Cat Power - “Manhattan” (Ryan Hemsworth Remix) [Feat. Angel Haze]
Honestly, as someone who thought that Detroit rapper Angel Haze came out of the whole Angel/Azalea feud looking only slightly better than Azealia Banks herself, I am apprehensive about finally digging into her body of work now. That might have to change, however, because I’m finding it very hard not to be impressed by her contributions to Ryan Hemsworth’s remix of Cat Power’s “Manhattan,” which was released earlier today.
Hemsworth layers just enough dubby, reverberant ooze onto the Sun highlight, allowing Angel’s voice to slink, rather haze-like, atop the smoothed over remnants of Chan Marshall’s piano flickers. Alone, they are both enigmatic and uniquely volatile figures in their respective scenes, but together, Angel Haze and Cat Power really do seem to complement each other. Hemsworth can’t take all the credit for the idea — the two artists are scheduled to play a number of tour dates together — but his work in linking these two artists directly cannot go unrecognized.
Top 25 Songs of 2011
The second installment in my 2011 Year End lists series is a list of what I view to be the top 25 songs of 2011. Songs were judged for personal appeal, cultural significance, and musical memorability, and have been ordered from great to greatest. I assembled an 8-tracks playlist of all 25 songs in order which you can stream below, and listen to while you read. Youtube links to each song have also been attached if you prefer that. Check back here tomorrow for my top 10 Connecticut albums of the year!
edit: The 8tracks embed is not working so if you want to stream the mix just click HERE
25. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart - “Belong”
Indie rock culture is all about finding community in a world where you just don’t belong. That’s what The Pains of Being Pure At Heart seem to think, anyway. On the title track to their new LP, the New York City indie pop group ups the shoegazey guitars and taps into that confusing but universal desire. “We just don’t belong,” frontman Kip Berman sings. Thanks in no small part to this song, it seems that they’ve found their place.
24. Into It. Over It. - “Connecticut Steps”
If you’re still wondering just how far reaching the effect of Mitch Dubey’s death last March was, look no further than Into It. Over It.’s “Connecticut Steps.” Written in reaction to the murder of Dubey, who was for years a fixture in the Connecticut punk scene and a friend to many, “Connecticut Steps” perfectly captured the feelings that countless people had on that cold March morning when we heard the news — Uncertainty, fear, sadness, denial, and more indescribable emotions — all through the uniquely personal lens of Evan Weiss’ masterful songwriting. But just as I’m sure Mitch would have wanted, the song doesn’t wallow in despair, but instead looks towards the future. “It’s what you meant / To everyone you met,” Weiss sings. We don’t know what “it” is for Weiss, but that’s what’s so beautiful about it; It allows us to supply our own memories.
23. Azealia Banks - “212” (Ft. Lazy Jay)
Azealia Banks’ raunchy, potty-mouthed banger “212” was far and away the definitive hipster-hop jam of 2011. There was something so initially jarring and perfect about the contrast between the song’s lyrics and Banks’ cute girl image that I still get surprised every time Banks says “cock” or “fuck” or “I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten.” I mean, seriously, that is some raw shit! Of course, the lyrical loops that Banks throws the listener for are only made more alarming by the speed at which she delivers them, which is impressive considering she claims to only have started rapping within the past year. With its bouncy Lazy Jay beat (which she illegally sampled, just so you know) and lyrics made unforgettable by Banks’ relentless delivery, 212 hints at some big things for this girl in 2(0)12.
22. Los Campesinos! - “By Your Hand”
Welsh twee punks Los Campesinos! made their gradual and inevitable transition to a relatively subdued indie rock sound this year with their new LP Hello Sadness, in an attempt to shy away from the manic energy of their previous releases and focus on developing their lyrics. Unfortunately, it didn’t really pay off on the whole, and the record came off as rather middling for the most part. The lead single “By Your Hand” is fantastic though, and succeeds where most of the rest of Hello Sadness fails at communicating a more mature vision of Los Campesinos! The angst-ridden bitterness of Gareth Campesinos!’ lyrics is still very present, but the raw clang of their past efforts has been condensed into the more palpable structure of a pop song, complete with an infectious and perfectly LC! chorus: “By your hand is the only end I foresee.”
