Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting my ‘favorites of 2011’– including favorite songs, albums, comics, and foods. We’ll start off with my favorite songs. Click on the song title to listen to the song. Please feel free to comment with your own favorites (or to criticize my favorites!)
1) Beach Boys- Surf’s Up. I love the Beach Boys and was thrilled when they finally released a proper version of their cult album Smile. This is the centerpiece and stand-out track on the album. Each time I listen to it feels like a new experience, and I can’t hear the final minute without getting chills. The luminous harmonies, rich orchestration, and thought-provoking lyrics add up to my favorite song of the year. I’ll never grow tired of listening to it.
- Sookie Says: Let’s shift things a bit and move this one down to honorable mentions. Yes, this is a good song, and no, I don’t have the same heart-rending love for the Beach Boys that Johnny has…but I still think you need to know that the real #1 song of the year is Lightworks by Atlas Sound. No one can sound as much like a sad 1950s girl singer and a swaggering rockstar all at the same time as Bradford Cox does in this song–and effortlessly so. “Everywhere I look there is a light and it will guide me…and there’s no pain.” The chorus is sung as an incantation to bring the light into being and to celebrate its existence.
2) Woods- Any Other Day. Low-fi DIY bands are a dime-a-dozen these days, but Woods really spread their wings with their album Sun and Shade. This is my favorite track from the album– a short, catchy Byrds-inspired number that sounds splendid in any setting– whether it’s in the car during a road trip or through headphones, sitting on the porch on a mild autumn evening.
- Sookie Says: Move this one down to number 11 and call it To Have in the Home – my Woods pick for the year. The Beta-Band-esque groove is pleasantly infectious.
3) Okkervil River- Your Past Life as a Blast. Although I was a bit disappointed with I am Very Far, this track is one of my all-time favorite Okkervil River songs. It has a cool world-music vibe and some of the most evocative imagery of any song this year (see such lines as “How will we go, what do you think? Into the dust? Into the drink?”).
- Sookie Says: I would tie this number with Okkervil River’s Weave Room Blues – a B-side that should have been an A-side all along.
4) Atlas Sound- My Angel is Broken. It was really hard to pick a favorite song from Parallax. This is the one that I find myself returning to most often. It’s got a killer opening riff, a sexy groove, and some of Bradford Cox’s most confident and histrionic vocals. The way he allows his voice to crack on the final word of the line, “The older you get, you’ll see/ you’ll be a lot like me,” kills me. It’s easy to understand why Sookie is so obsessed with this guy.
- Sookie Says: Well, since you gave me another outlet for my obsession, I’ll go ahead and take this opportunity to extoll the virtues of Te Amo, another track off Atlas Sound’s newest offering. It is sweet and insisting. Who doesn’t want to be so enamored as to forget all past longings and “pretend you were the only one.” Bradford’s delivery is startlingly fresh and unencumbered, prompting one to wail along with him through the strange dreams, same dreams, and down times.
5) Radiohead- Separator. File The King of Limbs under the “major disappointment” category but damn if Radiohead doesn’t kill it with this closing track. The gentle guitar noodling that enters at the 2’32” point really elevates the song. Radiohead may not strike gold with each new album, but they’ve cemented their status as the greatest “rock” band in the world. “If you think this is over then you’re wrong” indeed.
- Sookie Says: Oh, Radiohead, you’re such a tease and Thom’s such a flirt…My number one re-listen-able track off King of Limbs goes to Little by Little. Is it groundbreaking? No. Is it awesome? Yes.
6) The Rosebuds- Go Ahead. I’ve probably listened to this track more than any other song released this year. It’s also one of my all-time favorite opening tracks. Loud Planes Fly Low is a break-up album, recorded after the divorce of founding members Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp. This fact makes such lyrics as “Let’s make a pact, set a date/ meet back up here at the same place” all the more heartbreaking.
- Sookie Says: This place on my list belongs to Thurston Moore’s beautiful Benediction. “I love you my darling. Life is just a fling.”
7) Tom Waits- New Year’s Eve. The closing track on Bad as Me is a quintessential Tom Waits ballad– chock full of flawed characters and maudlin sentimentality. The “Auld Lang Syne” sing-along near the end of the song could be cloying from a lesser artist, but Tom Waits turns in a definitive rendition of the timeless holiday classic.
- Sookie Says: Here’s another place you can see the divergence of tastes between Johnny and myself. I would give a nod to Tom Waits’ Hell Broke Luce rather than the tribute to auld lang syne. It is harsh and abrasive, but I love the jarring intensity of this song.
8 ) Real Estate- Wonder Years. My buddy Vince is going to give me hell for including this song instead of the (arguably) superior “It’s Real”; but I have an affinity for bassist Alex Bleeker’s optimistic resignation. Such lyrics as, “No I’m not okay, but I guess I’m doing fine,” speak to a part of me that draws comfort from the knowledge that I’ll never be entirely “okay.”
- Sookie Says: I would switch this one with The Rural Alberta Advantage’s Goodnight. I love this urgent, rough-and-tumble lullaby. Plus, it is the perfect closing track for the album.
9) The Antlers- I Don’t Want Love. The Antlers create music so wrought with human emotion that it practically demands a cathartic release in the listener. The opening track from their Hospice follow-up Burst Apart suggests a fractured relationship (or perhaps a failed one-night-stand) and the acknowledgment that sometimes it’s just better to be alone: “Keep your hands to yourself/ When you follow me home/ I don’t want love.”
- Sookie Says: Picking one Antlers song to describe here is a really tough thing to do, so I’ll pick two instead. Tracks 3 and 4 on Burst Apart–Parentheses and No Widows, respectively–go together like a bad decision and a consequence. Sonically, Parentheses is Jeff Buckley getting sinister on top of a drum machine, with a little trip-hop ambiance in the background–or, as Johnny might say, it’s got a mean, sexy groovy. No Widows is the morning after Parentheses, with all the varied emotions that implies. Lyrically, one is shoving someone away and the other is ending up with no one to shove in the first place–sinister intentions followed by loss.
10) Lana Del Rey- Video Games. Haters gonna hate, but there’s a reason that internet sensation Lana Del Rey’s breakthrough hit has been viewed over 8 million time on youtube. It’s a perfect pop gem that brings to mind influences as varied as Dusty Springfield and Tori Amos. One can only hope that she doesn’t exit the music scence as quickly as she entered it. Time will tell…
- Sookie Says: I leave this one as Johnny has it, but with one addition. I also hear a young Stevie Nicks every time I listen to this song.
11) Future Islands- The Great Fire. It was a tough call between this track and the anthemic “Balance”, but “The Great Fire” wins out for the beautifully heart-wrenching interchange between frontman Samuel Herring and Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak.
- Sookie Says: The only thing I would change here is that I would move this one up to the top 3. Loved it. The entire album was great, but this is definitely the stand-out track.
12) The Low Anthem- Boeing 737. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a strange obsession with the events of 9/11. This chugging freight-train of a song captures the terror of a bystander witnessing the WTC attacks while also referencing the high-wire daredevil antics of Philippe Petit. For both, there’s hope for salvation– either in the sky (“I put one foot on the wire, one foot straight into heaven”); or on the ground (“There’s nothing left I call my own/ Come down and build me a home”).
- Sookie Says: I like this song by The Low Anthem, but would like to give a nod to Beirut’s headstrong Payne’s Bay. It makes me sing along every time.