Thursday, January 5, 2012

Best of 2011: Top 40 Monster Jams

40. Blackout Beach – “Torchlights Banned” from Fuck Death

39. Seapony – “Blue Star” from Go With Me

I do miss the idiosyncrasies of Transmittens, but Jen and Danny are still killing it.

38. Wild Flag – “Romance” from Wild Flag

"Portlandia" is actually really funny. Go figure.

37. La Sera – “Never Come Around” from La Sera

36. James Blake – “Wilhelms Scream” from James Blake

35. Liturgy – “Generation” from Aesthethica

I am notoriously not a fan of metal because I don't know anything about metal and it seems daunting. But I really liked this record. Which probably makes me the bane of every metal fan because metal fans hated this record I read. I'm interested though, maybe this is a gateway to the genre? I saw Bad Religion open for Blink 182 when I was younger and that got me into punk rock so there?

34. Dum Dum Girls – “Wrong Feels Right” from He Gets Me High

33. Beirut – “East Harlem” from The Rip Tide

32. The War on Drugs – “Best Night” from Slave Ambient

I really wanted to spend more time with this album but just never did. I listened to this song a lot though.

31. Tim Kasher – “Opening Night” from Bigamy

30. East River Pipe – “The Flames Are Coming Back” from We Live in Rented Rooms

A very tough call. So many great tracks on this record.

29. The Decemberists – “Don’t Carry it All” from The King is Dead

28. Kurt Vile – “Puppet to the Man” from Smoke Ring For My Halo

27. David Bazan – “Wolves at the Door” from Strange Negotiations

26. The Get Up Kids – “Rememorable” from There Are Rules

25. M83 – “Midnight City” from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

24. Zola Jesus – “Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake” from Conatus

23. Girls – “Honey Bunny” from Father, Son, Holy Ghost

“Vomit” would be the jam here if it were maybe two and a half minutes shorter.

22. Hospital Ships – “Galaxies” from Lonely Twin

Video of the year. But I'm biased because I live in this town and this video made me feel OK about still living here.

21. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – “Belong” from Belong

Loved this song for months, had such high hopes for this album until I heard it and realized they’d just tried to remake Siamese Dream.

20. Crooked Fingers – “She Tows the Line” from Breaks in the Armor

A tough call, since this is such an Album. I always look forward to this one the most though.

19. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “This is Why I’m Hot” from Andrew Jackson Jihad/O Pioneers!!! Split

Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Hate, Rain on Me” from Knife Man

This is my sneaky way of including an artist twice on a list. Two releases warrant two tracks and eat up only one spot. Perfect. “This is Why I’m Hot” was on this list before I even knew Knife Man was coming out. And there are some great, great tracks on that record but “Hate, Rain on Me” is the most thesis statement-y of the bunch. “I wanna put on my sweatpants/ But don’t you know I’m trying to quit/ I wanna give a shit again.” Perfect.

18. Smith Westerns – “Dye the World” from Dye it Blonde

Chicago Young’uns make good on their promise with unpretentious pop mastery. There are a lot of first and last songs from records on this list. This was a great year for closing tracks, I think. Songs that sum up an album with one last hurrah. These guys still seem a bit immature, but it doesn’t get in the way of the music, so let’s say that’s a good thing.

17. In Good Company – “Harmony’s Double” from David’s Town
A track from Fucked Up’s fake compilation tie-in to their fantastic David Comes to Life. Who knew the songs would be so good? And who knew this jam, which features lead vocals from the New Pornographers’ AC Newman would be one of the best songs of the year. Sneaky sneaky.

16. Richard Buckner – “Confession” from Our Blood

The most sad and gorgeous tune from an album of nothing but sad and gorgeous tunes. Makes me remember why I was obsessed with Alt-Country for a solid year.

15. Cass McCombs – “County Line” from Wit’s End

Wit’s End is a gorgeous record. A gorgeous record that I could only get about halfway through. I listened to it before bed a lot. It lulls. One of these days I’ll just put on the back half and see what I’m missing out on. But this song, oh man. Just pure heart-stopping beauty.

14. St. Vincent – “Cruel” from Strange Mercy

Reinventing the indie guitar record. Also one of the best music videos of the year!

13. Bon Iver – “Beth/Rest” from Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Speaking of amazing closing songs that perfectly sum up a record, “Beth/Rest” gets it done. All of the forward momentum of this record barrels toward this awesome, lite-rock infused jam and yeah, it was “divisive” or whatever, I wrote a whole thing about what the fuck does “divisive” mean anyway a few months back and realized that I didn’t really care if people thought this song was cheesy. Because it’s gorgeous. It’s ballsy, and it shows you that Justin Vernon knows exactly what he is doing. “Holocene” got nominated for a Grammy, and is the track that has been singled out, but man, it’s a tough call. What track do you pick on an album so clearly the sum of its parts. “Holocene” was the track on this list all year, but it makes more sense that this final part of the equation be the one that sums this album up just right (even if it sounds totally different from every other song on the record).

