Category Archives: Best of 2011

BEST SONGS OF 2011: #03

Seems like 2011 was a good year for those who love creative opening tracks as number 3 on our 2011 songs’ list is also a track 1-side 1, this time namely ‘Art of Almost’ by American alternative rock band Wilco. I would not really steal the show from the review or from the album description, it’s quick and straightforward enough to say that ‘Art of Almost’ is not only a flawless piece of work because of the exceptionally well-constructed broken beat played by drummer Glenn Kotche throughout the majority of the song, or Nels Cline mad guitar solo, John Stirratt’s rock-solid bass-rule, or the many this-and-thats added by Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen… The greatness of ‘Art of Almost’ predominantly lies in its capability of fitting in with other songs of an album with completely different instrumentation and of completely different moods.

Album version:

Alternative take:

Live version performed on ‘…Letterman’

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BEST SONGS OF 2011: #04

When looking at today’s popular music, the work of Elbow certainly stands out as one of the most forward-thinking, yet traditional and moderate groups of musicians with beautiful, elegant arrangements, deep and well-thought-out lyrics which are easy to feel for, as much as they are really easy to chant at concerts.

Their latest album ‘build a rocket boys!’ was a critical success and it’s no secret you’ll meet it among the best albums list for last year as well.

‘The Birds’ is an unusual opening track: it builds up slowly, its mid-tempo rumbling with Guy Garvey’s soothing vocals gives a laid-back, yet lively basic atmosphere and after the shift, it becomes evident: there’s life, creativity and will to prove even after a lengthy and acclaimed career and the Mercury Prize. Elbow is the most elegant act around.

Album version:

Live at Reading Festival 2011:

BEST SONGS OF 2011: #05

“Besides touring heavily with now two albums to perform songs off, the band recorded their third album ‘The Cold Still’ at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios with producer Ethan Johns and engineer Dom Monks. The album shows a different aspect of the band’s sound, a certain openness in instrumentation which gives a musical proof of the band marching from smaller venues to concert halls and arenas. The interesting dialogue of acoustic and electric guitars in ‘Cause For Alarm’, the darker-than-usual soundand pumping rhythm section of ‘Step Out Of The Car’ and the stadium-filler ‘Organ Song’ and the dramatic ‘Both Sides Are Even’ all stand out from a generally solid effort.”

(feature article on Sound Arkive)

The song performed in a hotel room:

And on the album:

BEST SONGS OF 2011: #06

Catching up with my obligatory 2011 list, here’s the 6th best song from the now-past.

Beastie Boys has always been the definition of cool (let’s just think about the video for ‘Shake Your Rump’, the whole ‘Paul’s Boutique’ album or the fact that every member plays an actual instrument) and they upped their game or at least stayed on par with ‘Hot Sauce Committee Part Two’, the sequel to the never-released first installment.

MCA has beat cancer, the boys got down to beats-making and lyrics-writing and have dropped a plate with instant classics like the instrumental ‘Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament’, ‘Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win’ with Santigold, ‘Long Burn The Fire’ as well as the great music videos of last year.

The song I’ve chosen is ‘Nonstop Disco Powerpack’ though because it’s a great way to some up what the Beasties are, with clever rhymes, absolutely fantastic mc-ing (especially by MCA who shows that he’s not just simply back… he’s f–in back), a great beat and trousers-shaking bass.

And honestly: how badass do you have to be to showcase your album as a stream from centre court, Madison Square Garden?

You can listen to the whole album over here. (The song itself starts at 3.54.)

Inbetween Days: end of 2011, looking forward to ’12

It’s been a crazy year in many ways. I wouldn’t really like to start a possibly endless enumeration of different things that spring to my mind. Politics got a lot different (both domestic and international – make no mistake, I study these things), popular music has survived the ugly phenomenon we shall refer to as dubstep, we have seen divorces, flops, great songs and greater albums, oil catastrophes, scientists found a planet similar to Earth. And_so_on…

