Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Musically Inclined's Top 10 Finds of 2011

Every year when December rolls around, The Musically Inclined knows two things: it's time to run and duck from the rancid strains of Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad," and it's time to step back and talk about what was great this year. 

The latter is more fun, obviously. To this point, you may have already been inundated with 'best of' lists ranging from albums, to music videos, to singles, but hopefully The Musically Inclined can offer you something slightly different. (It's Bon Iver-free!)

We'll get to that in a second. First it should be noted that 2011 was the year that saw some crazy changes in the social habits of music-listening, like and Spotify's invasion of the US and your productivity. (At the moment, I'm listening to M83's danceable record Hurry Up, We're Dreaming because a friend shot it over to my Spotify inbox. Oh, brave new world.) 

2011 was also a year for monster returns, like Paul Simon, Wilco, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. We waited and they delivered. 

Buddy Holly tribute albums ran amok and we were definitely rolling in the deep with Adele (whatever that means). 

More importantly than rounding up every little bit of significance from the year, it's time to clean house and get ready for 2012. Hopefully, it'll bring the kind of music we can hardly believe we lived without.

That said, back to the project at hand. Below are the rules for how songs can make The Musically Inclined's Top 10 Finds of 2011, and under those are the best discoveries of the past twelve months. Click here for the Spotify playlist and take them for a spin yourself. 

1. It can be any artist or band TMI hadn't listened to before January '11.
2. Songs have to be good. Catchy? Bouncy? Quirky? Sure, but mostly they just have to be solid. Doesn't hurt to be fun and mildly screwy, either.

That's all. Scroll on. 

1. Somebody That I Used to Know : Gotye

Without a doubt, 2011 belonged to Australian singer/multiinstrumentalist Gotye, even if it was only for the last four months of the year. The track comes courtesy of his latest album, Making Mirrors. The song itself is slinky and power packed. Gotye channels the best shades of Sting. Plus, you'll find some of the coolest, most unique sounds and samples on not just this song, but the whole album. Beyond all that, I'd be remiss not to mention fellow Australian singer Kimbra, who lends her vocals for the "other side of the story" of this relationship gone bad. It's a standout on an album standouts, and the music video is nothing short of excellent.

2. Time Spent in Los Angeles : Dawes

Shifting over to a very different sound, second on the list is Los Angeles band Dawes with the first track off their album Nothing is Wrong. There's some great drama in this song. After all, it kicks off with the line "These days my friends don't seem to know me." Pain! But for all the melancholic minor chords, it's a heartening story line of finding out that what you wanted all along, comes from the place you left in the first place. Frontman Taylor Goldsmith and his hearty everyman voice tug on all the right heartstrings. Home is home and sometimes nothing beats it.

3. Let's Go : Madi Diaz

Nashville should be proud Madi Diaz calls it home. Last April, I caught Diaz at Vanderbilt and knew immediately after hearing "Let's Go" that it was going to make it on the list this year. The song is airy escapism and Diaz's vocals are pretty and unaffected as usual. Bring on some good weather and an open calendar. Unconvinced? Check out the video.

4. Rivers and Roads : The Head and the Heart

The first time I heard this song, I was almost unnerved by how timely it was for my friends and I. Recently graduated and scattered, "I miss your face like hell" represented perfectly what several of us were feeling. Every lyric and mournful harmony hit a little bit closer to home. But situation specifics aside, "Rivers and Roads" builds beautifully as if to diminish the sadness. There's almost something cathartic about the loud repetition of the truth that it's "Rivers 'til I reach you."

5.  Hold On : Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes is a great reminder that there is always untapped talent out in the world. Hailing from Athens, Al, the Shakes have got a sound so solid and soulful, it's difficult to imagine they only surfaced this year. "Hold On" is the best home for frontwoman Brittany Howard's gift-from-the-rock-gods voice. If you've managed to miss the buzz on these guys, get on board, man.

6. Another Like You : Hayes Carll

"Another Like You" may not be the classiest entry on the list, but it's definitely the most fun. Hayes Carll and Cary Ann Hearst bring us a hooky ballad of the bar. Drunk, mildly belligerent and politically at odds, the guy and gal in question trade jabs and end up in the elevator "making out like Bonnie and Clyde." Hearst's Southern rasp alone would make the song if not for the clever one-liners. Good times all around.

7. Pumped Up Kicks : Foster the People

Yes. Foster the People. This year's Passion Pit. Young, peppy and high-pitched. This entry was a toss up between "Pumped Up Kicks" and "Helena Beat," the opening track to the Los Angeles band's debut album Torches. Both are good, both are catchy, but "Pumped Up Kicks" has that weird buzzy sound punctuating the background. Ergo, winner.

8. We Will All Be Changed : Seryn

This one is a bit of a late addition to the list, but in a year where folk influence and exploding harmonies ruled, "We Will All Be Changed" was a natural fit. Seryn is a band from Denton, Texas. As good as their debut album This is Where We Are is, I'm a bummed there hasn't been more talk about these guys (exempting an appearance on Paste's Best 50 albums of the year and scattered write-ups in Texas media). Here's to hoping 2012 is the year they catch on.

9. Everything Must Spin : Ryan Driver

Check out this charming, funky little track from Canadian artist Ryan Driver. "Everything Must Spin" is philosophy lite, focusing on the cyclical nature of the life. Driver drops in quirky lines like "I don't know how I got home last night, but if I did I guess I'm alright." We'll definitely keep an eye out for what else Driver has to spin. Points for the penguin on the album cover.

10. Mexican Mavis : Boy & Bear

I suppose if you start a list with an Australian, you'd best end with one... or several. Boy & Bear is an indie rock band from down under that will have you fooled into thinking that you're hearing a Fleet Foxes track in the first few moments of "Mexican Mavis." Fortunately, the band delivers more than just that. It's three minutes of cool shifts and rich layers.

So, there you have it. I'll save you the trouble of scrolling back up. Here's the link again to the Spotify playlist.

Here's to a year's worth of new music in 2012!

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