Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Best Songs of 2011

I was about to open with "2011 was a great year for music," but isn't every year a great year for music?  I guarantee you I could find awesome songs from every year (from the mid '50s onward at least).  I compiled my 'Best Of' list the other day to make my annual year end CD to torture my wife and friends with and now I share it with you. 

It was not as hard to make the CD this year as opposed to years past when I would agonize over which two songs I had to cut to whittle it down to 17 or 18 songs.  This year I actually had to really dive into my 2011 playlists and find the songs which I had on repeat most of the time.  I don't think this is because 2011 had two or three less amazing songs to offer, but perhaps my tastes grew more attuned to what I consider to be worthwhile or maybe I just didn't listen to the same amount of different music than I did in in past years (but I highly doubt that is the case).

Making a year end CD is only in part about which songs I consider the best from the past 12 months; they should really define the year.  When I listen to this CD in 5, 10, or 15 years, I should be able to remember where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with when a particular song hit the scene.  Nowadays, when I play a CD I made back in 2001, I still remember my apartment on 7th Ave. talking music with John over coffee, what classes I was taking, and what girl I was focused on at the time.  Any credible self-made compilation should make you do the same thing.

So here we go:

1 - Matt & Kim - Block After Block - The best song from their Sidewalks album.  Anyone who hears this song will nod their heads up and down to the beat and if they listen to the lyrics, they will most likely reminisce of their younger days hanging around town with their friends.  The video shows Matt and Kim running around New York City with their friends, setting up impromptu concerts, and then breaking it down when the local constabulary notices them disrupting traffic.  If you are not familiar with these two, they are a dance punk duo from Brooklyn and made my 'Best of 2010' list with "Daylight".  They just keep getting better and better. 

2 - The Lonely Island feat. Akon - I Just Had Sex - Comedic songs usually do not last too long after their original novelty wears off.  This song, first performed on Saturday Night Live, is still funny and is actually a pretty good song musically.  The Lonely Island is Andy Samberg, Kiv Schaffer, and Jorm Taccone, and they've been using SNL as a platform to showcase their comedic videos for years now; think "Dick in a Box", "Motherlover", "Jack Sparrow", etc...  This song is just a pure celebration of guys who can't figure out why a girl would ever have sex with them. 

3 - The Naked and Famous - Young Blood - These newbies are an indie band from Auckland, New Zealand.  This is the strongest song from their debut album but it is given a run for its money from their second single "Punching in a Dream".  Turn this song up to 11 and stay tuned hopefully for a follow up album. 

4 - Lil Wayne feat. Cory Gunz - 6 Foot, 7 Foot - One of two hip-hop songs on this CD, by far and away the best hip-hop beat of the whole year, and the first single from Tha Carter IV.  The song samples Harry Belafonte's "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song" which is an odd sample but it works as a great transition between verses. 

5 - Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks - This songs went viral this year as Foster the People, an indie band from Los Angeles, burst onto the scene and on every radio format available.  If you actually pay attention to the lyrics, it is not really about a kid shooting up his school, it is about his thoughts about doing that.  Frontman Mark Foster says it is about a troubled youth and is a commentary about gun violence amongst youth.  Dark subject matter certainly, but set to upbeat music you can't help but dig it. 

6 - The Head and the Heart - Ghosts - I saw these guys at the Moore Theater in Seattle in April and spent a few weeks before hand absorbing their album to get ready for it.  There are a lot of great songs on this debut album but "Ghosts" takes the blue ribbon by a nose.  Kate prefers "Rivers and Roads" but that is a bit too slow for my tastes.  The Head and the Heart are an indie-folk pop band from Seattle, met at an open mic night at Conor Byrne in Ballard (great bar), and are signed to Sub Pop.

