Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best of 2010 Playlist

Look who hasn't posted in a year! And yeah, I probably won't start posting again with any regularity (I'd be shocked if it were before the end of 2011), but my love of list-making has temporarily brought me back. In the next few days, I'll throw together my Top 10 albums of the year, but for now, you'll have to tide yourself over with my playlist of my favorite songs of the year. (Streamable at the link!) 17 songs, 79 minutes, nothing but awesomeness. Only rule: One song per artist. Also, this isn't a ranking - it's just how these particular songs fit together best as a mix. Click through if you care about my rationale for my choices, but if you want to go straight to jamming out, I won't blame you.

1. Odessa by Caribou

Best dance song about a woman leaving her husband ever? Probably so. I love the way new elements are continually introduced, thus making what seems like a repetitive song anything but. Also, according to iTunes, this is my most listened-to song of the year! Exciting.

2. Alive by Goldfrapp

An example of a good-to-great song that's elevated by an awesome video.

3. Power by Kanye West

It was a tough choice between this and "Runaway," but this (a) flows a little better on a mix and (b) is probably the best example of the contrast between the arrogance and insecurity that makes My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy such an interesting album. Plus: that beat.

4. CMYK by James Blake

An electronic track that features warped samples from "Caught Out There" by Kelis and "Are You That Somebody?" by Aaliyah? Sign me up. James Blake released three excellent EPs this year, and I'm pumped for his first full album next year.

5. Got Nuffin by Spoon

"Got Nuffin" comes near the end of Transference, and it's as close as the album comes to releasing the tension that builds up throughout its runtime. Fortunately, it holds up out of context, with its chugging guitar line and Britt Daniel's impassioned vocal keeping things interesting.

6. Aminals by Baths

(sic.) A great little electronic ditty that wouldn't be out of place on a Boards of Canada album, if they were still making albums. Bonus points for a genuinely sweet (as opposed to creepy) use of children's vocals.

7. Pow Pow by LCD Soundsystem

James Murphy free associates about the compromises that come with getting older (and a whole lot more, like how we have a black president and you do not, so shut up), getting more riled up as the music builds and builds until it reaches a classic LCD Soundsystem release. It's probably not the best song on This is Happening, but it's the one I returned to the most.

8. Fuck You by Cee-Lo Green

What else can I add that hasn't already been said? SO FUN.

9. Dancing On My Own by Robyn

Proof that pop music can have a heart. This song should've been huuuuge, but Robyn is just a little too out there for the American pop scene. I still dance around every time I hear this, even if that's just a head bob on the Metro.

10. Take 'Em Up by Shit Robot

Nancy Whang, DFA's go-to female vocalist, delivers one of her best performances on this track, spouting non sequiturs over a great retro-but-not-too-retro beat. No deeper meaning here, but that's just fine when things come together this well.

11. Tightrope (feat. Big Boi) by Janelle Monae

It's hard to pick one track to represent Janelle, but this is the catchiest and the sassiest song she served up this year, and as an intro, it gives a nice window into the weird, wonderful world of The Archandroid. Also: classy brass.

12. I'm New Here by Gil Scott-Heron

Between the sample on Kanye's album and his own release, it looks like Gil! Scott! Heron! is back in a big way. A surprisingly touching song from an unexpected source.

13. Not in Love (feat. Robert Smith) by Crystal Castles

This remake of an solid-but-unremarkable song from Crystal Castles' second self-titled album shows the importance of a) lots of synths, and b) a killer vocal. Who knew Robert Smith could still sound so good? (Apparently Crystal Castles did.)

14. Only an Expert by Laurie Anderson

I'll probably lose some folks here, but I continue to love Laurie. Although this is a bit more direct than most of her work, I don't think it suffers for it; if anything, the urgency and immediacy make it stand out from her other output, and it shows off her unique brand of humor and delivery to great effect.

15. I Walked by Sufjan Stevens

So many artists resort to electronic glitchery when they're out of ideas, but Sufjan really knows how to use it to enhance a song. Here, the fuzzed out drum machines and bleeps and bloops really drive home the melancholic beauty of the song.

16. Decisions (feat. Yuksel Arslan) by How to Dress Well

Who would've thought some of the best R&B of 2010 would come from a German dude?

17. Take It In by Hot Chip

Best closing song of 2010. Best love song that mentions Wheel of Fortune. Most endearingly earnest chorus of the year. A perfect note to go out on.

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Best of 09!

Is it too late to post my "Best of 2009" playlist? No? Good! I realize I'm a bit behind, but it's a small miracle for me to even post these days, so I'm going to give myself a pass on this.

Instead of doing a Top Songs or Top Albums list this year, I've chosen to create a playlist that I feel is pretty representative of what I've listened to and enjoyed in 2009. Lists seem to imply that I've listened to and judged all of the musical output of the last year, which unfortunately couldn't be further from the truth. Instead, I've stuck with a lot of stuff that's already in my wheelhouse (about 2/3 of the songs are pretty synth-heavy - what can I say, I love keyboards) while taking in the stuff that couldn't be avoided (Phoenix, Animal Collective). Some of the songs are pretty obvious choices, while I'd like to think that at least a few are somewhat unexpected.

