Archive for the ‘“Best of” Lists’ Category
I’m on spring break which means it’s wayyyy too late for this but here we go…
My 10 Favorite Songs of 2011 (in no order)
Jacques Greene – “Another Girl”
This song is perfect.
Joy Orbison – “Video Games” Lana del Rey RMX
Wow Lana del Rey… Not that her music or personality wows me in any way but how does she exist? I do love this remix of her song “Video Games” by Joy Orbison. Really great.
The Stepkids – “La La”
Nothing to say about this song. Just listen for the awesomeness of the catchiest wordless chorus ever.
Radiohead – “Separator”
This song is a serious top contender for the most beautiful song Radiohead has ever written. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the prettiest songs I’ve ever heard.
SBTRKT – “Pharoahs”
One of the best pop electronica/dance songs ever.
SBTRKT – “Hold On”
There’s an emotion captured in this song which really resonates with me. That and Sampha’s vocals hit it real good… I mean realllll goood.
Julio Bashmore – “Well Wishers”
Is there nothing groovier than this?
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – “Tigers”
Perfect summer pop
James Blake – “Unluck”
A delicate blend of a post dubstep sound palette mixed with brilliant songwriting.
This is a live version, primarily because I couldn’t find the album version anywhere on youtube but this is pretty good anyway.
Radiohead – “Bloom”
My brother called this “future music” and I’d probably have to agree. So fresh it’s not even here yet.
Wilco – “Art of Almost”
Thundercat – “For Love I Come”
Shabazz Palaces – “Are You… Can You… Were You? (Felt)”
We’re going to blame it on the food coma, red wine and hour of the night. George, Alexander and I wrote Aphera’s Top Ten Albums of 2010 on Christmas Eve at like 3 am after having consumed way too much of our mom’s delicious food and red wine. The result, we were so frantically trying to finish our list and go to bed, that we totally missed Santa delivering our gifts, and the several mishaps that occurred in our list.
So we’d like to apologize for the really inadequate writing that accompanied our list and some of the bizarre choices – Arcade Fire? You can take my word for it. I had nothing to say about the album. Please don’t go back and read the post.
In order to fix this catastrophe we are beginning a “Revisiting 2010” series. We are going to start this series with our greatest injustice – Not including MGMT.
Here is George reviewing MGMT’s Congratulations. The album is being placed at 5.5 on our Top Ten List. Below, George’s review and our reasons for touching something so sacred and eternal as a top ten list.
I can’t figure out if I want to reorder the list and put MGMT’s Congratulations in fifth to bump back Plastic Beach or behind Teen Dream to take seventh; it’s really grown on me as of lately so unfortunately I don’t have the hindsight to rank properly. Perhaps this defeats the point of doing a re-ranking at all but as for now I’m okay with merely undoing the injustice of leaving this album off the list entirely. This album reaches out to the listener in a very particular way that only a band like MGMT can. They were given prominent stages at festivals and radio airplay out the wazoo for their wonderfully poppy hits from Oracular Spectacular. This immediate stardom gave the Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT the means and the supposed right to make the next album with total creative freedom. The result shocked and repelled casual listeners. Most past reviewers of the album have touched upon this cautionary tale of premature development but I’m willing to take a different approach; the band did everything they could have and should have. The raw and expansive sounds of the album likely represent the true colors of the band and to disregard these and play into the demands of the audience is exactly the kind of thing that ruins bands. See beloved Thom Yorke on the subject here. Aside from the idealogical reasons for enjoying the album, it’s also perfectly playful and perfectly sentimental, full of Scooby-Doo moments, homages to the late greats, brilliant melodies and song structures like you’d expect Tarantino to come up with if he wrote music.
Honorable Mention: KiD CuDi: Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
#10 Vampire Weekend: Contra
While I’ve been a Vampire Weekend diehard since last January, George says “it makes me want to vomit cartoon rainbows.” Maybe there is something kitschy about Ezra singing about horchata, cheese steaks and toothpaste, but this is no reason to write off Contra. I’ve mentioned before that a good artist can take something simple, commonplace and present it in a completely novel way – in other words, make us pay attention to the clothes rubbing against our skin. This is what Vampire Weekend does. On one level, each song is completely unassuming, on another it’s mind blowing. Take “California English”, so fraught with auto-tune and syncopated rhythm you’re forced to ask “why?!” But the auto-tune is just a creative way to present “California English” or Spanish perhaps? Another way Vampire Weekend present simplicity is through perfectionism – the attention paid to minute detail. Although “White Sky” could be repetitive till dullness, it is instead subtly different through the use of changing percussion and inflections in Ezra’s voice. This is 2010’s version of XX – restraint, simplicity yet subtle complexity. The rarity of this combination is what makes such albums winners.
