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Top 11 tunes of the first half of twenty-eleven

22/06/2011

We have reached the middle of the year, it’s time to do some recapping on past glories this rather lovely year has already given to us. These songs are the 11 most memorable, brilliant pieces of songwriting to come out between January and July, based on the pleasant tingles I get from them and the insane amount of repeated plays I’ve given to each of these. Why 11? Because I like to go one step beyond I couldn’t decide which candidate to eliminate and thought “sod it, my blog, my rules, I’m free to unleash horrible OCD-bothering asymmetry if I so desire!”

Presented in alphabetical order, because ordering things is too damn hard.

BON IVER – CALGARY

I’ve not yet posted about the new Bon Iver album and that’s because I’ve not yet found the words to do so. It’s clearly one of those albums that I need to spend properly time with. Nonetheless, I’ve been thoroughly captivated and hypnotised by it – it’s absolutely mesmerising at times in its sheer beauty and marvel. “Calgary” was released as the lead single/preview track from the album and it had me captivated instantly. I wasn’t even much of a Bon Iver fan beforehand but Calgary changed everything and gave me the desire to hear more. It’s a perfect showcase for the new double-self-titled album as well: it revels in a hazy, dreamy atmosphere upon which layers upon layers of delicately crafted details are planted. Calgary grows from the simple bittersweet falsetto-driven beginning into a tightly controlled rhythm-driven groove, all the while sounding delicate, fragile and gorgeous in an out-of-this-world way. It’s absolutely stunning.

Top moment: when the steadily-churning guitar enters late on and the song kicks into its finale.

BRIGHT EYES – JEJUNE STARS

Bright Eyes‘ comeback album is their liveliest, most vibrantly rocking album yet and currently a steady lock as my album of the year so far (spoilers for December’s top 10 albums list?! My word!), and “Jejune Stars” has become its most striking moment. Brilliant lyrics, tight rock-out energy (complete with headbanging interludes!) and absolutely irresistable hooks. It’s a song that nails me down every single time it comes up during shuffle no matter what mood I’m in.

Top moment: the title drop in the middle eight, and the extended headbanger bit soon afterwards.

ELBOW – THE BIRDS

Elbow have always been spectacular when it comes to the way their albums open: they really know how to start things in a fashion that makes listening to the whole album a fantastic experience and a musical journey. “The Birds” clocks in as the longest song they’ve done, which reflects in the fantastic buildup the song is all about. Starting out with a slick, chilled-out groove, which suddenly transforms into an almost funky middle section where the band’s inner Peter Gabriel really flares up (the combination of those bleeps and Garvey’s woah-ohs is stunningly good, by the way), and which finally leads into the reprise of the song’s original musical motif but this time blasting out jubilantly, backed by a wall of sound that could be described as Elbow’s musically grandest moment. It’s breathtakingly great and shows once again how the band are absolute compositional wizards.

Top moment: the moment when the song launches from the 2nd section to the 3rd.

GUILLEMOTS – WALK THE RIVER

Another excellent opener track. The sort of thing that when it starts, you know things are going to be amazing. I’m really loving the new Guillemots album and I don’t think it could start with any better way: the title track is a call to arms, a triumphant statement of intent that the band is back and they’re ready to cast some amazing musical magic once again. It proves just why the band are such fantastic musicians and why Dangerfield is an amazing frontman: the song’s build-ups and climaxes sound majestic. It’s a fantastic song.

Top moment: impossible to choose but I might just go for Fyfe shouting the song’s title from the top of his lungs during the final chorus of the song.

LADY GAGA – JUDAS

The token pop moment. No but really, I’m in love with Ju-da-aas. It’s wonderful in its sheer insanity: the dubious yet instantly memorable vocal hooks, the dodgy fake-patois accent of the verses, the bizarre religious referencing, the way it sounds like a Frankenstein monster built out of parts from several songs which makes its own grotesque sense, etc. It sounds like a massive pop song as written by a mentalist. Which might be true, who knows. In any case, it’s a delightfully batshit song and while there were lots of candidates on Born This Way that could have ended up on this list, the sheer amount of repeated listens I gave to Judas before the album’s release gives it this position. Plus, “I heard that love is like a brick, you can / build a house or sink a dead body” is a genuinely excellent lyric.

