The Top Songs Of 2011 You Wish You Heard

3 Jan

Bombay Bicycle Club – How Much Sleep Can You Shallow

With the rise of “clubs” in the names of up-and-coming bands (Two Door Cinema Club, Bombay Bicycle Club, 2 AM Club) it’s easy to be confused. But UK Rockers, Bombay Bicycle Club, have been kicking up the dust in the indie rock scene since 2006. The band’s third release, A Different Kind Of Fix, migrated back to the electronic and wired-up rock music of their first album. Grungy guitars, insistent drums, and mournful lyrics are also found on the third album’s 12 tracks. Though there are many songs that stand on their own, the album opener, “How Much Sleep Can You Swallow,” is pop music at its peak. Energetic and vibrant, these youngsters are showing no sign of growing up anytime soon.

Siriusmo – Red Knob

Berlin based producer, Siriusmo, released an extensive collection of EPs over the first decade of the 2000s.  To the whimsical The Uninvited Guest EP, an electronic realization of the childhood fairytale The Three Little Pigs, to the  Diskoding EP, a transformation of the noun “disco” into verb “diskoding,”  I’m not the only one to recognize his uncanny charm of production (his list of collaborators includes Thom Yorke & Modeselektor). Yet, despite his decade career, the studio wizard just released his first LP this year, dusting off selections from his old EPs with a few new productions sprinkled in. “Red Knob” is the final cut off the Mosaik — an agitated furry of unpredictable electronic music.

Foster The People – Houdini (RAC Mix)

Mike Foster, founder of 2011’s indie posterboy band claimed, “I wasn’t shy about taking my guitar out at a party. I wanted to be the center of attention.”  After a successful debut and months of chart placing on Spotify, I guess Foster rubbed the magic lamp.  After all, what other bands can attribute their plummet into stardom to a song about “pumped up kicks” aside from DC-rapper W.A.L.E? Though I would write off their debut, Torches, as mediocre, the RAC Mix manages to patch the holes in the sinking ship. The remix begins with an arpeggiated synthesizer melody that is harmonized by distant minor piano chords. Mysterious! But soon punchy toms come rolling in, and the kick and snare remind you that you are not watching Blade Runner, but are engulfed by the dance floor — an imaginary landscape that RAC seamlessly weaves.

AM & Shawn Lee – Promises Are Never Far From Lies

Arising as a collaboration between AM (Los Angeles) and Shawn Lee (London), the duo released Celestial Electric as documentation to their new music relationship.  Much of the album borrows an aesthetic from decades past, often mingling between soul and disco from the 70s and 80s. Analog synthesizers, and funky grooves are the foundations to the instrumental melodies. “Promises Are Never Far From Lies” is pure synth-pop bliss, beginning with an infectious synthesizer melody that slinks into warm Hammond organ harmony.

ymusic – Beautiful Mechanical

Ever heard of Vitamin String Quartet? If you heard your favorite Coldplay single re-arranged for a string quartet, it was probably them. Or how about your favorite Muse single, you know the one about super-massive black holes? Try listening to it scored for super-massive cellos.  Many classical ensembles are blurring the lines between the “classical” and “popular” music world. At first glance, the track listing of ymusic’s latest album, Beautiful Mechanical, seems similar: chamber music arrangements of standard indie rock songs. However, it’s not a surprise most of songs were arranged and composed by indie rock musicians affiliated with ymusic after reading about their impressive creditials. From My Brightest Diamond and Bon Iver, ymusic are the untold story behind many arrangements on successful indie rock albums. The album’s title track, composed by Ryan Lott (Son Lux), is perhaps a minimalistic homage to these classically trained musician’s love for popular music. As the work unfolds, flurries of brief melodic and repetitive structures transpire into an exciting, holistic composition. Robotic at times, but it is indeed the effect that is soundly described by the composition’s title — “beautifully mechanical.”

The Hood Internet – Lump Sum Of Paris

The development of remix culture continues to correlate with the development digital technology. Now digital audio workstations and computers enable amateur remixers to craft their own mixers with no left-over tape scraps and in half the time. What defines a good “mash-up,” a combination of one or more popular songs, is how the all the parts gel together — perceiving the forest from the trees. How does the vocal stem stand against the sampled instrumental parts? The Hood Internet, an online mash-up collective, demonstrate this paradox of easily creating mash-ups but the difficulty of making harmonious mixes. “Lump Sum of Paris” combines Bon Iver Vs. Friendly Fires Vs. Aeroplane, a collection of artists one would think could never mesh together. But as Justin Vernon’s crooning vocals shamelessly glide over electronic blips and bops of Friendly Fires, it’s easy for one to foresee how such a unique combination could inspire future music collaborations. Perhaps this folk monster might purchase a few synthesizers for an upcoming release.

Violens – When To Let Go

After release of their 2010 debut, Violens took a different approach to song releases during the follow year. Over the course of 9 months in 2011, the band released a new single on a monthly schedule packaged with weird and tantalizing square images.  Currently spread across Europe and the US, band members independently recorded parts for new songs and compiled them. It’s a digital Postal Service, and yet despite the miles of  distance, Violens managed to release some of the most interesting music of 2011. My pick is from one of the early months, during that ephemeral period between winter and spring. “When To Let Go” is a showcase of brilliant song-smithery:  bittersweet and hopeful, the song reminds me of, dare I admit, a Coldplay B-Side.

