The Year in Music–The Best 70 Songs of 2011
The Best 70 Songs of 2011
A bit late, but c’est la vie. The following were the songs that dominated our playlist in 2011. Except for an exceptional case or two, we purposefully limited bands to one song on the list in order to spread the wealth, all under the theory that many of the bands whose other songs might have warranted inclusion had already received proper recognition via our Best Albums of 2011 list.
The songs below aren’t necessarily what you might think of as “singles,” but they’re songs that particularly moved us one way or another. Listed in order of merit, though slightly skewed to the old-world-vision of “singles” (and we can’t definitively explain differences in ranking after about No. 5). Included, where possible, is “Inspirational Verse” from each song (in homage to the self-dubbed “Dean of American Rock Critics,” Robert Christgau).
Perhaps not as pumped up as some of the songs listed below it, this is simply one of the best songs of all time, with its multiple melody lines and rhythm layers, and the usual deft playing and singing. The melodies sneak in and take over your brain.
Inspirational Verse: “And if you think this is over, then you’re wrong.”
2. Foster the People–Pumped Up Kicks
Catchier than chlamydia in Cambodia, it was the one song that stuck in everyone’s head this year. We prefer Weezer’s version below (until the songwriters get their live act down).
Inspirational Verse: None really.
3. Lana Del Rey–Video Games
She’s gonna be huge (despite that SNL showing), and this one kick-started the campaign, replete with harps and strings. Dreamy, eh? Her first album “Born To Die” will be released at the end of January.
Inspirational Verse: “It’s better than I ever even knew, they say that the world was built for two, only worth living if somebody is loving you, baby, now you do.”
4. MX83–Midnight City
Another ridiculously catchy song from the French band, MX83.
Inspirational Verse: “Waiting in the car, waiting for a ride, at night the city grows, look at the horizon glow.”
5. Bon Iver–Holocene
Bon Iver did their best to take over the world this year. This song (and video) helped capture the flag.
Inspirational Verse: “And at once I knew I was not magnificent…and I can see for miles, miles, miles.”
6. TV On the Radio–Keep Your Heart
Nine Types of Light was filled with great songs, but this one sang to us the most.
Inspirational Verse: “With the world all falling apart, I’m gonna keep your heart.”
7. Bright Eyes–Shell Games
Though Ladder Song is probably the best song on the album, this song has more of the Sugar, Sugar (with its Cars gestalt) and is a great status report from Oberst/Bright Eyes.
Inspirational Verse: “We’ll be everything that we ever needed, everyone on the count of three, everyone on the count of three, all together now!!”
8. Diego Garcia–You Were Never There
This one came at us out of the blue and stuck. All the elements are there. Why wasn’t this a top radio hit?
Inspirational Verse: “Where you are looking up at the sun, see all the cars standing still as they run, the days start to fade sleep away out of side, a flash in the sky lighting up my dark night.”
9. Destroyer–Poor In Love
Kaputt was replete with great songs (Chinatown, Song for America, Suicide Demo, etc.) , but this one impoverished our listening-time the most.
Inspirational Verse: “I was poor in love, I was poor in wealth, I was okay in everything else there was, oh I was poor in love.”
10. Adam & the Amethysts–Dreaming
Canada’s Adam & the Amethysts were big hits in the extended Lefort-family in the last months of the year, and this song was the dreamy introduction to the band.
Inspirational Verse: “If it feels like we’re dreaming, don’t wake me.”
11. Eleanor Friedberger–My Mistakes
Eleanor Friedberger’s album, Last Summer, was a fresh breath of throwback pop from the Fiery Furnaces’ sister. This song unmistakeably stuck in our ears.
Inspirational Verse: “I thought I’d learn from my mistakes, I thought he’d learn from my mistakes, I thought you’d give me the right advice, I thought he’d let me in for one last time.”
12. The Antlers–Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out
It was tough to select just one song from The Antlers’ great sophomore album, Burst Apart. This one just fell into our ears.
Inspirational Verse: “You and I, divine but not devout, every night my teeth are falling out.”
13. Iron & Wine–Walking Far From Home
One of our favorite songwriters and America’s best lyricist, Sam Beam, gave us one of his band’s best songs ever, which is saying a lot.
