Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Honorable Mentions
Olde Pine - "For Twinny"
M83 - "Midnight City"
PJ Harvey - "The Words That Maketh Murder"
Veronica Falls - "Wedding Day"
Iceage - "You're Blessed"



Bright Eyes
Jejune Stars
The People's Key


Toro Y Moi
"Freaking Out"
Freaking Out

"Lotus Flower"
The King Of Limbs

Andrew Jackson Jihad
"Hate, Rain On Me"

Craft Spells
"You Should Close The Door"

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
"The Body"

Cut Copy
"Need You Now"

The World Is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid To Die
"To The Janitor, To The King"
Run For Cover presents: Mixed Signals

The Front Bottoms

"Sparks Against The Sun"

Mountain Interval
"The Amazing Magnetic Gift"

Beach Fossils
"What A Pleasure"

James Blake
"Limit To Your Love"
James Blake

Washed Out
"A Dedication"
Within and Without

Algernon Cadwallader
"Parrot Flies"

Los Campesinos!
"Hello Sadness"
Hello Sadness

James Blake
"A Case Of You"

Neon Indian
"Suns Irrupt"
Era Extra├▒a 

The Front Bottoms
"Rhode Island"

"So I Shotgunned A Beer And Went Back To Bed"
I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted

Youth Lagoon 

Taragana Pyjarama
Taragana Pyjarama

Algernon Cadwallader
"Glenwood Ave."

Beach Fossils
"Out In The Way (featuring Jack Tatum)"
What a Pleasure

Youth Lagoon
The Year of Hibernation

"Get It Wrong, Get It Right"

The Dodos 
No Color

"Dear Father"
Empty Days & Sleepless Nights

Burial, Four Tet & Thom Yorke
Ego / Mirror


"I Believe"
Ghost Town

"Death As A Fetish"

Father, Son, Holy Ghost

"Santa Fe"
The Rip Tide

The World Is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid To Die 
"Mega Steve"
Deer Leap + The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die Are Here to Help You

The Front Bottoms
The Front Bottoms

Bon Iver
Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Fleet Foxes
"Helplessness Blues"
Helplessness Blues
10 Heavenly Beat | "Faithless"
Off of Faithless / Presence

"If I fall, well, at least I fall."

As of late, Brooklyn based indie label Captured Tracks seems to be pretty hit or miss for me.  Most of their artists are either really good at what they do, or really not so good. When I first heard of Heavenly Beat, the solo project of Beach Fossils' (a band that is really good at what they do) John Pena, I wasn't expecting anything too amazing. After being unimpressed by his first single "Suday", I didn't have very high hopes for "Faithless". But even upon first listen, "Faithless" felt overwhelmingly refreshing. Pena has achieved here the perfect shoegazey-80's pop song that so many others before him have tried to create. But despite still having the hazy feel of Beach Fossils, it felt slightly cleaner and was probably the catchiest track ever to come out of the Beach Fossils project. 

09 Algernon Cadwallader | "Springing Leaks"

"A diamond in the rough polished up to be an immaculate piece of shit, I hope you make it."

Algernon Cadwallader was always one of those bands that I would listen to and then just feel like everything is okay. Their latest output, Parrot Flies, is a messy, screamy, teenage gospel to growing up and moving on and learning how to live. And that is just what "Springing Leaks" is all about. While it is not one of their catchiest songs, I feel like it is their most sincere. Algernon is usually a band that writes from the heart, but here it feels like they are going so much deeper, despite having maybe ten lines of lyrics in the whole song. To anybody who is feeling down, I would definitely prescribe an appropriate dosage of Algernon Cadwallader, especially this song. 

08 How To Dress Well | "Decisions (Orchestral Version)"
Off of Just Once

"Don't forget about your real home."

As if the version of "Decisions" that was originally released on Tom Krell's 2010 debut Love Remains wasn't already strikingly gorgeous in all of it's distorted lo-fi glory, How To Dress Well completely breaks the scale as far as beauty goes on his latest ep, Just Once. With the version of "Decisions" released on Just Once, Krell breaks the song all the way down to its roots and brings it back up, bigger than ever. Love Remains didn't need the soaring string section to achieve the perfect lo-fi R&B song, but why not try anyways? The orchestral version of the track is easily the epitome of Krell's work. Every single aspect of this song is nothing less than heart-shatteringly gorgeous, from the introductory orchestral swells up until the subtle explosion of emotion around the 1:45 mark, and is definitely among the top musical achievements that this year has seen. 

07 Bon Iver | "Holocene"

"At once I knew, I was not magnificent."

Amongst the hype for Bon Iver's new album, I never listened to "Calgary" when it first came out. I'm not sure why I didn't, but I never heard his first single until the album came out. I was extremely excited for the release, but didn't seem to show much interest in the single. It wasn't until the album leaked in May that I first heard Justin Vernon's latest creation. And the first song that I listened to was "Holocene". What I loved so much about it when I first listened to it was that it was still slightly in vein of Vernon's first masterpiece, For emma, Forever Ago. Although the rest of the album was nothing like the lo-fi indie folk cabin dweller we knew, "Holocene" was that little piece of the past that was still alive in Vernon's music, like a long bridge that connects Vernon's debut to his drastically evolved sophomore effort. And oh yeah, it's absolutely gorgeous. 

06 Youth Lagoon | "Cannons"

"You'll never talk me out of this."

