Songs of 2011, Tracks 30-21

I know, I know, I should have published these yesterday.  The thing is – I actually have a social life.  So why waste any more time writing anything here when you’re chomping at the bit to see what songs I came up with for the third section of the list?  Well, wait no more…here they are.

30. “Bedroom Eyes” – Dum Dum Girls

A band that sounds like the love child of Blondie and the Donnas, Dum Dum Girls delivers a slice of fried gold with this slightly vintage take on drugs, sex, and rock & roll.  Dee Dee Penny (the stage name for Kristen Gundred) wrote lyrics that describe a hazy longing, as the protagonist lays on her bed, with the room swaying around her due to “some strange pill.”  The unconventional structure of the song merely reiterates the influence of the drug, as there are only two verses, with the rest of the song simply a scattering of lines repeated at least four times in a row in crystal clear pitch.  Penny used to be in Grand Ole Party, a phenomenal three-piece band, and her ease with music certainly translates to this song; a song that could comfortably exist in the past three or four decades.

29. “D.I.S.C.O.” – The Young Professionals

The Israeli duo of Ivri Lider and Yonathan Goldshtein sampled an obscure 1980 single called “D.I.S.C.O” from French band Ottawan, creating a monstrous electro-pop song in the process.  This song in and of itself is something of an unearthed secret, with only 2300 people listening to the group on last.fm; however, a shred of popularity has come from YouTube and the single’s eye-popping video.  Now that they’ve signed with Universal Records, expect to be seeing more of them in the coming year.  Lyrically, each verse splits the acronym of the title into more reasons the protagonist hates his ex-lover, with an example being “D is for doing what I want/I is for saying that I can’t/S is for somebody you’re not/C for don’t call me and/O is for oh no.”  The heavy synth and keyboard sound, with distorted notes throughout, create a frenzied intensity meant to get you on the floor.  Not since Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” has a self-loathing song about a break-up been so infectious and dance-worthy.

28. “Colours” – GROUPLOVE

This aggressive, pounding song with a flurry of stuttered lyrics and an almost cheerful rage bursting through the instruments is a breath of fresh air in a time when the radio was filled with some processed form of “music.”  LA-based quintet GROUPLOVE, led by charming frontman Christian Zucconi, staked their claim in the scene with this incredible song, recorded in an almost manic tone, a song of vigor and questionable sanity.  Seeming to describe a man’s willful descent into madness, the lyrics bounce in your ears, conveying feelings of enthusiasm and youthful vitality.  Zucconi’s nasal voice floats up and down the scale, appearing at times to almost screech in earnestness.  “Colours,” quite simply, affects the audience, regardless of their current mindset.  This is not a song you simply tune out as background noise; this is a song that stands defiantly front and center, demanding your full attention.

27. “Hold On” – Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes really does hail from Alabama and represents a veritable resurrection of soul, recalling an era of Motown domination, but with more edge.  Their sound is deeper than the slick stylings of the Detroit groups, a rawer rhythm and blues that features reverberated electric guitar, pounding piano keys, and a bass line that beckons from the Mississipi Delta.  Lead vocalist Brittany Howard wails and moans over insane blues riffs throughout the track, projecting a voice that seems to explode out of her.  With a sound as unique and beautiful as this, it’s no wonder Paste Magazine named Alabama Shakes as the best new band of the year.  That’s not the only industry buzz they generated, either; be prepared to watch this group storm the national audience after a blistering set at the Bowery Ballroom turned some incredibly important heads.

26. “Beach” – Peter Wolf Crier

The emotionless electric guitar on this track may recall Tom Morello from his Audioslave days, but the furious drumming and layered instrumentals here won’t leave you feeling as dead as the guitar seems.  Overarching percussion almost creates the sound of lapping water and crashing waves, with probably half of the song lacking any kind of vocals.  Lyrics stumble over each other when vocals are present, as the mix has them float over you, entangled like a fish in a net.  Utilizing rain sticks on a song that sounds of melancholy and abandonment is an inspired choice.  Minneapolis-based Brian Moen and Peter Pisano work together to craft this track that will certainly stay with you for quite some time.