Inspirational Verse (we can’t leave out a word):
“I was walking far from home
Where the names were not burned along the wall
Saw a building high as heaven
But the door was so small, door was so small
I saw rainclouds, little babies
And a bridge that had tumbled to the ground
I saw sinners making music
and I dreamt of that sound, dreamt of that sound
I was walking far from home
But I carried your letters all the while
I saw lovers in a window
Whisper “warn me like time, warn me like time”
I saw sickness blooming fruit trees
I saw blood and a bit of it was mine
I saw children in a river
But their lips were still dry, lips were still dry
I was walking far from home
And I found your face mingled in the crowd
Saw a boat full of believers
Sail off talking too loud, talking too loud
I saw sunlight on the water
Saw a bird fall like a hammer from the sky
and woman on a speed train
She was closing her eyes, closing her eyes
I saw flowers on a hillside
And a millionaire pissing on the lawn
Saw a prisoner take a pistol
And say “Join me in song, join me in song”
Saw a car crash in the country
Where the prayers run like weeds along the road
I saw strangers stealing kisses
Given only their clothes, only their clothes
Saw a white dog chase its tail
And a pair of hearts carved into a stone
I saw kindness and an angel
Crying, take me back home, take me back home
Saw a highway, saw an ocean
I saw widows in the temple to the Lord
Naked dancers in the city
How they spoke for us all, spoke for us all
I saw loaded linen tables
And a motherless coat then it was gone
I saw hungry brothers waiting
With a radio on, radio on
I was walking far from home
Where the names were not burned along the wall
Saw a red road form a circle
And it came like a call, came like a call
From the Lord”
14. Dawes–Million Dollar Bill
This is the Ballad of the Year–bar none. Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes set himself apart on this song.
Inspirational Verse (again, we couldn’t excise a word):
“When it hits me what she’s gone
I think I’ll run for president
Get my face put on the million dollar bill
So when these rich men that she wants
Show her ways they can take care of her
I’ll have found a way to be there with her still
When it hits me that she’s gone
I think I’ll be an astronaut
Make the moon my home and leave the earth behind
So when she steps out into the night
She’ll be facing me every time she shines
When it hits me that she’s left me alone
When I finally move on with my life
Her goodbye written into stone
And her shadow grown into a night
When it hits me that she’s gone
I think I’ll be a movie star
Play the finest men the world has ever seen
So when these lovers that she’s found
Show her ways they learned to talk to her
Behind each perfect word there’ll be a little bit of me”
15. Feist–Get It Wrong, Get It Right
Leslie Feist got it right, not wrong, with her spare, haiku lyrics and haunting tune that combined into one of the most evocative songs of this or any other year.
Check out her live performance from CBC’s Studio Q below. Stunning.
Inspirational Verse (sans omission):
“Wind on the fields
Blowing your hair
Wheat of gold
Hand to hold
Come to the hill
Got a nest to build
String and grass
Leave the past
Climb up to the lookout
Tops of the trees
Come and go
Lake fills up the land
Build a home
Warm by the fire
Get it wrong
Get it wrong
Get it right”
16. Dawes–My Way Back Home
This live version doesn’t have the blistering electric guitar solo of the studio version (which you can listen to after), but leaves out any excess. Perfect.
Inspirational Verse: “While I struggle with these beauties, and my renditions end up dry, I’m like a bird that crashes into the window, that was drawn to the reflection of the sky.”
My Way Back Home (album version):
17. Mountain Goats–Never Quite Free
John Darnielle’s confessional masterpiece was on repeat in our jukebox throughout the year.
Inspirational Verse: “It’s so good to learn that from right here the view goes on forever, and you’ll never want for comfort, and you’ll never be alone, see the sunset turning red, let all be quiet in your head, and look about, all the stars are coming out, they shine like steel swords, wish me well where I go, but when you see me you’ll know>”
18. Bon Iver–Calgary
Another masterful song from Bon Iver.
Inspirational Verse: “Don’t you cherish me to sleep.”
19. Death Cab–You Are a Tourist
Codes and Keys had extreme highs (though a couple of nadirs too), including this marching song.
