(2011) Best of Last Year

Thankfully, 2011 had a much better musical showing that 2010. This is due, almost entirely, to two things: Spotify and my own musical cry for help last January. Thanks to the help and suggestions of: Brenna Proczko, Jeff Gabhart, Mike Billeter, Nate Hoffman, Tara Payne-Mueller, Brenna Rausch, Holli Rausch, Bryce Rausch, The Rock Garden Tour, &c.

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/awayken/playlist/5SJQoaPbpn6Ljt1CpJhoH7

  1. Scary Monsters and Nice SpritesSkrillex
    • Well, I wouldn’t have thought that “dubstep” would be in my future when 2011 began. This was a year for discovering Spotify, and Spotify helped me discover Skrillex. It feels a little juvenile to be into this artist and his music so much, however, the latter part of 2011 was one for musical guilty pleasures.
    • Hat tip: Spotify
  2. Don’t Carry It AllThe Decemberists
    • After the Decemberist’s 2009 album, The Hazards of Love, I didn’t know what to expect from the band. For as much as I appreciate their efforts with that concept album, I think it’s hard to compete with 2006’s The Crane Wife (one of my favorite all-time albums). The King Is Dead is a return to song-based vignettes, this time with harmonica. It’s a good album with some really fantastic songs on it.
    • Hat tip: Myself, Tara Payne-Mueller
  3. Airplanes, Pt. II (feat. Eminem & Hayley Williams of Paramore)B.o.B
    • In these recents years, Mike Billeter has become my hip-hop musical connection. So, when I put the call out for new music, I knew he would come through with a rap / hip-hop recommendation. I’d never heard of B.o.B before Mike suggested his latest album, so it wasn’t on the power of the artist but on the power of his guest performers and samples that I decided to purchase. (Actually, I was trying to add this to a wishlist to review later, and I accidentally purchased it. However, I don’t regret the happy accident.) A rap album with Rivers Cuomo? Yes, please.
    • Hat tip: Mike Billeter
  4. Tighten UpThe Black Keys
    • Hello, the blues. The Black Keys – on their album, Brother – have this raw energy that I associate with early The White Stripes or the first LP by Cold War Kids. You get the feeling that they just drag their instruments into the recording studio, setup, and kill it. While this track doesn’t show as much growl as others, it has plenty of bite. Add to all that, lyrics about a no-good woman, and you have a bluesy winner.
    • Hat tip: Saturday Night Live, Jeff Gabhart, Brenna Proczko
  5. Jack Sparrow (feat. Michael Bolton)The Lonely Island
    • To say that I’m a fan of The Lonely Island would be true. I’ve followed them since they were making The ‘Bu, back in the day. I really loved Incredibad, their 2009 album. I didn’t love their latest offering, Turtleneck & Chain, as much, but there are a couple of tracks that stuck with me. This was an obvious winner. It’s actually two really good songs mashed together, sewn together with humor.
    • Hat tip: Saturday Night Live (again??), probably Bryce
  6. We Used to WaitArcade Fire
    • What a climber! This Arcade Fire track went from nothing to being number three on my Charts (All Time) playlist. Yes, that means that We Used to Wait is the third most played song in my iTunes in the entirety of the time that I’ve had my iTunes. Ever. Need I say more? (Yes, I probably should.) The Suburbs, the album that this song comes from, is probably one of Arcade Fire’s best (and they have a lot of great albums). One my first introductions to this song was the fantastic interactive music video that came out. You need to check it out, if only to see the grand future that music has on the web.
    • Hat tip: Myself, Jeff Gabhart
  7. Haile SelassieBright Eyes
    • This was a great year for getting albums from some of my longtime favorite artists; Radiohead, The Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie, Arcade Fire, and Bright Eyes all had new LPs. Unfortunately, this was not a good year for falling in love with those albums (notice that Radiohead doesn’t even appear on this list). Bright Eyes favored pretty well, with this track being one that grabbed me immediately. The title, interestingly, is taken from an emperor of Ethiopia who was apparently a powerful political force for Ethiopia as well as a messiah to the Rastafarian religious movement. So, it’s anyone guess as to whether he’s commenting on politics or religion or both.
    • Hat tip: Myself
  8. RiseFlobots
    • I first discovered this artist on thesixytone. This track, however, I only found when I finally purchased the album, Fight With Tools, after my musical cry for help. Let’s hear it for rock-and-roll-rappers who use violin! This song came as a pleasant surprise tucked into an album whose good tracks I’d already over-listened to.
    • Hat tip: Myself
  9. Rolling In the DeepADELE
    • I had no idea who ADELE was when I first heard this song. It was on a mix CD that Brenna Proczko burned and mailed to me. There was something haunting and piercing about her voice. She seemed to be a voice from the past, bringing to my mind Ella Fitzgerald. Not two days later, I rediscovered ADELE through a music festival iPhone app that had some clips of her performances. It seemed to be fate; so I bought her album, 21.
    • Hat tip: Brenna Proczko
  10. Generator ^ First FloorFreelance Whales
    • Did you ever pick an album based on its title or the title of its artist? I have, and this is one such album. This song has enough banjo and tambourine to feel grounded, enough weird accordion box to feel ethereal, and a band name that makes me wonder what the Twitter “fail mascot” does in his scarce time off. The vocals make me think of Owl City or The Postal Service, but the sound of the band brings Sufjan Stevens sharply to mind (although I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out which artist was brought sharply to my mind).
