Triple J’s Hottest 100 voting is upon us again. As always it’s a torturous task to take the many amazing songs that graced our ears in 2011 and whittle them into a top 10. It’s been a brilliant year of music, but a top 10? Egads. As I type my list sits at 48, and new nominees are flying to mind like frantic worker bees… 51… 52!
So I figured I’d make an exercise out of it and compile a list with some meaning of sorts. Each song has a purpose, a place where it belongs – whether it’s to compliment a mood, an experience, a feeling or a meal (remember, no heavy bass when eating pasta; nothing rounds off a nice, spicy spaghetti arrabiata than a smooth, acoustic croon and perhaps some light percussion if you’re feeling adventurous).
So here, in no particular order, are some of the few that broke through the general radio cacophony pervading my ears and found ways into my mind, my heart and my stomach.
(Ps. If Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ doesn’t win this year, I’ll be down $20 and will be made to consume something gross… for real).
1. Song That Pumped Me Up
Santigold is a master of those foot-stomping tunes that drip with attitude – uhh huuuh! ‘Go’ has a thumping, militaristic feel, like you’re marching full-speed into battle armed with nothing but some clicking fingers and ‘tude grenades. The cameo by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (arguably the only other attitude-seething female vocalist worthy to share the stage with Santigold) is a perfect change of tempo, introducing an ethereal, echoey aside before the march is resumed. Bonus points for a mention of storming the Winter Palace – any song with cool historical allusions wins instant respect in my book.
Special mention: Kasabian – Switchblade Smiles
2. Song That Made Me Happy
A lot of tracks on the Crystal Fighters Star of Love album could claim this title – but ‘At Home’ clinches it at the line with the clapping and the very upbeat feel. I don’t know why exactly, but it puts me in a good mood. The melody is as uplifting and pretty as a thousand helium-filled balloons – and not at cheesy as that allusion. I can have the most appalling of days to the point where I’m plotting the widespread annihilation of mankind, but this floaty tune will turn up the corners of my lips and bring a smile to my face. It’s saved the world on more than one occasion, so you should all be extremely thankful. The top comment for this song on Youtube sums it up neatly (probably why it’s the top comment…): “(It) Makes me feel like I’m lying on a cloud without a single problem in the world”. I completely agree. Although I find the idea of trusting water vapour to hold my weight at high altitude mildly problematic, but that’s just me.
Special Mention: Ballpark Music – It’s Nice To Be Alive
3. Song That Made Me Sad
I didn’t pay much attention to this at first and thanks to James Allen’s scotch warbling, I actually thought it was in another language. Until one line in particular at the crescendo leapt from the speakers and struck me – “You don’t need me as much as I need you”. I listened to it more and more and eventually discovered the rest of the words to be equally striking and in all tragic, moving and relatable. If the subject matter isn’t depressing enough, the spacious sound and almost unhinged vocals take the tragedy of this song to wallowing depths. Sung by any other band, this would probably come across as melodramatic and pathetic – but the Scottish blues rockers foster nothing but empathy. The finishing touch is the ranting middle section that loses semblance and structure as it gains desperation, all the way to that crescendo that just shatters your heart. That most people now recognise it as ‘that song from FIFA 12’ is almost as heartbreaking as the song itself.
Special Mention: City and Colour – The Grand Optimist
4. Song That Inspired Me
Just as much as I love songs with historical references, or a song that tells a story – I do love a good battle-tune. Whether it’s literal or symbolic, there are several reasons why I love songs about putting up a good fight even if it’s all-but hopeless. And that’s why this song just resonated with me the very instant I heard it. The lyrics read like a stirring, poetic speech delivered by a King as he rallies his troops before the charge into battle. It’s inspiring. And The Decemberists, a band I’ve long admired for their unique dramatic sound, perfect it without melodrama. It’s about valour and determination; fighting for what is dearest to you at any cost – be it freedom or love – and never admitting defeat. It doesn’t make me simply wish that I could gallop from here to yonder on horseback, befalling hordes of enemies with my sword with the same ease that I sweep fair maidens from their feet with chivalric charm; it makes me believe that I can. I’m sure I’d look pretty damned good in some shiny armour. Though I’d probably end up only injuring myself if given a sword.
Special Mention: The Horrors – Still Life
5. Song That I Couldn’t NOT Bust Out
I’ll get this out of the way early. Yes, it kind of sounds like Sisqo’s timeless masterpiece, ‘The Thong Song‘, but when I eventually overcame that staggering revelation and listened to this song on merit, I absolutely loved it. It bellows out a big sound, and Luke Jenner’s vocals have just the lightest wisp of emotional waver that add immeasurable appeal. Whenever those piano chords start stabbing away, the urge to sing along is too powerful to resist. This is especially true when driving, where without fail my little Nissan becomes Abbey Road itself, a mobile recording studio. I’ll belt out every line with everything I have, which by the time the soaring ‘Hallelujah’s’ kick in – is really not very much. But I don’t care, I blissfully lose myself in the song no matter how lame my voice is, or the number of letterboxes accrued under my front grill. Like the rest of the tracks on In the Grace of Your Love – this one’s got soul. Great big, hefty scoops of soul. I love it.
