Friday, December 30, 2011
We'll continue our countdown today with songs #5 through #1.
#5: The Rapture - How Deep is Your Love?
There's a strong, clear attempt at profound meaning in Luke Jenner's wailing on "How Deep is Your Love?," the Rapture's love-cry to loss, both in this world and in Jenner's spiritual one. It's a sound difference from the band's previous stops, who are clearly focused on the religious side of things. In that, it's hard to make a band sound good when they look to religion for most of their material, but forgive the pathways to "How Deep is Your Love?" was made. It sounds good enough so no one on either side of the spiritual spectrum pays any mind.
#4: Bon Iver - Holocene
It's hard to not find something that resonates in Bon Iver; the soft-lulled sensibilities, the unconscious, yet artful construction, and Justin Vernon's ease to cast light on enlightening visual elements. "Holocene," the center-piece of Bon Iver, still sounds like Vernon circa 2007, but there's a level of depth that takes a few listens. The subtle instrumental movements take a quiet, serene song, and make it sound more lavish, almost contextual with nature, than it seems. Vernon's reliable falsetto paces through soft horns and marching drums, slowly carrying the air under "Holocene" up to a point where it seems majestic. And while some songs have an uncharacteristic ability to mimic nature, Bon Iver truly sound immersed in it.
#3: Dum Dum Girls - Coming Down
Dum Dum Girls have effectively cornered the Mazzy Star aesthetic on "Coming Down," which blasts heroically through the aforementioned Star-like vocals and Jesus and Mary Chain drum snares. While the influences do rain heavy, the band sounds surprisingly huge here, especially for a group that teetered on the fence of "which indie girl group is that again?" The four-piece set themselves apart with "Coming Down," effectively standing their ground on something that can be called as beautiful as it is memorable, going on for nearly seven minutes, without losing a step any way through.
#2: Tyler, The Creator - Yonkers
"Yonkers" should effectively go down as 2011's "Holy Shit" moment. Here's Tyler, The Creator, the head-piece of Odd Future, the biggest up-and-coming group in hip-hop, rapping about killing Bruno Mars, Columbine, cartoons, and being a totally non-understood rapper. "Yonkers" screams anti-rap, almost to a rounded punk nature. Rather than take the music too seriously, the 20-year-old Tyler opts to fuck with it, laughing in the game's stereotypes and coming through as a generally fucked-up mind. Maybe it's all in character, but "Yonkers" isn't just a showcase for an all character, no substance artist. Sometimes genuinely weird people make genuinely weird, interesting music.
#1: M83 - Midnight City
It feels like a cop-out, I get that. The same song that was on my #1 Album of 2011 and Pitchfork's pick for song of the year, makes it as #1 on Bears and Bullets Top 25 Songs of 2011. But that decision was made months ago when "Midnight City" leaked - before Hurry Up, We're Dreaming was released and before the Victoria's Secret ad caught a bit of national attention. "Midnight City" has all the proponents of a visionary M83 piece; the roaring, romantic vocals, stand-out synth work,and memorable hooks. But the wailing, off-beat chorus of what sounds like animal shrieks blended in between and the totally out of nowhere sax solo during the climax make "Midnight City" stand out far, far more than any other track released this year. How all of those components were put together to make something not only memorable, but insanely invigorating, is something to be admired.
We'll that makes Bears and Bullets last post of 2011. Have a happy New Year, everyone, and I'll see you in 2012.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
We'll continue our countdown today with songs #10 - #6.
#10: Big K.R.I.T. - Country Shit (Remix ft. Ludacris and Bun B)
Return of 4Eva, while Big K.R.I.T.'s true breakout album, isn't totally single-minded. For Justin Scott, the 25-year-old breakout Mississippi rapper, every southern rap anthem is met with self-conscious ones. But forgive me for not ignoring "Country Shit (Remix ft. Ludacris and Bun B)," a heavy souvenir of modern southern rap; dirty, party-minded, and as unapologetic as it is enjoyable. Rap music needs real voices now and again, but no one will argue against this change of pace.
#9: Black Lips - Family Tree
Arabia Mountain's defining moment, "Family Tree" is the product of a well-placed production snarled in between the Black Lips now effortless messy pragmatism. It's inherently sloppy, but consciously put together, combining what the band had already perfected, and what it desperately needed work on. There's something to love about the Black Lips and their renown stage persona, but it seems ill-needed for any band who doesn't sound like they're drunk seven days a week. And maybe now they're still drunk six of those days, but they figured out something right in between those chaotic moments.
#8: The Weeknd - The Morning
The world's true introduction to The Weeknd, "The Morning" is the expertly crafted new-wave hip-hop soul, in a drilling, real-world sense. The production, as I've repeated several times over, is something to be in awe of. But rather than staying stuck on the ethereal sounds spiraling through the background, Tesfaye's soft, but wrenching vocals of high-style dejection eventually stick out. Parties, women, sex, and nothing to show except the human that comes out of it. It's richer than it sounds, but not because of the subject matter, but the sly attempt of spilling his guts out enriched in a glorious "ambiance."
