Boner Jams 2011

Approximately a year ago, I started this blog with my Boner Jams 2010 mix tape. To celebrate a year in blogging, I figure I’d make this some kind of a tradition and keep it going.

The same rules apply here as last time. This isn’t necessarily a list of the best songs of the year; it’s more of a survey of what music I liked this past year. Furthermore, because this is a mix tape, I had to take into consideration the flow of the music, which means leaving out some great tunes in the interest of the greater good.

Some casualties include Iceage, Girls, Destroyer, The Weekend, and Cults – just to name a few.

You can access the youtube playlist here.

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Bon Iver – “Perth”

Bon Iver is my pick for album of the year. “Holocene” has gotten a lot of attention – and rightfully so – but I picked “Perth” because it’s such a great opener. It starts with silence and then a guitar gently playing a see-sawing riff. Low vocals emanate from the background as a drum line slowly builds. The arrangement then enters the song over Justin Vernon’s airy and indistinct voice. The song finally crescendos in what Vernon described as cock-rock riff at the end (or at least I think I remember reading something to that effect).

Vernon’s greatest achievement on Bon Iver is the collage of sounds that he’s created. His previous album, For Emma, was distinctly folk and fairly stripped down. On this album, and “Perth” especially, we hear all kinds of textures and fields of sound. Orchestral Beach Boys pop, hard rock guitar riffs and drum kicks push Vernon’s sound into all kids of new directions, giving Bon Iver a distinct identity.

TV On The Radio – “Will Do”

Honestly, I thought Nine Types Of Light was disappointing. Though not a bad album per se, but after Return To Cookie Mountain and Dear Science TV On The Radio seemed poised to make the next Ok Computer, and they took a step backwards this year. (I should note that their bass player did pass away, though I’m not sure if he was on this album or not.) “Will Do” was the standout track from this album. Also, the chimes at the beginning made an excellent transition from the fading riffs on “Perth.”

“Will Do” is reminiscent of one of my favorite TV On The Radio tracks, “Starring At The Sun.” Tunde Adebimpe’s melancholy melodies and wistful lyrics float over a thudding bass line and minimalist guitar tracks. Sometimes I think TV On The Radio try to cram too much sound into a song, but here I think they are their most confident. It’s a shame the rest of the album couldn’t sustain this level of brilliance.

St. Vincent – “Cruel”

Annie Clark was a real breakout in 2011. She’d shown a lot of promise on her prevous work, but Strange Mercy really blew it out of the park. Since The White Stripes have disbanded, Clark is probably my favorite new guitar player. She achieves the ideal balance of Apollonian proficiency and Dionysian experimentation. Her sound is at once austere with sudden explosions of spontaneity.

These clashes are showcased vividly on “Cruel.” The main riff sparks as the song builds and then quits. It suggests something bubbling under the surface that finds release on the two dissonant solos. In contrast to the dissonant guitar is Clark’s clear and consonant voice and melody. “Surgeon” is also a great track.

tUnE-yArDs – “Bizness”

If you thought Annie Clark was a little weird, then Merrill Garbus will sound absolutely demented. Like Clark, Garbus likes to experiment with instrumentation; she’s basically a one-man band (accompanied usually by bass player, Nate Brenner) and crafts her music with layers of drum, ukulele, and voice loops. Unlike Clark, though, Garbus also experiments with her vocal performance, leaving all semblances of normalcy behind.

“Bizness” is the outpouring of repressed libidinal energy that was struggling to burst free in “Cruel.” Garbus seems to be desperately negotiating, repeating the lines “don’t take my life away” with frantic urgency. She has an insatiable desire that she cannot explain, “I say, Ask me but all my wisdom departed/Tell me but all my wisdom departed.” However, she’s rebuffed: “I’ll bleed if you ask me/That’s when, that’s when, he said no.” Perhaps she’s too much for him.

Nicki Minaj – “Super Bass”

Though more mainstream than St. Vincent or tUnE-yArDs, I would argue Minaj is the most neurotic of all three. As a female working within the genres of R&B and hip-hop, Minaj was bound to be submitted to various prejudices. Initially, there was equal parts hype and hate; many professed her undeniable skills while others questioned her cred. However, if you weren’t blown away by her verse on Kanye’s “Monster” then you probably don’t have ears.

