I recently made this mix for some friends. I burned a few copies and sent them off, hoping that it doesn’t just end up collecting dust in some corner of their place, or thrown on the passenger seat of their car, forgotten forever.
The concept behind this mix is that these are my favorite tracks of the year so far. These songs have all gone into heavy rotation on my iTunes and I think they represent a good cross section of a variety of styles from bands and artists that are quite well known, like Neil Young and Arcade Fire, as well as some lesser known acts like Wonder Wheel, Hurricane Bells and Beach Fossils. I hope that some of these tracks find their way into your iTunes, as I feel that they are all worth at least a listen.
Track 1: “We Used to Wait” – Arcade Fire
From the much anticipated album “The Suburbs” I chose this as the opening track for its driving quality and the slow build. Arcade Fire really does a fantastic job on this album of capturing a universal feeling of the wonderment of childhood and growing up. I wasn’t a fan of their previous albums, but I feel like they finally hit the mark with this one and I think that this is one of the stand out tracks. If you have a chance to check out the video that was created for this song I would suggest doing so, it brings even more emotional depth to the song and makes it truly personal. You can check out the video here.[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/13-We-Used-To-Wait.mp3|titles=We Used To Wait]
Track 2: “Frankenstein” – Tokyo Police Club
This is the closing track from their most recent release, this summer’s “Champ”. All in all it is a strong album with a lot of memorable tracks. The pulsating guitar line with the slow moving and fuzzed out synth beneath it creates a layered effect that works really well here. This is also a rare instance where I think that the verse is better than the chorus. I discussed this album in detail in a previous post, here. Check out the track, below.[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Champ_Tokyo-Police-Club_11_Frankenstein.mp3|titles=Frankenstein]
Track 3: “Flames on the Ocean” – Motorifik
Definitely not a band that I had heard of only a few months ago. Motorifik is a side project from one of the members of Working For a Nuclear Free City and their sound is similar to Phoenix with a little bit more shoegaze and dreampop thrown in. I particularly like the wordless refrain that is drenched in reverb and echo. The drums sound more like explosions with the cymbals creating waves of sound that nearly overtake everything else.[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/10-FLAMES-ON-THE-OCEAN.mp3|titles=Motorifik – Flames on the Ocean]
Track 4: “Alphaville” – Working for a Nuclear Free City
This comes from their recent double album “Jojo Burger Tempest”, far and away the most dense album I have heard in a long time. There are about a million ideas (not even exaggerating) on the album. This song is no different. We go from a simple, upbeat tune until the bottom falls out, a synth takes the lead, which is then replaced by guitars as the band careens through several different sections. The track moves to about 12 different places before coming to an end. The funny thing is though, and this is true for every track on the album, though the songs may seems overwhelming they are so catchy and well crafted and produced, that they stand up to repeated listens.[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/04_Alphaville.mp3|titles=Working for a Nuclear Free City – Alphaville]
Track 5: “Helicopter” – Deerhunter
With a chorus that is similar in effect to the Motorifik track this one by Deerhunter is an amazing tune from an outstanding album. Halcyon Digest, released in October, is quite different from Deerhunter’s earlier, more ambient work. The lyrics here add to the emotional charge of the song, which is musically quite simple. Bradford Cox’s voice has a real sense of sincerity and longing here. The album is filled with powerful moments like the ones in this track. For a more detailed review, go here.
Track 6: “Scissor” – Liars
I’ve been following this band for a few years now. Their earliest work was in line with the dance-punk bands coming out of New York in the early 2000’s, but they quickly ditched that sound (as well as their rhythm section) and began creating very heady concept albums including the astoundingly great Drum’s Not Dead. They have moved away from those album oriented ideas with this album, Sisterworld, and the album before. This song brings forward the bands ability to be creepy and frightening while at the same time rocking harder than most bands around. The video is quite crazy as well (though, unfortunately, embedding is disabled).