Inspirational Verse: “And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born, then it’s time to go and define your destination, there’s so many different places to call home, because when you find yourself the villain in the story you have written, it’s plain to see that sometimes the best intentions are in need of redemptions, would you agree? If so please show me, this fire grows higher, when there’s a burning in your heart.”
This LA band brandished a great live act and colorful songs this year. Colours was a highlight.
Inspirational Verse: “Yeah we call it… love, that’s right we call it… love, we do it for love–sweet love.”
21. Wye Oak–Civilian
Civilian came on like a world leader in our household.
Inspirational Verse: “I don’t need another friend, when most of them, I can barely keep up with them, perfectly able to hold my own hand, but I still can’t kiss my own neck.”
22. PJ Harvey–The Last Living Rose
PJ Harvey is one of our more intelligent and passionate musicians, all as exhibited on this song, which rocks.
Inspirational Verse: “Let me watch night fall on the river, the moon rise up and turn to silver, the sky move, the ocean shimmer, the hedge shake, the last living rose quiver.”
23. Siskiyou–Twigs and Stones
One of the many great singalong songs of this year, this one came from up-and-coming British Columbia band Siskiyou. Check out the vacillating vocal moods combined with alternately plaintive and joyous horns by the ubiquitous and magnificent Colin Stetson.
Inspirational Verse: “I am a house built out of twigs and stones, I am a house, but I’m not a home. I got love to give, and give, and give, and give, and give, and give.”
24. Ry Cooder–No Banker Left Behind
With this song, national treasure Ry Cooder came through for the Occupy Wall Street crowd when they needed a theme song.
Inspirational Verse: “Well I hear the whistle blowin’, it plays a happy tune. the conductor’s callin’ all aboard we’ll be leavin’ soon, with champagne and shrimp cocktails and that’s not all you’ll find, there’s a billion dollar bonus and no banker left behind, no banker, no banker, no banker could I find, when the train pulled out next mornin’, no banker was left behind
25. Seryn–We Will All Be Changed
Another great singalong song, this time from Denton, Texas band, Seryn.
Inspirational Verse: “We can shape but can’t control, these possibilities to grow, weeds amongst the push and pull, waiting on the wind to take us, we can write with ink and pen, but we will sew with seeds instead, starting with words we’ve said, and we will all be changed.”
26. Correatown–Everything All At Once
Our pick for best single off of Correatown’s pleasing Pleiades album is the summa-cum-catchy Further. But since Further already appeared in 2010′s Best Songs list, we’ll go with Everything All at Once. Hey, if it’s good enough for Grey’s Anatomy, it’s good enough for us.
Inspirational Verse: “And all you really want is so clear, all you really want is so near to you, well maybe what you want is right here.”
27. Bill Callahan–Riding for the Feeling
Great song and perfect video to match. From another of our national treasures.
Inspirational Verse: “Riding for the feeling, riding for the felling, is the fastest way to reach the shore.”
28. The Decemberists–Rise in Me
A powerful song by Colin Meloy in honor of fatherdom, parenting and his autistic son, Henry. Not necessarily in that order. And not a dry eye in the place.
Truly Inspirational Verse: “Hey Henry, can you hear me?; let me see those eyes; this distance between us can seem a mountainside; but boy, you are going to stand our ground; they rise to you you blow them down; let me see you stand your ground; they rise to you, you blow them down.”
29. Tom Waits–Pay Me
As we repeatedly (annoyingly?) remind everyone, we’re huge Tom Waits fans. His talent and intelligence is ominous. This song struck us most off of his phenomenal Bad As Me album.
Inspirational Verse: “They pay me not to come home, keeping me stoned, I won’t run away,…they say it’s easy to get, stuck in this town, just like Joan, you know I gave it all up for the stage, they fill my cup up in a cage, it’s nobodies business but mine, when I’m low,
to hold yourself upside a crime here you know, at the end of the world.”
Tom Waits–Pay Me
30. Gardens & Villa–Black Hills
Santa Barbara boys, Gardens & Villa, saw an incredible upward trajectory this year, starting with their impressive Richard Swift-produced album and capped off by an appearance on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic and being asked to play Coachella. Onward and upward lads.
Inspirational Verse: “Up on the mountain we climb, we watch the seas rise so high, we will be baptized just like before.”
