125 Amazing Songs Of 2011 (#25 – #1)

 

The year 2011 brought us so many distinct, unique and sometimes challenging sounds to process.  While our musical pallets seem to be getting better with, so does the overall songs we listen to. With technology becoming more prominent in the musical world, we now hear beautifully composed songs rather than unfocused manipulations of electronic sounds (Nicolas Jaar, Andy Stott, John Maus).  Also, with the ever increasing amount of popular social media sites, we saw dozens of artists, through hard work and persistence, rise to the top of their game (Lil’ B, A$AP, Big K.R.I.T).  And in an age of insanely critical music listeners  that demand fresh sounds, we saw a lot of “old timers” come back with some of their strongest, hippest and most accessible material to date (Wilco, Bright Eyes, Tom Waits). These days, there is always a possibility for anyone to hear your music and because of that we were blessed with one of the most respectable and talented years in music…well, at least sense I’ve been actively involved in music.  Music isn’t about record sales anymore.  It’s not just about radio play or winning Grammy’s. You don’t just need a “hit” (although it helps) to make it…what you need, is to stand out and provide our music listening audience something unique to listen to.  The list below are songs I feel embody this spirit. So, here you have it…my top 125 songs of 2011 and the songs that will carry a new artistic breath into 2012.  In the end, I just hope you find something you like.  Enjoy.

 

 

THE LIST:

#25. Dawes – “If I Wanted Someone”

In my opinion, there isn’t a better relevant lyricist than Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes.  His combination of emotional imagery, sage like story telling, grasping wit and sophisticated metaphors make songs like “If I Wanted Someone” feel like treasures chests that contain countless poetic avenues of exploration.

#24. King Krule – “The Noose Of Jah City”

Archry Marshall originally recorded under the name Zoo Kid before he switched over to a darker, more appropriate moniker, King Krule.  There’s not a whole lot of material for this 17 year old Brit who started recording music in his bedroom – but if his next material sounds anywhere near as good as the couple songs Krule’s already got, we’re going to watching a prominent and progressive musician evolve.

#23. Booker T. Jones feat. Yim Yames – “Progress”

Over the last couple of years organ master, Booker T. Jones (of Booker T. & The MG’s), has set out to make a modern records that would combine current musicians and themes backed by the classic Rythem & Blues he grew up with.  You should remember Booker T. teaming up with Drive By Truckers not to long ago.  Through out his most recent record “Road To Memphis” we’re pleasured with hearing covers of “Crazy” & “Everything Is Everything”, delighted with guest vocals from Lou Reed, Matt Beringer & Sharon Jones, and hear flavorful production  from ?uestlove.  But the song “Progress”, featuring Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket, stands out on the album as one of the best inspirational songs of 2011.  We need more songs like this…

#22. Ryan Adams – “Dirty Rain”

When Ryan Adams said he was retiring for good, for some reason I didn’t believe him.  We’ll sure enough, he’s back from his ‘extended vacation’, but this time he’s with out his long time backing band, The Cardinals.  Even though this is the case, it doesn’t seem to make any difference on the quality of music Adams is creating…in fact, this is some of his best work in years.  On Adam’s 13th studio record, Ashes & Fire, the slow building opening track “Dirty Rain” made me feel like Ryan Adams never left us…even if it was just for a little while.
The version below is acoustic. 

#21. Penguin Prison – “Don’t Fuck With My Money”

To be recgonized as a great song, sometimes all you need is great timing and Penguin Prisons’ new song “Don’t Fuck With My Money” and the music video that comes with it, had perfect timing. That’s not to say that the infectious disco beat and catchy chorus aren’t worthy by itself.

#20.  Dengue Fever – “Uku”

I guess there’s not that much draw for Cambodian Rock & Roll in America because if there were, Dengue Fever would be huge by now.  But I think with more accessible cross over songs like “Uku” – a song filled with comfortable western dance beats, middle eastern swing, catchy guitar riffs and quirky foreign lyrics – at least a couple more kids will catch on to Dengue Fever.  Oh yeah, also…if you ever get a chance to see these guys live, do so!

#19. Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues”

The other night, after stumbling home from a drunken Karaoke adventure, my friend and I shared cigarettes and listened to Fleet Foxes harmonize sweet lullabies into the San Francisco night.  Once “Helplessness Blues” came on, I began to desperately dream of Colorado while my friend yearned to leave those city walls.  Yeah, we were drunk…but Drake doesn’t make you feel like that!

