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You Never Hear Their Voices: A TBTS Best of 2011 playlist

December 30, 2011

Our award winners get something almost as nice as this.

As 2011 draws to an end, it’s time for another year-end mix of some of my favorite music from the past 12 months. This year I’m excited to share this mix as a Spotify playlist, along with linking to each track on Youtube, Soundcloud, or elsewhere.

I hope you enjoy this mix/playlist, titled “You Never Hear Their Voices,” taken from a Low lyric in the final song. Feel free to drop a comment with some of your favorite artists/albums/songs of 2011, or older music that was new to you this year—I’d love to hear your recommendations!

You Never Hear Their Voices

1. The Black Ghosts — “Talk No More”

I love this track’s dirty, thumping opening, as well as its nods to today’s dance-rock, retro funk, and even blues. This sounds like what the Rolling Stones thought they were doing, but weren’t nearly good enough to actually pull off, during their ill-advised disco/funk forays in the late 1970s.

2. Rahsaan Patterson — “Ghost”

I’m so glad I stumbled into Patterson’s album Bleuphoria via Popmatters’ Best R&B of 2011 list. This track, much of Bleuphoria, and his 2007 album Wines & Spirits haven’t left my playlist in weeks. If a funkier, more Prince-worthy track than “Ghost” was released in 2011, I don’t know what it is.

3. Submotion Orchestra — “All Yours”

Dubstep, jazz, or somewhere in between, Submotion Orchestra was definitely responsible for several of my favorite songs of 2011. Both the trumpet solo and Ruby Wood’s vocals in this song are indelibly beautiful. I can’t wait to see what this band does next.

4. Washed Out — “Amor Fati”

Yep, I pretty much trashed Washed Out and most of the “chillwave” pseudo-genre earlier this year. I still stand by some of those comments, though my main belief now is that the term “chillwave” is utterly meaningless and those bands should have never been lumped together. The excellent, accomplished, and near-universally praised Within and Without won me over to Washed Out. The album’s lead single, “Amor Fati,” has actually been around since 2010, and I should have paid attention sooner, because it’s a great song.

5. Friendly Fires — “Blue Cassette”

Given how thoroughly they’ve followed the well-worn dance-rock and “chillwave” paths, it’s entirely possible that Friendly Fires has never had an original musical thought. But because of their overwhelming songwriting chops, they’re still one of my favorite bands these days. There is just nothing they don’t do well. “Blue Cassette” might be the most romantically longing song of 2011. “When I hear your voice, it sets my heart on fire,” indeed.

6. M83 — “Claudia Lewis”

If I had to pick an album of the year, it would probably be M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. By comparison to Anthony Gonzalez, most other artists seem a little lacking in the ambition department if nothing else. This track goes in a dozen directions, including a tasty prog-rock breakdown that hits like a ton of bricks, and everything works.

7. Alias — “Revl is Divad”

I like the previous Alias album, Resurgam, a fair amount better than this year’s Feverdream. Still, Alias remained my go-to instrumental hip-hop artist in a year when less interesting artists such as Clams Casino got most of the blogigentsia’s attention. This track, which sounds like two in one, starts all airy and sits well next to M83, and ends with some slamming hip-hop that moves nicely into G-Side.

8. G-Side — “No Radio”

I started the year thinking that G-Side, the Block Beattaz, and the whole Slow Motion Soundz crew were making the best rap, and some of the most interesting music period, in America. I’m ending the year with the same view, and with the release of another G-Side album (Islands) in November, let’s add “most prolific” to their list of superlatives.

9. Raphael Saadiq — “Go to Hell”

One of my favorite songs of the year, and I like the transition from the G-Side track’s first-person street-level hardship tales to the speaker’s observations in “Go to Hell.” When the gospel choir swoops in the second half of “Go to Hell,” this track soars to the heavens and takes me with it.

10. We Plants are Happy Plants — “Prelude”

WPAHP makes warm and moving dance-oriented music, but I chose this pretty little track as a transition from “Side A” to “Side B” in my mix. It’s also a nice illustration of WPAHP’s facility with many strains of electronic music—no pigeonholing this guy. As he’s only in his early 20s, he’s one to watch for the future.