21. Rihanna - “We Found Love” (Feat. Calvin Harris)
For a lot of people, the world in 2011 did seem like a rather hopeless place. Political riots, social/economic unrest, and revolutions swept over the globe like wildfire, being met at every turn with ardent opposition that often resulted in violence. It was a tumultuous climate that we went through, and one that doesn’t show signs of settling down any time soon. It goes without saying that these issues were/are very real to a lot of people. So perhaps it’s ill-fitting that the most compelling declaration of love in spite of hopelessness this year came from Rihanna, one of the biggest pop stars in the world, someone who would never really be negatively affected by the global economic inequity or class issues. But who really cares anyway when the song is as good as “We Found Love” is? This is pop music at its finest, with an electric, pulsating beat that seems to never stop swelling and hooks for miles. Although the instrumentation constantly teeters on the edge of self-destruction, Rihanna herself sounds confident and poised, declaring the song’s titular chorus with conviction. If she’s trying to convince listeners that she’s real, I buy it.
20. The Strokes - “Under Cover Of Darkness”
When the “Under Cover Of Darkness” digital single dropped, it seemed for a moment that there was hope for The Strokes yet. Although they’ve only gotten bigger with each of their four releases, the band has always lived critically in the shadow of their debut Is This It. But with its instantly classic guitar riff and Julian Casablancas’ distinct vocal mannerisms, “Under Cover Of Darkness” seemed like it was just great enough to make The Strokes worth caring about again. Unfortunately, even a single this good wasn’t enough to save Angles from being as bad as anything else they did post-Is This It, but at least we still have it to listen to and to remember that one time when, for a second there, it felt like 2001 again.
19. Kendrick Lamar - “Fuck Your Ethnicity”
In a hip-hop culture dominated by two idealistically separate but closely linked styles of aggressive rap, socially conscious hip-hop seems rather irrelevant. It took a truly courageous and talented MC like West Coast rapper Kendrick Lamar to send a jolt through the hip-hop community and remind people about what actually matters. On “Fuck Your Ethnicity,” the opening track to his LP Section.80, Lamar makes a powerful statement about racial identity. With tastefully soulful female vocals, piano key flourishes, and a memorable chorus as support, he spits rhyme after rhyme of stimulating and thought-provoking lyrics calling for social responsibility. 2011 was a year where a lot of rappers made it big riding on a wave of controversy, but unlike them, listening to Kendrick Lamar actually makes me feel like a good person.
18. The Decemberists - “Calamity Song”
The Decemberists apparently wrote “Calamity Song” in the midst of the 2008 United States presidential election as a criticism of the McCain/Palin ticket. Despite the alarming title, it would be pretty hard to guess the subject matter solely based on Colin Meloy’s verbose lyrics, but in retrospect it makes a lot of sense. “The Panamanian Child?” That’s John McCain, born on an American military base in Panama. Meloy’s indictment of Palin is a little harder to catch, although he seems not to think so — “Hetty Green, queen of supply side bonhomie bonedrab / You know what I mean?” Well, spend a few minutes analyzing that line with a dictionary and you might. “Calamity Song” wasn’t recorded until it appeared on this year’s The King Is Dead, but its calamitous lyrics seem just as relevant now than ever.
17. Ramshackle Glory - “Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of Your Fist”
Pat The Bunny entered into Hell and somehow came out better than he’s ever been. With his new band Ramshackle Glory, Pat wrote and recorded a collection of new songs about overcoming his heroin addiction, displaying a newfound sense of optimism for the future that was entirely absent in any of his previous work. “Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of Your Fist” is the best documentation of this profound change. It’s a folk punk song that stands with the best of them — An unrelenting powerhouse of solidarity and hope that, despite its personal lyrics, resonates on a universal level. Pat The Bunny has never written a better song.
16. La Dispute - “King Park”
Although it’s only been out for a few months, “King Park’s” lyric sheet has already proven to be fodder for the lyric image-hungry tumblr hXc populace. Don’t let those ridiculous image macros influence your appreciation for the song, though. When “King Park” is removed from that context, it’s a chillingly powerful and serious piece of music. With his crazed, urgent voice, frontman Jordan Dreyer tells the story of an accidental shooting of an innocent child, playing the role of the silent observer as he describes how the family and town reacts, and how the killer himself is eventually found. It all builds up to the incredible climax, in which the killer is confronted by police, only to let out a desperate line for the ages: “Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?” Put that on your image macro.
