Favorite Music Videos of 2012

•February 6, 2013 • 2 Comments

Commence youtubing:


Dan Deacon — “True Thrush”

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Favorite Songs of 2012

•February 5, 2013 • 5 Comments

Without a lot of jabber from me, here are the 11 songs that seem to be my favorites from this year. At the end, you’ll find a link to a Spotify playlist filled with many other songs that made a big impression on me this year. And a handful of songs I loved can’t be found on Spotify, so I packaged them up in a .zip file, if you’re interested.

Anaïs Mitchell
“Young Man In America”
from Young Man In America

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Favorite Albums of 2012

•February 4, 2013 • 3 Comments

Here you have it: my 11 favorite albums of the year, presented alphabetically. After that, a bunch of albums that I loved almost as much as these 11, followed by another group whose minor flaws caused me to love them only slightly less.

Yes, I really did listen to enough music this year that there’s more albums I heard that don’t appear than those that do. And that is not, in any way, meant to be a boast — in fact, I think it’s a pretty silly thing to do. But I love trying to expose myself to the full spectrum of the music people are making every day, and seeing what sticks, so I’ll probably continue to do so.

Anaïs Mitchell | Young Man In America

As silly as my reason is, I have to admit to a bias, or at least a sort of favoritism, when it comes to Anaïs Mitchell. Our connection ends at the fact that we both attended Middlebury College, but her approach to songwriting feels akin to something I love about the spirit of Middlebury’s approach to academia. Her songs, and their relationship with folk tradition, are heady but organic, intellectual but still soulful, reverent of history but not anti-modern.

I’ve been following her career for years, hoping she’d begin to get the attention she’s received this year in the wake of this beautiful, deserving record. With her ability to take a scholarly approach to old fashioned musical forms & idioms and imbue them with personal insight and unique character, each song speaks unequivocally to the present moment — even when their events ostensibly take place in a bygone time. Add to that the newfound ease and confidence apparent in her already interesting voice, as well as a stunning arranging and recording job, and you have Young Man In America, a folk record for the ages.

>>>Check out: “Young Man In America”, “Ships”, “Shepherd”, “Venus”, “Annemarie”

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Best of ’11 Extravaganza

•January 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Peruse the full madness of my 2011 listmaking below.

Hello, Internet people! In the first two weeks of 2012, I rolled out my 60 favorite albums and 60 favorite songs of 2011. (My original goal was 50, but there were too many things that were just too painful to leave off, so 60 it is.) If lists are a thing that you like, check these bad boys out.

60 Favorite Albums of 2011 :: #60-41 :: #40-21 :: #20-1

60 Favorite Songs of 2011 :: #60-21 :: #20-1

13 Great Music Videos & 2 Honorary Songs of the Year

13 Great Music Videos / The End

•January 10, 2012 • 1 Comment

As usual, I’ve burnt myself out on this year-end-list-mania, so I’m not going to say much here. I’ll just leave you with 13 great music videos released this year (all for very good songs that mostly didn’t make my list), alphabetically by artist, and a couple of other great tidbits.

Beyoncé — “Countdown”

Big Sean [ft. Nicki Minaj] — “Dance (A$$) Remix”

Fleet Foxes — “The Shrine/An Argument”

Jay-Z & Kanye West — “Otis”

King Krule (formerly Zoo Kid) — “Out Getting Ribs”

Lil Wayne [ft. Cory Gunz] — “6 Foot 7 Foot”

Lykke Li — “Sadness Is A Blessing”

Mister Heavenly — “Bronx Sniper”

Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire [ft. Despot, Danny Brown, Das Racist & El-P] — “Huzzah (Remix)”

Rihanna — “We Found Love”

St. Vincent — “Cruel”

Tyler, the Creator — “Yonkers”

Ty Segall — “Goodbye Bread”


Honorary Songs of the Year

In general, 2011 was the year I grew weary of the incessant, repetitive, unending cycle of viral videos. But the depths of dear Youtube also produced these two absolute beauties:

Chris Brown – “Look At Me Now” (Polka Version)

Rebecca Black – “Friday” (Hell Version)

60 Favorite Songs of 2011: #20-1

•January 9, 2012 • 3 Comments

Looking at these 20 songs, I notice that only three of them are under four minutes long, and many stretch out well beyond the 5-minute mark. I think this says something about what I generally look for in songs: a sort of journey that sucks you in and, taking unexpected turns, deposits you somewhere different than where you started. But I believe it’s also indicative of where my head was at in 2011, and what a lot of music released over the course of the year sounded like.

