TOP 50 TRACKS OF 2011: 10-1

And finally, it comes to this.  Another year passes, and another year sees me taking longer and longer to post my year end lists.  I suspect this is some sort of cruel mental self-flagellation on my part, as in the time it takes me to decide to finally sit down and churn out these lengthy descriptions, I end up discovering releases from the previous list that I wish I could include on this list, but alas, it’s too late.  So they cycle through my playlists as I type, haunting, nay, judging me.  Saying “where was I when you made this list back in December of 2011?” and “Hey, I know that 20,000 words is a whole lot of typing, but it’s not six months’ worth of typing!”  And you’d be right.

Oh well, we live and learn.  Maybe next year I will be more on top of this whole music list situation.  Or maybe you’ll get the last entry of my 2012 piece when the Mayans invade the planet (to be honest I might not have the firmest grasp of what the Mayan Apocalypse would entail).

Well, anyway, if you’ve stuck with me this far, through two website, I might as well give you what you (maybe) want.


10:  Fishboy- Aspen2k

Listen, I write about Fishboy a lot.  I enjoy his quirky-fun-I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-more-popular-nationally-than-it-is brand of Indie pop.  But believe me when I tell you that this song’s high placement on this list is in no way influenced by the use of a Muppet in this music video.  That has nothing to do with it.  I have my integrity, goddamn it. 

Pictured above- integrity

The first track that I heard from 2011’s awesome Classic Creeps is one of the best, as well as being one of the few songs that really lets us bathe in the melody for longer than three minutes.  As I’ve mentioned previously, Creeps is an album where each song follows a character whose name begins with A, and all of these characters are connected through various complicated means.

“Aspen2k” gives us possibly the most pure “chorus” in the album, or at the very least one of the more catchy ones.  It keeps a steady, upbeat pace until about the three minute mark, at which point the song is interrupted with a spoken word interlude that allows the instrumentals to build up, peak, and drop in one of the song’s most effective moments.  Of course the whole concept is goofy.  For example, in the interlude, after being clubbed unconscious, we are told that “Millennium awoke tied to the enormous rocket.”  This is not a world that exists in reality, sure, but if a goofy fantastical world is going to exist, we might as well give it a quirky, upbeat soundtrack.  And that’s why we have Fishboy.

9:  Childish Gambino- Outside

Donald Glover is a former “30 Rock” writer, comedic actor (Represent, Community), and occasional young Tracy Jordan.  That said, I’m pretty sure that’s the last thing he’d want you to focus on in his rap project, Childish Gambino.  In fact, he probably wouldn’t want some random white raised-in-the-suburbs-of-Chicago blogger trying to decipher his lyrics in between jokes about Vampire Weekend and, I don’t know, Midnight in Paris.  That said, “Outside,” the opening track from Glover’s debut studio album, Camp, is a bit of a tour de force.  While some of his songs are filled with killer hooks and racing beats, “Outside” is more of an introduction, somewhere between a polite but distrustful handshake and a stern “who the fuck do you think you are?” lecture.

A choir of “ohh-oh-ohh” starts things off as soft synth beats lay the background before Glover comes in tales of his childhood memories that are painted in equal shades 80’s nostalgia (“playing with this Land Before Time toy from Pizza hut”) and racial existentialism (“They talking hood shit and I ain’t know what that was about/ ‘Cause hood shit and black shit is super different/ So now I’m talking hood shit and cool it now like New Edition.”)

The backbone of this song is inherently one of a racial identity struggle.  While the track describes a familial struggle to make ends meet, it also shows Glover trapped between racial worlds.  Glover talks of his family, saying “Workin’ two jobs so I can get into that white school/ And I hate it there/ They all make fun of my clothes and wanna touch my hair,” while then going on to address those in his old neighborhood by saying, “And he mad ‘cause his father ain’t around/ He lookin’ at me now, like/ ‘Why you so fuckin’ lucky?  I had a father too/ But he ain’t around so I’mma take it out on you.’”

There’s an identity crisis at the roots of this song, but it also powers each verse into the gorgeous, choir choruses which all eventually ends with Glover singing to the heavens, “Can you hear me now?  Oh, help us Lord.”  All the pieces combine to make a deeply personal, effective, and profound track.

8:  Rural Alberta Advantage- The Breakup

I talk a lot about the Rural Alberta Advantage.  And you’ll see more by them later on in this post.  “They’re at their best when they focus on the drums and backup vocals,” you might hear me say.  Or, “they manage to make very personal sounding music about various Alberta cities,” might ring a bell.  But sometimes, you just have to appreciate a song for being tender and sweet.

In “The Breakup,” the song opens with little but tinkering keyboard notes and more-subdued-than-they-could-be drums, until the final 40 seconds where the drums let loose a little wilder, and Amy Cole gets to make an always-welcome vocal appearance.  As for the lyrics of the song, it’s both as straightforward and as metaphorical as you’d expect.  It’s also relatable, as many of us have had that winter relationship that abruptly ends as soon as the weather clears and the need for warm comfort during the cold months fades away.  In this case, the breakup of a relationship is discussed in tandem with the breakup of ice as spring arrives.  It’s simple, and effective. 

I can’t particularly add too much in my review of this song that hasn’t already been said by “Anonymous” in the comment section of the lyrics88 posting of the track’s lyrics.

Yes.  Boobs indeed, anonymous.  Boobs, indeed.

7:  Dreamers of the Ghetto- State of a Dream

One of the top “I will blare this in my car” tracks of 2011 was easily this track from the debut of Bloomington, Indiana’s own Dreamers of the Ghetto.  One thing that helps of course is Luke Jones’ booming pipes deeply belting out the lyrics through anthemic yet slightly murky instrumentation.  Of course, the lyrics aren’t the most decipherable either, but that’s hardly relevant for this track.  Big, sloppy drums dominate the mix while sharp guitar stutters and pinballs throughout the track, and by the time the chorus states, “The state of a dream is not what it seems” you’re already immersed in the track.  While I could easily slide into some bullshit English major conventions of how it’s “like you’re in a dream yourself” but no.  Screw that.  Just chalk this up to a solid track with a write-up that doesn’t fully do it justice.

6:  Childish Gambino- Freaks and Geeks

While the previous Childish Gambino track can almost be taken as solemn—it’s the funny man being serious, dissatisfaction with a classist racial unregulated segregation put to a beat, an announcement that Donald Glover has emotions and those emotions are real, “Freaks and Geeks,” from an EP released early in 2011, doesn’t set out to do anything more ambitious than string together a series of clever, boastful lyrics over a solid, high energy beat.

Glover does hip hop ballads of identity struggles with an incredible mix of artistic finesse and necessary bluntness.  It’s something that borders on masterful at times.  But every once and a while you just need some good old fashioned sexual bombast mixed with some Indie references and literary puns.  “Alright, Gambino is a mastermind, fuck a bitch to pass the time” Glover blurts to start things off, and the track races through top line after top line.  Really, this review could just be a series of lines from the track.  “Chillin’ with my n-words, say it like a white kid,” “Take the G out your waffle, all you got left is your ego,” and “E.E. Cummin’ on her face, now that’s poetry in motion,” are all the lines that remind you that, yes, Glover is in this rap game for real, but it helps that he knows how to write and spin a clever phrase or seven.

Oh, and also, he gets laid a lot, apparently.  A lot.

5:  Scott Hutchison & Rod Jones- I Forgot the Fall

Throughout the past year I have been saying that this track is a collaboration between Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit and Rod Jones of Twilight Sad, written for a charity CD. What I’ve forgotten to mention is that I’m a fucktard, and that Rod Jones is actually the South African lead singer of Idlewild.  So, uh, go me.

That of course doesn’t change the fact that this song is quite stellar in all the things I look for the song.  It’s upbeat, has a soaring chorus that includes mismatched lyrics harmonizing over soaring violins, and crams an epic Indie-folk-tinted-rock-song into three and a half minutes of pure joy.  It’s a bit more orchestral than anything Idlewild or Frightened Rabbit have put out, but it’s not gaudy about it, striking that perfect balance that makes for a truly beautiful track.  And it also serves as a reminder for me not to just assume that if a guy with an accent is singing with the lead singer of Frightened Rabbit that he must be Scottish too (because really, if you’re going to have a Scottish band that deals with lilting folky-rock, you’re going to be choosing between Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit).

I don’t know how I feel about the fact that the best song on Fishboy’s latest album also happens to be the shortest, while also being the one track on the album that isn’t stand-alone, instrumentally.  While Classic Creeps is most assuredly an album experience that is greater than the sum of its admittedly great parts, it still had enough great stand-alone songs to warrant multiple entries in this year’s top-1o list alone.  But while I’m normally firmly in the camp of “the more Fishboy you’re offering me, the better” I guess I can just embrace that notion with this particular track by repeating it three times in a row.  Clocking in at a hefty 2:08, this is one of the catchiest, peppiest, quirkiest songs on an album chalked with catchy, peppy, quirky songs.  Oh shit, you’ll have to excuse me, I just said the word “quirky” twice in one paragraph, which means that 2012 internet hack comedy writing laws dictate I have to insert a picture of Zooey Deschanel.

“Warble Parble Weeble, it’s a fake language I invented using tin cans with strings attached to them!  ADORKABLE!”

“Aaron the Afterthought Astronaut” starts with 30 seconds of an upbeat guitar and vocal introduction, but really kicks things up a notch at the 40 second mark when the drums kick in and the rest of the instrumentals fill in, and you are treated to delicious lines such as, “At this point in my life only two things matter: 1- becoming an astronaut, 2- it’s you, my dearest Ava, you’re the only thing I’ve got.”  While this track works in the utilitarian aspect of establishing characters you’ll see throughout the album (“Our neighbor Adrian built a rocket, he’s a master of everything that flies” nods to the following track, “Adrian Simmons”, and Aaron’s dear Ava gets seven minutes for herself to close out the album in “Ava Aviaria.”)  The song kicks it in high gear all the way through, until the final section of the song sees Eric  Michener repeating with increased urgency, “I don’t think I could ever find another,” until the song finally breaks it’s breakneck gait and settles to prepare itself for Adrian Simmons.”

“Like a cartwheel that lasts two weeks”, this track might seem brief but it fills enough ecstatic energy to last well after music has settled into the bass line that melds so seamlessly into the album’s second track.  And even with an ending meant to introduce you to the following song, this still stands as easily one of the best tracks of 2011.

3:  Okkervil River- The Valley

Much like sex, pizza, and Hellen Keller jokes, when Okkervil River is good, they’re really good.  And when Okkervil River is bad, they’re still pretty good.  Anytime this Austin outfit releases an album, it’s a safe guarantee that at least one track will be worth adding to the pantheon of “awesome Okkervil River songs that I’m going to make into my super awesome John Cusack take-me-back mix as soon as I find a chick who is super into Okkervil River” tracks.

“Boop bee doop!  I like that one song where they use a mandolin!”  Dammit quirky Zooey Deschanel, leave me alone!

Like a precious snowflake, each Okkervil River Cusack-Mix-Track is different and special.  You might have a pick-up centered track about killing a woman, or you might have a peppy jaunt about overcoming past heartbreak.  This track is no different, offering a refreshingly unique Okkervil River sound centered on pounding drums and layered vocals, the rhythm of the track literally feeling like a march through a valley to some unknown destination.  There’s no real chorus to the track, which just further enforces this song’s feeling of an almost militaristic musical march, peppered with sickly smooth violin riffs.  Will Sheff rattles off cryptic lyrics such as, “I hear a breeze that wheezes through the tips of the pines, where there’s laughter and screaming to the rafters in the night,” as the song carries on, never dwelling on one particular lyrics motif over another, before ending in a sea of overlapping lyrics and string-aided cacophony.  All this comes together to make the best song on the latest Okkervil River album, which of course has to be worth a top-5 spot.  Of course.  This is rookie, people.

2:  Man Man- Spooky Jookie

So yeah, “Spooky Jookie” and I used to date for a bit back in 2006 and 2007.  It got pretty serious.  I was known as “that dude who was really into ‘Spooky Jookie’” and everything.

Okay, back story.  Man Man has been playing “Spooky Jookie” live ever since 2006, which was at least one incarnation of the band ago.  I booked Man Man to play a show back in 2007, and basically chatted his ear off about “Spooky Jookie” to the point that, a few years later, he recognized me as “that kid who is obsessed with ‘Spooky Jookie.’”  When I contacted Honus Honus for an interview that ended up never getting set up, shortly after the release of 2008’s Rabbit Habits had exactly zero instances of “Spooky Jookie,” I was patiently informed by the bandleader that the track was going to make it on their next album.  Sure enough, three years later, they followed through with their promise.

Of course he kept his promise, with such an honest and hearty mustache.

But here’s the problem.  It’s not the same track I fell in love with those years ago.  Gone are the saxophone solos, the crazy yelps, the xylophone opening that made the song so memorable.  In fact, if you want to know what the far superior, earlier version sounded like, go here.  If that was the song they had taken to the studio, this track would easily have been the best song of the year.  Instead Man Man treated us to a great song…that’s not as great as it once was.  For a song I’m so used to loving in its raw, live state, it takes some getting used to, hearing such a polished version of the track.  The “oo oos” to start off are less haunting than the original vocals, the guitar picking less precocious than the use of xylophone, Honus Honus’ vocals lightly layered adding a studio-based touch that I don’t think is particularly necessary.  It’s strange to hear a Man Man song that seems has frills of strings and flutes adding musical depth to the track and complain that their instrumentation seems a little too “safe,” but in comparison with the original live version, you can see that, as the rough trilling saxophone gave the song a roughness that went along beautifully with the theme of the song.

But don’t interpret my kvetching as an indictment of this finished product—it’s still up here for a reason.  An upbeat song with a sinisterly dark undertone, the track describes a woman’s fall into drug addiction, sauntering through such lines as “She broke her teeth on an unsheathed piece of hard-tasting candy,” and even more distressingly, “She can taste his tongue in her mouth and it’s tasting like deceit,” it’s the deconstruction of a wrecked life, spread over a four and a half minute period.  It’s songs like these which remind you that, despite all of Man Man’s instrumental high-energy Tom-Waits-Meets-Captain-Beefheart-Meets-Frank-Zappa conventions, they’re still an impressive lyrical band at heart, able to tell a story that just happens to be centered around off-kilter music. 

“Spooky Jookie” ends up showing Man Man at their very finest…it just leaves me wondering, what if it had made the cut for Rabbit Habits back when it was one of the last songs cut from that album in 2008.  How would this song feel if it had three years less to fester in songwriting purgatory?  We’ll never know, but we can still appreciate the end product we received.  But, damn.  What could have been.

1:  Rural Alberta Advantage- Stamp


The older you get, the harder it is to find that song that emotionally grabs you upon your very first listen.  I’m not saying that we become musically jaded as we find life giving us more and more obstacles trying to limit our ability to discover new music, I’m just saying that life, and music, can get so crammed with associations and implications that it takes more time to foster a truly emotional response to something that is novel to your system.  It’s easier for us to fall in love at 16 than it is at 26, and it’s easier to replace that love at that younger age.  Think back to your favorite bands from your formative years.  Some still leave you with nostalgic reminders of past dreams and aspirations, some you just laugh and say, “I don’t know what I was thinking.”  That’s why on the rare occasion that you find an artist or a song that instantly connects with you, it’s truly something special.

Listen, I’m not even going to delve into the variety of cloyingly-self-deprecating jokes that I’m want to do to liven up this review.  I’m not even going to make borderline outdated topical references.  And I’ll even say that this song might not be everyone’s favorite song of the year.  Might not even be your favorite song from the album. But this song resonated with me in a way I did not expect, and that’s coming from a band who I know tends to write songs that resonate in me.  When I first stumbled across this music video, after an incredibly tumultuous early-2011, I latched onto this song in all of its frantic-Paul-Banwatt-led-drumming, Amy-Cole-harmonies-assisted-builds glory.  The track takes you on a ride, soaring through the first two and a half minutes before reaching an apex, as Nils Edenloff and Amy Cole sing, “Hold on lover, you’ll find another…” before they both belt out in harmony, “But I don’t need you, and I won’t need to.” 

The lyrics serve as a sort of anti-love song, sending a letter to once and for all bid farewell to a relationship, mapping out the ambivalence you feel towards a relationship you once cherished that you now want nothing more than to flee.  “Hold me close while you can/ try to remember the End of December” Edenloff sings before pining that, “the hardest thing about this love is that it’s never gonna last/ And the hardest thing about this love is that you’re never coming back” before ultimately coming to the decision that “this love” was something that you no longer need.

The song is the accumulation of a series of poignant moments that, over the course of just three minutes, merge together to form the best song of 2011.  Because ultimately, the best music of our lives is just that.  A series of moments that strike us as profound, that dare to reach into our hearts and spark emotions from where it’s still pure and undiluted.  And, at least for me, this song does that more than any song of the past year.

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TOP 50 TRACKS OF 2011: 20-11

Holy taking forever to post a year end list, Batman, time to trudge on with the top tracks of the year.

20: M83- OK Pal

M83 released one of the stronger albums of the year, which is no way a surprise.  While Anthony Gonzalez’s project usually finds each album going in a different direction than the last, you know that if M83 is going to release something, it’s going to be good.  It’s going to be enjoyable.  Wow, I just barely stopped myself from making a Dr. Who reference there (like how each doctor is different but inherently the same and…oh fuck, I’m too late already, aren’t I?)

“I’m afraid so, Jeff.”

The one “fault” of M83 is that they don’t strike me as a band where you’re meant to get overly fixated over a single song.  There’s enough of an ethereal quality to their music that I know many people who love M83 that simply put one of their CD’s on as a way to idly listen to something enjoyable in the background for the next hour.  They’re not really a band that’s going to have stand out single tracks for me, and usually it’ll take a good stand out single track to make it into my top 50 list.

Well, this is a pretty damn good track.  It has a glossy, synthetic 80’s feel with shoegaze sensibilities, a dream-pop feel to it, with chords just tangible enough to give yourself something to hold onto when you’re looking for some head-bobbing moments.  Honestly, many might swap “Midnight City” with this on their own personal list, but I think it’s just an issue of preference.  This track feels a little more grounded to me, and helps it stick out as the best effort of one of the better albums of the year.

19:  Ivy- I Still Want You

A late minute addition to the fray, Ivy is a band that’s been around since 1994, and who I had no idea was still making music.  Ivy is New York based band, featuring Adam Schlesinger, the bassist of Fountains of Wayne, Andy Chase, the guy who co-produced and engineered the FREAKING TITLE TRACK to That Thing You Do (seriously, I just found that out now and I cannot express how excited this knowledge makes me feel.  Oh and yeah, Schlesinger was the other producer on that song.  THAT THING YOU DO, guys!) and Dominique Durand, who has a pretty voice and is from Paris.

But apologies to Dominique Durand, I’m not going to talk about you because OMG THAT THING YOU DO!  THAT THING YOU FUCKING DO!

You remember how That Thing You Do so perfectly nailed that 1960’s one-hit wonder pop sound?  You pick up hints of that in Ivy’s soft and simple track, “I Still Want You.”  Soft guitar and a simple, whisked drum line allow what’s-her-name-you-know-the-one-that-didn’t-help-make-the-song-That-Thing-You-Do’s vocals to shine through, like a crisp breeze on a foggy day.  The occasional tinkering piano adds a nice touch, but really the basic melody almost feels like a slowed down version of a female-led Beatles song.

If this were, say, a song to be used in a battle of the bands, you could imagine the drummer deciding, on a whim, to double the speed, turning it into a raunchy 1960’s dance rock song that’ll climb the charts and SERIOUSLY HOW GREAT IS THAT MOVIE YOU GUYS!?

18:  The Joy Formidable- Whirring

Like most adult males with an appreciation of Indie rock and fully functioning genitalia (laaaadies), I appreciate the hell out of a band that gives you a female lead singer who just belts the shit out of a song.  I also appreciate the hell out of funny names, foreign accents, and long walks on the beach where we talk about our feelings and stuff.  Ritzy Bryan so far has managed to pull off all but the last one.  Swoon.

Another year, another creepy hopefully-he’s-joking Indie crush.

The Joy Formidable have managed to make a decent name for themselves this past year, with “Whirring” really leading the charge (to the point that it actually was charting in the US).  Hailing from Wales, they come at you with a big sound, all belting and soaring instrumentals, “Whirring” is the ultimate example of Indie Stadium Rock, the type of sound that’s suited for the Madison Square Gardens of the world, but sounds better because it’s being played in the Beacons out there.

This song never really slows down, taking you on a raucous ride for the first half of the song before devolving into an instrumental close-out of shredded guitars and seizing drums that almost leave you out of breath by the time it’s done.  Almost.  Because then it’s time to start the song all over again, because damn this is good.

17:  Okkervil River- We Need a Myth

Goddamn I love me some Okkervil River, but you probably knew that already.  The thing with Okkervil River is that, though they’re easily one of my top five bands of all time, each song is either going to be the greatest song to happen to alternative-folk-indie-rock-punk(?), or it’s going to be…okay?  It’ll be pretty.  I won’t give it much thought but I’ll enjoy listening to it.  But, but, when they hit it out of the park, they really hit it out of the park.  “We Need a Myth” is one of those songs.

Starting with a flurry of strings and band leader Will Sheff’s earnest croon, this track spends its first minute as a softly orchestral song with the occasional flurry of piano…until it spends the rest of the song building in intensity, slowly but surely, first with the introduction of the drums, then with guitar, and then some backing vocals.  “Desperate measures point to desperate times/ And that’s why we need a myth,” Sheff strains to the heavens as orchestral flurries mix with the more standard alternative instrumentation throughout.  The song pushes through the whole way, never pausing to take a breath, resulting in a truly exhilarating four and a half minutes that gets better every time you hear it.

16: Bodies of Water- Rise Up, Careful

I’d refer to the fact that I make the same joke about Bodies of Water each time I write about them (reading it in real time, the steps involved would be “Say something about them sounding like Arcade Fire and Polyphonic Spree making a baby, rim shot, wait for laughter, laughter doesn’t come, get flustered, say something ethnically offensive about Albanians, comedy career ends before it begins”) but this band hasn’t released a damn album since 2008 (largely thanks to some of the band members’ brief foray into Music Go Music) so I almost feel like I have to re-explain the awesomeness of this band to everyone.

Bodies of Water is a band from LA (eww) that is signed to the independent label Secretly Canadian (yay).  They’ve been around since the mid-Aughties, but again, were fairly inactive for a few years, only to come out with Twist Again this past year.  Also their website is sort of trippy.

No, seriously, what is this doing on your band’s website, guys?

While Twist Again was a marked step down from their first two (awesome) records (it’s a lot more lax, where their first two releases were urgent and almost hyperactive) it still leaves us with “Rise Up, Careful,” which is among the better songs the band has put together.  “Jeff,” you say with a level of familiarity that implies that you’re one of the people reading this who actually knows me personally (which is to say, you represent 80% of my readers at this moment), “I just listened to this song by clicking on the link in the title, by the way thanks for going out of your way to give me a chance to listen to each of these great tracks.  Anywho, I get the feeling that you mainly like this song because it has a big pick up after about a minute, and you always go on and on about how much you like that in your music.  Also, you are very attractive and talented, though that last statement had little to do with the rest of what I just said.”

