Monday, December 26, 2011

ChrisMix 2011: Bright

It was kind of an interesting year. My resolution was to listen to less music, mostly so I could do some more thinking. Sometimes this thinking lead me to a negative place. I’ve always had a predilection for some dark, melancholy music, and I certainly found some this year. But on the whole I don’t feel like these tunes represented my year. So while I wanted to share them, I didn’t want them to be THE ChrisMix.

At the same time, I found that a lot of my favorite albums this year contained both feel good tracks as well as some bummers. Beautiful, but bummers. So I decided I could have both too. I made two mixes, each adhering to the rules of ChrisMix. But about half of each mix are the same artists from the other, just different in tone.

ChrisMix 2011: Bright

1. Don’t Say Oh Well – Grouplove

I think this song is actually pretty autobiographical, about the band’s first year together. But the sentiments of the song can be universally applied. “This year has been a big one . . . following what we don’t plan . . . Will you follow your heart’s plan? Oh, why not jump in to that ocean, and run your fingers through your hair? Don’t say oh well.”

2. If Ever I Stray – Frank Turner

Another song about counting to 4 and jumping in the ocean. What can I say, I love both of those things. I really like Fran’s mix of melody and growl, as well as his insistence on mentioning England in every song. He’s British and don’t you forget it! I also like that the song is a motivational speech, but it’s not overly cloy. Pick yourself up, get on with it, don’t feel entitled. Now start.

3. Blue Eyes – Destroyer

The first lines of the song sound like gibberish, but at the same time do seem evocative. He then states “I write poetry for myself” and you get the sense that he’s definitely saying something, it just wasn’t aimed at you. The whole song, and indeed album are that way, and constantly leave you wondering, but listening all the closer for it. Because it’s something you’re pretty sure you want to know.

4. Hope It’s You – Lauren Pritchard

Although this is the bright mix, the songs aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. This song is definitely not a rosy picture, but it feels empowered and confident to me. It doesn’t hurt that the drums, piano and handclaps provide a driving beat that propels the whole thing into a groove party.

5. We Turn It Up – Oh Land

The first of our numerous Scandinavian acts this year, Oh Land was a challenge. I liked every song on the album, so which to pick? Clearly, in the end it was this one. It’s a bit light lyrically, but to be honest, so are most of her songs. But the jangly happiness of it compensates for this.

6. Magic – Girls

Often the track I pick to represent a band is their single. After all, that’s why singles are selected, because they seem to be the standout track. But I didn’t like the first single from Girls, nor the second. But it turns out, I love a lot of the tracks that aren’t “single-worthy.” Such as this one. I am starting to rebel against my own apparent predilection for retro, but I can’t deny the charm of this track.

7. Ready to Go Steady – The Go! Team

What to say about The Go! Team? They have an exclamation point in the middle of their name. They work with bands like Best Coast, Deerhoof and Soko. They have 2 tambourine players, one of which is named Ninja. They list the inspirations as blaxploitation, Bollywood and double dutch chants. They’re fun.

8. Waiting for My Chance to Come – Noah and the Whale

I didn’t want every track on this album to sound like a pep talk, but lots of them do. This one does. But so far every song on this album has a mirror track on the Dark album, which I think validates the pep talks. If they never admitted to the darkness in other songs and were relentlessly positive, I wouldn’t trust their pep talk.

9. Tonight – Atoi

Another proud contribution from Denmark. Their citizenship was enough to get them on the mix. Well, that and this track is pretty great..

10. Barton Hollow – The Civil Wars

I maintain that I hate country music. So the fact that this song/album/band has been nominated for multiple country music awards, and they just released a song with Taylor Swift, and they kind of sound like country will all be ignored. It’s not country. It’s folk, and folk I can live with.

11. Be Brave – Love Inks

I have no idea how I came across this band, as they don’t have much of a web presence. So clearly they must have hacked my iPod and put this track in there so I’d promote it on my blog. I see no other possible explanation.

12. Go Outside – The Cults

If nothing else, this song made me research the Jonestown Massacre, something on which I was sadly uninformed. And while I can’t say that I completely understand or agree with the sampling of various cult leader’s speeches in the album, the contrast with the music can be striking. The reminder of the darkness doesn’t really mar the cheery veneer of the song, but certainly grounds it. I think some might find the imagery of the video exploitive and insensitive, but I think it lends some earnestness to the sentiment of the song.