Unfortunately I have not been able to finish up the ‘best of’ lists here on Sound Arkive. I wanted to write about the remaining songs, the 10 best albums, the honorable mentions as well as concert of the year. Well, those words will surely be brought to you in 2012. But to be fair – and to give some impetus to all of you who are planning to go to party, I’ve embedded the 10 best songs as a dragontape playlist under this paragraph. (Be advised, the Beastie Boys song is practically missing, thanks YouTube.) Click on the link below and blast it away:

http://www.dragontape.com/#!/4402338

I also had quite a year in terms of festivals: I visited VOLT Festival held in Sopron, Hungary. This was my 9th VOLT (both ever and in a row) and perhaps this was the most modest edition, at least for me. (Of course my illness in the middle of everything did not really help.) Anyway, when I was around I enjoyed it of course and was particularly blown away by The Ting Tings. Same thing happened in Zagreb, Croatia at INmusic Festival where I had not one but two life-defining moments (fortunately, not moments but whole soundchecks and concerts), namely the performance of Arcade Fire and TV On The Radio. Two live experiences I can cross off my bucket list but will seek the opportunity to live again as many times as I can in the future. Below you can see a compilation of photos I took at these happenings. Also, we shouldn’t forget what possibly was one of the coolest things I’ll ever get to: the opening of the new terminal at Budapest International Airport with the concerts of Hungarian electronica-rock band Zagar and English once-drumandbass act Kosheen. (Sorry for the low-res images.)

Click HERE to enjoy the pictures.

So everybody could ask me: ‘what are your new year’s resolutions?’ I’m going to give you the musical ones:

  1. see either Arcade Fire or TV On The Radio once again (and this time be more aggressive about the photo with Kyp Malone if I meet him again)
  2. visit at least one of the Great Fives (more on this later)
  3. depending on my exam schedule, appear at my 10th VOLT Festival – the place where everything began
  4. write, record and release the first Laughing Vixen album
  5. have a Telecaster I’m gonna modify
  6. see Rammstein play live
  7. improve on my guitar playing
  8. perform at 2012’s Jew’s Harp Festival
  9. record my long-planned new jew’s harp-centered album
  10. go to as many concerts at the Palace of Arts as I can

With this, I wish you, dear readers all the best for the new year!

See you all in 2012.

BEST SONGS OF 2011: #07

I know, I know, you have all been waiting for the review of the full album, believe me, I wanted to do it, I just could not get down to it. (You’ll see why in the top10 albums section.)

For now, I just wanted to praise the genius of Iceland’s queen of popular music through this song only. ‘Biophilia’ is truly a multimedia masterpiece, embracing technology and the world of tones, notes and music unlike any other release, at least in 2011. But forget about the fuss. Let’s not think about how many intruments were custom-made only for the album (like the gameleste, or the pendulum bass which of course is not some gritty, rude and distorted bassline for drum and bass bands but an actual pendulum) and subsequent residencies held by Björk so far in Manchester and Reykjavík. Or the apps which made it more interactive. Or the so-called Manual Edition which contained photos and essays dealing with nature. Let’s concentrate instead solely on the song itself.

It begins with a beatifully arranged gameleste line and Björk’s voice – masterfully intermixed overdubs and a huge bass part with a clever beat. From this you can tell that Björk partly went back to her early days, producing ‘general’ electronic music but she found her roots not only in terms of production preferences. Her voice is as clear and dynamic as ever. And of course, the second part of the song. Oh that second part…

(video directed by Michel Gondry)

BEST SONGS OF 2011: #08

Who would’ve thought that a decade after the white guy from Saint Joseph, Missouri showed the hardcore rappers how hip-hop could be reinvented the situation would ‘worsen’: the hip-hop scientist of the year is not even American anymore. What’s worse than that? Yup, he’s from…Canada.

Drake certainly made a great impression on everyone and it should be no secret that his sophomore stuff ‘Take Care’ will land on our own album top10 as well.

So for now let’s just look at ‘We’ll Be Fine’, a song produced by T-Minus and 40. This bass heavy beast could even be considered a trend-follower if it wasn’t for all the clever solutions in the song: the harp sample, the great beat, or the “ah-ah-ah”-sounding sample that accompanies the choruses. T-Minus and 40 especially are masters of simple but atmospheric arrangements and ‘We’ll Be Fine’ is nothing short of those.

Lyrically the song bears an interesting dramatic curve in which Drake’s words embrace the inspiration (Aaliyah, hip-hop’s greatest martyr besides of course 2Pac or B.I.G.), the past we all have to face and of course, the fame, success and well-being of the present which stays nevertheless melancholic. I would not go as far as calling this ‘poetic’ but it’s certainly more intelligent and deeper than many songs of today, especially in this genre.

And the chorus’s ‘We’ll be fine, we’ll be fine, we’ll be fine’ is of course a nice message for us all for 2012.

Listen to the song below:

BEST SONGS OF 2011: #09

Hitting number 9 on our year-end list of the best songs there’s ‘Bigger Than Us’ by English band White Lies who released their second album back in January. It wasn’t hard to notice this song as it was released as a single accompanied by a rather strange video allegedly inspired by the motion picture ‘E.T.’.