Well, first of all, thank you, clearly fictional reader I just made up.  Secondly, you are right.  That’s totally what does it for me.  When the song picks up and brings in the saxophone, it really distinguishes itself from the fold.  From then on you’re just along for the ride, and it serves as a pleasant reminder just how good Bodies of Water can be.  I could have made a really bad pun there, like “you can sea how good they can be” or like, uh, “it’s as gentle as the ocean oh shit that doesn’t even make sense” so consider yourself lucky that I wasted my extended joke bit in this review on that “meh” fake reader thing that I threw in there just to artificially boost my self-esteem.  Oh shit did I type that last part down?

15:  CSS- City Girl (song starts at :55)

I don’t know when Cansei de Ser Sexy (which is Portuguese for “I’ve grown tired of being sexy”) fully dropped their full name to only go by the abbreviation of “CSS” but it has to have been at some point after their self-titled album dropped in the states in 2006.  I say this because I absolutely did not listen to their second album, and barely managed to stumble upon their third album, the “eh, it’s pretty good I guess” La Liberacion.

CSS hails from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and they try their best to fit into that niche of “cheeky electronic indie dance rock oh and also Jeff you’re a tool if you make up a genre that’s just four different genres and decide to call a band that.”  They were one of those bands that would stand out because they were from another country but still would do things like write a song called “Let’s Make Love While Listening To Death From Above” back when Death From Above 1979 was still around, or songs like “Music Is My Hot Hot Sex” which were okay but kinda funny, right?  Hell, my biggest association with CSS was that the year they played at the Pitchfork festival, one of my friends ended up standing next to them and described them “very sweaty, very smelly Brazilians.”

Though I suspect he must have been mainly referring to that dude on the bike.  Look at that ‘stache. 

“City Girl” is literally a song that I should loathe with every inch of my being.  The lyrics are not only trite, they’re trite in that “Oh man, you’re trying to do a female empowerment song, you had sooooo much potential here” way.  The general beat is a pretty generic club beat that is hardly unique, and reminds me of 30 songs that I hate that I’ve only heard while pressed up against sweaty strangers as I awkwardly try to hold onto my whiskey-diet on the dance floor of a club (laaaadies).  But dammit, if this song isn’t catchy.  It’s catchy enough that I can forgive it for all of its faults.  I like the trumpet segments that get tossed into the club beat to give it a more of a latin feel.  I like the chorus (I really like the chorus), I just like this song.  It’s easily a contender for the title of “2011’s Best Track For An Awkward White Boy To Blare Through The Stereo Of His Mini Cooper (laaaadies).”  Easily.

14 Art Brut- Ice Hockey

Oh, Art Brut…what happened?  If Pinterest existed three years ago, and you had me create a…uh…corkboard (I honestly have no idea how Pinterest works, as I’m not a 27 year old housewife) of bands that, no matter what, would make my top 10 albums of the year list if they released an album, I’d already have to, uh, “un-pin” (seriously, I know it’s popular, but I don’t do recipes or arts and crafts projects so I’m sort of at a loss) two of those bands.  Last year The Hold Steady came oh so close to cracking the top 10, but ultimately fell flat.  And now, Art Brut will fail to make my top albums list with this year’s disappointing Brilliant!  Tragic!

While I appreciate a band making alterations to their sound, it’s never a good sign when, three tracks into an album, I start asking people, “Did someone give me the wrong album, or…?”  Supposedly Frank Black decided to give Eddie Argos singing lessons, and he took it to heart.  Which was a horrible idea.  Seriously.  Just awful.  I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, but Eddie Argos was not put on this world to sing, he was put on this world to gleefully shout at you.  Seriously.

Seriously.  Eddie Argos is far better when he yells.

In his press release about their second album, It’s A Bit Complicated, Eddie Argos confirmed that the band ages two years, thematically, with each album.  “The first album was kind of me when I was 17, and I suppose this one is when I’m 19.  If we do another one, I expect it will be me when I was 21,” Argos confesses.  Which makes sense.  Bang, Bang, Rock and Roll was driven by youthful excitement, loud music, and fumbling attempts at sexual encounters.  In concert, Argos confesses that his love with the titular Emily Kane was not a real infatuation, but rather “[being] in love with being 15, and my only worries being hungry.”

By It’s A Bit Complicated, the band is bolder, more confident, but also strutting with a swagger and a false bravado of someone who doesn’t understand the implications of their own youthfulness.  In “Nag Nag Nag” Argos presents a glorious “fuck you” to those who would criticize him, saying, “I’m nothing to my peers but envy and hatred/ How many girls have they seen naked?” but at the same time muses, “Older, but wiser?  This song’s the decider.”  We’re all geniuses at 19.  At least, until we look at our 19-year-old selves from the safe vantage point of 20.  And on and on it goes.

Art Brut vs. Satan finds the band legally able to drink in the states, but they’ve been legal for three years in England, so that’s rather arbitrary.  What we focus on instead is watching the band watching their adult preferences shaping while clinging onto their immaturity as a way to stay youthful.  “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes” refuses to let go of those simple pleasures that sustain a childhood, while “Mysterious Bruises” talks about the physical pain the day after a night of heavy drinking.  “I don’t know how I managed to do this/ But I woke up this morning covered in bruises,” Argos offers, the first of several hints of guilt towards the fast-living of a 21 year old.  “There’s so many people I might have upset/ I apologize to them all with the same pretext,” begins “Alcoholics Unanimous.”  It’s still fun and carefree, but there’s a hidden question behind the album.  How long can we sustain this?

Eddie Argos’ upper lip asked the same question in regards to his choice of facial hair.

Brilliant!  Tragic!  Shows Art Brut at 23.  And 23 is not always the best age to be.  You begin to think that you’re older than you really are (no doubt Art Brut’s next album will center around regretting not taking advantage of the youthful feeling of being 23 while at the age of 25), you’re old enough to have suffered at least one true heartbreak in your life, and your life is likely stuck in a transition period.  Simply put, there’s a good chance you don’t know what you’re going to do with your life.  And that shines through in many of the songs, especially those with Eddie Argos singing.  My first reaction to hearing the album was, “Jesus, did Eddie Argos break up with that girl in the States he was dating last time I saw him live (~2009)?”

At 23, the world shows itself to be the terrifyingly large monster it can be, so maybe that would explain why the album has more of a “morose singing” feel to it, but that’s just not the Art Brut we know and love.  We want Eddie Argos shouting at us!  Clever lyrics!  Yes, the cleverness is still there, but we miss the joy.

With that whole thesis aside, “Ice Hockey” at least represents the closest return to form for the band, and it’s enjoyable, even if it’s not a full on amped up rock song like the best Art Brut tracks.  Acoustic guitar starts things off, along with the squeak of fingers moving on the fret board every time they play a new chord as Argos (thankfully) speaks the lyrics and we get treated to a few slightly morose but still enjoyable guitar riffs, before the song lets Argos loose, and the final few songs involve Argos screaming and reminding us why we loved Art Brut so much in the first place, and why we hope that the next two years treat the band a little nice.  Though hopefully they don’t grow up fully just yet.

13:  Wilco- Art of Almost

What’s that?  A post-2005 Wilco song making it this far up on my list!?  Who could have dreamt of such things?

As I mentioned earlier in my year end list, Wilco surprised the hell out of me with The Whole Love, and a lot of that credit goes to the daring, interesting, and lengthy opening track, “The Art of Almost.”  You can’t even tell it’s a Wilco song to begin with, as it’s just off kilter drums with the occasional strange noise tossed in for a full minute before some strings appear softly and meld into Jeff Tweedy’s vocals.  In the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, former member Jay Bennett (RIP) famously (well, to me at least) said, while working on the track “Poor Places” that without adding any sonic strangeness to the song, it’d just turn into “a fucking folk ditty.”

This song gets that.  It’s seven minutes that doesn’t feel like seven minutes, there’s enough bubbling beneath the surface to keep you enraptured the whole time, and, really, it’s their best song since “At Least That’s What You Said.”  Which is high praise coming from someone who has been insulting them fairly frequently for the past 5 years.

12:  Frightened Rabbit- Fuck this place

You Scottish sons of bitches, don’t think you can escape my year end list just because you didn’t release any album.  Frightened Rabbit decided to release a three-song EP as a free download, which was right proper of them.  Also right proper of them is the fact that this song, the angstly titled “Fuck This Place” is both one of the best songs of the year, but it also features guest vocals from one Tracyanne Campbell, the double-first-named lead singer of Camera Obscura.

Tracyanne Campbell, the daughter of Glenjohn and Candicesusan.

This gorgeous duet starts with a stomping rhythm and the ever-present background of a gentle horn section.  After two minutes of “oh this is pretty,” Scott Hutchison and Tracyanne begin building, belting out the question, “Would you be good enough to take me home?” as the horns begin to blare, the instrumentals pick up, and finally we’re left with an echoing accordion and a sense of catharsis (at least, if you were belting along).  The dirty little secret is, had this song been placed on The Winter of Mixed Drinks, it’d have been the best song on the album.  But for now, we’ll just have to appreciate it for being the twelfth best song of 2011.

11:  Rural Alberta Advantage- Muscle Relaxants

The difference between The Rural Alberta Advantage’s debut and their nearly-as-strong sophomore effort is the pace of the most memorable tracks.  While Homelands got the most impact out of slower, more melancholic songs (I love “Frank AB” as much, if not more, than the next guy, but it’s a song that ends in haunting A Capella about a town that got buried by a goddamn rock slide, for God’s sake) while Departing gets the most out of more upbeat songs (that of course, still lyrically have a hint of sorrow).

“Muscle Relaxants” is a rampage of a song, uptempo and driving and never pausing to take a breath.  Of course, to call this song joyous would be a misrepresentation- Rural Alberta Advantage doesn’t do happy songs, and if they did they wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.  “You don’t know what you like,” Nils Edenloff croons while at the same time confessing, “I never know when I’m holding you too much.”  It’s a song about the uncertainty of love, or at least the loss of control it affords you.  But damn if it doesn’t managed to say all that while being catchy as hell.


And just under the wire before May, we’re left with just two more articles.  The top 10 songs and the top 10 albums will…probably come out before June.  Probably.



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TOP 50 TRACKS OF 2011: 30-21

We’re speed racing through last year, people.  Yes, some might question my professionalism for taking over four months to post just half of my year end list, but to them I have but one question to ask.  Would an unprofessional writer tell you that he’s writing this while not wearing any pants?

What’s that?  You’re saying that’s exactly what an unprofessional writer would tell you?  Well fuck.

Sure, you complain when I go pantsless, yet Alison Brie does it and all of a sudden you spend the afternoon making .gifs

Yes, taking six months to post your year-end list about the previous list might be bad for pesky things like “visitor traffic” or “fostering a reputation,” and while taking six months to begin to address anything pop culture might make it impossible to dance with women at any bar that doesn’t have an Irish name or a bunch of bros huddled around the jukebox screaming, “More Journey!” it also helps make sure that by the time I get around to buying the latest smart phone, it’s already obsolete.*

*This post was written on a iPhone 3

Anyway, enough yammering, let’s continue our run down of 2011’s best tracks.

(And though I haven’t said it for the previous two parts of this list, click on the title of the song to hear each track)

30: BOAT- Classically Trained

Hey, I’m the last guy who expected to see BOAT, a Seattle band who, as of 2010, had exactly one (albeit, good) song on my itunes.  But dammit if Dress Like Your Idols isn’t endearing as hell.  There’s an earnestness to their brand of power-pop that’s especially evident in “Classically Trained,” a song that’s fun, upbeat, and ends with some xylophone action, which is impossible to hate.  Seriously, if I were to become president, I would propose a law that mandates that at least 25% of all bands that want to call themselves “Indie” use a xylophone at some point in their music.  Of course, eventually the lawyers at Sub Pop would get worried about the additional xylophone costs, so they’d take it to the Supreme Court, where it would ultimately be decided that it is unconstitutional to require bands to use xylophones, no matter how fun they are.  But that’s beside the point, it’s never going to happen.

Mainly because this picture legally precludes me from ever running for public office

The song itself, starting with a clean guitar riff before easing us into the lyrics, is quick but effective.  The lyrics themselves walk that line between self-aware and (somewhat) universal.  Clearly written with creativity in mind, any time a band that a song about artists (“You’ve been classically trained/ in sculpture and paint”) with a tongue and cheek lines such as, “making art for a living/ that’s a subject I know about” (when they’re, ostensibly, making art) it tends to come off as a sly wink to the listener.  It doesn’t add to the actual song, which is an enjoyably easy listen, but it does give some hidden depth to the otherwise good-but-not-great lyrics, and makes it stand out just a little bit more than the other songs on this album I’ve already written about for the year end list.

29: Justice- Civilization

Justice had a tough act to follow after their debut album, .  It was an eagerly anticipated sophomore album, which more often than not leads to disappointment.  And according to certain publications that are only right about such matters 50% of the time nowadays, it was somewhat.  Many weren’t expecting the 70’s prog-rock feel of the music, compared to the darker, clubbier tone of their debut.  And while the tone of their first album was more suited to the French duo’s sensibilities, just because they moved out of their wheelhouse does not mean that their new work is not worthwhile.

“Civilization” starts with an almost foreboding beat, pulsing menacingly for the first 35 seconds before the vocals come in (in English, which is part of the reason why many in France apparently take issue with the band).  In contrast, the chorus is upbeat, decidedly 70’s in its feel, but also fairly upbeat and dancey.  The song oscillates through these two diverging tempos, like they want their audience to alternate between standing around with one hand in their pocket and jumping up and down with the music.  Ultimately, Justice just wants us to dance, and they let us, sticking with the anthemic, upbeat instrumentals as they play us out.  And really, Justice is at their finest when they just let us dance.

28: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah- Hysterical

Oh my God, do you remember when Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were going to destroy the Indie sphere?  Back in 2005 when they were just a plucky little group based in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, self-releasing their album and somehow managing to get a pitchfork review, which launched them into “Wow, a band got a 9.0 rating on Pitchfork in 2005” fame.  We loved them.  Their music was a fun mix of David Byrne and Neutral Milk Hotel, their story was great (without a PR agent or a record label, they had found themselves on the cusp of mid-aughties-Indie-fame, which is a lot like normal band fame only instead of sleeping with groupies after sets you field music tech questions from nerdy college students who aren’t quite old enough to buy you a drink), and honestly they had released one of the best albums of 2005.

At the Intonation Festival, one booth was randomly selling the album before it had found a label, and the mere sight of it was enough to cause a frenzy of stoned 19 year olds rushing off to purchase the CD on their own.  They were huge (or at least, if an Indie band playing gigs at venues that have 1,000 capacity is considered “huge”).

For example, during this time there was a period where this man was more well-known than Kate Bush.

Then came the bad days.  The underwhelming-but-for-a-few-spot-tracks Sophomore album.  The utterly forgettable 2011 release.  It’s been six years since their debut, and they’ve admittedly lost their teeth.  After a four year hiatus, they hadn’t found any of that self-released urgency.  Thousands of hipsters sadly folded up their obnoxiously-short-and-bright-neon-shorts and lit a candle for a gentler past.

Of course, even at their worst, CYHSY are far from unlistenable.  They’ve still got musical chops, and the title-track from Hysterical proves that, as a series of simple three note synth progression takes no time to jump into a rambling, upbeat pace, they can still sound like they did on their debut.  Yes, it doesn’t match the heights of their 2005 works, but it’s a song that shrugs its shoulders and says, “Hey, we liked music in the mid Aughties, let’s see if we can sound like that again.”  There’s something refreshing about nostalgia, even if it’s only half a decade’s worth of it.

27: Wild Flag- Romance

I don’t know how I feel about the fact that we live in a society where more people would recognize Wild Flag as “the one with the chick from Portlandia” as opposed to “the one with the former Sleater-Kinney member.”  Yes, I know, Sleater-Kinney broke up in 2006, but they were kind of the Indie Girl Punk Rock band to name drop awkwardly to hipster chicks at college parties.  Sure you could go with the Pretty Girls Make Graves route, but they were far less prolific, and besides, things might degenerate into a whole The Smiths conversation, but Morrissey was never really your wheelhouse, so yeah, if you’re trying to win over half of She & Him in 500 Days of Summer you can hope to go that route, but some of us only know a handful of their songs, and once you start going into specific albums we’re going to flounder, and then the next thing you know, the conversation is over, man, no come back, dammit I thought I had a chance there!

Wait what?  Where am I?  I think I just blacked out and randomly made a reference to a 2009 movie in a hypothetical situation where, I guess, I was talking to a girl at a college party in like, 2004?  Jesus Christ, that spiraled out of control fast.

Well, there goes my New Year’s Resolution of “no writing about music while on Meth.”

Okay let’s start from scratch.  Wild Flag is a super-group (because any time you bring members from moderately well-known Indie bands, you have to call it a super group I guess?) based in Portland, Oregon and in Washington D.C.  The band consists of Carrie Brownstein (of Portlandia and Sleater-Kinney fame), Janet Weiss (the drummer for Sleater-Kinney and Quasi), Mary Timony (of Helium and Autoclave), and Rebecca Cole of The Minders.  When you get four well-established members of the Indie Girl Punk scene together, you pretty much know what to expect as far as sound (hint, it rhymes with “Mindy Murl Monk”) but you can also assume that they’re going to rock the sound pretty effectively.  And that’s what you get with “Romance,” a Brownstein lead affair that’s full of slick guitar, electric organ, and hand-clapping.  It’s undoubtedly polished and upbeat affair, and really, if you’re looking for a solid female-driven rock song for the year, you could do a lot worse than some Wild Flag.

26: The Black Keys- Lonely Boy

“Hey Jeff, I know this song!  It’s on a shitload of commercials and TV shows.”

Yeah, I know.

“Like, isn’t this, by far, the most popular song that The Black Keys have done?”

Uh, I guess?  Yeah, probably.

“And they sell out arenas man!”

Yeah, I heard about that.

“Fucking arenas.”

Yes, I heard you the first time.

“So how does it feel?”

How does what feel?

“You know…posting a song this high on your list that’s so hugely popular.”

Hitting 64 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 chart isn’t that hugely popular.

“More popular than Wild Flag.”

Okay, fine you got me there.  I don’t know, I like the song.  I added it to this list right when it came out, and I’ve always liked it.  Very upbeat and fun, and the chorus is really enjoyable.  I like how the keyboard and the chorus backup vocals give it a sort of poppy polished feel, I mean, all the publications call it “sugary” but it is pretty sugary.  It’s got a breakneck pace going on, and it’s a song that you could really dance to.  It’s clean, but it’s got some nice grit just in the background, enough to remind you that it’s a Black Keys song, and that they’ve managed to skyrocket in popularity in the seven albums they’ve released since their humble roots since recording The Big Come Up in drummer Patrick Carney’s Akron, Ohio basement in 2002.

“More popular than Wild Flag.”

I know, just shut up okay, next song!

25: The Head and the Heart- Rivers and Roads

Okay, for those of you who might be familiar with my music views, I fucking love a song with a good build or pickup.  You have a good enough build, and you can have a song called “Jeff GoodSmith is not a good writer and I disagree with all his opinions (the Also he’s stupid and ugly remix)” and I’ll still probably put it on my year end list, with the opening sentence saying something along the lines of “for those of you who might be familiar with my music views, I fucking love a song with a good build or pickup.”  I wrote that while listening to the first 1:45 of this song, which I don’t really care about.  It’s soft and pretty I guess?  Folky?  Lyrically, I’m not paying that much attention, because I don’t really follow The Head and the Heart because of their lyrics, I like it when they go all upbeat-Americana-that-pitchfork-dislikes on me.

So why is this so high up on my list when almost half of the song can readily be cast aside?  Because that build¸ you guys.  That build.  Plus, they use the hidden benefit of “soft male vocals harmonizing with a belting strong female voice,” as Charity Rose Thielen goes all out for the latter part of the song, with all the bluesy swagger she can muster, crooning, “Rivers and roads, rivers and roads, rivers till I reach you.”  It affords you a few “the louder you play this the more goosebumps you’ll see forming on your arms” moments that can remind you why some songs are worth sticking with, even if they may seem unremarkable at first.

Look at me, getting all metaphorical (give yourself time, you’ll pick up on it) here.  Let’s keep this mother going.

24: Justice- Audio, Video, Disco

Personally, I love some good lyrical work.  You know, a song that even on its own as written word can resonate with whoever encounters it, and allow you to establish a raw primal connection with the material.  There are certain lyrics that just hit you, like they’re saying what you wanted to say but until that moment you never knew the right words.  You could be the recently heartbroken 20-something discovering the lyrics to “Hopeless” by the Wrens, the recently transplanted college graduate first listening to “Ashes of American Flags” by Wilco, for many, myself included, our favorite songs are the ones that are meaningful to us, as well as enjoyable melodically.

Anyway, here are the lyrics to this song.

Audio.  Audio.  Audio.  Video disco. *repeat rest of song*

I know, so poignant, right?  Yeah, this is a song that’s just fun to listen to, starting with the almost Bach-like harpsichord opening, building into a nice driving beat.  It’s got more of a disco feel than their first album, and…that’s pretty much par for the course for the whole album.  There’s just enough fuzzed out darkness to the music to keep it interesting, and as the title track that closed out the album, it’s a strong note to end on.  Also, you know.  Killer lyrics, man.

23: The Decemberists- Burying Davy

I know what you’re thinking, “Another Decemberists song?  After you spent so much time talking about how you think you hate the album that they released this year?  Looks like you might not know what the word ‘hate’ means, huh?”  Now, I am an internet writer, which means, I am infallible, so I’ll explain it this way.  Shut up, stop pointing out my flaws.

Well, assuming I have flaws.  Which I obviously don’t, as seen above.

But Burying Davy is actually a sort of return to form for the band, or at least a return to their Hazards of Love experimentation.  This song has none of the crap they’ve been doing this year that I hate (DAMN YOU FIDDLES!) and has a lot of the stuff that they need to do more of (ELECTRIC GUITAR SOLOOOOO!).  There are folk elements constantly lurking in the background that eventually get amped up and progged out.  The opening of the song has a bit of an electricity to it as the more “rock and roll” aspects bubble below the surface.  The Decemberists have been making long surprisingly 70’s rock anthems for a while, and it’s nice to see them focusing on that here instead of whipping out the goddamn slide guitar.

22 Los Campesinos!- By Your Hand

This song, more than anything else on Hello Sadness, actually feels like a Los Campesinos! song.  And when you really delve into the lyrics, it really feels like a Los Campesinos! song.  Playful upbeat instrumentals?  Yup.  Various surprisingly simple yet elegant metaphors?  You betchya!  A playfully chanted chorus that is surprisingly depressing?  I’d say so, unless you consider “By your hand is the only end I foresee/ I have been dreaming you’ve been dreaming about me” to be upbeat (in which case, Jesus Christ dude, you must be into some angsty shit).

You probably also assumed that this was the feel-good story of the year, right?

Honestly, the lyrics drive this song over the edge and make it borderline great.  Maybe it’s because the lyrics freakishly correspond with my life the past few month (ha ha!  Oversharing about my feelings on a jokey article on the internet!  Welcome to 2003!) but this is possibly the best lyrical non-love love song that Los Campesinos! has done, as far as lyrical strength front to back.  “I’m not sure if it’s love anymore/ but I’ve been thinking of you fondly for sure” the band laments, while Gareth Campesionos! Muses, “I’ve been dangling in limbo, barely keeping my cool” and “Remember what your heart is for/ Graceful, gracious companion with your eyes of doe and thighs of stallion.”