#9 Major Lazer: Lazers Never Die EP
Pure epinephrine runs through the veins of MAJOR LAZER. This causes him to create perfect dance music. This is what I imagine must be true for such unapologetically obscene dance music to exist. This EP is in part a recognition of all ML has done this year but also an appreciation of the EP itself. The remixes on this album do nothing less than improve upon the originals in the case of “Bruk Out” and in the case of “Jump Up” and “Can’t Stop Now” they remixes present the songs in a form that seems just as natural (or perhaps just as ridiculous?) as the originals.
#8 Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
Talk about album cohesion! Thematic, melting of one song into another, and even similar chord cadences in every song, Arcade Fire produced a soundtrack-like album. It even seems to have a beginning, middle, and end (it ends with “The Suburbs (continued)” that brings us right back to the first song on the album). On a smaller scale, within each song, the chord progressions are also circular. Where the cadence ends is also the beginning of the next cadence. Thus, every song is circular, and the effect is a continuous anticipation for a “real” ending. Maybe, that’s why this album is so catchy and debuted at #1 on the U.S. Billboard and received three nominations at the Grammys.
#7 Tame Impala: Innerspeaker
Listening to tracks like “Alter Ego” and “Solitude Is Bliss” really makes me want to put Tame Impala’s, Innerspeaker as number one on our list. But I honestly have to admit, the album as a whole just doesn’t make it that far. If you dig The Beatles, you might disagree with me, but as fresh as the whole classic rock, phased-out style, backed up by the “I don’t give a s**t” feels, may be, we have better justifications for our current higher rated picks. Innerspeaker succeeds in being nostalgic, without making the same mistake other indie bands make who just succeed in sounding stupid. Their 2008 EP sounds like it could have been made today by the band. That’s because Innerspeaker is Tame Impala’s genuine sound.
#6 Beach House: Teen Dream
Teen Dream is a very personable album. This may sound vague, but Teen Dream is vague. The entire album collectively makes a mess of your emotions. Obviously, from the song titles there is some theme of love, but honestly I can’t tell if the album is about falling in love or breaking up. Every song is introspective and absorbing. For example the song, “Lover Of Mine”, may begin like another kitschy song by MGMT, but after the bass and piano enter to accompany the guitar, the song becomes a pool of thought (perfect day-dream material). I personally found this album to be reflexive but I believe you can perceive this album in any way you wish. You can sympathize with it, embrace it, philosophize, etc. Every track on Teen Dream is unique to any listening aspiration. I don’t know how crazy I am about Alex Scally’s voice singing higher than his female counterpart, Victoria Legrand, but the duo together create a very luscious, yet translucent feel. The perfected and smooth production amplifies its imagery and tone. This album isn’t anything mind-blowing, but it pains me to pause my iPod midway through a song. You can claim that music is ear-candy, but Teen Dream is food for thought.
#5 Gorillaz: Plastic Beach
Damon Albarn clearly strives for grandeur with this album. Heavy beats, soaring orchestrations and collaborations out the wazoo do not mask Albarn’s intentions and in fact do quite well to propel this album most of the way towards what it seeks to accomplish. However, the album is plagued by just a few shortcomings that keep this album inches away from perfection. Unfortunate this was for Damon in a year like 2010 where these kinds of minor shortcomings keep a really incredible album at fifth place amidst some other really incredible releases. One or two really expendable songs (“Glitter Freeze” comes to mind) and a couple other hit or miss moments are the only real flaws and unlike in Demon Days, Damon proves that the Gorillaz project is more than just a vehicle for radio friendly pop singles.
