So, we have officially hit the halfway mark of the year. How are those New Year's Resolutions holding up? Mine had already been abandoned by the time I composed the first Quarterly Review, so now I have resolved to make no more resolutions. Even if that does not cure my shame and disappointment, I can at least take solace in the fact that this year has produced a number of great songs to inhabit this list. Just a forewarning, this list is going to be a good deal different from the Q1 Quarterly Review. More eclectic! More daring! More music!
Before we begin I should probably issue another short reminder: this is a Quarterly Review because I do them every three months, not because the list only contains songs released in these three months. They are all building to the final lists in January, and as such I think it is important to see the process up until that point. Both for myself and, hopefully, for you the reader. Some songs that were my favorites earlier have had time to sit, marinate, and fall or rise accordingly. These are the ideas that fascinate my mind! As usual, click the links to listen to the tracks. And with that, put the needle on the record!
10. Destroyer - "Suicide Demo For Kara Walker" (NE)
Of all the songs on Destroyer's fantastic Kaputt, this one shows them at their finest. The song writing here is simply top notch, tackling all sorts of frustrations juxtaposed with the beautiful instrumental ensemble. It's so wonderfully self contained, which is why I find it to be my favorite song on the entire album. The song starts in one place, quietly soft, and ends at its natural ending point, a quick, uptempo instrumental section. And in the middle is the magic.
9. Lykke Li - "I Follow Rivers" (NE)
From the hypnotic opening beat that permeates the song to the closing lines, Lykke Li delivers one of the year's most surprisingly unsettling songs. I constantly find myself wrestling with this song, unsure if it's heartbreaking and beautiful, full of despair, or simply creepy. Likely it is somewhere in the middle, constantly changing depending on how I am feeling while listening to the track.
8. the Mountain Goats - "Estate Sale Sign" (-6)
Be warned: this is the part where I once again profess my love for all things John Darnielle. His manic energy is infectious and frightening, carrying the tragic situation to a level of raw emotion. Like many great songs from the Mountain Goats, we have a story about a couple who either have fallen apart or on hard times. In about three minutes time, Darnielle has the listener consider the destruction of a life, being stripped of all material and finding, perhaps, a bit of solace in an ended existence. Just as the characters attempt to gather what they can from the crude remains of a past life, we discover a quiet beauty amidst the darkness. Darnielle is not a poet, he is the poet, and each track he records only further reinforces this belief.
7. Lady GaGa - "Judas" (NE)
While I am not sure that God actually hand delivered the lyrics to this song to Lady GaGa, I am happy the song had a chance to be recorded and used as a single. The track allows GaGa to pull out all the stops. The range she shows on the song, both aurally and vocally, is where the strength is mostly found. Both blend brilliantly to create a catchy song, but also one that seems to elevate the quality of pop music far beyond the usual constraints that is placed on it.
6. The Cast of The Book of Mormon - "I Believe" (NE)
This was likely the most difficult decision to make when compiling this list, both because each track on The Official Soundtrack of The Book of Mormon are equally fantastic and because when thinking about top tracks the ones that ought to be making the list should be self contained and stand on their own outside of the album. This song best fits that criteria, certainly more than the other songs on the album, and it still stands as a damn fine song in context. Matt Stone and Trey Parker have certain sensibilities that carry throughout their work, and even though this particular song is not the perfect meeting point that "Hasa Diga Ebowai" or "Turn It Off" are, I feel like this song best demonstrates the genuine heart that they both possess for the source material while still being hysterical. There's absurdity, but it's handled lovingly and not talked down to in any way. Stone and Parker at their finest.
5. Miranda Cosgrove and Rivers Cuomo - "High Maintenance" (-2)
A lot of what I said about this track the first time around, and in my review of Cosgrove's EP, still stands. This is not just teen pop at its finest, it's pop music at its most catchy and really rolling on all cylinders. Each time I listen though, I also appreciate Cuomo's presence all the more. Yes, it's still pretty creepy having what is essentially a relationship song between Cuomo and Cosgrove, but part of that factor is what makes it such an interesting song. It shows transcendence of time, a need for escape regardless of age. Materialistic, despicable, condemning, and so sweetly sugar coated. The song works with tension in extremes, finding depth both on its own and in a meta-textual context. That's the mark of a great track.
4. EMA - "California" (+6)
Though not EMA's most musically intense song on her debut album, and hardly the darkest, her lamentation on this track is the most harrowing. As she proclaims, "I'm just twenty-two, and I don't mind dyin'," the entire intensity of the song is manifest. There's a universality to this song that really appeals to me. At times, I think, we are all worn down by our lives. What EMA does that I find even more interesting though is place the blame squarely on the alternative. California has served, perhaps since the time of western expansion, as the ultimate ending point for America. A place where all our dreams can come true. And here stands the product.
3. Tyler, the Creator - "Nightmare" (NE)
Tyler's "Yonkers" was my favorite song of the year on the first Quarterly Review, but when I actually had a chance to sit down with GOBLIN I found the one-two punch of "Nightmare" and "Tron Cat" to be the intersection of Tyler's greatest artistic strengths. Sadly, those are two different songs, which makes ranking them individually a bit more difficult. What I like more about "Nightmare" is the interjections of emotion that Tyler lets slip. While "Tron Cat" is a more shocking song, there is a humanity and vulnerability to "Nightmare" that sits nicely along the more grotesque images that he channels on the track. For me the most successful moments of both this record and Tyler's debut, Bastard, are those moments where he shows his humanity, his hurt, and "Nightmare" has just enough to rise above the other songs on the record.
2. James Blake - "Lindisfarne" (NE)
Much like with Tyler's CD, I had trouble determining whether "Lindisfarne I" or "Lindisfarne II" was the better song, so I went with a more self contained Blake track on my first list. However, Blake's single version that was later released blends the two tracks together excellently, yielding a completely fulfilling aural experience with more than enough thematic depth to be called one of the year's best songs. This complete track lacks the definitive division between the two that is found in the album, though the increase in beat and addition of more vocals is still apparent, but it also makes for the complete, unified track that simply washes over a listener. Blake goes so far beyond the world of dubstep, both with this song and with his album, that it seems odd labeling his music as such. Regardless of label though, it is certainly beautiful.
1. tUnE-yArDs - "Bizness" (NE)
When I really sat down and thought about it, there's probably not another viable choice for the year's best song. Infectious is a word I have previously used to describe a couple of tracks listed, but "Bizness" is likely the definition. I may be caught up in the summer right now, it may just be the diverse sounds that tUnE-yArDs brings, or it may be the constant question that travels throughout the chorus of the song. Whatever it is, I find this song always makes me smile. I can't help but sing along, find a burst of reserved energy. And in the end isn't that what music is really all about?
Wondering what nearly made the cut? Check out the next ten songs on the bubble!
11. Weird Al Yankovic - "Skipper Dan" (NE)
12. Childish Gambino - "Freaks and Geeks" (-6)
12. Selena Gomez & The Scenes - "Who Says" (-2)
13. PJ Harvey - "The Words That Maketh Murder" (-10)
14. Cass McCombs - "The Lonely Doll" (NE)
15. Avril Lavigne - "What The Hell" (-8)
16. Big K.R.I.T ft. Chamillionaire - "Time Machine" (NE)
17. Cut Copy - "Pharaohs and Pyramids" (0)
18. Lemonade Mouth - "Determinate" (NE)
19. Kanye West and Jay Z - "H.A.M." (-10)
20. Rebecca Black - "Friday" (0)
Next Up: Top Albums Q2 Quarterly Review
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© 2011 Richard James Thorne