes "Helplessness Blues"

The reason "Helplessness Blues" works as a song and as an album is because the Fleet Foxes were never scared to dream. Fleet Foxes seem to be obsessed with a time where work was done in the fields, where love was done by letter, where community was whoever was working next to you, were family was not a synonym for divorce and broken dreams, where happiness was just a drink away, and where reading was the national hobby. And in a world where we live in our phones, have people signing up for love, have broken families in just about every house, and have people who abbreviate book, Fleet Foxes homage to the "good ol' days" seems more and more appealing. On "Helplessness Blues" Fleet Foxes take you to a place where work is done by hand and love is just a letter away. Fleet Foxes make music that is powerful out of its sheer ambitious simplicity and music that can take you to any ancient place depending on the song. I cannot wait to meet the dinosaurs....

2. The Last Minute of St. Vincent's "Surgeon"

Strange Mercy is just a superb album. Annie Clark's unique vocals match her chaotic beats perfectly, her lyrics are just as mysterious as they are sexy, and just about every one of her songs are good. "Surgeon" is probably the best song on Strange Mercy and it is really all based off of one thrilling moment. The chaotic final chorus turns into an absolutely gut wrenching jam session to end the song. Clark's screeching guitar is matched up with muted vocals, her synth is matched up with a silenced drum beat, and a solo is synchronizes perfectly with the energy of the last chorus. It is one of the more polished yet perfect moments of the year.

1. The Eight Minute and Twenty-Five Second Epic That Is Destoryer's "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker."

I have often struggled with defining what it really means to be an American. For some people being American means living in the best country in the world, living in a land where they are free to worship, having the right to vote, being able to get a job, and only being judged by the content of their characters. But for others America is a land that promotes greed, encourages depression, has a sham of a government, only hires the perfect people, and where everyone with a mind judges. It is tough for me to define America because to a certain extent both sides are completely right. America is the land of the free and the home of the corrupt, the land of the opportunity as long as you look like a cutout, the most unselfish and greedy place in the world, and the only place that I really want to live. On Kaputt, Destroyer made a radical attempt at defining America by combining both of these perspectives on just about every track. Even though Kaputt's goal is ambitious it never seems to be anything besides a gorgeous album that makes defining the chaos of American life look rather easy. "Suicide Demo" is the best song on Kaputt and it just seems to be getting even better with time. Its two minute instrumental introduction shows us the elegance yet shallowness of American life, its lyrics tell us the story of someone who is struggling with their surroundings yet has never been happier, and the final jam session sounds like a chaotic dark orgy of joyfulness. "Suicide Demo" is a song of contradictions just like America seems to be an album of contradictions. Destroyer was the first band smart and ridiculously talented enough to make an album and a song that perfectly defines every one of these contradictions in a gorgeous manner.