25. How Deep is Your Love?---The Rapture
There's a party that's about to start, and if you didn't know, you might not have ears. How Deep is Your Love? doesn't exactly just hint at it: The heavy piano chords that introduce the song foretell of an In-Your-Face, Take-It-Or-Leave-It explosion of sound and instrumentation, the song's title repeated time and time again as noise appears and assails from absolutely every direction. By the time the song has reached its titanic conclusion, you'll wonder if The Rapture might have added about 15 members during the song's six and a half minute duration. This is the sound of parades, and confetti dropping from the rafters, purged of all nuance, ready to rock.
24. I Know Places---Lykke Li
Lykke Li is kind of a badass. Most of the songs on Wounded Rhymes focus on this side of her, highlighting her fiery spirit, and throaty shout. I Know Places, on the other hand, is anything but an Ass-Kicker, unless you count the emotional kind. Li's breathy yearnings float like mist in the air, accompanied by occasional other voices, belting their longings on top of a particularly simple acoustic guitar strum. "I know places we can go, babe," she repeats again and again, her proposal caught between the crosshairs of sultry proposition, and crushing disappointment. I, for one, would go with her.
23. Cannons---Youth Lagoon
The songs that Trevor Powers releases under the name Youth Lagoon play a pretty impressive trick: They somehow straddle the line between Bedroom-Crafted intimacy, and widescreen expansiveness. Cannons opens with hardly a whisper, Powers' voice echoing eternally down the song's endless tunnel, but cue the 52-second mark, and something big begins to build. The drum sounds pick up, a guitar lands on a perfect riff, and Cannons balloons into a pop mammoth, growing from its humble origins to Heart-On-Sleeve grandiosity in under four minutes.
22. Ni**as in Paris---JAY Z & Kanye West
Ni**as in Paris is the biggest Hip-Hop song of the year, its weight measured by the ton. Nothing said by either of the MC's is worth much close consideration, but the meaninglessness is a meaning in and of itself. This song exists to be blasted out of cars, to prompt neighbors to call the cops on your party, to wreak general havoc. It towers mercilessly over other Heavy-Beat jams on the radio, beating them over the head with ecstasy, mania, and unrelenting enormity.
21. Limit to Your Love---James Blake
The very best cover song of the year is a real breath-taker, and in a variety of clever, disparate ways. Blake's voice, normally heavily auto-tuned as a means of artistic style, peels open the song with the hiccups, creeks, and gut-level power that only natural singers can attain. But before you write it off as filling in the, "Singer/Songwriter," slot on the album, consider the bass drop just before the one minute mark. Played on lousy, quite speakers, it can prove too subtle to properly detect, but played loud and proud, the bass wobble that takes places after literal seconds of silence could put just about any Dubstep song to shame. It's a marriage between the enormous and the introspective, a crossroads that Blake knows all too well.
20. Towers---Bon Iver
Much has been made of the lyrics featured on Bon Iver, their hyper-cryptic allusions, and avoidance of making overt, immediate sense. Towers might not completely buck this trend, but it certainly comes the closest. It's about a girl (what song isn't?), incandescent guitar chords leading into a steady shuffle of drums and horns. In other words, the song is much simpler than these guys usually produce, but their loving, emotive take on Boy-Loves-Girl is luminous, Justin Vernon bringing us into his story right away, declaring, "For the love, Iʼd fallen on/In the swampy August dawn/What a mischief you would bring young darling!"
Helplessness Blues---Fleet Foxes
"I was raised up believing/I was somehow unique/Like a snowflake/distinct among snowflakes/unique in each way you can see/And now after some thinking/I'd say I'd rather be/a functioning cog in some great machinery/Serving something beyond me." These words not only open up the title track of Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues, but served as the world's first taste of the band in over two years when it appeared online in early 2011. Gone are the almost mythical surroundings of Fleet Foxes: This is the modern world, filled with rampant confusion about meaning, purpose, and Self-Definition, a confusion expressed with beauty, pain, and yearning through Robin Pecknold's most moving set of lyrics to date, set to the warm strums and skyward harmonies that his band does like nobody else out there.