13. Baby, We’re Refugees! – Jon Fratelli

This is a bit of a cheat. The Fratellis were a favorite debut from a few years back, and here is Jon doing a bit of solo work. I considered doing a track from Codeine Velvet Club, Jons other band, since it would be more of a departure. But this is my favorite song from either the latest Fratellis album, CVC or Jon, so why not go with the best. The song starts catchy, and continues to add layer after layer of catchy hooks as it progresses. It won’t change your life, but it will get you humming pretty darn quick.

14. Mexico – The Staves

The Staves are 3 British sisters singing American harmonies. Hopefully you don’t like the song too much, as you’ll only be able to find a handful of Staves tracks anywhere. But they recently started touring with The Civil Wars, so hopefully they get their act together and put out a full album. Women.

15. Drunk On Your Love – Wynter Gordon

There was an Onion piece a while back satirizing pop nothingness with a new song called Booty Wave. They released the .mp3 of the track on their website, and it got so many downloads that the question arose whether it was really satire or just an actual pop song. I can’t say Wynter Gordon is any “better” that a typical Spears or Perry. But she puts together fun pop that’s at least as good and much less ubiquitous.

16. Ungirthed – Purity Ring

I’m going to be honest, I’ve never listened to the lyrics of any Purity Ring track. They may be singing about stepping on kittens. The only part I know of this song is “Ears ringing and teeth clicking and ears ringing and teeth clicking.” I just like the sound of the whole jumble of notes, words, tones, beeps, clicking and ringing.

17. Revolution Girl – Marsmobil

A lot of these songs have already been shared on my blog over the course of the year. But this one never was, primarily because the album cover has a topless woman on it. You’d think there would be a way around that, but I haven’t figured it out. In any case, click through with caution. But the song is great.

18. Good Intent – Kimbra

Kimbra is featured on Dark, and nearly got a third nod for a contribution to a Miami Horror track. She’s been all over the place this year. She also has a number of videos out, and I’d say both the Settle Down and Cameo Lover videos are more interesting than this one. But ChrisMix isn’t about videos. This is my favorite track. But now you know that there are plenty of other ones to look into if your interest is piqued.

19. Tesselate – ∆

Yes, the name of the band is a triangle. They’re also known as Alt-J, which in case you’re not a huge huge huge nerd, is how you type triangle on a mac. But I’ll overlook the stupidity of their name (though they also single about triangles in the song, so it must be near and dear to their hearts) and also that the song sounds a bit too Radioheady, because I like it.

20. Jubilation Day – Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers

The first thing I noticed about Steve Martin’s 2nd bluegrass album is how it’s not a joke. Yes, a couple of the songs are amusing, such as this one. But most aren’t, they’re just bluegrass. But if you like bluegrass, or the fact that Steve Martin is a stud, that should be fine with you. It’s fine with me. Though I’d be happy if he did release a comedy bluegrass album.

21. Don’t Stop Me Now – Sandra Bae

It’s my favorite Queen song, receiving a quality reimagination. I don’t know if I have more commentary for you than that. Enjoy.

22. White Winter Hymnal – Birdy

All my favorite Birdy tracks are covers. Indeed, half her debut album consists of covers. Which would be more of a problem if they weren’t so good. Here she covers Fleet Foxes, who had a great album this year, but sadly didn’t qualify for this mix since they’ve been around a couple years. I’m also counting it as my Christmas track, even though it’s just winter-related. Close enough.

23. Sadness Is a Blessing – Lykke Li

As previously stated, Lykke Li is my artist of the year. And not just because her name is fun to say, though that helps. And not just because she’s Swedish, which is almost as good as being Danish. But because she’s great. This song isn’t exactly bright, but it has a brightness to it. She has problems, and they hurt, but she’s making something beautiful from it all. The line between Bright and Dark isn’t always clear.

24. America’s Song – Air Review

The only reason this is a bonus track is because I forgot to put it on the first dozen ChrisMixes I handed out. It’s just as good as the rest of the songs, if not better. But I just love the environment and my wallet too much to go back and remake all those cds.

Stay tuned tomorrow(ish) for ChrisMix: Dark.

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