11. The Raveonettes — “Evil Seeds”

For better or worse, it’s certainly possible to call 2011 the “year of the boy-girl duo.” They were everywhere, and most of them leaned very far in what we could call a (predictable) “cute-rock” direction. Frankly, most of it didn’t do much for this listener. For me, along with Wye Oak, the old-guard Raveonettes made the most interesting music to emerge from the 2011 boy-girl duo onslaught.

12. The Horrors — “I Can See Through You”

I’m a sucker for 80s post-punk, and The Horrors are making outstanding 80s post-punk three decades after the movement’s lofty heights. On this and several other Skying tracks, Faris Badwan sounds like he’s trying to sing through you as well as “see through you.”

13. Zola Jesus — “Seekir”

She’s been around for a while, but I hadn’t really paid attention to Zola Jesus until her hurricane-force verse on M83’s “Intro” this year. This track and most of the ice-brittle Conatus are great, but I also love her softer, warmer presence heard on the 2010 EP Valusia.

14. Wye Oak — “Civilian”

It’s fairly absurd that Civilian was the A.V. Club’s album of the year, though I guess there’s something to be said for being everybody’s second or third choice for the year’s best. I just hope no one hearing Wye Oak for the first time because of that accolade is expecting an overwhelming listening experience. This is a quietly powerful album, sure, but it’s far short of a “world-shaker,” to borrow a phrase from Cool Hand Luke. That said, this track’s cool, shuffling beat and unexpectedly in-your-face guitars are pretty devastating.

15. DeVotchKa — “The Man from San Sebastian”

DeVotchKa is nothing more and nothing less than one of the most consistently engaging bands we have. Take your pick of tracks from this year’s career-best 100 Lovers—I just happened to like this one’s borderline post-punk guitar attack. All are jam-packed with swooning, heart-on-sleeve musical and lyrical romanticism.

16. R.E.M. — “It Happened Today”

I said this in my March review—“Among many great moments [on this album], the extended, wordless coda of “It Happened Today” is perhaps the most joyous. In this guileless, unaffected, carefree exploration of a melodic theme, I hear a band that sounds entirely comfortable in its own skin and aware of exactly what it can and wants to accomplish, all at a level that I’m not sure they’ve achieved since 1992’s Automatic for the People.” R.E.M. leaves us as one of America’s greatest bands, which they always were during their 30-year career (inattentive former fans notwithstanding) and always will be.

17. The Decemberists — “Down by the Water”

Even if the Decemberists never make another album that does anything for me, which is possible because I’ve never cared for their earlier work, I will always treasure The King is Dead. Perhaps the most consistent album of the year—there’s just not a dud moment in any of the 10 tracks.

18. Jonathan Wilson — “Ballad of the Pines”

Among many wonderful songs on Gentle Spirit, this has emerged as a favorite because of how it calls forth my love for a dear friend who faced down, and continues to rise above, an incredible challenge this year. The notion of singing a hymn to something ancient and timeless (like the pines), whether our hearts are broken or filled with joy, gets me every time.

19. James Vincent McMorrow — “We Don’t Eat”

Something in James Vincent McMorrow’s soulful voice and impeccable songcraft speaks to me 100 times more loudly than anything on this year’s relatively similar, unjustly more noticed Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes records. The final minute of this song achieves a majesty that rivals Sigur Ros, though it emerges from an entirely different set of musical predecessors and assumptions.

20. Mogwai — “White Noise”

Speaking of majesty, “White Noise” is five minutes worth of soaring, beautiful noise to serve as the emotional climax of this mix. Mogwai continues to perfect the instrumental post-rock craft, cranking out more economical and finely honed songs than most of their contemporaries. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will might also be my favorite album title of the year.

21. Low — “Something’s Turning Over”

This wicked little lullaby serves as this playlist’s denouement. Low’s album C’mon was one of my favorites this year, mostly because of several grand tracks that don’t sound much like this one. Still, I love the dark, evil humor in this track (sounds like a lullaby, but the lyrics are worthy of a horror movie), and it’s perhaps the catchiest, most hummable song Low has written in their should-be legendary 20-year career.

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