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.
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.