I have written about the album and some things about the song itself in the review to ‘Ritual’  but let’s dig a bit longer and deeper.

Albumwise, ‘Bigger Than Us’ is a really great track 3. It hits us after warm up and gives a boost to our senses to want the whole album just as much as – and here comes the songwriting-wise part of the article – many repeats of the song on our media player of choice. Its airy, yet dense arrangement and huge chorus can give strength and for a moment we all wonder why we have not heard ‘Bigger Than Us’ on a soundtrack to xth sequel to movie franchise ‘y’.

This song shows how the skills of White Lies have developed over the years and persuades us to buy the album and look for their forthcoming works. Because now we definitely know it is worth. They are here to stay.

Most disgusting audiovisual experience of the year: Black Eyed Peas: Don’t Stop The Party

Honestly, what can you say about a song that’s a huge hit on the one hand and an enormous failure on the other, especially when it comes to artistry. In the field of music that is: music and lyrics.

Let’s begin with the words.

OK, these types of tracks (or, as Black Eyed Peas themselves call this particular piece: ‘club jams’) may not be recorded with the notion of the future listener being an audiophile wanting to hear every single instrument performing an unforgettable solo while a mature and witty singer-songwriter tells you why he/she feels bad/good and what’s up with his/her (a friend’s) life. But being able to write puns and rhymes as abysmal as “Get up off my genitals / I stay on that pinnacle / Kill you up my lyricals, / Call me verbal criminal.” certainly adds up to a song being one of the worst in history. At least a hopeful ray of self-irony is hinted in the last line of this “verse”. (Anyone noticed how similar this word’s pronunciation is to the word “worse”? Especially in this case…)

But I don’t want to rant about the lyrical content and how the music’s not to my taste because someone could actually like the instrumental. And Jeff Tweedy has found a more clever way to get back at their so-called songwriting. Let’s be positive and turn our gaze towards the good things about ‘Don’t Stop The Party’!

Erm, theres only one, at least for me.

The only good thing about this song is the breakdown. Why? Oh yeah, first, because it – besides a singing woman – has simple held-out chords which could not be that bad. They are great, in fact! Why? It’s easy to be good, when sounding like Faithless’s ‘Insomnia’. (While that song is practically immortal for being one of the most sophisticated floorfillers with great lyrics penned by the zen Buddha of electronic music Maxi Jazz, it should be mentioned that the track was recorded and released in 1995, so not just ‘Insomnia’, but also its elements are 16 years old. Pretty strange for a group who consider themselves pioneers in their style and genre.) Then an even more awkward staccato comes with the oh-so-sought-after vocoder part and…AND an actual instrument, or at least a sample thereof but it may be real as well: a groovy-funky bass riff. Wow.

The video does not bring us much better things to enjoy either: it’s practically impossible to distinguish whether what we see on the screen is one of the many ‘shaken asses’ throughout the video or one of the band members doing ‘crazy shit’ on tour. (Like throwing a huge piece of sponge or a mattress onto the roof of a neighbouring house – wow, so that’s what musicians do enjoying their freedom!) And there’s all kinds of champagne and alcohol and dancing and posing with George Lucas (Darth Vader himself must’ve mind tricked him into appearing at what seems to be a Black Eyed Peas DJ-set) among other, just as mediocre things. Contrasted with the favelas and poorer districts of Rio de Janeiro. And that’s the most irritating part of it all: American hotshots pouring money out the window daring to show the other side at the same time.

‘Marvelous’. Video below. (Viewers discretion advised)

BEST SONGS OF 2011: #10

This song came practically from nowhere. At least for me. I heard Maroon 5 when they were in their young days singing dingly-dangly songs about ‘This Love’ and man, I did not like that song. I heard news about subsequent albums and Adam Levine building an image for himself and the band (promoting various issues like testicular cancer and ADHD awareness) but I did not really see myself listening to Maroon 5 and in particular: actually paying attention to them. They ‘musical guested’ Saturday Night Live this fall and played ‘Moves Like Jagger’ there which instantly directed my attention to their work because: well, it’s sort of funky, incorporates electronica in a really proportionate, yet creative manner has a memorable melody, and references something which should’ve been referenced in songs looking up to the Rolling Stones (so practically, every band): the moves of Mick Jagger. And how dangerous an experiment is it to use what makes you look rather badass if and only if you have a well-made song: having ‘and it goes like this’ right before the chorus. Well, ‘Moves Like Jagger’ (regardless of having an awkward little verse sung by Christina Aguilera) is a well-made song.

Watch the video below to witness the fitness: