Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 soundtrack [songs 1 - 15]

(cheat no. 4: there's a tie for my top song. download songs 1 - 15 here or click on the track titles to play them in youtube.)

1. 212  [azealia banks]
everything about this song is infectious, from the opening beats, to azealia's dirty-but-smart lyrics (seriously, pull 'em up, she fits a lot in and you hardly notice). banks tries a lot here, breaking 212 into, essentially, four different songs and attacking each part in a way that keeps you dancing from start to finish. i love the breakdown that she puts in the center so that when her last rap comes roaring back, it packs a hell of a punch. i don't know how many times i danced/listened to this song as the year came to a close, but ‘a lot’ hardly covers it. 212 never, ever got old. (also check out: liquorice.)

1. oblivion  [grimes]
i'm not sure i would have been as impressed with claire boucher had i not seen her in person first. there's just something totally surreal about the way she's able to create sounds and beats and layer them so quickly to produce her sweet, beat-heavy, synth-filled pieces. this song, like her others, is all her. 'oblivion' is fun because she gets the contrast between the heaviness in her underlying rhythms and the lightness in her child-like voice just right. (also check out: vanessa.)

3. rolling in the deep (remixed by jamie xx, ft. childish gambino) + someone like you  [adele]
rolling in the deep became a true anthem for the first part of this year, running well into the summer months. it's a beautiful song and amazing showcase of adele's talents. somehow, though, jamie xx made it even better by laying down a few more beats and really exaggerating some of the song's natural crescendos. childish gambino's rap was a brilliant add, too, underscoring the theme with smart lyrics and offering a nice counter weight to adele's more soulful form. once the winter hit, this song got replaced by 'someone like you.' the lyrics are universal and her ability to belt them out is just insane

4. nuclear seasons  [charli xcx]
a lot of the songs in my year-end list this go around have a strong bent toward nostalgia. 'nuclear seasons' is a total throw back to the 1980s and the manufactured sounds of those time. i'm not sure i can articulate exactly why it is that i think charli xcx beats everybody else with this song (midgnight by m83 has a very similar vibe), but it worked it's way into my year in a way that the others didn't. it's partly, of course, her vocal range, which she keeps largely monotone through the bulk of the song but stretches just as it becomes necessary.

5. afternoon + 17  [youth lagoon]
there's something about youth lagoon songs that make them feel almost cinematic, but none so much as 'afternoon' and '17.' it's possible, and even likely, that a lot of their appeal has to do with the fact that they've both come on my radio at just the right time, just when i needed to hear what they had to say. even so, the fact that i can feel such a connection to them must mean something. 'afternoon' is lovely for its bright, fast sound (even if the lyrics are as sad as the others), and '17' wins for probably my favorite lyric of the year, a call to never forgetting the wonder of this world: 'when i was 17 my mother said to me, don't stop imagining, the day that you do it the day that you die.'

6. who am i to feel so free?  [men + antony]
this song is such an awesome rallying cry for the disenfranchised and different. i caught men in person earlier this year and the crowd embraced the chorus with such energy that it was impossible to not to feel a little moved. of course, i'm sure, the euro-dance backing track had something to do with the excitement. this recording subs jd samson's voice with antony hegarty's. i'm a big fan of hegarty's out-of-this world vocals, but jd sings the song just as well in her own way.

7. countdown  [beyonce]

beyonce has to be one of the most talented musicians of our time. 'countdown' is a perfect example of what she can do. she uses her voice to its fullest in this track, while, simultaneously killing some crazy complicated runs. (i didn't even realize the full extent of what she packs in this song until i heard it slowed down in a cover.) the countdown is my favorite part; i can't think of anything i've heard that sounds quite like what she does here. it's the perfect song to see the year out on. three, two, one ...

