Welcome to the first annual “Dres’ Favorite Tracks of ____” list. First things first. This is not a “Best of 2011” list. Rather, it’s a “Favorite of 2011,” list. Chances are if you’re reading this blog and article you have come to trust the contributors opinion in some way, shape or form. So hopefully by now we’ve instilled enough confidence in you to continue reading and maybe find a song that makes your heart flutter. Of course there’s the other reason you may choose to read this blog- to mock our tastes and opinions. If this is the case then know that our self-effacing selves have already done that for you. Sorry hipster, you weren’t first in making fun of us. Plus everyone’s doing it these days and you should probably shirk away from something that is so passé.
I thought this list would be much easier to build. You see, I keep a Grooveshark and Spotify playlist simply called “2011.” This is where I drag any and all tracks that I find through the year and like. Nice and simple. I have a preemptive strike on the age of Aquarius and have an empty 2012 playlist ready to go. Feel free to subscribe to either if you like.(2012 here2011 here & The Swill Merchants Site List Here.) But this list was hard. Some songs aren’t on either music-streaming sources, and some shouldn’t have been dragged over to begin with. Then there are certain factors one must take into consideration when making a thoughtful year-end list. Is the song I’m currently digging really one of my year long favorites? Is it simply a fad? Does a song benefit from its later in the year release for it’s fresher in my mind? Does a song released back in January suffer from its long wait? How do you even this playing field? It’s enough to drive a blogger into many, many, coffee shops. (Bang on the jump below to witness the list.)
I think it’s only fair to reveal my process to you. I first made a list of all the songs that generally seemed they belonged. Then, dear readers, a table was made (for this is serious business). Next I highlighted all the “yeah, duh, of course this is one of my top 20 favorites of the year.” When that was comfortably, and unintentionally over my arbitrary limit of twenty I set to listen to them all over again. Sometimes I was greeted with a “No, way can this not be on the list.” Sometimes it was a “yeah, in comparison to these others maybe not so much.” Once I settled on the twenty I gave an effort to rank them 20-1. This again proved to be hard, and maybe if I had one more cup of tea, wore a different pair of socks, or brushed my teeth for 15 seconds longer the list would have been different. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Lastly the most scientific method available for music was used to make all final cuts… Going for a long drive at night with all finalists in a giant playlist. Windows down. Heat blasting. Cruising around Lake Michigan in my mom’s Kia. Yep, all final decisions were made in my mother’s Kia. All final decisions ever should be made in my mother’s Kia.
Again, this is just my personal taste this year and only for single tracks. None of these choices were based off of the strength of entire albums. Also, I didn’t count reissues. Apologies to Charles Bradley. So please with no further adieu scroll down, give a listen, give a read, and think to yourself or aloud to others “How could this nonsensical, idiotic, taste-less, ugly, entirely too tall, philistine leave off ______.”
Well I did. And it’s my list and I’ll do what I want with it. *Sticks tongue out.*
“Swerve… the reeping of all that is worthwhile. (Noir not withstanding)”
“Swerve” stares you down for the first 36 seconds utterly confident in what it’s about to do. The beat and the music are about to drop out completely as Ishmael Butler hops on the mic for a bar. When you figure out that effect isn’t a gimmick but the pattern of the song itself– it changes. A seductive R&B verse hypnotizes you only to then to give way to another excellent verse, but if you think the song is done there then you really need to listen above.
TV On The Radio
“Will Do” was the first song off the excellent Nine Types of Light that made me stop the normal progression of the album and listen to it again. “Will Do” is just so damn well constructed. It’s like the perfect ride at a theme park. “Will Do” a good example of how TV On The Radio has grown over the years and definitely one of my go to tracks of 2011 that I would use to show a strickly hip-hop or jazz friend the world of indie-rock. Or what I would have my parents listen to when I make my annual effort of “try my music.”
It’s the best hip-hop happening in LA right now. You read that right. In my opinion Kendrick Lamar’s Section. 80 is the best rap within the city of Los Angeles and perhaps he’s the best young gun around. Apologies to those in OFWGKTA, A$AP, and so many more. “Hol’ Up” was a hard choice on an album that has many strong tracks. A.D.H.D., HiiiPower, and Ronald Reagan Era could have all been in this spot. There’s a reason some are calling him the new Tupac.
