Seanmix | Best of 2011

Live Those Days Tonight – Friendly Fires // Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO // Blow – Ke$ha // It’s Up There – The Field // Michael Jackson – Das Racist // Generation – Liturgy // Powa – tUnE-yArDs // Kaputt – Destroyer // 1+1 – Beyoncé // Holocene – Bon Iver // Super Bass – Nicki Minaj // Hurts Like Heaven – Coldplay // Loop the Loop – Wild Beasts // Take Care (feat. Rihanna) – Drake // Is Your Love Strong Enough? – How to Destroy Angels // Why I Love You (feat. Mr. Hudson) – Jay-Z & Kanye West

Marry the Night – Lady Gaga // Over My Dead Body – Drake // Niggas in Paris – Jay-Z & Kanye West // Never – Orbital // Schoolin’ Life – Beyoncé // The Wilhelm Scream – James Blake // Are You… Can You… Were You? (Felt) – Shabazz Palaces // I Care – Beyoncé // Deeper – Wild Beasts // Marvins Room – Drake // No Church in the Wild (feat. Frank Ocean) – Jay-Z & Kanye West // Riotriot – tUnE-yArDs // Veins of God – Liturgy // True Faith – George Michael // Beth/Rest – Bon Iver // End Come Too Soon – Wild Beasts

Poor in Love – Destroyer // Party (feat. André 3000) – Beyoncé // ∞ ∞ / Romance Layers – Gang Gang Dance // Coastin’ – Cities Aviv // Recollections of the Wraith – Shabazz Palaces // Stay Away – Charlie XCX // Hurting – Friendly Fires // Claudia Lewis – M83 // Andro – Oneohtrix Point Never // Limit to Your Love – James Blake // BTSTU – Jai Paul // The King’s New Clothes Were Made By His Own Hands – Shabazz Palaces // Under Ground Kings – Drake // Before – Washed Out // It Takes Time to Be a Man – The Rapture // Sacer – Gang Gang Dance // The Ride – Drake // Separator – Radiohead

Born This Way – Lady Gaga // Bizness – tUnE-yArDs // Down On Me (feat. 50 Cent) – Jeremih // Show Me Lights – Friendly Fires // The Magic Place – Julianna Barwick // Zoo Station – Nine Inch Nails // Free Press and Curl – Shabazz Palaces // Replica – Oneohtrix Point Never // I Never Learnt to Share – James Blake // Glass Jar – Gang Gang Dance // Sexy and I Know It – LMFAO // Till the World Ends – Britney Spears // Downtown – Destroyer // A Real Hero (feat. Electric Youth) – College // Heavy Pop – Wu Lyf // The Edge of Glory – Lady Gaga

After making best-of mixes in 2009 and 2010, I knew I’d be doing it again this year. What I didn’t count on is going from three discs to four! But I listened to and loved a lot of music this year and quickly realized there was no way I could bring myself to cut a whole disc’s worth of material from my favorites. So I’m giving them to you at no extra charge!

If I had to rank my favorite releases this year, it’d be as follows:

9. Beyoncé – 4
8. The Field – Looping State of Mind
7. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
6. Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
5. Friendly Fires – Pala
4. Lady Gaga – Born This Way
3. Wild Beasts – Smother
2. Drake – Take Care
1. Destroyer – Kaputt

I basically could have kept putting song after song from these suckers on there (especially Kaputt, a stone masterpiece) and left it at that. Meanwhile there was sort of a three-way tie for tenth place between James Blake, Gang Gang Dance, Bon Iver, Oneohtrix Point Never, and tUnE-yArDs, about whom you could pretty much say the same thing. So that explains the need for the fourth volume.

But only partially. You may also have noticed an increase in the amount of both hip-hop and radio dance-pop in the mix. I think you can attribute both to the birth of my delightful daughter Helena. Helena spent the first six weeks of her life in the hospital, stuck in the neonatal intensive care unit. Her mother spent the preceding three months either in the hospital as well or on bedrest at home. So I ended up spending a lot of time in the car, driving to and from the hospital or running enough errands for two people. New York currently has two pop radio stations, both of which are increasingly indistinguishable from the dance station it also has, so a lot of that kind of music was drilled into my head almost by default. While I never ever ever want to hear the voices of Usher or Pitbull ever again, I still found many of these songs astonishingly entertaining. Months later, when my daughter came home and grew strong and healthy and old enough to enjoy dancing around the room with me, a lot of them doubled as a soundtrack for our Daddy Dance Parties. So yes, LMFAO is close to my heart. (Seriously though, that group is perfectly harmless, and those songs are good-natured and fun to dance to.)

As for hip-hop, it’d been years since I listened to as much new stuff as I did this year. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the records from which I drew most heavily sort of followed in the footsteps of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy from last year and treated the album format like the rock album format, with an emphasis on atmosphere and a journey from A to B and less obvious filler. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the big commercial acts are starting to audibly question and complicate commercial hip-hop’s enormously boring lockstep subject matter of sex, money, not caring for haters, and the artist’s own awesomeness, with a dollop of “life is hard” to take the curse off it. (I don’t say that to deny that life is, in fact, hard, or at least used to be, for a lot of these guys. Obviously a lot of rappers (though certainly not all of them, and more specifically not all of them at the top of the charts these days) come from circumstances involving pervasive poverty, the shadow of criminality, and institutionalized racism, circumstances I’m fortunate not to have an experience with whatsoever. My point is just that boring art is boring art.) This also helps mitigate against all the “bitch” business, which is the kind of thing that I and most everyone I know finds totally unacceptable in any other field (I mean, presuming you’ve followed the discussion of superhero comics this year, you know how (appropriately!) low people’s tolerance is for misogynistic nonsense there) and is becoming increasingly difficult for me to excuse, let alone enjoy, in hip-hop too.

