Like a lot of Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, Steve McQueen wants nothing more than to be a Rock-Your-Face-Off epic, that consuming ambition powering a song full of pummeling drums, heavenly keys, and harmonic battle cries.
Voyager Reprise---Surfer Blood***
While imitating the artists and styles of year's past has been the game plan for a lot of today's popular musicians, Surfer Blood stick out because their shorter memory only reaches back to the 90's, a decade that might seem too new for other artists to touch. But these guys absolutely own their College Rock, Old-Weezer-Style trappings, and Voyager Reprise is a shinning example.
43. Riding for the Feeling---Bill Callahan
It's a simple tune; A lonely acoustic guitar, occasional snare brushes and piano hovering around the edges, as Callahan's voice sing/speaks its way through all six minutes. The recipe is familiar, but so is the feeling of loss and regret that RftF conjures in the pit of your stomach with comely grace are almost too real to bare.
Merrill Garbus is probably the last woman on earth who you'd expect to do anything Half-Way, and Gangsta is a perfect example. Blaring sounds attack from all angles, as Garbus shouts lines like, "Never move to my hood/Cause danger is crawlin' out the wood," even screaming, "Bang, Bang, Bang," with the furious blast of a shoot gun. It all snowballs into utter madness, badass-ery oozing from its pores.
An ode to lazy, contented love, Baby's Arms sees Vile employ a variety of sounds, pasting them all around the edges of yet another perfect guitar riff, repeating the line, "I get sick of just about everyone/And I hide in my baby's arm's," until the words alone feel like sanctuary.
40. Measurements---James Blake
After a whole album that defies easy genre categorization, James Blake uses its last track to throw yet another curveball: His layered, focused, and grand take on Gospel. Of course, Blake subverts genre expectations with his use of auto-tune and non-manual instrumentation, but the gushing, big-hearted style at its core is impossible to miss, and Blake fills it with meaning and emotion all his own.
39. Under Cover of Darkness---The Strokes***
The Strokes latest didn't exactly bring them back to the height of their fame, but this track, the album's first single, could easily be mistaken for an entry from their heyday. Light, alluring guitar riffs seem to ricochet off of the walls, while Julian Casablancas' Too-Cool-To-Care swagger lights the thing up, reeling off self-referential zingers, like, "I've been all around this town/Everybody's singin' the same song for ten years."It's not too hard to guess which tune he's referencing, and if there were any justice in the world, people might put that one down for a second, and come listen to this.
38. Last Night at Jetty---Panda Bear
The Animal Collective boys, bless their hearts, like to test the patience of their listeners, trying out new sounds, hardly ever comfortable just releasing a simple pop song. Maybe that's what makes Last Night At Jetty so wonderful; A track whose sole purpose is to please, lofting merrily along, Noah Lennox's sing-songy voice perfectly befitting.
37. Lovecrimes---Frank Ocean
If sex and silk could be synthesized into one single song, this would be it. Ocean doesn't need to raise his voice to Standard-R&B falsetto; Rather, he just flows along with the track's steady percussion, miscievious bass, and sturdy piano loop, all set to a near-constant, ever-provacative sample of Eyes Wide Shut.
I Don't Want Love---The Antlers***
One of the best conflicted love songs of 2011, the Burst Apart opener leads off the album with the phrase, "You wanna climb up the stairs/I wanna push you back down/But I let you inside/So you can push me around." This sense of lovelorn confusion is set to sinewy chorus guitar line, and spare instrumentation that seems to sparkle in the darkness.
35. Go Outside---Cults
This is about as gooey and sugary as Pop really gets, but the melody, as stressed by guitars, voices, and xylophone, is simply not to be denied. It bounces giddily along beneath Madeline Follin's girly, Youtube-Generation lament, "I, I really wanna go out/I really wanna go outside/Outside to see the day/You, you really wanna hold up/You really stay inside/And sleep the light away."