Track 7: “A More Perfect Union” – Titus Andronicus
It is really difficult to pick a favorite track from this album. Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor is damn near flawless. Musically there is nothing too new going on here, which is not a bad thing. Everything works perfectly. This track clocks in at over 7 minutes, and not a second is wasted. This band, from Glen Rock, New Jersey, rocks with a vengeance. Singer Patrick Stickles screams and growls his deeply personal lyrics through clenched teeth. This track, the opener from The Monitor serves as a call to arms. I talk about the album in far too much detail here.[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/01-A-More-Perfect-Union.mp3|titles=Titus Andronicus – A More Perfect Union]
Track 8: “Years Not Long” – Male Bonding
This track comes from an album that is full of blistering tracks recorded in the red. It’s nearly all straight ahead garage rock. Fast, loud, noisy, yet the singing is almost sweet and gentle, despite it’s cutting through a whole lot of noise. Earlier in the year this was a standout album and there still isn’t anything that sounds quite like it.[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/01-Years-Not-Long1.mp3|titles=Male Bonding – Year’s Not Long]
Track 9: “IMHO” – Wonder Wheel
This track could be filed in the “Chillwave” category with others like Neon Indian and Small Black. I really like the raw sound of the recording, the pervasive guitar line and ever present synth that casts a certain relaxed feeling over everything. The rapid fire vocals in the chorus are quite catchy, even if I’m not entirely sure what is being said. There is a looseness in the musicianship present here, where sometimes the drums speed up, or slow down, they aren’t necessarily synched up through the entire song, but it really doesn’t seem to matter. The middle 8 section is a highlight, as is the closing section that slows the tempo down and lets the track breath a little, taking a break from the wall of sound. This is also one very prolific band. I’m sure that by the years end we’ll have another album full of tunes, and I’m personally looking forward to it.[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/03-IMHO.mp3|titles=IMHO]
Track 10: “Sometimes” – Beach Fossils
So it’s nearly winter, that doesn’t mean that we can’t pretend that we are at the beach. I really like the interplay of the guitar line and the bass line at the beginning. When the second guitar comes in with a tremolo effect things are pushed even further. This song, as with the rest of the tracks on this album, really capture the ultra-relaxed, sun-soaked laziness of southern California. The band really doesn’t have much to say beyond what is expressed in this song, but it’s fun. They aren’t going to change the world but their songs can make you happy for at least a little while.
Track 11: “Fake Blues” – Real Estate
Similar in style to Beach Fossils is New Jersey band Real Estate. They still have that laid back, west coast, lazy/sunny vibe that is no doubt helped by their echo laden guitars and laid back vocals. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing these guys perform a few times and they are a really tight band. They have taken these songs and really built upon them in their live set. It’s easy to tell that a lot of these tunes are developed from improvised jams and then shaped into solid songs. They have a limited bag of tricks and a very distinctive sound, but they use it quite well.[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Fake-Blues.mp3|titles=Real Estate – Fake Blues]
Track 12: “Make a Deal with the City” – Hurricane Bells
Ok, I’ll admit that the latter half of this mix tape is concerned mostly with songs that sound, to me, “sunny”. I think it has something to do with these past couple of songs have just about the same walking, lulling tempo, a relaxed singing style and a lot of echo. This one comes off of Hurricane Bells’ follow up EP to their debut full-length album Tonight is the Ghost. This is the kind of song that would work well accompanying an early morning drive down the highway as the sun is just rising in an orange tinged sky.[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/01-Make-A-Deal-With-The-City.mp3|titles=Hurricane Bells – Make A Deal With The City]
Track 13: “Walk With Me” – Neil Young
Neil is one of those artists that seems to be untouchable. He releases album after album after album, some take off, some flop and fall away into obscurity but nobody ever seems to fault him for it. He’s celebrated for his output and his willingness to always try something new. Often he succeeds in creating some sort of new sound, even if that “new sound” is Neil returning to his “old sound” and updating it. This track comes from his collaboration with producer Daniel Lanois. The fascinating thing about this song, as well as the rest of the album, is that it is Neil with just a guitar. He still achieves an interplay of guitar lines and melodies thanks to his unique approach to the guitar combined with Lanois’ production tricks. The guitar here sounds beefy as hell and the way that the vocals were recorded make it sound like Neil is speaking directly to the listener from an authoritative place on high. In my opinion Young’s work is always worth at least a cursory listen. Sometimes the albums don’t hold up but there is always at least one song that is worth the trouble.
Track 14: “Eyesore” – Women
Closing out my mix is the closing track from Women’s latest album Public Strain. This band sounds like nothing else coming out of Calgary, or anywhere for that matter. They seem to be summoning early Sonic Youth and The Velvet Underground. Lots of noise, produced by the instruments and otherwise. The way that this album, as well as their previous self-titled album, were recorded allow for a lot of extraneous sounds to enter into the mix. One can hear the squeaking of the kick drum pedal, doors opening and closing, talking at the beginning or ending of tracks, tape hiss and various other things that are usually scraped out with precision to make an album sound pristine. What this results in is a very haunting and affecting album. The last few minutes of this one in particular are my favorite. The repeated pattern that slowly fades as the energy continues to build just makes me want to listen to the album over and over again.