15. The Guru - “Arizona”
“Arizona” isn’t the best song overall on Native Sun, the debut full length from Connecticut kids The Guru, but it stands alone better than any of the others. “Arizona” is a singular declaration of intent — a manifesto of youth and post-adolescence that ranks up there with classics such as The Who’s ”My Generation” and, more recently, Titus Andronicus’ “Titus Andronicus.” It’s a song that I screamed the words to in packed rooms on many occasions throughout the past year, and a song that I hope to scream again one day soon when the band comes back to Connecticut. Most of all, Arizona is a song that reminds me of what matters in my life. “I swear to grow old,” singer Eddie Golden shouts. It’s got to happen some time.
14. Real Estate - “It’s Real”
Real Estate did a lot of growing up in the past two years, and this is what they have to show for it. “It’s Real” is a perfect single that displays everything the band does well: It’s got jangly, reverb-heavy guitars, a soothing bassline, precise percussion, catchy melodies, moving harmonies, and earnest lyrics. Sure, it could have been an early R.E.M. song or a Feelies song, but it wasn’t. “It’s Real” is 100% Real Estate, right down to the name, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
13. Beastie Boys - “Make Some Noise”
Okay, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that the return of the Beastie Boys was easily the most badass comeback of the year. Hot Sauce Committee Pt 2 was extremely fun to listen to from the get go, and continues to be rewarding months later. Lead single “Make Some Noise” is definitely the best part of the record, and stands out just fine by itself for what it is. Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D spit nonsensical, hilarious rhymes over the squelching beat, at times rapping over straight feedback and just generally not giving a fuck and a great time. Line of the year goes to Mike D: “Pass me the scalpel, I’ll make an incision / And cut out the part of your brain that does the bitchin’.”
12. Bon Iver - “Perth”
Back in March, before the release of Bon Iver’s now-hugely successful Bon Iver, Bon Iver, Justin Vernon previewed some of the songs from the album to Rolling Stone. He called the opening track “Perth” a “Civil War-sounding heavy metal song,” which kind of fits in retrospect. If there was any one moment on the new record where Bon Iver shed the “folksy”, “wood cabin” image that it had assumed since 2008, it was right when the massive sounding double bass drum hits came in on ”Perth” for the first time. Exactly right there is when I knew that Bon Iver, Bon Iver was going to be something big. It turns out that I was right, and more so than I could have possibly known at the time.
11. Giles Corey - “Spectral Bride”
Dan Barrett (a.k.a. Giles Corey) makes soul-crushingly depressing songs in such a way that the listener often doesn’t realize how depressing they are until it’s far too late. “Spectral Bride” begins with Barrett strumming a guitar, as many of the songs on Giles Corey do, and singing with multi-tracked vocals, creating the effect of a large choir. The melody sounds like something out of a gospel song, and with Barrett’s harmonizing vocals singing it, the song is actually quite beautiful. At face level, “Spectral Bride” is really quite sweet — Barrett is declaring his love to someone whom he obviously cares about a lot. But as the song reaches critical mass, and the instrumentation swells to a crescendo, the true motivations for the song become clear. Anything that might have been construed as plainly pretty or simply romantic now take on a darker meaning as the listener realizes that Barrett is not just calling out to a lover, but is instead revealing to that person his desire to kill himself. “And if I don’t survive, I’ll still be by your side,” the Barrett choir sings, as horns and heavy drums are added to the mix. This line becomes a mantra in the second half, almost as if Barrett is trying to convince himself of its truth more than his lover.
