Best of 2011

As I look back on this year, I realize just how good 2011 has been, music-wise. Quite a few bands and artists have made some seriously impressive debuts, while others wowed us with some much-anticipated follow-ups. Many surprised us, only a few disappointed us. All in all, it has been a great year. Here’s a little list of the songs I enjoyed the most. Hope you love them as much as I did. You can download all 21 songs HERE. Happy holidays to all, and enjoy!

  1. “Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes: Going through my dad’s records as a kid, I often wondered what it must have been like to listen to a Simon and Garfunkel song for the very first time, sometime in your twenties, with the taste of youth still palpably fresh, yet with your inescapable future looming menacingly ahead. It’s that pivotal time when a piece of music might mean more to you than others, because it came to you at precisely the right time, because you feel it speaks directly to you; it answers a question or quiets a plea you didn’t even know was there in the first place. These songs are few and far between. And then, some time later, I realized just how kind life sometimes is. I am now in my twenties, listening to a Fleet Foxes song, which incidentally bears a striking resemblance to Simon and Garfunkel, and it brings me right back to that moment several years ago, and it just feels right. Right for me, this time. My father had Simon and Garfunkel. Now it’s my turn, and I have Fleet Foxes, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. “Helplessness Blues” speaks about finding one’s place in the world, in a way few songs ever do: it’s less about looking upwards, in search of life’s meaning, but rather, looking downwards to the world and people around you, and finding meaning and purpose there. It’s speaks of embracing uncertainty, accepting our own limitations and realizing that maybe we aren’t as special as we initially might’ve thought, but understanding that it doesn’t make life any less remarkable or meaningful – on the contrary. “If I know only one thing, it’s that everything I see of the world outside is so inconceivable, often I barely can speak. Yeah, I’m tongue-tied and dizzy, and I can’t keep it to myself. What good is it to sing helplessness blues? Why should I wait for anyone else?” We might not have it all figured out just yet, but we still carry on, and will continue to do so. But just look out that window, and see this breathtakingly beautiful world around us, and be thankful. The rest will come later. But for now, I’ll take this.
  2. “The Honest Truth” by Typhoon: This song is epic. Is there anything more glorious than this track’s bombastic drums, horns, strings and soaring chorus? It is an incredibly layered and elaborate track, yet it isn’t overwhelming in the slightest. Surprisingly, it leaves you wanting just a little bit more. This has got to be the best folk-rock song of the year.
  3. “Midnight City” by M83: This song is just ridiculous. The kind of song that instantly dwarves others and makes them look childish in comparison. I find it difficult to pinpoint what I like most about this track: I don’t know if it’s the sense of urgency or ferociousness, the unison and precision, the almost undecipherable vocals, or how the song just bursts open in a wall of sound and texture, or how the sax at the end just kills it. Gonzalez promised to deliver an epic album. This is it.
  4. “Holocene” by Bon Iver: Ahh, Bon Iver. What can I say about Justin Vernon that hasn’t already been said? I didn’t know what he’d come up with after his glorious For Emma, Forever Ago, but all my doubts were soon squashed – and otherwise obliterated – once I listened to his new work. This man crafts some of the most beautiful, delicate yet raw and powerful songs out there, and “Holocene” is a great example of that. The way he softly croons: “and at once I knew, I was not magnificent”, ahhh, it just kills me.
  5. “Video Games” by Lana Del Rey: No one on this list has been nearly as controversial as Lana Del Rey: love her or hate her, you must admit the girl makes a mean song. Her track “Video Games” took the internet by storm and hasn’t let go since – and with good reason. As we carry on debating whether or not she is an evil genius, I will openly admit to loving her songs. Her music is delicately crafted, her lyrics are vulnerable and powerful. Simply put, she is very talented. In the end, isn’t that all that matters?
  6. “Someone Like You” by Adele: Everyone with a fully-functioning set of ears knows Adele has a truly stunning voice, and she showcases it against the simple piano backdrop in “Someone Like You”; the track she wrote for an old love, wondering what it would be like to see him after many years of silence: “Who would’ve thought how bittersweet this would taste?” The song is brutal in its honesty, painful, humble and just all-around gorgeous. Sure, everyone and their mother overplayed this song to death, but they certainly did so with good reason.
  7. “I Don’t Want Love” by The Antlers: If somebody didn’t sloppily sing this track at 3 AM after a night out, they have wasted their year away, and missed out on a truly magical (and ever so slightly, pathetic) moment. After Hospice, we grew accustomed to The Antlers’ heartbreakingly sad lyrics, and Burst Apart is no different, although it is a bit more accessible. Silberman takes a bold stand against love, stating “I don’t want love.” Melancholy oozes from every single lyric: “I should have built better walls, or slept in my clothes. So if I see you again, desperate and stoned, keep your prison locked up and I’ll leave my gun at home.” The scathing lyrics, combined with Silberman’s hurt tone and soft crooning, make for a truly fantastic and gut-wrenching song.
