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

Beat and the Pulse” (Clean Version) / Austra
“The Claire Edmondson video accompanying ‘Beat and the Pulse’ excels and fails in similar fashion to Feel It Break, the debut LP from Austra and singer Katie Stelmanis. It features a barrage of female dancers, dressed in subtly erotic, (supposedly) everyday underwear, interpreting the music. At first, there are hints of abnormalities in some of the girls: a webbed hand, a reptile-like wing, a blotted nipple. The initial glimpses are enticing: wait, what did I just see? Edmondson then repeatedly shows the mutated girls in lingering shots with each successive one sapping the oddness of it. If left minimal, it could have been quite an effective idea, creepy in the cover up. Spotlighted, the oddities become mundane. … The rhythms have the elasticity of springs. The synths alternate between fairy-like pings and electronic violin plucks. The interaction between the two is simple and gimmick-free, think Junior Boys circa 2006 minus the make-out potential. It exists somewhere between Italo-disco, synthpop and the New Romantics, all through the lens of the Garage Band Generation.”  (Michael Ardaiolo, Dusted Magazine)

The Words That Maketh Murder” / PJ Harvey / Let England Shake
“Like much of Let England Shake, ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ is extremely pretty, with autoharp strum drifting around a perky rock’n’roll rhythm, a hopscotch vocal melody, and a fat, jolly horn. And its lyrics, of course, aren’t pretty in the slightest– a slideshow of war imagery, much drawn from Goya’s Disasters of War sequence of pictures. The point isn’t to subvert the attractive music, though– the sound doesn’t draw you in only for the words to shock, since you’d have to be very inattentive for ‘soldiers fell like lumps of meat’ not to jump out at you. Rather, the prettiness and the vileness sit alongside another, indivisible. Most songs about the horror of war give you space to take an appropriate distance, put your remembrance face on. Here the lumps of meat get your toes tapping– and the interplay of John Parish’s voice and the horn is as comical as it’s sinister. Harvey has talked in interviews about how the…view of war as something cyclical and inescapable informs Let England Shake, and that comes through strongly in ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’. War is not only irrational, it’s something close to black magic– ‘This was something else again/ Our fear it cannot explain/ The words that maketh murder.’ At the end of the song this ancient law of war runs up against a different kind of law: the music shifts gear and the singers start borrowing ‘Summertime Blues’: ‘What if I take my problem to the United Nations?’ The answer, suggests the rest of the song, might well be nothing. It’s a dramatic, sardonic way to end the track– the brash optimism of post-war pop breaking through a song that sadly asserts the foolishness of imagining a ‘post-war’ anything.”  (Tom Ewing, Pitchfork)

Helplessness Blues” / Fleet Foxes / Helplessness Blues
“The image of Fleet Foxes has always been that of mountain men — outcasts stuck in a woodland cabin, seemingly transported here from centuries ago. Pecknold furthers this image by covering songs like ‘False Knight on the Road’ and ‘Silver Dagger’, songs that date back to the early 20th century and perhaps earlier. It is an image that has led critics to call them ‘timeless’ and ‘authentic.’ Pecknold’s attention to the past blends with the band’s composite sound of shapenote-inspired Appalachian harmonies, acoustic instruments mixed with sparse warm electronic sounds. And indeed, as folk revivalists, Fleet Foxes are nothing but authentic. Helplessness Blues continues this trend. Pecknold’s lyrics make no attempt to modernize…Herein lies Pecknold’s inspiration for the entire album, an unsurprising theme for someone who describes himself as suffering from ‘social anxiety.’ Constantly, we find Pecknold continually wanting to climb back into his shell, or perhaps to his orchard, as apples are a key image in many songs on the album. ‘If I had an orchard, I’d work ’till I’m sore,’ he repeats on the title track after expressing his wish to be no more than ‘a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.'”  (Tyler Fisher, Sputnik Music)

Midnight City” / M83 / Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
“[N]othing [on the album] quite stands out as starkly or as radiantly as ‘Midnight City,’ a triumphant, almost symphonic tune that blends shoegaze, dream pop and New Wave with the current trend of electronic pop to create what will be remembered as one of this decade’s masterpieces. As Pitchfork mentioned, the song most recalls ‘1979,’ the Smashing Pumpkins’ 1996 ode to youth—a song that really pushed the Pumpkins out of their alterna-rock niche to create a popular classic. And like ‘1979,’ which captured the mixture [of] angst and hope of its generation in the same way that ‘Midnight City’ does so perfectly, ‘Midnight City’ has the potential to become a massive crossover hit.”  (Nico Lang, Thought Catalog)