Special Mention: Papa vs Pretty – Honey
6. Song That Made Me Dance
There’s nothing like good old-fashioned guitar rock with some melody and a catchy chorus to get your hippy-hippy’s shaking – and this song has that exact effect on me. I’ve always thought of The Black Keys to be like the Kings of Leon, doling out some nice southern alt-rock, but taking themselves a little less seriously. I love this song because it’s simple, modest and instantly likeable – it’s pure fun. And, like a young, angry Kevin Bacon, I cannot resist the temptation to dance. If it comes on the office radio, work ceases for three minutes while I do the Charleston around the photocopier. If it plays through my headphones on the train, fellow passengers are treated to lots of pointing, pelvic-thrusts and foot-stomping. (Unfortunately one instance led to a citizen’s arrest, which totally broke my rhythm). In fact, if I ever – god-forbid – lapse into a coma, just chuck on the ‘Keys and I’ll be up and grooving in seconds – no months of rehabilitation for me! What’s more, the film clip actually compliments the song and isn’t just grainy footage of people running around in slow motion. Clearly the dude in the clip knows what I’m talkin’ bout.
Special Mention: SebastiAn – Embody
7. Song That Made Me Ghetto Bounce
Although I am loathe to say the phrase – I’ll admit the bass on this track is PHAT! No really, when the first wave of buzzing bassline crash lands into my ear drums as Busdriver’s (best rapper name of 2011?) declares that he runs “ shit in this HOUSE!“, I cannot stop my head from bowing down in hip-hop submission. The lyrics are a ridiculous ramble that hilariously take the piss out of the vainglorious impudence of both commerical rappers and generally pretentious jerks (as you’d expect). It’s a silly song I know, but there is something about it that gets me bouncing like a happy budgie on a perch… too bad I can’t find a more streetworthy simile there. Just imagine the budgie wearing a doo-rag a giant oversized clock around its neck… do budgies even have necks? Am I going on a random tangent?
Special Mention: Kanye West and Jay Z – Otis
8. Song That Chilled Me The Eff Out
What I love most about this song is the little touches that garnish a very minimal, but undeniably charming ditty. The way the bassist ends each chord with a gentle, lingering strum; the percussion scrapper filling the edges of the song; the spare, metronomic snare; the repetition of the word ‘look’… all of these little embellishments make ‘The Look’ so utterly endearing that it’s easily one of my favourites of the year. Whenever I hear this, all stress and worry plaguing me just melts from my body. Give me a sunny afternoon, a comfy deck chair, this song on the stereo and a beer in my hand, and I become the living embodiment of relaxation. Often the only way to snap me back into reality after i go into my state of post-‘The Look’ chillbernation, is to play The Black Keys’ ‘Lonely Boy’. In all seriousness though, I love this song.
Special Mention: James Kelly Pitts – Kettle
9. Song That I Hated at First – Then Loved
When I first heard this I wrote it off as another one of those vague, airy-fairy indie fluff songs that invaded the airways last year. But eventually the soft harp and wavy melody grew on me; the lyrics became more meaningful and deep; and the “is that true?” line just stuck out. Add to that the fact it mentions video games and that I discovered Lana is not half-bad looking, and I was won over. But my superficiality aside, this song stands high above the bland, meaningless indie plop that I hastily condemned it as; it’s a truly beautiful song with a truly beautiful message. To be so lucky to be so happy.
Special Mention: Big Scary – Mixtape
10. Song That Just Sounded Rad
The eccentric sounds Chairlift conjure up in this song are utterly mesmerising. God (or at least anyone with some musical knowledge) knows how they made them… a Fender Strat submerged underwater? Remixed Sega Megadrive sound effects? Stepping on different-sized porpoises? Matters not does it – because it’s just a joy to listen to. The quirky sounds also do a great job of masking the seriously disturbing content of the song, which I’ve only recently discovered are in fact about mowing down people in a car. Clearly I was too busy indulging the aural delight that I missed even the opening line: “All the bones in your body, are in way too few pieces for me”. File this one with Foster the People’s ‘Pumped up Kicks’ in the ‘Awesome catchy tune declaring murderous intent’ folder.
Special Mention: Ghoul – Dreambeat
Bonus: Song that I Blame For Tearing The Threads Right Out of The Fabric of Society
Dubstep had been around for a long time before Skrillex. But early in 2011, Skrillex, aka Sonny John Moore hung up his clompy emo boots, got an even more ridiculous haircut, booted up a laptop and dragged dubstep out of its dank London nightclub dungeon and into the mainstream. Literally kicking and screaming. It really should have stayed where it was, but Skrillex opened Pandora’s Box with this, ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’… four minutes of what sounds like Optimus Prime vomiting into a toilet, while a bogan shrieks in the background. It was vaguely novel at first, but now that legions of teenagers are fervently embracing dubstep with open arms only draws us one wobbly step closer to that 2012 end-of-the-world prediction. Please, ancient Mayan bringers of doom, take Skrillex first.