2011 became the year when so many of my favorites decided to have new releases, and it became a very happy listening time. In some ways, it’s difficult to say which song from the following fifteen is my favorite, but once you reach the end, it will be obvious to anyone who has followed my music writing. Still, play all these songs and enjoy. I hope you love them.
The Roller – Beady Eye
Even though I am unabashedly Team Noel Gallagher, I do still really love what the remaining members of Oasis have accomplished as Beady Eye. A little over a year after Oasis busted up, they came out with Different Gear, Still Speeding, and though one can slightly tell that it was recorded in a hurry, it’s still a really solid album.
I’ll take you somewhere you never knew you’d be
I’ll give you something you never knew you’d feel
Only thing is, everything is real tonight
“The Roller” is one of my favorites from the album, and I also really like the video. Guitarist Gem Archer wrote the song and offers Liam Gallagher a chance to sing at his Lennon-best. Never, ever assume that Noel was the only talent in that bunch. They did well for more reasons than just his songwriting, and Beady Eye – despite the less-than-catchy band name – showcase another version of that magic.
Stronger Than Dirt (Homosexuality Pt. 2) – Glasvegas
(Forgive the image of random dude. YouTube was less than forthcoming for video options.)
Any subconscious questions I had about whether I would enjoy Glasvegas’ second album, Euphoric Heartbreak, as much as I enjoyed their self-titled debut were immediately replaced with thoughts of all out adoration. I don’t know if I love this album more than the first, but oh yes, it is indeed LOVE.
Toughest when we are together
Thoughts of me and you forever
The rest can go to hell
Our love is as valid as your love is
“Stronger Than Dirt” and its album counterpart “I Feel Wrong (Homosexuality Pt. 1)” are two (of the many) stand-out songs, and though singer James Allan has been asked if they are autobiographical, he has answered the question by saying it shouldn’t matter. “In this day and age, for people’s affections to make people uncomfortable really is fucked up,” he told The Guardian around the time of the album’s release.
With both albums, it is clear that James Allan is a storyteller and a social observer, and all of that informs his songwriting. The music world is better off for it.
Rumour Has It – Adele
Adele is great. That she has achieved this massive level of success despite pop music’s ideas of what a performer “should” look like is such a fantastic “fuck you” to the system. Girl can sing, and I know some people get bored by her ballads, but how can you not love “Rumour Has It?” That drum beat, the snarky lyrics – the song is my favorite from her second album, 21.
I’ve embedded her Royal Albert Hall performance because I love her explanation at the beginning of the song.
I Want You Back – The Civil Wars
A lovely little folk duo covering Michael Jackson? Well, of course I am all over this! What I love about this cover is that it is not a straight derivative version of the original. Not to intentionally pinch a phrase from American Idol, but they make it their own, and that is the difference (for me) between a so-so cover and a great one.
Even though, in this case, I prefer the original, what they are able to do with the song earns my massive respect. The Civil Wars are a great band, and definitely worth checking out.
Let England Shake – PJ Harvey
Another good conceptual album from Ms. Polly Jean, this time exploring her home turf. I find her vocal choices on this song interesting, the way they are wispy instead of the clear force that was her “New York” album, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea.
I keep meaning to properly buy this album, rather than only listening to it on Spotify.
I Follow Rivers – Lykke Li
Wounded Rhymes is such an excellent album, and “I Follow Rivers” was the infinitely enjoyable first single. Believe it or not, this album was one of the first I ever purchased in MP3 form only. Amazon had it on sale for $3.99, and though I really prefer having a physical CD, I also couldn’t resist that price. I know, I know, I am the last dinosaur.
In whatever form, I’m so glad I have this. In Alphabet Soup, I talked about “Unrequited,” and it was hard to pick just one song to feature here. In the end, I picked one with a video, and let it be known that I will gladly listen to anything she releases.
With Love – Elbow
Oh, Elbow are great. In the US, it seems like hardly anyone has heard of them, and that’s a shame, but in the UK, they are a full-on proper arena act. I’ve included this performance in Nottingham with its lengthy crowd-participation intro because it’s a fine example of Rock n Roll Church, although it cuts off a few seconds too early. Singer Guy Garvey is a treasure.
I really, really need to own more of their music.
Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
How about another helping of beard rock? Their harmonies always impress me, and the title track from their second album is that interesting variety of uplifting tune, even when one is not immediately familiar with the lyrics.