Why is this track so short? I would like more. The first reaction to “Loud Mouths” was “I need to send this to my friends immediately,” followed by “Why is he wearing that Abercrombie & Fitch shirt in his picture? Not hating, it’s just unexpected.” It’s with this track that I think I have to add another thing I’m a sucker for when done well. Druid chanting. Yep. This along with creepy as hell druid chanting top ten track from last year in Salem’s “King Night” is making me think that I need to seriously consider a decent speaker system that can actually blow windows out. That and not listen to some songs alone after nightfall.
The Naked and Famous
Perhaps, now is when I lose all the cool kids who didn’t jump ship with, “I really do prefer TV On The Radio circa 2004.” You know what? This song is great and if I’m making a totally honest list this song is on it. Who cares if it is in the midst of blowing up alt-rock stations across the U.S. or if it has an ungodly catchiness that may have it playing wide on KISS FM soon. Good pop is still good music.
“Doing It Wrong”
And then it got moody. But that’s Drake for you. While “Take Care” and “Marvin’s Room” get their warranted attention I think “Doing It Wrong” is just as strong, and guess what, I even prefer it. That’s why it’s sitting pretty at number 15. Here Drake takes his now calling card introspective brutal honesty and inflicts it on someone else. It’s all over a 70’s style synth and capped off with an elegant Steve Wonder appearance. Listen carefully because you may not notice him at first for he doesn’t sing. It feels like if Wonder was to sing it would tarnish the mood by having another voice chime in. Instead he compliments Drake’s finest singing to date with his harmonica.
Perhaps the most atmospheric song on the list, Embers “Tunnel Vision” is one of those songs that can’t be found on either Grooveshark or Spotify. They only have three demos out at the moment but they ooze potential. I can’t wait to see what these guys do in 2012. They are a little difficult to google so here is their bandcamp. As for “Tunel Vision” it’s just so big. “Without Fear or Favour” is the song that led me to this band, but “Tunel Vision” is the one that stuck with me. As Talib and Kanye would say, it’s stick to your rib music. Some of the songs on this list were previously featured on the site and here is what I scribbled down last time. “Tunnel Vision” is a dirty, angry, and brooding track that ascends into absolute noise that is entirely cohesive and starkly luring. As if you can’t help but watch your life and everything you have control over crumble before you.” It just so happens that I still believe what I wrote. (Which, trust me, is not always the case.)
“Better Off Without You”
A good mood song and just in the nick of time after the run of “Loud Mouths,” “Doing It Wrong,” and “Tunnel Vision.” While “Better Off Without You” is about a girl telling a boy that their summer tryst is over she is doing it in such a fantastic poppy way that I can’t help but clap along with this breakup. I think “Better Off Without You” is my second largest surprise to my favorite songs of 2011. (#1 yet to come) You see, against all my better judgment I’m about to open up to the one person you don’t open up to— the internet. You see purveyors of the world wide web, I don’t like the 80’s. I know, I know, how blasphemous of me. But, it is what it is and despite my general dislike for the decade I can’t turn my back on this infectious song that doubles as a time machine.
“Queen of Hearts”
You didn’t have to wait long to have my #1 surprise song of 2011 revealed. This song takes me back to a genre of music that I thought I left behind. Or maybe more appropriately left me behind as I didn’t want to give it up. However, I guess when punk is done incredibly well it’s still fantastic. For what appeared to be so long punk, and screaming, just didn’t do it for me, and you know what– I fucking wanted to scream at times. I never would have guessed it would take a 78-minute rock opera highlighted by “Queen of Hearts” to grab me and having me moshing solo in my room. Yet, my upstairs neighbors probably believe that my name is David for all the voice losing screaming of this song I did. Going off that logic they also probably believe that I have a girlfriend named Veronica that is completely hard of hearing and may have Alzheimer’s because I keep introducing myself to her.