# 4 Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz
“Letting loose” doesn’t exactly evoke ideas of frivolous brass and superfluous choir. We usually associate “letting loose” will sloppiness, incompletion and disorder. The wonderful, absolutely amazing, extraordinary thing about The Age of Adz is that it’s everything we wouldn’t expect from a free-form, sufjan-finally-let-loose album – it’s saturated with technical orchestration, complex ideas, story lines and masterful song writing. But even more impressively, the free form is still there – themes meander, noises pop out of nowhere, there seems to be little restraint. What makes this a top ten album is the effortlessness – orchestration that would sound contrived if written by anyone else, flows out of Sufjan like drunken ramblings; song structure that would normally either confuse us or put us to sleep, is instead enthralling and deeply emotional. Sufjan is naturally complex and often stabs at the air with odd “noises”. Every so often he stabs us in the heart and throughout his chaos he carries a beautiful melody and story – the combination of chaos, dissonance and harmony and peace is something only Sufjan could have crafted and something that may never be achieved on such a high level ever again.
#3 Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma
I initially wanted Cosmogramma to be album of the year. This was because from the moment I heard the leaked tracks in early 2010 and still to today, the album hit me on a supremely spiritual level. Its huge “cosmic” sound left me paralyzed. However, perhaps its scope was alienating; you’ve really got to get inside your own head to get into this music. Is this enough to push FlyLo off the top spot? Is it problematic at all? Perhaps, if you’re afraid of dementia or insomnia.
Aside from the psychological problems the album chaperones, FlyLo does some innovative things with his music. For instance, he seems so deliberate with his beat placement and ultimately you can tell because FlyLo’s seemingly sloppy, lazy beat (which in reality is probably incredibly delicately timed) really kills it, in a good way. I mean, if it was just a tad more sloppy in places, it straight up wouldn’t work and it is exactly that teetering on the threshold, that suspended dissolution that makes FlyLo’s music so kickass.
#2 Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The reason this album is so perfectly effective is because Kanye created an album that is a self portrait of a megalomaniac: A cinematic self portrait that is never self-effacing and always opportunistic. The cinematic aspect of it comes from his ability to sculpt an album that shows his true self from several angles: his obsession with power and opulence, his monstrous ego, his inability to sustain a relationship, his devils and his tribulations. Perhaps the reason MBDTF touches so many people so deeply is because it has an protagonist with whom we can clearly relate: a protagonist who is his own antagonist. Kanye’s got a pretty twisted mind to create such a fantastical album, full of dark imagery yet beautifully brilliant music.
#1 LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening
Exceptionally danceable. Stylistically nouveau. Tastefully self-deprecating. Often humorous. The facets of this album which, when working in tandem, make this our favorite album of the year are surprisingly actually not that hard to pin down.
In effect, this album just hit our pleasure centers from the very start and the music on this album hasn’t really stopped doing that even now. It’s not even a drip feed of pleasure, it’s like an endless waterfall of pleasure. However, it goes beyond that. The album goes the other way too. The absurdly ridiculous simplicity that this album exudes at first glance is a front for what is actually a crazy synthesis of several incongruous genres into one pseudo-dance-punk-who-cares-for-proper-labeling awesome piece of musical ass. I safely assert that this album contains the songs that James Murphy has been trying to make since “Losing My Touch”. This would be irrelevant if not for the fact that Murphy feels perfectly at ease in these songs. The production is tops, and in fact quite interesting, as Murphy finds way to play with your perception of the sounds he records. The sounds all sound framed in space yet still succulently clear. No sound is hidden or masked but there’s still an infinity of depth. In the end, This Is Happening just happens to be the most perfect album of the year.
“The High Road” – Broken Bells
As much as I rip on Broken Bells, I have to admit that this track is a diamond in the rough. It’s the only track that captures both Danger Mouse’s production talent as well as whatever substance he and Mercer could muster up. But what places it in the “best of 2010 so far” is its intro – that lost sounding synth can’t be found anywhere but here.
“And the World Laughs With You” – Flying Lotus Featuring Thom Yorke
Having streamed flying lotus’s album off my space, I’ve decided this is the strongest track on his album and one of the strongest tracks of 2010 so far. George and I were biased getting into this track because of Thom, naturally. We were thinking, “oh Thom must just be so excited to be part of this stuff. This is like the music he’s been trying to create solo since the Eraser. It probably makes him feel good.” The great thing about this song is its entire buildup to Thom’s voice. The beginning is this canon of melodies each piling on top of each other. Like a more kickass version of Canon in D. Then finally, Thoms voice comes in at a serious tonal change. FlyLo used it as both instrumentation and vocals. It’s hauntingly beautiful.