25. “Billie Holiday” – Warpaint

The ethereal sound of Warpaint’s perfect harmonies literally surrounds you from the first few seconds of the song.  Perhaps best known for formerly including Shannyn Sossamon and Josh Klinghoffer of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame, this now all-female band certainly isn’t found lacking musically.  The song is almost gauzy, similar in structure to, say, Mazzy Star’s “Into Dust,” but markedly more complex.  The smoky harmonies of the song transform the original lyrics to Smokey Robinson-penned “My Guy,” creating aural Klonopin as an end result.  Spelling out Billie Holiday’s name throughout the track, Emily Kokal’s vocals relegate the listener into a trance, a dream-like state that soothes the soul.  The transformation of the original’s giddy lyrics into this aching ode to a broken heart are, in short, phenomenal.

24. “Hold You Down” – Childish Gambino

When the news trickled around the blogosphere that Donald Glover was attempting a rapping career, I’m sure a fair amount of people laughed at this seemingly foolish endeavor.  Then they actually listened to his work.  Despite being best known for appearing weekly as Troy on Community (and being slightly less known as a 30 Rock writer for three years), Glover  has legitimate talent and arresting presence throughout his recordings.  The best track from his album Camp is “Hold You Down” – a double entendre that points out how prejudice suffocates cultures while also using slang that means “support or protect.”  Glover constructs the rare rap song that utilizes strings, a piano, hand claps, and earnest, poignant lyrics about racism in America.  He details his experiences growing up as an African-American man, with subtle and blatant bigotry rearing its ugly head on a near constant basis.  Besides being a beautifully crafted song with truly inventive flow, the lyrics latch themselves to you and hammer home the message.  One of the best by far? “You’re not NOT racist ’cause The Wire‘s in your Netflix queue.”

23. “Midnight City” – M83

French musician Anthony Gonzalez, better known as the frontman of M83, succeeded in 2011 where more popular acts like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry failed miserably – he utilized a saxophone in an organic and perfectly suitable way.  This song was a bit of a critical darling over the year, with blogs fawning over the sprawling lyrics dedicated to downtown Los Angeles and the heavily distorted vocal samples.  Pitchfork, PopMatters, and Paste all designated it as the best (or second-best) song of the entire year, with it’s 80s retro/futuristic sound and instantly recognizable riff.  It’s sure to be one of the most famous songs of the shoegazing genre, almost defying classification as a result of its extraordinary construction.  If you’ve somehow managed to get through the entire year without hearing it, prepare for a truly transcendent experience.

22. “Immigrant Song (featuring Karen O)” – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Only these three artists would have the courage to take on a song as distinctive in the popular memory as Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”  I think one could argue that this version actually improves upon the original.  Meant to be the lynchpin in the duo’s score for David Fincher’s version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, “Immigrant Song” is a shrieking and deadly track, with Karen O wailing like a banshee unhinged.  The cover reimagines the original, with Karen screaming the lyrics and the guitars delivering an almost industrial sound; Lisbeth Salander’s anger emanates outward in every note, with every anguished scream.  Reznor and Ross induce a frenzied anxiety throughout, with the emotion of the song building to a fever pitch by the time you reach the pounding conclusion.  In fact, the instruments used in the final thirty seconds of the track seem to recall a tattoo artist’s needle: obviously apropos given the film the men were scoring.

21. “Ignite” – The Raveonettes

Danish rockers Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo returned to glory this year with their most recent album, Raven in the Grave.  Known for their close, two-part harmonies and their electric-guitar heavy sound, the Raveonettes craft a song where the protagonist implores their current lover to shake off the current depression enveloping their relationship.  Part of the chorus conveys the fervor of this request, with lines like, “What if I could free you, what if you could smile ?/What if I could make your heart ignite just for a while?”  However, the desperation of the lyrics fail to completely mask an almost malicious tone inherent in the song.  As Spin wrote in their review, “There’s menace in the beauty, and beauty in the menace.”  I couldn’t agree more.

So the third section of the list takes a hard turn into some bleaker, introspective territory.  What did you think?  Are you ready for some more light-hearted songs?  Maybe less rock, rage, and racism would help?  Fear not, as the next twenty songs will expand the spectrum even more, and there will be plenty of exuberant dancing involved.

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