  8. “Go Outside” by Cults: Few songs made me hit the repeat button as much as this one. “Go Outside” was, without a doubt, one of this summer’s anthems, in spite of the fact that it was dropped in the middle of winter. The track is unapologetically sweet and uncomplicated; nothing felt warmer, and it really did make us want to go outside. Heck, it still does.
  9. “Love Out Of Lust” by Lykke Li: Her latest album, Wounded Rhymes, might be one of favorites this year. Every damn song on it is great. But if I had to single one out, I’d pick this one (“Sadness is a Blessing” is a close second).  It seems like Lykke Li has come into her own with a more mature sound, writing dark, simple and beautiful lyrics. In “Love Out Of Lust” she openly shares a yearning to belong to something greater than oneself: “We will live longer than I will, we will be better than I was. We can cross rivers with our will, we can do better than I can. So dance while you can, dance cause you must.” We better do as she says.
  10. “Vomit” by Girls: Girls created a dark ballad with a slow, yet huge build-up, and then pleasantly surprised us when a gospel background kicked off towards the end of the song. It’s six and a half minutes of sheer beauty.
  11. “Down In The Valley” by The Head and The Heart: There are few songs on this list I have enjoyed listening to as much as this track, it’s as simple as that.
  12. “Run Right Back” by The Black Keys: Dropping their new album, El Camino, in December, The Black Keys decided to save the best for last, forcing us to rearrange our year-end lists, just when we thought they were ready. The album is so damn good, it just might be among the best this year.
  13. “17” and “Montana” by Youth Lagoon: I literally cannot decide between these two songs; they are equally good, so I’ll throw both of them in for good measure. This is bedroom pop at its finest: it is nostalgic, moving, swelling, gorgeous, and vulnerable – at times heartbreaking, but always gorgeous. The Year of Hibernation was, without a doubt, one of the best debut albums this year; Youth Lagoon was relevant all year round, and deservedly so.
  14. “Cruel” by St. Vincent: Annie Clark shows her songwriting sensibilities as she addresses the hurtful pressure put on appearance in Strange Mercy’s opener “Cruel”: “Bodies, can’t you see what everyone wants from you?” The track is simple, honest and ridiculously catchy.
  15. “East Harlem” by Beirut: The Rip Tide is an extraordinary album. I abused the repeat button with every track, but seeing them play “East Harlem” live was a magical moment. Beirut’s mastermind, Zach Condon, has talent to spare, and he has once again delivered a thoughtful, cohesive and elaborate album that we could never tire of – not that we’d ever be foolish enough to try.
  16. “This Is Why We Fight” by The Decemberists: The Decemberists have always been gifted lyricists. In “This Is Why We Fight” they draw parallels between love and war, to the point where both seem indistinguishable, but equally necessary and worthy.
  17. “Shake It Out” by Florence + The Machine: After her critically-acclaimed and wildly loved debut LP, Lungs, it was established by all that Florence Welch’s awesomeness was nothing short of a scientific fact, which, in turn, put a fair amount of pressure on her sophomore effort, Ceremonials. In typical Flo fashion, she came back with the triumphant “Shake It Out”: a swelling fight song with dark and strong lyrics, yet catchy as hell. Welch is a powerhouse and she’s better than ever.
  18. “Ten-Twenty-Ten” by Generationals: Generationals have always been great at crafting pop, but they definitely outdid themselves with the ridiculously catchy “Ten-Twenty-Ten.” It’s an instantly appealing song, which had me bobbing my head and stomping my feet within the first 20 seconds, but that makes this track great is its tuneful and relentless pace: the harmonies and lively hooks never let up.
  19. “Baby’s Arms” by Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring For My Halo is yet another strong contender for album of the year, reaching moments of sheer brilliance and quiet beauty. It’s the kind of album that haunts you – it might take a little while for it to fully sink in, but once it does, it becomes more and more rewarding with each listen. The album is diverse enough to not be boring, but still manages to feel cohesive; the rich soundscapes are masterfully crafted, and the lyrics are simple and compelling: the whole thing just resonates with you. “Baby’s Arms” is a hazy and dreamy love song, perfect in its simplicity: “I get sick of just about everyone, and I hide in my baby’s arms.” Does he really need to say anything more? It’s so good, he makes it seem almost easy.
  20. “It’s Real” by Real Estate: This is just a shiny and happy track. Sometimes it’s refreshing to listen to a quality, uncomplicated song; the kind that makes an already good afternoon that much more enjoyable.
It’s Christmas Eve, so this is as good a time as any to make a personal statement. I would like to thank all of you, dear readers, who find this little music blog even remotely useful or entertaining. Thank you for giving my posts a chance, for still reading even if I don’t post as much (or as well) as I’d like. But above all, thank you for taking time off your busy lives to read these words of mine – trust me, that still amazes me every day.