It’s easy to gloss over the lyrics when you’re listening to the sing-song rhythm and the peppy synth, but when you strip it down to its bare parts your left with is a man telling you, with a smile, about how the woman he loves doesn’t love him back.  And hey, if that’s the story you’re going to tell, you might as well be smiling when you do.

21: Justice- Ohio

I know I did the “looking up lyrics to a Justice song” gag like, three spots ago, but look at what we’ve got here.

“Ohio, Tennessee, California, Endlessly.  Reign on.”

Behold, our future overlords.

Anyway, if I ever want to actually get all these damn things out there I’d be better off not spending too much time telling you why a catchy song that builds, falls back again, and builds once more to end things out.  I mean, it sounds like much of Justice’s last album, which is an album I liked, and anyway it’s goddamn April I have got to start churning this list out faster.  Stay tuned for 20-11.

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TOP 50 TRACKS OF 2011: 40-31

Yes, here I am, continuing my fine tradition in taking what the laymen call “fucking forever” to get my year end lists out there for you to listen to.  So when it took me until halfway through the year’s second month to post the first segment of my top 50 songs of the year…well it turned out to be not that big of a deal.  Which is good.  I guess.  Huzzah.

Anyway, soldiering on with the list, you’ll find some more BOAT, some more Mr. Gnome, and a handful of bands that have not previously been featured on Elitish (welcome aboard The Head and the Heart) and some bands we thought we had forever banished from the “positive lists about current music” articles here (But we did miss you, Wilco).

And with that, here are tracks 40-31 of 2011.

40:  Wilco- One Sunday Morning (song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)

Let’s just get the appropriate disclaimers out of the way.  Wilco is (was?) one of my favorite bands of all time (ALL TIME!)  My computer’s screensaver is the words “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” spinning around, because I have a laptop and I haven’t put any thought into what should go into a screensaver since 2004.  I once waited in line to unsuccessfully get tickets to see Wilco play a concert back in 2005, saw someone who decided to sit in the same line clutching the DVD case of the Wilco documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart like some sort of good luck token, and didn’t make fun of him because I own it too and I was kicking myself for not thinking of that idea first.

I loved Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (which to this day remains my second favorite album of all time- ALL TIME), and I even enjoyed the hell out of A Ghost is Born (If you can’t appreciate “At Least That’s What She Said” either musically or lyrically, I want nothing to do with you).  And then, well…bland happened.  I don’t want to imply that “Wilco got successful and older, and so they just started making bland, safe, Volkswagen-commercial-approved dad rock” but that’s totally what happened.  Seriously. To paraphrase myself from 3 and a half years ago describing the album Sky Blue Sky, Wilco turned into plain flavored yogurt—safe, unassuming, and loved by old people.  Wilco (The Album) just seemed to confirm that this once great band (come on you guys, “Misunderstood!”  Mis-fucking-understood!) had left their worthwhile-music-making days behind them.

But then something strange happened on The Whole Love.  While not quite a return to form (I can take or leave about half the album) Wilco managed to piece together their best album since 2004.  By a long shot, too.

They didn’t do it by tearing down the foundation, and they didn’t really go for the same warped but fresh alt rock takes that made Yankee Hotel Foxtrot so memorable.  But maybe they re-channeled their inner Being There.  Nowhere is that more evident than in the cumbersomely titled “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”.  Apparently based on a religious conversation between bandleader Jeff Tweedy and the boyfriend of author Jane Smiley, the song is more about the instrumentals than the lyrics.  Don’t get me wrong, Tweedy is a strong lyricist, but as this song ends up giving you little more than 100 words about a faithful father and his disapproval of his son’s agnostic ways, it’s hard to justify the lyrics as the reason why a twelve minute song would make this year end list.

Soft instrumentals with a real early 70s folk rock feel amble along like a twelve minute dream.  Wilco surprisingly doesn’t try to do too much or too little with this lengthy track, the result of which is a beautifully understated track that outpaces anything Wilco has done in years.  So, uh…I mean, sorry for saying you guys suck for the past 5 years, but…I’m not really that sorry.  I’m just glad to have you back.

39: BOAT- King Kong

BOAT sounds like a 1990’s alternative group playing Indie music in 2005, but that’s to be assumed from a Seattle rock band.  For those of you who listened to the BOAT track that was featured in the previous entry in this list, yes this band does a good job of rocking out a buildup.  Of course I’m gonna give them due props if they know how to rock a hook or a pickup.  “King Kong” has the added benefit of addressing a relationship (“no fucking way, Jeff, you mean to tell us there’s a song out there talking about relationships?” okay, yeah, nice job there smart ass—sarcasm is tougher to convey over text than you think) in a particularly unique angle (essentially, a relationship bringing forth the primal insecurities in the speaker).  As far as a lyrical motif, “I’ll love you if you love me” might seem mundane, but when combining the entire King Kong motif with lyrics like, “I’m in love with you, I’m a total mess,” gives the lyrics an interesting depth that is not at all unwelcome, but definitely is unexpected.

Oh, and the song is really catchy too.

38:  M83 – Midnight City

Remember how the last entry by M83 was all soft and pretty and slowly rising?  This is more the style of M83 that we tend to expect.  Yes, it’s electronic yet pretty, and if the music video is to believed, it leads to terrifying telepathic powers from little modern day Children of the Corn, and when the straight-from-the-80’s saxophone solo kicks in at the end you don’t really bat an eyelash.

Yes, this is the M83 equivalent to a pop song, and while it sounds exactly like a song that they would have released at any point in the band’s history, 2011 ended up being the perfect time for it to come out.  Not to say that this song blew up the radio or anything, but it’s more popular than I suspect it otherwise would have been, which really isn’t meant complimentary or detrimentally.

Anyway, this song is basically lasers, Moogs, and the occasional saxophone.  I’m both not surprised that Anthony Gonzalez is French, and also totally stoked that America stole him.  Take that, Frenchies.

37:  Mass Fiction- Cold Heart

So I’m just going on my best guess that this album came out this year.  It probably did though.  Anyway, you can download the whole album in the link up above, but let’s get to the song.  This band, lead in part by 21 year old Max Fishkin, hasn’t quite made the rounds yet, but the opening track to their album Never Lie Down is all instrumental but wonderfully driving and entertaining.

Throughout the course of its four minutes, this track takes you from driving guitars to dancey beats to saxophone solos, and that’s just in the first minute.  An ADD-suffering child of a song, you can styles ranging from Southeast Asian beats to Western rock to even loungey piano.  This is a song that you will immediately latch onto, and would have been higher in the list, but it does tend to lose some of its shine as it ages.  Which isn’t a knock on the song.  After all, it’s still clearly good enough to make it into the top 40 of 2011.

36:  Fishboy- Alyson Revere

After a certain point, it feels almost pointless to talk about how Fishboy writes catchy, quirky indie pop songs.  I say it enough here that if it hasn’t sunk in by this point, you either haven’t been reading, or are physically unable to read the words “fish” and “boy” together as one word without suffering some sort of psychotic episode.  If the latter is the case, you should get that looked at, that’s an oddly specific mental issue to have, but otherwise I’m gonna just let you assume that if I put Fishboy up on this list, it’s going to be catchy, and it’s probably going to be quirky and fun.

“Alyson Revere” is both of those things, while  serving as a solid continuation of the theme that Fishboy adheres to in Classic Creeps (where the songs are alphabetical, they are all named after characters whose name starts with A, and where all of the characters are in some way linked to the others).  Alyson Revere is the second Revere sibling to appear in this album, and while Andre is the 4 foot 10 detective, Alyson likes to do five minute abs and surf on the internet all day.

But really, Alyson’s tale doesn’t need to be engrossing, all we ask is for a fun song that we can dance along to.  And not only does Fishboy provide that, he even lets us know the way to do the dance.  That’s called commitment, people.

35:  Girls- Vomit

First of all, do yourself a favor and try not to find this song by googling “girls vomit.”  And if you do, please, please stay away from the images section.  That’s my gift to you, letting you know that.  Also, be careful about the Girls music videos you look into, unless you work at an office that’s cool with you watching music videos where one person uses an erect penis as a microphone (that’s not the video for this song- the linked video above is 100% SFW).

Yes, Girls are a hard band to get your finger on.  Fronted by Christopher Owens, a former Children of God cult member, Girls straddles between Elvis Costello, The Beach Boys, and Buddy Holly without firmly entrenching themselves in any particular genre or influence.  In “Vomit,” we find a slowly building six and a half minute song with Girls’ trademark soft male vocals for about two minutes, before things get kicked up a notch.  Fuzzed guitar licks scream solos through musical interludes, the song goes back and forth between soft and loud before letting itself end on a raucous frenzy, repeating “Come into my heart” repeatedly as choral “ahhs” fill the background along with electric organ to give the track an almost gospel feel.  By the end of the track, it’s a very different song than you expected from the first few softly whispered notes, which is just fine.

34: BOAT- Landlocked (featuring J. Roderick)

Listen, now that you know that I will add your song to my year end playlist if you make sure to feature vocals by John Roderick (lead singer of The Long Winters, and former touring member of Harvey Danger).  That’s really all you need.  In this case, it helps if you do that whole “end the song by singing in the round” thing, but really, just give me some John Roderick and I’m happy.  Much like Rick Pitino, I’m probably a little too easy to please.

“Achievement Unlocked:  Premature Ejaculation NCAA Basketball Joke Added To Year End Music List.  Proceed to Hipster Level 14”

  The song itself is fairly lowkey.  Sparse, tinkering guitar notes riff out a basic melody, and though it’s hardly overpowering, the drums and keyboard get relegated to the background.  But again, John Roderick’s there for the harmonies.  Honestly, the last 45 seconds is why the song made it this high up on my list, as everything picks up, and we get the classically underused “three people singing three different things in harmony at the same time.”  That 45 seconds, along with Mr. Roderick, is enough for me to give it the go ahead.  Hell, keeping with my Rick Pitino joke, that’s about three times as much time as I’d need.  Hi-yo!  Blackmail trials are hilarious.

33: The Decemberists- This is Why We Fight

Yes, I know, this is the second selection from an album that I’ve made it very clear that I loathe.  But this song loses the fiddle (thank God) and at least sounds somewhat like a Decemberists song, and I’m grateful for that.  I’ll give them their due credit there.  Though, compared to previous works, this song sounds far less Decemberist-y than 95% of their song catalogue, but they make up for it by being relatively upbeat and catchy, albeit more straightforward than you’d expect from them.

“Straightforward?  Avast, ye brigand, I’d rather say that we were rather forthright on the track.”

I’m pretty sure this song has the shortest words of any Decemberist song that has ever come out before, and it’ll probably be less verbose than anything else they ever write.  There’s no word longer than 3 syllables in the whole thing, and even then they only use words that are that big four times.  That’s amazing!  You can’t even pull that off if you name-drop the band in a song!

Another word too verbose to be found in this song

A fairly basic battle song of sorts, there’s no real plot to the song either, which also departs from the band’s MO.  But the song itself is catchy and upbeat, and thoroughly listenable.  Beginning with some harmonica going against dark plodding guitar, the track starts at its rhythmic apex, going smoothly from verse to chorus with little to no fan fair, giving you simple but effective lines such as, “When we die, we will die with our arms unbound” and “this is why we fight, why we lie awake at night.”  It’s not the most poignant the band has been, but it’s nice to see the band take a more simple approach from time to time.

Of course, the highlights of the song come at the few instances where they change up the tempos of the song (first at about 3:10, and again at 3:47 into the song).  Ultimately what you’re left with is easily the strongest track off of The King is Dead.  Yes, it’s the worst album The Decemberists have released, but the best song on the worst album by a band as good as The Decemberists is still worth your time.

32: Mr. Gnome- Wolf Girls

My twitter description of this band was along the lines of “Haunted Indie Girl Rock” and while I must iterate, fuck the social media generation, it is a fairly accurate way to talk about the band (even though one of the band’s two members is a guy).   You’ve got chambered, almost whisper-yelled vocals overlapping throughout the song as it stutters at alternating breakneck and languid paces.

Writing about Mr. Gnome makes you realize how appreciate lazy writers should be for the existence of Wikipedia, because of course Mr. Gnome is not “three sentence post in Wikipedia” famous yet.  The bastards.  My best guess is that it’s because they’re from Cleveland, and Cleveland’s still about 6 months away from setting up their first dial-up modems.

Above: the only thing currently on the official website for Cleveland, Ohio

Either way, Madness in Miniature continued its move up my year end list with yet another strong track of haunting, ineffable Indie Rock.

31: The Head and the Heart- Ghosts

Mumford & Sons, it’s time to turn in your “folk-tinged band that pitchfork irrationally hated on in their review largely because you got too popular too quickly without being ‘unique’ enough” crown from 2010.  2011’s recipient of this coveted award is Seattle’s The Head and the Heart, who pitchfork blessed with a 3.8 rating for their “tentative take on Americana.”

But as always, anything pitchfork said post-2006 should be taken with a grain of salt.  The Head and the Heart are relative babies, having formed in 2009, where they self-released their album, and sold 10,000 copies by word of mouth alone.  After being signed by Sub Pop, the album was re-released (and remastered, expanded, blah-blah-hey-they-had-to-find-a-way-to-deduct-the-cost-of-a-new-producer-and-engineer-from-their-cut-of-the-proceeds-somehow-right?) to much fan fair and a series of tours with acts such as Dave Matthews (eww), The Decemberists (cool!) and Vampire Weekend (eh).  And now they’re probably making enough money that they were able to quit their jobs that they’ll need to come crawling back to in five years when sales of their third album fizzle and they’re not able to book as many gigs.

Behold, the fate of all moderately successful Indie-folk acts

The song itself is upbeat (though admittedly similar to much of the rest of their album- hence the inclusion of several Head and the Heart songs on my songs list, but their exclusion from my year-end album list.)  Driven largely through tinkering piano and multi-part harmonies, the song is catchy and jangly, a fun little ditty with hints of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in the vocals.

Yes, the song might strain itself lyrically, but sometimes it’s best to just sit back and enjoy a song for what it is.  A fun, catchy song that’s good enough to be one of the best of the year.

Hey look at that!  I did it!  Expect a shorter wait for part 3 of my best-songs-of-the-year series to come out.  Hey, it might even get done before May.  Maybe.  Stay tuned.

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TOP 50 TRACKS OF 2011: 50-41

2011 has come and gone (seriously, it’s February already, I’m continuing my streak of taking forever with these things), and much like one of the various horrific natural disasters to strike throughout the globe this year, it came both forcefully while also not quite meeting certain expectations for carnage.  How’s that as a way to start a year end list?  Yes, 2011 saw some bands that have never failed to make an year end list suddenly dropping off the deep end (what happened to Art Brut?  Who is responsible for telling Eddie Argos he can sing?) while certain bands managed to launch themselves back to respectability (Welcome back, Wilco, we thought we had lost you!).  Oh, and I think the Strokes released something.  I don’t know, I’ve stopped paying attention to them ever since they killed Indie rock in 2006.

But to get “real” and “personal” for a second, 2011 in life was almost the opposite of 2011 in music.  Musically, 2011 started gangbusters, dropping some of the best albums of the year before March, including solid albums by bands that are personal perennial favorites.  Toward the end of the year, things kept churning, but the year got it’s best stuff generally out of the way early on.  Meanwhile, personally, 2011 started less than great, and ended incredibly well.  I’d say that I was being vague enough about my personal life to instill mysterious curiosity but honestly, my name is on the article, if you really gave a shit you’d be able to google my facebook, twitter, and probably the personal notebook I keep under my bed in about five minutes.  One of you probably already did that and, going back to the beginning of the year, just laughed and said, “Ha, looks like this here Jeff feller ain’t putting no Decemberists on this here list of his,” to which I say two things.  First- holy shit, I have a southern reader?  Email me, I’m dying to know how you found me!  And second- you’d be surprised.

In fact let’s rip that first band aid right off as we get underway with…


50:  The Decemberists- Down By the Water

I’m going to start right off the bat and say this- I’m fairly sure I hate the latest album by The Decemberists.  Not the “Oh, I can see why people like it, but I’m not feeling it yet” sense I got when I listened to The Crane Wife, no, I’m talking about the pure, unadulterated loathing that makes you think, “Damn, they’ve stopped making good music.  I’ll miss them dearly” that I felt when I first heard The Stroke’s First Impressions of Earth (see above).

In The King is Dead, the band changes from “Quirky smart Indie folk with a rock edge” to “We’re country western, y’all” while forgetting the Jeff GoodSmith rule of making Jeff GoodSmith like your folk music (Banjos?  Encouraged.  Fiddles?  Get that shit out of my house).  Making matters worse, this follow up to the best album of 2009 so outsold its predecessor that this is probably going to be the permanent direction of the band now.  Fuck.

I think I finally know why educated people get caught up in the drama of celebrity rumors and tabloids.  At first, you think, “I don’t like this” but it just gets thrown at you over and over until finally it becomes familiar enough that you just accept it.  What I’m trying to say is that the only reason “Down by the Water” is on this list is that I’ve had to listen to it so many times I no longer hate it.  I have begrudgingly learned to accept the harmonica, the honky-tonk rhythm, the fact that the accordion is practically wasted behind the drums.  When all that is forgiven, the song is enjoyable, just so long as you let yourself forget that this is only a few years removed from “A Rake’s Song.”  Uh oh, I’m starting to dislike this song again…wait, okay, it’s suppressed.  The song is fine.  It’s good.  It’s the 50th best song of the year.

Now can you please stop making country music, The Decemberists?  I mean, seriously.

49:  The Wombats- Our Perfect Disease

The Wombats are one of those bands that would have been much more popular if they had come out about three years earlier.  2007’s A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation was British power pop glory, from the tight hooks to the cringe-worthy lyrics.  The band members met at the Liverpoiol Institute of Performing Arts, which was founded by Paul McCartney, and they made their presence known with catchy as hell tracks such as “Kill the Director” and “Let’s Dance to Joy Division.”  They are a Brit rock band that comes in equal parts energy, hooks, cleverness (“If this is a Rom-Com/ Kill the Director/ This is no Bridget Jones”), and awkward filler lyrics (I mean, seriously?  “Carrots help you see much better in the dark/ don’t talk to girls they’ll break your heart?”).  It took them three years to follow up their legitimately great debut album, and the results are…well, good, but not great.

“Our Perfect Disease” is a great example of what the Wombats are still doing right…as well as where they’ve sort of departed from their best work.  It’s a little less straight-forward instrumentally, trying to be more “club-dancey” than “rock-dancey,” though they still craft catchy songs with sharp hooks.  But the lyrics are a little more serious and a whole lot less earnest.  While The Wombats have never been a particularly great lyrical band (the term “bad lyrical band” comes to mind) they always had a youthful earnestness.  Not so in their latest album.  Seriously, they have a song called “Anti-D” which has the lyrics “Let me be your anti-depressant.”  That’s the chorus.  That’s terrible.  “Our Perfect Disease” is nowhere near the height The Wombats reached with “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” but, at the very least, it’s a reminder that they’re still capable of crafting a good pop song.  Just not a great one.

48:  Cymbals Eat Guitars- Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)

Back in 2009, I predicted that Cymbals Eat Guitars would go at their sophomore album gangbusters.  Just an incredible sophomore effort that took their work to the next level.  And I was…not wrong, but not right either.  Cymbals Eat Guitars pretty much stayed on par with their first album.  And I’m not complaining, they are a high energy, intriguing group, and I give them credit for not only starting their album with an eight and a half minute song, but for making one this good.  Yes, “Rifle Eyesight” is long, rising and falling affair.  It’s great for a long song.  Of course the main problem for Cymbals Eat Guitars remains.  Musically, the song is a lot like rice.  At first, it’s exciting, and grabs your attention.  And while it maintains that quality for duration of the song, eventually it starts to sort of fade in the background, and it’s not grabbing your attention so much as being pleasant in the background as you focus on other things.  Like, uh, peas.  This metaphor is falling apart.

The first three minutes are going to be incredible for you, the next four minutes will be forgotten about as soon as you hear it, and the last minute will amp things up to end on a high note.  You’ll wonder where the last 8 minutes went, and you’ll remember hearing exactly four minutes of an awesome song with some gaps in your memory.  But those four minutes?  Well, they’re absolutely good enough to include this on my year end list.

47:  Los Campesinos- Hello Sadness

You know when an acquaintance that you are secretly but strongly attracted to changes their appearance in some way (a new piercing/hair cut/ hair color/etc) and while you still find them attractive you have a hard time coming up with a way to compliment them on their new look because, quite honestly, they were hotter before?   Los Campesinos! are great.  They really are.  But they’ve done that slight cosmetic change, and while they’re still better than 99% of the stuff out there, that remaining 1% (Ha, remember Occupy Wall Street, you guys?) does include their earlier work.

Los Campesinos! made a name for themselves due to the contrast between their somber lyrics and their youthful exuberance.  This is the band that would gleefully shout angry ejectives to the Universe, the band that could take lines like “We kid ourselves there’s future in the fuckign, but there is no fucking future” and make it sound like a gleeful battle cry.  Then last year they released Romance is Boring, with the standout track “The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future,” where we found a somber and profound band spinning a beautifully tragic yarn.  Remember that?  I liked it so much I made it one of the year’s best songs for the year before the actual album came out.

The problem was that they continued into that direction a little too much.  Hello Sadness as a title seems too direct to have effect, which is why the title track from this album gives you a very enjoyable Indie rock song that doesn’t have a single particularly memorable lyric to take it up that notch to put this in the top 10, 20, or even 40 songs of the year.  But don’t interpret my negativity to be me saying this song is no good.  It’s quite good, there’s a reason it’s on this list, Los Campesinos! can craft a quirky Indie anthem with their eyes closed.  It’s just that, well, I liked them a little better before the haircut.

46: The Wombats- Techno Fan

Hey there, Wombats, look at you!  Being all meta!  Was that on purpose?  Did you write a song with the chorus line “I never knew I was a Techno fan” specifically for an album where you diluted your sound by adding the synthesizer aspect of techno music to it?  And when you said, “Shut up and move with me…or get out of my face” was…was that a dig at me?  I mean, that’s fair, I am being unduly hard on you guys.

The truth is, this song is the one that best takes the new elements that the Wombats are working in and combines them with the best elements of their earlier work.  The Wombats clearly disservice themselves by not having any guitar for the first minute and a half (some “dah da dahs” and alternating synth notes are in the forefront of the vocals and minimal drumming before the song stops pussyfooting), but when things actually pick up, it’s pure Wombat power pop gold.  Upbeat and catchy, this is what the Wombats do best.  It’s like they saw my reaction to the sophomore slump this album represented (this honestly should have been a top 10 album, dammit!) and placed a gentle hand on my shoulder as if to say, “We got this, asshole writer.  We got this.”

45:  Los Campesinos- Songs About Your Girlfriend

At this point you are saying “Jeff, is this list only going to be British bands?  It’s starting to feel that way.”  Well jokes on you, the Decemberists only pretend to sound British, so they don’t count.  Ha!  Sick Decemberists burn.   Okay, so I spent most of the last Los Campesinos! song description bemoaning how they’ve gone from “freaking amazing!” to “great, but not always freaking amazing” in this most recent album (the most succinct way to describe it would be to ask “where they better when they hadn’t grown up?”) but “Songs About Your Girlfriend” actually emulates the old spirit of the band more than many of the tracks on their album.  This is the second best song on the album, but you could see it fit in on, say, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (It’d probably be the fourth or fifth best song on that album).