Cruel” / St. Vincent / Strange Mercy
“Annie Clark’s music as St. Vincent works by creating obvious contrasts: There’s the cute and the queasy; the shapeless and the rigid. ‘Cruel’, for example, leads with a disco beat, but the melody gets so long and drawn-out that it slides across the rhythm track like an oil patch. Her voice– passive, girlish– sounds lost against the farty and broken-down guitars. The effect is a little like trying to shove together two magnets at their north poles: There’s slippage, friction, and an inability to connect. Any funk in ‘Cruel’ is a kind of incidental byproduct of all the anxiety. It’s like watching a toddler who has to pee but won’t– a herky-jerky funk. It’s too controlled and playful to sound creepy. But there’s a darkness there, too, or a sense of mischief, that drives her music to this feeling of essential imbalance– a place where it’s hard to find footing, even to a disco beat.”  (Mike Powell, Pitchfork)

Mine That Groove” / Alejandra O’Leary / Broken Mirror Baby
When Will They Learn?” / Alejandra O’Leary / Broken Mirror Baby
“‘Mine That Groove’ starts out with a funky guitar groove and tambourines, which immediately grabs your attention. The instrumentation is solid, and O’Leary’s voice is interesting; her sweet whispery voice works well. The song ‘When Will They Learn’ is catchy, sunny, and fun. O’Leary’s voice is mellow, with an almost ethereal quality to it. The tune has a slight throw-back 90′s alt rock vibe to it, and it would be a perfect fit for any college radio station. The band’s talent is evident in this particular song– the guitars and drums are great, the back-up vocals flawless.”  (Cyrus Rhodes, Indie Music Digest)

Horses” / Alejandra O’Leary / Broken Mirror Baby
O’Leary: “I had been listening to a lot of ABBA and I wanted to try to write a song like one of theirs – with all the harmonic unpredictability and depth, all expressed in a manner at once upfront and somewhat out of left field. Within their ambitious musical creations, I have always been fascinated with ABBA’s relationship to the English language. Of course Bjorn Ulvaeus was the main lyricist in the group and he knows English well. But after finishing a song, he had to hand it over to two singers (Agnetha and Annie-Fried) who were less than fluent – the result is a kind of stiltedness that manages to be really emotional because of the strength and conviction of the singing and the propulsiveness and melodic surehandedness of the tunes. Although English is my first language, I don’t take it for granted. I always feel very aware that I am singing in one (strange) language of many. Words interest me for the way they sound as much as for what they mean. So ‘Horses’ was the first song I wrote for the album and it set a tone for the whole collection. You can definitely hear the influence of ABBA’s songcraft and production in the song, so I was happy about that. In the studio, Doug and I added lots of cool vocal harmonies and a very 70s double guitar solo. But I don’t think that ‘Horses’ sounds retro at all. And the themes – problems with communication, romantic stalemates – are all mine.” This song is about knowing me knowing you; about when “A-Ha!” moments are lacking, and (the) words are insufficient.  (abashfulharvestman)

East Harlem” / Beirut / The Rip Tide
“Admittedly, Condon and Co. exude claim to beautiful melodies layed over rich textures of trumpet, ukulele and a bunch of Balkan folk music staples due to the leader’s outspoken love of the region’s culture. In the band’s latest work ‘East Harlem’ this influence from those ‘chain of wooded mountains’ does not go shy. His voice, the kind that swoons low but hits high up there only to rise from the lovely ebb of chanting instruments, resonates the wisdom of someone who has seen all of life, that could have survived a war, lost a wife or has seen a generation pass by. In this track, he willingly pauses to highlight the tender sounds of horns filling in the longing of having ‘a thousand miles between us’ and the memories it has left- ‘and sound of your breath on the door/ and the sound will bring me home.’”  (DÉNOUEMENTS at bobetbagundang.com)

Satellite” / The Kills / Blood Pressures
“The duo [of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince] have just dropped the first single [of the Blood Pressures LP], ‘Satellite,’ exhibiting the downtempo, punk swagger that they’ve become known for, but also sounding more polished and gentle on the ears, building off songs like ‘Tape Song’ and ‘U.R.A. Fever’ from 2008′s Midnight Boom. It’s aggressive and bass heavy, with Hince’s distorted backup vocals giving Mosshart’s even more character, housing a bad ass guitar solo and one of the catchiest hooks The Kills have ever come out with.”  (Pretty Much Amazing)

The Wilhelm Scream” / James Blake / James Blake
“When a character called Wilhelm is shot in the thigh with an arrow in the 1953 western The Charge at Feather River, you hear a strangled-yelp sound effect now known as the Wilhelm Scream. Since that film, it’s become a Hollywood inside joke, used over and over to soundtrack men getting shot, stabbed, and falling from substantial heights in everything from Star Wars to Toy Story to Howard the Duck. At this point, it’s little more than a trivia question. James Blake’s ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ does not contain the Wilhelm Scream. It’s not a joke for those in the know. In fact, the song is one of the most universal moments of his brief-yet-impressive career thus far. After hinting at his beacon of a blue-eyed croon over the course of several minimal, eclectic, and– above all else– unique electronic EPs, he went full-voice for a recent cover of Feist’s ‘The Limit to Your Love’, drawing legitimate comparisons to the likes of Antony and Justin Vernon. But, unlike those contemporaries, Blake isn’t a songwriter in the traditional sense. He’s a producer, a master at designing sounds. So he uses the song’s scaling vocal melody like a loop and leaves it to a slew of encroaching keys and synths to provide the forward motion. ‘I don’t know about my dreamin’ anymore/ All that I know is I’m fallin’, fallin’, fallin’, fallin’,’ he sighs, and it’s easy to imagine him slipping off a high-rise in slow-motion. With ‘The Wilhelm Scream’, Blake shrugs off the novelty of the song’s namesake and zeroes in on the desperation of the original cry. Just as his music tries to deconstruct people like Prince and Timbaland– isolating single drums and suspending them in space– Blake breaks down the famed scream to its tiny molecules. Nobody’s sure exactly who voiced the Wilhelm Scream, but somebody did, and there’s hurt in that guttural wail.”  (Ryan Dombal, Pitchfork)

Think You Can Wait” / The National / Win Win Official Motion Picture Soundtrack
“‘Think You Can Wait’ is featured on the soundtrack for the…Thomas McCarthy-directed Paul Giamatti flick, Win Win. It’s a quiet and sweeping melancholy orchestration. In short, this song is heartbreaking and pure The National. Somber in mood, the track beats on quietly like a steady heartbeat following the subdued lull of Matt Berninger‘s calm baritone and features guest vocals/harmonies courtesy of Brooklyn’s Sharon Van Etten. Just the thought of the two singing together makes my tired heart flush warm and bright.”  (Mindful Earful)

New England” / Conor & the Stonehill Kids
“This bassy, smothered recording – like a song recorded in a barrow, a marine trench, a cavernous cellar. But it’s the song of a man who loves his gang, who skips and jives with them, whistling. It’s the song of a man who loves his friends – except, uh, he hasn’t met them yet. For now he’s still en route. He’s still in this cave. He’s still figuring out what he’ll have for breakfast, when he finds that love; how he’ll kiss her on her ready mouth.”  (Said the Gramophone)

Riding for the Feeling” / Bill Callahan / Apocalypse
Callahan: “Music is the most futuristic art, I read somebody say recently. It’s the most fluid, as it has no form.”
“‘Riding for the Feeling’ is a standout on Apocalypse, his latest. Its also the kind of song whose wisdom you could spend a lot of time unpacking and figuring out how to apply. Musically, it’s simple: a winsome acoustic strum haloed by a few ripples of electric guitar and keys. Lyrically, it feels like the record’s existential centerpiece. ‘With intensity, the drop evaporates by law,’ he says. ‘In conclusion, leavin’ is easy when you’ve got someplace you need to be.’ Callahan paints a still-life of himself on a hotel bed with the TV on mute, alone with his voice as it streams from the demo tapes he’s revisiting. And then he murmurs twice, ‘My, my, my apocalypse.’ But he flips his narrative by abandoning the depths of that mantra for another, a meditation rife with possibility. ‘I realized I had said very little about ways or wheels or riding for the feeling,’ he says as the chord becomes major again, and soon after that, he’s gone.”  (David Bevan, Pitchfork)

A1” / Darkside / Darkside EP
“Nicolas Jaar creates slow, strange, cloistered songs with keyboards and field recordings, breath, and drums. He makes synthesizers feel like natural elements, mingled with running waters, murmuring voices, and sighing winds. … He applies a chilly, commanding logic to disassociated quantities until they fall into a restive equilibrium. He creates biospheres and then adds one extra, destabilizing element, or leaves out something crucial. His songs pose enigmatic questions disguised as bold assertions. Meaning leaks out of the substance to pool in the cracks, and things that shouldn’t relate, do. … Much closer to idiomatic pop than Space, with Harrington’s falsetto clenching Jaar’s own loose, Matthew Dear-like croak, the EP brings Jaar’s highly personalized values to the quality of time, rather than space: because what is funk, if not the creative, slantwise division of metrical time? As Harrington holds down long, deep, calmly needling grooves, Jaar colors the atmosphere around them to give them different senses of brave momentum or back-winding reticence, earthbound heft or atmospheric suspension. On ‘A1’, he sets glimmering whorls below the loping guitar and a cushion of static above, holding them in check until the very end, when they burst forth in a high-desert mirage that carries over into the Morricone-tipping ‘A2’. It’s icy-hot stuff. The importance of Harrington’s ace fretwork can’t be overstated, but the frosty austerity could only be a product of the curious mind of Jaar.”  (Brian Howe, Pitchfork)

