Welcome to another installment of Up on the Sun's 2011 Review. Over the next week, we'll be counting down our favorite songs, shows, national and local releases of 2011. Enjoy!
I'm already regretting this one. I left so much off this list it hurts, deserving songs from the likes of Atlas Sound, Bon Iver, Bill Callaghan, Wild Flag, Grouper, The Fruit Bats...but that's what the year-end lists are designed to do: make you feel awful about yourself as a critic and music listener.
Just kidding. Have fun with it -- here are my 15 Favorite National (and International) Songs of 2011. Stay tuned for my 15 Favorite National Albums, and on Friday, my 15 Favorite Local Albums.
15. A.A. Bondy, "Surfer King" from Believers (Fat Possum)
Nothing A.A. Bondy has done so far (Verbena included) has grabbed me quite like this album, which somehow channels Springsteen, Van Morrison, and Suicide. "Surfer King," with its lyrics of "maniac songs from Thailand" possesses a quiet, rolling intensity. Kind of makes me feel like older My Morning Jacket albums do, tapping into the cosmic Americana vein without sounding the same at all.
14. The Bo-Keys, "Got to Get Back to My Baby" from Got to Get Back (Electraphonic Recording)
2011 was an excellent year for soul. This Memphis outfit beats out worthy contenders by Charles Bradley, The Alabama Shakes, and Raphael Saadiq (close call, though) via its sheer force and conviction (it didn't hurt that the band blew me away at the Rhythm Room).
13. Thundercat, "For Love I Come" from The Golden Age of Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)
Flying Lotus + George Duke composition + freaky, funky bass player from Suicidal Tendencies = This zone-out classic.
12. Ty Segall, "You Make the Sun Fry" from Goodbye Bread (Drag City)
Rips off a lot of the same records as Oasis, and in my brain, that's no insult. A real killer of a record, and this song is one of its finest.
11. Nick Lowe, "I Read a Lot" from That Old Magic (Yep Roc)
This gem's been kicking around for a few years, but thank God "the Impossible Bird" himself got into the studio to record it. Perfect on nearly every front, with aching strings, cooing background vocals, a masterful touch of reverberating guitar and stately drums. And of course Lowe's voice, which has become well-worn and honey-touched over the years. Just perfect.
10. Mayer Hawthorne, "Dreaming" from How Do You Do (Universal)
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I read the name Todd Rundgren in more than a few reviews of Hawthorne's major-label debut, and this song might be the reason why. He took on Nickelback, suggesting that he should perform during the Lions halftime show on Thanksgiving; Rolling Stone took him up on his offer, but the NFL did not. Strange when the country would rather listen to crunchy hard rock than this sort of easygoing pop tune.
9. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, "How Can U Luv Me?" from UMO (Fat Possum)
Funky, blown out, and strutting. If this is "indie-rock," count me in.
8. Dirty Beaches, "Lord Knows Best" from Badlands (Zoo)
Borrowing Francoise Hardy's "Voila," Alex Zhang Hungtai recast Roy Orbison as a back-alley hepcat with greasy hair and a look of quiet desperation. "Lord knows best that I don't give a damn about anyone but you," like a line from some unmade noir-romance classic
Esquire Magazine selected a couple songwriters to write songs to save Detroit. No one biffed it too hard (Dirks Bentley did a nice job, and Raphael Saadiq was especially into it), but former Dirtbombs drummer/Cass Records/Third Man Records fella Ben Blackwell truly rose to the occasion, crafting this scorcher that gets the rage and the soul just right.
6. Dum Dum Girls, "Bedroom Eyes" from Only in Dreams (Sub Pop)
Such jangle. A mini-Paisley Underground revival.
5. Wilco, "Born Alone" from The Whole Love (dBpm)
The guitar, 41-seconds in; Tweedy's low register vocal at 1:20.
4. Cass McCombs, "County Line" from Wit's End (Domino)
Gordon Lightfoot wrote them this smooth, but never this consumed by dread ("Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" comes close, though).
3. Fleet Foxes, "Grown Ocean" from Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)
All fears of a sophomore slump vanished the moment I heard this natural, soaring song from Fleet Foxes. The most beautiful song on an album full of undeniably beautiful songs.
2. Destroyer, "Suicide Demo for Karen Walker" from Kaputt (Merge)
Ambient New Age flute gives way to New Order beats and cryptic lyrics from Dan Bejar: "Poor child you're never going to make it, New York City just wants to see you naked, and they will"
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Kiwanuka hasn't even released a full length album, but this song served to remind me this year why I love music. It's soulful, it's mystic, it's universal. Expect to hear more raving about Kiwanuka in the new year, and hopefully many years after that.