Kultur Klatch / Favorite Best Songs of 2011, Part 3 of 4

Drover” / Bill Callahan / Apocalypse
“The new record opens with a welcome bit of the old stomp. Driven by hard acoustic strumming, shivering fiddle, and a percussive thump that mimics thundering hooves, Callahan rides spurs-in on ‘Drover.’ It’s a paean to big skies and the freedom to roam (‘I set my watch against the city clock / It was way off’), a familiar preoccupation from the Smog days (‘Let’s Move to the Country,’ ‘Running the Loping,’ etc.). At the same time, there’s a heightened sense of urgency. The instrumentation is locally rooted — mesquite, cactus and sage — but the implications are unmistakably broad. ‘One thing about this wild, wild country,’ Callahan sings in his stoic baritone, trying to stay a colt’s-length ahead of the closing of the west. ‘It takes a strong strong / It breaks a strong strong mind / And anything less makes me feel like I’m wasting my time.’”  (Nathan Hogan, Dusted Magazine)

Coming Down” / Dum Dum Girls / Only in Dreams
“[T]here’s a resolve and confidence in Dee Dee’s voice when she sings, ‘by tomorrow, I’ll be gone,’ which gives the song a sense of not-kidding urgency. But the urgency is aimed at the unspoken person on the other end of the song– ‘If you want to tell me something/ You had better make it strong,’ she says with one foot out the door. Meanwhile, the optimistic, jangling major chords give the chorus a sense of cathartic elation to be leaving this person, only to be beaten by Dee Dee’s belted ‘there I go’ at the end of the bridge.”  (Evan Minsker, Pitchfork)

Believer” / John Maus / We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
“The penultimate, defining track of Pitiless Censors is undoubtedly ‘Believer.’ Overly a deceptively simple but strong-spined backing track of standard new wave bass and simple drums, Maus beats his chest and screams from the bottom of a well about being a believer over surging, harpsicordial synthesizer. Maus has often spoken of his love for medieval and renaissance fugues, and similar to how that music functioned as spiritual experience, so does the dense, pillowy gradations of sound on ‘Believer.’ It’s often overstated that music of this ilk is worthy to soundtrack the wide-eyed romance of John Hughes films, but with Maus, you understand that, while it was certainly not his intention to evoke any kind of 80s nostalgia, especially given the vintage tools he employs, the immediacy and power of a song such as ‘Believer’ is irrevocably given to that sort of grand emotional scope.”  (Jordan Redmond, Tiny Mix Tapes)

Einmal In Der Woche Schreien” / Siriusmo / Mosaik
“Like many of his contemporaries, Moritz freely riffles through electronic genres from house and electro to dubstep and disco, often with a healthy dollop of American West Coast hip-hop influence. The constants are his elastic, high-relief sound and live instrumentalist’s sense of comprehensive arrangement (he’s a keyboardist and big Stevie Wonder fan), which are both showcased on this ebullient electro-pop confection from Mosaik. The minor key bass drop near the beginning is like a tremor of unease on a perfect day, but it passes quickly, and the staticky chords and granulated vocal samples stay cloudlessly bright for the remainder. The basic melody, infectious in its own right, gets stuffed with earworms: Sweet little vocal ornaments mimicking tiny rave sirens, a robotic talk-bass breakdown, and keenly tuned misfires kinetically swerving up and down. Like Hot Chip’s ‘Ready for the Floor,’ it’s a sleek and well-built whole that whizzes and pings screwily on the inside.”  (Brian Howe, Pitchfork)

I’m God” / Clams Casino
“This track has got it all: loud percussion, beautifully therapeutic ambient loops and soft, expressive vocals. It’s a miracle it is held together under the drum rolls and boom bap drums but it really works. This ‘ambient hip hop’ genre has been around for a while now (even a mainstream artist like Drake cites Boards of Canada as an influence) but rarely does it work this well and such emotional expression.”  (Alec Rojas, The Fox Is Black)

Queens” / Yamantaka//Sonic Titan / Yamantaka//Sonic Titan
“The dark naturalist imagery (‘wolf’s breath in my hair,’ and, ‘raven’s own wing’) and organ throng of ‘Queens’ stride into the dark woods, shedding humanity and embracing the primal as overblown percussion builds. While the lyrics on that track do some heavy lifting thematically, the remaining vocals remain largely vague, foreign, relying on nuanced moans and croons to give context to the emotions of the music.”  (Adam Kivel, Consequences of Sound)