No one has a voice like Marrill Garbus: One could easily mistake it for a man's on a variety of occasions, though her higher register is not to be doubted. She can sing in a hushed, feminine sort of way, and then turn right around to snarl and scream with the best of them. Bizness is all about putting this Head-Spinning range on display, the mad woman's voice transforming from absolute howl, to gentle falsetto during almost every single line of the verses. Her looping insanity is also in attendance, the song's opening piling one sound on top of the other until its impossible to tell what's what in the swirling, spinning mixture. The chorus chant of, "I'm a victim, yeah/Don't take my life away, don't take my life away," is as feverish and memorable as any this year, and the fact that one's first impulse is to dance on top of it is an achievement in and of itself.Is This Power---The Field
Like a One-Man jam band, The Field love nothing more than to locate a perfect sway, and stay there for the next ten minutes. Is This Power is a similarly lengthy number, just over eight and a half minutes, to be exact, only deviating slightly as it moves along. It might prove too uneventful for some, but I just like becoming lost in it, forgetting where or when it began, nodding my head along to the dirty beat with powerless complicity. 2011 offered no better soundtrack for long, solo night time drives.
Much of what was exciting about Bon Iver was listening to Justin Vernon and company go out and strike new ground, but that also came at the unfortunate expense of the more streamlined, isolated sound of For Emma, Forever Ago. That's part of what makes Holocene so special; A beautiful whisper from a Long-Absent friend, containing the Pop-Standard Verse-Chorus-Verse structure that the rest of the album completely leaves in the dust. There's ample evidence of the band's Nine-Member Line-Up, from drum rolls, to horn swells, to gracefully descending bass lines, but this is no doubt a smaller, more personal tune than anything else on Bon Iver, featuring a glorious, gushing conclusion.
15. Alien Observer---Grouper
Reverberating, vibrating Bedroom-Pop isn't exactly a new thing to either the indie music landscape, or this list, but what Portland's own Liz Harris does on this track is not to be lost in the clutter. Only two sound-makers are in attendance: A lonely electric guitar, and Harris' layered voice, looped and smeared until it all just washes over us. It's a psychedelic experience to be sure, but what stands out more is the staggering beauty of the thing, one woman's voice interlocking with itself to occupy every last inch of space in the room.The Wilhelm Scream---James Blake
R&B, Dubstep, Pop, Electronica: All of those genre tags that are so easy to throw at James Blake's debut record are never more fruitfully played than on The Wilhelm Scream. Blake's yearning voice is set on a bed of bleeps, pops, and bangs the reverberate deeply onto the song's spacious backdrop, swelling into waves of ravishing electronic sound. "I don't know about my dreams/I don't know about my dreaming anymore," he repeats over and over again. The words may be simple, but the weight of their meaning is almost too much to bare.
One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)---Wilco
I'm a huge proponent of brevity, and can often have art ruined for me by artists who don't know how to get out while they're still ahead. Given this opinion, my love for One Sunday Morning makes Little-To-No sense. A song who's gentle existence breaks the twelve minute mark with only minimal deviation, The Whole Love's closer is not only remains unharmed by its considerable runtime, but in fact owes it for a sense of meaning and glorious endlessness. The structure is just so exquisite, one instrument after another taking the reigns of that same alluring melody, passing the baton just after adding a lovely little flourish all its own. Amazingly, you miss it as soon as its over.
12. Rigamortis---Kendrick Lamar
To me, there's just about nothing better in the world than hearing an MC absolutely tear apart a track, and, my god, if that isn't what's happening here. The beat is a fun one, pasted together out of trumpets and a snazzy little drum kit, but it doesn't take long before listening to Lamar flow all but drowns out the track. The guy raps in hyper-speed while somehow maintaining an air of effortlessness, his words and pronunciation almost falling out of his mouth, one thought being formed before the previous one is even over. Tack on the last 30 seconds, wherein Lamar flips into a double time that would earn mad props from Busta Rhymes on down, and you've got one of the best Hip-Hop songs of the year, created by one of the brightest young talents in the industry.
It's Real---Real Estate
The media attention and technological advances that the music industry has seen over the last several years seemingly always threaten to be the death knell of basic, Bare-Bone pop structures. On an annual basis, however, there's at least one song that reminds us of how alive those trappings still are today, and for 2011, that song was It's Real. There's nothing Fussed-Over about the tune, no abundance of sounds, no maddening key signature Change-Ups, no guest artists. It's just a group of guys with instruments and equipment that you could find at your local music store, writing and playing a song so jovial and pure that it might have come along at just about anytime in pop's history and still proved just as winsome. From that Stuck-In-My-Head-For-Months guitar riff, to that adorable music video (link posted above), to the endearingly earnest lyrics, It's Real reminds us that, no matter the ingredients, a great song will always be a great song.
Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2011:
Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2011: