Saturday, December 10, 2011

On Warmer Music's Favorite Songs of 2011 [20-11]

Welcome to the second installment of On Warmer Music's favorite songs of this year. Before we get started, first a quick review.

[See Tracks 30-21]
30. Cold Rain - Talib Kweli
29. Summer Song - Matt Duncan
28. Baby's Arms - Kurt Vile
27. Holy Holy - Wye Oak
26. Freaks and Geeks - Childish Gambino
25. I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl - Wavves
24. Midnight City - M83
23. Time Is Right - The Feelies
22. Weekend - Smith Westerns
21. Metropolis - Illinois

And now, on to the next ten!

20. Video Games - Lana Del Rey  Buy Video Games b/w Blue Jeans
So Lana Del Rey has somehow managed to become overexposed before she even released an album and inspire endless debates on what it means to be "authentic" or "indie" or some such thing. It's probably true that her press has far outstripped her newsworthiness (good or bad) but it's also true that the few songs that have hit the internet so far are worth listening to. She mixes breathy singsong with classic 50's noir and Springsteen imagery over a lazy piano, weepy strings and a playful harp to pleasing effect. I don't know how well this will fare over the course of an album. For right now though, her few released songs, especially "Video Games" are memorizing. Especially so when paired with video featuring black and white imagery juxtaposed with modern scenes (even if they do come perilously close to ripping off those Walt Whitman Levis ads). Call this pleasure "guilty" if you must, but don't deny its appeal.

19. Shaking Hands - Title Tracks  Buy In Blank
Title Tracks writes upbeat, hooky indie pop like it's about to go out of style. Each of the past two years has given us forty minute adrenaline shots from the DC band. This year's was the first recorded with a full band and it shows in the energy bursting out of songs like lead track, "Shaking Hands". From it's tinny but frenetic strumming the song bursts into full flower after the first verse and never lets up from there. The band throws in just enough hitches and slight tempo shifts to make you appreciate the usual jaunty pace and have you eagerly anticipating each "everything goes away" in the chorus. With any justice this band would be headlining, not opening cross-country tours.

Shaking Hands by Title Tracks

18. Codeine - Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit  Buy Here We Rest
"If there's one thing I can't stand / it's this bar and this cover band". What a great opening line for a country song. Since leaving the Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell has continued on with his new band, the 400 Unit. They've never made a bum record but each release seems to have one song that stands out as fully worthy of the former Trucker's legacy. "Codeine" is bar room weeper where a man misses his wife whose addiction has driven her into the arm of "one of my friends". If that weren't honky-tonk enough, the mournful fiddle, weepy strings and swelling pedal steel put this over the top as an all-time great cryin' and drunk, 3am singalong song if there ever was one.

17. Never Quite Free - Mountain Goats  Buy All Eternal's Deck
As soon as I heard this song, I could immediately imagine it in a movie. It would either be played immediately after coming out of a dark-night-of-the-soul moment or just as the movie resolves and switches to the end credits. It's not easy to write a song so warm and happy with a strong dose of clear-eyed hopefulness without turning it into over-the-top pablum but John Darnielle has earned his moments of hope over the course of albums about meth heads, violently dying love and childhood physical abuse. The ringing piano plays well behind his upbeat resolve and the lyrics full of sharp, Tolkien-meets-King-James turns of phrase set the whole thing off perfectly. Though All Eternals Deck is merely a "good" not "great" Mountain Goats album, it's still packed with songs like this, which is a continual gift. So go, walk thy faith but tell everyone what you've seen.

16. The Leibniz Language - Le Butcherettes  Buy Sin, Sin, Sin
So were Le Butcherettes scientifically created in a lab to be the ultimate rock critic fodder? They've got a powerful front woman with a provocative name, they play songs dripping with either sex or literary illusions and are a filthy, amazing live act. This "The Leibniz Language" is practically a suite with multiple different sections flipping between keyboard-driven freakouts and meditative interludes. What's being meditated upon, you ask? Why the philosophy of 17th century mathematician and metaphysicist Gottfried Leibniz, of course! That's not any easy combination to pull off, but when you get a band like Le Butcherettes who can make it work, it's fucking amazing.