The Fox” / Niki & The Dove / Niki & The Dove
Niki & The Dove: “‘We got inspired to write “The Fox” when we heard this interview with this Swedish book author on the radio, the author describes a technique for insomnia where you picture a meadow with a hill, and at the top of the hill is a tree that a fox lives under, you walk up the fox and tell her all your worries and fears, the fox then digs a hole, buries the worries and lays on top. Then you are able to fall asleep.'”
“’80s-inspired synth-pop is making its come back in the form of the 12-inch release The Fox from Stockholm natives Niki & The Dove. The duo has a powerhouse approach to their sound, combing raw intensity with subtle melodies and vocals. Comprised of three tracks, the EP has a wealth of instrumentation and creative sound. Each song brings something different and displays a unique aspect of the artists. … ‘The Fox’ is far and away the best track in the trio. According to the artists the song is about insomnia, about sharing your worries and fears in the hope of finding peace and sleep. It is driving, pounding, and addictive. The chorus progresses with loud pulsating guitars and crying vocals. It builds to an electrifying and explosive end. It is filled with desperation and a brilliant use of strings and percussion. Niki & The Dove have provided listeners with a great introduction to their latest work.”  (Vanessa Bennett, Verbicide Magazine)

Video Games” / Lana Del Rey / Born to Die
“Del Rey (aka 24-year-old New York State native Lizzy Grant) calls her music ‘Hollywood sad core’, and the modern subject matter aside, this gloriously molten ballad could easily ornament the rolling credits of Tinseltown classics. Del Rey herself looks more like the aftermath of modern day LA – a sad-eyed Mena Suvari, with huge, ostensibly fake lips. That’s just one of a peculiarly beautiful set of contrasts: delicate harp plumage and weighty piano build to a climax that’ll make you weep harder than completing Halo 3, yet Del Ray sings about a state of untroubled romantic bliss: ‘He holds me in his big arms/Drunk and I am seein’ stars/This is all I think of’. The heart-punching sadness comes from knowing it’s fleeting, emphasised by her voice – a flooring, Cat Power-ish pout.”  (Laura Snapes, NME)

Related: “In July 2010, law professor Jeffrey Rosen published a piece in The New York Times Magazine called ‘The Web Means the End of Forgetting.’ In it, he discusses the phrase ‘Gone to Texas,’ which originated in America during the 19th century frontier times when debtors or the disenfranchised would leave town in pursuit of a new life in the still unsettled region of Texas. Those dissidents would usually put a sign on their home that said, ‘Gone to Texas’ or ‘G.T.T.’, implying, essentially: ‘I’m starting over as someone else –- leave me alone!’ Rosen argues that this kind of liberation was crucial to the American spirit, representing the ways in which this new society is not beholden to the sins of their own forbearers or their misbegotten youth. Rosen goes on to argue that this kind of a liberation is relatively impossible in the digital age. No one can just ‘go to Texas’ anymore, and in his words, ‘the worst thing you’ve done is also the first thing that everyone knows about you.’ … It can certainly be argued that Lizzy Grant’s transformation into Lana Del Rey was her attempt to ‘go to Texas.’”  –from Elizabeth Bracy, “One Year Of Lana Del Rey: A Retrospective” Stereogum

Fear of the Uknown and the Blazing Sun” / Colin Stetson / New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
“Colin Stetson’s…Judges was my favourite album of 2011. This song is just one song, a branch ripped from a tree. With vocals by Laurie Anderson and Shara Worden, but under those singers it’s all Stetson you hear. This was recorded at Montreal’s Hotel 2 Tango in single takes, no overdubs, by Stetson, Shahzad Ismaily and Silver Mt Zion’s Efrim Menuck. It is the most exciting and devastating record that I have heard in seasons; it is a roaring, terrible sadness … Twenty microphones, planted like roses around a room – capturing the ripple of notes, the wails of resonance, the violent clack of fingers on keys and the shriek of Stetson’s own voice, sounding through the horn; like Stetson has two hearts, four lungs, can sing two different sorrows at once.”  (Said the Gramophone)

That’s all for now. Until later: JET!

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