Accordingly, Pink Friday was probably the most eagerly awaited album of ’11, both camps hoping it would legitimize their position. Unfortunately, Pink Friday played it far too safe, neglecting Minaj’s excentricities for radio-friendly facsimile fodder. Luckily, “Super Bass,” a song that wasn’t even supposed to be a single, went a long ways towards redeeming Minaj’s 2011. “Super Bass” is pop/club friendly while managing to maintain Minaj’s eccentricities. Hopefully, this track is an indication that Minaj has discovered her voice within the mainstream.

Kanye West and Jay-Z – “Niggas in Paris”

As a sympathizer of Occupy Wall Street, you’d think I’d be hard pressed to appreciated anything from Watch The Throne, an album that so revels in its One Percentness. But that’s the miss the point of rappers like Jay-Z and Kanye: “If you escaped what I’ve escaped/You’d be in Paris getting fucked up, too.” These poor kids who came from the gutter hold up a mirror to white, north American values of capitalism and wealth. Moreover, music, to a certain extent, is an excellent example of a meritocracy. Kanye and Jigga have talent and they’ve worked hard to get where they are, so it’s hard not to join in on celebratory tracks like this.

 On my rough draft of this mix-tape, I included “Otis,” which is probably my favorite track off Watch The Throne. I went with “Niggas in Paris” instead simply because I felt it was a better fit in the mix.

Nas – “Nasty”

Although they’ve set their beefs aside, I can’t help putting Nas and Jigga back-to-back. Their career paths represent a very interesting foil. For me, Nas represents the curse of talent. Illmatic is not only one of the best hip-hops albums ever recorded, it arguably showcases some of the most virtuosic MC performances ever recorded. But what’s truly crazy is that Nas recorded it at the tender age of 18. However, Nas has struggled to regain that level of consistency, and has only managed to show brief flashes of his genius intermittently. Conversely, Jay-Z, while a solid rapper, doesn’t possess anywhere near the flow or word-play that Nas has, but approaches his oeuvre like a hustler, working hard on each track – which is not say Jigga hasn’t suffered from moments of complacency.

Nas just can’t seem to allow himself to be, especially on his own albums (ever notice how he also seems to kill it on an appearance?). However, on “Nasty,” Nas just cuts loose and reminds everyone he’s still the best MC alive when he wants to be.  Over a minimalist production, Nas’ flow never seems to end. He doesn’t even need a hook. This is hip-hop at its purest, its nastiest.

Fucked Up – “Queen of Hearts”

Critics can’t seem to get over Fucked Up’s grandiose ambitions. Whenever I read a review of David Comes To Life, there is some reference to the fact that a punk-rock band would dare to make an operatic concept album. I don’t really see the big deal. Many of The Clash’s albums struck me as such, and there are contemporary examples, like mainstream acts such as Green Day and My Chemical Romance.

I think what makes Fucked Up such an exception is that they pull it off. They’ve breathed life into a genre that has either become assimilated into the mainstream or grown stale its avoidance thereof. Like all genres, punk is often threatened to be suffocated by its archetypes and signifiers. Fucked Up manage to cut through all the nonsense and release an album that is true to their vision and kicks a lot of ass.

I found it hard to get this track to fit within this mix, and I also went back and forth between this and “A Little Death.” But Madeline Follin’s vocal performance convinced me that I had to include it: “Hello, your name is David, I am Veronica / Let’s be together, until the water swallows us / Hello, you must be David, I am Veronica / Let’s be together, until we’re all finally crushed.”

M83 – “Midnight City”

I love it when the timbre of a song’s instrumentals shine through. Rarely since David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy or Kraftwerk’s albums do you hear that in electronic music. On “Midnight City” you can feel the warm buzz and yelps of the synthesizers and the snaps of the v-drums. Even Gonzalez’s voice sounds like a droning computer. Then, on the song’s coda, a saxophone’s wail makes the track suddenly all too human.

“Midnight City” conjures that sense of solitude that you want to wrap around you like a blanket. Gonzalez sings, “Waiting in a car/Waiting for a ride in the dark/Drinking in the lounge/Following the neon signs.” The song captures a feeling of isolation that is waiting to burst forth; it’s just ” Waiting for the right time.”

Frank Ocean – “Novacane”

If nothing else, Kanye has helped usher in a refreshingly new, confessional style of lyricism in mainstream hip-hop. Frank Ocean’s disarmingly honest performance on “Novacane” continues this trend.

