HST’s Best of 2011: Music

Whether we like it or not, the year is coming to a close. And now, it is time to reflect on what came out in music. Below, the writers for HST have come up with their favorite albums and songs of the year. We hope that you enjoy our selections, and comment on what songs or albums made your 2011 memorable. Enjoy!!!

Alan’s Favorite Album: Childish Gambino’s Camp

Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino has been saying for a while that the rap game needs a bit of change, and that he is a big part of that. His debut with Glassnote Records, Camp is a breath of fresh air; bringing a little bit of humor and rawness (“Bonfire,” “You See Me”), mixed with a whole lot of sincerity and heart (“Kids,” “Hold You Down”). From top to bottom (the last three songs, especially), Camp is one of the finest hip-hop records to come out in some time. Even if you’re not a big fan of his style of rapping, the short story at the end of “That Power” is enough to get the most jaded Gambino listener to sit and think for a minute. I highly recommend that you dig around the internet for his mixtapes and first album (all out for free, if I may add), then go pick up Camp. You honestly will not be disappointed.

*Other albums that I thought were awesome this year: Manchester Orchestra’s Simple Math, La Dispute’s Wildlife, Farewell Continental’s Hey, Hey Pioneer!, and The Roots’ Undun. Each of these albums can be streamed via Spotify.

Also a quick shout-out to The Book or Mormon Soundtrack, funniest thing I listened to all year.

Alan’s Favorite Song: Manchester Orchestra’s “Simple Math”
Manchester Orchestra’s first single off of their much anticipated release of the same name starts as a quiet whisper, then gradually builds up into a bombastic and chill inducing alternative classic for 2011. Andy Hull’s voice carries the track to incredible heights, making it one of the essential tracks to the southern musicians vast (and still incredibly promising) careers. I don’t know how Andy Hull and Co. can top themselves, but I also wouldn’t put it against them.

*Other singles I thought were awesome this year: Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers,” AWOLNATION’s “Sail,” Innerpartysystem’s “American Trash,” and Farewell Continental’s “Dagger, Dagger: Terror, Terror.”

 

Grant’s Most Disappointing Album: Bon Iver (self-titled)

I loved Bon Iver’s previous releases: For Emma, Forever Ago and Blood Bank.  So when I bought Bon Iver’s self-titled album I admittedly came in with high expectations.  The critically acclaimed album is a departure from their previous work, and I may be alone, but I was very disappointed by the result.  I respect bands that remove themselves from their comfort zones and create music from a new approach.  The new album was an interesting experiment, but I view it as an unsuccessful experiment.  In my opinion the strengths of Bon Iver are Justin Vernon’s song writing and vocals.  Both seem to be diminished in the over produced self-titled album.  There are too many instruments and digital effects that seem to overcomplicate most tracks.  I’m not saying Vernon needs to lock himself in a cabin again, but I hope on his next effort he collaborates less with outside musicians.  Bon Iver can take their music in many exciting directions, and for their next album I will refrain from complaining as long as the entire album doesn’t sound like Track 10 – “Beth/Rest” (an ode to crappy 80’s songs).

Grant’s Favorite Album: Chris Bathgate’s Salt Year

Chris Bathgate is a singer-songwriter folk type who has been around for a while.  I finally discovered his talent when I heard his new album, Salt Year.  I was immediately hooked.  I looked up the album because I heard “In the City” (a solid folk rock song akin to Deer Tick).  But that track hardly scratches the surface of this great album.  The album features an interesting compilation of songs that complement each other with their differing paces and varied compositions.  These tracks are strung together perfectly by Bathgate’s strong vocals.  The single, “No Silver,” has become my favorite song of the year.  It features an upbeat tempo with a fiddle accent and a soft percussion (on a metal watering can).  A few songs later, when you think you have the album figured out, Bathgate hits you with a horn melody.  The album is soulful with lyrics representing a dampened romantic, yet the music seems to effortlessly flow and is somehow uplifting.  In summary, it’s almost as good as Ke$ha’s new album.

* I also loved The Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light, The Strokes’ Angles, and Death Cab for Cutie’s Codes And Keys (sorry Fleet Foxes)

 

Lauren’s Favorite Album – The Decemberists’ The King is Dead

Prior to hearing them live this past year, all I really knew about The Decemberists involved the album The Crane Wife.  Now at years end, I can pretty much listen to their music nonstop and never get sick of it, making them quite possibly my favorite band (besides Paramore, of course).  Picaresque may still be my favorite album of theirs thanks to such songs like “Eli, the Barrow Boy,” “The Bagman’s Gambit,” and “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” because of the creative ability to provide fantastical stories with the lyrics within beautiful songs.  With albums past impossible to top, The Decemberists still manage to do it again with The King Is Dead.

Favorite Song – “June Hymn

Lauren’s Honorable Mention Albums – Adele’s 21, The Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow, Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto, and Death Cab for Cutie Codes and Keys.

Lauren’s Favorite Songs – There was no way I was going to narrow my list of favorite songs down to one, so here is the closest I could get (including those mentioned above).

Birdy – “Skinny Love
Gotye – “Somebody That I Used to Know
Taking Back Sunday – “Call Me In The Morning
Young The Giant – “My Body

Lauren’s Favorite Ridiculous Lyric – “Can you imagine Christ hitting a child?”

Why would I want to imagine Jesus beating children!?  Yet for some reason Taking Back Sunday asks in the song “This Is All Now,” so even if I don’t want to imagine it, I can’t stop.