7 - The Lonely Forest - Coyote - The Lonely Forest, an indie band from Anacortes, WA, made my 2010 disc as well with "We Sing In Time" and I've seen them twice now (2010 at Seattle Center and 2011 at The Crocodile Cafe).  "Coyote" is slower than "We Sing In Time" but is deeper lyrically and even though this is the second time I've put a Lonely Forest song from their Arrows album on a year end CD, Kate feels I am still neglecting her favorite song of theirs "I Don't Want to Live There".

8 - Beastie Boys - Make Some Noise - The best song, and third single, from their new album Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 is the second hip-hop song on this album.  A truly funky and hypnotic beat show the world that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees are still in top form. 

9 - TV on the Radio - Will Do - This art rock band from Brooklyn released another remarkable album in 2011, Nine Types of Light, and "Will Do" is without question the best song on it and is also its first single.  This album is also bassist Gerard Smith's final album since he died of lung cancer 9 days after it was released in April.  "Will Do" is a slow burner, contemplative mood-setter, and great song to sit back and read to. 

10 - M83 - Midnight City - M83 is French musician Anthony Gonzalez and "Midnight City" is the best song from the double album he released this year Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.   Unfortunately, you may be familiar with it from a Victoria's Secret commercial since that company licensed it to sell bras.  "Midnight City" is electronic/dream pop and is about Gonzalez's observations of downtown Los Angeles. 

11 - Cults - Abducted -  Cults is a brand new indie band from Manhattan and released their debut, self-titled album this year on Lily Allen's label.  Most people dig "Go Outside" as the best song from this album because XM Alt Nation and XMU have had it on constant rotation, but "Abducted" is just so much stronger and I think gets overlooked because the radio gives it nowhere near the same amount of attention. 

12 - The Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie - With a new album, I'm With You, and a new lead guitarist, RHCP are still relevant and excellent as ever.  Rain Dance Maggie is the album's lead-off single and is powered by a killer bass beat from Flea.  Anthony Kiedis says there really is a Maggie but names have been changed to protect the innocent.

13 - The Glitch Mob - We Can Make the World Stop - I heard this song on KEXP and discovered that The Glitch Mob is an electronic outfit from Los Angeles.  I don't know anything else about them except that "We Can Make the World Stop" is a fantastic song which makes me want to pay attention for anything else these guys release. 

14 - Florence and the Machine - What the Water Gave Me - An indie pop band from England led by front lady Florence Welch.  They released their second album, Ceremonials, this year and the first single "What the Water Gave Me" is sort of a soaring art rock compilation which is right up with TV on the Radio with music to lay back and relax to. 

15 - Ladytron - White Elephant -  Another KEXP-aided discovery for me, Ladytron is a Liverpool based electronic band who released their 5th album this year, Gravity the Seducer.  Even though this is their 5th album, this is the first time I've heard them and wonder why it has taken this long.  "White Elephant" has a catchy melody, airy vocals, and is just a pleasure to listen to over and over again.

16 - Grouplove - Colours - Grouplove are an indie band and their song "Colours" from their debut album exploded this year in the same fashion as "Pumped Up Kicks", just not as big.  I expect Grouplove to become much more well known than they currently are because a second single "Tongue Tied" is currently in the Billboard Hot 100 which should go a long way to waking up mainstream audiences to the fact that they could be the next huge alternative band to catch fire. 

17 - AWOLNATION - Sail - "Sail" is electronic rock and yes, AWOLNATION is supposed to be capitalized.  Aside from the annoying capital letters, "Sail" is a mesmerizing, darker song which oddly references "Come Sail Away" by Styx in the lyrics.  AWOLNATION is also on the verge of gaining much wider notoriety from the mainstream.

18 - Manchester Orchestra - Virgin - This is the perfect song to end a compilation CD with because of its chanting chorus which stays rattling around in your head long after the song is over.  Manchester Orchestra is an indie band from Atlanta who released their 3rd album, Simple Math, this year.  "Virgin" gets over-shadowed by the song "Simple Math" I suppse because the album takes its name from that song people assume it must be the best song.  While "Simple Math" is a great song and would most likely make an expanded version of this list, "Virgin" is just so much stronger and deserves must wider airplay.

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