12. Wye Oak – “Civilian” from Civilian

I’m pry gonna go change my Top 25 albums list, because I forgot about this record when I was making it. That seems kind of wrong, if I forgot about it then why should I just go plug it in? But man oh man, what a good record. From a band that’s just grown so much since the first time I saw them at SXSW and fell asleep in the back of the room. And now they’re just captivating. And I’ve seen them like four times in the last year and a half, opening for bands that I love love love. And this is one of Jenny’s favorite albums of the year, so I listened to it a lot. And this song oh man this song, is just gorgeous and intense and fierce as shit.

11. The Mountain Goats – “For Charles Bronson” from All Eternals Deck

The Mountain Goats – “Catherine Antrim’s Kid” from All Survivors Pack

Another sneaky entry! The inclusion of “Catherine Antrim’s Kid”—the best song ever written about Billy the Kid—is a nod to the fact that John Darnielle is so good, amazing tracks get left off his records. No one does B-sides like that guy. There’s another track on that demos disc, “Rotten Stinking Mouthpiece,” that’s just as good. It’s nuts. “For Charles Bronson” makes the cut because it was the first song I heard form All Eternals Deck. He played it live at the Bottleneck last time the Mountain Goats were in town, and it lit my little fuse of excitement for a new Mountain Goats record. It’s a song about a survivor on an album about surviving and survivors. “Never Quite Free” is a close, close second.

10. Yuck – “Shook Down” from Yuck

Man what a tough call. This was my favorite album of the year because ALL of the songs are just so fucking great. “Get Away,” “Georgia,” “Suck,” “Suicide Policeman,” and “Operation” could all fill this spot, but again, it comes down to (as it always does), the song that hooked me. More importantly, the part of the song that hooked me. Two minutes and forty seconds in where you can hear that distortion turn up and the song just triumphantly marches into timeless oblivion to the refrain of “You could be my destiny/You could mean that much to me” and a five note guitar solo. This is my kind of music.

9. Bright Eyes – “Triple Spiral” from The People’s Key

The most jubilant track from what’s mostly a pensive, personal record. It has this epiphany-esque quality to it. A moment of clarity where the universe exposes itself before closing in on itself again. I got really into pagan icons after this (read: spent an hour or two on Wikipedia) and this was the key that unlocked the album. I saw where he was coming from, and it was from a place that felt familiar to me. And I liked that. And it’s a catchy as hell too.

8. The Antlers – “Putting the Dog to Sleep” from Burst Apart

Another perfect closing track that made a whole album make sense to me. I’ve become a dog person over the last three years since Jenny and I started dating and I think that was one of the things that really changed my life in a great way. It made me a different person. It made me someone who was capable of having a relationship without losing sight of myself or the person I was with. The dog anchored me. And having a dog around the house has just made my life enormously better. I feel healthier, more at peace, right with the world etc. I’m still an asshole, but less so I’d say than I was before I met Jenny and Panda. And yeah, this song is a metaphor and full of metaphors but the way I feel when I hear this song through the prism of the last three years and all the issues of trust, dependence, and the whole concept of moving on.

7. Okkervil River – “White Shadow Waltz” from I Am Very Far

This is the song that made me understand why Will Sheff decided to produce this album himself. This is the one where he throws the filing cabinet across the studio. And god it works. All of this works. The strings just building all that tension in the most dramatic way ever. This is a spooky song and it sounds like a spooky song. It’s another high water mark from a songwriter I didn’t think could get any better than he’d already gotten. Which is the best kind of songwriter, I suppose. One that keeps surprising you record after record.

6. Arctic Monkeys – “Suck it and See” from Suck it and See

I so wanted to put this album on the list, but only because I listened to it more than any other record this year (other than maybe Yuck, Los Campesinos!, Destroyer, and Bright Eyes). But I only did that because I WANTED to love it and sadly, half the songs just weren’t very good. But this song holy shit. I wish all mainstream rock n roll was this catchy and this lyrically intelligent. Alex Turner was a big fixture in my year.

5. EMA – “California” from Past Life Martyred Saints

Fuck yes. That’s really all I have for this song. It’s cool, it’s emotionally devastating, it’s one of the best-written songs of the year. Just so fucking good. And it’s not surprising that the whole of EMA’s debut is just as good as this song. I don’t even have anything to say about it.

4. Alex Turner – “Stuck on a Puzzle” from Submarine OST

This soundtrack is what made me give Mr. Turner and his Arctic Monkeys a chance because, goddamn, I never knew he was a great songwriter. I never even suspected. I thought he was all accents and Pete Doherty antics BUT I WAS WRONG (OK, the accents thing is still true and I can’t speak for Mr. Turner’s partying habits) and he knows exactly what he’s doing. The five songs on this soundtrack are all outstanding, and this is the crown jewel. The song from the movie that would get nominated for an Oscar. It’s his “Miss Misery” but less sad.