Lauren’s Favorite Song Stealer – Skylar Grey

Every once in a while a rap song will slip through into the realm of being worthy of my ears [tosses hair over shoulder], such as Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie.”  Lupe Fiasco’s “Words I Never Said” from earlier this year is one of these lucky songs.  But I have to admit something; before I actually listened to the rest of the song I was already in love thanks to the chorus.  Turns out I have Skylar Grey to thank, and this wasn’t the first time she convinced me to like something without my knowledge (Dr. Dre’s “I Need a Doctor” with Eminem).  Just don’t make me listen to Diddy’s “Coming Home” again.

Lauren’s Favorite Soundtracks

We don’t always recognize it, but soundtracks often provide a lot more to our movie going and gaming experiences than we even realize.  Not only that, but they can recreate the feelings experienced with the initial form of media when done well.

Dead Space 2 – Jason Graves captures the creepiness and horror of the game, all the while creating something moving from frantic to strangely saddening with the use of the string section.

Hanna – For a film that follows a girl with no understanding of music, The Chemical Brothers still manage to produce a phenomenal soundtrack that manages to exude this, with the use of disjointed sounds and rhythms to form scores that impact the flow and feel of the film as the music of Run Lola Run did.  Yes, I did steal the last of that sentence from my review of the film.  Don’t judge me.

Lauren’s Favorite Song Use In A Movie – “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Emily Browning

When leaving the theater after seeing Sucker Punch, I was more than disappointed by the film because it had failed to live up to the high expectations I had for it.  It has since grown on me after I took the time to analyzing it (which a lot of people probably did not do, unfortunately), but the one thing that I never doubted was how amazing the opening scene is, which includes a cover song with the vocals of the actress featured.

Heather’s Favorite Album #1: Feist’s Metals.  While I was initially under-impressed with Metals, I grew more in love with this album each time I listened to it.  There are three reasons why Feist’s album is number one for me this year, and they all have to do with the interesting vocal elements she mixed in.  (1) In “A Commotion” what I can only assume is an army of angry men fiercely shouts out the chorus.  I picture them marching along in their loincloths (don’t ask me why they are wearing those) with swords raised and fire lapping at their heels.  It makes me smile every time.  (2)  Throughout “Comfort Me,” Feist repeatedly croons “oooooh ooooooh ooooh” and it sounds like the mating call of a monkey mixed with a bird. If monkeybirds can sing like that, I want one.  (3) “Caught a Long Wind” is slow and soothing, and then in about the last 30 seconds people start clapping.  I like clapping.  I am always in the mood for this CD on cold cloudy days, and it is relaxing enough to be good music to fall asleep to at night.

Heather’s Favorite Album #2:  The Decemberists – The King Is Dead.  Lauren already mentioned this as one of her favorite albums of the year, although our favorite songs differ (Mine is “Why We Fight”).  Going to their phenomenal concert at the Pageant only served to solidify this album’s greatness in my mind.  While it didn’t necessarily have any songs that stood out as a clear favorite as much as past albums of theirs, I think this one is more consistently good the whole way through, and a definite improvement over their previous The Crane Wife.

 

Heather’s Favorite Album #3: The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow.  I have tickets to the male and female duo’s concert this January and couldn’t be more excited.  I must admit, I first heard the Civil Wars when “Poison and Wine” was featured as a number on Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance.  Ever since that performance, I’ve been hooked (listen to “C’est La Mort”).  Although there are a few songs on here that I would consider more twangy, the Civil Wars actually manage to pull it given that those songs are evenly balanced by a fair share of mellower, vocally driven tracks.

 

Honorable Mentions:

 Coldplay’s Milo Xyloto – This album has a very consistent sound all the way through.  The best way I can describe it is this:  while the collection of songs on other CDs are more akin to a string of one-act plays, the songs on this one are more like watching a number of scenes all within the same play.  It is unlike a lot of their former CDs, and I feel far superior to their last album.  Plus, the duo with Rihanna is excellent (“The Princess of China“) – who would have ever thought to put their voices together!?

Death Cab for Cutie’s Codes and Keys.  This is personally my favorite album of theirs to date.  Listen to “Portable Television” and Stay Young. Go Dancing.”

Christina Perri’s Lovestrong.  Listen to Bang Bang Bang.”

Maroon 5’s Hands All Over.  Maroon 5 said they tried to push outside of their typical sound with this album, while still retaining the sound that their fans already loved.  I think they achieved just that.  Many of my favorites were actually the acoustic versions at the end of the deluxe edition.  Their radio hit “Misery,” one of the only songs on the CD I didn’t particularly like, is actually phenomenal as an acoustic version.  Listen to “Never Gonna Leave this Bed” and How.”

 Adele’s 21.  It is drastically different from her first album, 19, which featured more vocally driven pieces with not much in the way of musical accompaniment.  It’s really too bad that the radio plays one of her three singles constantly.  If I hadn’t gotten so sick of these three, it probably would have been a favorite.

Heather’s Most Disappointing Album of the Year #1:  Florence + the Machine’s Ceremonials.  I do not think Ceremonials is a bad album by any means.  However, after Lungs, I expected something really phenomenal from her.  When I try to remember a single song from this album while not listening to it, I can’t do it.  I feel like many of them are sort of forgettable and lackluster.

 

 

Heather’s Most Disappointing Album of the Year #2:  Fleet Foxes’s Helplessness Blues.  I really pains me to put them on this list.  I liked this album, but I was also expecting much more from them.  I LOVE Fleet Foxes.  I wanted songs that rivaled “Ragged Wood” and “White Winter Hymnal” from their debut self-titled album.  Unfortunately, they just didn’t deliver at the very high standard I hold them.  Many of the songs were, like Florence’s, just sort of forgettable.

 

 

The End:  Again, we hope you enjoyed our list of favorite music of 2011. Hopefully we have pointed you in a right direction to discover some new music for your libraries. Tomorrow, we will be listing our favorites of the small screen (talkin’ about Television, of course), and we hope you come back to read it!

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