You Know What I Mean” / Cults / Cults
“With ‘You Know What I Mean’ Cults take another step towards self-actualization by giving us more of what we loved from ‘Go Outside:’ dreamy production, elegant melodies and dryly romanticized lyrics. For its first 48 seconds, this plays like a somber 50s pop ballad with reverberating percussion and a nostalgic bassline. ‘I’m feeling shaky/Tell me what’s wrong with my brain/’Cause I seem to have lost it’ laments Madeline Follin, with the youthful ache in her voice drawing from contemporaries like Alexis Krauss all the way back to The Supremes. But once the chorus hits, the swooning instrumentation suddenly morphs into a thumping jam with a beautifully cascading melodic line. It’s about as far from groundbreaking as you can get, but the duo’s understatedly sunny pop disposition puts a stylish twist on a familiar sound.”  (Brendan Frank, Beats Per Minute)

Street Halo” / Burial / Street Halo
“‘Street Halo’ is the closest Burial has come yet to the straighter cadence of house and techno, with shuffling hi-hats and a crunchy handclap/fingersnap sound accentuating the 4/4 pulse; the middling tempo backs off dubstep’s quick snap and eases into a relaxed, rolling house groove. The backbeat bassline even recalls, however unconsciously, Ricardo Villalobos’ ‘Dexter’, which isn’t necessarily as absurd as it sounds: Both artists have a thing for accidental syncopations and splintering percussion. As always, Burial’s beats are oblique, with a hazy percussive clatter lurking behind crisp, timekeeping accents. And again, he has made mournful, a cappella vocals the melodic focus of the track, and everything is suffused in a suggestive layer of static and grit. But he’s a masterful arranger, frequently switching up elements– focusing one minute on a blunt, rave-inspired bassline, and the next on supersaturated vocal harmonies that sound like overdriven Cocteau Twins. The track follows a counterintuitive logic, abandoning the predictable structure of breakdowns and buildups in favor of twists and turns you don’t see coming, including a fake fade-out at the end.”  (Philip Sherburne, Pitchfork)

Last Night at the Jetty” / Panda Bear / Tomboy
“Listening to this version of ‘Last Night at the Jetty’ back-to-back with the 7″ version that got around late last year, everything about it sounds just a little better: The background details are brought to the fore and given some space, the sound is less murky, and Noah Lennox’s voice sounds clearer and more present. And details here mean a lot. From what we’ve heard so far, the Tomboy tracks are less about dynamics, shifting layers, and development and more about creating and sustaining a mood or feeling. ‘Slow Motion’ zeroed in on the loops and sort of let them gain force through repetition and ‘Last Night at the Jetty’ uses a similar technique but alternates between discrete melodic sections, like a dancer reeling around an open floor. Instead of a backbeat, the song has a delicate lilt, with a carefully placed pause in every bar, accentuating the melody’s vulnerable ache. ‘Didn’t we have a good time? I know we had a good time,’ he asks early on, changing that ‘we’ to ‘I’ later, like he’s maybe trying to convince himself. And then when the song opens up and the ‘I know, I know’ part comes in about two minutes in and you can hear all the electronics swirling in the background, it’s a reminder that there are still things this artist is capable of that the many imitators can’t touch.”  (Mark Richardson, Pitchfork)

DIY” / Keep Shelly in Athens / Our Own Dream
“‘DIY’ is far darker and more insistent than anything the Grecians have done previously: synths that once flowed and shimmered now punch and pulse. In particular, singer Sarah P’s vocals have transformed from ethereal whispers to strident cries, buoyed up by wonderful flourishes of brass in the chorus. This could be the first step in an exciting and bold new direction.”  (Odhran O’Donoghue, Wears the Trousers)

Lofticries” / Purity Ring [Video viewing discretion advised]
“You don’t exactly dance to the music of Purity Ring. Rather, you drift, and are carried away. The Edmonton, Canada-based duo, formed by 23-year-old Megan James and 21-year-old Corin Roddick, are part of a genre-defiant category of music. Let’s call it future pop. Swooning and eerily sexy, Purity Ring’s gliding sound blends the best of what’s in vogue with what endures—equal parts DJ Screw, Lindsey Buckingham, a sprinkling of the Mad Decent coterie and yes, nursery rhymes. Only in 2011 could you expect to hear all of those things synthesized in one place to produce such a breathtaking and wonderful curiosity. All the references add up thanks to Roddick’s punch-drunk production, perhaps as much of an unknowing homage to the late ’90s Timbaland as present day shoegazing acts like M83 and Salem. And then there’s James’s voice—fairy-like, frequently chopped and screwed not just down but up, and increasingly personal. In a world full of laptop wizardry, personality still goes a long way.”  (Shona Sanzgiri, GQ)

