Friday, December 16, 2011

11-11 Mixtape

It's that special time of year. The holidays are upon us and the year is winding down. That can only mean one thing: It's time for everyone to share their Best of lists. I hate to admit it but it has taken the better part of the last week or so to compile my year-end favorites. Last year, I got ambitious and laid out my Top 50 Albums of 2010. And as much as I wanted to pick my 50 favorite albums of this year, I had to come to the conclusion that this year was filled with a ton of obsessions and repeated listens. That being said, I'm cutting down my albums list by half. Yeah, it was a tough decision but it had to be done. More on that in the next Random Ramblings post but for this one, I'll be sharing my Top 11 songs of 2011. And like I do every year, it's here in mixtape form. Let's count 'em down!

11-11 Mixtape
Also, check out the Spotify link to this mixtape here 11 in 11

11. "3 Sisters" Puerto Rico Flowers
This definitely won't be the first time I make this claim, but 2011 was the year that I embraced my goth leanings a bit more. Sure, I always rocked the eyeliner but it seemed indie was getting a bit darker, as well. And this band was evidence of that. Pitchfork reviewed Puerto Rico Flowers' great album, 7, and made the comparison to Bauhaus and The Cure. That's all I needed to hear. John Sharkey III, former singer of Philadelphia noise-rockers, Clockcleaner (don't worry, I've never heard of them either), flexes his Ian Curtis-like baritone on this while a rumbling bassline and atmospheric synths slither underneath. The result is what I'd imagine Depeche Mode would sound like if they tried to cover The Cure's "Fascination Street" - which is to say, it's awesome.

  Puerto Rico Flowers - 3 Sisters by Fan Death Records

10. "Stay Away" Charli XCX
I swear, I don't get all my music taste from Pitchfork. It just seems that way sometimes. From what I just recently learned, Charli XCX is a 19-year-old British electropop artist who is self-described as "dark pop." One listen to "Stay Away" and it's clear that that description is pretty accurate. I'll admit, it was a tough choice as to which song to include on this mixtape since her second single, the equally awesome and very Ladytron-like, "Nuclear Seasons" has been on constant rotation on BriPod, but the slightly stuttering rhythm of "Stay Away" edges it out. Oh and that midsong rap most definitely reminds me of T'Pau's sole hit, "Heart and Soul."

9. "Broken Record" Katy B
I'm a sucker for dance pop. There I admit it. It shouldn't come as a shock though, since the song that topped my 2010 mixtape was Robyn's "Dancing On My Own." But since she didn't put out anything new this year, I had to look elsewhere for my pop fix. And that's how I came across Katy B. "Broken Record" starts off pretty normally- throbbing bass, cooing vocals- then after 30 seconds, the chorus kicks in like fireworks with shards of jungle and yes, even a hint of dubstep (the UK version not the meatheaded US version, a.k.a. "Brostep.") It's the kind of chorus you need to hear again and luckily it happens a minute later. Oh and the song ends with the sound of crackling vinyl.

8. "Back In Bloom" SULK
Sometimes honesty is the best policy. So I'll come clean on this one: SULK is a very recent discovery for me. As in, I just heard them for the first time maybe a month ago. From what I'm told, and I won't swear that this is truth, but SULK is a London band that arose from the ashes of The Ruling Class who, incidentally was also a recent discovery. What I know about The Ruling Class is that they had a very awesome Stone Roses sounding song called "If You Wonder" that's also worth searching for. Anyway, SULK's "Back In Bloom" still has hints of that psychedelic Britpop, Madchester sound but with a layer of shimmering shoegaze thrown on top of it. This song is proof that guitars should always sound like they're aiming skyward.

7. "Belong" The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
Brooklyn's The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are one of those bands whose names can sometimes work against them. It just sort of overflows with cuteness. Still, their 2009 self-titled debut album showed that even dreampop can be endearing in that "awww" kind of way. On album #2, producers Flood and Alan Moulder worked the same kind of magic that made the Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream one of the 90's alt-rock classics. On "Belong," it's about balancing that rush of distorted guitars with the chorus that's tailor-made for sing-alongs. And somewhere Billy Corgan is overcome with jealousy.