Just to reiterate: These are not my 17 favorite songs from 2009. Instead, they are a reasonably coherent mix that I will be content to listen to in years to come and think, "Ah, 2009. I guess that was a decent music year." I've put together a streamable playlist of the songs here:
Best of 2009! by Brian (I had to sign up for MySpace to make this happen. UGH.) I hope you'll enjoy it; I still do, even though I've listened to it about 20 times as I've been putting it together.

For more thoughts on my song selection, click through:

Zero by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I've never been a huge YYYs fan, but as I blogged about earlier in the year, It's Blitz won me over. "Zero" probably should've been at least a minor hit, with it's surging chorus and catchy hooks, but alas, Karen O is too scary or something.

I Will Come Back by Holy Ghost!
These people need to put out more music so I can proclaim them my new favorite band on the basis of more than a couple songs. If New Order hadn't started sucking in the mid-90s, maybe this is how they'd sound today.

Summer Song by YACHT
This song makes me jump around whenever I hear it. I especially love the mid-song breakdown. Also, the video is awesome. I guess this came out in mid-2008, but the album came out this year, so I'm calling it fair game. (Unfortunately, I couldn't find a streamable version on MySpace, so on that list, I replaced "Summer Song" with "Psychic City," which is also by YACHT and is quite enjoyable.)

Danse Mes Reves by Desire
This latest group from Johnny Jewel, the man behind Glass Candy and Chromatics, Desire treads a middle ground between the two, offering wispy vocals and a chilled-out vibe without being boring.

Skeleton Boy by Friendly Fires
This was my early pick for song of the year - it's no longer quite that high in my book, but I still think it's pretty great. That chorus kills me every time.

Bye Bye Bayou by LCD Soundsystem
At first, I was disappointed in this, our sneak peek for the upcoming LCD Soundsystem album. But, as it always seems to happen with LCD Soundsystem, it wormed its way into my head, and I reveled in its repetition and slow burn. I think it's surprisingly subtle for James Murphy, and hopefully is a harbinger of great things in 2010.

Crystalised by The XX
I'm still torn on whether or not I really think The XX's debut album is as great as everyone's saying (I'm leaning toward no, although I enjoy it) but if it all sounded as urgent and interesting as "Crystalised," I might be more inclined in their favor. The first time the guitars prominently come in at the chorus is still a fairly thrilling moment for me.

Laughing with a Mouth of Blood by St. Vincent
St. Vincent's Actor would be my pick for album of the year if I had to choose; it's fascinating, catchy, and reveals something new on each listen. This song is a perfect example; although it initially didn't make much of a mark for me, I've come to love it. It glides in and out in just over 3 minutes, but quite convincingly
shows off St. Vincent's gift for clever lyrics and soaring melodies without overstaying its welcome.

My Girls by Animal Collective
Yes, yes, Animal Collective is a super-obvious choice. There's a reason they, and this song in particular, have received so much praise this year, and it's because they deserve it.

Raindrops by Basement Jaxx
Autotune that doesn't suck!

1901 by Phoenix
It could be credibly argued that pretty much every Phoenix song sounds more or less the same; I don't necessarily agree, but I don't think Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is that different than their past work (and I actually preferred It's Never Been Like That on the whole.) I think the difference is that "1901" and "Lisztomania" are just that undeniable - even if Phoenix wasn't doing it for you before, it's hard to not love these two tracks. "1901" gets the slight edge from me.

Should Have Taken Acid With You by Neon Indian
I've never felt so much like a band was targeting me with an album as I did with Neon Indian and Psychic Chasms. Burbling synths, murmured vocals, drum machines... I'd probably make this album if I were capable of artistic ventures such as this. I could probably listen to "Should Have Taken Acid With You" ten times in a row and not tire of it.

I Feel Cream by Peaches
I will passionately argue that Peaches made a big leap forward this year with I Feel Cream, her fourth album. The title track is especially emblematic of the musical maturity she achieved on this record: she sings (and it's good!), the production doesn't sound like it swam in a sea of syringes, and she still retains her trademark attitude without retreading old ground.

Monster by Lady GaGa
It was Lady GaGa's year, and it was well-deserved. This song better be a big hit in 2010.

The Girl and the Robot by Royksopp (feat. Robyn)
I was fairly disappointed in Royksopp's album this year. I had high hopes, but only this track really reached greatness, mainly thanks to Robyn delivering an astonishing lead vocal that just avoids being overstated. (Or maybe it's overstated in a good way?)

Get Older by Dan Deacon
Six and a half minutes of raucous, noise-filled joy, and it doesn't care whether you like it or not.

Gimme Sympathy by Metric
Although I realize that this is a somewhat silly and cliched song, no song was there for me more this year, and if I had to rank my favorite songs of 2009, this would be at the top. I've said to people on multiple occasions that this song got me through the end of grad school, and while that's probably an exaggeration, it certainly played its part. I can't satisfactorily explain why I love this song as much as I do, but from the opening notes, I'm caught up in it, and I'm bobbing my head and I swell up and I sing along, and I'm feeling great. Every time.

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