Ultimate Mixtape #3: 20 Songs from 2011

Like I’ve done the last two years, here are some under-informed ramblings about my favorite tracks from the past calendar year. Feel free to ignore them.

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“The Wilhelm Scream” // James Blake

Blake started the year off right with his self-titled debut full length. And by right I mean correct for the winter months in the northern climate where I reside. Blake’s fusion of lounge singer vocals and dubstep low end felt transcendent during a gray February, but once summer rolled around it quickly left my rotation.

“Lotus Flower” // Radiohead

Most of The King of Limbs is a major downer, but “Lotus Flower” is almost danceable. See Thom Yorke in the video, for example.

“New Beat” // Toro y Moi

First of all, let’s get something out of the way: I hate Ariel Pink. I therefore wasn’t predisposed to loving Toro y Moi’s abrupt turn from atmospheric, Dilla-esque beatmaking to sun-drenched beach pop. But what has always differentiated Toro’s tracks from his peers is their messy humanity, and that characteristic is retained here despite the spit-shined sparkle.

“Rano Pano” // Mogwai

Mogwai released their strongest album in years, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, and they also assaulted my eardrums at Mr. Small’s Theatre outside Pittsburgh. It was a revelatory concert, and one that cemented this song in particular on my best-of list. The video sucks, but I’ll forgive it.

“Wicked Games” // The Weeknd

Two well-publicized mixtapes and a few Drake collaborations later, The Weeknd’s work feels more contrived than when I first heard it, but no less cathartic.

“Lofticries” // Purity Ring

Purity Ring seem to have emerged fully formed from the internet ether. Sure, they’re aping The Knife a little, but given that the siblings Dreijer aren’t making any music of late this will have to do. For me, it’s more than satisfying.

“Ice Cream (feat. Matias Aguayo)” & “My Machines (feat. Gary Numan)” // Battles

Battles are at their most madcap and wonderful on Gloss Drop, and these two singles typify their post-Tyondai Braxton approach: hired vocal guns. I saw two excellent Battles sets this year, one at a festival and one in a small Cleveland venue, both of which augmented their live instrumental assault with large, expensive-looking video screens featuring the aforementioned guns, to dramatic effect.

“Putting The Dog To Sleep” // The Antlers

The Antlers provided the soundtrack for my sad bastard moments this year, and this track is the saddest of all. I’m not that into Hospice, their more critically lauded 2010 album, mostly because its themes of cancer and death and hospitals aren’t as universal as those explored on Burst Apart. The album strikes a deft balance between electronic and analog, along with specific and universal, and the results are profoundly affecting. “Put your trust in me / I’m not gonna die alone… I don’t think so…”

“Jaguar” // The Dirtbombs

A garage rock band covering Detroit techno? I’m in. Unfortunately, the rest of Party Store doesn’t hit quite as hard as this track for me. Great concept, above average execution.

“The Vision (feat. Jessie Ware)” // Joker

If he can make pop songs as convincing as this one, who cares if Joker has (arguably) turned his back on his dubstep roots? I predict he’ll be producing Beyonce and Rihanna before we know it.

Are You Can You Were You? (Felt)” // Shabazz Palaces 

Shabazz Palaces make what once upon a time would have been referred to as “abstract” hip hop, but these days are put in the “blunted” category along with Dilla and Madlib. On one level, the comparison is flattering, but the Stones Throw sample crowd has never produced anything this organic. The balance of electronic and analog is what makes this music sound so fresh and so clean.

“Banana Ripple” // Junior Boys

This is an excellent dance track from one of my favorite artists. It unexpectedly turns into something transcendent and trance-inducing after the 6:45 mark. Bit heavy on the treble though, boys. It’s tough to really crank it up.

“Please Turn” // Little Dragon

A number of Scandinavian bands ruled my airwaves this year. Particularly The Radio Dept. – who would have shown up on this list if their album hadn’t come out during 2010 – but also I Break Horses, Iceage, and Little Dragon. LD’s best track combines a great vocal performance from Yumiki Nagano, their signature electronic melodies, and an incessant foot-tapping beat.

Otis (feat. Otis Redding)” // Jay-Z & Kanye West

A lot of critics wrote off Watch the Throne because it flouted the Roc brothers’ celebrity and conspicuous consumption. I say, there’s nothing we need more after three years of recession than a little fun. If Hova and Yeezy spend a little money bringing it to us, I say it’s a wash.

“We Bros” // Wu Lyf

I’ll admit it. I have no idea what this guy is sing-saying. He might as well be speaking Danish (this band isn’t Danish by the way), but I love this unintelligible but sunny reflection on brotherhood and solidarity nonetheless. The atmosphere of their album Go Tell Fire On The Mountain is what gets me, I can always feel the space its songs were recorded in, which is refreshing. And that organ!

“Ohio” // Justice

I really want to love Audio, Video, Disco, but I don’t. Most of its tracks are short on melody and just too short. There are blissful moments on the album, particularly the 1:00 mark of “On & On,” but Justice never lets them breathe. The burping synth breakdown here is utilized effectively, unlike similar cues on this new album. Also… this song is not about Ohio.

“All The Same” // Real Estate

Lackadaisical. Irreverent. Profound? [Note: This live version feels a bit rushed compared to what they put on record, but it highlights the chemistry these guys have on stage]

“Surgeon”  & “Year of the Tiger” // St. Vincent

I could have chosen nearly any two tracks from St. Vincent’s excellent new album Strange Mercy. It’s easily my album of the year, and contains no less than six that I think warrant inclusion on a list such as this. Boiling her band down to drums, bass, keys and the occasional embellishment, Annie Clark has put her vocals and guitar front and center. This approach better approximates the effect of her live act. The stories on Strange Mercy are also Clark’s best so far. “Surgeon” is probably the best song I’ve ever heard about a fit of depression and features a completely unexpected, honest-to-God funk solo near its end. “Year of the Tiger” is the most apropos selection on this list given that its narrative is about an wealthy executive on the run a la Bernie Madoff or Raj Rajaratnam. Sketched through micro-scale details (an ever-growing stack of mail, a suitcase of cash in the back of a stick shift) these stories are affecting in ways I typically associate with literature and film.

 

Appendix // Here are a few 2011 tracks I hadn’t yet heard when I initially made my list. They deserve recognition:

“Wildfire (feat. Little Dragon) // SBTRKT

“Generation” // Liturgy

“Thinking About You” // Frank Ocean

“Marvin’s Room” // Drake

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2 Comments on “Ultimate Mixtape #3: 20 Songs from 2011”

  1. Radio head up high, Nice! thanx

  2. “Ultimate Mixtape #3: 20 Songs from 2011 Critic Under the Influence” was indeed
    a extremely wonderful posting, . I hope you keep authoring and
    I will keep viewing! Thanks a lot -Pansy


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