#7: Battles - Ice Cream (ft. Matias Aguayo)
The long march of "Ice Cream's" sexually-addled introduction - brimmed with soaking, short-breath "oh" and "ahs" - is a eyebrow raising mark, not only for a song, but for a band like Battles that settles so often without any kind of vocals in their work. And while no member of the three-piece progressive group actually puts their time into the singing (that's what Aguayo is for), it speaks louder than most of their instrumental work on Gloss Drop. The group's tread the pop-prog territory before with 2007's "Atlas." And while "Ice Cream" isn't "Atlas," in terms of off-hand oddball structure and unpredictability, it comes through with that same level of insane enjoyment. Also, the best video of 2011 helps.
#6: Radiohead - Lotus Flower
When the video for "Lotus Flower" debuted on an early February morning, a calm sense of pre-hype hysteria rose. Fans had only heard of Radiohead's The King of Limbs roughly a week before the release, and almost knew nothing about it aside from a few sparse live performances from Thom Yorke's solo work. The video was instantly transfixed as internet-rattled gifs and t-shirts with Yorke's "choreographed" dance routine, but mostly in fun of what Radiohead has become to the internet community. But in honesty, "Lotus Flower" is a monumentally complex rendition for the veteran group, filled with dual percussion, Johnny Greenwood's quietly chaotic sound bites, and increasingly skillful sound arches that sound unfamiliar even to a band as accomplished as Radiohead. The King of Limbs may have not been the flaunting standout that many hope from the band, but "Lotus Flower" clears the temporary uneasiness.
We'll continue our countdown tomorrow with the top five songs of 2011 ...
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
We'll continue our countdown today with songs #15 through #11.
#15: Danny Brown - Monopoly
"Monopoly" sounds genuinely like Danny Brown, born poor and raised in Detroit, generally deals with dangerous shit. The beats are strong, sullen, and dirty, with Brown noting that he's been through a lot to get where he is. But in reality, "Monopoly" is nothing more than a take to shit on his opponents, and if there's any doubt of it, he goes to length to emphasize that he'll "literally" shit on their mixtapes. It's the perfect blend of what makes XXX so great; deceivingly intelligent rhymes split between Brown's desire to be understandably weird.
Danny Brown - Monopoly by Bears and Bullets
#14: Smith Westerns - All Die Young
The centerpiece to Smith Westerns' sophomore release Dye It Blonde, "All Die Young" takes the lighter, lo-fuzz surf-rock aura of the group's first work and blows it up in front of multi-layered keyboards and Max Kakacek's slow-tuning guitar solos to the "everyone join together" climactic finale. But more so than what it is, "All Die Young" is the sound of a band actually getting their heads together and figuring out what's great instead of what is just good.
#13: Fucked Up - Queen of Hearts
"Queen of Hearts" is your true introduction to Fucked Up's long-winded tail of David, the protagonist in David Comes to Life. But rather than space out an all-too long story to fit every finite detail of David's exploits, the group had enough sense to try their hand at hardcore story telling, I.E., lead-singer Pink Eyes still gets to spit his throat-scathing wails behind messy, sonic guitars. But the story doesn't necessarily wrap up the listener, as it shouldn't. It's Fucked Up's perfected method that still comes through on top.
#12: Freddie Gibbs and Madlib - Thuggin'
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib joining up is just a good idea. It had to be said. The eponymous track from the collaborative duo's Thuggin' EP, features Madlib's well-renown super-rich sampled beats and Gibbs' best work of the year (that includes a lot of cameos along the way). A lot of the songs on these lists have well-detailed reasoning behind their unreal quality, but when it comes to "Thuggin'," there isn't much more to say than just, goddamn, listen to how good this is. It might be a cop-out, but man if it isn't correct.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Thuggin' by Rappcats
#11: FIDLAR - Wake Bake Skate
Pot doesn't need an anthem. It's had enough artists striving to bow to the temple of getting high and hanging out since the 50s, but we have to admit that there's something stupidly endearing about it. FIDLAR's "Wake Bake Skate," an ode to being broke, lazy, and smoking, doesn't strive to collect the ever-growing range of metaphor's of contemporary American laziness, but knows how to make it seem a lot more fun, despite the depressing reality of what they're saying.
We'll continue our countdown tomorrow with songs #10 - #6 ...
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
We''ll continue our countdown today with songs #20 through #16.
#20: Rustie - Ultra Thizz
Glass Swords, Scottish producer Rustie's first full-length debut, is full of songs like "Ultra Thizz," which takes a smart man's look in between dubstep and electro pop. In that regard, however, it rarely sounds like either of those genre's take collective footing in Rustie's underrated technique. "Ultra Thizz" simply does what Glass Swords does best; putting together recognizable pieces into something completely different.