I don’t know why I feel more prone to praise this song while only begrudgingly complimenting “Hello Sadness” (come on, man!  Title track!  Where’s the love?!).  Maybe it’s the stark emptiness of the opening slightly-fuzzed guitar solo.  Maybe it’s the frantically driving beat and the schoolboy energy.  But probably, it stems from the lyrical dichotomy you see when you go from lines like “You do not like us  ‘cause your girlfriend likely does” to the chorus of “Songs I’ve written about your girlfriend/ Are just psalms of spite since it came to an end.”

Wait, they wrote an upbeat song where you expect it to be a rock and roll brag song, but instead is cleverly inverted to be a song pining for an ex-lover?  Los Campesinos!, you’ve done it again!

44:  BOAT- Bite My Lips

BOAT is from Seattle.  How do I know that?  Because every band that’s from Seattle can’t stop talking about other bands that are from Seattle.  Seriously, look at that cover art up there for their album Dress Like Your Idols.  You see some pretty easy to spot allusions up there.  You see Built to Spill in the upper left corner, the middle is obviously the Velvet Underground, and the top right is…wait, The Long Winters?  I mean, yes, I love the Seattle-based Long Winters as much as anyone, but powerhouses of popular Indiedom they are not.

Yes, BOAT has been bouncing around the fringe of the Seattle (and to a lesser extent, Chicago- TFA represent!) for years.  So it only makes sense that Seattle musicians are going to have an important part to play in their quite excellent fourth album (stay tuned for the track featuring former Harvey Danger lead singer, and Long Winters backup singer, Sean Nelson).  But don’t interpret “fringe” with “divisive.”  BOAT writes catchy Indie pop songs like it’s their job (…which, it kind of is).

This song is all about the hook, which is simple but peppy and effective.  The first two minutes power forward before the song fades, leaving you to think “huh, that song was pretty short…” until the band picks things up to take it into overdrive for the last song.  It’s easily digestible, and sure, easily disposable, and it might not stick with you for the rest of the day, but for those three minutes where you listen, it’s absolutely worth a spot on this top 50 list.

43:  M83- Wait

M83 has been around forever.  Forming in France in 2001, by band went from a duo to “one guy with his brother sometimes helping out” back in 2003.  So while M83 has been one of those bands that’s been fairly established for, Jesus, over ten years, but it wasn’t until Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming came out (which happened to be after Cut Copy sort of borrowed their sound and got popular) that they started really charting everywhere.  Did you know this album was the 15th top selling record in America for a week?  I didn’t think so.

Anthony Gonzalez, who is M83, moved from France to Los Angeles before recording this album, and he tried to create a fusion between the synthpop and ambience of his previous albums.  “Wait” is absolutely one that falls more into the “ambient” category of things, as the song is nearly six minutes of slowly rising electronica, basically with the lyric “No time” repeated over and over again.  If you love painfully gorgeous songs (which I do) and you like a song that slowly but consistently build to a beautiful crescendo (guilty again) you’ll want to make abomination-against-God babies with this track.  Of course, all of these are exemplified by the final minutes, which see an almost unearthly electronic yelp permeating the music in a haunting yet effective way.

I may have already beat you to the punch.

This song is soft and delicate, gingerly holding your hand as it guides you through six minutes that you’re not even aware of until the song ends and you ask yourself, “where did the time go?”  Such songs are hard to find, but it’s always a breath of fresh air when you do.

42:  Rural Alberta Advantage- Tornado ‘87

The Sophomore Slump is a problem for most bands.  They find some modicum of success with their first album, and they either try too hard to get the follow up out too soon (see also:  The Hangover Part 2) or they try so hard to duplicate the sound that made them popular in the first place that they produce a cheap imitation of their debut work (see also:  The Hangover Part 2).  It’s hard to really nail the Sophomore album, and a well done follow up to a breakout album can either establish a band as legitimate (take a bow, Arcade Fire) or you’ll come off as more of a flash in the pan talent (hey, do you guys remember The Go! Team?).

The Rural Alberta Advantage managed to navigate their sophomore effort relatively unscathed for the effort.  While the highs on Departing aren’t quite as high as those on Homelands, and while there are fewer songs that fully take Nils Edenloff’s drumming (he is very possibly the most technically proficient drummer in the Indie Rock game as of now) and Amy Cole’s delicate harmonies (swoon).  And while “Tornado ‘87” doesn’t feature much more than keyboard and “ooos” from Cole, and just a fairly standard (for him) drum pattern for Edenloff, Paul Banwatt’s lyrics and vocals for the song still make it a song worth consideration in the canon of truly great RRA songs (sure, there are less than 25 songs by them out there, but they’ve still managed to get quite a few memorable ones).

The song itself is upbeat and drives along at a nice pace, while thematically it’s pure Rural Alberta Advantage.  For a band that’s proven to be quite adept at spinning personal and effective yarns about events occurring in Alberta area, this song describes (surprisingly enough) a Tornado that went through Edmonton in 1987.  While the event is a personal event from Banwatt’s childhood, he manages to transcend the basic story and add some universality and depth to it, as the chorus of “I let you go” goes into the closing line of “Black sky comes and I hold you,” creating a real sense of urgency and futility, of life and love against forces out of one’s control.

So yeah, given that this isn’t even the only RRA song to make this list, I think we can safely say that they managed to avoid that whole “Sophomore slump” thing.

41:  Mr. Gnome- Bit of Tongue

When I first listened to Mr. Gnome, I always was under the assumption that A- there were at least four people in the band and B- that it was an all-girl band.  I can explain my reasoning here- as Nicole Barile layers her vocals to create a haunting, ghost-like effect, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that there are two women singing in the band.  As for the accidental diss on drummer Sam Meister, uh, sorry bro.  I don’t know what to say other than the fact that I’m so used to band gimmicks that I assumed the old Indie rule of “if the band has less than 5 people, and there are at least two women in the band, then the whole band will be women so it can be a girl band.”  So to get this out of the way, no, it’s a two person band, with full guitar, vocal layering, and drums being the primary tools at the band’s disposal.

Hailing from Cleveland,Ohio, Mr. Gnome has already put out three albums, so they’ve had the proper time to get their sound down.  While their first two albums are solid, with a handful of truly great tracks, Madness in Miniature is proably their most cohesive album to date.  “Bit of Tongue” is a fun example of their sound here, starting off very light, feeling like a fairy tale, only to let things really take off in the second half of the song after a brief lull.  The last minute and a half races forward with manic intensity, like going from a calm jog to an endorphin-pumping sprint to close things out.  This song does a good job establishing what you should expect from Madness, and as you’ll see later on in this list, they’re not quite done yet.

And that’s it for this segment of the top 50 songs of 2011.  Look for songs number 40-31 to come out sometime between late February and Early October.

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Top 6 Songs That Waste An Inordinate Amount of Your Time For the Hell of It

There are two primary types of songs out there, and they could hardly be more different.  On one hand, there is the music that is made for you to listen to and immediately consume- in essence, one form or another of pop music.  On the other hand, you have your music that is used to as artistic expression, which usually means it’s going to be dense, cerebral, or, when all else fails, long.

Yes, if you’re reading this and have listened to music before in your life, you’ve listened to both incredibly short songs and frustratingly long ones (and if you’ve never listened to music before, hi!  Nice to meet you!  I’m kind of depressed that your first exposure to media of any sort was this website!).  Short, three minute pop songs like “I’m a Believer” are all well and good, but we still love us some “Stairway to Heaven.”  In fact, lengthy rock songs were huge in the 1970’s- FM Radio got its start mainly because of Traffic songs and drugs.  But this article is not about short songs that waste your time (anything by the Black Eyed Peas) or even long songs that you’ll enjoy but still take ten minutes to listen to (like Marquis Moon).  No, this article is for incredibly, impossibly long songs that might be palpable when placed in the background, but which no one would dare give a close listen to.

Sober.  No one will give it a close listen while sober.

Yes more often than not when you find an album with an obnoxiously long song (think more than 15 minutes), it’s normally some filler, or a hidden track, or just a crazy long track for the hell of it stuck at the end of the CD.  However, in a handful of extreme cases, these long songs are pervasive attempts to waste minutes, hours, or even years of your life.  Below are the 6 most egregious examples.


Pip Proud was an Australian poet/singer-songwriter who was primarily active in the 1960s.  He made it about as far as you’d expect a “talented underground Australian musician in the 1960’s” would go.  Which is it to say, England.  I know, horribly unexciting, but trust me, it was a bigger deal back while the Beatles still roamed the Earth.  That said, Proud developed a quite a reputation for himself, with his manager calling him Australian’s Bob Dylan, and most everyone else calling him Australia’s Syd Barrett.

I do threaten my credibility here (“What!?  This random person whose opinion is being broadcast online doesn’t know everything there is to know about his subject matter?  THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE I AM OUTRAGED,” you are probably shouting while gathering your pitchforks) but I’ve not listened to any of Proud’s original 1960s material.  But that doesn’t matter, as the song for this list in no way represents Proud’s normal musical stylings.  Pip Proud was a folk musician who sang poetry over dirty acoustic guitar.  This is…not even close to any of those things.  This is something to eat up 21 minutes of your time.

Is…is this a 60’s fashion being messed up thing, or an Australian fashion being messed up thing?

In 2000, Proud released Oncer, an album of music that the now-50-year-old recorded over the course of several years.  What makes this album quirky, interesting, and unique is that every single song on the album, 64 minutes of music spanned over 14 tracks, was recorded in one, and only one, take.  That leads to a low-fi charm that made Proud such a collectable artist 30 years after his prime.  You have songs with strange diatribes, beautiful emotions, and Proud’s almost…toady voice punctuating each track.

The album has profound tracks, it has tracks that serve as historical commentary…and there’s a song where Proud goes fishing and records it.  That’s…yeah that’s it.  It’s not even a candid recording because he’s clearly aware that he’s recording himself fishing, since the track starts with him saying “This is me and Sally going fishing.”  And…yeah.  That’s just what they do.  It’s called “Gone Fishing.”  They fish for 21 minutes and talk.  Granted, it’s all just very thick Australian accents, but if I had to guess I think you hear about two fish get caught during this track.  Oh, and one of the fish was pregnant.  These are things I know now because I spent 21 minutes listening to someone fish.  I’d have to think that part of Proud got some deep satisfaction from the fact that people actually sat down and listened to him fish for 21 minutes on a CD they spent money to buy.

The best part of the whole thing?  This isn’t even the last track on the album.  So people would have to listen to this whole 21 minute fishing expedition just to get to last two appropriate length songs.  That’s kind of evil, but I wholeheartedly approve.  It’s like he pranked everyone who bought the album.

Pip Proud died of throat cancer in 2010.  When I found that out, it was a sad moment for me.  But, despite the fact that it had no musical relevance whatsoever, and that in the course of writing this I’ve had to listen to it three times now, a little part of me is glad that I was able to hear Pip Proud go fishing.  And then again, another part of me thinks, “Seriously dude?  you used up 1/3 of your album with this?”


This list from here on out is going to be pretty much evenly split between “Crazy minimalistic artists” and “The Flaming Lips.”  This track falls under the former category, as Alvin Lucier was a composer of experimental music and sound installations who was primarily active in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  A longtime music professor at Wesleyan, and a member of the Sonic Arts Union, Lucier made music/sonic experimentation that you can only appreciate if you are extremely interested in either the science of audio, or that oh my God my hands are so big right now haha dude I think I ate too many sheets of that shit.

Arguably his most famous work (in the same sense that this is the most famous website I write for) was “I Am Sitting in a Room” (link goes to part 1 of the complete track).  To describe the song as “45 minutes of a guy with a mild stutter recording and replaying the same 63 second long speech over and over” would…let you know why it’s in this article.  But that being said, the song itself is actually extremely interesting, at least in theory.  Lucier records himself speaking  and plays that recording into a single room while recording his recording.  He then records that recording, and plays that recording of the recording into the same room.  And so on, and so forth, for about 45 times. It’s sort of like making a hundred photocopies of your butt, except not and all, and that’s just a cheap excuse for me to use the word “butt” at least once in this article while using this picture.

What actually happens with the song is pretty cool, but not in the “I’d listen to this intently for 45 minutes while sober” way.  If you skip ahead five minute at a time you see the total disintegration of the song.  An (admittedly basic) description of the audio science at play goes as follows: Every room interacts with sound differently, depending on the size of the room, the dimensions, and the items in there.  Sound traveling at a high frequency pushes forward in directional waves, bouncing off certain surfaces and being absorbed into others.  Lucier records himself speaking in the room, which shows the slight, subtle effects the room has on the audio.  Upon playing each copy-of-a-copy, the audio gets less defined and more absorbed, and by the 8 minute point you can’t even discern what he’s saying anymore.  The only thing that remains is some basic frequency of the audio, and the general rhythm of his speech.

It’s fascinating for music nerds to see this audio devolution, step-by-step, and to me it sort of sounds like ambient space noise by the end of it.  But, the fact of the matter is, if you listen to the whole track…you just spent 45 minutes listening to a dude talking in a room in 1969.  But hey, at least this song clocks in at less than an hour, unlike…


“We kind of suggest, playfully, that you take some kind of drug experience,” Wayne Coyne tells us in his twenty minute video explaining his six hour song.  “Found a Star on the Ground” differs from most of the rest of these tracks in that it does not aim to be gentle listening.  Focusing on this behemoth of a song is a testament to either your love of The Flaming Lips, or the sense of boredom your job leaves you with.  Of course if you’ve listened to this whole thing, you might fall into a third category- your friends drugged you rather severely and started playing this song to see how you’d freak out to it over the course of six hours this song is six fucking hours long. Sorry for going so heavily italics on you, but I can’t stress that point enough.

If any other band tried to make 360 minutes of continuous, high energy, krautrock-meets-psychedelic music you might wonder about their sanity.  And possibly worry about the muscles in the drummers poor arms (The drums are fairly nonstop and frantic for the entire song- I honestly hope they have a drum-circle situation going so that they can take shifts).  And when you hear that a band releases a song that’s 6 hours long during the same year that they released a $150 EP that consisted of a USB drive placed inside a candy gummy-brain, you’d be convinced that they had snapped.  But…none of this is particularly surprising for The Flaming Lips.  I mean, this is a band that as far back as 1997 was making albums placed on four separate CDs that had to be played at the same time on 4 different stereos.  They’ve always done crazy shit.  It’s not like they’re making songs that are like, a day long encased in, like…a real human skull or something.


Oh Goddamn it, Flaming Lips, you’re ruining my credibility.  If you didn’t rub our face in this damn gimmick I could at least pretend that you weren’t this crazy.  Debuting on Halloween as an online streaming track, the Flaming Lips actually sat down and recorded a song that ran 24 consecutive hours.  A full day.  And because I love you all so dearly, I actually tried to listen to as much of it as possible.  I was one of 5 people listening to the song (found here) when I started streaming it for about half an hour at 11:30 PM, and…you know what, the first ten minutes I heard made a really pretty Indie Rock song.  A little space aged, sure.  But it sounds like it would be a good opening sequence to a Flaming Lips album…and then you realize that it’s going to go on for twenty four more hours. Yes, “7 Skies H3” is like the Dance Marathon of Psychedelic Indie music.  This is not something that you can start whenever you want- the track begins at midnight every night…and then streams all day…until it starts again at midnight.  If you wanted to stat it on your terms, you could of course buy the physical copy of it instead of listening to it online for free…

Oh wait, before I go any further, I should point out that there are only 13 copies of this available for physical purchase.  If they decided that the best way to sell their 6 hour song would be a $150 edible gummy brain, how would they go about selling a 24 hour song?  Oh that’s right, an actual human fucking skull topped with chrome drippings and a rubbervagina on the back of its head with a USB inside. It costs $5,000, for you recreational drug users who are successful enough to drop 5k without a second thought, and who also want to have a bare human skull hanging on their mantel…oh God, I just realized…these are all going to the main character from American Psycho, aren’t they?

She don’t use jelly

Coyne said that he doesn’t expect people to listen to the whole thing all at one time, and the recording of the track itself involved a lot of innovation (since most digital recording software have a 6 hour limit), but he does imagine a few people will, and I quote, “[get some] mushrooms, [go] to a hotel room, listening to the 24-hour song, and coming out the other side, like, ‘This changed us.'”  Well, I didn’t do that, but what I did do was go to work stark sober while spending 7 consecutive hours listening to it (from hours 10 through 16 of the song).  So now, for my gimmick in this column, I present…

Jeff  Slowly Goes Mad Listening To 7 Hours Of a 24 Hour Flaming Lips Song

Below is my response to the song, written in real time.  I started documenting my mindset after listening for two hours, and kept at it until I stopped after 7 consecutive hours of music.

The 10-12 hour period of this song pretty much sounds the same.  I mean, it’s hours zero through two for me, but the at the point I’ve started listening to this, the song is about ten hours into it’s…cycle?  Well whatever, at this point, it’s pretty quiet.  Occasionally some vocal “ahhhs” come in there.  But it does sort of meander at this point.  I don’t blame them.  If I were playing 10 hours of music nonstop I’d be meandering too.  Scratch that, I’d probably have already ripped off my clothes and started running around the streets naked screaming “THE SKIES ARE NEVER ENDING BEHOLD ME I AM JEHOVAH” until the cops tasered me.  Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.  The Flaming Lips either have more patience, or better drugs, than I since they deal with that feeling by occasionally going very soft for a few minutes as someone in the background makes haunted-ghost noises and they probably, I don’t know, switch out musicians or something.  I don’t know why, but I can just imagine Wayne Coyne dressed as the Mad Hatter and periodically going, “CHAAAAANGE PLACES” as 20 musicians scramble around and start playing a different instrument.


If you’ve listened, uninterrupted, to all 13 hours so far, congratulations, you are a better man than I.  For reference sake, here’s a transcript of a Gchat conversation I just had with my roommate after just three hours of listening to this song at work.  Admittedly, I was listening to it with a totally unaltered mind, so that probably wasn’t how it was meant to be taken in…

Me:  3 hours.  I’ve been listening to this song for 3 hours.

Charles:  Is it like new or just the same stuff over and over again?

Me:  It slowly changes.

Charles:  You are crazy, how do you learn about this shit?

Me:  So it’ll do like the same stuff over and over for like, 20 minutes, and then it’ll like get a little quiet, and then one guy is just screaming “AGHHH” he goes but foolish mortal you are in the background you fool we cannot hear your pitiable shrills.  “AGHHHHHHH” he still cries, foolish mortal we drown you with our sound!  Uh… I think it’s breaking my brain

Charles:  I think so too.  Why are you doing this to yourself??



It’s gotten worse.  4 and a half hours in.

Me:  So so okay.  The last 45 minutes it was barely making any noise.  It was soft whispers of music and I think I heard a ghost crying.  But now it’s picked up…I think

Charles:  Oh dear God.

Me:  It’s amazing I’ve done any work today listening to this stuff.

Me: That being said, it’s very possible that every email I’ve sent out has just been one of those magic eye pictures.  “Hi, I need that file please.” “IF YOU UNFOCUS YOUR EYES IT IS A BADGER!”


My roommate’s started ignoring me.  I don’t blame him.  I think I can taste colors.

Me:  I understand why they sell this inside of a real, human skull now.


Me: After a while you just stare into the empty eyes and mercurial toupee and you say, “”I understand you, spinning squirrel vortex.”


Me: “Someday I too will have plastic vagina to the back of my skull inside which would be a USB drive…”


Me:…I think I need coffee but I’m a little worried as to how the caffeine would affect me as I get into hour 6 and 7 of consecutively listening to this song.  I haven’t heard a spoken English word put to music since…I can’t even remember.

Charles:  …Trippy.


My roommate no longer wants to hear my space ramblings, because I am become death destroyer of worlds.  I’m going to post my responses to twitter now because fuck the social media generation.

6 hours into listening.

Seven hours.


But surely, a song that is a full day long can’t be topped, right?  How can you play music for longer than 24 hours?


I know what you’re thinking.  “That has to be a typo.”  You’re right, I’m the one writing this and even I have a hard time trusting the accuracy of that statement.  So how about you and I saunter down skeptical lane together, hand in Purell-soaked hand?

Brian Eno’s full name is “Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno.”  That isn’t so much an interesting fact about an excessively long name as it is a warning about what Brian Eno is going to do to you.  He is going to waste your time, even if he’s just letting you read his birth certificate.  Of course, Brian Eno is possibly the most well known ambient and experimental musician out there, though you probably know him for his variety of production work or for the fact that, holy shit, he’s the guy that composed the Window’s start-up sound?  Apart from his numerous (numerous) solo albums, Eno has worked with John Cale, Talking Heads, U2, Nico, Slowdive, Sinead O’Connor, and Coldplay.  We can forget I mentioned that last one.

Yeah if I were to go into depth of all the points of Eno’s 40 year  career, I’d…well actually I’d be fitting in with the whole “things that are oppressively long” theme of this article.  But I’m not gonna waste that time.  I’m gonna tell you about 77 Million Paintings.

Not to be confused with that book that activated Oprah’s rage center that one time.

Released in 2006, “77 Million Paintings” is a software/DVD combination that randomly creates music while generating images to go along with them.  There are 296 original original images which can be overlaid and combined to up to four at a time, but while that helps the whole thing function as a “performance art piece” it doesn’t really address that whole “30 year song” thing from above.

It was Wayne Coyne who first described this song as saying it lasts  30 years, but doing some probably-wrong math the number seems to be more between 60 and 120 years.  Now most youtube videos of it tend to limit it to just three minutes, but the option to play for years is always on the table.

Yes, there are limitations, but it’s conceivable you’d be able to someday get equipment (computer, projector, etc) that would be able to play this for 30 years.  Which, if you’re the person going through the trouble to do that, I have to ask, how’s it feel to be the 21st century of Howard Hughes?

Still, I know what you’re thinking.  “Hey Jeff, I mean, this seems like a bit of a stretch.  Yes, in theory you can play this song for 30 years, just like in theory you can play some song on an organ for 639 years.

…Wait, you don’t mean to say…


Where should I start?  Should I talk about John Cage, the brilliant experimental music mind who once composed a song that was four and a half minutes of silence, or should I talk about how organs have no finite-life span if they are properly maintained?  Oh, well I guess I covered the second point with that sentence, so let’s get to Cage.

John Cage was an American composer and music theorist who was an instrumental figure in a bunch of fake-but-smart-sounding musical branches such as Indeterminacy in music, Electroacoustic music, non-standard use of musical instrumentation, and sonic turquoise plated synergetics.  Okay so I made that last one up.  But you get the idea.

That brings us to the creation of the longest song on this list.  “As Slow As Possible.”  The original piece, written for piano in 1985 and called “ASLSP 1985”, typically lasted between 20 and 70 minutes.  In the course of writing it, however, Cage left out the small detail of exactly how slow the piece should be played.  In 1987, the same piece was written for the organ.  Given that the organ basically imposes no time limits, a series of musicians and philosophers (yes, philosophers) met in 1997 to determine how slow “As Slow As Possible” could be played.  Since the first permanent organ installation was 639 years old at the time, they tossed up their hands and said, “Hey, 639 works for us!”

Unlike “77 Million Paintings” they didn’t throw out some arbitrary number and say, “See, isn’t that pretty cool?  That’s a long song!”  No, not only did they actually set out to play it for 639 years, it’s already been playing since 2001.