8. the future + beat & pulse  [austra]
from the second 'the future' starts, with it's heavy beat and piano runs, it grips you. and then katie stelamanis enters in with her unique and surreal voice. the way she holds certain notes without letting them falter even a little is seriously impressive. here, her singing sets the rhythm just as much as the drums and the synth. her voice rises and falls, almost like a wave, only to give way to short staccato bumps when the song calls for it.  'beat & pulse' is slightly less impressive musically, at least to my uneducated ear. but what it lacks in that area, it makes up for with its immanently danceable beat -- the track title is no mistake, the rhythm really does find its way into your bones.

9. bad things (remixed ft. freddie gibbs)  [cults]
i like the cult's original cut of 'bad things,' but on its own it never would have made it into my top 60 songs, let alone my top 10. the addition of the freddie gibbs' rap really boosts its appeal for me. there's something about the way in which the harsh rap and the sweet, melodic chorus mix that makes this such a pleasure to listen to. the heavy drum beats that were added to help connect the two musical threads really does the trick, too. it's a great sound for backing the rap, but, if anything, i like it more behind the pop sound of the cults original lyrics. somehow it anchors them, making them feel more substantive and less nice-but-forgettable.

10. keep you  [class actress]
i put this song on a mix for a friend and a couple days later i got this text: 'track five is sexxxy who is??" that sort of sums it up, i suppose. elizabeth harper is playing the same 80s throwback game as charli xcx and m83, but she adds a slightly more sensual feel to her hommage. it's insanely effective. her vocals, too, are impressive. she plays a lot with staccato rhythms (keep. you. in. my. hea-art.) as she sings to help make the base beats as effective and catchy as possible. it definitely works. (also check out: weekend.)

11. my country + gangsta  [tune-yards]
merrill garbus has a voice unlike any other musician i've heard. there are songs on her latest album, w h o k i l l, that sound as though man must have sung them, then there are others where she jumps up into a range that sounds more traditionally feminine. there are so many good songs on this album, but my heart belongs to 'my country' and 'gangsta.' in the first, i can't get enough of her smart lyrics (my country 'tis of thee/ sweet land of liberty/ how come i cannot see my future within your arms) and the way she mixes patriotic sounds with world beats in such a discordant fashion. with 'gangsta' she embraces loud, powerful sounds -- siren screams going off in the background, her signature tribal whoops and "bang, bang, bang, oi" -- and some more smart, albeit almost angry, lyrics (what's a girl to do if she'll never be a rasta/ singing in her heart but she'll never be a rasta).

12. sunlight  [the one a.m. radio]
here's another ode to the neon-lit 80s. i find myself singing the chorus constantly (come on sunlight/ get me out of here alive). hrishikesh hirway's voice is so soothing, a perfect partner for the low, mellow -- but gripping -- instrumentals. maybe it's the fact that i really am waiting for sunlight to come save me from another portland winter, but i can't get enough of this track.

13. warm in the winter + beautiful object  [glass candy]
i feel like i've waited forever for some new stuff from glass candy. i'm glad that they're sticking to their signature sound while mixing it up just enough. 'beautiful object' has some really lovely vocals happening with the breakdowns that you've come to expect from these two. 'warm in the winter' is fun because it's hardly a song in the traditional sense. it starts with their usual synthy beats and etheral vocals and then gives way to a sweet entreaty to love yourself: 'we want you to know, if ever you should look in the mirror and wonder who it is that you are, and wonder what it is that you came for, well, i know the answer, you're beautiful ... we love you.' cheesy? maybe. but i love it.

14. my angel is broken  [atlas sound]
bradford cox is a genius. i love everything about this song from the opening progression with the deep, heavy bass (incredibly catchy) to his timeless, crooning voice (which he accomplishes without the reverb that so many musicians have been turning to these days). he switches up the melody and his own register, jogging between something that sounds almost happy to something that sounds just sad. but even with the shifting, the song manages to hold you. (also check out: lightworks.)

15. ritual union  [little dragon]
i'm so happy i finally got wise to little dragon. this band does some really nice things with electronic sounds. the vocals, too, are super appealing. 'ritual union' was one of those songs that became an official anthem of almost any trip i made this summer. also i can't help but love this sentiment: 'love is not like they say/a lie/ it's hard to make it stay.' (also check out: little man, remixed by tycho.)