Every year I put together my 50-100 favorite tracks of 2011 to share with friends and family. This year I have a bl-g so I can broadcast this mixtape to the world. It really just means that more people can argue/ignore me. I’ve posted the entire list on Spotify, where you can listen to it in its entirety. This year the list topped out at 88… but it may grow if I suddenly remember a glaring omission. I should clarify: I’m just one guy and there’s a lot of music out there. To proclaim these to be the absolute best of all the great music that was released in 2011 would just be ignorant. Clearly it’s the best of what I heard… and remembered from the trying year that was 2011.
My Spotify Playlist: 30HertzRumble’s Best of 2011
88. “Outro” / Tapes n’ Tapes from Outside
87. “Invisible” / Wild Beasts from Smother
86. “Are We Lovers Or Are We Friends?” / Acid House Kings from Are We Lovers Or Are We Friends?
85. “Norgaard” / The Vaccines from What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?
84. “So American” / Portugal the Man from In The Mountain In The Cloud
83. “Kelly” / When the Saints Go Machine from Konkylie
82. “Palomino” / Mates of State from Mountaintops
81. “By Your Hand” / Los Campesinos from Hello Sadness
80. “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie” / The Joy Formidable from The Big Roar
79. “Underworld USA” / Cold Cave from Cherish the Light Years
78. “Holocene” / Bon Iver from Bon Iver
77. “An Argument With Myself” / Jens Lekman from An Argument With Myself
76. “Please Ask For Help” / Telekinesis from 12 Desperate Straight Lines
75. “Wait and See” / Holy Ghost! from Holy Ghost!
74. “Keep Your Heart” / TV On the Radio from Nine Types of Light
73. “An echo from the hosts that profess infinitum” / Shabazz Palaces from Black Up
72. “Municipality” / Real Estate from Days
71. “Sargasso Sea” / Rob St. John from Weald
70. “Dreaming” / Adam & the Amethysts from Flickering Flashlight
69. “Steve McQueen” / M83 from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
68. “Home” / Lisa Hannigan from Passenger
67. “The Wilhelm Scream” / James Blake from James Blake
66. “The Beast” / Laura Marling from A Creature I Don’t Know
65. “Cassie (Won’t You Be My Doll)” / Part Time from What Would You Say?
64. “Heart in Your Heartbreak” / Pains of Being Pure at Heart from Belong
63. “In My Head” / Dum Dum Girls from Only In Dreams
62. “Lucky Now” / Ryan Adams from Ashes & Fire
61. “Singing for Strangers” / The Fruit Tree Foundation from First Edition
60. “Money” / The Drums from Portamento
59. “She Said” / Plan B from The Defamation of Strickland Banks
58. “Lonely Fortunes” / Ha Ha Tonka from Death of a Decade
57. “Long Burn the Fire” / Beastie Boys from Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
56. “Bring Us Close Together” / Hooray for Earth from True Loves
55. “Tamer Animals” / Other Lives from Tamer Animals
54. “Live Those Days Tonight” / Friendly Fires from Pala
53. “Amor Fati” / Washed Out from Within and Without
52. “My Body” / Young the Giant from Young the Giant
51. “Nightcall” / Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx from Drive (the original motion picture)
50. “Summer Fires” / Wilderness in Manitoba from When You Left the Fire
49. “Same Mistake” / Clap Your Hands Say Yeah from Hysterical
48. “Stay Young, Go Dancing” / Death Cab for Cutie from Codes and Keys
47. “Found Love in a Graveyard” / Veronica Falls from Veronica Falls
46. “Undercover Martyn” / Two Door Cinema Club from Tourist History
45. “Wildfire” / Sbtrkt feat. Yukimi Nagano from Sbtrkt
44. “Try to Sleep” / Low from Try to Sleep
43. “Only If For a Night” / Florence & the Machine from Ceremonials
42. “Bats in the Attic” / King Creosote & Jon Hopkins from Diamond Mine
41. “Ritual Union” / Little Dragon from Ritual Union
40. “Ode to Janice Melt” / Army Navy from The Last Place
39. “Vessel” / Zola Jesus from Conatus
38. “Swim Club” / The Cave Singers from No Witch
37. “All the Sand in all the Sea” / Devotchka from 100 Lovers
36. “Fire Away” / Dawes from Nothing is Wrong
35. “Work” / 1, 2, 3 from New Heaven
34. “Romance” / Wild Flag from Wild Flag
33. “The King and All of His Men” / Wolf Gang from Suego Faults
32. “Heartbeat” / Childish Gambino from Camp
31. “Ten-Twenty-Ten”/ Generationals from Actor-Castor
30. “Down by the Water” / The Decemberists from The King is Dead
29. “Little Talks” / Of Monsters and Men from Into the Woods
28. “Lonely Boy” / The Black Keys from El Camino
27. “Helena Beat” / Foster the People from Torches
26. “Clownin’ Around” / Deer Tick from Divine Providence
25. “War in Heaven” / The Raveonettes from Raven in the Grave
24. “Rolling in the Deep” / Adele from 21
23. “Randy Quaid” / Desertshore feat. Mark Kozelek from Drawing of Three
22. “Hanging On” / Active Child from You Are All I See
21. “Down in the Valley” / The Head and the Heart from The Head and the Heart
20. “Wetsuit” / The Vaccines from What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?