In any case, I hope you enjoy the list, and as with #s 60-21, I’ve embedded the songs in each post, so you can stream them as you go.

20 :: Jai Paul
from BTSTU [single]

One of 2011’s most sonically unique tracks, this one-off from British newcomer Jai Paul (it’s the only thing we’ve got from him so far) seems like it couldn’t get any better — and then those saxophones at the end fade in.

19 :: Destroyer
from Kaputt

Kaputt‘s title track and mission statement begins with a few seconds of instrumental doodling before the drums call things to order, and the song launches headlong into the lush, romantic mystery that this album doles out so expertly. Its six minutes are immersive, beautiful, strange, and expertly assembled.

18 :: Big K.R.I.T.
“The Vent”
from Return of 4eva

Ably demonstrating throughout Return of 4eva that he can craft vintage Southern rap bangers in his sleep, Big K.R.I.T. turns his eye elsewhere at the close of the mixtape. “The Vent,” the result of this shift in tone, is a tuneful, spare, thoughtful, and downright heartbreaking ballad, the second half of which K.R.I.T. spends singing in a surprisingly great croon. Given the success it’s had, maybe we’ll get some more songs like this in the future.

17 :: James Blake
“The Wilhelm Scream”
from James Blake

In this overhaul of a forgotten song by his father James Litherland, Blake treats the repeated lyrical mantra (“I don’t know about my dreams,” etc) like a looped sample, keeping his delivery the same but changing the effects on the vocal and the shape of the song surrounding it. The result is the striking impression that he’s falling down a tunnel as he sings, giving added umph to the lyrics’ constant “falling, falling, falling.”

16 :: Lana Del Rey
“Video Games”
from Video Games b/w Blue Jeans 7″

There’s no way I’m going to delve into the debate surrounding 2011’s most controversial artist in this space — but I will say that the way it played out was very indicative of the nature of the current internet music conversation. Now, when I listen to “Video Games,” I do my best to forget all the bullshit, and try to remember how wonderfully morose it sounded when I first listened to it back in the summer.

15 :: Young Jeezy [ft. Jay-Z & André 3000]
“I Do”
from TM 103: Hustlaz Ambition

Backed by one of the greatest beats of the year (from unknown producer M16), Jeezy and Hov go in with some “married to the game” double talk before 3K swoops in and steals the show with a verse bursting with his trademark aww-shucks charisma.

14 :: Bon Iver
from Bon Iver

When Bon Iver was released, people called this song a bold appropriate of off-limits 80s sounds (i.e. Bruce Hornsby), but the truth is that the album version sounds downright conservative once you’ve heard how Bon Iver played it on their summer/fall tour. That live version is a whole order of magnitude higher on the cheese scale, but the explosive gated snares and massive guitar theatrics made it all the more transcendent. More than any other song on Bon Iver, “Beth/Rest” proves that Justin Vernon is unafraid to follow his muse wherever it may lead him, and that he’ll usually find something majestic at the end of that path.

13 :: Lil Wayne [ft. Cory Gunz]
“6 Foot 7 Foot”
from Tha Carter IV

It was a nice moment of hope we had there, when “6 Foot 7 Foot” was released and it seemed like Tha Carter IV could mark the return of the old, insane, genius Wayne, inhaling the world around him and spitting it back out, scrambled, onto the track. That wasn’t the case, but we still have this treasure trove of quotable one-liners, enhanced by Cory Gunz’ almost-but-not-quite-show-stealing verse and a bonkers beat from Bangladesh (the producer behind “A Milli”).

12 :: Girls
from Father, Son, Holy Ghost

This slowly unfolding centerpiece to Girls’ sophomore LP is relatively straightforward, from a lyrical perspective, but it may be the most patient and magnificent track Chris Owens has penned thus far. After five minutes of meditation on the nature of forgiveness, the band kicks things into full gear, and the year’s most cathartic guitar solo expresses more than words ever could.