So if you see this church, and hear one single, maddening, never-ending note?  You’ll know you found the right place.

The song sort of cheated, because it began with a 17 month rest, but since 2004 it has played exactly 10 notes.  Now, for those of you thinking, “Wait, this church has a never-ending organ?  Wouldn’t that be terrible for people trying to go to a church service there?”  Well, if this 10 minute audio file of the note change that occurred in 2006 is any indication…Good God, yes.  It’s the worst.

You might find yourself getting annoyed with a song when it’s 10 minutes long…but imagine a song that is 10 generations long?  So yeah, next time you find yourself complaining about a song for being too long…look at these six tracks and just be glad they decided against wasting any more of your time.  Sure, Weezer shouldn’t be making eight minute songs…but at least you’ll finish it during your lifetime.

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Earlier this year, I came out of a semi-hibernation period to sit down and start the the Mix Tape Series, listing for your pleasure a series of tracks that, when put together, fit on an 80 minute CD-R that you could give to the girl you have a crush on as a way to tell them “Since I’m not in High School anymore, by giving you this Mix CD I’m helping you realize that you won’t have to look at me in a sexual manner ever again.”  Maybe it was irresponsible of me, but hey, someone’s gotta help keep those birth rates down.

I started with the “Goosebumps mix,” which was 16 tracks that would totally have gotten you laid in 2005, but won’t do much good for you in 2011 since College Freshman have no idea what a “Badly Drawn Boy” is but it sounds old and gross.

And they’d be right.

A quick recap of the rules- you have 80 minutes to fill, you’re allowed to have multiple tracks by the same band, but they can’t be back-to-back, and you get extra bonus for a really kickass transition.  This mix, “Remember When Mix CDs Used To Be Awesome” was created this year (2011 baby!) and if you play it backwards, it’s filled with satanic verses.  Probably.  Cards on the table, I have no idea how to play a CD backwards.  On to the music!

[click on song title to listen to each track]

TRACK ONE:  Peter Adams- The Tangled Canopy

Scientifically speaking, my year end lists for best songs and albums?  Not always perfect.  Case and point, Cincinnati Singer-Songwriter/Savory-Breakfast-on-Weekdays-Eater, Peter Adams, released two EPs last year- each one a three song orchestral pop compositions that was used for performances of the Cincinnati Ballet.  I bundled I Am a Strange Loop with Dances for Heather as one of the top 10 albums of the year, and had three tracks from the two of them in my top 50 songs list.

This was not one of those listed up there.  I honestly had only listened to it once at the time of writing it.  And now I feel quite foolish.  Because “The Tangled Canopy” was easily one of the 5 best songs of 2010.

Suck it, Menomena, your limboing saxophone isn’t enough to prevent you from being knocked down the 2010 best song list.

“The Tangled Canopy” can only exist as the first track of a mix, because anywhere else it would disrupt your flow like crazy.  The first 50 seconds of this track starts with silence, and then slowly building strings before the vocals come in with some light acoustic guitar.  Adams’ voice is soft and almost tender for the first third of the track, before finally unleashing a flurry of instrumentation (drums, violin, synth, did I mention violin?)- all, of course, played by Adams, the world’s most hi-fi lo-fi artist.

When he comes back into the song at the 2:45 mark, he doubles over his vocals, which gives it an electric vibrancy that takes the song up to another level.  He’s aided by the fact that the last minute and a half of the track is possibly the catchiest sequence of music he’s ever recorded.  Finally as the song nears to an end, there’s one last flurry of violins just to remind you that you can have kickass songs that include Violins.

It’s an ideal way to start this mix.  Starts off slow, grabs your attention midway through, and ends on a high note, allowing you to smoothly transfer to…

TRACK TWO:  Wavves- Green Eyes

Wavves is a band composed of a narcissist and a few sadists.  Starting as a bedroom project of Nathan Williams, the band started to become popular in 2009, at which point Williams decided, “When in Spain, be a douchebag” and took a cocktail of Ecstasy and Valium before insulting the crowd at the Barcelona Primavera Sound Festival, and making his drummer quit.  Oh, I should mention that at this point, Wavves was a two person band.  Going solo baby!

For the album King of the Beach, Williams added two new members…the former band mates of Jay Reatard.  Reatard, if you might not remember, died last year, but not before making his band members quit because he fucking peed on them during a concert.  Though we guess it’s technically an upgrade if you go to a valium/ecstasy mixing narcissist to replace a, well, pisser.

Not to speak ill of the dead…but I would not want to have that man pee on me, either.

Now, Wavves has the unfortunate problem of being lead by a douchebag who is…actually incredibly talented.  2010’s King of the Beach proved that, and “Green Eyes” is easily the best example.  It’s upbeat, punky, and lyrically makes a lot of sense, given William’s past records of douchebaggery (did I mention that he’s sort of a douchebag?).  “My own friends hate me/ But I don’t give a shit” he sings over raging guitar and driving drums, as the song oscillates from calm to frantic without giving you whiplash, which is surprisingly tough to pull off, but seems almost effortless in this track.  Also, Williams avoided his natural inclination to  start punching everyone in the recording studio right in the face, which I personally think was a good call, because the punching sounds would probably have interfered with the song’s basic rhythm.  But that’s just me, I’m a bit old fashioned that way.

TRACK THREE:  The Rural Alberta Advantage- Stamp

I really fucking love this song, but I keep forgetting what it’s called.  I don’t know why, maybe it’s the fact that “Stamp” isn’t one of the more memorable lyrics in the song (“The hardest thing about this love is that it’s never gonna last” gets that distinction).  But either way, it’s embarrassing when the two times I’ve met this band, I’ve said, “Man, I really like the music video you guys did for…uhh…shit…it was your first single on the new album…like the ‘I don’t neeeeed you’ part, you know?” and I’d try to clarify further but by then I’ve already been tackled by security.  So yes, this song is called “Stamp” and it is probably the best song on Rural Alberta’s incredibly solid sophomore effort.

The difference between Departing and Hometowns is that, in Departing, there are fewer instances of the band really taking advantage of the fact that Paul Banwatt is probably the best drummer in Indie Rock right now, and that Amy Cole probably gets a similar distinction as far as hauntingly beautiful harmonies are concerned.  “Stamp” is an exception because the high points are totally dominated by those two.  At the two minute mark, the song drops off and becomes just a driving force for steadily building drums leading to a final exclaimed harmony that leads to a chorus of “ooo ooo ooos” that possibly is the best musical moment of 2011.

Plus, the guy in the music video sort of looks like a younger, slightly more Jewish version of me.

TRACK FOUR:  Mumford and Sons- Little Lion Man

It’s nothing like a song that is enjoyable as hell to listen to becoming surprisingly popular to make you want to go, “Fuck off, pitchfork.”  That’s what we have with 2010’s banjo picking, British folking, harmonizing ditty known as “Little Lion Man” which earned the ire of pitchfork’s actually-pretty-shitty album review.  Is it thematically original?  No, not particularly.  Are the lyrics overly profound?  No, “I really fucked things up this time, didn’t I my dear” read more like e-mail than poetry.  Is poppy folk music suddenly becoming pretty popular?  Sure.  But the truth of the matter is, if this song weren’t a hit, you’d have to imagine that pitchfork would be viewing it through a different lens.

But I do digress.

“Little Lion Man” is delightful.  Sure, I’m a sucker for banjo and harmonies, but why should that be a bad thing?  Will I listen to this song to get “meaning” or some sort of emotional resonation?  Not particularly.  Will I blare this in my car and harmonize along with the chorus?  You bet your ass I will.  Will the people I drive by say to themselves, “Holy shit, that’s the whitest boy I’ve ever seen?”  Well, yeah, but they do that already, so that’s not really relevant to this discussion.

Oh, and for those of you keeping score at home, this mix is absolutely crushing it so far.

TRACK FIVE:  Kula Shaker- Peter Pan R.I.P.

Like the Mumford and Sons track preceding this, Kula Shaker’s single from their revival album, Pilgrims Progress, made my best songs of 2010 list, so I feel I’ve already written it to death.  Blah blah the lead singer miiight be a fascist, blah blah they were big in the 1990’s, blah blah CELLOS.  This is part of the slow interlude that I worked into here.  I mean, it’s great, and it does get us a nice back-to-back of strings, but I don’t have much to add to this song other than to say that it’s pretty.  Much like…

TRACK SIX:  Deer Tick- Ashamed

This song is very soft and gorgeous, and to be honest, it was a risk to put it this early in the mix.  The Rhode Island folk group Deer Tick put this song in their debut album, and it’s all finger picking, swelling harmonies, and the occasionally forlorn violins.  It’s a great song, but nine times out of ten I’ll put a song like this, or “Peter Pan R.I.P.” towards the end of an album to close that sucker out.

But this was here as a transition, a nice little break before we go into the upbeat portion of the rest of the disc.  This song, with smoky mountain vocals and jarring sincerity (“I should have been an angel, but I’m too dumb to speak”) carries itself on its earnestness.  Clocking in at just over two minutes, the majority of the song is just a singer-songwriter ditty with a few stray bass notes almost hidden in the muck.  With 45 seconds left to go, the rest of the band comes in to harmonize on the chorus of “What a crying shame, what we became” before finally, in the last twenty seconds, letting the drums kick in just long enough to tease you before the song ends, and slowly fades away…but leaving us with a pickup that transitions quite nicely with…

TRACK SEVEN:  Fishboy- Aaron the Afterthought Astronaut

This track also runs about two minutes, but while Deer Tick gave us a somber but beautiful, Aaron the Afterthought Astronaut is cheeky, breakneck, and catchy as all hell.  Fishboy, an Austin, TX band and personal favorite, released Classic Creeps in 2011, an alphabetically organized album about 13 characters (whose names all begin with A) who link with each other in strange and wonderful ways.  If it sounds goofy and fun as hell, it pretty much is.

“Aaron the Afterthought Astronaut,” apart from winning this year’s “best song title ever” award, starts off with peppy acoustic strumming and lyrics such as, “And if all the phones are off the hook/ I’ll get out a skywriting book” when the drums kick in after 30 seconds to take this song from “oh that’s fun” to “holy shit yes.”

“At this point in my life only two things matter.  One- becoming an astronaut.  Two- it’s you, my dearest Ava, you’re the only one I got” Eric “Fishboy” croons in just another instance of an incredibly catchy song section being given an incredibly fun set of lyrics.  The track eventually melts into the repetition of the line, “No, I don’t think I’ll ever find another” which leads to a subdued bass line that should lead directly to the second song of Classic Creeps…but we have Mix Tape Rules to follow, and it actually matches up surprisingly well with the single-notes-introduction of…

TRACK EIGHT:  Buke and Gass- Naked Cities

A highly touted track of 2010 is helping shore up the “cleanup spots” of this mix.  Fishboy leading up to gracious interviewees Buke and Gass probably is the most “pump up the stereo” worthy section of the whole mix.  “Naked Cities” starts off with some stray notes (from the…Buke- Bass Ukelele, I believe) before kicking in it into high gear and taking you on a head bopping journey for the course of three excellent minutes.

Since I realize that this list has been pretty short of humor and pretty heavy handed on “short and somewhat strained descriptions of songs” I’m going to just say “This song is catchy as hell” and then do a breakaway segment that I like to call…

Jeff spoofs the Pitchfork review of Buke and Gass’s Album Riposte

(The pitchfork review of the Buke and Gass debut album- my top album of 2010- was a very lazily written three paragraphs with a 6.8 rating.  Lead singer Arone Dyer confessed that the review annoyed her, saying she would have rather gotten an incredibly low rating because that at least stands out, and correctly pointing out that the review doesn’t talk about how the songs actually sound, and instead focus on the instruments they use.  Read it here if you want to be underwhelmed.)

As a writer from pitchfork I’m not allowed to infuse any of my personality into my review so instead I will through around dry descriptions of a band’s sound, and name drop several bands that you’ve not heard of and that the band itself would never consider an influence.  For those of you reading this to see which songs I think are worth listening to, or even an examination of what the high points of the album are, fear not, I’ll get to that in the final paragraph.

Buke and Gass are a Brooklyn band, and much like the New York Dolls, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Sufjan Stevens, their sound is centered around necessity.  This necessity is imparted to the listener through the rhythmic styling that avoid loops in favor of the “human touch.”  This approach of using a human being to provide percussion can be seen in such acts as Television, or even New Zealand’s The Clean.  I knew about Dan Deacon before we made him popular, but have you heard of the group Ssion?  They’re basically Cut Copy, but they didn’t get nearly as famous.

Anyway, I really like the song “Naked Cities” because it’s very upbeat but I’m not going to go into further detail about that.  God, those Mumford and Sons really aren’t that good, are they?  I also dislike The Head and the Heart for getting popular in a grassroots campaign.  6.8/10

TRACK NINE:  Peter Adams- Cypress Knees

Peter Adams, you’ve done it agan!  Sorry, sorry, I just got into a weird “Hollywood Producer mindest” and I thought that this song was a pitch for a film starring Sean Penn as a father who lost his son who sees his child’s face in the Cypress Knee of a tree about to be demolished to build a shopping mall, and he makes it his mission to save that grove of trees.

The song itself is actually very good.  Peter Adams’ best instrument is the violin- it’s the one he’s been playing with the longest and it’s the one he plays with to the best effect.  The violin solo that comes in at around the one minute mark and dominates the track for a full minute is far more badass than 95% of every guitar solo that’s ever existed ever, and is sure to be pivotal to the dramatic apex of Cypress Knee, starring Sean Penn, featuring the kid from Real Steel as Sean Penn’s son.

Remember Hollywood, I expect to get Executive Producer credits for that little gem.  And hey, Peter…uh, if you want to give me a 10% cut of the song royalties you get when they use this song in the movie, I’d be cool with that too.

TRACK TEN:  Los Campesinos!- Miserabilia

Los Campesinos! write the happiest sounding songs that you have to stop yourself from singing along to in front of more conservative company.  This is a great song that’s incredibly catchy and has a lot of universal appeal, and you just hope that you folks don’t catch the aggressive discussion of female masturbation within the lyrics.  This song has been featured in my “Top awesome lyrics you could never put as an Away message” post that should now replace “away message” with “Facebook status” but whatever.  This helps keep the mix driving, but now, because I’d rather not focus on the lyrics such as “shout at the world because the world doesn’t love you” I’m going to bring you another compelling feature instead of deconstructing this song with…

Jeff Points Out Inappropriate Topics That Los Campesinos! Had The Good Sense Not To Address in This Particular Track

Robot sex.


Soup that is too hot and burns the roof of your mouth.


Sick puppies.


TRACK ELEVEN:  Frightened Rabbit- Nothing Like You

This track from Frightened Rabbit’s most recent album grows on me the more I listen to it.  While I can’t say that the track is on par with any of the awesome-but-depressing-in-a-TMI-way tracks from A Midnight Organ” Frightened Rabbit songs are generally growers.  The more you listen to them the more they resonate.  Either that, or it has since become more significant to me, which would mean that the last year has been rougher on me than I thought, and apparently I’m Scottish.  Which honestly I can see still being on the table.  Anyway.

Ultimately the track does what Frightened Rabbit does best- mixes a bleak outlook with upbeat music, and throws a few “fuck you” lines in there as well.  Nothing Like You is a song about a rebound relationship, about establishing a connection with someone for no other reason than to distance yourself from a poisonous past.  “She was not the cure for cancer,” Scott Hutchinson opines, “There is nothing like someone new, and this girl she was nothing like you.”

And see?  If you didn’t listen to the lyrics, you’d think the song was downright cheery.  Sorry to burst your bubble.

TRACK TWELVE:  Fishboy- Aspen2k

Fishboy, you’ve done it again!  God, sorry, again I got in the “Hollywood Producer” mindset and I thought I just pitched a motion picture idea of a ski comedy that takes place in an alternate universe where Y2K actually happened, with the ski instructor played by Anna Faris.  But, no, Aspen2k is actually just another classic example of quirky Indie pop from everyone’s favorite Denton band, giving listeners a nice mix of upbeat melodies with enjoyable, endearingly goofy lyrics.  I don’t want to go too in depth on the two Fishboy tracks in this mix, since they’ll make my top tracks of 2011 list (spoilers!) but this continues the strong midpoint of the CDs.

Lately, my mixes have followed a certain rhythm- slow but building to start off, the most upbeat stuff in the middle, and finally let it lull you to a close with pretty, longer tracks to close it out.  But enough about this particular track (just listen to the damn thing) I’m going to try to flesh out this (at this point, 3000 word) long list with another feature of…

Jeff Tries Out Some Stand-Up Comedy Material Randomly In His Description of a Fishboy Song (Unfortunately It Ends Up Resembling The Comedic Stylings of 2011 Era Jay Leno)

So, lemme tell you, there’s this band, Fishboy, ya heard of them?  You hear about these guys?  So let me tell you, this Fishboy, well, the main guy in the group, Eric, he’s the one doing the singing and the writing and such, and if you see that little music video for this song, he’s singing with a Muppet.  A Muppet!

Speaking of  Muppets, did you hear that they’re making a new Muppets movie?  Yeah, it’s starring that guy who showed his penis in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  Hey, don’t they already have a shrimp Muppet character?  Ha, you see it’s funny because it implies his penis is small, and I think the shrimp muppet is named Pepe.

Boy, speaking of small, this segment will be just that, thankfully.

TRACK THIRTEEN:  The Rural Alberta Advantage- The Breakup

This is the first or second best on The Rural Alberta Advantage’s “Departed” (the other one appearing earlier in this list) and it is the one track on their Sophomore album that sounds most like it should be from their first album.  That doesn’t make it inherently better, it just, musically, sounds more like it’s from “Homelands.”  While their latest is more guitar-centric, The Breakup (apart from dealing with…an oddly similar theme as Stamp) is basically drums and dueling keyboards.  And that is a strength of this band- Don’t Haunt This Place, their best track to date, adheres to the exact same musical blueprint.

I don’t want to give away too much of my insight of this song here, because this article is going to be over 6000 words long, and I’m still planning on doing a more thorough write up for my eventual year end list (which no doubt will come out at some point in 20144), so let’s just move on.

TRACK FOURTEEN:  Dream Bitches- Maniacal Mechanic

Is there anything more frustrating than liking a band and not even being able to determine if they’ve broken up or not?  No matter how sure you are of the band’s demise, you’re never able to know for sure, you’re just left gluing together bits of knowledge hoping to see a glimpse at the truth.  In this internet age, if you stop making music but don’t announce it, people will still stumble upon your music and be unable to find any news of you after a certain time.

That is the case with the Dream Bitches.  I discovered this New York girl band through a split EP done by two members of the band- Singer/songwriter Yoko Kikuchi and guitarist Casey Holford.  From their This Song/That Song 2006 EP, I discovered Dream Bitches, who apart from having an awesome name, also worked in fun self-referential lines like, “What could be a better way to go/ than losing your life at a Dream Bitches show?”

Of course, here is where the mystery begins.  You go to the band’s “About Me” page, you see a description of Coke and Spirters (the album featuring “Maniacal Mechanic”) which was released…in 2008.  It doesn’t look promising for the band at this point.  Then, since their Tour Dates page says, “Check our myspace for show info!” you check the band’s myspace…which hasn’t been accessed since (as of this article’s publication) August, 2010.

Finally, going back to where I started, a check of Yoko Kikuchi’s homepage shows… no music.  No music whatsoever.  She now just advertises her design work.  It’s almost disheartening, but at least I know to mourn the loss of the Dream Bitches.

And why are the Dream Bitches worth mourning?  Well, listen to this song.  Low-fi and underproduced, it still manages to draw you in with an incredibly catchy melody (plus, they have dueling harmonies singing different lyrics, which is an underappreciated art form/a way to make me fall in love with you as a person).  Tinny drums go into vocals that sound like they’re blaring through a radio speaker, that then turn into female harmonized power vocals and riffing guitars, this is a song that you play on your car’s stereo, blasting up the volume and rolling down the windows.

It goes to show you how much this band can pull off with substandard production and just two and a half minutes.  We need more quirky women Indie rockers, dammit.  It’s a shame to see that these Dream Bitches have since broken up.  Or did they? (They did).

TRACK FIFTEEN:  The Arcade Fire- Rococo

I’ve already written about this song in my top songs of 2010 list, where I delved into the lyrics and analyzed them (it’s essentially derides the Hipster Culture) while simultaneously avoiding spontaneously typing “LITERARY ANALYSIS MOTHERFUCKERS!” surprisingly successfully.  So I’m not going to rehash my discussion of this song too much, other than to point out that I place this at this point in the album where it’s still a song you will look forward to listening too (fourteen tracks later), but where it still slows down the tone just enough to let you ease into the closing moments of the mix.

But I can’t leave you with such a bare-boned description, so here goes…

Jeff Pretends That This Article is a Prescription Drug and Reads a Fraudulent Disclaimer

This article contains songs that have appeared on previous lists.  Do not spend too much time focusing on the short descriptions if you have not previously read these other lists.  Due to the sheer level of words, this article is not meant for those with glaucoma or the illiterate.  Do not listen to the songs in this article if you like Nickelback, or hate good music.  If you comment, you are not allowed to ask why Radiohead was not represented on this list.  It’s not that I have anything against Radiohead, it’s just that they get enough play of their own.  Call your physician if your erection lasts longer than four hours.

TRACK SIXTEEN:  Peter Adams- Bending Sky

For those of you keeping track, this is my third Peter Adams track to make this list, and it’s my second track that I’ve previously written about.

“If you love Peter Adams so much, why don’t you marry him?”  Uh, wow hypothetical reader, you really made me seem very sketchy with that question.  “It’s not my fault you’re the one who took that route trying to find a joke to gloss over the fact that there isn’t much more you can say about this song.”  Touché, hypothetical reader.  Touché.

Bending Sky is the slowest, prettiest song from the “Dances for Heather EP”.  Adam’s Tenor vocals stay start in a higher register, only dropping down to offer breathless periods to lyrical stanzas before going into soaring, majestic violin solos.  To use technical musical terms, this song is less “upbeat” than the vast majority of this mix, but it is very high on the “fucking gorgeous” scale.  This track doesn’t feature that much (if any) guitar, and there’s less of a conscious effort to construct violin that drives the melody forward than in tracks like, say, Tangled Canopy.  Instead we have a basic background of synth and drum machine (I’m only assuming.  Prove me wrong, kids.  Prove me wrong) with interludes being filled with violins.

While Peter Adams is a master at making violin sound “rock and roll” this track goes the opposite route, with the violin play fitting nicely into an aural niche that makes this song more of a lullaby than an anthem.

But really, what’s wrong with a beautiful lullaby?  That’s what I thought.  Nothing.

TRACK SEVENTEEN:  Artichoke- No Domino

Now, before I make this statement, let me preface this by saying that I’m a big fan of Artichoke, I absolutely should get off my lazy ass and email them to try to do an interview with bandleader Timothy Sellers, and I’ve been listening to them (and enjoying them) since 2006.   Artichoke is a California group that, in all honestly, is absolutely a gimmick band.  They’re a good gimmick band, but a gimmick band nonetheless.

Case and point, here is a listing of their albums that came out after the album Evaporation (which came out in 2002, holy shit).

