15
Dec
2011
Jordan's Top Ten Songs From Albums That Didn't Make My List
Songs from Albums that Didn't Make My List
Jordan
This is the first year I have ever tried to make a year-end music list. I have never felt I possessed enough authority to attempt a definitive year-end list. Probably I still don't (and feel free to tell me so down in the comments both today and tomorrow, when my Top Ten Albums of 2011 list goes up). Yet after spending the last year writing My Year in Lists and waxing knowledgeable about music, I thought it was only fair to weigh in, whether authoritatively or not, on the state of music in 2011. As I have already said, my Top Ten Albums list will be up tomorrow, but before we get there, I wanted to give a rundown of my favorite songs from some of the best albums this year that missed (sometimes incredibly narrowly) my Top Ten Albums list. So without further ado, here are my Top Ten Songs of 2011 from Albums that did not make my Top Ten Albums List:

Honorable Mentions:

"Vomit" by Girls, off Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Girls' sophomore album stretches their sensitive, wounded romanticism to much grander proportions, and on "Vomit," the album's epic, six and a half minute panoramic, the group travels from mournful organ to doom-laden guitar before landing on a gospel wail that fully lives up to the album's spiritual title.



"East Harlem" by Beirut, off The Rip Tide

Beirut's Zach Condon has always lived on the exotic fringe of indie music, but his sound has never been tighter or cleaner than on The Rip Tide. "East Harlem" starts as a simple piano and horn melody and transforms into a grander exploration of how a great song can remind us of our favorite people and our favorite places. It may be comfortably in his wheelhouse, but he has never showed more mastery of his territory.



10. "Under the Cover of Darkness" by The Strokes, off Angles

After five years out of the limelight, The Strokes returned with an album that stripped their classic sound to the bare essentials and dared you not to love them as they have always been. "Under the Cover of Darkness" is the perfect example of the band turning out a throwback to their early sound and nailing it perfectly. While some of the tracks on Angles experimented with moving the band's sound forward (and generally succeeded), "Under the Cover of Darkness" is like seeing an old friend for the first time in years and remembering just why you have missed them in your life. The too-cool for school vibe The Strokes have always been masters of is there in full form, and this song serves as a perfect reminder that The Strokes are one of the best rock bands working today, unique in their ability to craft catchy songs with nigh-unbeatable hooks and choruses that will leave you begging for more. In short, they rock.



9. "Holocene" by Bon Iver, off Bon Iver

It would be hard, perhaps impossible, for Justin Vernon to top his debut album For Emma, Forever Ago, and credit is due to him for the fact that he didn't even try, not really. Bon Iver is a different album entirely. For one thing, Vernon has a full backing band now. For another, he has added texture, slickness, complexity, layers, and yes, warmth to his repertoire. Yet at its core, this sophomore album retains the willingness to be abstract and the affinity for the indirect that made Emma so special, and never is that more clear than on the delicate, raw, and unspeakably beautiful "Holocene," which captures the stark pain of the first album while simultaneously indulging the lush musicality of this successor. The whole album is worth your time, yet on "Holocene," Bon Iver manages to reach once again the heights Vernon attained on his masterpiece of a debut album.



8. "Mistakes" by Mates of State, off Mountaintops

Mates of State, comprised of married couple Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, are masters of keyboard driven power pop, and Mountaintops is no exception. The album as a whole is a delicate balance between catchy and heartfelt, balancing perfectly the duo's effortless hooks with their more hard-earned emotions. The fact that Mates of State happen to be a married couple rarely gets in the way of their song-craft, and at their best, which surely includes "Mistakes," the two portray marriage as a fragile and constant negotiation between two people who hope, sometimes in vain, that love will be enough to keep them together. Mates of State are well-known for their odes to the adorable side of romance, yet "Mistakes" indicates that they know how tricky a true long term relationship can be to pull off. The song is a beautiful confession, in which the two admit that "we all make mistakes," but declare that, for better or worse, "I need you, and it's not normal if i refuse to be by myself." It may not be normal, but it is certainly and unabashedly romantic, in a way that reminds us all to open up our hearts, even if there is a downside to doing so.



7. "Goodbye" by Apparat, off The Devil's Walk

I would be lying if I didn't admit that the inclusion of "Goodbye" at a climactic moment in this season of Breaking Bad had something to do with the song's inclusion on this list. I had never heard of Apparat before "Face Off" aired this fall, but since that episode ended, I have listened to "Goodbye" dozens of times. The song drew me to the album in a rare reversal, and while The Devil's Walk is solid the whole way through, it is never better than during the four and a half minutes of "Goodbye." This may not be a fond farewell, but it is one of aching significance. Not all goodbyes are joyous, but few are as epic, as subtle, and as perfectly drawn as this one. The best of showdowns end with one man left standing; "Goodbye" is one of the few songs not written by Ennio Morricone to encapsulate the significance of this, and to take the time to contemplate the few moments before the true conflict, when competitors are left to contemplate what they have made of their lives, and wonder what it will all amount to if they do not exit the field of battle triumphant.



6. "June Hymn" by The Decemberists, off The King is Dead

After flirting with baroque prog-rock on The Hazards of Love, Colin Meloy returns to his alt-country roots on The King is Dead. Channelling REM (even including guest Peter Buck), and most of the titans of folk, The Decemberists turn in an album that is by turns quiet and raucous, contemplative and declarative, subtle and demandingly over-the-top. Perhaps the albums best moments can be found during "June Hymn," a painfully gorgeous ballad that puts Meloy's top-notch vocabulary on display, yet never lets his tendencies toward ostentatiousness overpower the simple beauty of seasonal discovery and the pleasure, however fleeting, of sitting back and appreciating the beauty that surrounds us in those moments when we let everything but our sensory observations fall away and just enjoy that which is before us.