[Listen] Lana Del Rey – “Off To The Races”

Here’s Lana Del Rey‘s latest single, “Off To The Races”, taken from her much-anticipated debut album, Born To Die, due out January 30th 2012. I have to admit, this track is far from my favorite, as it has a tad too much production for my taste, and way too many pop influences (a cross-over attempt, perhaps?); it definitely has a different feel to it, and I much prefer her earlier sounds. The themes are still the same though, troubled relationship, alcohol, blah blah blah – nothing new here. Take a listen below.

[Mp3] Lana Del Rey – “Off To The Races”

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[Video] James Blake – “A Case Of You” (Joni Mitchell Cover)

A while back, James Blake recorded a beautiful cover of “A Case of You” by the legendary and one of our all-time favorites, Joni Mitchell, for his Enough Thunder EP. And now he’s just released the video for it, featuring The Town’s Rebecca Hall. I still maintain that there are few lyrics as lovely as: “You’re in my blood like holy wine, you taste so bitter and so sweet. Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling, and I would still be on my feet. Oh, I would still be on my feet.” He definitely did this song justice. Check out the video below.

[Mp3] James Blake – “A Case of You”

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[Video] Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Arcade Fire is always looking for fun, new ways to get fans to experience their music. We all remember last year’s awesome interactive video treatment for “We Used To Wait” (The Wilderness Downtown). Now, the creative and ambitious band has given “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” – probably one of the best songs off their latest album, The Suburbs – some brand new visuals. The video features lead vocalist, Régine Chassange, dancing around with her bobble-headed band mates, and just being her regular awesome self. But, true to form, Arcade Fire took it one step further: in addition to this traditional video, they’ve also made an interactive one. If you click here, you’ll be redirected to a website where you’ll control Régine’s dance movements and the pace of the video by moving and clicking your mouse or by waving your hands (you’ll need to activate your webcam for that). It is really, really cool. Watch the traditional video below.

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[Video] Lana Del Rey – “Born To Die”

So here is the much-anticipated video for “Born To Die” by the infamous Lana Del Rey. The video is, naturally, over the top: it features Lana in a church flanked by two tigers, and an ill-fated romance with an utterly unimpressive male lead. The song is damn near perfect and the visuals are equally impressive. It’s becoming increasingly hard to judge her so harshly when she consistently delivers such great material. Watch the video below.

[Mp3] Lana Del Rey – “Born To Die”

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[Listen] The National – “Rylan” & “I Need My Girl”

Yesterday afternoon, The National performed live two brand new songs, “Rylan” and “I Need My Girl”, for Toronto’s CBC Radio Show Q. The band is currently recording the follow-up to their fantastic and critically-acclaimed 2010 album, High Violet. Still no word on when they plan to release their new LP, but I’m pretty sure we’re in for a treat. These guys are too talented for their own good. Listen to both tracks below.

[Mp3] The National – “Rylan”

[Mp3] The National – “I Need My Girl”

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[Listen] Lana del Rey – “Born To Die”

Here’s Lana del Rey‘s latest single and title track of her upcoming debut album, “Born To Die”, set to be released on January 30th. Lately, pretty much everyone and their mother have questioned her authenticity, so I don’t know if you love Lana or hate her. Personally, the fact that she tries so damn hard makes me want to set my hair on fire. That said, I think this is a legitimately good song. What do you think? Listen below.

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[Listen] Bowerbirds – “Tuck The Darkness In”

Bowerbirds have announced the upcoming release of their third studio album, The Clearing, sometime in early 2012. And, for the time being, they’ve offered the first taste of the new album, “Tuck The Darkness In”, a quiet little track the slowly swells and turns into something pretty damn great. Listen below.

[Mp3] Bowerbirds – “Tuck The Darkness In”

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