This is a song that I allowed in my life entirely too late. It was available to me, and I knew it was out there, I just didn’t accept Phantogram’s party invitation. I had too many prior engagements. If you didn’t know I’m widely popular and universally disliked. You see, unlike parties, in music it’s not cool to be fashionably late. So by the time I got to “Don’t Move” the place was packed with trendy sweaty people dancing and I could barely move. The keg was pretty much tapped and all they had to drink was left over Zima from 1999. But despite all that, I didn’t care. I was too engrossed in Sarah Bathel’s vocals and Josh Carter’s guitar.
There is some debate as to what this song is exactly about. Many seem to think it’s about suicide. Others say Mr. Ocean is depressed and trying to get over a broken heart but no actual deaths are occurring. Despite that debate everyone agrees the knitted panda mask and samurai outfit he wears in the video is awesome. With “Novacane” and “Swim Good” Frank Ocean has potential to be a sort of Nick Cave of R&B and Hip Hop. Covering very dark matters that are often sad and starkly visual.
The Head And The Heart
“Down in the Valley”
Guess what? The Pacific Northwest gives us yet another excellent indie-folk band. I realized this song was a special track of 2011 when I found myself listening to it in all manner of moods, times of the day, and life happenings. It’s incredibly versatile. Like a good friend, it’s always there… when my Spotify and Grooveshark weren’t acting up.
Walk The Moon
“Do you know this house is falling apart?… We got no money. But we got heart!” “Anna Sun” is an anthem to those who are young, without money, and are okay with it because they have what matters most to them. It’s an optimistic song that my friend described as “The perfect song to listen to first thing in the morning.” He’s right. Try it and then try and have a bad day. For those of you that think Walk the Moon is on the list because of the one dinner I had with them via a friend from Cincinnati you are grossly mistaken. Sure I’m certainly invited to all of their weddings and will be named God Father of all of their future children but I assure you that has no bearing on their lofty #8 placing. Call me a liar if you want but don’t you dare call Harry Potter one **(the 1:08 mark) and there is no way he can relate to the whole “We got no money,” part of the song and he still loves it.
** One thing though Daniel, they are from Cincinnati not the U.K. I correct you only because taking anything away from Cincinnati is a bit like stealing bread from a starving African child.
Refreshing. That’s what this song is to me. It’s spring. “America’s Son” elicits some kind of nostalgia though I can’t say what kind per say. I’m guessing this is probably a song that no one was expecting. I’m also surprised to find it here at #7 but being the introspective soul that I am (I’m so very deep. Did you not read the Zima reference above?) while driving around in my mom’s Kia that night I realized for me it belonged right here. If it wasn’t here it would flip-flop with “Down In The Valley” at 9. As for this gem by Air Review, I couldn’t stop listening to it once it made its way to my ears. Months later it’s still going strong in my rotation and matching up against everything else.
Some artists are lucky enough to blow up onto a scene instead of toiling in it for a long time. The best example of this in 2011 is probably Foster The People. One minute they are learning how to play instruments and the next they are #1 on Kiss FM being blasted by tweens everywhere who have no idea they are singing about a school shooting. Seriously, that’s what “Pumped Up Kicks” is about. Not kidding. But enough about them, this is Trevor Powers’ spot and he shot up very far very fast in 2011. His debut album The Year of Hibernation is not some deep metaphor referring to some ambiguous entity. It’s exactly what you think. He isolated himself to work on the record. It’s how he was dealing with his anxiety after not having enough money to continue his sessions with a counselor. “I had to choose between making the record and seeing the counselor, and I chose the record.”
See the lyrics of “Posters.” “I used to be outspoken/Doin’ anything for someones attention/And when that changed I guess you thought/That I was no longer me/Although I finally found me/So take the other bodies/And put them by the TV/You make real friends quickly (x2) But not me.” Like many of the songs on this list this comes from a fantastic album. But to pick the exact song wasn’t that tough. “Posters” is the first track off Hibernation and it sets up everything that follows perfectly. Mood, tone, production, everything. It demands your attention. I found myself returning to “Posters” more than any other song.
“You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are”
Take the moodiness of Drake’s representative exactly 10 slots above this and add in some For Emma, Forever Ago. Keaton Henson is a 21st century recluse. He can’t perform live shows due to extreme anxiety and from what I’ve read he’s not agoraphobic but certainly enjoys the comfort of his own home. The 21st century part comes from that he is apparently working on finding a way to stream concerts live from a comfortable setting and doesn’t shy away from appearing in music videos even if he does keep his head down the whole time. “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are” is clearly in regards to an ex of Henson’s. The lyrics are comprised completely of questions that he has for said ex. The song starts with his typical soft, raspy voice and you’re greeted with the feeling that Henson is wondering these questions aloud to himself. However, with an emotional peak that borrows from the mantra “less is more” Henson’s guitar swells and his voice quivers. You imagine someone fighting back tears or growing in anger and it’s as if Henson’s lost perspective on the situation and somehow his ex is there in the room before him. He quickly quells that budding emotion resigned to muttering over and over “Does his love make your head spin?”
It’s feels odd referring to Keaton Henson simply by, Henson. He’s one of those musicians whose work feels so personal that you think you know them after a few listens. As if he were singing from a journal that he was to afraid to put on paper and the music behind his words is the blanket he hides under to make it all okay.
Putting NewVillager here was easy. You may be asking yourself “But how could a band whose debut album wasn’t even reviewed by Pitchfork be included on your list? Much less #4!” Short answer. I don’t know. Long answer, I don’t knooooow. Okay, that joke may have bombed. Some people just can’t pull off silly like Steve Martin. (Editors note: No one can pull off silly like Steve Martin) I do think NewVillager is perhaps 2011’s most overlooked band which is hard when you see that they have claimed comprehensive compliments from NME, Sterogum, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, the BBC, The Swill Merchants, etc. How they are not more popular is one of those things that I don’t understand. They have the broad pop appeal of Foster The People and the delectable quirk of Animal Collective. So while, yes they are popular I guess I want them to be more so. Chalk it up to impatience because this is only their debut album. I would love to put them on arbitrary lists like this for a long time and if they blow up I promise I won’t stop liking them just ‘cause.
If anyone has been reading lists this year they were probably wondering where I would put this top 10 list runaway train. Then a few close friends may have read this and yelled “Whaaaaaat?” Let me fill you in. I didn’t like this song at first. One of those—the first time I heard it I was in a bad place stories. Not emotionally, worried reader. Relax. I was physically in a bad place. I was in my friend’s car and the windows were down on the freeway and I could hardly hear the leaked single and my eyes were dried out from a consistent smog filled LA wind lashing. Then later when someone brought up in front of an entire group that I didn’t like the song I felt that I needed to defend myself. Misplaced bravado. So I made up a bunch of stuff, sounded like an ass, and voila. So here, in front of everyone the prodigal son has returned to say with the utmost sincerity “Midnight City” is fantastic. When I told a certain blog partner about my inclusion of “Midnight City” as a finalist on my favorite tracks of the year list she replied via text “Ho boy! It’s greatness can’t be denied.” I didn’t have the heart to correct her grammar. (Nor the clout.)
“Lindisfarne 1 & 2”
I’m guessing I’m going to need to defend this selection a bit. Here’s the thing. Yes Lindisfarne is technically two separate tracks off what chances are is my favorite album of the year, James Blake. But I defend it as such:
Technically it’s a suite.
It’s a completely smooth transition from one track to the next. Part 2 picks up exactly where part 1 ends.
I was able to see James Blake perform twice this year and he played them both back to back with no pause in-between. Just like on the album.
The music video is both part 1 and part 2 and entitled simply “Lindisfarne.”
There. If you disagree with me then so be it but I adore this song. Everything about it. How if you listen carefully, at the end of part 2 you can hear equipment rattling around. The minimalism that starts 1:40 into part 2 and lasts 25 seconds. How for some reason that minimalism is extended by three seconds in video. And the transition. That great transition from part 1 to part 2. Just look at the Soundcloud wave above. You can tell exactly the moment I’m talking about, but don’t cheat yourself and jump ahead it’s the build that does it. I actually recommend simply closing your eyes while it plays. I adore how Blake teases the transition– then drops it only to bring it back for keeps moments later when you’re not expecting it. It’s a perfect balance of him experimenting with space, staying true to his dub-step roots, going back to his soul infused childhood, and all the while staying accessible. It’s excellent and it’s all just so James Blake.