Here at Processed Grass we have a strong attraction to all of the finer arts, so despite keeping a focus on film we still like to take the time to cover the other art forms that make up the abhorrent zeitgeist. With March drawing to a close rapidly it's time to start assessing the cultural output of the first quarter of the year. I have been on a quest to listen to more music from 2011, and I think that I have been successful in that so far, actually I'm averaging about a CD a week which is astounding given how paltry my year end list was in 2010; however, the more things change the more they tend to stay the same. In an attempt to expand my horizons the old ports have beckoned me back, in the long nights as the lighthouse rotates its the familiar lands I find myself drawn to, thriving upon. Drop the anchor, moor the boat, we'll be staying for a while.
10. EMA - "California"
Distortion can work wonders on tracks, Japandroids and Sleigh Bells have made it a staple of some of last year's best tunes, and while it may border on blasphemy to call distortion the possible followup to autotune, it seems like a sound device that can easily be similarly abused. Thankfully EMA, along with the disconnection she delivers the puncturing lyrics, appears to fall in line with the former artists. The stark desperation, the worn down tone, the burnt out youth. After the four minutes have finished there is no longer a song, only a mirror, another lens, and we all hold the gun.
9. Kanye West and Jay-Z - "H.A.M"
Excessive was a word that described Kanye West's masterwork My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it also serves a descriptor of Jay-Z's Brett Favre~esque bouts with retirement. The first single from their upcoming duet album promises an album that is, as both artists do best, nothing short of brilliantly excessive. Kanye and Jay-Z build and build, keeping a flow but increasing in energy until the song reaches the only logical conclusion: a background opera encompassing the beat. No musical genre is safe. Kanye West is here.
8. Avril Lavigne - "What The Hell"
I like to imagine that in a mall, probably in the deep recesses of Canada, someone is still listening to "Sk8ter Boi" for the first time. Avril has always excelled as bringing the alternative voice to traditional pop, playing upon convention by layering on top a snarly challenge to the prescribed musical norms, existing as the bramble of music, technically capable of causing some harm, but ultimately housing some kind of sweetness amid the prickles. "What The Hell" carries on this tradition, seeing Avril capture the slightly off-kilter pop sound that made her debut tracks staples of my iTunes library.
7. Lykke Li - "Get Some"
During the last presidential election one of the key topics discussed was the way America outsourced its jobs and the fallout that has resulted because of the relocation of labor. Maybe it has to do with cheaper labor, perhaps companies are attempting to dodge taxes, or just maybe the product is better. If product of Europe Lykke Li is any indication it all begins to add up. Though "Get Some" is much louder than anything else from her stellar sophomore record, the song's charm is found in the seductive power play that Li makes, offsetting the phallocentric ideals and becoming the whore and the Madonna, the alpha and the omega, the power displaced.
6. Childish Gambino - "Freaks And Geeks"
The opening bars of the song strongly proclaim: "Gambino is a mastermind." In hip-hop you are asked to put on a front, the exude a confidence and swagger to make known that you are the hottest artist to ever pick up a microphone, and Donald Glover does a damn fine job of backing up that opening line, backing up the swag. The delivery on the track is rapid fire, barely taking the time to breath between bars, giving a 'blink and you'll miss it' feeling of emergency to the track. And if you blink you will miss quite a bit, because the wordplay from line to line is astounding. He engages the consciousness, weds it even, and the brain is left fornicated. he is running this bitch, we are just dog walkers.
5. James Blake - "I Never Learnt To Share"
I don't think this song is dubstep, but if it is dubstep then I have been missing out on an entirely different type of music that I need to dive in to at the earliest chance. What stands out most to me about this track, and the James Blake record as a whole, is that it does something that few other records have been able to do: it relies on sound progression and heavy instrumentals to sustain an entire album and he allows me to understand the progression. I know why sounds shift, how songs build, where the fluctuations are, and why they are. Part of this is because Blake uses his voice almost as an instrument, but his lyrics are varied and sharp enough to make me want to explore the songs. And what is music if not an exploratory process?
4. PJ Harvey - "The Words That Maketh Murder"
History is a concept that is not incredibly tangible, sometimes it is even best conveyed by collecting experiences and relaying emotions, or at least appealing to emotions. In this we see the timelessness of history. Ken Levine talked about making Bioshock Infinite and said that they looked to the past to see the future, to realize that world. It seems that is what PJ Harvey has done here, and we learn that we are trapped, but at least this awareness is brought to us with beauty.
3. Miranda Cosgrove feat. Rivers Cuomo - "High Maintenance"
I could rave about the was Miranda has matured with this EP, how the song captures a playfulness and energy that surpasses anything she has ever done up until this point. How the inclusion of Rivers adds a nice compliment to Cosgrove's voice and results in a nice back and forth between the two artists. But I just wrote about all this, so go read my review of Cosgrove's EP for the complete thoughts of how great that EP is, and why the titular track is so incredible.
2. the Mountain Goats - "Estate Sale Sign"
As the Mountain Goats delve further in to their third major 'sound' they blend the sombre tone that was found in the previous record with the shrills that mark some of John Darnielle's most iconic tracks. Like the best songs he has written and performed, "Estate Sale Sign" captures an intensity in the vocal fluctuations that Darnielle brings to the track, and to the CD as a whole. The verses culminate in a desperation, a howl of defiance that make the chorus as iconic as anything Darnielle has ever written. All Eternals Deck is the last record I listened to before compiling my lists, and while there are plenty of worthy songs to occupy this spot, my gut tells me this is the song that deserves the mention. It punched the hardest, and I'm still doubled over.
1. Tyler, the Creator - "Yonkers"
I have written before that I have the softest of spots for hip-hop, and Tyler, the Creator's latest track off his upcoming album Goblin captures all the elements that first attracted me to the music. The beats is not overly complex, and the flow is not rushed. It lets the lyrics exist, and it uses those lyrics to blatantly draw attention to society's taboos. But controversy on its own cannot sustain a song, let alone make it the year's best track. No, what Tyler has is, as member of his crew OFWGKTA say, swag. He's a rapper, but the song is artistic license at its finest. When listening to the track it's clear that an artist is hard at work, perfecting a craft, a subgenre that has been lost in the corporate shuffle to make the music a commodity. "Yonkers" represents a movement, a future (I am using all my restraint to not call it an Odd Future), and hip-hop is ready to rise once more. Oh yeah, and there's almost no chance there will be a better music video this year.
If ten songs were not enough I have the next ten listed below, all with links to youtube videos of the songs, just like the ones above, all you need to do is click the song titles.
Songs On The Bubble
11. Selena Gomez & the Scene - "Who Says"
12. Lady GaGa - "Born This Way"
13. Fleet Foxes - "Helplessness Blues"
14. Destroyer - "Savage Night At The Opera"
15. Frank Ocean - "Songs For Women"
16. Curren$y feat. Big K.R.I.T and Killa Kyleon - "Moon And The Stars"
17. Cut Copy - "Pharaohs and Pyramids"
18. Panda Bear - "Last Night At The Jetty"
19. Radiohead - "Lotus Flower"
20. Rebecca Black - "Friday"
Next Up: Best Albums Of The Year So Far