Obligatory List – Best Songs of 2011

Wild Flag: The dream of the 90's is alive in Portland

Hey readers: apologizes for the dearth of blog posts over the past few months, but I just wrapped production on a new docu-series for OWN Canada called Gastown Gamble and have spent the past 12 days indulging in the usual holiday vices. (So much wine… so much chocolate.) And though I’ve been following my favorite critics over at the New York Times, Slate and Spin, I still haven’t had a chance to chime in with my own observations on the year in music. Well lucky you – I’m drinking some rooibos tea and ready to ruminate on the sounds of 2011.

OK, here goes. For Christmas this year, my co-workers and I decided to exchange mix CDs of our favorite songs. (What is this, 1996?) As I listened to my compilation, a few things came to mind. One: my fellow ladies gave pop culture a swift kick in the ass this year. Right on gals. Two: R&B took a decidedly dark and moody detour, as evidenced by acts like The Weeknd, Drake and Frank Ocean. Three: there were waaay fewer bands and more solo artists on my radar in 2011. Four: few of said artists seem especially concerned with brevity when it comes to songwriting. Some might call these tunes “epic”, while less charitable listeners might say, “Dude, edit that shit.” Either way, it’s a symptom of the digital recording era. Thanks to cheap software, bands can now spend as much time as they want recording sprawling artistic statements without the fear of racking up a big studio bill. I know – it sounds like a recipe for disaster. But overall, I heard a lot of creativity this year, if not a lot of instant gratification hooks.

Anyway, here’s the condensed version of my year-end mix: the songs that shot to the top of my playlist.

French musician Anthony Gonzalez, better known as M83

“Midnight City” – M83:A co-worker of mine recently argued that kids today don’t have any anthems. I humbly disagree. If this song doesn’t make you drive a little faster or flirt a little harder, nothing will.

“Austere” – The Joy Formidable: A throwback to 90’s rock, both in  production and feel, this track speaks to the 15-year old guitar player in me.

“Boom” – Wild Flag: A ferocious and refreshingly direct dose of garage rock, courtesy of Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss (formerly of Sleater-Kinney), Mary Timony (ex-Helium) and Rebecca Cole (The Minders.) Wowza.

“What the Water Gave Me” – Florence + the Machine: The lilting vocals and mandolin recall that creepy English folk song vibe that people like Kate Bush pioneered back in the day. Great sense of dynamics as well, with the big build toward the end of the song.

“Motivation” – Clams Casino: Featured in Spin magazine’s recent cover story on “The Changing Face of Hip-Hop”, this 24-year old New Jersey beat maker specializes in warm, atmospheric soundscapes.

“Bizness” – tUnE-yArDs: One of the most cliche-free compositions I’ve heard all year. Singer/songwriter Merrill Garbus (a.k.a. tUnE-yArDs) uses her knowledge of Kenyan music to experiment with ways of singing and playing guitar that are waaaay outside the indie-rock norm.

“Rumour Has It” – Adele:I’m an absolute sucker for killer voices, especially ones with a delicious rasp.

Mysterious Toronto singer and Polaris Prize nominee, The Weeknd

“What You Need” – The Weeknd: How cool is it that one of the most talked about R&B singers this year is a media-shy Toronto guy who releases all of his material for free on his website? On his House of Balloons mixtape, Abel Tesfaye spins some seedy tales of snorting illicit substances and partying until the wee hours of the morning. I can’t relate to this on any level, but it’s seductive all the same.

“Year of the Tiger” – St. Vincent: A gloomy song with an oddly soothing chorus. The whole album’s brilliant, but this one really stuck with me.

“Go With You” – Toro Y Moi: Think of it as Born to Run for the chill wave crowd.

“Amor Fati” – Washed Out: Like jumping in a pool on a muggy summer day.

“Power” – Das Racist: Great beat, and the little dig at Staind and Train made me giggle, even if it is like shooting fish in a barrel.

“Lorelei” – Fleet Foxes: Robin Pecknold sets his tale of heartbreak and feeling old to a gorgeous waltz.

The badass boys of Mastodon

“The Sparrow” – Mastodon: My favorite band in modern metal goes all Dark Side of the Moon with some eerie, David Gilmour-esque guitar lines.

I’ll be back with my picks for Top 5 Albums of 2011 later this week. Stay tuned.

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