11 :: Yuck
from Yuck

The ingredients are simple: a killer guitar riff, muffled drums, loads of fuzz, simple lyrics, and boatloads of youthful exuberance. Throw in some harmonies, get quieter and louder at the right moments, and you’ve nearly got yourself a pop song for the ages. What makes a simple song like this as good as “Georgia” is that intangible x-factor that Yuck have in spades.

10 :: Elzhi [ft. Royce da 5’9″ & Stokley Williams]
“Life’s A Bitch”
from Elmatic

In this particular remake of an Illmatic classic, Royce da 5’9″ plays AZ to El’s Nas, both delivering razor-sharp, Detroit-centric verses. But the real star here is that immortal beat, which takes on a whole new life in the capable hands of funk band Will Sessions. They start with a faithful recreation of the original, but when El and Royce finish their verses, it spins off into unforeseen directions, with a jazzy, muted trumpet solo and a smooth-as-silk R&B outro. No song in 2011 was better suited for a drive on an oppressive summer day.

09 :: Fleet Foxes
“Helplessness Blues”
from Helplessness Blues

The title track to Fleet Foxes’ sophomore LP begins with Robin Pecknold singing some of his sharpest lyrics to date over a strummy folk jam-out. That unique-snowflake talk in the first verse casts the narrator very much as a 21st-century 20-something, but the sentiment behind the song — confusion about which of life’s many paths to follow — is timeless. The song’s sound truly enters that timeless realm in the second half, where it slows down and opens up to accompany Pecknold’s pastoral orchard dream.

08 :: The Weeknd [ft. Drake]
“The Zone”
from Thursday

Abel Tesfaye delivers one of his finest vocal performances over one of production team Illangelo and Doc McKinney’s most marvelous, sultry beats. Then, out of nowhere (the original .zip file of Thursday posted on The Weeknd’s website didn’t include a “ft. Drake” in this song’s title), Drake shows up and drops one of his best verses in a year filled with great Drake verses. It’s the perfect meeting point of these two artists’ kindred sensibilities.

07 :: Braids
“Plath Heart”
from Native Speaker

On this lead single for Native Speaker, Raphaelle Standall-Preston displays her vocal talent (and her unusual lyrical sensibility) with some lyrics about childbirth — not a common topic in indie rock. And the band does that interlocking-rhythmic-gears thing better than anywhere else on the album, with motorik synths, pinging guitar, drums, bass, and vocals all juxtaposing each other while still fitting together perfectly.

06 :: Phantogram
“Don’t Move”
from Nightlife EP

On their 2010 debut Eyelid Movies, Phantogram showed they could build songs with many layers but still retain an aura of restraint and alluring mystery, with stellar tracks like “When I’m Small,” “Mouthful of Diamonds,” and “Bloody Palms.” They take this approach to the next level on “Don’t Move,” the best song of their career, which ends with a 45-second climax that builds synths, drum loops, layered vocals, and guitar into a glorious pileup.

05 :: Radiohead
from The King of Limbs

The King of Limbs’ standout comes at its closing. “Separator” is a strange song at first glance, with Thom Yorke singing a melody — gorgeous even by his high standards — over a minimal bed of bass and drums. When that wonderful, spindly guitar line enters halfway through, things begin to get a little more dreamy, to match Yorke’s dream-obsessed lyrics. It only gets more spacious from there, and by the end of the song, you practically feel like you’re floating.

04 :: Youth Lagoon
from The Year of Hibernation

“July” starts inauspiciously enough, with Trevor Powers singing about watching 4th of July fireworks from a friend’s roof over a soft keyboard hum. But as things begin to pick up, it becomes clear that there’s heartbreak at the song’s core, and the louder and more anthemic the song gets, the faster and more overwhelmingly the story seems to rush forward, out of childhood’s innocence and boredom into the confusion of adulthood. Powers mourns the loss of that innocence as he howls a soaring chorus that arrives at the song’s climax.

03 :: Cut Copy
“Need You Now”
from Zonoscope

Seeing Cut Copy live this past summer, I realized that they are true masters of (among other things) knowing exactly when to release those “big moments” that lie at the very heart of dance music, and which many musicians spend entire careers trying to pursue. “Need You Now,” the perfect album opener, is one of those big moments after another: one long, perfectly-executed buildup that finally reaches one of the year’s highest musical peaks.