26 Scientists Volume 1 (Anning-Malthus)

This album takes a scientist where the first letter of their last name starts with each individual letter, A through M in this case.  So you have sunny pop songs about scientists like Marry Anning (which actually is an awesome song) and Charles Darwin.  I really liked this CD, but it is 100% a gimmick.  One thing that amuses me to no end is that, for some reason, Artichoke name-dropped WNUR, the college radio station I was a DJ at (Steve Albini and I, we’re the only relevant alumnus of that station, don’t try looking into it), which happened to be the way I found out about this band, since the CD was sent to us back in 2005 while I was an apprentice at the station.  So basically, he uses, in his press section, the description that was written on the little sticker of the CD when it was added to the stacks.

And even that basically just says, “I thought this would be annoying, but it’s actually a pretty good indie rock album.”

Of course, the gimmicks keep coming.

Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols

Yeah, they randomly did a cover album of the Sex Pistols.  Gimmick?  Gimmick.

Historic Highland Park

Okay I’ve not listened to this one, and from its description it sounds like a proper, non-gimmicky CD about Timothy Sellers’ neighborhood.  I’m not saying 100% that it isn’t gimmicky, I’m just saying I’m assuming it’s not, and I’d have to listen to know for sure.

26 Scientists Volume 2 (Newton-Zeno)

Second verse, same as the first, came out four years later and is a little bit (but only a little bit) worse.

26 Animals

It’s a kids album.  There’s nothing more to say than that.  It’s a kids album about animals.  Though too be fair, when the greatest gimmick band in the world made a kids album, they did manage to get a Grammy nomination out of it.  I honestly haven’t listened to this one yet.




“They don’t allow bees in here.”


That said, despite this lengthy and unnecessary detour, this track, “No Domino” is a deliberately paced, enjoyable indie pop song that is from an album that is in no way a gimmick album.  The song isn’t a gimmick either, it relies on semi-dependable hooks and a sort of faded rock quality that was particularly en vogue in the early Aughties.  At a sauntering 5 and a half minutes in length, it’s not a head bopper, but it’s a nice lounging song that fits in quite nicely at the back of this CD.

Oh and also it’s part of an album about pizza and backgammon and I need a third thing that Dominos can refer to if I want to finish this joke.

TRACK EIGHTEEN:  Why?- Exegesis

As a writer and an grown ass man with an English Literature degree from a top-15-in-the-nation University (ha haaaa, the economy) very little is more emasculating to me than having to look up a song title to figure out what the word means.  So of course when I google Exegesis and have a goddamn Wikipedia article saying, “It’s the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text, dumbass” I think to myself, “Wow, I hope someone edits the word ‘dumbass’ out of that, it makes it seem very unprofessional.”  And I also think, goddamn you Why?!

Then again, I can’t be too surprised that Why? went this route naming the track.  I mean, they named their album Alopecia (which, apart from being one of my top 5 albums of 2008, is a word I at least know the definition of, because I watched Arrested Development through the story arcs with Stan Sitwell).  Jonathan Wolf is smarter than me, and he’s more talented than me, so I can’t really make fun of him for using two dollar words.  Why? works best as an Indie Rock band with spoken word/white rap lyrics.  While their last album was a disappointment in the sense of veering too much into the song route and too far from the rap roots of the group, “Exegesis” balances on the wire between the two schools.  The track itself is only a minute and a half, but it’s haunting and simplistic, with ghostly percussion leading into soft instrumental triplets as the vocals literally fade in to repeat one short 10 line stanza a handful of times before again fading into the ether.  “No stack of yoga mats/ or foam chord cushion pads/ to lessen the pressure of the phone cord choking my neck,” the song concludes, bringing things to an almost deathly standstill.

But the joke’s on you, I got three more four more tracks on the way.

TRACK NINETEEN:  Frida Hyvönen- Jesus Was a Crossmaker

In case the umlaut didn’t give it away for you, Frida Hyvönen is Swedish, ya.  And for those of you familiar with 1971’s folk/baroque pop music, you might now that this is a cover of a song by Judee Sill who died in 1979 in just about the way you’d expect a 35 year old musician to die.  Hyvönen’s cover of the track is pretty bareboned, which works great when you first listen to it, though it doesn’t age well.  Of the tracks on this mix, this is the one I skip the most.  It’s not that it’s a bad song- on the contrary, it’s just piano and angelic female vocals and it’s pretty as hell, but it a four minute track that’s…not the most face paced song.  It depends on your mood, but I’m not often in the mood for it.

We’re in the home stretch, and this is the last of the slow, plodding songs before I get to the slow plodding songs that pick up and leave you energized, which is of course the proper way to close out a mix CD according to this sentence which just made that up now.

TRACK TWENTY:  Versus- Ghost Story

Here’s a song that requires either a lot of patience or a very idle listen, but the payoff for each option is pretty great.  From 1996, the track is old enough to sneak into convenience stores that don’t card to buy cigarettes.  Founded in 1990, Versus was remarkably prolific- in fact, in writing this article I just found out that they’re still releasing albums (granted, after a 10 year hiatus, but music is music).  Members of Versus have been in bands such as +/- and The Pacific Ocean, and really it’s hard to find tracks that stand out when their catalog of music is so huge.  “Ghost Story,” however, is one of those stand out tracks.

“Ghost Story” clocks in at nearly six minutes, employing a pretty solid example of the “soft-loud” dynamic that 1990’s Indie Rock was particularly awesome at.  Every few minutes of slow, soft music eventually blasts into high energy, fist pumping rock redemption.  While I enjoy the hell out of this song, I’d never put it in the beginning of a mix- the build up takes a little too long, and if you have a full CD worth of songs ahead of you it’ll be easy to skip.  But towards the end of the CD, it fits in nicely.  And it’s absolutely worth it when you get to the halfway point of the track.

Just listening to the song itself, delving a little deeper than that “loud-soft dynamic makes it awesome, you guys” description listed above (ugh, work), the track sounds haunted.  The “soft” parts of the strong are loose drums, tightly wound sporadic guitar strings, and eerie bass peppered lightly throughout, and the “loud” parts…still plod along at the same pace as the soft parts.  The pickup is dramatic, but subdued- you can practically hear Richard Baluyut holding back his vocals even as he triples the volume of his voice.  He wants to go faster, more energetic, and it creates a sort of tension just beneath the surface of the music to give it, dare I say it, a spooky feel.  The tone of the song, as it takes you to cautious lows and restrained highs, feels like it’s the delivery of a ghost story, conjuring images of flashlights illuminating faces in dark rooms.

It is distressingly difficult to dig up information about this song, but I was able to dig up the lyrics using some google magic to examine what’s on the surface of the song (since many lyrics in the softer sections are difficult to make out, and the vocals in the loud sections are almost clouded by the instrumentals).  The song itself uses the concept of a ghost story as a metaphor for love, which is roughly as surprising as telling you that the vocals were recorded using microphones.  Snark aside, the metaphor is a fairly interesting look at relationships, though occasionally heavy handed.  For example- “Yeah it’s the same old ghost story that never ends, stupid disappearing act and we’re still friends” is a straightforward but interesting line, since it establishes the promise of a relationship that will never occur as the real “ghost” that the song is about.  That’s an interesting take on unrequited love, and I’m actually not being sarcastic here.  That said, “I don’t want you to sleep with me/ I just need you to set me free” is legitimately cringe-worthy, so you have to take the good with the bad on this song.

Thematically, it’s a song you can take and leave, but the execution of the track, from the haunted instrumentals to the numerous pickups and slowdowns, make it an extremely worthwhile track.  And though I could have ended things here, I still had extra space, which allowed me to put another “pick me up, close me out” type track after this one, namely with…

TRACK TWENTY-ONE:  Didley Squat- Little Darling

Here we have another 5 and a half minute song, but this one is a little less “1990s haunted music” and a little more “Aughties piano driven rock and roll.”  Didley Squat is a defunct band that existed in Sacramento from 2002 to 2008, and apparently their press information for their final EP, Burning Alive Making a Living (which gets its name from the prominent lyric of “Little Darling”) said that they were honor students, which is totally misleading since they’d been releasing stuff for 3  years at that point, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t high school students at the time.  They’ve since been inducted into the Sacramento Area Music Awards hall of fame, which is totally a thing.

The track starts off with slow piano and oh so sad sounding vocals (“we will all suffer”…loverly).  This meandering lasts about two minutes before everything goes crazy.  Pianos are smashed (melodically).  Guitars are blaring (melodically).  Drums are blazing (…erm…drum…odically).  David Mohr’s nerd-rock-core vocals gleefully shout out “Burning alive making a living” before the final minute which is the band’s Broadway showstopping moment (seriously, you can just imagine the kick line).  The opening lyrics are brought back, slowing down the tempo slightly, but amping up the entire song in the process.  Electric guitar!  Vreeorrr!  Ominous whistling!(?)  Piano power chords!  The song quickly falls down to earth, a final slow down to leave you gasping for air, and a firm knowledge that what you just listened to was not only the last song on the band’s EP (or this mix) but the last hurrah of a band that no longer plays together.  These are the moments where you can’t help but place significance on the track, knowing that none other like it will ever be recorded again.  And with that, we can say, definitively, that this mix is finished and ready.

TRACK TWENTY-TWO:  The Thermals- I Don’t Believe You

Fuck!  Oh, dammit, I didn’t mean to put this track here, I was gonna stick it somewhere in the middle.  Shit, and Didley Squat was such a good point to end things on.  Well, whatever- as much as you try to explain the artistic process behind making a mix, sometimes it just comes down to if the songs are good.  And this one’s pretty okay.   Well, since I stuck this on the end of the mix by accident, I’ll stick my description of it right here (#39).

If you want, we can pretend this is interactive.  This Thermals song is yours to place anywhere of your liking when you eventually download/steal these songs to make your own personal mixes.  Because hey, not all cars have ipod docks, right?

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In the digital age, which is the lazy way old people choose to describe the last ten years, musical concepts have changed drastically.  “Mix tapes” were replaced by “Mix CDs” were replaced by “Craigslist Casual Encounters” were replaced by “Playlists and Tissues.”  And with artists focusing on producing “single tracks” as opposed to “cohesive albums” the artistry and patience found in compiling a compelling mix can only be found from nostalgic music writers or people too poor to get an ipod hook-up installed into their cars (and in some cases, a combination of the two).  But, despite the existence of ipod shuffles and itunes playlists and pens that write upside down, a well crafted mix CD (which we’ll describe as a mix tape because that has a better ring to it) can tell the listener exactly what year you made your mix better than anything other than, possibly, a diary entry from an angsty teenager.

Much like how if you’re between the ages of 25 and 32 you’ll know the name of at least 2 of these three characters.

However, unlike mix tapes you may make in High School, a proper mix serves as a launching pad into good music that you either might not have heard before, or that works organically in the structure of the mix.  That is why I’m going to begin my Mix Tape series to inform you of songs you’ll love (if you haven’t heard them before).

But first, the rules.

There are many philosophies for the creating of a perfect mix.  Some adhere to the “album” philosophy- namely, if your favorite artist would not release an 80 minute album, you should not make a mix that fills up an entire CD, focusing instead on 12-14 truly great songs to interact with each other.  While this method makes some good points, it is not the route that I will take, since I want to take advantage of all the space we have available to fit as much music as possible.  This will make a mix much better suited for road trips and long drives.

And to make matters worse, he had to listen to Dave Matthews Band on repeat until help arrived.

As a result, the my mix method will slightly alter the Rob Fleming school of mixes.  You can’t have the same artists appear too close to each other in the track listing, but you are not forced to start with a “show stopper/attention getter.”  In fact, I will try to make the second or third track by the one that really starts to grab your attention.  The first track should rise, possibly starting slow before building your attention and taking you through to the next level.

The real difficulty is transitions.  An ideal mix is one where, after listening to it a few times, you assume that the songs are meant to be paired together.  Once you realize that the ending of “Another Love Song” by Queens of the Stone Age actually sublimely goes into Rouge Wave’s “Kicking the Heart Out,” and that it’s such a great transition that you almost assume they’re the same song, it’s hard not to mentally cue up the second song once you hear the first.  With that in mind, it’s time to start the inaugural Mix Tape Series with the mix entitled Goosebumps.

Track One:  Tartufi- If We Had Daggers They Would Fly

While I might be presumptuous in calling Tartufi “friends of my former website, Elitish,” I think I can at least safely say that they are “people who let me interview them (which used to be on Elitish but now is here).”  This track opens their 2006 effort, Us Upon Buildings Upon Us, and immediately establishes them as a band that is worth your time and beef jerky making abilities.  It also gives you confusing results if you google the album title.

Umm…what the fuck, google?

Starting slowly, this San Francisco duo’s track is layers of tinkering piano and soft guitar that swell and build over a minute stretch, until they are met by increasingly overlapping vocals of “ohs” and “ahs” that lull you into a sense of comfort even as the music gets increasingly intense.  That is, until everything goes to hell with a flurry of guitar that turn into vocals and drums in a remarkably catchy pattern.  Like Built to Spill with a hint of tribal vocal influence, it’s a song that slowly brings you in before grabbing you by the shoulders to let you know, “Hey, guys, listen to me, I’m awesome.”  Which actually would be a terrifying thing for a song to actually, physically do.  Once songs become sentient it’s just a matter of time before they doom us all.

Where were we going with this again?

The last few seconds and the first few seconds of a song are integral to creating a proper mix.  That’s why, as Tartufi’s track fades into soft xylophone (because fuck yes, xylophones) it’s time to go to…

Track Two:  The Delgados- I Fought the Angels

You don’t need to be attractive to make good music, but if you make good music we’re just going to assume you’re attractive.  The reason why people assume Pete Wentz sings for Fall Out Boy is because their lead singer is chunky, and the reason why people feel that Fall Out Boy is shit is because Pete Wentz is goofy looking and scenester as shit.  I bring this up because the only thing that enhances someone’s attractiveness is if they’re foreign.  So the fact that “I fought the Angels,” the opening track to 2004’s Universal Audio is sung by a girl on a Scottish Band is basically the hotness equivalent of dividing by zero.  It seems impossible.  Granted, I’m saying this without having seen Emma Pollock…

*Curt nod*  Judges?  Judges?  Is this acceptable?  The judges are informing me that yes, she is attractive.

That of course has very little to do with the actual song, but it does sort of paint the way your brain will take in the lyrics.  It’s a pretty girl with a strong voice singing over stripped down guitar rock instrumentals with some vocal doubling tastefully applied where it’s needed.  The concept itself (defiance against unseen forces, literally “I fought the angels”) is much better than the lyrical execution (what the hell does “My words are seldom for a friend” actually mean?) the song is made mixworthy when the drums kick in at 1:10 and keyboard and bass and even the occasional almost soundscape use of strings layer through the song which such stealth that you don’t even notice it apart from commenting on how rich and full the song is.

As the song cuts off, however, it’s time to take it back down to the beginning of a low rising song.  This mix is called Goosebumps because each song has a moment, usually a build or a crescendo, that gives me goosebumps (unfortunately it is not named after R.L. Stine’s classic works).  So, in keeping with this theme, the next song we encounter is…

Track Three:  Okkervil River- John Allyn Smith Sails

The closing track to 2007’s The Stage Names doesn’t really hit you until you hit the halfway point, at which point your ears perk up, you say, “What the fuck?” and the librarian says, “There’s no swearing in the library young man,” and you say, “I got your library right here you old biddy” and she goes, “Oh really?  Old biddy?  What is this, fucking 1950?” and you go, “HA!  I thought you’re not supposed to swear, fuckass” and anyway, I’m not allowed in public libraries anymore.

Like I even care.  Stupid old biddy.

“John Allyn Smith Sails” is a semi-non-fictional account of the poet John Berryman, who was born as John Allyn Smith Jr.  If you’ve not heard this song, or the Hold Steady track that mentions him in passing, we’ll save you the suspense- the dude jumped off a bridge to kill himself, survived the fall, and some days later from hyperthermia.

What makes the song worthwhile however appears at the halfway point, when after describing Berryman’s funeral, a semi-cover of The Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B” comes into play, desperate pleas of “I feel so broke up I want to go home” being expressed through harmonies and, yes, a riveting horn section (read as: trumpet).  It’s a brilliant switch over that both cements the song as a musically worthwhile anthem, while serving as clever word play of the title (Sloop John B, John Berryman, get it?  GET IT!?)


By the time it fades, of course you have to move on to the next track, which continues along the nautical theme (yes, the comparison is looser than Andy Dick after his fourth eight ball, just beware with us).

Track Four:  Immaculate Machine- C’Mon Sea Legs

As is custom for my continued effort to get a restraining order filed against me, I’ll just point out again that OH MY GOD KATHRYN CALDER!




(But seriously guys, back me up on this)

“I hope no one writes anything creepy about me on the internet today!”

“C’Mon Sea Legs” was my number one song of 2007, deftly taking Brooke Gallupe’s vocals and adding about several degrees of Kathryn Calder to take them from good to incredible.  I’ve been writing about this song in glowing terms for four years, so it’ll just read as cheap repetition if I go into depth into this song, so I’ll sum it up as succinctly as possible.  Gallupe sings the melody, with Calder (who honestly has one of the best voices in music this side of Neko Case) doing soft soaring harmonies.  The song serves as a fairly straightforward metaphor for overcoming and getting over negative life events (since it’s in song lyrics, let’s just simplify that as “getting over getting dumped”).  Calder’s vocals strengthen as the song progresses, until finally Gallupe lets Calder take over, as she belts the emotional apex of the song, making a powerful and moving musical moment.

When it’s all done, the song is less “anthemic” and more “epic.”  Which is why I keep it going with a similarly epic song (that also happens to feature KATHRYN CALDER)

Track Five:  The New Pornographers- The Bleeding Heart Show

“Hey, I know this song!  This is the song that’s used on those commercials for that shady as hell for-profit university, right?”   Well…well yes, fine, it is.  “Hey Jeff, did you know that The University of Phoenix takes on anyone and usually leaves its students in massive debt?”  Yes, I had heard about that, listen guys, I’m trying to write about this song, it’s really quite good and… “No, but seriously, it’s such a racket, even talked about its evils and…” SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LET ME TALK ABOUT THE FUCKING SONG OKAY!?


*deep breath*


Trying too hard to interpret New Pornographers lyrics will make your nose bleed, since A.C. Newman’s main lyrical influence seems to come from magnetic poetry.  Seriously, “I leapt across three or four beds into your arms”?  Unless you’re living in military barracks, I defy you to find a situation where you’d leap across three or four beds to go to someone’s arms.  And if you did have three or four beds, why would you leap across them?  Why not go around them?  Or at least, I don’t know, push them together so it’s like one giant bed.  But why is it so many beds and…


It’s fitting that Newman at least acknowledges the fact that his lyrics are basically amalgamated words that are smushed together and set to power pop melodies with the line, “It looked as if I picked your name out of a hat.”  But the lyrics aren’t why we listen to this song (and trust me, even if you don’t think you’ve listened to this song, you’ve listened to this song).  The last minute and a half, apart from sounding like some sort of Indie Lion King soundtrack, provides one of the seminal musical moments of the past ten years (“Ohh, bold words, GoodSmith.”  Yeah, well a pretty girl looked at me on the bus today so I’m feeling pretty bold, reader.)

That’s right, world.  Looked right at me.  For like, a FULL two seconds.

Between Neko Case’s belting, which is actually a prescribable cure for Lupus, Kurt Dahle’s transcendent drumming, and the rich layer of harmonies provided by every member of the band (including Kathryn Calder, SQUEE!) this song takes the high point of “C’Mon Sea Legs” and continues at the same high level.  So it seems only fitting that I follow this up with a track by an artist once called “The best band ever” by both Paul McCartney and Sting (citation needed)…

Track Six:  The Wrens- I’ve Made Enough Friends

As you may have gathered from my extensively in-depth interview, and my embarrassingly gushing live review, and, well, from just about everything I write, I am a big fan of The Wrens.  Not in a “their album art is tattooed on my chest” way, but more in the “I know all their B-sides and I use their album art as a screensaver” sort of way.  Actually that sounds fairly creepy too.  I mean, I’ve played with them on stage, and I follow them on twitter, it’s not like I know what sort of shampoo each member uses.  Oh God, I’m just digging myself in deeper.  Uh, hey, Charles, if you’re reading this, it’s all just part of the gag, you know, like I’ve been doing gags for every track I’ve done so far on this list.  It’s, uh, meta humor…ha…haha…See?  We’re laughing, everyone’ s laughing, we’re having a good time, they’re a good band, okay, let’s just leave it at that.

Photo unrelated

I’m not helping my case with this description, but as one of the band’s member’s message board posts related the sentiment of a friend of his, “I’ve Made Enough Friends” was the sex song of the 1990’s.  Possibly the most immediately accessible song on the 1996 masterpiece (Yeah, masterpiece, I went there, deal with it) Secaucus (it’s named after New Jersey you guys!), “I’ve Made Enough Friends” is a refreshingly earnest, straightforward tale of blossoming…well, love sounds too idealized for the song, but at least lust.  Clocking in at 2:47, the track doesn’t waste much time with languished metaphors or plodding instrumentals, it just treats you to a story of a first physical encounter between two people.

“A rush of wonder this spell I’m under might last,” Charles Bissell croons (“…croons?  Someone wants to use their thesaurus today, huh?”  Shut up, reader, you’re messing up my rhythm.  “Can’t mess up something that’s not there.”  Shut the hell up I said!) as the music rises in intensity to mirror the passion of the song’s two characters.  As the song builds up and blasts away, “Undo your buckle while you bite at my neck, I’ve waited no end, I’ve made enough friends” is almost gleefully exclaimed, all build and energy and harmonies.  There is no room for a letdown in this song, it’s almost delicately crafted within its short time frame, with the song ending abruptly when there is nothing else left to be said.

By this point, it’d be easy to keep the mix going on this course, playing an up tempo song to match the high energy that “I’ve Made Enough Friends” ends with, but a truly good mix should be more like a sine graph (“sine graph?  Math is stupid.” Fine, a roller coaster.  Ugh.  You suck so hard.)   A rising and falling tide receives more attention than still water, so I’m taking things down a little with the following track…

Track Seven:  Spoon- Paper Tiger

I don’t know why I associate Kill the Moonlight with Spoon doing experimental percussion work, but I do.  It’s an entirely inaccurate assumption, as if all previous and following Spoon albums used a goddamn drum machine while this one album used like, I don’t know, a space robot drummer (…holy shit that’d be the coolest thing ever).  I mean, in Soft Effects they had a song that used a fucking shoe for percussion.  That’s not even a joke, they took a shoe and smacked it on like the floor or whatever, and decided, “Yeah, this’ll be good for our instrumental interlude!”  Remember that obnoxious as hell “sheeewwwssss” video about shoes?  No?  Well good for you, I won’t link you to it because it’s awful, but basically it’s as if Spoon was in the recording studio and thought, “How can we liven up this song?” and that obnoxious dude in the wig appears and is like “Oh.  My.  God.  Sheewwwws.”  And the band tossed up their hands and said “Why the fuck not?”

Ugh.  This video.  Ugh.

Spoon gets inventive with their percussion is what I’m saying.  I honestly haven’t been able to find/am too lazy to really do intensive research regarding the source of the strange, plastic-in-a-good-way sounding percussion base that “Paper Tiger” uses, which sounds like part drum, part vacuum-of-space, but it distinguishes this otherwise good-and-pretty-sounding-but-fairly-standard-song and makes it unique.  A lesson in minimalism, there’s the echoing, for-some-reason-futuristic-seeming percussion mixed in with some very light drums, softly hesitant synthesizer notes, and the occasional instance of Britt Daniels endearingly-strained falsetto, and…that’s about it.  This song uses strange percussion sparingly, but that’s still half of the instrumentation in the song.

