My iTunes playlist for this year, titled simply “2011,” represents my favorite songs of the year. And it’s exactly double the size of “2010″ and “2009.” That’s a function both of great music and great access to music. I was guided to these songs by many sources, and am forever grateful for the recommendations. It took more consternation than is socially acceptable, but here are my favorite 10 songs of the year.
“Just a Figment” by Morning Teleportation
After listening to this song, I went ahead and previewed Morning Teleportation’s entire album. And it was exhausting. Just about every track shifts directions multiple times before calling it a day. But on this track, puzzle pieces fly through the air, falling to the ground in a perfect fit. There’s so much here that you can love multiple parts of the song. Like, say, the Castlevania-esque synthesizer at the 3:40 mark. But be sure to notice when things get especially crazy at the end. Amid a whirlwind of guitars, the plaintive horn keeps playing, giving method to the madness.
“Under the Gun” by Apex Manor
No song better exemplified the difference between “cost” and “value” than this one in 2011. For most of the year, Amazon dangled this perfect slice of guitar pop for free, hoping to entice listeners into checking out The Year of Magical Drinking. That album features some similarly stellar songs, including the languid “Coming To.” But I kept coming back to this uptempo rocker with the simple, insistent beat. It’s the type of song that makes you say, “They used to play songs like this on the radio!” then proceed to slap yourself for ever sounding so old.
“Goshen” by Beirut
This song represents one of my favorite albums on the year, Beirut’s The Rip Tide, and it features all the trappings: simple piano playing, sad-sack lyrics and almost a martial beat near the end to give the song enough life to allow denial of any accusations of depression should a friend or family member bust in when this is playing. “East Harlem” is the most quintessential Beirut track on the album, but “Goshen” is the highlight for me. (Odd fact: according to Wikipedia, more than half the states in America feature a municipality named Goshen).
“That’s Where You’re Wrong” by Arctic Monkeys
After careful consideration, this song wins the title of “Best Song in 2011 That Features ‘Blunderbuss’ in the Lyrics.” (Better luck next year, LMFAO!) Alex Turner, through his myriad musical projects, consistently showcases a talent for lyrics. On this song, the bassline serves as the steadying base for a mix of echoing guitar and tight drumming. I almost wanted to put Turner’s solo version of “Piledriver Waltz” off the Submarine soundtrack in this spot for making a singalong of such odd non sequiters, but this song is built to withstand time much better.
“Gratisfaction” by The Strokes
Ten years in, The Strokes made a divisive album. And while I haven’t had a chance to examine all the Angles, “Gratisfaction” can stand on its own as a pop gem. As the commenters on this YouTube clip highlight, the song sounds so reminiscent of some FM rock staple of the past. The initial stutter calls to mind the great vocal trick in “Give Me Just a Little More Time.” It’s The Strokes with at least one pass of the comb through the hair, and it cleans up quite well. Plus, this made Edgar Wright’s Top 30, a guy who makes great movies and dates Anna Kendrick. His word should almost be considered gospel at this point.
“Go to Hell” by Raphael Saadiq
This is the album I listened to the most in 2011, a great collection of songs that arrived just in time to blare out the car window this summer. “Heart Attack” immediately demands your attention, but I came to look forward to this song the most. It’s a throwback in the best sense, with Saadiq’s most plaintive vocals, a classic incorporation of strings and some great backing vocals.
“Lucky Now” by Ryan Adams
This is Ryan Adams’ singer/songwriter side distilled down to its essence. I wasn’t blown away on first listen by the rest of the album, but this song stands with his best work over the past decade-plus.
“You Been Lyin’” by Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
My most quoted lyric from 2011? “They’re dropping bombs just to test the science!” The only thing more straight-ahead than the rock contained in this song is my line of sight when using the troughs at Wrigley Field.
“All Night, All Right” by Clive Tanaka y su orquesta
I’m not the biggest fan of processing vocals through electronic means, especially when it means just bumping up the tone-deaf to the level of barely competent. But I love how the vocals abandon any pretense of naturalism on this song, allowing it to become an electro-pop classic. The video in my head features a floor full of robots dancing their little batteries out at Studio 54.
“Codex” by Radiohead
Two of my favorite bands, Radiohead and Coldplay, both came out with albums in 2011. And while Coldplay disappointed in the way they decided to write big songs built for generic stadium venues, Radiohead’s King of Limbs disappointed in how the songs seem out of place when played almost anywhere. For want of a handhold, this album seems lost. Then “Codex” kicks in and tricks the mind into thinking that all that came before makes more sense. I choose to take the song out of its element and enjoy it on its own, and maybe the album will kick in for me sometime after 2011.
Other songs/groups receiving serious consideration: the return to form from The Dodo’s, the joyful ridiculousness of The Wombats, a damn fine debut by GIVERS, a heartfelt jam from The Rapture of all bands and two great songs from Noah and the Whale: Just Before We Met and L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. And … and … and …