02 :: BOAT
“Forever In Armitron”
from Dress Like Your Idols

“Forever In Armitron” is an aggressively normal song. Where the #1 song on this list does its best to reshape reality in its own image, twisting it over upon itself into some impossible Escherian pretzel, “Armitron” sounds like hundreds, even thousands of other songs already in existence. Not only that, but its lyrics concern themselves with some of life’s more mundane moments. But it’s everyday guitar pop done to absolute perfection. I played and replayed this song this year and still wished I could hear it more often.

01 :: Braids
from Native Speaker

Down the rabbit hole we go.

60 Favorite Songs of 2011: #60-21

•January 8, 2012 • 1 Comment

Well, I got lazy and this is coming along later than I promised earlier. But I needed a breather after posting my favorite albums list, and perhaps you did too. In any case, here’s this, with the top 20 to come tomorrow. Maybe this’ll make a good playlist for your Monday workday.

60 :: Zomby [ft. Panda Bear]
“Things Fall Apart”
from Dedication

Hip-hop-inspired post-dubsteppery over which Noah Lennox does that thing that he does so well.

59 :: Azari & III
“Into the Night”
from Azari & III

These Montrealers crib liberally from disco and MJ on this killer opening cut from their solid self-titled debut.

58 :: Zammuto
from Zammuto [forthcoming]

The Books frontman Nick Zammuto kicked off his solo career with this slice of infectious weirdness.

57 :: Elbow
“The Birds”
from Build A Rocket, Boys!

Elbow plays build-a-song and Guy Garvey soars over their orchestral creations with his heavenly voice.

56 :: Cults
from Cults

I reluctantly had to slash Cults’ debut from my list, but “Abducted” is too irresistible.

55 :: Nicolas Jaar
“Don’t Break My Love”
from Don’t Break My Love EP

Nicolas Jaar’s greatest standalone song appeared not on his album but on a late-in-the-year EP that cemented his status as one of 2011’s brightest new flames.

54 :: Houses
“Soak It Up”
from All Night

The splendid, simmering centerpiece from Houses’ lovely debut.

53 :: Cold Cave
“The Great Pan Is Dead”
from Cherish the Light Years

Maximalist new-wave-goth-pop. Brace yourself.

52 :: The Roots [ft. Big K.R.I.T.]
“Make My”
from undun

Black Thought and K.R.I.T. deliver exquisitely depressive verses about the will to death on the first single from The Roots’ solid undun. Meanwhile, ?uest constructs one of those vintage-sounding jams that he’s only getting better at putting together.

51 :: tUnE-YaRdS
from w h o k i l l

The finest showcase on w h o k i l l for Merrill Garbus’ insane pipes and songwriting steez.

50 :: The Joy Formidable
“A Heavy Abacus”
from The Big Roar

An unabashedly huge cut from The Joy Formidable’s debut. They may not be playing stadiums yet, but their music makes it clear that they’re stadium-bound.

49 :: Junior Boys
“Itchy Fingers”
from It’s All True

This jittery, off-kilter dance track gets It’s All True going with a bang.

48 :: Frank Ocean
from Nostalgia, Ultra.

Frank Ocean’s signature track got him onto mainstream radio without even seeing an official release. How very 2011.

47 :: Yuck
from Yuck

It’s nearly impossible to choose favorites from Yuck’s debut, but “Stutter”‘s flawless construction and wonderfully downbeat mood earned it a place on this list.

46 :: Katy B
“Power On Me”
from Katy On A Mission

“Power On Me” would work as a great dance cut even without Katy B’s vocal, but her spot-on performance (the closest thing to a Robyn track that 2011 delivered to me) takes it to the next level.

45 :: The Go! Team
“Yosemite Theme”
from Rolling Blackouts

Remember the dream house you designed as a kid? The one with the water slide from your bedroom down into the pool? This is the music that’s playing there all the time.

44 :: Neon Indian
“Polish Girl”
from Era Extraña

Alan Palomo’s more polished sound coalesced into this slice of perfect pop longing on his sophomore album.