5. "Master of Art" by Laura Stevenson and the Cans, off Sit Resist

If this is twee, count me in. The pulsating percussion, the strumming then exploding guitar, and Stevenson's soaring voice make "Master of Art" one of the catchiest, most infectious pop songs of 2011. The whole of Sit Resist is packed with brilliant, delicate pop, but it is never better than the yearning affirmation that is "Master of Art." The song begins with a strong undercurrent, sure, but it really attains greatness when Stevenson stops restraining herself and just barrels full speed ahead into a pop-fueled oblivion of desire, catharsis, and flat out wonder. Listen for that moment, when Stevenson goes from croon into triumphant vocal flight, singing "All I could pray for is that you'd please wait for me, until I have a Master of Art, until I have learned everything." Listen for it, and tell me you wouldn't be willing to wait.



4. "No Church in the Wild" by Jay-Z and Kanye West (feat. Frank Ocean), off Watch the Throne

Jay-Z and Kanye West are just about the biggest names in hip-hop right now. You'll hear my thoughts on last year's brilliant West display My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy soon in My Year in Lists, and while Watch the Throne doesn't quite attain that album's heights it does get close. West has been in near constant musical conversation with his hero/muse/mentor/rival since his debut The College Dropout, and this album is the consummation of the duo's long and fruitful musical relationship. The two are a perfectly constructed study in contrasts: one, a businessman, the other a rogue; one a faithful husband, the other a reckless playboy; one tightly edited, the other composed at his best of almost exclusively rough edges (and a dogged refusal to self-edit). The album's examination of the duo's differences is never better than "No Church in the Wild," which is a deconstruction of their differences built around an endlessly intriguing Frank Ocean hook. If Ocean comes across as reverent, it's because he has every reason to be: both artists are at the top of their form here, with the song's incredibly catchy riff backing Z's examination of life at the top of the heap (rife with epic, nigh Shakespearean imagery, with "tears on the mausoleum floors, blood stains the Colosseum doors") and Ye's more grounded look at his admitted life of excess ("sunglasses and Advil, last night was mad real"). The two are different in of so many ways, but together, they make sweet, sweet music.



3. "Putting the Dog to Sleep," by The Antlers, off Burst Apart

With Hospice, The Antlers crafted a tragedy so beautiful, so heart-rending that it made past Jordan (circa 2009) wish he had the ability to write about how powerfully that music moved him (and continues to). While I'm sure I still lack that power, it's impossible not to give credit where credit is due to the group on Burst Apart. They still craft delicate, often tragic, and deeply personal songs, and retain their ability to get at issues through layers and layers of metaphor. With lines like "My trust in you is a dog with a broken leg," it's clear that "Putting the Dog to Sleep" works in metaphor, but what is truly impressive is how fully the message gets across, even on first listen. The song is desperate, needy, and starved for affection to be sure, a raw examination of a man terrified his relationship is at an end (that the "dog" is about to be put to sleep, just "a pet that you couldn't keep"), yet it is also rife with something Hospice was willing to do without: hope. "Prove to me I'm not going to die alone," crooning frontman Peter Silberman begs at the song's opening, yet by it's end, he is much more convinced. Things are always more subtle, more complex than they seem on Burst Apart, yet after hemming and hawing, Silberman becomes finally, beautifully convinced, asking his lover to "put your trust in me, I'm not gonna die alone." Burst Apart may have been released in May, but it gets under your skin so powerfully, it feels like January all over again, for better and for worse. For most of it's duration, it may seem like worse, but this time, The Antlers leave you with the hope that things might just turn out for the better.



2. "The Ever Changing Spectrum of a Lie" by The Joy Formidable, off The Big Roar

One word can describe The Joy Formidable (who, along with The Antlers, were the last bands to be cut from my top ten albums list): mighty. The Big Roar is a stadium ready update of shoegaze that manages to recall My Bloody Valentine without coming across as derivative. The band may be bragging a bit with their album title, but they do their best to earn it with epic walls of sound that dare the more mild-mannered side of indie rock to go big or go home. "The Ever Changing Spectrum of a Lie" is flat-out not fucking around, a nearly eight minute opus that absolutely demands to be listened to, and dissected, again and again. The song, and the album, functionally demands a mob of adoring fans to crank up the volume, rock out with abandon, and look for themselves in a world rife with danger, coursing with change, and just begging to be reveled in.



1. "Think You Can Wait" by The National, from the film Win Win

I'll say it: there's a pretty good chance there was no better song this year than "Think You Can Wait." Some of you may consider this a bit of a cheat, seeing as the song is not from an album at all, but rather is a single released in conjunction with the underrated Paul Giamatti vehicle Win Win, yet even after the movie's resonance starts to fade, the stark, endlessly relatable song that played over its end credits will stick with you. A simple, straightforward plea for patience and understanding from a man desperately seeking redemption, the song has it all"” a moving piano melody, evocative lyrics, Matt Berninger's powerful, tragic voice, and a soulful, Gospellic backing that underscores the power of the song. Things are bad for me right now, Berninger is confessing, but if only you can "wait it out," they will get better. Stick around, he's saying; it'll be worth it. It's another example of hope being drawn from tragedy, yet this time it manifests less in the confidence the singer has in himself and more in the confidence he needs another to have in him. "I'll try, but I couldn't be better," Berninger admits, and he's right. He couldn't be better.

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