Top moment: the utterly mental WHOAA-HAAAAA WHOA-AA-AAAAAA screams that randomly enter the verses.

MY MORNING JACKET – HOLDIN ON TO BLACK METAL

60s pop feel meet secret agent groove meet massive rock outs meet horn sections meet sexy falsettos meet humongous singalong whoahohs meet black metal attitude. The new MMJ album might have been a bit of a disappointment, but this is one of their all-time best songs. Utterly wonderfully insane and awesome.

Top moment: WHOAAOOOAHAAHAOOOHAOAOAHAAAAAAHAHAHAAAYEAHYEAHEYEAHEAYHOOOOO!!!!!!!!! BLAAAACK METAAAAAAAAAAAAL (BLACK METAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

THE NATIONAL – EXILE VILIFY

Today I found out that as I visit my home sweet home next month, I’ll be going to one of the local music festivals with my sister. On the day The National will be playing. This has absolutely no relevance to the song but good god I am excited.

I wish I could have been able to carry that little radio I found in one of Rattman’s hidden chambers for the whole length of the game. The idea sounded a bit bizarre at first – The National in my Portal 2? – but “Exile Vilify” is an amazing fit for the game. The melancholy of the track works perfectly with the game’s atmosphere, the way you are trapped in the facility and there’s no seeming way to ever get out of there. The song itself is heartbreakingly gorgeous and, well, it’s simply one more amazing example of how my obsessive love for this band is perfectly justified.

Top moment: whenever Berninger utters “does it feel like a trial?”

R.E.M. – ÜBERLIN

The most instantly captivating song of the year. And by captivating, I mean captivating. The sort of hypnotic effect where the song won’t get out of your head, you notice you start moving in rhythm to the song’s melody as you do boring everyday things, and you have the desire to listen to nothing else but the song. It’s songs like these that make me shake my head when people proclaim R.E.M. to be dead: “Überlin” is one hell of a fantastic song.

Top moment: the chorus. Everything in it, from the melodies to the lyrics. Captivating as hell.

RADIOHEAD – LOTUS FLOWER

Good lord that groove. That thick, deep bass and robotic rhythm that rumbles beneath the layers and layers of otherwordly atmosphere, nailed down by the almost invisible guitar twiddles that strike with assassin’s precision and the erratic handclaps. Mix in Yorke’s ethereal vocals and you have a winner. It didn’t need the insta-memetic video of Yorke’s neurotic interpretive dance to be memorable: it was strikingly perfect from the very moment it started.

Top moment: you know what, I’m not going to even try to decide. It’s a song that cannot be divided into separate parts: it all flows as one, unified stream where every moment is one and everything depends on everything else. Pretentious waffling? I know, but so true.

RUBIK – SUN’S EYES

If the world had any justice, this would be the summer hit 2011. An insanely infectious pop song made filled with trademark Rubik quirkiness. It sounds a bit loopy, like it’s from its own little world and is only here on Earth because it got lost somewhere along the way to its planet. And at the same time, it offers some of the biggest hooks and singalong parts of the entire year. It’s impossible not to dance and sing along to this: it simply invades the body in its care-free sunshine feel and quixotic pop brilliance. The only flaw? The final countdown moments simply do not last long enough!

Top moment: a tie between the bouncy chorus which makes the words “combination error” sound like the most awesome thing ever, and the “one two three four five six seven all march together it’s a one two three blind mice…” countdown of the final half a minute.

VIOLA – NEWEST HOTTEST WHATEVER

Viola posted this song on the very second 2011 began. What a wonderful way to start a year. A frantic, in-your-face dance-rocker that shoots with everything it’s got and pushes onward relentlessly. You just knew it was going to be a good year when this was the first thing you heard.

Top moment: the guitar, whenever it appears. It sounds like a mad electric spark that zaps around neurotically. It’s a fantastic underliner for every single awesome moment of the song and adds that one final element to the buzzing soundworld of the song.

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