#18. Girls – “Vomit”

Vomit is the center piece of the new Girls album Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and it’s exactly where it belongs.  The whole album is packed with elements of gospel, punk, folk, psychedelic rock and pop, but “Vomit” is the song that embodies  each of these elements seamlessly.

#17. A$AP Rocky – “Peso”

A$AP Rocky is going back to the basics and doing the same thing Dr. Dre did back in ’92 with The Chronic –  he’s smoothy flowing about smokin’ weed, hanging with friends and hitting on girls. No gun poppin’. No Big Pimpin’. No Escalades.  Nope, just some good ol’ fun.  Sometimes just rapping about being a cool mother f***er over a hazy blunted beat is all you need.

#16. Charles Bradley – “The World Is Going Up In Flames”

Soul music, more than any other genre, is a genre that has the ability to illustrate and paint a vivid picture of the times.  Listen to Sly & The Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder….you can hear the pains, the struggles, the joys of their respective eras.  Charles Bradley’s – “The World Is Going Up In Flames” – is one of the defining songs of a era where no one is willing to take the blame…

#15. Phantogram – “Dont Move”

Some many Dreamy Indie Hip Hop Disco Chill Wavers sound great but never really seem to hit the hamer fully on the head of the nail – but Phantogram’s new song “Don’t Move” doesn’t seem to have any problem putting all together perfectly.

#14. Gotye feat. Kimbra- “Somebody That I Used To Know”

Right after I heard “Somebody I Used To Know” for the first time I knew I had heard one of the best pop songs of the year and immediately jumped online to find out more about the song…thinking to myself…”this song’s gotta be big somewhere”.  Well, it just so happens that “Somebody I Used To Know” was the #1 song in Australia, The Netherlands, New Zealand  and Belgium through out the summer – in fact it stayed #1 for 8 weeks in Australia making it the longest running #1 song sense Savage Gardens “Truly, Madly, Deeply”.  The song finally seems to be catching on Stateside and as it should.

#13. Blood Orange – “Sutphin Boulevard”

The newest project from Dev Hynes (Lightspeed Champion), Blood Orange, feels brilliant at times.  Many of the songs recorded under the name Blood Orange are accompanied by these stylish cult music video’s that feel like time pieces shot in the 80’s and 90’s and then run through a VCR  4 or 5 different times.  But nothing brings captures the nostalgia Blood Orange is trying to bring out quite like “Sutphin Boulevard”.

#12. Destroyer – “Kaputt”

“Kaputt” sounds like the first and only great moment you have after you nearly drank yourself to death the night before – that moment where you don’t feel so bad, where you actually  “feel pretty good”. And begin to laugh about the night before, you reminisce about all  the great times and try forget the embarrassing ones…then the song ends and all of a sudden your hangover hits you like a brick.

#11. Lana Del Ray – “Video Games”

Lena Del Ray was literally an overnight sensation – one night she was blogged about and the next morning everybody and their mother were talking about this new vintage queen and her song “Video Games”.  Hey, I was one of those people  too – I wanted to share this “discovery” with everyone.  But it only took about a week before everyone had become attached to the sensational “Video Games” too.  That’s the great thing about the song, all it needs is your attention for just about 30 seconds before you lean over to your friend and whisper -“wait, who is this?”.  “Video Games” contains that remarkable modern appeal only great pop songs achieve. It’s atmosphere feels classic & distinguished but it’s concepts are modern & trendy – like it’s coming from two different worlds.  I love songs that represent our time and “Video Games” sure is a song that will help define the year 2011.

#10. Tune-Yards – “Bizness”

The amount of life that is bursting through the song “Bizness” makes it feel like there’s a jungle erupting around you.  There is an incessant force that drives the song, pounding its way into your heart.

#9. Gary Clark Jr. – “Bright Lights”

If you haven’t been introduced to Gary Clark Jr. yet, it’s simple because you don’t listen to a lot of Blues music because to my discovery, guys have been saying this guys is “The Real Deal” for a while now I guess.  But if this ultra hip Blues Rocker keeps writing colossal rock anthems like “Bright Lights”, he’ll soon find his way into any music lovers collection.

