LUCKY FOR YOU, and especially for me, I made one. Here it is, without further ado: my picks for my favorite songs of 2011.
Warning: this mix features a mezcla of styles so intense it could be quite dangerous for those with monochromatic tastes. We’re talking mind-body combustion.
Alabama Shakes’ “Hold On”
I once had a conversation with a Washington cab driver about the current state of music.
He was from Ethiopia, and he felt there was something lacking in today’s hip hop and R ‘n’ B. “It’s not like the old days,” he said, “Music had something else back then, but what?”
“You mean, like, soul?” I asked.
“Yeah! Soul!” he said, almost immediately.
Too true, I thought. A few months later I realized that all the music I really love, that music which makes me ache, owes a whole hell of a lot to soul (both the genre and the underlying spirit), especially in its vocal stylings. From the hooks of the Dismemberment Plan, to the calculated wails of Corin Tucker, to Beyonce’s hit song, “Countdown,” it’s soul that grabs me.
I’m not much of a retro kind of girl, unless we’re talking the ’90s, but Alabama Shakes take all of the irresistible elements of soul, their obvious musical ancestor, condense them, infuse their own pain and life stories, and make me suddenly addicted to an old sound. The vocalist, Britney Howard, is pretty damn incredible. She may be in her early 20s, but the girl has lived a lot.
Beirut’s “East Harlem”
I love this band. I love this record. I love this song. The music of Beirut is eclectic, at times klezmer, at times a tropicalia tribute, always well-blended and even. And Zach Condon has one of the most perfectly melancholy voices I’ve ever heard.
I got to see these guys perform live, and had a short conversation with Condon about his experience growing up in New Mexico. We talked for less than five minutes, but I liked him a whole bunch. He was real and down to earth. I didn’t know too much about him or the band then, but they played “East Harlem,” and I was hooked. It was released on Beirut’s 2011 album, The Rip Tide.
Orquesta’s (ft. Zuzuka Poderosa) “Dona Sandra”
Zuzuka Poderosa makes funk carioca, hardcore, Miamia-bass influenced Brazilian electronica.
It’s amazing to dance to, and plays excellently at the club. But in this song, produced by Irish DJ Orquesta, you can really hear the tone and quality of her voice, which is very lovely indeed.
“Dona Sandra” is a cautionary tale, sung in Portuguese, about love turned sour. Need I say more?
Lido Pimienta’s “Luces”
Lido Pimienta is a wonderfully inventive musician.
She took the Latin-indie world by storm with her EP, “Color”. Lido released “Luces” this past summer. It’s about the end of a serious relationship, and the music — sprawling and dark– reflects the seasick feeling of deep pain.
Alt.Latino co-host Felix Contreras introduced me to this amazing group of three seasoned musicians.
He drove across the United States over July, and engaged in some serious musical anthropology. Felix discovered music on mariachi radio stations in Nebraska, and outside of taco trucks in LA. And so it was that Felix fatefully met the drummer, Josh Duron, of ¡Aparato!.
I heard their song “Aire” in a spacious studio, and immediately felt transported to higher realms.
Aire by ¡Aparato!
María Mulata’s (Geko Jones vs. Frikstailers) “Pa La Escuela Nene”
Jasmine Garsd of Alt.Latino has said that he’s like a “musical anthropologist” because he goes to tiny towns in Colombia looking for rare sounds and then mixes them with pop music to create something entirely new.
I got to see him spin at a recent Maracuyeah dance party, and well, his beats were right. I was still sore from grooving the next day.
Maria Mulata- Pa la Escuela Nene (Geko Jones vs Frikstailers) by Que Bajo Party
Rye Rye’s (ft. Robyn) “Never Will Be Mine”
How am I not going to love a song in which the badass Baltimore rapper sings this put down:
Now you tell me that you love me dearly
I don’t love you
Did I make that clearly?
And Robyn? It’s the collaboration of my dreams.
I have this tendency to not say what I really mean in my intimate relationships. I often hold back for fear of getting hurt, or getting left. After a while, that stuff builds and builds. At times I’ll speak in code and metaphors, in the hopes that my friends and loved ones will catch my meaning.
The song “Pleaser” off of Lemuria’s 2011 album, Pebble, encapsulates a lot of my twisty feelings about keeping quiet when I should probably be using my gift with words to say what I really think.
I am hinting hard
I am a hard hinter
I am a pleaser
And I’m hinting hard.
Lemuria is a pop-punk band originally from Buffalo, New York. They’re going to be big, I think, so take a listen now, you heard?
Bon Iver’s “Holocene”
Ok, I know it might be overdone. Who isn’t all about Bon Iver these days?
But Bon Iver, the newest record out from Justin Vernon, is my absolute favorite of 2011. In “Holocene” he sings about accepting the finite nature of our lives and power in the world. He concludes his revelations with, “And I could see for miles, miles, miles.”
Amanda Shires’ “Swimmer…”
Sometimes I dream of Texas. I dream of lonely alfalfa fields and struggling towns.
But of course at this point I’ve traveled enough to realize that it’s not actually Texas I dream of, it’s an interior mental state, composed of equal parts wistfulness and loss.
Amanda Shires takes me there instantly with this painful and sweet refrain:
I said I don’t care
But I’m a liar
Look how easy
A heart can catch on fire.
For anyone who has ever loved deeply and felt alone in that love, I recommend this tune.