We’ve only got a single part left after this, so make sure you give each of these tracks the due that they deserve. They’re all downright exceptional and even now it pains me that I can’t say some of them have reached the coveted “Top 10.” I had to fight the urge to totally re-do the list ordering because I liked these songs so much. Still, there’s 10 left and they’re all doozies. The last part, tentatively titled “Sam’s Top 10 Favorite Tracks from 2011″ (my creativity is shot right now) will be due out come December 15th. Mark your calenders, kids.
20 ½) NewVillager – Lighthouse
Yes, I am cheating with this one. That little “½”is a cop-out of the fact that I’m too lazy to double-check my lists. I forgot “Lighthouse” for no real reason–I think I thought that I had included it already–and while I would normally just keep on trucking along the list, regretting the exclusion all the while, “Lighthouse” is too great a song for that. Its chorus is catchy as all hell and uplifting to boot. It’s got a wonderful sense of sound, with plucking strings and wispy electronics behind the synthetic sounding vocals. I’ve listened to it too many times in the past few days to let it slide off the list and some part of me feels I owe NewVillager for helping to motivate me to write that history paper I have. Well, after I’m done writing about this song, of course.
20) The Creepy Crawlies – Get Buried!
I fawned endlessly all over these guys and their single, “Get Buried” just a month or so ago, so it feels a little silly to write fawningly about this song all over again, but thankfully it’s a track that hasn’t faltered after even more listens. It’s full of fuzz while still firmly being a pure pop song, it’s catchy and endearing, even as it talks about the end of the world. “Get Buried!” moves over so many sounds and feelings, it’s a surprise that it all feels so cohesive at the end. This song alone has made The Creepy Crawlies one of the bands to watch for 2012.
19) TV on the Radio – Killer Crane
Another song with a drawn-out solo piano, laden with string production, and a sentimental tone? You bet! But then, I’ve always been a fan of TV on the Radio’s more dramatic offerings (see: “Family Tree”) and “Killer Crane” is no different. I’m probably a little too easily drawn in by the easy beauty of this song, but it’s also unique for its evanescent, banjo-tinged chorus. The images are drawn elegantly, with bittersweet sentiment abound. It’s far from the last of these types of songs to appear on the list, but the song’s dynamics make it special. I’ll admit it’s that fall into the chorus that has pushed this all the way to number nineteen, everything builds and dips until finally, sunshine appears on the horizon.
18) Diego Garcia – You Were Never There
There’s something to be said for a song that says “Fuck you” so sweetly. Diego Garcia may be married to the woman whose name marks this album’s title, but this track wouldn’t give any indication of that. Well, except for maybe its beachy, sun-stained sound. The whole thing sounds like it’s coming out of some old cabana on the southern shore of Florida. It’s the kind of song that sounds so nice, even as it’s telling you that you never cared, that you might actually rethink yourself. Maybe it’ll defuse everyone’s anger, relaxing everyone so it can all work out. Who knows, maybe it worked for Garcia, who I hear now has a kid.
17) Jay-Z & Kanye West – Murder to Excellence
There was a lot of hype around Watch the Throne, but the whole thing was, to me, ultimately a disappointment. These two are giants in their field and you’d expect the album to be something huge, something special. Instead, it ended up full of weird missteps and poor decisions. Thankfully, though “Murder to Excellence” was the giant of the album, throwing everything out at once and catching some thoughtful ideas at the same time. The song’s subject matter is actually a powerful one, captured in one of Kanye’s lines: “It’s time for us to stop and re-define black power.” Yet the track’s beauty is, even as it decries the culture of violence in the first half, it switches to celebrate with optimism the potential in the future. It’s that lovely little switch towards hope that makes the song something special.
16) The Antlers – Rolled Together
I’ve waffled back and forth on Burst Apart since the day I first heard it, entirely unable to make up my mind if the album was great or just good. The album’s centerpiece though has always held firmly to the “great” end. “Rolled Together” contains just two lyrics, “Rolled together with a burning paper heart / Rolled together but about to bust apart.” These two lines, in their brevity and their repetition, beautifully convey the stuck sentiment of a fickle, destructive relationship, two people seemingly stuck in a loop of passion and chaos. It helps too that the song sounds great, with its smoky thick drums and slow-burning guitar. Silberman’s falsetto hovers over it all coolly, the one sharp point in a room of fog.
15) Jinja Safari – Mermaids
I wrote a long review for Jinja Safari’s debut on ListenBeforeYouBuy that detailed why they’re my favorite discovery of 2011. I’d also be lying if I didn’t point out the video for “Mermaids” which made me love it that much more. Jinja Safari are the most magical, youthful, and exuberant band I’ve heard in a long time. “Mermaids” is a perfect example of this, with the easy, sing-along vocals, a totally unique, seemingly invented-on-the-spot sound, raucous drums, flutes, silly dancing, and a total sense of fun. It’s easy to believe that the words “I can’t get this smile off my face” are sincerely spoken. Or sung. Or screamed.
14) OPENMIC – Nonfiction
Every other hip-hop entry on this list has something significant to say, but “Nonfiction” is just a good ride. It’s got a great, memorable beat and is chock full of great lyrical sleights. Openmic’s playful flow makes for a great listen–even for a non-rap dude like myself–and his lyrics are full of a variety of references, from Vince Young to A Tribe Called Quest to Miles Davis to Fight Club. It’s a track that mostly speaks for himself, as the best writeup I can actually think of would just be a link to a lyrics page and link to click ‘play.’
I couldn’t find a lyrics page, but that juicy play button is below.
13) Ane Brun – Do You Remember
There is something about this song that is frustratingly, indefinably good. Kicking off with percussion that sounds like it’s coming from a really well organized tribe, the song doesn’t become really strong until Ane Brun’s northern voice comes in, sounding like the elegant Scandinavian that she is. It’s a song that will stick in your memory and stay there for a long time–not because it’s catchy and hooky, but because you just want to hear it again. Like a new flame you just can’t get out of your head, but instead of burning out quick, it’s here to stay, like an old love.
12) The Wealthy West – Another Bad Idea
I wrote a very long post a while back trying to capture what I liked so much about this song. We’re now past the burnt orange of Fall, the season I most closely associate with this one, but “Another Bad Idea” has stuck around nonetheless. It’s a song that doesn’t really sound like a love song, but it’s romantic in that deliciously dark way. It’s not definite whether that nagging idea is really a bad one, though there’s the very real possibility that it is. That’s what I like so much about it. After all, a romance without any real risk, where the happy ending is a foregone conclusion, is a boring, trite one anyway.
11) Spirit Spine – Ocean of Sand
For some reason this song, more than anything else released this year, is the most likely to get me moving. From the first seconds, I seem inevitably find myself dancing my shoulders back and forth. Its insistent groove is unlike many other sounds you’ll hear from 2011 and its thick, layered sound keeps it strong for multiple listens. The whole song builds wonderfully, gradually adding in new sounds until it finally breaks out. It’s about three and a half minutes until the surprisingly catchy electric guitar jumps in, but it always feels short. A part of me wants to play this at a party, too, but I have absolutely no idea how that would go down. As it stands now, though, I’m happy to groove along with Spirit Spine in the comfort of my headphones.