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.
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.