  The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - Belong by Slumberland Records

6. "Pretty Little Hand" earthquake party!
It's not often that I fall for a local Boston band. Sure, I have my favorites like Hallelujah The Hills, The Dents, Neptune, and Autochrome (another recent crush.) But it was different with earthquake party! They're noisy, punky, synthy, and punchy as hell. As a matter of fact, the first time I saw them the guitars and the keyboards were so drenched in distortion that it was difficult to tell them apart. But what worked in their favor was their songs are extremely addictive...and extremely short. Last time I saw them, their set lasted all of 21 minutes. I'm pretty sure they played 10 songs in that span of time. "Pretty Little Hand" comes off their latest cassette release vs. Pizza and it's quite honestly, the most exhilarating and catchy 138 seconds you can ever spend. Just try to resist it.

5. "What About Us" Handsome Furs
I was very upset when I found out that Wolf Parade was going on hiatus. They quickly became one of my favorite bands. Thankfully, in the time both during, and now, after Wolf Parade, Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry have come into their own as Handsome Furs. "What About Us," the lead single from their excellent third album, Sound Kapital, wouldn't sound out of place in a goth/industrial club with it's thumping beat, wheezing synths, and Boeckner's surprisingly restrained vocals almost inviting the listener to go ahead and break his heart. 

  Handsome Furs - What About Us by subpop

4. "The City" Patrick Wolf
This song just screams 80's. And that's not necessarily a bad thing especially when the end result is a song as catchy as "The City." Art school fop, Patrick Wolf knows a thing or two about dramatic glam pop and here he lets some light in and aims big - huge, sunny chorus, fingersnaps, horns, and yes, even a sax solo. It almost works a little too well...

3. "Midnight City" M83
Speaking of the 80's and sax solos, and well, aiming big, Anthony Gonzalez did all of that with his latest opus, the heavenly double-album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. I still get shocked when I hear "Midnight City" on commercial radio, but if any song deserves to be heard by just about everyone, it's this. What's funny to me is that it's that big synth hook that gets stuck in my head - it makes that Kenny G-worthy sax solo at the end forgivable.

2. "The Great Pan Is Dead" Cold Cave
Cold Cave's last album, Cherish The Light Years is easily in my Top 10 of 2011. It pretty much takes everything that I love and mashes it together. Not since the first time I heard The Faint's Danse Macabre have I fallen instantly in love with an album. But it was Cherish's first single that blew me away. "The Great Pan Is Dead" is a scorching industrial rocker, plan and simple. Grinding guitars, pummeling drums, soaring synths, and Wesley Eisold's deep, dark vocals - to me, it's just instant awesomeness.

  Cold Cave - The Great Pan Is Dead by artsandcraftsmx

1. "Whirring" The Joy Formidable
It's no secret that I'm a bit obsessed with The Joy Formidable (or as I call them, JoyFo.) And honestly, I'm happy that they're getting bigger. Now, if I want to be technical, then I'd point out that "Whirring" first appeared on the band's 2009 EP A Balloon Called Moaning (released in the States in 2010.) However, this version that lands the top spot on the 11-11 Mixtape is from their debut full-length, The Big Roar. The big difference, aside from the better production value, is the added 4 minute storm of noise at the end. I'll admit, at first I thought it was a bit excessive. Then after a few listens, it became my favorite part of the song. Now whenever I hear Ritzy sing "I can see you staying here" for the last time, my first thought is always, "OK, here we go..." because I know what's coming. Honestly, once the double bass kicks in, I want to thrash around and break stuff.

And although the studio version is on the 8tracks Mixtape included above, I thought I'd share their colossal 9-minute performance they did for KEXP. It's mindblowingly awesome!

So there you go. My Top 11 Songs of 2011, naturally named 11-11 Mixtape. Coming soon, my Top 25 Albums of the year gone by. So until then...

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