Kultur Klatch / Favorite Best Songs of 2011, Part 2 of 4

If You Wanna” / The Vaccines / What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?
“I saw this song in an advert for some crappy show that I don’t like the look of, and instantly fell in love with the song. … It’s upbeat in an unusual way. It’s not a happy topic, yet it[‘]s very happy and upbeat, a bit like Tubthumping. … By repeating the theme of the not-so-liked friends, the singer is demonstrating extreme fondness for the woman he sings to, whilst also rounding off each verse with great skill. It’s basically a man that’s gone through a break up and wants his ex back. Can we blame him? Probably not… Musically, the song is built around the drums. Sure, most are, but in this one, it’s noticeable. … It’s a good beat, too, something else you can bop to. … The guitar sounds alright as well. Something about it makes it sound… Perfect, yet it doesn’t sound perfect.”  (That Guy That Reviews Stuff)

Hammer” / Cliff Martinez / Drive Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
“In essence, Drive features two complete soundtracks, each distinct from the other in both tone and style: first there’s the moody, Badalamenti-like ambient score provided by film composer (and ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer) Cliff Martinez, which injects the film’s quieter moments with a palpable sense of tension and unease.”  (Coke Machine Glow)

Tick of the Clock” / The Chromatics / Night Drive
“‘Tick of the Clock,’ can easily be brushed off as a patience-testing wasteland of a track, it’s as minimal as minimal can get in parts of sparse arrangement. But the beauty in the track is that when you are listening to it, and focused on it, you can feel something very epic. From the ambiance rises power — a feature that the creators of Drive no doubt heard themselves.”  (Fortress of Terrible Mixtapes)

Walking Far from Home” / Iron & Wine / Kiss Each Other Clean
“The influential folk singer released the first single ‘Walking Far From Home’ as an exclusive Black Friday 12” single, accompanied by two B-Sides. Similar to Sufjan’s ‘The Age of Adz,’ Beam has redefined the artsy folk rock resonance Iron & Wine is known for, implementing hints of electronic dreaminess in ‘Walking Far From Home.’ It’s reminiscent of the singer/songwriter’s earlier awe-inspiring, Southern sounding repertoire, using a slow progression to captivate listeners, Beam’s vocals subtle and soothing. The electronic infusion apparent provides a certain zing that is even elevated on the B-sides, suggesting that this new record will be his most diverse.”  (Daniel Koren, Pretty Much Amazing)

Claire” / Baxter Dury / Happy Soup
“Unsurprisingly, from the son of Ian Dury (sorry, had to mention it), Dury’s sound is contemporary and original. When you take a sieve to Britain’s music industry to find something unique I would wager that Dury’s dulcetly-toned lyrics would remain. It’s partly about the credence a distinctive regional accent gives to a singer. Dury’s enigmatic but monotonous Chiswick accent gives him a similar respectability that Arctic Monkeys drew from their Yorkshire accents and Blur took from their recognisably-Southern drawls. When I say his voice is monotonous, I describe a pleasing familiarity, something warming that we can relate to and consoles us.”  (James Briscoe, Mancunian Matters)

From a “Claire”-related article:
“[Blur’s] career…maps onto some of the dominant narratives of 1990s culture. … The thing about a really clever, observational joke is that it assumes a portion of the audience won’t immediately get it, if they ever do at all. This was the conundrum that Blur faced around the mid-1990s, as they scaled their native charts by writing vaguely catchy pop songs that seemed to lampoon the dim, conformist lives of their newfound fan base. Their reign as icons of the moment that would be remembered as ‘Britpop’ seemed a bizarre accident. And then, along came Oasis. … It’s just the way things are now that everything old becomes new again, and every half-loved album is revisited a decade later as an exclusives-packed deluxe set with accompanying reunion tour. The run-up to Blur’s Olympics concert doesn’t feel quite so crass — their songs, full of obtuse longings and sarcastic yet earnest warnings about chemicals in the air, money-happiness equivalencies, and zombie-like conformity, feel more useful than ever. … As powerful as Oasis’s best songs remain, they all feel roughly the same: grand, oversize, engineered to be as universal as possible. They won because they understood that most people turn to pop music to feel happy or sad in the most epic way possible, and this is why most bands reunite — not because the songs were great, but because people like to be reminded of how they once felt. Hope for a proper Blur reunion doesn’t stem from this kind of nostalgia. Rather, Blur was always a band with an unusual perspective on things. For a brief moment, they flourished in an industry where ambivalence, skepticism, and the occasional political outburst might brand you an elitist.”
–from Hua Hsu, “Too Clever by Half: The Return of BlurGrantland

