Did you know that a third of a year is called a tertile? Now you do!
The first tertile of 2011 (great word, right?) comes to end at the close of this month, which seems like a good time to get caught up on the best songs from the first part of the year. Hey, it's never too early for a best of list, right?
This is by no means a comprehensive list for the year -- we've still got plenty of time for new records to blow us away -- but here are some songs you need to hear if you missed them.
1. Toro y Moi, "Still Sound" from Underneath the Pine
Last year I wrote a chillwave wrap-up, and mentioned that Toro y Moi was moving toward a full band report. "Still Sound" illustrates the shift perfectly, with a pop and lock rhythm section recalling vintage 80s soft-soul, with skittering electric keys and songwriter Chaz Bundick's hazy vocals borrowing all the best aspects of the chillwave without all the boring, unfocused ones.
2. Cass McCombs, "County Line" from Wit's End
This record is pretty good, but no song works as well as "County Line," which channels Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor and Double Fantasy era John Lennon. Especially suited for late night drives.
3. Destroyer, "Suicide Demo For Kara Walker," from Kaputt
Dan Bejar has always made great albums as Destroyer, but Kaputt may be his most unlikely success, combining New Order beats with elevator jazz. It sounds like an awful proposition, but like the best violence-to-bubblegum Tarintino scenes, it works by setting up contrast between extremes: Bejar's obtuse, challenging lyrics and the smooth jam sounds.
4. Hunx & His Punx, "Too Young to Be in Love" from Too Young to Be in Love
Hunx brings his girl-group doo wop style rock into a slightly cleaner light with Too Young to Be in Love, but never fails to still retain some gritty texture. The whole album is a blast, but this tune, with its trademark sexy-talk, is especially charming.
5. Dum Dum Girls, "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" from He Gets Me High
Hope it's not cheating to include a cover, because the DDG take on this one is excellent. With their latest EP the band has really stepped into a confident position, sounding like a real band for the first time. The vocals are confident, and frontwoman Dee Dee really adds a snarling menace to Morrissey's lyrics.
6. Fleet Foxes, "Grown Ocean" from Helplessness Blues
Any worries that Fleet Foxes were going to hit a sophomore slip with their follow up to their self titled debut have been thankfully alleviated by the album's leak. This track sounds like going to down the freeway at top speed, and comes close to rocking, which few songs by the band have done.
Kurt Vile - Baby's Arms by squidrobot
7. Kurt Vile, "Baby's Arms" from Smoke Ring for My Halo
Somewhere between the blurry spaces between CCR, Tom Petty, Bert Jansch and Bob Dylan exists the music of Kurt Vile. "I get sick of just about everyone, and I hide in my baby's arms," he sings with a long, deliberate drawl, over gorgeous fingerpicking and a bed of reverberating washes of noise. Tomorrow's classic rock today.
8. The Strokes, "Under Cover of Darkness" from Angles
The lead single from an album that's half great and half eh-whatever, "Under Cover of Darkness" does exactly what a Strokes single should: the guitars ping-pong back and forth, the rhythm section locks it in, and Julian Cassablancas moans over the whole thing. The chorus is a high point, sounding huge and anthemic while still retaining the gritty closeness of the bands sound.
9. Curren$y, "Full Metal" from the Covert Coupe mixtape
Though I miss the soft-psych/lounge production of Ski Beatz, Alchemist does an excellent job continuing the lazy stoner vibe of the two Pilot Talk records. Curren$y's forthcoming album for Warner Brothers should establish him as a major force in the rap game, an arrival made all the more interesting by his major label trials of the past.
Gardens & Villa Orange Blossom by INDIGENOUSPromotions
10. Gardens & Villa, "Orange Blossom" from Gardens & Villa
New Secretly Canadians signees wear their Talking Heads influence proudly, and we all know that bands that shamelessly rip the Talking Heads have the potential to make it all the way to the top. "Orange Blossom" is a killer track, the kind that would sound as good on the dancefloor as it does dancing by yourself in your room (not that I know anything about that).
Simple story: Dave Grohl and friends make a record in Dave's garage. The record is a rock record, with giant melodies and endless hooks. "Alandria" suffers from the same thing lots of Foo Fighters songs suffer from, like silly lyrics and over the head production, but the beauty of it all is how easy it is not to give a shit. For bonus headbanger points, check out "White Limo," which is as tough as anything Grohl did on that Probot record.
Dirty Beaches - Sweet 17 by ObscureSound
12. Dirty Beaches, "Sweet 17" from Badlands
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Somewhere I have a record where Springsteen covers Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream." Dirty Beaches doesn't necessarily sound like the Boss' Nebraska, but the record feels like it, and Alan Vega has his smeared fingerprints all over this tune. No need to apply if you are sick of the lo-fi thing, but a beautiful tribute to an American that probably never was.
13. Charles Bradley, "The Telephone Song" from No Time for Dreaming
You can't call Mr. Bradley retro-soul, because that would imply he hasn't been doing it his whole life. After working for years are a James Brown impersonator to scare up dough, his new record, featuring The Menahan Street Band establishes him as a killer soul voice, with the kind of intensity you can't fake.