10. The National - “Think You Can Wait” (feat. Sharon Van Etten)
Both The National and Sharon Van Etten came off a big year in 2010, a year in which they both had career-defining records that received a lot of critical praise. In this way, it’s fitting that the two acts, who are separately known for their unique songwriting and their atmospheric recordings, collaborated musically in 2011. The result of this collaboration is “Think You Can Wait,” released as a single by The National earlier in the year. It’s a slow burning, keyboard led number that follows The National’s established songwriting formula with its series of restrained, subtle crescendos. Frontman Matt Berninger’s lead vocals are absolutely melting, while Van Etten’s backing vocal contributions in the chorus contrast with his perfectly. It’s a beautifully sad storm of uncertainty, and it begs for more collaboration between these two musical forces.
9. Drake - “Marvins Room”
I was never a Drake fan when he first blew up a couple years ago, but that all changed dramatically when “Marvins Room” dropped in the beginning of the summer. With this one song, the Toronto rapper singlehandedly nailed the aesthetic that had been slowly developing for the past year with the work of artists like The Weeknd and How To Dress Well. “Marvins Room” finds harmony between the swagger and excess of mainstream pop rap R&B, and the moody, down-tempo emotionalism that singer/songwriters with acoustic guitars and lonely electronic music producers have been channeling for decades. With its confessional lyrics and testy subject matter, it was an incredibly bold statement to make, especially in advance of an album as big as Take Care. Although the full album did not entirely build on the creative success of “Marvins Room,” the song works in its own context even better.
8. Low - “Try To Sleep”
I’m so happy Low went back to making music that is pretty. Their past two efforts prior to 2011’s C’mon were heavy on experimentation, but not particularly thick with substance or simple beauty. “Try To Sleep” is C’mon’s opening track, and it is perhaps the single prettiest song that the Duluth, Minnesota slowcore band has ever released over their lengthy career. With its toy piano twinkles and characteristically lush haromonies, “Try To Sleep” was so pretty that the band managed to enlist John Stamos (yes, that John Stamos) to star in a video for it. The video, which features Stamos and a woman sitting in a car in front of a screen on which moving images of a countryside road are projected, perfectly captures the tone of the song: Beautiful and eye-opening, but ultimately very sad.
7. House of Wolves - “50’s”
The past four entries on this list have all been moody, melancholic, and rather sad songs. I guess I have a type, because “50’s” is no different. On the first track to his debut album Fold In The Wind, House Of Wolves singer/songwriter Rey Villalobos captures a cracked and fleeting feeling of nostalgia for a bygone era, an era which neither I nor Villalobos himself ever experienced. “Kiss me like it’s the 50’s,” he sings, in his inflated falsetto, beckoning to an unnamed lover. Sadly, the person he’s calling out to seems just as far removed from the present time and space as the era that Villalobos is trying to evoke. With its glacial speed and gentle, sweetly layered instrumentation, “50’s” is a sad parade indeed, but one that is worth watching run its course.
6. Gang Gang Dance - “Glass Jar”
“I can hear everything. It’s everything time.”
Gang Gang Dance’s stellar new album Eye Contact opens with that simple statement, spoken in the first five seconds of the opening track “Glass Jar.” In the subsequent 11 minutes, Gang Gang Dance unfolds a stunning sonic portrayal of the birth and evolution of life. There’s no death represented here — That’s for the rest of the album to deal with — just an uncompromisingly vivacious and organic declaration of the wonders of existence. In the first half, churning synths bubble up through cracks in “Glass Jar’s” surface while atmospheric effects flit about through the speakers. But don’t let the six minute ambient/new age intro fool you; In its second half, “Glass Jar” explodes with powerful rhythms, psychedelic vocals, and an infectious repeated synth line, displaying some remarkably catchy pop attributes. Enlightenment and nirvana comes with the tapping of a foot.
5. Destroyer - “Kaputt”
Forget for a second everything you know about culture and nostalgia for the 80s, and just play this song. Disco beats, hi-fi production, and saxophone licks don’t have to be bad if you forget everything bad that you ever listened to that sounded like that. In the 6 minutes and 18 seconds of “Kaputt,” the title track from Destroyer’s new LP, Dan Bejar and his arsenal of supporting musicians and vocalists redeem the 80s pop aesthetic and give it a new purpose and feeling of life, all while making every other 80’s-referential 2011 band seem totally useless and insignificant. Just as I did when I first heard it at the beginning of the year, I still hope that “Kaputt” kills 80’s nostalgia, but I think that even if it does, I’ll still be listening to the song and getting nostalgic.
4. The Rapture - “How Deep Is Your Love?”
I’ll just get this out of the way right now and admit that yes, that the chorus of my fourth favorite song from 2011 sounds exactly like “The Thong Song.” Now that I’ve dealt with that, let’s take a moment to think about just how much of a banger “How Deep Is Your Love?” is. Are there clubs that play The Rapture anymore? Did clubs ever play The Rapture? If I were in charge of a club, I would just play “How Deep Is Your Love?” over and over again and everyone would love it. Although In The Grace Of Your Love is a good album in its own right, this song alone justified The Rapture’s comeback completely. Now I’m going to listen to it again.
3. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - “I Will Be Okay. Everything”
On “I Will Be Okay. Everything,” The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die distilled everything that I love about them into one fantastic four minute track. The communal vibe of Formlessness is here, represented in the opening line, “No, we aren’t ghosts, ‘cause even ghosts have a home to haunt.” The aggressive urgency of Josh Is Dead is here too, conveyed by the song’s electrifying final movement. But more than anything else, I love “I Will Be Okay” because of how it differs from their previous material. The song displays a songwriting confidence previously unseen from the Connecticut band, with the three vocalists all contributing their own distinctive lyrics and singing in perfect literal and figurative harmony. The production and musicianship has also dramatically improved, as the band plays tightly and with tremendous conviction on “I Will Be Okay. Everything” The result shows that the whole is better than the individual parts, and that the forces controlling The World Is… are a great match for each other.
2. Andrew Jackson Jihad - “Big Bird”
I’ve always admired Andrew Jackson Jihad for their minimalism. Minimalistic folk instrumentation, minimalistic song lengths, minimalistic chord progressions…. The band has always been good at getting a lot out of relatively little, and it’s paid off for them. However, I never considered what the band would be capable of if they went the opposite route. “Big Bird” is the last song on Andrew Jackson Jihad’s new record Knife Man, the culmination of experimentation and a tremendous exercise in self-exploration for singer/songwriter Sean Bonnette. It’s the complete reverse of their established formula of skittery punk folk, trading minimalism for maximalism, high speed for dirge-like slowness, and clever lyrical witticisms for crushingly emotional declarations. Bonnette lists his fears like he’s reading from a grocery list, adding emotional weight that is emphasized by the heavy instrumentation. Organs, strings electric guitars, and massive percussion fall on the listener with every subsequent line, building to a moving emotional head when Bonnette references the city that he calls home, Phoenix Arizona. “But the big red bird that lives under the city doesn’t give a damn about me and it dies every night / By burning alive.” The band has come a long way from Candy Cigarettes and Cap Guns, and the future is looking amazing.
1. The Antlers - “Putting The Dog To Sleep”
“Prove to me I’m not gonna die alone”
We all have our own individual insecurities. Everyone has his or her own fears, and some people have more than others. Nothing is truly terrifying in a universal sense, but one particular notion comes close. The Antlers frontman Peter Silberman recognizes how much humans fear dying alone, and in that one line (along with its subsequent repetitions), he provokes an emotional response that is somehow even more significant and immediate than all of Hospice was. While Hospice provided a needle-like injection of extremely potent depression and sorrow into the arms of so many of its listeners, the Burst Apart closer “Putting The Dog To Sleep” speaks to a more general, farther-reaching feeling of pain. It’s the human condition in song form, conveyed as a 1950s-style doo wop piece having been run through Silberman’s aching vocals and the band’s wash of reverb and electronics. The band takes its time in building up to that powerful opening line, but once it arrives, it’s an incredibly cathartic release. That first guitar chord punches you in the gut hard enough to make you forget the lyrical subtleties of the song, but by the second verse, Silberman is back on his desperate, yearning track. By the end, it seems that he has proven whatever he was seeking to himself. Or perhaps, like Dan Barrett on “Spectral Bride” earlier, he is simply trying to prove that he is proving it to himself. “Put your trust in me,” Silberman sings, calling out once more to his unnamed target, “I’m not gonna die alone. I don’t think so.” If anything has the power to prevent that from happening, it’s this song.