2011 in Austin music: The best Austin songs of the year
In the Soundcloud era, compiling a list of the best albums of the year doesn’t necessarily encompass all of the best music produced during that time. While we’ve gushed about some of Austin’s finest albums of 2011, a number of the best songs to come out of our city this year have been released by artists who just put out a single or an EP – or by artists whose full-length albums may not have charted as highly as a standout track. To make sure that we don’t ignore those artists, we’ve also put together a list of our top five songs from Austin artists in 2011.
5. “It’s Cruel,” Literature
The bratty, garage-y dudes of the Google-proof locals in Literature will release their full-length, Arab Spring, early next year. They got on the books in 2011, though, with the “It’s Cruel” 7”, and the title track is a short pop explosion of reverb-drenched vocals and propulsive drumming. Songs like “It’s Cruel” say what they need to say quickly and then get out fast – a statement like, “You can do whatever it is that you need to do / baby, it’s cruel” sounds great in two and a half minutes over bouncy guitars. Literature also gets bonus points for invoking Point Break in the song’s surprisingly-high production value music video. Vaya con dios, bros.
4. “Twisted Mirror,” Pure X
Pure X’s Pleasure is a strong, if sleepy, release – Pitchfork described its sound as “music made by people who mainline Benadryl,” and the washes of guitar on the album back that up. “Twisted Mirror” doesn’t really deviate from the band’s style – it just perfects it, with slowly rolling guitars and thumping dreams that sound like they’re in no hurry to get anywhere drawing out the song’s opening, and the distorted vocals serving as yet another instrument to keep the atmosphere thick. Like much of Pleasure, “Twisted Mirror” owes a lot to the classic 4AD shoegazer bands, but the album’s best song is also full of life – just the laid-back, relaxed kind that the band seems most interested in.
3. “Are You A Mirror?”, Quiet Company
The anthemic standout from CultureMap’s 2011 album of the year, “Are You A Mirror?” is a tender ode to fatherhood built around one of the most universal of parental sentiments – the refrain “I look inside you and I see myself,” which soars at the song’s climax, and sounds like a mantra as the song ends. Jangly guitars haven’t sounded this good since the early days of R.E.M., meaningless choruses of “ba-bah-ba-bah” haven’t conveyed as much in years, and cascading layers of instruments adding to the excitement are rarely this effective at building something special. “Are You A Mirror?” is a gem of a track.
2. “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me,” Iron & Wine
Releases that came early in the year can sometimes be forgotten when it comes time to wrap things up, but the epic, 7-minute final track from Iron & Wine’s January release, Kiss Each Other Clean, is worth keeping around for twelve months. Full of sharp horns and angular guitars, “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me” eschews the low-key approach that the band employed on much of the album to create an opus-like two-part track that spends its final several minutes indulging a prayer of “We will become / become” over haunting backup vocals and a increasingly active percussion. It’s as chaotic and disorienting as a song is likely to be while still sounding like something that can be described as “pop,” a concept that Iron & Wine frontman Sam Beam seems increasingly interested in stretching.
1. “Bright Lights,” Gary Clark Jr.
The breakout Austin star of 2011 – did you catch him jamming with The Roots on Fallon this summer? – Gary Clark Jr. makes music that sounds a little bit like the early Black Keys, and a little bit like nobody else. “Bright Lights” has the sort of stomping rhythm that the Keys have used so well, while showcasing Clark’s virtuosic guitar playing in a way that avoids the sort of self-indulgent show-offiness that can make that much talent boring, instead of exciting. One of the highlights of the year was his tear through “Bright Lights” at the Austin City Limits Festival in September – fortunately, the killer recording from his debut EP of the same name captures all of the energy Clark has live, with gloriously sharp, moody production to keep it interesting.