“Super Fast Jellyfish” – Gorillaz
I can go on and on about how this song is perfection. It’s relevant, original, carefully crafted, catchy and it starts with the words “Yo, pretty packages of frosted delights, enjoy the gritty crunch that tastes just like chicken.” I’ve had a recent appreciation for the use of vocal sounds as instrumentation. What this song does is use the line “Don’t Waste Time!” as an instrumental quirk by making it sound cartoonish and placing it in a specific beat or moment. It’s similar to how Oos and Ahhs work in music. But this is done with vocals that contain lyrics, and through the use of caricature voices and pitch modulation. Finally, as mentioned in George’s review, this piece is made to sound like an old television advertisement for fast food (how appropriate these days!).
“Excuses” – Morning Benders
For this song, I will exonerate the Morning Benders of their plagiarism. It’s an incredible opener to an album, and, it’s probably one of the least Grizzly Bear sounding songs on Big Echo. There is a lot of movement created with percussion (including piano) that supports the slow vocal melody. And the vocal harmony in the middle is adorable – bringing a little bop into indie music. I always love the addition of new influences.
“Truth” – Chiddy Bang
Passion Pit + Chiddy Bang enough said?
“Sun Hands” – Local Natives
Not gonna lie, I did not understand the hype circulating this song back in December when it was appearing all over the blogosphere. Once Gorilla Manor came out though, hearing “Sun Hands” in context of the rest of the Fleet Fox resembling songs made it stand out. Not because it sounds different from Fleet Foxes, but because it’s Fleet Foxes at their never attained best. This is what makes Local Natives so amazing – they surpassed the Fleet Foxes with “Sun Hands” – that’s tough stuff. And, if you’ve never seen them live, go to p4k and watch immediately. Here’s a particularly mind blowing performance – is that one guy playing like 3 instruments at once and the washboard?!
“Madder Red” – Yeasayer
Yeasayer is all about the feeling that accompanies their music. It’s joyous, easy, smooth and liquid. Madder Red is my favorite off their new album even more so than “O.N.E.” (although ONE is the best break up song ever). I think it’s the bursts of guitar over the drum bass interplay. I know I said it’s about the feeling, so forget the specifics and just go with it.
#10 Wye Oak: The Knot
The award winning drama
The Knot places you in various vignettes of emotional experiences. “Take It In” brings you to a place of heartbreak laden with isolation and longing. “Sight, Flight” takes you to the monotony of everyday life filled with despair and claustrophobia. By the end of the album I’m emotionally exhausted. But Wye Oak has succeeded in making every scene so grippingly beautiful that by the end of the album I also want to revisit heartbreak over and over again.
#9 Royksopp: Junior
The feel good music
Imagine living your life set in the “Brave New World” riding on Dopamine enhancing drugs. You’re just sweating happiness in the sun. I think that’s the spirit of the album Junior – it’s supposed to put you in that happy, surreal place. Fortunately, the release of this album’s counterpart, Senior, was delayed till 2010. Otherwise we may have had to put Royksopp on the list twice.
#8 The Dead Weather: Horehound
A really good fit
Horehound is a really fun album. Jack White assembled a super group with an ensemble that would suggest they’ve been around for years. I feel like this is the band that Jack White was always meant to be in. The only thing that could make The Dead Weather an even better fit for White, is if it existed in a world run by Clint Eastwood and western movies.
#7 Wilco: Wilco (The Album)
The introspective self-reflexive album
Wilco’s Wilco (The Album) begins with Wilco the song. Listening to this album over and over I began to realize that it embodied Wilco the artist and all of their creations from the other albums. For example, when I heard “One Wing”, it sounded so familiar I was sure they had taken it from one of their other albums.
This familiarity is not a bad thing. It means that when I listen to this album I hear beautifully written music, excellent lyrics and amazing skill that Wilco can clearly create over and over. Wilco impressively recreated themselves and everything they have ever stood for musically in one album.
#6 Discovery: LP
Because you can’t always take yourself too seriously
Discovery’s LP has been called ‘appalling‘ by some – but I think they completely missed the point. This album is a parody; it’s Indie’s parody of contemporary R&B. I mean the lead guys from Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot created the freaking band!