Rustie - Ultra Thizz by Bears and Bullets
#19: Real Estate - It's Real
There's nothing demonstratively complex about "It's Real," Real Estate's most endearing and memorable take to date. The band sounds, if anything, lush here, breezing through soft guitar and "Ohh" choruses, it makes the more unnecessarily produced tracks of the year seem somewhat preposterous in comparison, taking a page from Kurt Vile's book. There's nothing a song needs sometimes than a memorable hook, solid timing, and the ability to take itself less seriously.
#18: The Weeknd - The Knowing
The finale to The Weeknd's pretty fucking good debut House of Balloons, "The Knowing" is Abel Tesfaye's six-minute epic to clearly being cheated on. For all of memorable moments on House of Balloons, or even Thursday or Echoes of Silence, the two follow-up albums, none are nearly as personal or as easily to relate to as "The Knowing." But there's nothing tedious or petty that comes through, regardless of however Tesfaye really dealt with it.
#17: Bon Iver - Perth
Bon Iver's emphatic opener, "Perth" sets the unreal pace for the rest of the album that, for the most part, does its best to match it. Justin Vernon and the rest of Bon Iver sound deceivingly huge, backed by multiple drums, horns, and a rhythm section, but still manage to keep the quiet allure of the group and Vernon's intimate vocal style close at hand. It speaks volume for the rest of the album, the band keeping itself in tact with its large world sensibilities and small world sounds.
#16: Mastodon - Spectrelight
The Hunter, Mastodon's latest effort, wasn't what most fans wanted from the group. The idea of the Atlanta metal band becoming too radio-friendly can't be good for their image, regardless of whether that notion has any true merit. Maybe songs like "Curl of the Burl" were a bit too soft for the Leviathan fans at heart, but "Spectrelight" sounds like prime Mastodon any way you shape it. The song burst through the opening like every crash of thunder cliche you can call it, drums and guitar roaring, almost unstoppable, making you forget any of the album's lighter moments.
We'll continue tomorrow with songs #15 - #11 ...
Monday, December 26, 2011
With less than a week remaining in 2011, it's finally that time again for Bears and Bullets to unleash its 25 favorite songs of the year. As it was for the previous three years, there are certain rules that qualify a song for the list.
1.) The song must have been released during the calendar year.
2.) Even if the song was technically released during 2011, if it was leaked prior to January 1, 2011, then it also does not qualify for the list.
Last year, Vampire Weekend, in a decision that surprised even me, landed the #1 overall spot with "Giving Up the Gun." Something tells me that this time around it'll be a little more predictable. Let's see.
#25: Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire - The Last Huzzah! (Remix - ft. Despot, Das Racist, Danny Brown, and El-P)
Maybe it's the extensive collaborative effort put forward by Youtube rapper Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire that makes "Huzzah!" stand out more than anything else. Maybe it's the fact that the aforementioned eXquire lets the more well-known names stand up to the plate first, including El-P, who just flat out steals the scene with his '16-Step' verse that makes everyone take a little more notice. Maybe the points are drowned out through the sheer number of people getting their voice out here, but damn if every voice has something worth-while to say. Having one of the best videos of the year helps too.
#24: Kurt Vile - In My Time
"In My Time" seems split on itself. On one side, Kurt Vile ranges through the memories of his youth, both in a positive light as "young and crazy" hinting at "discreet mistakes," but never finding solace in his adult life. On the other, he isn't concerned with why he was who he is. It's the kid in all of us (or at least the adult version of one we try to be), flailing between responsibility and self-inflicted reality. There's no definite answer, as "In My Time" drifts endlessly toward the end, repeating its cycles. The question doesn't need to be answered. It never has.
#23: The Field - Then It's White
Not every good song needs emphatic moments of resound brilliance. For The Field's "Then It's White," the surrounding stills of looping echoes and piano seamlessly gravitate through the nearly eight minute session. There's a feeling of emptiness throughout, but not because the listener is waiting for something else, but because "Then It's White" reminds what those empty moments mean. The people, the sounds, the movement. It's all there without a word to be said.
The Field - Then It's White by Bears and Bullets
#22: The Joy Formidable - Whirring
Everyone's favorite surprise act from last August's Lollapalooza, The Joy Formidable made heads turn (or faces bleed) with "Whirring," a jarring, near-seven minute blast that spends nearly half of its time cruising through wonderfully surprising shoe-gaze. There's a bit of nostalgia here, to more-attuned versions of My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth playing through, but to an audience that doesn't expect it. It may not be the genre's prime anymore, but songs like "Whirring" make you forget what you're missing.
#21: Wavves - I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl
With Wavves Life Sux EP, Nathan Williams (slightly) ditched the super-DIY attitude of the group's previous work to something with a little more form behind it. That isn't to say that the band has completely ditched their "who gives a fuck, let's smoke" sensibilities (they wouldn't be Wavves without it), but just tried to sound them out a little more clearly. The song isn't totally about Dave Grohl, sans the chorus, but rather Williams deferring to his childhood dream while meandering through life's daily misery of living with his mistakes. I'm not gonna go out on a limb and say he's growing up, because I doubt it too, but it sounds like it for a minute.
Wavves - I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl by Bears and Bullets
We'll continue tomorrow with songs #20-#16 ...