But again, it’s the baby what did it, really. Most of the time I’m listening to music I’m also doing something else — reading, writing, working. I’m pretty good at multitasking where music listening is concerned, but hip-hop’s the great exception. Unless it’s an old album I basically have memorized and can thus sort of tune out as an immediate presence, I find the constant flow of spoken words too distracting to get anything else done, especially the writing that occupies most of my work time. Meanwhile, even if I managed to only semi-pay attention to the lyrics, that’s no way to listen to an art form that’s predicated on wordplay and lyricism. I’m not a lyric person with any music, almost to a fault — the sounds hit me first and foremost — but with hip-hop you have to make an exception to an extent or you’re missing out. Put it all together and you get me listening to way less hip-hop than I did in the mid-to-late ’90s, when it was the lingua franca for me and all of my friends.

But now that the baby’s home, my wife, who has problems with sleep at the best of times, goes to bed by herself while I hang out downstairs with the sleeping baby — this way she (my wife) can drift off to sleep in a bedroom she knows won’t be disturbed by a restless baby before she (my wife) is able to fall into a deep sleep. I wait a couple hours, usually doing work and chores, and then bring the baby up and go to sleep myself. During that time I wash dishes and bottle parts by hand since we don’t have a dishwasher. And that’s the perfect time to listen to music, particularly hip-hop, since I’m in a quiet house with a stretch of time at my disposal, and the work I’m doing is mindless and won’t distract from listening to an album-length torrent of wordplay. It’s been exciting to slip back into the genre a bit, even if only via the big acclaimed records everyone listened to. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel or blaze any trails, I just want to expose myself to as much good music as I can.

Hopefully this mix will help you do the same!

PS: If you like what you hear, please purchase it from the artists. People who make music you like deserve your money!

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15 Responses to Seanmix | Best of 2011

  1. BMICHAEL says:

    ‘with a dollop of “life is hard” to take the curse off it.’

    Yep, if I were a poor black kid, I would just have an easy life. What is wrong with all these rappers?! They don’t get it.

    • There’s really no need to put words in my mouth, because as the rest of the post makes clear, I am not speaking with anything even remotely approaching authority about hip-hop. Obviously a lot of rappers (though certainly not all of them, and more specifically not all of them at the top of the charts these days) come from circumstances involving pervasive poverty, the shadow of criminality, and institutionalized racism, circumstances I’m fortunate not to have an experience with whatsoever. But boring art is boring art.

      Anyway, I’m glad you brought this up, even if in strawman form, because I had that whole graf written out in my head weeks ago with every intention to include it when I wrote about hip-hop this year, but forgot to include it when I wrote out the post since it ended up being more about personal listening habits than any kind of cohesive statement about hip-hop. So i’ve added it back in.

      • BMICHAEL says:

        I’m certainly saying you don’t mean well (or equivalently, that you mean bad), but in your otherwise fairly even-keeled writing, this phrase jumped the fuck out at me as sort of picture-missingly condescending. I have three thoughts.

        1. I could probably talk at you about poverty, circumstances, etc. But it’s really not my job to do that. They exist.

        2. I could talk at you about music that talks about 1. It exists.

        3. Instead of saying anything approximating an apology at your totally unintended and wholly unintentional racism, you got defensive and prickish.

  2. madeleine says:

    Awesome, can’t wait to download these later. Washing dishes and driving are the best times to listen to music.

    In regard to hip-hop, I’ve been listening to a lot more lately as well. When I have the radio on in the car, I find that I gravitate more towards Hot 97 than I do to any other pop station because it’s different than anything else I listen to. It’s really sickening to hear the same repetitive songs that all sound the same all the time. I also listen to a lot of metal in the car too. WSOU is one of my favorite stations.

    Also, really glad you included A Real Hero on your mix.

  3. I can’t believe I’m going to rank Beyonce higher than you on my best of list! It’s partially thanks to you that I even gave it a chance, so thank you for that.

    Also, reading about music in the context of the hospitals and the baby and the late night dish washing hip hop jams fills me with happiness that everything worked out for your family.

    • Ha, just now as I was walking back from Jim Hanley’s I was regretting the low placement of that album. I think in some way I’m docking it points for not including Schoolin’ Life on the regular edition — that, and not being really crazy about Run the World or Countdown. It’s a very good record in any case. And man, the fact that I hipped you to Beyoncé remains a highlight of my year, no joke!

      Thank you very much for the sweet thoughts about my family, too.

      • No joke, I’ll always remember that Beyonce album. It hit me at the exact right time. I was listening to it on repeat that whole week of OUR LOVE IS REAL, both before and after it came out and everything changed. I’ll always remember that period of time when I hear the album, and vice versa.

  4. Basque says:

    Bummer. Vol. 3 was taken down for copyright violation. 🙁

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  6. g says:

    Wow, your taste in music isn’t nearly as good as it is in comics. Just saying, don’t quit your day job!

    • I think I’ve gotten a grand total of…I wanna say four trollish comments in the whole history of my blog, and two were about my music posts, specifically my “taste.” I’m sorry it’s too awesome for you, anonymous person!

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