    • Hat tip: Mike Billeter
  11. High Hawk SeasonThe Mountain Goats
    • This is a strong vocal departure for The Mountain Goats. Normally, John Darneille takes on the singing himself, but this track features a couple other voices doing background vocal harmonies. What isn’t a departure is the poetic qualities of his lyrics. To wit, drift through the streets / walk between the cars / newborn sons and daughters / spat forth from distant stars. / the summer will reveal itself / to those whose hearts are true / and to the faithless few.
    • Hat tip: Myself
  12. Winter WindsMumford & Sons
    • This album was probably my favorite of last year. I deeply love nearly every song on Sigh No More, which means that individual play counts are low because I have to listen to the whole thing every time I start one song. So much of the music by Mumford & Sons has an epic quality to it. They are brilliant at building to ecstatic crescendos, expertly pitching each instrument note by note: the lyrics, the vocals, the strings, the woodwinds, the brass, the percussions, and even the silence. And, yes, every song is like that.
    • Hat tip: Brenna Rausch, Mike Billeter, Jeff Gabhart, Brenna Proczko
  13. E.T.Katy Perry
    • Okay. I don’t know how this happened. Katy Perry snuck up on me, with the help of Ben Folds and my wife. (It’s a long story that isn’t that interesting.) Before I knew it, I was using Spotify to indulge a sweet tooth named Katheryn. Guys, she earned her GED in her freshman year of high school. Now who’s embarrassed to be listening to Katy Perry?
    • Hat tip: Pentatonix, Holli Rausch, Spotify
  14. Codes And KeysDeath Cab for Cutie
    • I blame myself. I haven’t given Codes and Keys, the album that has this track, enough time to make an impression on me. As such, I was struggling to pick a track from it. Would any make it? I’d already scrapped Radiohead’s King of Limbs because three listenings produced no notable songs. Would I have to similarly and unceremoniously discard Death Cab? Thankfully, no. This track, in particular, makes use of strings in a way that Death Cab has never done before. This orchestral touch really adds a lot to their already rich arrangements.
    • Hat tip: Myself
  15. Tornado ’87The Rural Alberta Advantage
    • Recorded on the University of Sioux Falls campus, released on PBS radio and as a podcast, featuring a mixture of rock-and-roll and gardening is the Rock Garden Tour. This is a show that Holli turned me onto a while back. I’ve kept up with it in varying degrees since then, but every once in a while a track they play hits me like lightning. Tornado ’87 was one such track. Previously, it was Airsuit by Windmill, which made the (2009) Best of Last Year list. This time, however, I enjoyed this song – and the previews of the others – that I bought the album, Departing. This track is a stand-out, and the music video is worth a watch, as well.
    • Hat tip: The Rock Garden Tour on Garden by Pi
  16. Enter The NinjaDie Antwoord
    • There are some bands and musical groups that I collect purely for the novelty. Many of these groups grow out of “novelty” status and become legitimately noteworthy: Bright Eyes moved from crackly-voiced emo kid to politically active  indie music poster child; Sigur Rós moved from Hopelandish-speaking Icelandic art project to being known for some of most beautiful orchestral work in popular music; The Streets moved from corny British rap artist to a solid hip-hop force many were sad to see go. Despite this history, I can’t see such a future for Die Antwoord. Die Antwoord is a hip-hop group based out of South Africa. The group consists of Ninja (lead vocalist), Yo-Landi Vi$$er (female, backing vocalist), and DJ Hi-Tek (disc jockey). The quality of the rap is decent, the beats are catchy, but the style of the band is 5 parsecs over the top (just like that reference). Plus the South African accent just sounds bizarre, especially at rap speeds. Still the album, $O$, tickled me enough to get quite a few listens this year and to earn a spot on the “Best of” list.
    • Hat tip: Some “most NSFW music videos of 2010” blog post, Wikipedia
  17. Original Friend – Lunch Money
    • If you’re a parent, this is the album to get. Ian loves it, and the songs are catchy and adult enough to keep our sanity as parents. This is actually a children’s album that I would volunteer to listen to. It’s quality all around.
    • Hat tip: Holli Rausch
  18. Kill EverybodySkrillex
    • Another dubstep song? Yes. Deal with it. There’s a lot about this song’s title that I like, but there’s even more I love about the contents of the song. The vocal exemplify the best properties Glitch rock, the melody expertly blends nuances of Metalcore with Trip-hop sentiments, and he even pays homage to 8-bit and Chiptune communities without jeopardizing the integrity of his dubstep/trance landscape. Skrillex must have used a ladder to crawl onto the roof of his house, beats clutched tightly to his chest, to get the height needed for a drop this sick. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tossed the beats a little up in the air before letting gravity take over.
      Okay – I just read that back, and I have to go beat myself up.
    • Hat tip: Spotify

3 thoughts on “(2011) Best of Last Year”

  1. Sweet! I got a hat tip on 3 of those choices. Glad I could contribute in such a variety of styles/genres. Thanks for throwing this out there. Already listening to a few of the choices I hadn’t listened to or heard of.

    Go music. Go America.

    -Mike

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