Cold Canada” / The Luyas / Too Beautiful To Work
“The group spawned from the bustling music scene in Montreal, and with similar energy to Montreal bands like Arcade Fire, they blend atmospheric ditties with catchy space-age pop. … Midway through, the album drops the gem ‘Cold Canada,’ which (among fantastic production work) flaunts an impressive string section and catchy vox. It’s arguably the strongest song on the record and shows The Luyas fantastic ability to arrange interesting music even around the simplest idea.”  (Dan Chapman, Verbicide Magazine)

Comfort Me” / Feist / Metal
“Based at first on a naked electric guitar, ‘Comfort Me’ builds into a drum-pounding, chanted-vocal piece that might best be characterized as a slow frenzy. Feist herself describes it as ‘an unclear female version of “We Will Rock You,”‘ which I guess is one way you could say it.  Again it is a mood piece, more about the state of mind it puts one in than the exact meaning of the lyrics, which are a series of circuital word plays (some of which could double as SAT analogies) and onomatopoetic rhythms[.]”  (No Surf Music)

Dancing On Your Scalp” / Kate Wax / Dust Collision
“The album’s name stems from the experiments currently taking place at the Large Hadron Collider somewhere under the ground near Geneva, where her grandfather once worked, and tells tales of witches, demons, dreams and ghosts. The press release dubs Wax as a ‘disco Sherpa’ guiding us through ‘the peaks and valleys of human experience’…. ‘Dancing on Your Scalp’ showcases just how well she has taken to the Border Community ethos of producing music which bridges the gap between the dance floor and the bedroom, taking elements of ‘dance’ and stripping away the hardened mechanical edges, making what should be a pounding drum beat and a filthy ‘wah wah wah waah’ into a delicate framework upon which the song is built.”  (Alex Baker, Drowned in Sound)

Let You Go” / Dimbleby & Capper
“The nom de plume of London based producer, re-mixer and singer Laura Bettinson, Dimbleby and Capper’s swirling, distorted debut single ‘Let You Go’ is an irresistibly captivating slice of gritty electro-pop. Opening with smooth, half-spoken lyrics and fluttering guitar echoes, the song is a jagged 3:58 minute battle between anthemic pop, ambient electronica and post-rock. Awash with femme-fatale vocals, the track sees crackling synths bubble beneath fuzzy, reverberating guitars and a momentous deep, hollow bass rhythm. Earthy and psychedelic, Bettinson’s complexly layered instrumentals twist around her sultry inflections and infectious melodies. Dynamic, brooding and cautiously hopeful the forthcoming release is tinged with a frustrated romanticism: the staccato samples and weighty beats perfectly conjuring up a dizzying, disorientated state of mind.”  (Lauren Down, The Line of Best Fit)

Single Status” / Mozart’s Sister / Dear Fear
“‘Single Status”s tingling synths send it air-mail to the dancefloor … klaxoned electro-pop, surfer lope, whistling whimsy, coalmine funk. Sometimes I think that Montreal needs to be festooned with warning signs, like the alerts for avalanches and deer crossings. Yes, for ice-patches; yes, for croissant and pupusa joints; yes, for places you ought not leave your bike locked up. But mostly it’s just LOOK OUT, YOU ARE ABOUT TO HEAR SOMETHING MAGNIFICENT THAT YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD BEFORE.”  (Said the Gramophone)

Oblivion” / Grimes / Visions
“The song’s dark synths are just as boppy as they are creepy, and Boucher’s doll-like vocals are high and clear, to the point that her lyrics bear some weight. ‘I need someone to look into my eyes and tell me, “Girl, you know, you’ve got to watch your health,”‘ she sings, and and as the song unfolds, her fascination with divas like Mariah Carey and Beyoncé no longer seem topical or fleeting.”  (Carrie Battan, Pitchfork)

New Work” / JJ / Kills
“A given pop song means different things to different people, which is something Swedish pop deconstructionists jj understand as well as anybody. … With ‘New Work’, a highlight from their new mixtape Kills, they sing lyrics from Swedish alt-rock band Broder Daniel’s ‘Work’ and ‘When We Were Winning’ over the piano cadence from Jay-Z’s titanic ‘Empire State of Mind’, and use it to lament the workaday grind. ‘I wake up every day/ Feeling the same way,’ Elin Kastlander moans in that achy cloud of voice sound she’s perfected over the last 18 months. She uses repetition to sell the feet-dragging feeling: ‘Gotta go to work/ Then hurry home/ Gotta go to work/ Then hurry home.’ A dull job leaves a lot of space for daydreaming, and Elin captures this feeling just as well (‘When we were 17/ The sky was always tangerine/ We ran through the streets at night’), hanging on multiple syllables to increase the sense of longing for a break in routine. Just like that, jj turn a melody associated with feeling like you’re 20 feet tall at the center of the world into an anti-anthem that takes everyday malaise and transforms it into something beautiful.”  (Larry Fitzmaurice, Pitchfork)

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