34. East Harlem---Beirut***
I kind of hate that I love this song as much as I do. It's Beirut by the numbers, just like all Beirut is Beirut by the numbers, but there's something especially lovely about this light, unassuming ballad. Zach Condon's voice has never been easier to sing along with (and that's saying something), and the taps and strums that surround it recall the falling of autumn leaves. Rosy romance bottled up into four Swoon-Worthy minutes.
33. Will Do---TV on the Radio
There's only way to make a song like this one work, and that's to mean it. Tunde Adebimpe has always had a way with making simple lyrics flood with deeper meaning, his chorus claims that, "Anytime will do/My love/Anytime will do/No choice of words will break me from this rule," ringing pure and true in their unbridled commitment. Guitars crunch right beneath him, strings carry him away, and you hit repeat.
32. Burned Out---The Field***
There's not mush to say about this one, so I won't waste your time. It feels like home in here, so bright, and content, and warm. Like, really, really warm. As a matter of fact, I'd kind of like to live in Burned Out.
31. Parentheses---The Antlers
Perhaps even more surprising than the somewhat lighter tone featured on much of Burst Apart is this one track detour into sordid darkness. It's brooding, chilled, and somehow the sexiest thing that these guys have ever done, constructed out of fog horn blares, empty, echoing space, a deliciously grimly Guitar-Centric chorus stand-in, and Peter Silberman's piercing, soaring masterclass in falsetto.
Out Getting Ribs---Zoo Kid***
I don't know wether to be elated by Archy Marshall's success, or ticked off that he achieved it at the annoyingly young age of 17. Either way, one thing is for sure: I can't stop listening to this song, a broken-hearted lament from a member of the exact age group that feels love's sting with startlingly little irony, humor, or self-awareness. Marshall, who has since changed his recording name to King Krule, doesn't let any of those things invade his song, the track populated only by his knowingly imperfect voice, and a lone electric guitar, played with a virtuoso's flair and hurt.
29. Marvins Room---Drake
If Take Care is Drake's answer to Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, then Marvins Room is its Runaway, an R&B-Leaning track wherein a super-star outs himself as a manipulative lost soul. Set to the context of a drunk dial to a former lover, Drake sings smoothly and softly over deep, slithering beats that echo in a dark, cavernous sound world. Pity, disgust, and amazement take turns defining the song, the singer's damning introspection never more cutting than on his Late-Track admission to the woman on the other end, "I’m lucky that you picked up/Lucky that you stayed on/I need someone to put this weight on."
28. Perth---Bon Iver
While Perth might not be my favorite track on its respective album, it very well might be the song that most boldly proclaims what Bon Iver is trying to accomplish. After years of hearing the Cabin-In-The-Woods story be repeated and distorted, there's little doubt that Justin Vernon wanted to reveal himself as more than a sad guy with a guitar. Placed first on the track list, Perth is not content to go out quietly, hammering drum rolls propelling the number before crashing symbols and guitars forcefully, gloriously proclaim that Bon Iver is no longer a One-Man band.
I'm Going Down---Vampire Weekend***
Yes, this is what cheating looks like: I'm Going Down was came attached to a Six-Song itunes session that the band unveiled on December 21st of 2010. Sadly, I hadn't gotten the chance to hear it in time for last year, but there was no way that I was going to allow this one to never place on a Year-End list of mine. This Springsteen cover plays by most of the polite pop rules that the band has set out for themselves, but the ravishing things that it does within that framework make it a delectable little treat, glued to the inside of your head before it's is even over.
26. Alsatian Darn---Panda Bear***
Alsatian Darn is my very favorite track off of Tomboy, but that's because it's cheating. There are at least three songs stuffed into one here, each magnificent, every section sliding perfectly into place with its counterparts despite their wildly varied tones. The tension of the start, the levity of the bridge, the Go-For-Broke of the finish: AD will take you everywhere, so just ride along.
Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2011:
Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2011: