stephen malkmus

Comment: 2011's Best Songs

At the end of every year I tend to spend a bit of time contemplating how to suitably wrap things up. Sometimes it's a single post that just lists things that were particularly note-worthy, other years I have been much more formal and had a collection of top five lists. This year I feel like running with something a bit more free form so here is a list of my favourite songs from this year.

There are too many songs here to say something about all of them. I'll go into a bit of detail on a selection of the ones that meant the most to me and that will make the post long enough as it is. There is also a Spotify playlist that pulls all of these together to make it as easy as possible to have a listen. Nothing here is ordered based on 'best' - the playlist and this list were built to flow as well as is possible with such a diverse selection of music. Having said which, there was one song that stuck out for me more than any other this year... Read on to find out which...

'I Don't Want Love' - The Antlers
The opening track from The Antlers' Burst Apart was a contender for song of the year for me. It's a beautifully exposed and fragile track and the decision to stick such a piece at the start of an album still amazes me because it is so easy to miss just how staggering it is. There aren't many bands that come close to Thom Yorke's brand of experimental melancholy, but The Antlers come close.

'Collapse' - Iceage
Iceage's debut album was the kind of brash, rapid fire album that really encourages repeat listening, but it was the discordant melodies of 'Collapse' that I always longed for more of. This most surprising thing is how much is crammed into a two-minute record, from the frictional intro of the guitar to the closing bars at the end.

'Undertow' - Warpaint

'Codex' - Radiohead

'Share The Red' - Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

'Vomit' - Girls
Girls' second album saw them continue to expand their sound but nothing on that album came close to the gospel ambition of this needy and emotional indie cut.

'I Can See Through You' - The Horrors

'Montana' - Youth Lagoon

'Come To The City' - The War On Drugs
I said it all on the review last week but golly, does this flick my switches. It's difficult to judge something so close to a first listen but I'm confident that 'Come To The City' will stick out for years to come. The sound of a hand reaching out to pull you from the quick sand - an emotive wall of sound.

'It Takes Time To Be A Man' - The Rapture

'Ice Cream' - Battles feat. Matias Aguayo
When I saw Battles at Glastonbury the mechanical precision and strength of drummer John Stanier blew me away: this dude kicked the fucking doors off. Matias' vocals and percussion just took things to another level - this is math rock on spring break: sexy, wild and completely in control.

'Caffeinated Consciouness' - TV On The Radio

'Manifesto' - Planningtorock

'Saturday Love' - Toro Y Moi

'Manila' - Rough Fields

'Minnesota' - Bon Iver

'The Wilhelm Scream' - James Blake

'Video Games' - Lana Del Rey
Is she for real or faking? That question seemed to rumble around for months and yet everyone seems to have forgotten that real pop music is just a show anyway. I don't need to know her real name - Lana stole my heart as she laid a smack across my cheek with the line "It's you, it's you, it's all for you... Everything I do...". Sometimes popular music is best left with some mystery.

'Space Is Only Noise If You Can See' - Nicolas Jaar
Still Jaar's best record and 2011’s most unhinged vocal by far. Try as you might, this makes no sense but the space groove bass line and wonky lyrics made Nicolas Jaar one of our most exciting producers. The fact that he hasn't felt the need to do anything even remotely similar since only compounds the magnificence of it. Grab a calculator and fix yourself.

'Stay' - Gunnar Bjerk

'What I've Lost' - Benoit & Sergio
Everything Benoit & Sergio released this year was fantastic, but nothing came close to this track from side two of the Boy Trouble EP, a contemplative late night road trip through the old haunts with a new (potential) lover. If people ever tell you electronic music has no soul then play them this - a track full of heart and pain and a crucial hint of hopeful yearning.

'Need You Now' - Cut Copy

'Midnight City' - M83

'Hawaiian Air' - Friendly Fires

'All Nite' - Rustie

'Fallout' - Neon Indian

'Lonely Days (Drop Out Orchestra Vocal Remix)' - Mario Basanov
Mario's original was good but this shimmering sun baked disco remix is truly great. It's strength is that it simply hits that summery Ballearic vibe better than any other seven-minutes of music I heard this year. Throw in some excellent guitar work (more guitar solos on disco please!) and you've got something very vey good indeed.