3. Fucked Up – “The Other Shoe” from David Comes to Life

This might have been the song of the summer. I remember the windows down (because the AC didn’t work) and trying to get Jenny to like this. “LOOK, IT’S LIKE GROWLING HARDCORE PUNK BUT IN POP SONG FORM! LISTEN TO THESE MELODIES!” She marginally enjoyed it, I like to think, but the screaming vocals just aren’t her thing (go figure). I never got sick of it though. I thought the way Fucked Up rolled out a few tracks before the album’s release was genius and only made me want the album more. And I couldn’t wait to see how this track fit in, it was just so good. So COOL. So inventive, so unique and fun and just rock and roll as all hell. The one two punch of this and “Turn the Season” is one of my favorite musical moments of 2011. Hell, the first act of David Comes to Life is one of my favorite musical moments of 2011.

2. Los Campesinos! – “By Your Hand” from Hello Sadness

It’s a beautiful thing to see one of your favorite bands improving on things you didn’t even think they needed to improve on. In four years LC! Have grown from the twee-pop revival with more wit and more edge of “You Throw Parties, We Throw Knives” to the end of that era in Hold On Now, Youngster… and an almost total reinvention of form and purpose on We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, which established Gareth Campesinos as the modern poet laureate of heartbreak. Heartbreak with a sense of humor, though, that’s what’s important. Romance is Boring was even better, and Hello Sadness is the best album the band has made to date. Recorded hot on the heels of his latest breakup, Gareth sounds more raw than ever without ever coming off as morose or pathetic. The band itself sounds the best they ever had, which is maybe surprising since this is the first record following the departure of Aleksandra, Ollie, and Harriet Campesinos. It all feels right, and good, and “By Your Hand” is a masterpiece of a song. The best song the band has ever written, hands down, no arguing. And that’s saying a lot since I’ve probably said that about ten or twelve of the band’s previous tracks. This is the one. The one that brings everything that Los Camp does well into perfect harmony. The structure of the song excites me. There are just so many moving parts. The verses blend into pre-choruses (or whatever), there are perfectly executed handclaps, shifts into bridges (or whatever that thing about the fistfight is) and where I’m all about the 3 minute pop song, Los Camp pull it off in four because it’s just so different. It is different; I don’t think I’m being biased. I think this song reminds me why I adore this band. Everything is right, even the little bit where Sparky Deathcap Campesinos comes on to sing a couple lines. It’s excellent. And a teasing bit of jubilant brightness leading off what is one of the most emotionally devastating albums of the year (tying with EMA).

1. Destroyer – “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” from Kaputt

By a mile. This is the song that made me excited about music again in 2011. And it has jazz flute on it. I never even THOUGHT I’d seriously listen to a song with jazz flute on it. Never. But there it is. And that’s not all! Oh dear. I’m losing track of myself. Let’s just say that Kaputt was poised to take Album of the Year in my book until about October when I had to refocus. However, since the list I made was just personal preference, had I made one of actual BESTs, Kaputt woulda taken all the glory. It’s that good. Thrilling, artistically pure, inspiring, all that stuff. And while everyone freaked out at Bon Iver’s use of light rock influences on “Beth/Rest,” folks neglected to notice that Destroyer did that FOR A WHOLE ALBUM and no one made a stink about it because it was a perfect record. It is a perfect record. Destroyer’s best since…well, all Destroyer albums are great. Better than Trouble in Dreams I suppose, and everything up to Streethawk. Better than Streethawk, hell, better than Your Blues and This Night and Destroyer’s Rubies ok, this is maybe his best record. Now that I think about it. And this song has a lot to do with it.

I had no idea who Kara Walker was until Jenny noticed the track and was like “Oh, this Kara Walker?” and brought me some fancy art book she got in Italy by the lady herself. It was fucking cool. Awesome silhouettes about slavery and amazing sketchbook drawings. The cover is just text that reads “Dear you hypocritical fucking Twerp…” and it’s easily the coolest art book in our house. So, Kara Walker, totally bitchin’ artist. What does she have to do with this song? Oh, she cowrote it with Dan Bejar? THAT RULES. How did that work? Oh, there’s this bit from an interview that explains it, and it involves Walker sending Bejar flash cards with words written on them and Bejar subsequently writing a song about the 400 years of history of African-American women in America despite neither being African-American nor a woman nor American. Awesome. Bejar seemed to downplay the lyrics of Kaputt in interviews, but holy shit this one just kills it. Images just pile up. It’s a reminder (as if we needed one) that Dan Bejar is the fucking man. And never so much so as when he’s writing about African-American women, apparently.