I will always have a great appreciation for any sort of lo-fi music that manages to strike a personal chord with me. When music that was probably recorded in the artist's home (in Youth Lagoon's Trevor Powers' case, his garage) gets an emotional reaction out of me, I feel so much more connected to it. Which is why I feel such a strong connection to Youth Lagoon's "Cannons", off of his debut The Year of Hibernation. All of the fuzzy aspects of the track, from the infectious piano melody to the beat to the heavily clipped vocal harmonies on the chorus, just feels so overwhelming and lovely and refreshing, coming from an artist of such humble foundations. Although I definitely feel such a connection with many of his other tracks, including "Afternoon" and (especially) "17", "Cannons" is easily the catchiest, and is easily one of those songs you just get stuck on and listen to over and over before you actually get through the whole album. 

05 Fucked Up | "Queen of Hearts"
Off of David Comes To Life

"The dam bursts open, we suddenly live."

Think about adjectives that you would normally use to describe a hardcore punk song. Chances are "uplifting" and maybe even "cute" aren't among those adjectives. And coming from a band with a name like Fucked Up, you really can't expect "cute" lyrics. But in all honesty, I find "Queen of Hearts" to be a cute song. The lyrics are about the meeting of Veronica and David, the two main characters of David Comes To Life's storyline. But while telling this "cute" and beautiful love story, Fucked Up still stays true to the punk style, making an exhilarating and catchy introduction to the album. While having lines such as "let's be together until the stars go out", Fucked Up still writes a song that fans at a show can beat each other up to, or that lead vocalist Damian Albarn can get naked to, which although I do not find it to be very groundbreaking, it is definitely an interesting mix, which I think that Fucked Up's David Comes To Life will be remembered for. 

04 M83 | "Intro"

"We carry on."

Around two minutes into the aptly named introductory track for M83's double LP Hurry Up, We're Dreaming., guest vocalist Nika Roza of Zola Jesus begins her vocal passage. It took around five listens to this song to realize that that particular section was sung by Roza and not Anthony Gonzales. This shows how ideal Roza was for the song, and how well both of their voices fuse together and make their two verses virtually seamless. "Intro" is an extremely bold opening to the record, working as an overture for the remainder of the spectacular Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.. Like a large majority of Gonzales' lyrics, the lyrics of "Intro" are difficult to interpret, but when I listen to it I imagine Gonzales as a lone soldier on a battlefield, in the aftermath of a dramatic showdown, stranded and left for dead. But then Zola Jesus, a great and magnificent angel, bursts from the clouds and shields Gonzales from harm and carries him to safety. But really, the beauty of Gonzales' songwriting is that they are open to your own interpretation. It's what Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. is all about: imagination. 

03 Fleet Foxes | "Grown Ocean"
Off of Helplessness Blues

"I will wake one day, don't delay me."

Fleet Foxes sophomore album Helplessness Blues really is nothing less than an emotional and spiritual journey for the listener. Throughout the album's 50 minutes, Robin Pecknold's lyrics cover subjects such as contemplation on life, most notably on the album's title track. But at the end of all of the helplessness and despair and confusion and happiness and the whole whirlwind of emotions that the listener experiences throughout the alum, there is the light at the end of the tunnel, "Grown Ocean". The fast pace of the song is not very typical of Fleet Foxes folky style, but it definitely helps get the point across. The song closes the album with a strikingly beautiful vocal passage sung above lightly clinging wind chimes. After everything that Helplessness Blues shows to us, "Grown Ocean" is definitely a track that will leave a good impression afterwards.

02 Bon Iver | "Beth / Rest"

"I ain't living in the dark no more."

Justin Vernon is not a musician that we will be forgetting in the years to come. And that isn't something that could be said about many musicians nowadays. In fact, if Vernon were to completely drop his musical career right where it is (knock on wood), I don't believe that I would have too many qualms about it. Bon Iver, Bon Iver has completely solidified Justin's place in musical history, and "Beth/Rest", being the closer, wraps everything Justin Vernon has ever done and could be the soundtrack to the peaceful conclusion to anything. Despite being one of the most controversial moves by any artist in 2011 because of it's overly-80's atmosphere, it's unique choice on instrumentation (sax fills, a reverb drenched piano, quick Joe Satriani-esque guitar licks, etc.) is what makes it so perfect. 

In an interview with NPR, Vernon described the meaning behind the song. "Beth/Rest" represents the end of your life, and resting forever in peace in a rewarding paradise. It's our happy place, our salvation, our good winter. But this rest is something that will go on forever. The song is an aural representation of heaven itself. And only listening to the track is it apparent how well it achieves its goal. 

01 M83 | "Steve McQueen"
"Nothing can hurt me today."

I was almost positive that Anthony Gonzales' new double album based around dreams (a very common subject for music these days) would flop right over and fall on it's face. Never did I stop to think "Wait, this is the same guy who wrote songs such as 'We Own The Sky' and 'Kim and Jessie'. This is going to be amazing". And it absolutely was. Taking my #1 spot for song of the year, Anthony Gonzales kicked everything he had already done so very well up a notch and made Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. into his one true masterpiece. 

Although the album is full of climaxes and dramatic passages, there is always a looming feeling that somewhere on the album everything is just going to explode into this beautiful fireworks display. "Steve McQueen" is that moment. Ian Cohen of Pitchfork wrote about the track, saying "point blank, it's as close as most of us will get to being strapped inside a space shuttle, as midway through an almost unbearably tensile verse, you don't hear drums so much as afterburners kicking in. By the chorus, it simply cannot go further up, and it explodes at the perfect moment into hair-metal guitar chords and synth-led skywriting."

But what makes the track so brilliant is that it is absolutely relentless. At no point does Gonzales give you a chance to take a breath, it grows up from the ground like an enormous fire, beginning with the smoldering of the swirling arpeggios, and peaking with the repeated snare hit gunfire before sending you to a completely different world in the chorus. Being the climax to an album that is already magnificent and explosive, it deserves a spot no lower than #1 for this year.

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