December 14, 2011

REPOST*: Clicky Clicky's Top Songs Of 2011: Jay Edition

Clicky Clicky's Top Songs Of 2011 -- Jay Edition
[*We accidentally deleted this post from late December; here it is in all of its glory once more. -- Ed.]
Well, rock fans, it was a really strange year, one in which we personally and professionally -- and, yes, even to a certain extent here on the blog -- accomplished a great many big things. And all the ups and downs -- transcendent live sets on local stages, solitary post-midnight walks across frozen parking lots in the midwest -- had their soundtrack. Below are our picks for the 10 best songs of the year. These, as usual, are largely determined by our raw ITunes playcounts, although we also gave a little more weight to recent releases that would have been otherwise penalized by coming along later in the year. The list, most of all, is a chance to point to standout songs, regardless of whether the records they are sourced from garnered a slot on our year-end albums list, which we hope to publish before 2011 is gone.

There is an almost complete Spotify playlist of all the tracks that you can access right here; we say almost complete because for whatever reason Spotify doesn't have or won't recognize The Hush Now's wonderful 2011 set Memos. In the few instances possible, we've augmented our copy with embeddable streams, as well, which among other things affords you the opportunity to listen to a nice live recording of Ringo Deathstarr's superlative dream-pop ode "Kaleidoscope." We're already looking forward to big things in 2012. Thanks for reading,and keep an eye out for our aforementioned year-end albums list -- as well as a list or two from Mr. Piantigini -- in the coming days.

1. Johnny Foreigner -- "You vs. Everything" -- Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything
[listen at Spotify]

We struggled over the decision to make this song our song of the year, as opposed to "Alternate Timelines Piling Up." And what it came down to is that while "Alternate Timelines..." is stunningly beautiful and sad, "You vs. Everything" is a self-empowerment song. It's up-tempo. And we need all the adrenaline we can muster these days. Johnny Foreigner is no stranger to anthems, but here the band has finally gone ahead and pointedly created a break-neck paced, fist-banging anthem for you and me. It's one highlight from their year-topping third full-length Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything, which we reviewed last month right here.

2. Rival Schools -- "The Ghost Is Out There" -- Pedals
[listen at Spotify]

Our love for the chorus of this song is boundless. The melody, the ease with which fronter Walter Schreifels looses the syllables from his lips with his immeasurably emotive (tired/sad/happy/wistful/learned/heartbroken) and scratchy voice, the lyrics: it all kills us every time. Remarkably evocative, and yet we haven't any real idea as to what this song is about. But that is a sure sign of excellent songcraft -- the emotion and melody are extremely potent even if the intent is equally as fuzzy. Sing with us, now: "floating in spaaaaaace, the ghost is out there, so you're not alone." We didn't review Rival Schools' 2011 record Pedals, but it kept us company on a lot of cold winter mornings in a far-off place early this year.

3. Benjamin Shaw -- "Home" -- There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet
[listen at Spotify]

There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet will be lucky if it garners footnotes in the year-end lists of the wider, music-writing masses. But the fact is that as soon as we heard the record we sort of felt like someone had handed us a suitcase stuffed with a massive amount of unmarked bills. Or kittens. Well, ghost kittens. With bloody fur around their mouths. Dressed up as tiny little brides and grooms, top hats and veils, little holes for the tails, the whole bit. But anyway, Benjamin Shaw's record is a massive achievement, one that offers a singular but remarkably whole and detailed world view. That is no more apparent than during this epic song. We've seen other writers discussing Mr. Shaw's record that seem to suggest that the rich sonic appointments get in the way of the presentation, of, presumably, Shaw's voice and acoustic guitar. We vehemently disagree. The production on Cabernet is magically vivid and balanced and perfect, as "Home" perhaps best exemplifies.

4. Los Campesinos! -- "Hate For The Island" -- Hello Sadness
[listen at Spotify]

Gareth Campesinos! continues to decry when necessary the application by misinformed writers of the label "twee" to his band's music. Perhaps if he could get everyone to listen to "Hate For The Island" as many times as we have, he can save his breath and go back to tweeting about football and dames. The song is perhaps the most convincing argument that can be made to support the idea that while Los Campesinos! clearly began it's career as scrappy indie poppers, the band's present and future is more cerebral. This song is almost art rock, and the artfulness with which it is made speaks volumes about the massive talent that is propelling the
collective into a band middle-age that seems more promising with each new record.