#8. Burial Vs. Massive Attack – “Paradise Circus (Remix)”

Taken from the bio of this YouTube video – It’s too perfect, I had to steal it.

“Inspired by the darkside drum’n’bass of the Metalheadz label, Burial decided at the outset to avoid at all costs the rigid, mechanistic path that eventually brought drum ‘n’ bass to a standstill. To this end, his percussion patterns are intuitively arranged on the screen rather than rigidly quantized, creating minute hesitations and slippages in the rhythm. His snares and hi-hats are covered in fuzz and phaser, like cobwebs on forgotten instruments, and the mix is rough and ready rather than endlessly polished. Perhaps most importantly, his basslines sound like nothing else on Earth. Distorted and heavy, yet also warm and earthy, they resemble the balmy gust of air that precedes an underground train.”

#7. My Morning Jacket – “Victory Dance”

Maybe it’s my slight obsession with My Morning Jacket and everything My Morning Jacket, but I’m convinced “Victory Dance” is one of the greatest opening songs to an album, ever.  Listening to this song build and build over the 5 minutes and 40 seconds will never get old.

#6. Bon Iver – “Holocene”

Bon Iver’s self tilted sophomore album has this charm that seems to haunt you even when you’re not listening to it.  Even though the entire album is filled with a matchless magic shivering in beauty,  it’s not until you hear Holocene when the hairs on the back of your neck actually stand up.

#5.  Nicolas Jaar – “Keep Me There”

Nicolas Jaar, the 21 year old Chilean-American studying at Brown University and founder of Clown & Sunset records, produced one of the most intriguing electronic albums of the year entitled Space Is Only Noise.  The album’s title truly speaks for the entire emotion that prevails through out the album.  Unlike many electronic productions, this album is filled with a lot of space, areas where the song can breathe and allow new sounds to emerge.  “Keep Me There”, a highlight from “Space Is Only Noise”, we hear a warm sophisticated beat rumble along while dusty crackles, hand claps, whispering conversations, experimental saxophones and out of place piano hits fill in the space masterfully.

#4. Hayes Carll – “Another Like You”

On a radio interview somewhere in SW Colorado, the song “Another Like You” was described by Hayes Carll as something like this: When you’re someone in America…you more or less consider yourself “liberal” or “conservative”.  And if you’re single, we can all agree, you have more or less cut out 1/2 of the dating pool because dating someone with completely opposite views feels out of the question.  But (Hayes thinks) with enough booze and physical attraction you can pretty much get over that bull shit rather quickly.  But in the end, you don’t just need alcohol to get over other peoples political beliefs, sometimes you just need an open mind and the ability to say, “who fuckin’ cares”.  Look at James Carville and Mary Matalin!

#3. Frank Ocean – “Novacane”

With a little bit R. Kelly, just enough Prince, a tad of influence from The-Dream – with contemporary lyrics about music festivals, girls and gettin’ high, you have modern R&B classic that will fit perfectly on a mix tape with “Pusher Man” & “Brown Sugar”.

#2. Cass McCombs – “Country Line”

When some people sing about depressing concepts (I’m looking at you Elliott Smith), I actually get depressed with them.  When when Cass McCombs sings about sad concepts, no matter how much the song aches at my heart, I  still find myself feeling happy.  He sings sensitively and humbly, making his music more obtainable and relatable than other dark concept singer and songwriters.  Like Cass, we all have our darker moments, but somehow when he’s singing, you always feel like theirs light just around the corner.

#1. Dum Dum Girls – “Coming Down”

Every time I listen to “Coming Down” by The Dum Dum Girls, I feel an extraordinary amount of emotion from just one song.  I mean in the end, that’s all we’re all looking for anyway, right?  We want to feel something?  We want to feel an emotion. When we go to a movie, we want to fall in love with the characters and be sad when they die and happy when they fall in love.  When we read a great book, we want to feel something when we read it – we want to care, we want to emphasize and fear.  “Coming Down” is an immense piece of music with guitars that build around Dee Dee Penny’s pleading voice.  It the perfect fit when the music calms effortlessly before it powerfully erupts.  By the time the song draws to an end you find yourself caring about Dee Dee’s satisfactions, you feel her pain, her angsts and her emotions.