The dirge-like opening segues into a catchy pop vocal that exhibits the Vaccines’ affluent grasp of the songwriting simplicities of the 1960s and modern pop sensibilities that simultaneously recall Jesus and Mary Chain and the Beach Boys. This track and the infectious earworm “Norgaard” provide excellent bookends to the Vaccines’ range.
19. “Art of Almost” / Wilco from The Whole Love
Wilco returns. And I’d thought they’d gone forever. This challenging opening track to their latest album revives everything you loved about Wilco from the days of Being There and adds drive, guitar and confidence. Thank you, Jeff Tweedy, for coming back to the darker side of Wilco for at least a little while.
18. “I Am Disappeared” / Frank Turner from England Keep My Bones
This whole album had me spellbound. And out of all the tracks I kept going back to, this one always grabbed me and refused to let go. It starts slow and builds, propelled forward by the opening lyrics:
I keep having dreams
Of pioneers and pirate ships and Bob Dylan
Of people wrapped up tight in the thing that’ll kill them
Of being trapped in a lift plunging straight to the bottom
Of open seas and ways of life we’ve forgotten
I keep having dreams
And again I’m hooked on a song about driving around in a car.
17. “Kaputt” / Destroyer from Kaputt
The title track from Destroyer’s much lauded album (#2 on Pitchfork’s Top Albums of 2011) assembles the lost sounds of 1982 and makes them modern, accessible and infinitely listenable. Jazz sax, groovy bassline and synth. The best elevator music you’ve never heard in an elevator.
16. “Baby Missiles” / The War on Drugs from Slave Ambient
I plugged this album to anyone that would listen when it came out back in August and it’s still my favorite record of 2011. “Baby Missiles” is the standout track but there really isn’t a pinch to be found on Slave Ambient. Think Arcade Fire’s Keep the Car Running inspired by Bob Dylan.
15. “Come Alive” / Hanni El Khatib from Will The Guns Come Out
The song from nowhere. I know so little about Hanni El Khatib and just happened upon this album while surfing some eMusic recommendations. So according to wiki, the singer, of Pakistani and Filipino descent, grew up in San Francisco and performed music while working as the creative director of a skateboard fashion label. Whatever that means. His music makes me think of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion garage-y type rock that I loved in the 90s. And this might the best album your local hipster never ruined for you.
14. “Augustine” / We Are the Augustines from Rise Ye Sunken Ships
Back in 2007, the band Pela took my world by storm with Anytown Graffiti. Absolutely my favorite record of the year. Imagine my disappointment when Pela called it quits before record #2. The band dissolved after lead singer Billy McCarthy’s brother committed suicide. Bassist Eric Sanderson, who followed McCarthy into We Are the Augustines, has said that “Pela just couldn’t survive the storm.” Many of the songs for Sunken Ships began as Pela songs that McCarthy and Sanderson couldn’t put down. The sadness and hope contained within “Augustine” persist through the entire, fantastic and sometimes haunting record.
13. “Santa Fe” / Beirut from The Rip Tide
Not even crazy hipster mating rituals can ruin my obsession with this song. Simple songwriting and Zach Condon’s brilliant orchestration shine on the best song from Beirut’s most accessible album.
12. “Punching in a Dream” / The Naked and Famous from Passive Me, Aggressive You
Pure alt-pop perfection. Catchy but not without a depth of sound that required repeat listening. Dreamy synth, heavy backbeat, ooh ooh oohwayoo and a female lead singer. It had all the elements. It was also always on XMU and Alt-Nation… so much so that the band started to get the over-exposure backlash. I’m staying true because not only did I listen every time it came on XM, I couldn’t help but sing along.
11. “Poison & Wine” / The Civil Wars from Barton Hollow
An album in just about everyone’s Top 10 records of 2011. I’d throw this record on at home, do some chores, chase after my extremely active daughter, etc. But whenever this song played, I tuned back in, almost unconsciously for the repetition of the repeated lyric… Oh I don’t love you but I always will… and it would always linger in my mind long after the song had gone.