I’m Not Stupid” / Cat’s Eyes / Cat’s Eyes
“You can see why Horrors frontman Faris Badwan might feel drawn to make an album with its roots in the sound of 60s girl groups. Like the Horrors – whose journey from presumed music-press joke to authentically thrilling Mercury-nominated experimentalists is about as improbable and cheering as pop stories get – the girl groups weren’t supposed to last. Their music was disposable pop born out of the most disposable pop era – the bleak, forgotten period between the end of rock’n’roll’s first wave in the late 50s and the rise of the Beatles in 1962/63. But the girl-group sound refused to stick to the script. It was anything but short lived; you can currently hear its influence all over the place in alt-rock, from Glasvegas to Best Coast to the Vaccines. … [Cat’s Eyes] avoids most of the obvious girl-group signifiers in favour of odder period details – the reverb that was intended to suggest grandeur, but occasionally ended up making the records sound dislocated and strange; the distortion that was an inevitable byproduct of overloading primitive equipment with sound. … The [album] lyrics display a canny ability to catch the listener unawares, by suddenly switching from knowing, old-fashioned teen-pop chestnuts to something more adult and potent. ‘I know I’m not the prettiest girl,’ sings Zeffira on I’m Not Stupid, adding: ‘I’m realistic.'”  (Alexis Petridis, The Guardian)

Ungirthed” / Purity Ring
“It’s always fascinating how the emotional context to a particular sound can change based on what else happens to be going on in the frame. In the case of ‘Ungirthed’, what seems to be the first track from a new project started by a member of spazzy electro-pop outfit Gobble Gobble, the transformed sound in question is the sort of pitched-down post-Burial ghost voices that in the past few years of music have often come to represent loss, loneliness, and maybe even death. (David Bevan wrote a feature about it here late last year.) But as heard here, next to a crazily addictive indie pop melody from singer Megan James, the ghosts sound liberated from purgatory and ready to join the party. The synths are warped and churning forward with an oblong gait as tinny electro drums tap out the beat, but it’s James’ voice at the center of this thing that keeps the ear coming back. In a time when so many lead vocals are buried and distant and dialed in from a memory, she sounds wonderfully present and clear and full of energy. ‘Ears ringing/ Teeth clicking/ Ears ringing/ Teeth clicking’ goes the nifty little refrain, another affectionate tug from a song that seems to pull you closer with every bar.”  (Mark Richardson, Pitchfork)

Belispeak” / Purity Ring / Belispeak
“I guess there’s a chance that ‘Belispeak’ could’ve happened without the Knife’s Silent Shout. But it would be immensely difficult to put Purity Ring’s sound in context if that record–whose game-changing influence becomes more widespread with each passing year–never existed. Though this song’s distended sub-bass and smeared production has an ear to peripherally related dubstep artists and wavy hip-hop producers like Clams Casino, the way that its nervy arpeggios needle the alternately childlike and warped vocals of Megan James clearly fits within the realm of nightmare-pop, ‘haunted house’ or whatever Silent Shout pretty much perfected. But Purity Ring distinguish themselves here by focusing less about hovering dread than direct impact. Distilled to a constantly gripping three minutes, even the breath-catching pauses before the chorus feel just a hair too short. The title itself is a mangled portmanteau taken from the lyrics, where James’ chipper melody belies the frightening places children go to when their imaginations encounter horror they can’t quite process. ‘I’ve been unruly in my dreams and in my speech…drill holes in my eyelids so I can see you when I sleep,’ she sings, somewhere between victim and aggressor.”  (Ian Cohen, Pitchfork)

Far Nearer” / Jamie xx / Far Nearer/Beat For
“While the downcast bleeps of ‘Beat For’ sound similar to the moody, melodic strain of vocal-abstracted bass music that’s become so prevalent over the last year, ‘Far Nearer’ is another thing entirely–a bright, steel-drum laden burst of euphoria that sounds better suited for beach umbrellas than dark clubs, melodically recalling the Tough Alliance at their bounciest. Crisp drum tracks ping-pong across ‘Far Nearer”s wide span, clapping and retreating around the song’s dramatic, pitch-fucked vocal sample: ‘I feel better when I have you near me’. After all that waiting, ‘Far Nearer’ is finally something you can keep close; forget ‘better,’ it feels great.”  (Larry Fitzmaurice, Pitchfork)

A Real Hero” / College f/ Electric Youth / Drive Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
“Ryan Gosling kept describing the movie as a John Hughes movie with head smashing. Did you think about eighties movies when making music?
[Austin Garrick]: It’s ingrained in us, the feelings that we got from those movies. We’re definitely very inspired by film. I actually have a Pretty in Pink DVD with me in my bag that I always just carry, so if I’m just hanging out …
[David Grellier]: I like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
[Garrick]: Oh, I brought Ferris Bueller too.