I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me
The song is a lovely tribute to the greater good and being desirous of a simpler life, even with its sense of underlying sadness.
Somebody I Used To Know – Gotye (feat. Kimbra)
I know, I know, this song was everywhere, and in a way, it still is. No matter, I love it, and so I must include it. It’s a great mix of modern indie-ness and classic Peter Gabriel sound. I enjoy Kimbra’s verse as well, and the video is very ’80s.
If this song had come out when I was a teenager and still in dance class, I’d bet money that we would have choreographed something for it.
Cheerleader – St. Vincent
Singer Annie Clark is magic.
I’ve played dumb when I knew better
Tried too hard just to be clever
I know honest thieves I call family
I’ve seen America with no clothes on
Her lyrics are endlessly interesting, as is this video.
Judas – Lady Gaga
For some reason I’ve yet to figure out, both of my children (ages 9 and 5) have had periods of obsession with this song, blasting it from their bedrooms, singing along to the chorus, and dancing away. They are young and we are not church-goers, so the religious overtones mostly go over their heads. Honestly, they love the whole album, but “Judas” is the song that gets the most replays.
“Born This Way” might have been the more obvious single to go with from the album of the same name, but I’m fond of this one. The beat is infectious, the video is hot, and I think many of us know what it’s like to be in love with someone who perhaps is not the best choice.
Re-Wired – Kasabian
Though there are other Kasabian songs I like better, this video is funny. And was probably paid for by car company sponsorships by the way their logos are prominently displayed, but oh well. Sergio Pizzorno’s cigarette holder might be my favorite part.
The Sound of Winter – Bush
Yes, I’m one of those cranky Bush fans who find this “reunion” title a bit dubious. Gavin Rossdale and drummer Robin Goodridge are the only original members of the band, but I guess they get over the halfway mark of previous Bush members when you include guitarist Chris Traynor, who took over when Nigel Pulsford left before the Golden State tour.
Although Gavin has always been the one responsible for writing Bush songs, The Sea of Memories was a much better album than his solo effort, Wanderlust. It’s far from my favorite Bush album, but I like it, and I think he does a lot better with a band, rather than temporarily hired-on musicians.
Still, I miss Nigel. While Chris Traynor is certainly a fine musician, Nigel Pulsford added a splash of excellence that I feel is now noticeably absent. Bush, you’re still one of my favorites, so know I criticize with love. You can do even better. Nostalgia for what came before is not enough.
Shake It Out – Florence and The Machine
“Shake It Out” became my theme song for 2011. It was a difficult year for me, health-wise, which made it also a difficult year inside my head. I was so tired of being tired, so sick of the brain fog, so through with not knowing what would help me feel better. And then came Florence:
And it’s hard to dance
with the devil on your back
so shake him off
And I am done with my graceless heart
so tonight I’m going to cut it out and restart
It was exactly what I needed. I won’t say that the song cured me, or that suddenly most everything was okay, but its acknowledgment of difficulty and suffering – that we are all complicated beings – was tremendously helpful. It got me on my way.
AKA… What a Life! – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
When I reviewed original Oasis drummer Tony McCarroll’s memoir, more than one commenter took issue with my bias towards Noel. They would tell me of my favoritism as though it were news to me – Never mind that I said right there at the beginning of the review:
This is not an objective review. The Truth is not an objective book. It is disingenuous to claim otherwise. Everyone has their stories which cultivate our personal legend. And truth, as anyone who has ended a relationship knows, has little to do with facts.
Of course I am biased. The sled is Rosebud. Bruce Willis was dead the whole time. Ain’t no spoiler at this point.
Thankfully, Noel’s debut solo album does not require any indulgent stretch of appreciation. It is effortlessly beautiful and excellent, filled with strings, horns, and even the Crouch End choir. It is the massive effort for which fans of his have always dreamed, and though it’s unfortunate it could only come after Oasis’ demise, I’m still so glad it exists. And that I could hear it performed in person.
“AKA… What a Life!” is one of the few Noel Gallagher songs one can dance to. The video is a short film filled with dark strangeness (and Russell Brand), with the ending made funny only if you know that Noel doesn’t actually know how to drive. If one thought that he was only capable of guitar-driven stadium anthems, this song easily proves otherwise. This album is perfect… but of course I’d say that.
Now, take a peek at this roundup of 2011 in music, and tell me your favorites.