10. “Bizness” / The Tune-Yards from W H O K I L L
The band I love to hate and hate to love. I couldn’t stand “Gangsta” and “Powa” left me ever so flat. I rarely, if ever, only buy one song from an album. I made a special exception for this one. I love “Bizness.” I can’t get enough of the pixie-like blips and bloops backing some fine world-music-type crooning. And it’s forced me to eat a few of my hateful turns of phrase about the Tune-Yards (or the tUnE – yArDs, ugh). All it’s really done, however, is force me to add an exception to any declaratives about how much I don’t understand the success of this band.
9. “Somebody That I Used To Know” / Gotye from Making Mirrors
A late edition to the Best of. The album releases stateside in 2012. I heard the track on XM in 2011 so I’m running with the 2011 thing… but I only know this song. And I love it. Go ahead and listen because this will be the first great new artist of 2012.
8. “This Is Why We Fight” / The Decemberists from The King is Dead
It might be easy to forget about an album that debuted in January but then again when you’re an old pro like Colin Meloy you just pack that album, your fifth studio record, with a handful of spectacular tracks that make it impossible to overlook. The Decemberists have emerged from the specter of their rock opera unscathed and continue to make fine goddamn tracks. Track down the preferred, longer band-edit of this track rather than the original version that originally appeared on the album.
7. “Helplessness Blues” / Fleet Foxes from Helplessness Blues
Best album of the year? Hard to argue against it. The title track from Fleet Foxes second full-length offering serves as their magnum opus, a song that swells with hope before fading into sweetly melancholy valleys of folky orchestration. There’s not much else to say about the Fleet Foxes that hasn’t already been said.
6. “Beth/Rest” / Bon Iver from Bon Iver, Bon Iver
My buddy bsidesnarrative (bsidesnarrative.com) called it “the soundtrack to a really shitty 80s movie that’s not as good as I remember.” I might be paraphrasing. When every other song on Bon Iver, Bon Iver reeks of easy-listening perfection, I fell in love with the one that dared you to despise it. Justin Vernon’s embrace of 80s adult contemporary pop music is shocking because it is unironic. Electric keyboard. Synth. The smooth grooves of, say, Lionel Richie. Haters hate because it’s not “Holocene” or “Calgary” – that maybe it’s not real. But goddamn, the song is beautiful. It grows on you, latches on and won’t let go… if you’d just give it a chance. Don’t be a stubborn hipster douche, listen to “Beth/Rest” one more time.
5. “Midnight City” / M83 from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
One day it’s “Midnight City” the next it’s “Steve McQueen” or “Intro.” This double LP comes packed with so many standout tracks that it’s hard to love one above all others without reservation. I’m sure I’ll find another song to obsess over in the coming weeks, but the song of the moment is, undoubtedly “Midnight City.” It’s the groove that I just can’t shake.
4. “Whirring” / The Joy Formidable from The Big Roar
A two-minute build followed by a four-minute climax. This album came out in January, so admittedly it had a head start, but the Joy Formidable had the most iPod plays of any other album in 2011. And I guarantee I reached down to turn up the volume each time.
3. “Moneygrabber” / Fitz & the Tantrums from Pickin’ Up the Pieces
Don’t come back anytime I’ve already had your kind.
This is your pay back, money grabber.
They describe the recipe for success as “six killer musicians, five dapper suits, irresistible songs, some serendipity and one vintage organ.” Fitz is about the style and the soulster image but damn can the make some irresistible pop music. “Moneygrabber” might have been called an earworm if it weren’t so damn good. I hummed/mumbled this neo-Motown gem wherever I went for a couple of months and it still always puts a smile in my face.
2. “Civilian” / Wye Oak from Civilian
I’d never loved Wye Oak and didn’t even pay attention when this album was originally released. What a faux pas. After a dozen listens Civilian revealed no fewer than four tracks to make the initial cut onto my massive Hits List of 2011. This title track emerged, for a time, as my top pick of the year. The song itself is a shoegazer, layers upon layers of sonic intensity. That “wall of sound” offers infinite depth and chaotic precision.
1. “Woods” / The Rosebuds from Loud Planes Fly Low
The secret to my undying affection in 2011…
Dink. Dink. Dink. Dink.
Dink. Dink. Dink. Dink.
Is that the correct onomatopoeia for a toy piano?
Right from the first moments of the song, the unmistakable tinny tinkle, driving the song with matter-of-fact confidence. The toy piano isn’t just accompaniment; it’s the primary cadence, veering the song towards a satisfying conclusion as it merges into real ivories and back again.