2011. Aren’t we supposed to be colonizing space and flying around in hover cars? But instead we’re still down here on lowly Earth making top 5 lists. I know, I know, less chin-wag more tunes: here are each of the staff’s top 5 tunes of the year. Let us know what we missed in the comments below. If you’re a Spotify lover like us, here is a handy dandy playlist (minus a few that aren’t up there) here.
This was a tough spot for me to fill in. There were 4 or 5 legitimate contenders. I ended up going with FF because this was the song that turned me around on this band. I heard it, cocked my head to the side like an irish setter and asked “Who’s this?” Fleet Foxes? That’s impossible, I don’t like them. Well it turns out I was way wrong about these guys.
Do I need to explain this really? The song is called Blasteroid! That alone should keep it atop most “best of” lists. But truthfully, it’s the high-octane combination of metal and, strangely enough, Foo Fighters-esque hooks that keep me coming back to this song over and over again.
I’ve been “in like” with this band since the moment I heard their first album, Hey Everyone!, in 2009. A raucous chorus of yelling and power chords that somehow comes together in the most harmonious way. “Fight Pop” is how the band describe themselves and I will not argue. It’s perfect.
Best band name ever? Close. There is a lot to love about the new Trail of Dead album, but this track stands out for its energy and incessant riff-building. Layering one guitar track upon another until it seemingly crushes your brain with its sheer awesome power.
So this may seem to come out of left field: Mastodon, Trail of Dead… and Lady Gaga. But you can’t deny that this is hands down the best song of the year. Anyone who can combine the influences of Cher, Madonna, Philip Glass and The Boss into one coherent song deserves accolades. This song is catchy from start to finish but includes some amazingly brave interludes, the disjointed violin break into Clarence Clemons’ brilliant sax solo is so effing good it gives me goosebumps every time. The entire album is refreshingly original for pop music and features some brilliant songwriting.
Braid — The Right Time
Helena Beat — Foster the People
Moon — Bjork
Exposition – Takenobu
Can’t Keep — Eddie Vedder
Local-boys — well, if you’re from Chicago, that is — Mannequin Men have made one of most rocking and loud tracks of the year with this song. And it’s catchy as hell too. I don’t know how a person can’t smile when the singer starts belting out the chorus. Great track all-around, and a band I’m looking forward to catching live in 2012.
I don’t know how you can not like the original Led Zeppelin song, but it’s nice to see Trent, Atticus and Karen O not shy away from putting their stamp on such a recognizable song. From the soundtrack to David Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” this cover song perfectly sums up the mood and intensity of the book. Lisbeth Salander would certainly approve of the way Karen O rips into her vocals.
This is a truly haunting song, I simply am not able to just listen to this song once before moving on to the rest of the album. Some of Thom Yorke’s best singing, and that’s certainly saying something.
One of my favorite songs of the year is also one of the shortest. Taking a note from the Ramones, Britain’s the Vaccines rip into a fury of loud, catching guitars, a shout-along chorus and wrap it all up in an incredible amount of time. This song is dizzying in its exuberance.
There’s really nothing to say about this track. Just listen to Adele’s voice. This is pretty much a perfect song.
Endless Blue – The Horrors
Lover to Lover – Florence + the Machine
A Million Years – Alexander
Half Moon Street – Pete & the Pirates
Even though “Pumped Up Kicks” was touted by many critics as the “song of the summer,” I find the opening track from Foster the People’s 2011 debut Torches the more virally catchy number. The treble-y keyboard melody that carries this song from chorus to verse is inescapably peppy and awesome, and the high-energy groove here can’t be denied. This is probably my favorite white people dance song to come out in a long time.
First, some background: Alice Cooper’s 1975 Welcome to My Nightmare is one of my favorite albums of all time. When I read that Cooper would be releasing a follow-up in 2011, I was understandably hesitant — how many times do classic rockers attempt to recall their glory days and fail miserably? Much to my surprise, I found Welcome 2 My Nightmare to be one of my favorite records of the year. It’s kicked off by this track, which sets the scene for the rest of the record and cleverly weaves in musical themes from 36 years ago to catch us up with our favorite demented narrator, Steven. It also finds the most (maybe only?) acceptable use for autotune — to make our antagonist sound distant, inhuman and frightening.
Analyzing Bon Iver presents an interesting case — do I find it to be so sad, cold and distant because I know how it was recorded (in a remote Wisconsin cabin alone), or does the record just capture those feelings so, so well? Either way, this album embodies pure isolation, and “Calgary” is my favorite track from it. It features a fantastically catchy vocal melody, but one that’s obscured by murky synthesizers and tinny acoustic guitars. Some critics complained about the synth-heavy nature of this record, but I think that only increases its intended effect. Listen to “Calgary” and see what you think.
In 2011, this song could not be escaped. It’s easy to see why. British soul/pop singer Adele seemingly came out of nowhere in January with 21. Although it’s her second record, its impact was significantly more substantial than the first, and that was propelled by this song, its lead single. Adele’s vocal ability is almost unbelievable, especially from a 21-year-old white girl, and her delivery makes her heartbreak palpable. Besides that, this track’s melody is totally catchy, combining elements of old-school soul with pop sensibilities. Adele recently announced that it’ll be another four years or so before we get a follow-up album, but this one doesn’t seem like it’ll tire out any time soon.
