Welcome to the Best Songs of 2011. Let’s kick this off with the first of two sets of songs. Each song will have a link to its Spotify version, and at the end of the second set we’ll have a link to a Spotify playlist so you can hear the songs yourself. Enjoy!
25. “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart” by Fountains of Wayne // The band best known for “Stacy’s Mom” should get more attention for their terrifying ability to construct hooks. This delightful pop gem will get your attention and warm your heart.
24. “Perth” by Bon Iver // Bon Iver isn’t nearly as good as people would have you believe, but the record is capable of powerful emotional and musical moments. Particularly, the swelling opener is captivating, hitting all the right notes and kicking things off right.
23. “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People // I know. It was overplayed to the point of exhaustion, pushed at you from every ad, radio station and YouTube link. But you know what? It’s a damn catchy tune, and risky too. It’s sparse almost to the point of breaking yet still establishes melody, deceptive lyrics and a memorable vocals. That’s impressive.
22. “A Candle’s Fire” by Beirut // On paper I like what Beirut is about, but I’ve never given them a chance before. With this year’s The Rip Tide I finally tried them out and found a satisfying departure from typical indie music. Emotive singing and exceptional instrumentals make the first song worth your time.
21. “Money” by The Drums // There’s something satisfying in listening to a song this air-tight. Not a note is out of place, and the structure is well-balanced and doesn’t get repetitive. Add to that the swift pace and simple lyrics, and you’ve got a high-energy winner.
20. “Codex” by Radiohead // The King of Limbs was disappointing for many reasons, but this was not one of them. In fact, “Codex” is the sound of Radiohead making the only song close to their prior excellence. Equal parts soothing and depressing, this is how reflective piano pieces should work.
19. “Grown Ocean” by Fleet Foxes // Helplessness Blues just didn’t have the same immediacy or impact on me as the debut Fleet Foxes. But here was one song that honestly sounded like the band making forward progress, and it was great. “Grown Ocean” felt much harder-hitting, much deeper, while still retaining that distinctive Fleet Foxes feel.
18. “22-22” by Black Ice Birds // I will be honest here – I don’t know a damn thing about this band. Their Facebook page claims origins in the UK, but it doesn’t matter. This song simply rocks and after hearing it on a music blog I couldn’t put it aside. Black Ice Birds exude confidence and back up that kind of attitude with powerful singing, guitar and fun drums.
17. “The Words that Maketh Murder” by PJ Harvey // PJ Harvey’s newest record is insanely difficult to pull from itself. Each song adds to a terrific atmosphere and nothing feels out of place. “Maketh Murder” is perhaps the best entry point for those curious but uncertain – it’ll hook you and when the United Nations coda kicks in you will get blown away.
16. “Romance” by Wild Flag // This indie quasi-supergroup sets off in the best way possible. The attacking open sounds like the best ringtone of all time (no really, that’s a good thing) and the relentless stream of pure rock carries it the rest of the way. The concept of this song is fun and the band has the chops to pull it off.
15. “Get Away” by Yuck // Everybody is obsessed about this being 90s throwback. Don’t worry about it – it’s simply fantastic noise rock. It’s fast enough to avoid being sludgy and intricate enough to be artsy, all while building some great hooks and featuring soaring guitars. If you pretend to like rock music, you’ll find something in here.
14. “The Otherside” by The Roots // I will admit to ignorance when analyzing The Roots – I’ve really only followed them since they joined Late Night. But this changes how I view their talent. The rapping and stunning wordplay is unparalleled (“Spending time like it’s counterfeit”). The rhythm section is flawless. And it all pulls together in the showstopping chorus. Jimmy Fallon is damn lucky to have this band.
13. “Think You Can Wait” by The National // Last year’s Best Album winners come back with two singles cut from the same cloth as High Violet. “Exile Vilify” captures the nerd vote in its Portal 2 cameo, but “Think You Can Wait” is the superior track. Dripping with emotion, powerful vocals, shimmering strings, Sharon Van Etten(!) and dark bass make this a typical National song. And therefore stellar.
12. “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)” by Foster the People // I know. It’s another Foster the People song. I’m obviously losing touch. But seriously – have you heard this song? I mean, you have. It’s perhaps more “everywhere” than “Pumped Up Kicks,” but for good reason. The CDC is probably going to classify the melody as an infectious disease. It’s in a similar vein to Two Door Cinema Club – nothing groundbreaking, but so damn good at what it does. This is a winner.
11. “Songs for Women” by Frank Ocean // “Novacane” may be more technically impressive, but this track is the looser, more appealing song from Frank Ocean’s excellent debut mixtape. It’s full of comedy, musical excellence and pure joy. If more R&B could get close to this, I wouldn’t have such a bad impression of the genre.