15. Pulaski - Drive-By Truckers  Buy Go-Go Boots
As a Polack and lifelong Chicagoan I couldn't help but hope for a song about either the great Polish general or local holiday when I saw "Pulaski" on the tracklist for Go-Go Boots. Like Sufjan Stevens before them, the Drive-By Truckers ignored Polish angle and instead wrote a beautiful song about a small-town girl. She's from Pulaski, Tennessee and Mike Cooley tells her story of longing to leave home for LA's glamour with tenderness and an eye for detail. "She thought the men in California would be different" he sings, "she grew up watching them on her tv / but all the men she came to know in California / left her longing for Pulaski, Tennessee." Perhaps the best of a series of gems from yet another solid album by Alabama's greatest treasure.

14. Waiting For Kirsten - Jens Lekman  Buy An Argument With Myself [EP]
Q: In what way are Kanye West and Jens Lekman the same?
A: There's a lot of things about them and their music that could be incredibly grating if they weren't so damn good at pulling it off.

Take the highlight from his latest EP, "Waiting For Kirsten" it's a fey song filled with swooping strings and mandolin about our hero waiting meekly outside a hotel to meet Kirsten Dunst. It's filled with northern European lecturing about universal health care and nothing ever ends up happening. And yet it's a delightful trip that makes you smile rather than cringe at all those fey lines and over the top metaphors. Lekman's songs are like your favorite movie - they create worlds so alluring you wish you could just go and live in them, which you can. But only for 3:47.

13. War's Blazing Disciples - The Eternals  Buy Approaching The Energy Field
"It's pandemonium" - a fitting first line for the lead track off the Eternals most recent album. It starts with a sample of what sounds like a old James Brown song. Maybe? Then come in the chopped up cymbals and jittery bassline. As Damon Locks starts rap...err singing(?) a phatty keyboard and string sample jump on board as well. It's a catchy yet almost disturbing and it keeps you moving your hips but also looking over your shoulder. It's paranoid p-funk with a punk's attitude and Danger Mouse's sampling fetish. That description doesn't really do it justice anyway, so just press play below already.

12. Nat Geo (feat. Chris Lee) - G-Side  Buy The One... Cohesive
G-Side is from Huntsville, Alabama. If you know nothing else about them, know that, because it defines them. They're from the south but light years from Atlanta. They hustle and dream of making it big but never loose their blue-collar mentality because there's only so far you can go in Huntsville. "Nat Geo"'s got a dirty thundering beat that offsets it's tribal intro but it earns its title through an Enya sample and catchy hook from Norwegian Chris Lee. The self-examination of the lyrics show conflicted hustlers working hard to better their lives but worried that this success has cost them a place of their own in this world. The image of flying above the earth to "see what God made and see what man made" puts the stereotypical rap star grandiosity seem petty and insignificant. Few songs this catchy have this much to say.

11. The Summer Place - Fountains of Wayne  Buy Sky Full of Holes
Fountains of Wayne loves summer songs but they can never seem to make them happy be it the missing lover of "It Must Be Summer" or celebration of loss in "Mexican Wine" and now the, "The Summer Place". In this song we have the story of a woman whose nostalgia for her lost youth is kicked into overdrive while on vacation even though examination shows those years weren't that great to begin with. Only Fountains of Wayne could get away with starting a tender, witty portrait with a non-sequiter like "she's been afraid of the Cuisinart / since 1977" but they pull it off. As Schlesinger spins the sad story, Collingswood chimes in with a brief but effective mini guitar hook propelled by rushing bass and drums and before you know it you've been treated to another three minutes of pop perfection the way only Fountains can do it.

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