Take their version of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”. Their atrocious twist on it can only be a satire of their own exuberance. Similarly songs like, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and “It’s Not My Fault” are ridiculously heavy on the handclaps and synths; heavy enough that they scream humorous sarcasm. I mean, Discovery sings about ‘Never lookin when you type T9’ and ‘Googl[ing] yourself when you get home.’ Come on, that’s hilarious.
For some quality songs listen to “So Insane” and “Osaka Loop Line”.
#5 The XX: XX
So subtle that it gets better with every listen
One particular reviewer originally gave this album a pretty insufficient rating. A commenter then complained: ‘“For what it’s worth I think you have confused ‘apathy’ with restraint, (a rare thing in music these days).” And I’ll stop right there.
# 4 Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
A few French guys paving a better road for the American auto industry – at least for Cadillacs
Cadillac commercials have featured great songs since their breakthrough commercial with Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”. This year, GM decided that “1901″ was captivating enough to represent Cadillac.
I agree that “1901″ like other songs on the Phoenix album are catchy and so refreshing that they don’t get old. This album stands out because it’s that attractive 80s sound, without the cheese and without sounding obsolete.
What made me fall in love with Wolfgang even more is that these guys sure can perform this album live. In a recent video of them playing on the streets of Paris, it’s impressive to hear Thomas Mars make the switch from his native, nasal French to his crisp, yet adolescent English vocals. As the four of them stand in front of the Eiffel Tower strumming away “1901″, the piece transforms from being an image of a sleek Cadillac to a light-hearted summer in the sun.
#3 The Antlers: Hospice
Using the album as a medium on which to create a story
The album, Hospice, tells a story about losing a loved one to cancer. However, this is no Nicholas Sparks novel. In “Kettering”, Silberman’s chilling voice bleeds onto the page to begin the story in a sincere tone. The blend of his voice and the instruments play like a musical rendition of one’s thoughts during a time of tragedy. A mix of major tonality with somber songs implies hope and despair. He makes it a very real experience.
This album reminds us that owning every song on an album and playing it straight through without skipping tracks is a rare accomplishment. With a playlist culture and the ability to download one song at a time, the format of the album has become less important. Yet, The Antlers once again gave it a purpose – they used it to create a story, where playing the album through is like turning the pages of a good book. That is why they are in the top ten albums of 2009.
The other impressive thing about The Antlers is that the lead singer, Peter Silberman, single handedly wrote the music and then self-released the album. It picked up speed online and is now one of the most highly rated albums of 2009.
#2 Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion
For their ingenuity – weird music turned user friendly
Animal Collective was over the top bizarre. But, I have to give Merriweather Post Pavilion serious credit for being a balance of Animal Collective’s inclination to experiment to the extreme and music grounded in tradition. The result is a clusterfuck of sounds that makes really sweet, new music.
I gave into Animal Collective, not because of Pitchfork’s incessant raving about them, but because my 13 year old brother posted a link to “My Girls” on my facebook wall. He said something like, ‘I thought this might be your techno/dance style.’ And although that is not at all an accurate description of the song, it did motivate me to click on the link. Then I played it on repeat for the next half hour.
This album gets the number two spot because it’s as if Animal Collective invented a new color. Their album sounds like something I could never imagine or compare to anything I’ve heard before. And when I listen to a song like “Bluish”, I don’t even know what I’m listening to (in one of their songs the drum beat is composed of sped up words), but at the same time, I love it. It’s a brand new sensory experience.
Great songs to start with on this album are “In the Flowers”, “My Girls” and “Bluish” – also check out the 2009 EP because it almost made this list.
#1 Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest
Because pure talent and unmatched perfectionism ought to be rewarded
I like to think of Veckatimest as Grizzly Bear dressed up in a good suit and encased in awesome album cover artwork. Because for me, Grizzly Bear is still what stands naked under the suit and cover: pure talent and unmatched perfectionism.
I first saw Grizzly Bear live when they were naked indeed – without an image or a large following. However, those of us watching them were stunned by Ed Droste’s and Dan Rossen’s angelic voices, and the flawless four part harmonies created when every member joined in to sing. This is one of those rare bands where every single member has an extraordinary voice. I have to reveal that the high pitched, synthy sound that shrieks in the background of “Knife” is actually produced by the bassist’s bare voice.
Thus, this album is a continuation of that same precision and talent; in fact, think of it as a perfect man in a well-fitted suit. Don Draper comes to mind.
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