40. Nanba Shiho’s “Kodona No Kaidan”
Because Sakanaction needed even more praise this year – that group’s lead singer Ichiro Yamaguchi helped produce this single, which explains why this sounds so exciting and different from most whizzing-and-whirring idol pap in 2011. The opening synths icicles bring to mind “Rookie,” and the dance-centric beat was all over DocumentaLy too. Nanba Shiho sings through this just fine, though it’s tough to say with a straight face that if they swapped her out for nearly anyone (I’m picturing Imalu) it would still be catchy thanks to the clever production. Dudes were everywhere I tell you.
39. Misato Kinoshita “Sailor”
Staying on a similar theme as the above song, “Sailor” similarly winds up here thanks to the production, albeit in the complete opposite way as Nanba Shiho’s single. Misato Kinoshita shoots for swiss-cheese minimalism, the synth-powered stroll of “Sailor” featuring a lot of space as flashes of electronic noises swim by, a few stray acoustic guitar strums also stopping by to say hello but gone just as quickly. Kinoshita’s glitchy approach never fractures the song, though, ending up more like a Cornelius track that might sound a little disjointed but everything has been pegged in at just the right place to be unburdened. Feels like floating over the bay.
38. Cero “大停電の夜に”
The title translates to “Big Evening Power Outage,” and if imagery like that brings to mind looting and mass death, well you aren’t alone. I hear that and I think of the Arcade Fire’s version of a “Power Out,” wherein the hopeless kids my age (read: all of them) wander out into the cold night to beat the shit out of one another and just expire in the snow. Yet that was back in 2004, when the world was drowning in apathy and music veered more ironic than sincere. Cero’s black out happens in 2011, in a world crushed by economic downturn and where emotion pours out of our computers at the speed of Facebook posts and Tumblr reblogs. This quartet see the energy going away as a chance for peace and relaxation, the opportunity to wander the pitch-black streets and sing a comforting Grizzly Bear-inspired lullaby to the candle-lit houses. Here, thanks to technical difficulties, Cero can unplug for a bit (lets ignore the lovely electric guitar playing) and just…think. To themselves.
37. Turntable Films “Collection Of You”
Considering their folksy style, it’s surprising to hear Turntable Films always giddy, the mind picturing each member of the band wearing a Country Bear House type toothy grin. Last year’s “2Steps” pounded ahead on optimism, while the cabin essence of “Hot Tea After The Lunch” sounded more giddy than lonely. This year’s 10 Days Plus One EP continued with the rustic hugs, but felt a lot more tired this time around, Films pinned with the same smiles and the same, sometimes dull sound. Except for “Collection Of You,” the group’s first heartbreaker of a track and one of their best. The song drives forward with a speed approaching “2Steps,” but the singing now contains a heavy dose of melancholy and nothing sounds particularly upbeat. The point gets driven home with the keyboard part, a chirpy whistle sound that somewhere else would sound like Disney cheese but hear sounds like wistfulness.
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36. Praha Depart “Portrait Man”
Live, Praha Depart are mesmerizing, a thrashing mass of a band playing stew-thick pysche rock without ever turning into the type of folks who smoke a joint and stare at an episode of the “Smurfs” for five hours. Praha Depart god damn demand listeners come along with them, jostling them with drum smashes and constantly morphing guitar work that require attention. One fears a recorded version wouldn’t be as immediate, lacking the atmosphere present in there shows. Nope, shit still grabs you buy the hair and drags you around a Robert Crumb illustrated landscape. “Portrait Man” is pure face-grabbing fun, lead singer Mai’s shape-shifting voice accelerating between Lydia Lunch and Sue Tompkins of Life Without Buildings. Try to keep up, it’s worth it.
35. The Flickers “White Heat”
The Flickers’ debut single opens with programmed beats you would expect to hear in a Postal Service track or maybe Dan Deacon’s latest round of manchild duck-duck-goose, but this trio aren’t Ben Gibbard disciples or spazzes. They are unabashed J-Rock, tied to a relatively prominent label that can get them primo space at Tower Records and an English-aware press relations responding to all my inquiries with polite “it would be great if you wrote more about The Flickers!” Yet, from the opening digital ping-pong, this sounds nothing like the sort of suit-and-tie J-Rock you expect. Relatively shy vocals start growing muscle and more instruments join what was there before, everything slowly coming to a boil. And then it catches ablaze – those vocals turn into a throaty shout as the guitars burn off like LCD Soundsytem’s “All My Friends,” The Flickers not as much making a CEO-pleasing track but rather one obsessed with consuming itself alive.