As a stand alone track, or even as part of Kill the Moonlight (which, if you haven’t heard, was when Spoon decided to do experimental percussion, which they never did at any other point in their career) is a pretty song, one worth listening to, but not something that demands your attention as much as other music surrounding it.  Spoon barely touches it now when they do live concerts.  But for this mix, it’s a nice way to cleanse the palate, sort of like the ginger that goes along with sushi.

This song is the ginger, and the next track is the sushi, is what I’m trying to say.

Track Eight:  Ola Podrida- Cindy

For starters, I’m just going to call bullshit on the fact that Ola Podrida doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.  Not all of us get your fancy press booklets, Mr. Wingo, and you’d have to assume that a band that’s managed two 7.8-and-higher rated albums on pitchfork would at least have a damn wikipedia page.  Seriously, there are artists who are on wikipedia who are listed as having “played with Ola Podrida” yet Ola Podrida doesn’t have it.  Anyway, Ola Podrida has David Wingo, who is a film composer.  It’s easy to make a blanket statement of him using that mindset with his music, as “Cindy,” a beautifully tragic, soaring affair, sounds like it should be the background for an emotional crescendo in some Wes Anderson film.  But that’s just lazy writing, and I have never ever been a lazy writer.

Pictured above:  My research method

“Cindy” doesn’t necessitate any lavish visual backdrop, mainly because it’s rife with its own theatrics.  In case you haven’t picked up the pattern yet, most of these songs are going to start off pretty soft, and then build to dizzying heights by the time the song is over.  That’s going to happen just about every goddamn time, and you’re going to take it and like it, you hear me?

“Don’t talk to me about fucking cadence, I fucking INVENTED cadence.”

“Cindy” is a film upon itself, describing a girl (going on a limb and saying her name is…Cindy?) who burns down…well her life.  She burns her house down, burns her diary, “She burned everything, except for her wedding ring, because she threw that in the sea.”  As the fire builds lyrically, so too does the song, plot and instrumentals holding hands and looking both ways before sprinting across the street.  What started as soft plucked guitar ends with an inferno of rapid fire double stops before the song uneasily rests, like the embers left after an inferno.

Ola Podrida’s seminal track (eh, that may be a bit hyperbolic) follows a similar sonic structure as the following song, which you probably have heard of…

Track Nine:  LCD Soundsystem- New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

“Oh LCD Soundsystem, isn’t that like, a cliché at this point?  They’re so popular that everyone knows someone who lied about seeing their final MSG show,” you might be saying.  “I like that song, ‘Daft Punk is Playing at My House,’ and ‘Someone Great’ is really good too.  Let me click this link to refresh my memory on how this song goes,” you’ll likely continue.


“Hi ho, maybe your mother loves you too.”

“New York I Love You” is easily the least LCD Soundsystem…erm…sounding track that has been recorded by LCD Soundsystem.  Where are the muted disco beats and seven minute songs with slightly fuzzed guitars?  Where are the drunk girls?  WHERE ARE THE DRUNK GIRLS!?

Now’s a good time to do the customary “James Murphy dresses ridiculously” joke, as is custom.

Soft piano chords, whispers really, begin the track, which begins with very little separating the listener from Murphy’s anguished earnest lyrics.  A bittersweet love ballad to the city that holds you, Murphy scatters some brilliant lyrical moments throughout the song, which is nothing but piano, light drums, and the occasional bass.  “You’re still the one pool where I’d happily drown,” Murphy muses.  “But they shuttered your stores when you opened the doors to the cops who were bored ocne they’d run out of crime,” he meditates.  A capable, straightforward piano song for the majority of the track, the song erupts at the 3:20 mark with thrashing guitars, hard piano chords, and belted vocals.  And of course, GUITAR SOLO!


It’s honestly an unlikely addition to the LCD Soundsystem canon, but it’s easily my favorite track they’ve done.  Besides, it fits in better with this mix than any other LCD Soundsystem tracks.  Which brings us to…

Track Ten:  Tartufi- Window Machine

Before Us Upon Buildings Upon Us, Tartufi had a third member, and a CD featuring that third member.  So We Are Alive sees less sonic exploration than UUBUU (hehe, uuuubuuuuuu) and a more straightforward power pop direction.  It also established the tradition of getting weird results when you search for it on Google.

Erm…okay.  Duly noted, facebook group.

“Window Machine” seems like two songs combined, or at least an interlude going into a real song.  The first half is a pretty, light instrumental, while the second half actually features things like “vocals” and “lyrical structure.”  I know, crazy.  Again, this song is a ginger song (I like that term, I’m going to use it, offended redheads be damned), to clear your palate for…

Track Eleven:  The Wrens- She Sends Kisses

Oh, don’t give me that look you guys, I’ve already filled my quota of borderline stalkerish sounding jokes about the Wrens.  “She Sends Kisses” is rarely the first song that people obsess about the first time they listen to The Meadowlands, but eventually just about everyone lists it as their favorite Wrens song, or easily in the top five.  I’d talk about how great The Meadowlands as a whole is, but I’ve used up all my hyperbole for the day, and the Hyperbole Bank is closed for the day with a sign on it that says “We have used up all the hyperbole that has EVER EXISTED, will open tomorrow which will be the BEST DAY EVER.”

“Jeff will NEVER be able to write a SINGLE WORD EVER AGAIN without me!”

Needless to say, The Meadowlands, an album that delves into topics that range from betrayal to simply…well, growing up, is a masterpiece, and appears far lower than it deserves to be on many “Best albums of the Aughties” list.  Of the numerous incredible tracks on the record, “She Sends Kisses” stands out five minutes of pure build, like bathtub slowly filling with intensity.  And bubbles.  Because bubbles are awesome.

“Sheeeee seeeeeeennnnnddssss  *breath* kisssssessssssssssss”

This song discusses a chapter in the mini-plot within the album that hasn’t been named by any source I’ve seen, so I’m just gonna give it the fairly unimaginative name of “The Ann Saga.”  For those of you taking notes…stop it, this is the internet, put that notebook away, you look ridiculous.  But for those of you who are curious as to what the Anne Saga on The Meadowlands would entail, it’s basically a three part song series.  Which I will map out below.

Part 1:  “She Sends Kisses” tells the story of Charles (a fictionalized version of Charles Bissell) starting a relationship with Beth (a hypothetical love interest) through flirtatious love letters.  I guess I’ll go into depth with this one since I’m writing about the fucking song.  Beth is “tres involved” (French for “totes seeing someone”) and Charles “Wrote back, good luck.”  The song ends with an assumption that he will start seeing Beth.

Part 2:  “Ex-Girl Collection” takes place after Charles has been sleeping with Beth, but he happens to be in a serious relationship with Ann (a hypothetical girlfriend).  This song shows Ann finding out about Beth, being both distraught and angry about it, while Charles remains bemusedly ambivalent.

Part 3 (sort of):  A bit of a stretch, but “Per Second Second,” with largely inaudible lyrics, shows a sort of freefall post-breakup mindset, as kicked off by the line “I had this dream again Ann shot me, per second second faster from the winner’s line.”

And thus ends Professor GoodSmith’s enthusiastic attempt to misinterpret Wrens lyrics.

This joke is for the zero readers who have met me in real life and who have also seen the movie “Funny People.”

This song is possibly the crux of the entire mix.  It’s arguable the best song you’ll see in this list, and it’s in the middle, towards the end, to encourage the listener to keep on listening to the remainder of the album.  That way you get to hear bands like…

Track Twelve:  Badly Drawn Boy- Say It Again

“Oh yeah, this band seems pretty familiar.  Didn’t you write an article about how this dude sucks at music now?  Also, I don’t mean to be hypercritical, but you seem to be overusing the crutch of starting these bits with a hypothetical reader telling you something sort of sarcastic, and then you yell at the hypothetical reader and call him or her stupid…Are you doing to start being more original, or are you stuck in a creative loop?”  Hey, shut up stupid, you don’t know what you’re talking about.


But yes, Badly Drawn Boy has a career trajectory that starts off incredibly high (how good was Hour of the BewilderbeastSO GOOD!) to still pretty high (the About a Boy soundtrack was… it was good) to…

If a picture says a thousand words, then all of these words are “AGHHHHH.”  I’m trying to say that new Badly Drawn Boy is…not good.

But this is from a happier time.  A better time.  A less “name dropping of Madonna” time.  “Say it Again” is uplifting, catchy, beautiful, and eagerly uses a horn section, and it blends in nicely to the next track, which is COVERED IN BEES!

Track Thirteen:  Menomena- Evil Bee

What do you want from your non-muppets-related Menomena songs?  A crisp-yet-murky quality that you have a hard time putting your finger on?  Engaging vocals?  Grand piano instrumentation?  Saxophone solos?  Bees?  BEES!?  BEEEES!?!?!?!?


Well this track’s fucking got it.  For a nearly five minute song that feels like it’s chalk full of psychological depth, it basically only repeats the line, “O to be a machine, to be wanted, to be useful, oh to be a machine.”  Which of course, puts “Evil Bee” on a short list of most cringe inducing title puns you’ll find in Indie Rock (get it?  To BEE a machine?  BAHHH HAHAAA!).  As a general rule, you know your mix is going to be in decent shape when the thirteenth track on it is the best song from the 6th best album of 2007 (which was the best year for music since 2003).  While this song feels…dark, the track it leads into is extremely sunny in comparison.

Track Fourteen:  Biirdie- You’ve Got Darkness

This song is a pain in the ass to find online, so I’m putting it online.  Whatever.  You’ll listen to it and you’ll like it (or you’ll laugh at the part where they go “Did you go out and kiss your friend” and call that particular lyric “trite” like a few of my friends may or may not have done).  That said, there’s a lot you can make fun of Biirdie for, mainly if your definition of “a lot of things” is “they spell their name with two I’s and that’s stupid.”  And that’s my definition, so I’ll just lump you guys into the same category as me.  You don’t mind, do you?

Of course not.

So, the song.  We’re in the homestretch people, and this epic splattering of musical meandering has just three more tracks, including this one.  Biirdie (pfft, two I’s, get that shit out of my house) combines soft and warm male vocals with female backing vocals, and they even through in a bit of a “everyone’s harmonizing while singing different things” thing at the end of it, which happens far less often in music than it should.

We’re five thousand words into this piece.  This is a mix CD that has a lengthy short story as its liner notes.  So I’m gonna try to take this home somewhat succinctly.  First, I’m going to go into a description of how to properly end a mix.

“Oh shit, yo teach is gonna lay down some knowledge!

Many albums are set up with a similar mindset as most semi-successful comedians:  You want to start strong, and you want to end strong, because like birth and death, the start and the ends are usually the most memorable part of any given artistic endeavor.  That’s why, just as I started this mix with two tracks that were the opening songs of their respective albums, I close out with a classic album’s first song, followed by an incredibly obscure album’s closing track.  So fasten your safety belts, I’m going to avoid a reference to a classic Hollywood film/shitty Broadway version of a classic Hollywood film.

Track Fifteen:  Wilco- Misunderstood

The difference between Wilco in 1996 and Wilco in 2006 is striking.  An unfortunate cliche, or at least hipster assumption, is that success breeds contentment, which breeds mediocrity.  When Weezer sang about being tired of sex in Pinkerton, it was bold, it was brash, and it was sung by people who weren’t quite yet millionaires.  But you compare that to Make Believe, which was nine years later, and suddenly it’s the Harvard graduate singing “It’s just something that you’re born into, and I just don’t belong” in front of the fucking Playboy mansion.  While the Indie stereotype is that Hipsters begrudge their bands becoming famous out of some sort of narcissistic desire to  claim ownership to these bands “before they got big” that’s actually not the case.  It’s just that for every Bruce Springsteen (read as: someone with a large underground fan base that put out classic work after becoming mainstream) there are dozens of Post-Reunion-Smashing-Pumpkins or Post-Yankee-Hotel-Foxtrot-Wilcos .

The Beatles tried to push the envolope with a completely blank album cover.  Spoiler alert:  Replacing that concept with “A headshot of a character from Lost” does not seem to have the same artistic integrity.

We’re not saying that once Wilco started consistently getting top 10 albums, they became a shitty band, but that’s exactly what happened.  Which is why “Misunderstood” is such a breath of fresh air.  Nothing about this song demands mainstream success.  This was never a song that would be considered for even an adult contemporary station.  Starting with jarring, aggressive, screechy violin and deep kick drum, this six-and-a-half minute track abruptly switches into soft piano and sad reflective lyrics (“you love her but you don’t know why”, “you still love rock and roll, you still love rock and roll”) before letting the distorted guitar and drums show up again.

And despite appearing in several other tracks, Jeff Tweedy’s use of “I know you got a God-shaped hole” reeks of a desperate earnestness that the band has never been able to replicate.  Being There was Wilco’s second album, a moderately popular Indie alt-rock band’s gutsy decision to release a lengthy 19 track double album as their Sophomore effort.

And now, he looks like an extra for a Geico commercial

You never know what to expect from the song, as it oscillates from abrasive to soothing, as evident by the final two minutes, where the band lets go of all inhibitions, eventually screaming, “I’d like to thank you all for nothing at all,” with a sort of raw emotion you don’t see from the band anymore.  And I miss that aggression.  It makes for beautiful music.

Track Sixteen:  SeaRay- Hall of Fame

It’s fairly likely that you’ve never heard of this band.  To dust off an old chestnut that has become a comforting friend over the course of this soon-to-be six thousand word article, you, the hypothetical reader, are likely saying, “Oh yeah, I know Wilco.  They’re like super famous.  But SeaRay?  Isn’t that like, a jet ski or something?”  God, you’re so stupid hypothetical reader who I insult frequently in this article.  But you do make a point.  SeaRay is a band so obscure that I personally own the physical copies of both of the full length CDs the band ever released before their 2004 break-up… and they’re imported to itunes with different spelling of the band’s name (Sea Ray vs. Searay).

Like this, but not a video game

“Hall of Fame” is a track that appears on both full length SeaRay albums.  The difference between the debut Sea Ray and the final album Stars at Noon are massive, but two-fold.  First of all, between the band’s first album and the second, the singer learned how to sing.  That might sound catty, and I can’t back that up because it took me 30 minutes just to figure out how to get the good version of this song available to stream online, but trust me on this point.  The lyrics are the same, the melody is the same, but the vocals sound like they’re sung by a 22 year old who never had voice lessons and hasn’t sung in a public setting for the last four years (I can pretty accurately spot that as my itunes is full of several dozen songs of a 22 year old version of me singing in a similarly cringe-worthy way).  You’re listening to this version and going, “But the lead singer has pretty good vocals.”  And you’re right.  He does.  But he didn’t when the band released their debut in 1997.  Remember that whole “time makes fools of us all” thing I was hinting at with the last song?  Yeah, it works in the other direction too.  1997 Sea Ray was kind of cringe-worthy.  2003 SeaRay was…great.

Which brings me to the second point.  They added a cello.  That’s huge.  All the best bands use cello.  Now’s as good of a time as any to give my limited attempt at a history for the band.  I was introduced to them while seeing a Metric/The Stills concert, where SeaRay was the opener.  They released an album in 1997, an EP in 1999, and Stars at Noon in 2003.  They broke up soon after that, unfortunately.  Seriously, I can’t stress how unfortunate that was.  Stars at Noon was a soaring, beautiful album.  Soft yet engaging, background music you want to pay attention to.  Which is surprising since their live performance was incredibly high energy. We’re talking a hot chick playing cello as the drummer is throwing his drumsticks ten feet in the air and the band’s manager/album artist/keyboardist/etc. plays piano with one hand while playing trumpet in another.

This is all I can find to confirm this

There’s an unwritten rule in Indie rock that is rarely followed, mainly “If you’d like to sleep with a band’s cellist, that band deserves to be famous.”  Unfortunately that was never in the cards for SeaRay.  So this is my attempt to help them live on.  “Hall of Fame” is a logic-defying thing of beauty, a combination of confident vocals, lyrical acumen, and a wondrously cacophonous closing point where drums, keyboard, strings, and just about every instrumental melds together in a way that defies logic by coming off harmoniously.

What we’re left with is a song that soars to dizzying heights before fading away unexpectedly, leaving us exhausted, satisfied, and cognizant that we’ve witnessed the end of a musical endeavor.  And while an ill-fitting, hurried eulogy for a band long dead might not be the most effective way to acknowledge a band’s past accomplishments, its tracks like this that can help enforce that there is great music out there we’ve yet to encounter.  Even as we use them to close out our obnoxiously long articles about mix tapes that were made years ago.  Sure the latter is an easier, cynical route to take.  But doesn’t the joy of music lie in the discovery of new music?

…okay, unless you’re discovering a piece of shit like Creed… because there’s no joy to be found here.  None.  Ugh.

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Top 10 Albums of 2010

“What the hell is going on here?  Not only is Jeff waiting until MAY to post his top albums of the year list, but he doesn’t even have the decency to start the list with anything clever or original?  There’s no introduction about how 2010 was good year for music, but 2011 is blowing it out of the water already?  No multiple references (and frankly, we deserve an apology) to the fact that they took five months to post a yearend list?  How Jeff is posting his 2010 list when we’re nearly halfway through 2011?  What the hell?  I was hoping that he would say something like, there were breakthrough bands that just missed this year’s list, like Fang Island’s debut, or how this marks the first year that Jeff has not listed the album that contained the best song of the year on his year-end album list.  I was hoping he would point out that Spoon’s Transference was a good album, but got relegated to the 11th best album of the year after a surprise surge from a double EP that’s controversial in its own right, since it’s not technically an album, but it will be the first EP to ever make Jeff’s year end list.  I was hoping for something like that.  And funny captions and such.  Instead, what do I get?  I get a lengthy paragraph of a hypothetical reader expressing his frustration.  I just want to know what the best albums of the year are, dammit!”

10.  The New Pornographers- Together

When The New Pornographers put out a record, it’s a lot like when Daniel Day-Lewis puts out a movie.  Well, not the “Holy shit Daniel Day-Lewis is entirely fucking insane” way, but more in the sense of, “We know how good he can be, but if he’s in an only-okay-movie we will totally forget about that movie.”  Seriously, the movie the guy followed up There Will Be Blood with was that musical movie Nine, which was so forgettable I’m wasting all of our time by making a joke about it here.

This was only slightly less forgettable

The New Pornographers put out three albums from 2000 to 2005 that are Power Pop classics, pretty much dominating upbeat playlists for that entire time with songs like “Mass Romantic”, “The Bleeding Heart Show”, “Electric Version”, “Letter From an Occupant”, and maybe some of the Dan Bejar tracks if you’re into that sort of thing.  We loved them because they were so impossibly upbeat, an unstoppable fireball of Indie pop that had so many hooks I just had to stop myself from making a fishing joke, since I know so little about fishing.

You know, like the…uh…Trout hook?

When Challengers was released back in 2007, we sort of didn’t know how to react.  It was alright, and had a few catchy songs, but this was the follow up to the 2005 masterpiece Twin Cinema?  Dammit, Daniel Day-Lewis, we expected more from you!

And better choice in piercings.

Challengers was more lackadaisical and ballad friendly then any of their previous albums, and Together still does not reach the 2005 dizzying Power Pop heights of the band’s heyday.  There is just enough up-tempo songs however to make this album deceptively strong.  While there is no single “top 10” worthy song, there isn’t much in the way of filler either, and this album benefits from the total sum of its parts.  An album full of very-good-but-not-great songs can sometimes trump the album with a few great songs, but a few only-okay tracks.  That’s what Together brings to the table, an album that may not add any new songs to the upper echelon of The New Pornographer’s cannon, but a song that is worth at least four uses in How I Met Your Mother episodes.  What you’re left with is an album that shines through much brighter every time you listen to it, much like the boy you turned down for prom, only to find out later that he has gone on to write for a sleek, sexy music website that does posts at an almost bi-yearly rate, you don’t really notice the album until you give it a second listen.  Or second look.  Johnny Flenderson works at a gas station now, Carol, why the hell would you chose him over me!?

Erm… I mean… dance music y’all!

9.  Girl Talk- All Day

Girl Talk needs to have their own PSAs.  Gregg Gillis’ DJ mashup project has done more for awkward white people in the 21st century than cocaine and shoulder pads did in the 1980s.  If somewhere a 22 year old with thick rimmed glasses and a penchant for Sigur Ros wants to get the people at his party to dance, Girl Talk is there.  Whenever a hipster feels he can’t go out on a dance floor unless he hears Neutral Milk Hotel, Girl Talk is there.  Whenever sweaty white kids need to dance off that ecstasy because OH MY GOD THE MUSIC FEELS SO GOOD, well, velvet walls are there, but so is Girl Talk.

In defense of people currently rolling, we do agree.  These do feel amazing.

Every Girl Talk album always comes out as a surprise, always comes out online for free, and always crashes serves as an influx of white people flood the internet to download the album so they can get a playlist for their next party.  It’s hard to imagine there being a “bad” Girl Talk album, since the albums (which are essentially 70 minute single tracks that are broken into tracks for convenience), but All Day in particular is the strongest Girl Talk album since Night Ripper.  Starting with Black Sabbath and taking you through a torrential tear of old school hip hop, top 40 hits, indie tracks, and the guitar riff from Beck’s “Loser” (oh and also fucking Electric Light Orchestra!) the album serves as the best dance music that came out in 2010, plus lets you appreciate the humor of the fact that there was absolutely someone who never heard the song “Teach Me How to Dougie” until he reached the second track of this album.  Because white people are hilarious.

8.  Peter Adams – Dances for Heather/I am a Strange Loop EPs

Peter Adams released two EPs that consisted, essentially, of two 15 minute tracks composed for the Cincinnati Ballet, broken into three tracks each.  Peter Adams, who is an established Elitish favorite, continues his practice creating ornate, orchestral Indie pop tracks from his home, playing every instrument you can hear.  While we would have loved for a full length album to come out to build on the brilliance that was I Woke Up With Planets In My Face and The Spiral Eyes, any new music from Peter Adams is welcome, and he definitely did not half-ass his commitment to the Cincinnati ballet, as every song of the Dances for Heather EP made my top songs list this year.

And that’s worth a delicious, delicious kudos

…And, not to show myself to be a lazy music writer in my year end list coming out in May, but that was before I had even gotten a chance to give I am a Strange Loop a close listen, since it features the track “The Tangled Canopy” which is easily one of the three best songs of the year.  Whoops.

So I’m just going to pretend that I didn’t make that mistake, Dr. Stein style.

So when a combo of EPs supplants an album (This is pretty much the reason why Transference by Spoon was the last album to not make this list) it has to be pretty damn good.  And this is.  Pretty damn good.  Soaring, building, orchestral yet poppy, occasionally soft and lilting, occasionally strong and driving.  In fact, “The Tangled Canopy” best shows all the strengths of Adams’ work in 2010, starting with soft, slowly building strings that swell until they reach a breaking point, followed by a soft guitar-vocals interlude that then lets loose with a flurry of orchestral instrumentation, drums, and layered vocals that form a sinisterly breezy, yet ineffably catchy, melody.  These songs don’t stay in place for very long, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

7.  Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Oh Kanye, Kanye, Kanye.  What are we going to do with you?  We’re used to our musical geniuses being crazy and self-destructive, but we have no idea what to do when they just end up being…egotistical douchebags.  So when Kanye West made the horrific mistake of, gasp, making an attractive, 19 year old millionaire sad, all hell was unleashed on him.  Also, memes.  Just like, so many memes.