Chairlift – Sidewalk Safari

Aaron Pfenning, a founding member of Chairlift, said farewell to fellow bandmembers in 2010. Currently, just a duo, Chairlift is ready to release their up and coming album, Something, in January 2012. The band shows no sign of slowing down (sorry Aaron), as is evident by several prereleases in 2011. To tease out some hype, three songs selected from upcoming LP where released during the closing months of 2011. “Sidewalk Safari” is my favorite pre-release. Intricately orchestrated (hopefully showcasing the production aesthetics for the upcoming LP) and cleverly narrated, the song is a deadly threat, analogous to Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game: “All of the bones in your body / are in way to few pieces for me / time to do something about it / (if you know what I mean).” Watch out street goers, because Caroline Polachek is on a sidewalk safari.

(for a jaw-dropping collaboration between Violens, Chairlift and… Justin Bieber? click here.)

Bonecold – Rekka

Arguably one of the most influential electronic musicians of the 21st century, Burial has set the stage for contemporary producers. His earmarks are readily identifiable: pitch-tweaked a cappella tracks, field recordings of rain and burning fire, slinky drums, and ambient synthesizers. Many producers have since adopted these techniques in attempts to replicate Burial’s novelty. However, no producer has pulled it off with such integrity as UK’s own, Bonecold. The British producer released his first album online through the Broken Bubble label. Somnipath is short and cogent, with many tracks beginning and ending within several minutes. Despite the dubious adaption of Burial’s previous work, both artists are able to maintain their own novelty. I would argue this novelty lies in the degree of abstraction — while Burial’s music maintains a groove and periodicity, Bonecold’s tracks seem to meander aimlessly, never cultivating into a rhythmic or predictable pattern. Recommended for those affluent with electronica.

Rubik – World Around You

One of the most exciting bands in the world right now, Rubik, released Solar in early 2011.  Though the album feels short, many songs are arranged thoroughly, with ideas strung together like cinema. The album opens with a brief horn fugue, quickly escalating into “World Around You.” Cymbals crash into pizzicato plucks, as Artturi Taira‘s honey-glazed vocals drip over the instrumentation. The production on this album is unmarred, with hints of Radiohead and TV On The Radio filling the gaps between the lead instruments. Though the album seems to come and go with the snap of a finger, it is not without dynamics. Solar is certainly an album that will continue to shine.

Buck 65 – Paper Airplane (Feat. Jenn Grant)

I’ll admit it, I have a soft spot for Buck 65. What drew me to the Canadian MC / producer, was his unhip-hop sounding “hip-hop.” Most of my friends immediately write off the lo-fi, country influence of his productions as adolescent meddling. Instead of the expected sampled funk breaks or jazzy interludes, commonly comprising independent hip-hop music, slide guitars and clunking banjos serenade the lost cowboy while he reminiscences about the “old” days.  His latest release, 20 Odd Years, is an homage to Buck’s two decade career, exploring collaborations with a variety of Canadian acts (Islands & Jenn Grant) in a series of small EP releases.  “Paper airplanes” is a gem, as Buck’s signature “the lumberjack next door”  character swoons over lost love:  “How we miss this love,” collaborator Jenn Grant confesses. And Buck agrees, “eventually the Shepard must slaughter his sheep.” Perhaps that’s why, despite the poor and sparse production of his music, Buck has been able to sustain 20 odd years of music. There is no glam, there is no front — it’s painfully honest.

TV On The Radio – Will Do

2011 brought butterflied and dragons for TV On The Radio. The band returned from a year long-hiatus, released its 4th studio album, and completed a decade of music making. 2011, however, was not just celebrations — bassist Gerard Smith lost his life to lung cancer in late April, shortly after the fourth album’s release. The first single off of Nine Types Of Light, “Will Do,” is an exemplar of contemporary music production and perhaps the rich musical exploration of TV On The Radio.  The fundamentals of pop music are there: great melodies, great harmony, and great lyrics — certainly qualities that would elicit envy from most songwriters. But if you listen closer, ambient shrieks and environmental recordings are interpolated into the void behind these fundamentals. No space is left behind the curtain, and despite the single being a relatively “simple” pop love song, the creative design resides in these haunting, textural additions.

Leif & The Future – Walked Away

Leif & The Future topped last year’s best songs of 2010. With just a few singles up their sleeve, the Norway band released their debut album in September 2010 on Brilliance records. Appropriately titled “Songs Of Youth,” its easy to sympathize to the bandleader’s, Leif Haaland’s, fascination with the 80s. Though the album resonates with a neon aura of analog synthesizers,  808 claps, and chorus-processed guitar work — this is an album refined for listeners of contemporary popular music. Like a good wine, we appreciate it more with age. Most will feel as if the album’s 10 tracks were ripped from its decade of purported origin — an elaborate feat and surely this was Leif and the gang’s intention. Give a listen to the second single off the album, “Walked Away,” and let your ears be convinced.

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3 Responses to “The Top Songs Of 2011 You Wish You Heard”

  1. Luc Duval (@PedagogicLuc) January 9, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    Great post! I’ve added a couple groups to my list of those I want to get to know better. Oh, and that Bieber video you linked to was fantastic.

    But I have to disagree with your assessment of that Houdini remix. It sounds like an amateur mashup.

    • Parker January 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

      Totally! I am currently obsessed with Chairlift and have been a big fan of Violens in the past. It’s great to see two brooklyn bands collab, especially on a Bieber track. I do dig the Houdini mix, but I can understand how it could sound amateur. Check out more of the RAC mixes, I dig them all!

  2. K February 2, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    There are some songs that never go out of style. The classics that have been able to stand the test of time are known by two or three generations. The same goes for songs people learn to play on guitar. Some songs whether you’re 15 or 50 are just staples you have to learn along the way.

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