34. Miila And The Geeks “New Age”
Miila And The Geeks’ New Age works well as an album, all the catchiest moments already released in 2010 while everything else edges to close to controlled chaos to be marketed as something worth Joe Regular’s yen. The LP will have just a fine showing in our album list, but lets take a moment to appreciate the unsettling title track. “New Age” opens with stark guitar plucking, out-of-nowhere saxophone squanks and seemingly off-time drumming. The whole songs doesn’t move together as it seems taped together well enough to sorta walk around grotesquely like Frankenstein’s monster. The vocals come in like radio code, the saxophone still slithering around uncontrolled and the drums elbowing every limb forward all herky-jerky. The whole song sounds weird and disorienting – which is why it is so memorable (as is New Age the album). Just keep listening…maybe something clear will take form for you.
33. Kaela Kimura “Chocolate” (Video Version)
The cut of “Chocolate” closing out Kaela Kimura’s 8Eight8 is plenty gorgeous in its own way, a shoulder to rest your head on after Kaela spent the last 40-something minutes shaking your head around like a bag of french fries. Yet it’s this version, recorded in advance of the album and only available in music video form, that makes our list because of added intimacy. In this – surely a marketing stunt to show us how “authentic” Kaela is, but who cares because it sorta works – a version of the “Chocolate” music plays on what sounds like a nearby boombox while our red-headed stands on a roof. She starts singing the lyrics, and we are suddenly right there with her in what looks like the end of the day. The contrast between the clicky music and her soft voice sounds cool enough, but her voice also sounds great here, left out there all by itself. May invading aliens never wipe out the internet archives completely, for losing this would be a bit sad.
32. 三毛猫ホームレス “Kanekure”
Trying to figure out what Tokyo’s Maltine Records are up to isn’t an easy task – hell, I talked to the dudes and at the end of the year I’m just as baffled by the amount of anime samples and Churchill Downs-sized stables of artists pumping out music for them. Trying to choose one song to honor the fidgety bunch also seems daunting, so I’m just going to where my interest in Maltine started – “Kanekure.” The song shifts between Auto-tuned R&B choruses going higher than R. Kelly sucking fair balloons, sample-heavy stretches full of what I assume are old anime soundbites and portions with rap, albeit rapping I certainly wasn’t ready for sure and still shake my head at (in a good way). To top it all off – Street Fighter samples. Here’s where I went down the rabbit hole, and still haven’t figured out what the hell is going down here.
31. Perfume “Laser Beam” (Single Version)
One of the most baffling statements I’ve read online over the past 12 months came from someone criticizing Perfume. OK, OK, I’m ahead of this, I see you there chortling, “oh Patrick, you are a big ol’ Perfume fanboy, you’d wear pieces of their skin on a necklace if you could wouldn’t you?” “NUH UH” I shout back, offended you take me for a Perfect Blue type but also secretly admitting I DO probably give Perfume a little slack. Crucially though, not that much – JPN was good but nothing earth shattering and featured some real doo-doo-brown ballads on it.
ANYWAYS, this person wrote one reason his interest in Perfume lingered over the years was because the Sci-Fi image they cultivated got lamer as the years went on. His evidence – the song titles, going from “Linear-Motion Girl” for one example to “Laser Beam,” which he said sounded “exhausted.” First, the hell is exhausted about laser beams, lasers rule and until I can buy me a Stormtrooper-approved laser gun my stance isn’t changing. Second, blah blah blah personal opinions and all, but isn’t that one of the worst reasons to stop liking a musical act? Reasons NOT related to the music? Unless the whole reason he came to the party in the first place was science-fiction videos…which, I guess I could understand, but why write a bazillion words about something you only liked because it had futuristic trains in it?
I freak out over all this because the guy who wrote this had nothing to say about the music of “Laser Beam” and I’ve exhausted myself on new things to write about this, a classic slice of Perfume’s head-spinning pop. It improves on the glitchy formula introduced in “Nee,” crafting an atmosphere Edward Said would furrow his brow at. At the end of 2011, I prefer the single version, which ignores the excess spasms of the JPN edition in favor of sweet sweet pop heights. I feel bad for the guy – he missed out on one of Perfume’s most dizzying songs of the last few years.