…Granted, funny memes, but still

Kanye was coming of 808 & Heartbreak, which was greatly influenced by his mother’s untimely death.  And it was…fine?  Lots of vocodor, and decent songs that weren’t particularly memorable.  So after the infamous Imma-Let-You-Finish incident, it was easy to see Kanye’s career fizzing out of existence.

Like so many packets of Pop-Rocks

So when My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy begins with “Dark Fantasy” begins with spoken word couplets going into choir-like vocals that meld into a piano driven beat.  What follows is an album filled with upbeat club jams and somber reflection pieces, all doused in a combination of self-reflection and egoism.

What’s left is the “Sergeant Pepper’s of Hip Hop,” a real game-changer, and a reminder that Kanye West is an asshole…but a talented asshole.

6.  LCD Soundsystem- This is Happening

Ah LCD Soundsystem, we hardly knew ye.  Wait, that’s not true.  You actually got increasingly popular with each album release.  And now you’re gone.  Gone and forgotten.  Well, that’s not true.  19,000 people watched the last ever LCD Soundsystem concert, and even more streamed it live online.  This is Happening is both the best album LCD Soundsystem released, as well as their worst.  And that’s where it gets tricky to know how to read into the album.

Each LCD Soundsystem album uses the same art-dance-punk tropes to give you a different feeling.  Their debut was tongue in cheek, all scene-reference and house parties.  Sound of Silver was less goofy, but not quite serious, the defiant college student refusing to accept a professor’s hypothesis, at times goofy, at times soulful, but always sure of their identity and their sound.

Generally it involved James Murphy looking silly

This is Happening hits you like the season finale of a critically acclaimed TV show on the bubble of being renewed.  It wants to leave enough open that you can see more coming in the future, but it wants to give you enough closure to leave you at peace if this is where it ends.  Let it Be this is not, James Murphy still has plenty on his mind.  This is an album by a man who has more to tell us, but doesn’t feel the need anymore.

So you have songs like “Dance Yrself Clean” to open, that alternates between quiet electronic and blaring dance hall.  You have “Drunk Girls,” a song that doesn’t take itself seriously that, at its heart, is about…well, not taking yourself seriously.  “All I Want” blindsides you with raw poignancy that penetrates into the core of the beat itself, to the point that it can touch your soul before you hear a goddamn word if you’re in the right state.

Okay okay I get it, being too serious

But honestly, this album is a testament to what LCD Soundsystem has accomplished over 3 well spaced albums.  We don’t want it to be an epitaph…but it’s a good epitaph nonetheless.

5.  The Arcade Fire- The Suburbs

I’m not going to get into the lyrical analysis of the story arc at play with The Arcade Fire’s most popular/third best album.  I cover that pretty heavily in my discussion of the three songs from this album that made my top songs list, so just take my word when I say, there’s a lot of artistic depth behind the lyrics.  This album is loosely connected, and really highlights a divide between demographic cultures, which is really driven home by the opening dichotomy of the title track, as “The Suburbs” combines jangly, upbeat piano chords with, well…depressing lyrics.

This is the first thing google image search comes up with when you search for “depressing lyrics”.

Of course, what made this album more noteworthy wasn’t the album itself, it was the reception.  Number one album on Billboards when it was released, winner of the best album Grammy in a move that made music fans everywhere go, “…Wait, I thought the Grammys rewarded shitty bands.”  Fans of the band cheered the win, troves of poseur hipsters burned their Arcade Fire patches because the band wasn’t “cool” anymore, and people who don’t know what good music is decided to make “Who is Arcade Fire” into an internet meme.

The Suburbs isn’t even the band’s best album.  In fact, it’s their worst.  Which was like saying Return of the Jedi was the worst movie in the original Star Wars trilogy.  Factually correct, but pretty misleading.  And yes, that will likely be the nerdiest reference I make in this entire list.

Win Butler:  “Correction- second nerdiest”

Each Arcade Fire album comes with an unspoken worry that they’re eventually going to flame out.  Their popularity or success with get the most of them, and their music will become a cheap parody of itself.  For now that, thankfully, that’s not proven to be the case.  If this album were the best album The Arcade Fire had done, it would be the number one album of the year.  Dropping down to five by their third just shows that they have plenty of juice left in them.  Hey, the more chances to piss off Justin Bieber fans, the better.

4.  Sleigh Bells- Treats


Though Ivan Drago did get a producer credit, I believe

Sleigh Bells will punch you in the damn ears until you bleed because fuck you, that’s why.  But for a band that tries to make instrumentals that sound like fireworks having sex with a two headed guitar, there’s something strangely catchy and upbeat about these tracks.  Nowhere is this seen better than “Crown on the Ground,” a top 10 song for Elitish’s 2009 list, one of the first tracks released by this band, a barn-burner that is both off-kilter, out of control, catchy as all hell, and…almost pleasant in the right mindset.  There’s a sweetness to the dichotomy between Alexis Krauss’ perky pop vocals and Derek Miller’s obscenely overdriven instrumentals.

Not that kind of overdriven

While the style itself seems somewhat limiting (“Female vocals?  Check.  Loud noise metal influence instrumentals?  Check.  Okay, done”) they get about as much range out of their unique arrangement in Treats than bands that work in other eclectic genres.  “Infinity Guitars” pounds forward methodically with a flicking-off-society punk edge, like the leather clad girl you went to school with who kept getting suspended that you couldn’t help but be attracted to (and steered away from), but it immediately gives away to “Run the Heart” and “Rachel” that feature almost more of a, dare I say, pseudo club beat and fully takes advantage of the subconscious innocence of Krauss’ vocals.  Who knows if they can keep this level of creativity and ingenuity this sharp in subsequent albums (I’m unfortunately foreseeing a sophomore slump for these guys), it doesn’t matter when the creativity and ingenuity is in front of us in the first place.

3.  Los Campesinos!- Romance is Boring

Los Campesinos! sings like Welshmen.  *cough*  Sorry, is this thing on?  I said, “Los Campesinos! sings like a Welshman.”  No?  Nothing?

Bueller?  Bueller?

The narrative of Los Campesinos! has changed in the short years they’ve been together.  No longer are we listening to them as the upbeat twee college students doing great songs that get ruined by fucking Budweiser, increasingly, as band members slowly shed off, it becomes more and more of a poetic vehicle for Gareth Campesinos!, who doesn’t mince words as the album’s opening track, “In Media Res” closes with the, erm, depressing, “If you were given the option of dying painlessly in peace at 45 or with a lover at your side after a full and happy life, is this something that would interest you?”…which then of course goes straight into “There are Listed Buildings”, a song that starts with happy yelped “Ba da”s.  So yes, this album does have its bi-polar moments.

No, not that kind of bi-polar

These songs are deeper, more profound, more…scarred than the band’s first album, and it rivals the darker moments of We Are Beautiful, We Are DoomedRomance is Boring has two type of songs- upbeat songs with surprisingly dark lyrics, or depressing songs with appropriately dark lyrics.

The best examples of this can be seen in the two best songs on the album, the title track, “Romance is Boring” and the somber-yet-brilliant “The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future”.  The first clocks in at two and a half minutes, all fist pumping and power chords, masking any negativity of the sentiment that “Romance is boring” and bringing you a full speed pop song.  “Sea” on the other hand, is a full two minutes longer, full with cello and languished sentiment of life that runs deeper than typical musical angst.  The  typical “She don’t love me, she broke my heart” sentiment is so far in the background it doesn’t even appear on the cast list, instead we see lines like, “At 14 her mother died in a routine operation from an allergic reaction to a general anesthetic, spent the rest of her teens experimenting with prescriptions in a futile attempt to know more than the doctors.”  The song has a raw honest desperation to it that have a deep impact, and adds that extra layer to this already good album to make it a truly great one.

2.  Titus Andronicus- The Monitor

I’ve already extensively discussed the themes of Titus Andronicus and the main strengths and points of this album in such depth with their many songs that made my top 50 songs of the year list that you can probably recite word for word how I’d have this review go.

So yes, the album is allegorical and about the Civil War and has very abrasive vocals that somehow work a lot better than I would have ever expected.  The lyrics delve deep into a personal dissatisfaction that is expressed through various Civil War motifs, like some sort of hyper-literate Hold Steady clone.  Nevertheless, it doesn’t lessen the impact of this album, that hits on all cylinders as a personal, emotional, anthemic album, full of barnburners and fuck yous.

Songs like “Four Score and Seven” start off slow, build to an emotional threshold guided by a surprise horn section, before exploding into fist-pumping glory throughout the course of the track’s eight hyperactive minutes before asserting, “I wasn’t born to die like a dog/ I was born to die just like a man.”  These type of moments that grab you by surprise and take you along for a ride riddle the album, and make it a no-brainer as the second best album of the year.

1.  Buke and Gass- Riposte

Buke and Gass have unique instruments.  They made it themselves, and it makes them get a lot of instrumental sounds that make it hard to believe that they are just a two person band.  That’s all I’m going to say about the instruments, because the music is why they’re the best album of 2010.

Starting with “Medulla Oblangata,” which goes from a hazey instrumental intro do sharp, defined biting chords, the album takes you through a pounding, unpredictable ride.  With the second track, “Medicina” you begin to get a sense that this album is going to be a roller coaster in the best possible way.  A minute of slow, deliberate music slowly builds until the halfway mark where the best key change of any song this year takes place and you’re caught in catchy instrumentals whipping you along at a breakneck pace.

Like this.  But music.

Arone Dyer’s vocals are a revelation, as always, helping take well crafted, catchy-yet-dangerous songs up to the next level.   You never know which direction each song will take, but you know that even the most abrupt transitions are smoothed over by Dyer’s warm vocals.  These are songs that are meant to throw off the casual hipster trying to nod along without knowing the music, as each song is roughly 35% vocals, 35% instrumentals and 30% tempo change.  It gives each song on this album a dizzying effect that makes each track exhilarating.  It should be telling that four songs from this album made my top songs of the year list, after I had to disqualify almost half the album from that list for appearing on an EP in 2009.

If it weren’t for the release year of this sucker, the top songs list would have been called “Buke and Gass and friends”

As you can tell by the post date, we are almost halfway through the year, and I’m just releasing my album list.  While that is a testament to my laziness, it also is a testament to how good this album is.  The best albums will grow on you with each listen, and as each month of 2011 has gone by, it’s only affirmed my selection here.  So if you haven’t had a chance to listen to this album yet, go to their website and work on remedying it (link to website).

And there we have it, loyal readers.  A mere 4,000 words to go through the top 10 albums of the year, but of course, most of my analysis is in my top songs of the year list.  Either way, now that 2010 is officially in the rear view mirror, all we can do is look forward to each subsequent 2011 release (and hope that I’m more prompt with my year end lists in six months time).

Posted in Elite Rankings, Jaded Hipster, Meet Sarcastic List | 1 Comment

Top Songs of 2010: #10-1

10.  LCD Soundsystem- I Can Change

Listen to it HERE

 LCD Soundsystem always has that track that I idly listen to, find a different track to obsess over, only to be dragged back to that original track when I hear it fucking everywhere.  Because honestly, I must be the only person that doesn’t immediately gravitate to songs like “Someone Great,” and I’m wasting my time listening to the title track of Sound of Silver, which is less resonate but sorta goofy and danceable and what’s wrong with me liking that?  What?  Don’t look at me like that!

“But it’s called ‘Someone Great.’  The word ‘Great’ is in the fucking TITLE.  You are dead to me.”

 I eventually come around, so this year I decided to be proactive by putting I Can Change ahead of the much goofier “Drunk Girls.”  I’m more of a “North American Scum” as opposed to “All My Friends” sort of guy.  But that’s the beauty of LCD Soundsystem, you can pick from any of his tracks and find someone who says “that’s my favorite on that album!”  As I’ve said before, I sort of was hoping for another “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” type moment on This is Happening, mumble mumble, but you go with the cards that you’re dealt.

The problem with LCD Soundsystem is that there’s something effortless about the beats at play.  It’s easy to overlook the complexity of everything.  It works, but it doesn’t brag about it.  That’s why “New York, I Love You” stands out to me, it’s stripped-down piano-front-and-center approach is so radically different, it seems so novel.  And so it’s easy to overlook, with the pulsing 80’s synth-pop beats and crazy basic drum machine rhythm, the heartbreakingly poignant lyrics.  It’s not quite, “you’re still the one pool where I’d happily drown,” but hearing James Murphy first ask, “Never change, this is why I fell in love,” before desperately pleading, “I can change, if it helps you fall in love,” creates a perfect atmosphere of unrequited love, hidden as a low key dance song.

Also, James Murphy wears funny glasses.

Might I recommend changing that, first?

9.  Peter Adams- Cypress Knees

Listen to it HERE

If you ever could hear a “single worthy” track on an EP of music recorded for the Cincinnati ballet, we’re going to go out on a limb and say this would be the best song to nominate.  Starting off with some light guitar, the drums kick in at the 30 second mark with forceful vocals that sound just slightly distorted, as if sung through tissue paper.  The song is short, surprisingly poppy (in a good way), and sandwiches upbeat, slightly edgy vocals between the closest thing you’ll get to a face-melting violin solo in Indie music.

I’m pretty sure we’ve made no fewer than 5 violin jokes in this list so far

While Peter Adams has recently been the master of ornate, complex, lengthy songs that flow beautifully, “Cypress Knees” reminds us that, hey, he can make a good short track too.  Clocking in at under three minutes, the track is a head-popping orchestral delight, complex yet easily digested, and more rewarding after every listen.  It’s not every year that a ballet song will make my top 10 songs of the year list, but I’m more than happy to make an exception for 2010.

8.  Los Campesinos!- Romance is Boring

Watch the video HERE

Really, Los Campesinos! should have two songs in the top 10 of the year, but as I’ve bemoaned earlier, Potentially-Best-Song-of-the-Year-or-at-least-easily-in-the-top-3, “The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future” was first released last year, and made my list then, so it gets bumped off.  So instead, the top 10 Los Campesinos! representative is here in the form of the album’s title track which has a T-shirt ready sentiment.

Seriously, every damn stranger will weigh in their two-cents when you wear it

Showing their typical “upbeat happy sounding songs with downtrodden lyrics” flair, this song clocks in at just under two and a half minutes, but easily provides the most “head banging in concert” moments of the album.  While there there’s no lyrics in the verse that pop out as, “holy shit,” the general sentiment in the chorus, “You’re pouting in your sleep, I’m waking still yawning/ We’re proving to each other that romance is boring,” neatly sums up one of the band’s general thematic motifs.  It’s not the strongest lyrical example of a Los Campesinos! song, but it’s the most catchy song on one of the top albums of the years, and that’s enough to get you a spot high on this list.

7.  Titus Andronicus- Richard II

Listen to it HERE

Titus Andronicus has to work really hard for me to get over their vocals.  Dozens of bands do the punkish half-screamed lyrics, and dozens of bands happen to suck pretty hard.  Titus Andronicus, of course, overcomes this with an effective use of the vocals, as well as layered instrumentals and a strong thematic element to their music.  In a world where The Hold Steady is verging on ten years of existence predicated on clever rasp-spoken lyrics, it’s not surprising to see Titus Andronicus release an album like this to such acclaim.

There’s sort of a sing-songy quality to “Richard II” that somewhat masks the darker themes at play.  Titus “We Really Like Shakespeare, We Guess” Andronicus starts things off with thirty seconds of fairly standard instrumentation before diving into lyrics that are basically the Double Rainbow of metaphorical allusions.  While the title references the Shakespearean play that leads to the Machiavellian rise to the throne of Henry IV, the lyrics never mention the titular Richard II, instead highlighting the ability of war to strip you of your humanity.  So, to map it out, this song metaphorically compares the Civil War to the play, Richard II, while using the Civil War as a metaphor for current society.  Double metaphors!  Full on double metaphor!

This upbeat track throws in legitimately jarring imagery into the lyrics, with lines like, “You’ll be cutting ears off dead men/ Pumping shells into the carcass for hours on end/ Then you’ll swear that we’ve always been friends/ And be unable to conceive it could ever happen again,” highlighting the brother fighting brother aspect of the Civil War, and translating it to a condemnation for the misdeeds we commit to those close to us.  As The song begins to draw to an end, and fade into a minute of haze, Patrick Stickles insists, “I will not deny my humanity,” before finally coming to the final question, “Where are all your friends now?”  The metaphors layered over metaphors go back and forth between subject matter, but the end result stays, as always, universal in nature.

6.  Menomena- Five Little Rooms

Listen to it HERE

Menomena always knows how to deliver the goods in a sort of creeping way that grabs you for reasons you can’t explain.  In “Five Little Rooms,” the first released track of their album, Mines, you can peg it for a Menomena track within the first five seconds, with their trademark baritone saxophone.  It’s got what you would hope from the band, deep, guttural sax lines, sprinkled with light piano and doubled harmonies throughout, all while taking a dark but upbeat melody that includes the surprisingly catchy chorus of, “All this could be yours someday.”

Huuuuge…tracts of land

While it falls a bit short of Menomena’s hardest hitting song, “Evil Bee,” it still gives us a song that’s catchy enough, enjoyable enough, and just…good enough to make this year’s top 10.  Also it let me make a huge stretch to incorporate a Monty Python joke, which totally earns it points.

5.  Buke and Gass-  Naked Cities

Listen to it HERE

“Naked Cities” made a surprise vault up to my top 5 when I started writing this list.  Each listen through Riposte had it moving higher and higher on my list, and as soon as “Naked Cities” began to stick out, it suddenly showed itself to be the most face paced, exciting, catchy song on the album.  While it’s the one of the more straightforward tracks on the album, it’s easily the most accessible, which is impressive on an album full of catchy, accessible tracks.  Buke and Gass tracks are basically like skittles.  They’re all good, and it’s hard to pick a flavor that stands head and shoulders above the rest, but if you put a gun to our head, we’d say orange.

Hey, after 20 thousand words and 45 track reviews, the analogies are bound to get a bit strained…

The vocal riff of the first half of the song perfectly accents the pounding kick drum, creating a really head-bopping-friendly rock riff that sprints at full speed for over a minute before going into a hazy interlude that ends with the opening melody, allowing the first and last minute to be nicely complimented by a suspenseful build in the second minute.  It’s a single-worthy track, and one that improves upon each subsequent listen, which makes it a no-brainer to make this year’s top 10 tracks.

 4.  The Hold Steady- Hurricane J

 Listen to it HERE

As the Hold Steady has gone the route of being a raucous speak-sing garage rock band while gradually turning into an upbeat sing-speak garage rock band with pop sensibilities, they can’t really pack as much of a punch as they once did.  It’s not their fault, their first three albums are going to be the albums that are still used as influences to bands ten years down the line (see also:  Titus Andronicus).  The first three albums were masterpieces, the fourth had some great moments, but as the novelty of “wow, Craig Finn is totally singing, and there are oohs and aahs in the background, hell yeah!” has more or less run it’s course.

But he will always have the “looks like a substitute teacher doing a Joe Cocker impression” novelty

The “oh my God that line is epic” lyrical moments become more sparse the farther you get down their discography, but much like an NBA superstar with a little left in the tank, The Hold Steady can still show you moments of brilliance.  “Hurricane J” is one of such moments.

Starting off at full bore, with “oh oh ohs” and heavy, cutting guitar, the song goes from measured, almost call verses that throw in the occasional lyrical brilliance before exploding for the chorus after each refrain.  Lines such as, “You’re a beautiful girl/ and a pretty good waitress,” are the type of simple yet oddly profound love lines that The Hold Steady was able to build their reputation around.  Really, what The Hold Steady manages to craft is an upbeat, engaging, three minute track that sounds like an intellectual version of an 80’s song everyone would sing along to in a bar.

3.  My Gold Mask- Violet Eyes

Watch the Video HERE

Chicago’s My Gold Mask, a husband and wife duo that’s good enough to be viewed outside of the “husband and wife duo” niche, made last year’s year end list with their great EP opener, O My Soul, kicked off 2010 with another EP that fully realizes their dark, quirky sensibilities.  Gretta Rochelle again shows her vocal flexibility in a song where she jumps from a sultry lower register to a piercing higher register that’s crisp enough to sour over the purposefully muddled guitar haze supplied by Jack Armondo.  The song is haunting and feels like a Chicago winter, in a good way.

As the band informed me while graciously letting me ask them silly questions, they make their music attempting to avoid outside influence.  It’s an insular approach to music that makes efforts to compare them to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or The Smashing Pumpkins sort of fruitless, they craft a unique sound that’s somewhat timeless, a simple, catchy song driven by Rochelle’s pounding kick drum and echoing instrumentals.  Easily one of the best outputs by a Chicago band in 2010, this song more than any other captures the sound of the band and puts all of their best points on display.

2.  Titus Andronicus-  A More Perfect Union

Listen to it HERE

The one thing I regret the most about putting so many Titus Andronicus songs on this list is that, without the lyrical poignancy, it’s hard for to justify to myself that a screamy loud band with off-kilter (to put it kindly) vocals would have such a presence on my year end list.  And after a while, my inner English major, who I occasionally feed with Kerouac quotations and a kindly aversion to reality television programming, starts to get cramps.  It’s a lot of work, going into this metaphor within a metaphor business (though I will have a hard time avoiding using my, what, fifth double rainbow joke in this list?)

Boom.  Kerouac.  Bet you did not expect that to be the one mention in the above paragraph I decided to make a caption for so I can break up the article enough to make it more attractive to reading.

Opening with a Lincoln quotation, ending with, “As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide,” you are promptly slapped in the face with seven minutes of “fuuuuuuuck yes.”  The track muscles through Jersey references, driving down the turnpike, before gradually directing the song, and the album in the whole as this is the opening track for The Monitor, towards the Civil War metaphor, before finally leading to a raw throated proclaimed yelp of, “So we’ll rally around the flag…shouting the battle cry of Freedom…rally around the flag, glory, glory hallelujah, His truth is marching on.”  By the time you spring through this non-stop rock anthem, the final lines, a William Lloyd Garrison quotation, comes as a cold and somber, almost to bring you down as you lay exhausted and sweating on the dance floor.

1.  Spoon- I Saw the Light

Listen to it HERE

2009 had a slew of showstoppers, songs that resonated immediately, stuck in your head forever, and are still fixtures on all my playlists.  The pure quality of those songs was outstanding, but I can’t fault 2010 for failing to meet that high ceiling.  What I can take solace in is that, very few years does Indie Rock release a song that is “Oh shit, it just came up on my car stereo, I’m going to blast the volume up” quality.  And Spoon’s “I Saw the Light” may very well be the best of that category for 2010, and my favorite song of the year.

A low guitar line that starts off slow and just builds nonstop, this track got the memo that I’m a big fan of songs with build, and then just take that up a notch by doing it twice.  A song with two acts, a lyric portion for the first two and a half minutes followed by three minutes of building piano driven instrumentals.

And you know what?  It’s been a long journey for this list coming out, slowly seeping through over the course of two months, so I think at this point, I’m going to just shut my mouth, and let you listen for yourself.  Maybe you’ll hear something you like.  Maybe you’ll even hear the best song of the year.  I’d like to think you will.

So stay tuned for…lets be honest, like a month from now, when I finally get to posting my top 10 albums of the year list.

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