[Garrick]: …the first half of the song is very much Mad Max inspired. We are really inspired by films, and it was the thought of his character. And the second verse, the inspiration was Sully Sullenberger.”  (Amanda Dobbins, Vulture)

Nightcall” / Kavinsky / Nightcall / Drive Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Pacific Coast Highway” / Kavinsky / Nightcall
“On the single we hear Kavinsky’s zombie voice for the first time. In a duet featuring the zombie and his girlfriend (Lovefoxxx from CSS) he gives her a call after being transformed into an immortal. It’s disturbing as well as heartwarming, hearing them reconnecting after the tragedy and him being brought back to life by mystical means. For the b-side Kavinsky produces a fantastic car-chase theme called Pacific Coast Highway, in which we follow his car on the highway. It’s on this track where we hear the classic Kavinsky sound, arpeggiated synths conjoined with 80s beats as if they were transposed from an epic 1980s TV show soundtrack.”  (Hreinn Elíasson, Gogoyoko Blog)

Swerve… The reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir not withstanding)”  Shabazz Palaces / Black Up
“[F]for all the record’s obstinate artiness, Butler’s rapping is at its strongest, and the record at its most memorable, during the moments that reconnect more explicitly with Butler’s poppier inclinations. [W]ith its crunchy beat and wobble bass, the record’s first single ‘Swerve…The Reaping Of All That Is Worthwhile,’ dovetails with mainstream hip hop radio’s current absorption of dubstep/wonky sounds and techniques in a manner that wouldn’t alienate your average Neptunes fan.”  (Brad Hurst, Dusted Magazine)

I’ll Take Care of U” / Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx / We’re New Here
“Only rarely does something like ‘I’ll Take Care of U’ happen. That song, the closer, is the purest distillation of Smith’s taste for spacious melodrama and cinematic sweep–it’d have fit nicely on xx. These two men only discussed the music here, briefly, in handwritten letters.”  (Sean Fennessey, Pitchfork)

Buffalo” / The Deloreans / American Craze
“The Deloreans have create[d] a sound that is as old as the 50′s, but is something you have never heard before. Frontman and producer, Jeremy Perry, is Bobby Vinton reincarnated. It’s the Morning Benders. It’s Pet Sounds. It’s Fang Island. It’s the Rat Pack. It’s metal. It’s gospel. It’s punk. It’s orchestral. … ‘Gatsby’ and ‘Buffalo’ may be the best Track 1 – 2 combo I’ve ever heard. I had to take a break after the first three tracks to realize what I was experiencing. ‘Buffalo’ is sure to be a crowd-pleaser and is catchy as hell. Trust me, you will be singing it in the shower.”  (Nicholas Hart, Backseat Sandbar)

Ffunny Ffrends” / Unknown Mortal Orchestra / Ffunny Ffrends
“The song that first got Unknown Mortal Orchestra known is the bouncy, spacey ‘Ffunny Ffriends’, and it appropriately opens the full length effort. It also establishes just how lo-fi this album is going to be. The percussion sounds like a live hip hop beat from the 80s looped over and over again, the guitars sound rustic with a psychedelic edge, and the vocals sound like they were recorded using a $5 microphone from Walgreens. Unlike some acts that purposely scuff up their clear sound to conform with what’s hot, this is one set of songs you know were recorded poorly in a home studio because that’s the best they could do with the money they had.”  (Faronheit)

Somebody That I Used to Know” / Gotye f/ Kimbra / Making Mirrors
“Kimbra’s character enters the scene with ‘Now and then I think about all the times you screwed me over / but made me think that it was something I had done’, abruptly shifting the complexion of the song. To this point Gotye had us believing he was the victim. But it’s difficult now — armed with this new information —  to blame Kimbra’s character for repelling this emotionally manipulative lover. And thus it becomes clear that both are unreliable narrators, the two singers singing from the perspective of hurt characters — complex humans regressed to raw emotions. Here then, the Mellotron flute sound enters the mix while Kimbra sings, showing a subtle indication that Gotye (the producer/writer) intends for you to feel Kimbra’s side of the argument is perhaps correct—or at least, of brooding significance; the Mellotron has a breathy, airy sound with nostalgic overtones, and it’s a stark contrast to the rest of the percussive instruments in the song – xylophones, guitar strings and percussion – which all sound like they’ve been hit or plucked. To hear that breath of air during her verse, and nowhere else, makes her points sound soothing, more reasonable.”  (Tim Byron, The Vine)

California” / EMA / Past Life Martyred Saints
“Phrases are distended and torn apart, fragmentary in nature, incisive in tone without ever revealing their full meanings or intentions. ‘Fuck California, you made me boring,’ she spits out – a blunt statement, to be sure, but more allusive than explicit. This lends a surreal tone to Anderson’s suggestive stream of consciousness: ‘You’re bleeding from the fingertips / you rubbed me wrong / and I’m here when I think of you / oh, California.’ It’s tempting to say that Anderson sounds wounded and defeated, what with her despondent lyrics and drone-heavy arrangements, but there’s also a feeling of uplift to the whole affair.”  (Conrad Tao, Sputnik Music)

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