We’re all well-accustomed to songs (of all genres) with male performers bragging about their sexual conquests; some may even be so bold as to admit their womanizing is a compensation for an empty life. What makes “Novacane” and exception is that Ocean concedes that he’s actually falling for his no-strings-attached, drug-induced fuck-buddy: “Now I’m somethin’ like the chemist on campus/But there’s no drug around, quite like what I found in you.”

Ocean feels like he has to play by the rules of the game and immerse himself in the high, but he’d rather be sober. Ocean avoids falling into the sentimental trappings of emo by maintaining his performative masculinity. It’s a tragi-comedy.

Radiohead – “Lotus Flower”

I wrote a review on King Of Limbs when it was released praising it; however, I still haven’t quite made up my mind about it. There’s lots to like about it, and it’s difficult to find any fault with it, but I just can’t help but feel unsatisfied by it.

“Lotus Flower” is arguably the stand-out track from the record, and not just because of the famous video. Like the album, it’s humble by Radiohead’s standards, and highly accessible. Yorke croons over a danceable drum beat, and synthesizers hum in the background, rarely overtaking the drums or vocals.

Lotus flowers are captivating because they are delicately beautiful that grow from the harsh, turgid mud: “There’s an empthy space inside my heart/where the weeds take root/so now i’ll set you free.” Perhaps from these harsh conditions, Yorke hopes this relationship will blossom.

Tyler, The Creator – “Yonkers”

My pick for song of the year. With an oscillating sound effect as the only semblance of a hook, Tyler kills it over a Wu-Tang, minimalist beat.

Tyler is probably one of the most gifted MCs on the go right now, but he doesn’t manage to rise to the occasion as often as his admirers would like (including myself). “Yonkers” was my introduction to Tyler, The Creator, and I was mildly disappointed to find Goblin didn’t maintain this level of kick-assery.

All that aside, I don’t want to detract from “Yonker’s” brilliance. Like Eminem at his peak, Tyler straddles a paradoxical, homicidal, suicidal persona. Most of the time I want to laugh at Tyler’s gallows humor, other times I’m repulsed, and sometimes I’m just sad for the kid. Tyler is best when he’s aware of this cocktail, and can walk the tightrope; though he sometimes loses his balance.

James Blake – “The Wilhelm Scream”

The Wihelm scream is a famous sound effect used throughout film history. George Lucas is probably its biggest proponent, as you can hear it repeatedly in Star Wars and Indiana Jones as Stormtroopers and Nazis fall to their respective dooms.

However, on James Blake’s “The Wilhelm Scream,” you don’t actually hear it. Blake confesses that he doesn’t know about his dreams or love anymore, and all he does know is that he’s “Fallin’, fallin’, fallin’, fallin’. Fallin’.” Although understated and melodic, the song itself appears to be Blake’s scream; a scream that has been has been transformed into a pop hit.

Lana Del Rey – “Video Games”

Lana Del Rey is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. It’s difficult to accept that such a young starlet with all the signifiers of a Britney Spears type celebrity could sound so world weary, yet here we are. To say her voice is beautiful is a understatement, but then there’s her less than stellar live performances. Je ne sais pas.

It’s only fitting that someone who problematizes attempts to be stereotyped would sing about trying to satisfy the male gaze. She goes to great lengths to accommodate her lover’s expectations, melancholily remarking that this is her “idea of fun.” It’s obvious she’s struggling to maintain but she can’t quit because “They say that the world was built for two/Only worth living if somebody is loving you.”

When she asks, “I heard that you like the bad girls/Honey, is that true?” Is she posturing, or is she asking for an identity to be bestowed upon her?

Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues”

I couldn’t end the tape with something as sorrowful as “Video Games.” Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues,” while cheery in contrast to Del Rey, initially seems hardly like the cheery note you want end on if you want to avoid leaving with a bad taste in your mouth: “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.”

Like “Video Games,” “Helplessness Blues” is a song about struggling with identity, and hoping to be assigned one by some authority: ” What’s my name, what’s my station/oh, just tell me what I should do.” However, there is optimism that in working and labouring maybe we can etch out some kind of meaning in this universe: “If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m sore/Someday I’ll be like the man on the screen.”

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~ by braddunne on January 30, 2012.

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