5. The Hush Now -- "Sitting On A Slow Clock" -- Memos
[listen at Soundcloud]

The show-stopper from the band's best-of-2011 album isn't a big guitar anthem -- well, there are those, too -- but this bar room ballad, the definitive live version of which the band delivered to open its triumphant tour homecoming show in October. We've written for years about The Hush Now, and have seen them at least a dozen times live, but the band was still able to surprise us with this heart-string tugger. When the horn solo gently nudges itself in the door, it reveals a heretofore unrevealed facet of the band. Fronter Noel Kelly, who provides the horn solo here, probably can't rival Chet Baker on brass, but certainly the vocal performance on "Sitting On A Slow Clock" is worthy of the classic Chet Baker Sings. We reviewed Memos here in September.

6. Ringo Deathstarr -- "Kaleidoscope" -- Colour Trip
[listen at Spotify]

Another of noise-pop phenoms Ringo Deathstarr's perfect pop songs, in the mould of its early gems "Sweet Girl" and "Your Town." As the band broadens its pallet to incorporate more dynamic, electronic rhythms and bassist Alex Gehring's vocal contributions become more prominent, it is nice to hear that fronter Elliot Frazer is still willing and able to return to this creative well, apparently at will. Slowly spiraling guitar chords, yearning vocals, simple but unbeatable melodies. "Have you seen her, she's a kaleidoscope...?" Perfection. Check out this awesome live version from last summer. We reviewed Colour Trip here in May.

Ringo Deathstarr - "Kaliedescope (Live)"

7. Age Rings -- "Caught Up In The Sound" -- Black Honey
[listen at Spotify]

Sadness and beauty and inevitability, this song's packed with all three and sheds chunks of all of them as its spring-loaded trudging drives the tune from behind a curtain at stage left, across the spotlit center stage, only to disappear behind the curtain at stage right, like a four-minute Beckett play. From its recursive opening lyric to the gently twirling backing vocal that carries it out, "Caught Up In The Sound" is a breathtakingly vivid, down-in-the-mouth love song. As we observed in our review, the song is the perfect closing track to the Midriff re-release of Age Rings' Black Honey, which we reviewed here in October.

Age Rings - Caught Up in the Sound

8. Destroyer -- "Kaputt" -- Kaputt
[listen at Spotify]

We were really afraid this record was going to get hated on by the wider critical populace of the Internerds, as we'd seen (and heard, on the Sound Opinions podcast) some express distaste for the latest collection from Dan Bejar's Destroyer. Not because we need to have our love for this validated -- the relative anonymity of certain of our selections are certainly a testament to that. But as we were saying to the Koomdogg during a forthcoming episode of the CompCon podcast, we just found it hard to believe that a songwriter known to be a shapeshifter (in the same vein as our hero Kurt Heasley of Lilys) was going to be penalized for making a record that many would prefer to pigeonhole derisively as "soft rock." Our pal Bill from Soccer Mom actually has a great genre identifier for the smooth sounds of Kaputt -- "errand rock" -- which references the music his mom played in the car during his suburban upbringing. We totally get that. But we also think that there is a sufficient amount of New Order present in Kaputt along with the other smooth sounds to satisfy even the snootiest indie rocker. Either way, the collection is wonderful, and its dreamy chorus immediately wormed its way into our head and has never left. "Sounds, Smash Hits, Melody Maker, NME, all sound like a dream to me..."

9. Algernon Cadwallader -- "Cruisin'" -- Parrot Flies
[listen at Spotify]

All of this song is wonderful, and, indeed, all of Parrot Flies is wonderful. But this song has a moment, a huge, huge moment, that makes it the defining song Algernon Cadwallader's sophomore set. It's when the singer is shouting -- and he's always desperately shouting -- something like "and there's nothing bittersweet about that, and now something, something something something THE CHINATOWN BUS something something something" etc. Having never taken the Chinatown bus, we don't know why we find the reference so evocative, but we do. Something about the freedom to make mistakes, the freedom of being young and unencumbered by Life's Big Things. Something about joy, which is something that pervades not only this song, but the whole of Parrot Flies. We reviewed the record here in August.

Algernon Cadwallader - Cruisin' by bsmrocks

10. The Henry Clay People -- "The Honey Love He Sells" -- This Is A Desert EP
[listen at Spotify]

This is a pretty damn excellent song, life-affirming in its outrageous pacing and punchy delivery. But what perhaps makes this so invigorating, such a breath of fresh air, is that we swear mere months before this EP came out, The Henry Clay People announced something like a hiatus from music. And as we quipped elsewhere, we're glad the hiatus didn't "take," because this song is a barnburner.

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