'Basement L.O.V.E.' - Motor City Drum Ensemble
MCDE's DJ Kicks blew every other mix CD released this year out of the water with it's fantastic mixture of soulful jazz and subterranean house music for the heads. This separate remix of the 'L.O.V.E.' cut released on that mix as an exclusive is a brilliant taster for that mix even if doesn't actually appear on it. Loose and airy, it feels like a slowed down summer's day spent dancing on Mediterranean tiles after a night with no sleep.

'Arise' - Maceo Plex

'Far Nearer' - Jamie xx
2010 saw the xx break into the mainstream but in 2011 Jamie proved the best is yet to come. As good as the xx's debut record is, in my opinion it can't hold a candle to this solo track. Sounds like Paul Simon kicking back on a dubstep rumbling tropical island; this is Kia Ora, Five Alive and Rubicon rolled into one.

'Banana Ripple' - Junior Boys
As if Mario Basanov and Jamie's 'Far Nearer' weren't enough sun... 'Banana Ripple' easily takes my vote for song of the year. This unashamed summer disco dance track caps off an album of angst-ridden self-reflective electronic pop on It's All True like a glorious and carefree butterfly emerging from a self-absorbed chrysalis. 'Banana Ripple' is a song of three acts where each one is more fantastic than the last. The Hammond organ peaking towards the end never fails to give me goose bumps, and that is what music is about.

So, what did I miss?

BP x

Album Review: Mirror Traffic - Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

One of the few bands I discovered in my teenage years that I continue to develop a fondness for rather than a slowly building distance from are Pavement. Something about SM and the crew's absolute embrace of being a slacker shines to me as a more admirable ambition than that of a thousand try-hard rock stars, let alone all those bankers & politicians. Pick a cut at random from either of Pavement's first three albums and you will be greeted with something that sounds like the band could barely be bothered to exist, so how they managed to enter a studio and record music is beyond me. And it's spellbinding: horizontal to the point where any further would be perpendicular.

And here I will level with you - as big a fan of Pavement's as I am the solo material I have heard, from Malkmus or anyone else, has always left me a little cold. It lacked th (lack of) focus that made Pavement special. But, producer slut that I am, the announcement of Beck as the producer of Mirror Traffic had me a little excited.

And it turns out I had every right to be. Mirror Traffic arguably sounds like a better Pavement album than the last Pavement album. The slacker charm is here in full force and whilst it might not be Crooked Rain, there are a whole bunch of bloody excellent tunes. I remember reading of a spat between the Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan and Malkmus (following a harmless dig from the latter on ’Range Life') in which Corgan counter-dissed Pavement (and still does), saying "people don't fall in love to Pavement... they put on Smashing Pumpkins or Hole or Nirvana, because these bands actually mean something to them".

The stupid thing about this exchange is that nothing could be further from the truth, and the same goes here, many years on. Much more so than on Malkmus' other solo work. Just listen to the gloriously catchy, scruffy guitars of 'Stick Fingers In Love' for example. Or the loose near-balladry of 'Share The Red', with Malkmus' vocal delivery of the line "I'll be watching all the time" in the bridge spat out in distaste. This music still packs the kind of passionate punch that most bands would die for.

The lyrics themselves are, at times, similarly full of downer brilliance. Take the opening of 'Forever 28’: "I can see the mystery of you and me will never quite add up / no-one is your perfect fit, I do not believe in that shit, don't you know every bubble bursts?"

As for production, Beck's touch is deft. Play this to a Pavement fan without them knowing the producer and they would know no different - it's raw and grungey and loose yet as soon as you know the producer it comes as little surprise... The hints are there in the snippets of brass, choruses of wordless 'ahhhhhs' as backing vocals. Beck has brought his skill to Malkmus' songwriting, but at the expense of nothing.

All in all this Mirror Traffic is a thrill: a post-pavement record better than you could hope for.

BP x

Mirror Traffic is out now, available from on CD, LP and MP3 [affiliate links].