43 :: Battles [ft. Matias Aguayo]
“Ice Cream”
from Gloss Drop

Not what I expected from Battles, but I like the new flavor.

42 :: Rihanna [ft. Calvin Harris]
“We Found Love”
from Talk That Talk

This needs no explanation.

41 :: Washed Out
“Eyes Be Closed”
from Within and Without

It was sad to exclude Washed Out’s debut LP from my top albums list, but build-up and release in the back half of “Eyes Be Closed” is one of my favorite 60-second passages of music from this year.

40 :: M83
“Midnight City”
from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

The biggest song from one of the year’s biggest albums.

39 :: Middle Brother
from Middle Brother

If you peeped my 2009 and 2010 lists, you know I love Delta Spirit, so I can’t deny this track sporting an impassioned — dare I say Lennonesque? — vocal performance from Delta Spirit frontman Matt Vazquez.

38 :: Kendrick Lamar
from Section.80

This closing track from Kendrick Lamar’s debut boasts a fresh J. Cole beat and some of this new talent’s best verses.

37 :: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
“Heart In Your Heartbreak”
from Belong

These Montrealers crib liberally from disco and MJ on this killer opening cut from their solid self-titled debut.

36 :: xxxy
“Ordinary Things”
from You Always Start It/Ordinary Things 7″

Skittering, fluttering post-dubstep.

35 :: Wye Oak
from Civilian

I never clicked with Wye Oak’s third album, but its title track sums up everything I love about the group.

34 :: DJ Khaled [ft. Drake, Rick Ross & Lil Wayne]
“I’m On One”
from We The Best Forever

The mystery of what the point of DJ Khaled is remains unsolved, but if he continues to facilitate tracks like this posse cut (on which hip-hop’s newest and greatest fraternity kill a Noah “40” Shebib/T-Minus beat), you won’t hear me speaking ill of him.

33 :: Wilco
“Whole Love”
from The Whole Love

“Art of Almost” and “One Sunday Morning” were the real attention-grabbing boundary-pushers on The Whole Love, but on the sorta-title track, they hit that perfect-Wilco-song sweet spot.

32 :: Joker [ft. Jessie Ware]
“The Vision (Let Me Breathe)”
from The Vision

Alas, The Vision wasn’t the Joker album I was hoping for, but its title track is a solid gold jam.

31 :: Yuck
“Get Away”
from Yuck

More Yuck, doing what they do best.

30 :: Active Child
“Hanging On”
from Yuck

The perfect calling card for Active Child’s alluring, otherworldly style, “Hanging On” shows his ability to balance texture and atmosphere with strong pop instincts.

29 :: The Middle East
“Dan’s Silverleaf”
from I Want That You Are Always Happy

This lively cut from The Middle East’s otherwise bleak album surges to life with this gorgeous, uptempo cut.

28 :: Gang Gang Dance
“Glass Jar”
from Eye Contact

“I can hear everything. It’s everything time.”

27 :: Jay-Z & Kanye West
“Niggas In Paris”
from Watch the Throne

I knew the Jay/Ye hybrid would be capable of many things, but I did not expect dumbass meme rap like “Niggas In Paris” to be one of them. And yet here we are, and it has taken over the world. I think the reasons are obvious. It makes me want to jump up and down and yell the lyrics and throw things.

26 :: Vetiver
“Can’t You Tell”
from The Errant Charm

Subliminal music. A summer breeze bottled into a song.

25 :: Beyoncé
from 4

A vocal performance for the history books.

24 :: Rostam
from Wood [single]

This debut solo single from Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij shows that he’s capable of crafting a sort of hybridized sample-pop quite different from VW’s work. Check out what I wrote about “Wood” here.

23 :: Todd Terje
from Ragysh EP


22 :: Cut Copy
“Sun God”
from Zonoscope

Cut Copy’s unstoppable closing cut from Zonoscope begins with a lengthy and excellent disco pop jams and then continues its journey into the 15-minute range with a spectacular, mathematically executed techno breakdown.

21 :: Pusha T [ft. Rick Ross & Ab-Liva]
“I Still Wanna”
from Fear of God II: Let Us Pray

Pusha, Ross, and Re-Up Gang member Ab-Liva go to town all over one of the hardest beats of the year.