Being a Bruce Springsteen devotee, I was always destined to like this track given Gaga’s inclusion of E-Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons on an extended two-minute outro sax solo. Then in June of this year Clarence passed away and, barring any posthumous recordings that surface, “Edge of Glory” seems like the last time the Big Man will appear in the Top 40. Though some fans may disagree, I think it’s a pretty fitting way for him to go out. It ain’t “Jungleland” or “Thunder Road,” but it will ever serve as a reminder of the power of Clemons’ pure passion and unadulterated ability to touch lives through music.
Special mentions: 2011 was a fantastic year for comedy music. I want to give shout-outs to both the Lonely Island, whose “Jack Sparrow” made Michael Bolton cool again, and Weird Al Yankovic, whose latest album contains two of his best songs ever: “Whatever You Like” a parody of the same-named TI song set against the Great Recession, and “Skipper Dan,” a tragic tale of an underemployed liberal arts major in the style of Weezer that has more meaning than anything Rivers Cuomo & co. have released in 15 years. Other great albums came from acoustic act the Mountain Goats (favorite song: “For Charles Bronson”) and actor/rapped Donald Glover under the name Childish Gambino (favorite song: “Firefly”).
Lisa’s sweet-as-honey vocals in “Knots” starts with her trademark quiet and gradually picks up until it erupts with the music into a little dance-inducing ditty. By the time I got to the end of this song on my first listen, I instantly wanted to replay the track. And so that’s what I did…and a few thousand more times throughout the months after that.
“Pumped Up Kicks” has the ideal hum-along (or whistle-along!) melody, summery bass line and danceable beat. It’s a song that’s perfect for cruising with the windows down. And then you pay attention to the lyrics “…Did he just say ‘outrun my gun?’” Violence has never sounded catchier.
I’m a huge FF fan, so when chatter began on the new album — i.e., recorded in Dave’s garage, a little more hard-hitting, no slow songs — I was all the more eager to hear it. And of course, it didn’t disappoint. When the teaser came out for the album, boasting the first 40 seconds or so of “Bridge Burning,” I was even more set for a slew of heavy songs from the Foo Fighters, and heavy is what we got. None is heavier than “White Limo” though, calling back to their way earlier days of “Weenie Beenie” and “Wattershed.” “White Limo” was my own little kick-ass anthem for the year.
I love both of these songs. “In Paris” is a great example of how unstoppable Jay Z and Kanye are as a pair. (Even with that “Blades of Glory” clip in the middle…Yep, I’m still a little perplexed by that, but it makes me laugh that Will Ferrell and Jon Heder are on a track with Jay and Kanye.) “Otis” is so close to being the perfect song, turning a rollicking bit of Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” into a great sample, but then that ending…that horrible, obnoxious ending. Still it didn’t stop me from turning on the one-two punch of “In Paris” and “Otis” when I needed a quick pick-me-up.
Another tie, yes. I just can’t choose between these two songs. Obviously “Rolling In The Deep” was the song that everyone and their mom knew this year. I’m glad it thrust Adele into the spotlight where she belongs. That song is one of the catchiest and yet downright haunting songs I’ve heard in years. However, “Rumour Has It” demanded as many listens as RITD for me. It has a nice melody, an extraordinary soulful feel and driving beat, and that voice of hers…good grief, it moves like smoke in the air. LOVE HER. 2011 belongs to Adele.
Bon Iver — Perth
Florence + The Machine — Shake It Out
Coldplay — Every Teardrop is a Waterfall
Mates of State — Palomino
It took me a little while to catch on to this one, but I think it’s a pretty notable release for Gaga. I don’t like it nearly as well as many of her “classics,” but the saxophone solo caps off a surprisingly great year for sax in pop music. If anything, I like this some more just by comparing it to her other awful singles from the year.
Much like Gaga, LMFAO breaks away from a lot of the pop garbage because they don’t mind being a little weird — and while a song like “Sexy and I Know It” could be a dreadfully serious song in the hands of most pop artists, the duo makes it a silly anthem for those who aren’t ashamed of their downstairs bits.
There is no doubt that in 10 years, 2011 will be known as the year of Adele — and it’s well deserved. I’m not sure which song I prefer, so I figured I’d just break the rules and throw them both on here.
Perfect pop music — it’s catchy, it takes risks and tries to do something different, and it is fierce. The original is decent, but the remix completely shatters it, perfectly using its two featured artists making this a strange, mad-scientist melding of different pop styles.
The first time I heard “The Show Goes On” I was just sort of confused, trying to figure out if that was indeed using a sample from Modest Mouse’s “Float On” — then I was kind of annoyed by it, before realizing how perfectly the sample works in this. I love rap music that provides an uplifting message and Lupe’s flow is clever and catchy.
CHRIS BROWN (feat. Busta Rhymes & Lil Wayne) – Look at Me Now — only for the RIDICULOUS Busta Rhymes verse that is maybe the biggest “achievement” in music this year.
RIHANNA – We Found Love
DAVID GUETTA (feat. Usher) – Without You
COBRA STARSHIP (feat. Sabi) – You Make Me Feel…
tags: ...and you will know us by the trail of dead, adele, alice cooper, bon iver, britney spears, Dananananaykroyd, fleet foxes, foo fighters, foster the people, jay-z, kanye west, lady gaga, lisa hannigan, lmfao, lupe fiasco, mannequin men, mastodon, radiohead, the vaccines
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more