Saturday, December 31, 2011

My 2011 Alphabet

2011 was a solid year for music but it was a year without any identity. 2011 had no reoccurring themes (unless you are Ali and are a lot smarter than me,) it had no "defining moment," and it had no clear artist or song of the year. 2011 to me was more of a pillar of consistency across multiple genres. 2011 was a year that was so complicated that it cannot be defined with just a few paragraphs or links to a few songs. It has to be defined almost like an alphabet or a dictionary. So here is my 2011 dictionary*

*Songs without descriptions are simply good songs!*


A: The Antlers - "Putting The Dog To Sleep"
"Putting The Dog To Sleep" is the Antlers salvation song. While Hospice was the encyclopedia on suffering, the dictionary on defeat, and the map on misery, "Putting The Dog To Sleep" seems to be a gentle yet depressing reminder that life is worth living. It seems to be saying "even if we die alone, at least we lived" in the most Antlers way possible. It is a beautiful and breathtaking track and seems to be closer to a spring bed of flowers than the hospital bed of Hospice. And it is a great reminder of how talented the Antlers are no matter what concept surrounds their music

B: Beirut - "East Harlem"
"East Harlem" is the perfect combination of everything that appears to be a contradiction. It is a song you can fall asleep to yet sounds like the perfect song for your alarm clock, it is a song that sounds like something out of 1865 yet still sounds like it breaking new ground, it is song that is pleasantly repetitive and catchy without really having a chorus, and it is a song that makes you feel like you are floating while climbing a mountain at the same time. The playful atmosphere that Beirut create is one of almost endless possibilities and this is why "East Harlem" is such a memorable track.

C: Cassino - "The River (SOS Version)"
With the Sounds of Salvation version of "The River" Cassino once again prove the futile brilliance that is found in the pursuit of perfection "The River" was already one of the best songs on Kingprince and Cassino decided to re do the song to "make it better" and "give it a new feel." The problem with tinkering with something that is already perfect is that you really cannot make it better you can just make it different. Cassino introducing a new version of "The River" is kind of like Natalie Portman getting a boob job, its different but it isn't really necessary. As unnecessary as this song is it is equally as perfect. Cassino tinkered with an already perfect song and just made it a faster version of the same perfection.

D: Destroyer - "Suicide Demo For Kara Walker"
Kaputt is an American defining album. It defines the vulnerability yet stability of America with just about every single track. The album basically sets out to describe America as a state of controlled chaos, of a state of detente like peace. No track accomplishes the albums goals better than "Suicide Demo For Kara Walker." Every jam session in this song is fragile and stable, every lyric is pointed yet metaphorical, and every chorus is catchy yet lost in translation. "Suicide Demo" is the American cry for help that is found in the voice of every pitiful jingoist, the depression that is found beneath every successful businessman, and it is the sound of fear that defines our capitalistic society. It is a confident cry for help that sounds more like a poetic State of the Union Address.

E: Eisley - "Ambulance"

Today I saw "We Have A Zoo" and the movie was the typical feel good PG movie. But one thing the movie did a great job of doing was showing the positive and negative effects of lost love. Matt Damon sees his dead wife at stop signs, grocery stores, restaurants, and every person he meets. The movie seems to be him taking care of zoo animals so he doesn't have to deal with a ghost that he is still illogically in love with. In a weird way "Ambulance" reminds me of that kind of love, a love that is to powerful for words. A love that makes you want to cry, makes you want to die, and follows you everywhere you go. This lost love is tough to comprehend (it is essentially a Rubik cube of depression) but is even tougher to put to music. Eisely seem to put this lost feeling to music easily and make a beautiful ode to the feeling in "Ambulance."

F: Frank Turner - "Redemption"
My first post on MuzikDizcovery I wrote about having a "14 day spiritual journey" to music. I included fourteen different artists and fourteen different songs from the year of 2011. Looking back on that list I should have just made it a twelve day spiritual journey and included every song from England Keep My Bones. The whole album is an spiritual journey without annoying us with the concept of spirituality: it is an album about knowing what you stand for, finding your home, finding yourself in your home, finding love, and being humble and human enough to admit your mistakes. "Redemption" seems to touch on all of these things while remaining a simple and beautiful song.

G: 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.
H: The Horrors - "I Can See Through You"

I: Iron & Wine - "Walking Far From Home"
I have always been skeptical of "hey I'll sing about what I'm seeing" songs. They always seem to be far to repetitive, far too childish, and far too metaphorical for my taste. Iron & Wine's "do you see what I see?" song works because they describe what they say in a way that isn't forced but is still well-written. The music on this song is also beautiful and makes you feel like you are traveling with the band as they see majestic things like "a millionaire pissing on his lawn."

