The Alternative Musical Awards of 2011 AD

So not all the music I enjoyed this year came out this year, and this list is a reflection of that. Here’s some music from whenever, that I liked a lot this year, for the reasons stated here. Enjoy, or not, that’s up to you.

New Musical Discovery of the Year 2011

The National

Note the two twins. Also the other two guys in the back are also brothers. Also, living proof, as if any were needed, that scruffy beards are sexy.

Thanks Portal 2, for introducing me to an awesome band that I now love. The National are a band that should probably be huge, but I guess I’m happy that they’re not too huge. There’s something nice about a band like this with a modest level of success, because it means there’s some substance to them, there’s not some big marketing push involved. Also because if a band is popular I automatically hate them, right? Not true, because I am not 12 anymore (see my ongoing love affair with R.E.M. for further evidence to the contrary).

I started with High Violet, and so far I have worked back two albums to Alligator. It’s solid stuff throughout, but overall I think I like High Violet the best. I love the arrangements, I love the structures, I love the voice, I love the words… I love how the drums are running off at a frantic pace while everything else is taking a leisurely stroll. I love the way Matt Beringer’s voice sounds half-mumbled. I love the slightly awkward jerky rhythms and . Plus, this is the kind of band that I could genuinely recommend to most people and they wouldn’t think I was a complete weirdo. Though I obviously am.

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A Song for Hope 2011

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band – Hang on to Each Other

This campfire singalong song seems genuinely heartfelt and painfully beautiful to my ears and brain. The band’s combined untrained vocals here build into an aching wonderful hymn about community and love, the love we find amongst friends and family and the preciousness of that love.

Yeah I know, that’s me being a hopeless romantic again, but what other song in the world has lines as beautifully poetic as “birds toss precious flowers from the murky skies above” set against a small choir repeatedly whispering the desperate refrain “any fucking thing you love”? No other song, that’s what song. And that is why this song.

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A Song That Most Accurately Describes My Average State of Mind Throughout 2011

The National – Secret Meeting

This song seems to be about paranoia and confusion. Also, it’s jangly awkward rhythms speak to my lack of social skills. So here’s the National describing exactly that problem in a pleasing musical aesthetic.

I am learning though, getting better at this weird ongoing thing we call life. But still, I find it hard to relate to most people. The way they talk, the way they think, the way they are with each other, and with me. There are things I want to say but can’t say, things I want to do but can’t do, things I should say or do that just don’t occur to me at all. I feel guilt when I shouldn’t, I miss opportunities that I should be looking out for, I misinterpret the emotions of others, I stumble ever onward into an unknown and mysterious future. I guess I’m kind of an awkward guy, much as I mean well.

But enough moaning. It’s not like I have any real problems with my life, it’s just the silly little things I let pile up around me and fall on top of me. Not to worry though, because like the song, with a wry sense of irony I do get by. Also, this song is cool.

“And so and now I’m sorry I missed you, I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain…”

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A Song for Anger 2011

The Locust – Book of Bot

From 2007’s sterling effort New Erections, this track features The Locust at their most structured and precise. This is a band that specialises in short bursts of diamond-hard razor-edged catharsis. Unlike a lot of earlier Locust numbers, Book of Bot also tells a story, of a man fed up with his pathetic life, taking matters into his own hands, and re-establishing control with a little focused violence. Something we can all relate to I think.

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Live Performance of the Year 2011

Secret Chiefs 3 at Supersonic 2011

Phenomenal. I love this band plenty on record, but they are something else live. Something whirling, twirling, glowing, burning with the light of creation. Trey Spruance has assembled a rotating lineup of exceptional musicians, and this tour was no exception. After an evening hard at work in the volunteering corps, this was the band I was waiting to see. And after an exhaustive set drawing from the many genres and styles their peculiar musical umbrella happens to encompass, as if just for me, an encore of Labyrinth of Light, a surf tune so awesome that I cannot find the words to describe how awesome it is. Best I can come up with right now is “exceedingly”.

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A Song for Love 2011

R.E.M. – You Are the Everything

I’m sorry I keep talking about this band. Well I guess I’m not actually otherwise I wouldn’t keep doing it. R.E.M. actually haven’t done that many songs that I would really classify as love songs, at least not songs about personal love. This is one of them though, and it’s an early use of mandolin and accordion on an R.E.M. track.

I think the thing that gets me about this song is that it’s very nearly overwrought and melodramatic about the whole thing, but at the same time, it’s musically fragile, very light and full of air. It’s an outpouring of emotion, unfiltered and uncoloured by romance. It’s almost naked, leaving itself open and vulnerable. It might well be over-the-top, but it seems to me it’s honest about the overwhelming feeling of love.

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Erik Satie’s Gnossienne of the Year 2011

Erik Satie – Gnossienne No.3

Obviously.

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A Song for Scaring Everyone You Know 2011

Khanate – Wings From Spine

It had to be Khanate really. From the last Khanate record, the basis of this track is an improvisation. The guitar tone here is pretty haunting, and the bass is pretty throbbing, and the drums are pretty scattershot, and the voice… That fucking voice… This is not the voice of a happy man. Overwhelming is probably the word. Brutal in a way that so many metal bands wish they could be, but can’t because they’re all girly men.

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