Let’s continue and finish off the Best Songs of 2011 list. Did I miss a song? Was there a track that you couldn’t get enough of last year? Let me know what else I should check out in the comments section! Also, get all the songs in one place with the IWP Best Songs of 2011 Spotify Playlist!
10. “Caffeinated Consciousness” by TV on the Radio // There was not much fanfare made for the latest release by this Brooklyn band, and that’s unfortunate. Nine Types of Light is the most accessible TVoTR record, but never loses the innovative musical edge the band has been known for. “Caffeinated” one-ups the rest of their record by sounding stunningly unique in a collection of very singular songs. Of course, it helps that the song has the best riffs, vocals, and production all in one track. A very impressive feat for such a great band.
09. “Cheerleader” by St. Vincent // Internet reaction to St. Vincent has been oddly divided, likely thanks to Pitchfork’s loud praise for Annie Clark. In typical Pitchfork fashion, she hasn’t deserved all of their drool… but they’re not very far off. Clark’s newest record is full of great rock and songwriting moments, but the most exceptional piece is “Cheerleader.” The fist-pumping chorus is a brilliant draw while the vocal and lyrical quality draw you back time after time.
08. “Midnight City” by M83 // I first listened to M83 when everybody was fawning over Dead Cities, their breakthrough My-Bloody-Valentine-with-synths record. It seemed interesting, but way too dense for its own good. Nearly a decade later, “Midnight City” shows up on a fall music preview and I couldn’t believe it was the same band. The song has so much clarity, emotion, driven purpose, and is full of hooks. How could this be the sludgy band from 2003? Best advice – don’t worry about it and let those fat intro synth notes hit your ears again. Glorious.
07. “Ice Cream” by Battles // Even on their famously blunt epic “Atlas,” Battles always sounded like a party waiting to happen. This song is that promise realized. The intro alone is worth a spot in the top 10 of this year – the exceptional buildup for the first 50 seconds is unparalleled and releases into a wonderful jam. Yes rhythm nerds, it’s still very rooted in math rock. But guess what? This math rock is more fun than anything the preppy kids play at their parties. Listen causally for the excitement, be rewarded by the percussion and melody.
06. “Bizness” by Tune-Yards // “Bizness” knocks you over right away and never stops the assault. It sounds like nothing I’d ever heard and was immensely refreshing. And it continues to be. It’s total chaos, but completely ordered. That voice can be rhythmic, charming, quiet, booming and dominating all within one line. It’s passionate, exciting and, above all else, gripping. When it ends, you can’t help but listen again, if only to learn more.
05. “It’s Real” by Real Estate // This isn’t some wild exploration or innovative composition. Instead, it’s pretty, perfect indie pop. Beautiful jangling guitars hearken to the heyday of R.E.M. The vocal performance is simple but strong. The melody is easy and therefore quick to root into your brain. The lyrics are a very direct poem, drawing images of suburban love. All this in a sub-three minute package make “It’s Real” the most satisfying song of 2011.
04. “Lonely Boy” by The Black Keys // Not every Black Keys song is noteworthy. All too often, their tracks blend together in a good-not-great blues rock wash. This song kicks all kinds of ass. Right from the beginning, the tone is different. Darker, faster, just better. Backup singers on the chorus, relentless pounding, organs, a tight hook riff… “Lonely Boy” is full of self-confident rock bravado and pulls it off perfectly. Rock and roll, damnit.
03. “Abducted” by Cults // I’m sure there’s backlash against Cults not living up to their pre-album hype. But it’s irrelevant when songs like “Abducted” exist. This dark pop gem works the one-boy-one-girl band idea to perfection with an abduction narration. The song then pushes it further with layers of sound, bells, soaring vocals, and exceptional production values. The anti-Cults crowd is crazy to find this song disappointing.
02. “Country Clutter” by Dolorean // For me, there’s a massive gap between the top two and everything else. Here at number 2 is a relative unknown. I first heard “Country Clutter” on NPR’s All Songs Considered and fell head-over-heels. I think the key is in that first listen, too. The song slowly peels back and opens up musically, adding more instruments including a devastating guitar/drum breakdown. But the lyrical and vocal details make this a real champion. The aching description of breakup and burning defiance are so sharp piercing. Particularly, the refrain caused me to do a spit-take: “I hope it clutters up your life, the way you cluttered up mine” is the best line I’ve heard in a long time. Go check out this song and let it clutter your thoughts in 2012.
01. “This is Why We Fight” by The Decemberists // This wasn’t even close. When “Down by the Water” was first played on TV, I was excited about the new Decemberists record. When The King is Dead first leaked I totally forgot about “Down by the Water.” Forget everything you think you know about the Decemberists. Forget the storytelling, verbose soliloquies, nautical shanties. “This is Why We Fight” is a true and absolute standout, among the top 2 songs ever composed by Colin Meloy and his always-impressive Portland-based band. It’s a showstopper on a fantastic record.
But what about “Why We Fight” makes it so great? The intense sense of dread in the droning guitars and harmonicas. The dark, deep bass and drums. The impassioned cries of Meloy as he calls out, “Come the war, come hell.” Those are the big things, the things that get you immediately. But then there are the details. The ringing guitars that carry under the entire song add a sense of both direction and unease. There’s the way the song has a slight key change going into the chorus that makes the refrain pop just that much more.
Of course, I encourage you to do the right thing and play this on the loudest stereo you’ve got. Maybe that means some fancy setup, maybe that means hopping in the car and cranking it while you drive down I-90. Just do it. The coda is mind-blowing that way. Feel the guitars rock that much more, the power of Meloy’s voice hit that much harder, the atmosphere become fuller than imagined. It’s worth the trouble. Yes, this is the best song of 2011.