J: Jay-Z and Kanye West - "Niggas In Paris"
A lot of critics criticized Watch The Throne because they said that America does not people bragging about how rich they are in the midst of a financial crisis. A lot of reviewers did not understand that this might exactly what America needs during these tough times and that the music on Watch The Throne was actually good. Maybe America needs to "get its swagger back," maybe we need the sheer hope that we can get rich and live the life of a Jay-Z or Mr. West, and most importantly maybe we just need something we can dance too. Maybe Jay-Z and Kanye's bragging was something we were supposed to bring our old dancing shoes out for and maybe "Niggas In Paris" was just a reminder that good music isn't as cyclical as a stock market. Or maybe I'm just cray......
K: Kate Bush - "Wild Man"

L: Lydia - "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

M: Manchester Orchestra - "Simple Math"
It is tough to say why "Simple Math" is such a beautiful song. It is aggressive and violent, it is weird and peculiar, and it really does not have any "structure." I think what makes "Simple Math" beautiful is that it helps us realize that beauty depends on the occasion. It helps us realize that beauty can be violent, beauty can be aggressive, beauty can be weird, beauty can be peculiar, and beauty can be random. If beauty was just a definition then what would be the purpose of looking outside of our window? If beauty was just one big voice then what the hell would be the purpose of listening to new music? SM is not only a good song but a song that makes you realize that life is not a definition or algorithm.

N: The National - "Think You Can Wait"
The brilliance of the National has always been found in their unique ability to make you feel like you are actually living their life. The hard rocking "Mr. November" made me feel like I was being carried by cheerleaders, the epic "Geese of Beverly Road" made me feel like I was running away with my first love, the rocking "Apartment Story" made me feel like I was getting ready for my first corporate job interview, and "Conversation 19" made me feel like I was struggling with my marriage and raising my children. A lot of bands can make albums that try to define a particular age group but the National are one of the few groups that can make you feel like you are part of that particular age group. The National take you to a different place with every riff of every song. "Think You Can Wait" takes us to the scene of a mid life crisis and allows us to help the narrator overcome this crisis. "Think You Can Wait" is a brilliant song that allows us to "pull the devil down with us one way or the other."

O: Opeth - "Famine"
I admit to being against not only the sound of metal but also what metal stands for (at least to me.) Metal was always war music that the pacifist side of me hated, it was always womanizing music for a person who struggles to make casual conversation with a woman that is above a six, and it was always dehumanizing music for someone that just wanted to feel human. "Famine" sort of proves all of my stereotypes wrong. It is a human track that really does not contain a lot of my 1980's stereotypes about metal and gives me a reason to give a shit about metal again.

P: Pearl Jam - "Alive"
Pearl Jam always seems to get lost in the shuffle. Instead of being the flavor of the month, Pearl Jam seem to be the second or third flavor of every month of the past twenty years. They are one of the more consistent and energetic bands around. The live version of "Alive" is a beautiful reminder of that consistency, energy, and rebellion.

Q: DJ Quik - "Killer Dope"
Rap has always been a genre of disingenuous chest bumping for me. Every rapper just seems to be one upping the rapper he is currently in a beef with. Instead of making rap truthful this makes most rap just hyperbolic chest bumping nonsense. DJ Quik shows the genuine side of rap on "Killer Dope": his bragging is genuine, his motives are humble, and his music actually seems to have some sort of structure.

R: Radiohead - "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 The King Of Limbs was really supposed to be. The King Of Limbs 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.

S: St. Vincent - "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.

T: TV on The Radio - "Will Do"
Nine Types of Light is composed of ten different songs that will ironically shine ten different types of light into your life. If you are feeling depressed listening to "Keep Your Heart" will make you feel like dancing, if you are angry "You" will make you feel like you are not alone while making you smile at the same time, if you are hopeless "No Future Shock" will give you hope for the future by repeatedly saying their is no future, if you are lonely "Killer Crane" will give you something to cry with and smile with at the same time, if you feel ugly "Will Do" will summon your inner St. Vincent and make you feel sexy again, and if you feel tired "Caffeinated Consciousnesses" will be your musical ten cups of coffee. These are a few examples of the light that Nine Types of Light will bring into your song. And the brilliance of this album is that no matter how depressing of a topic they are singing about, no matter how depressing the lyrics are, and no matter how heartbroken you personally are each song on here still manages to bring some light into your life. Nine Types of Light is an album composed of ten songs that will make you feel alive again. And that in itself is a light that absolutely no one wants to go out.
U: The Unearth - "Queen of Hearts"

V: Vampire Weekend - "Giving Up The Gun"
The video was released in 2011 so I am going to put it on here. "Giving Up The Gun" is a really fun and catchy song and not really a lot more. It is everything you expect from a solid Vampire Weekend song.

W: The Wonder Years - "Local Man Ruins Everything"
The Wonder Years made the 2011 version of Tell All Your Friends with Suburbia and "Local Man Ruins Everything" is the most impressive song on the album. It is a hard rocking song filled with angst ridden lyrics and a catchy as hell chorus. As childish as The Wonder Years are at times the chorus of this song still has some of the best lyrics of the year and this is one of the best songs of the year.
X: The xx - "Open Eyes"

Y: Youth Lagoon - "July"
What made Youth Lagoon's Hibernation such a great album was not only that it was the soundtrack of our dreams but that it could be the soundtrack to any of our dreams. The music is so open and free that it makes you feel like you are constantly in the state of having a dream or having a nightmare. It just depends on the track. "July" makes you dream of summer romances, long nights, and running away with your first love.

Z: Ziggy Marley - "Elizabeth"

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