31. Charles Bradley (Featuring the Menahan Street Band)–The World (Is Going Up in Flames)
Charles Bradley and the Menahans lit up our jukebox this year. With the Menahan band’s perfect support, Charles channels Otis and James in one fell swoop on this heartwrenching ode to our times.
Inspirational Verse: “I can’t turn my head away, seeing all these things, the world is burning up in flames, and nobody wanna take the blame.”
32. Blind Pilot–Keep You Right
Portland’s Blind Pilot had our 12th Best Album of 2011, We Are the Tide. Keep You Right is just one of the many gems off the album.
Inspirational Verse: “The heart longs for too much; mine eyes have hardly seen enough to know it’s me; never does it stop or slow; I press my ear against the ground to know the song it sings; I’m calling, fear running through; I’m calling what more can I do; tell me what more can I do.”
33. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings–Hard Times
We love this duo and were ecstatic to see them release this year’s The Harrow & the Harvest album after an eight-year wait. Amongst the many great songs, Hard Times hit us hardest.
Inspirational Verse: “Said it’s a mean old world, heavy in need; that big machine is just picking up speed; they were supping on tears, they were supping on wine; we all get to heaven in our own sweet time; so come all you Asheville boys and turn up your old-time noise; and kick ’til the dust comes up from the cracks in the floor; singing, hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind, brother; hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind; hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more.”
EMA turned a lot of heads and vaulted to the top of many Best of 2011 lists. The venomous and touching California catapulted to the top of our songlist.
Inspirational Verse: “You’re bleeding from the fingertips, you rubbed me raw, you rubbed me wrong, and I hear you and I think of you, oh California.”
35. Frank Turner–I Am Disappeared
You can’t beat the Brits when it comes to rock anthems, and Frank Turner carries on the tradition admirably on the powerful I Am Disappeared. The rest of his album didn’t come close, but then that’s difficult to imagine.
Inspirational Verse: “And come morning, I am disappeared, just an imprint on the bedsheets, I’m by the roadside with my thumb out, a car pulls up, and Bob’s [Dylan's] driving, so I climb in, we don’t say a word, as we pull off into the sunrise, and these rivers of tarmac are like arteries across the country, we are blood cells alive in the bloodstream, the beating heart of the country, we are electric pulses, in the pathways of the sleeping soul of the country.”
36. Lost Lander–Cold Feet
Portland (again!) band, Lost Lander made a big impression this year with their releases, and especially their song Cold Feet.
Inspirational Verse: “Oh sleep for awhile, too much conversation, too much information, I gotta turn it off.”
37. My Morning Jacket–Holdin’ On to Black Metal
My Morning Jacket never fails to please, and especially live. This song was the highlight of their concerts this year and a great add to their discography.
Inspirational Verse: “Oh black metal, so misunderstood, don’t turn yourself into Lucifer’s fool, black metal feeds those young, enough is enough, wants refills out of Lucifer’s cup, black metal lead to and your teenage pop, look at you starchild, you’re all grown up.”
38. The Miracals–Cala-Cola
LA band, The Miracals (formerly “The Smiles”), brought the SoCal beach sound (whipped up with some British Orange Juice elements), but they forgot to bring the sunny outlook in this lyrically-dark song. Pretty, but somewhat bleak. Reminds us of LA. And life occasionally. [Yes, we know this song was technically released in 2010, but we just caught on this year: so sue us.]
Inspirational Verse: Decidedly un-inspirational, but oh so catchy..
39. Fruit Bats–Tangie and Ray
One of our favorite bands put out a great album (Tripper) and this song led the way.
Inspirational Verse: “They’re never going home, they’re never going home.”
40. War On Drugs–Best Night
Philly’s War on Drugs was a hallucinogenic high-point of the year, with their album, Slave Ambient, and first track Best Night is a great introduction to the band’s hypno-jangle.
Inspirational Verse: “I’m a thousand miles behind, with a million more to climb, so it’s you I hope survives without fighting.”
41. Typhoon–The Honest Truth
(Yet another) Portland band, Typhoon, have dominated our jukebox since we were first introduced to them a couple of summers ago. This year they released an EP, A New Kind of House, and are working on a new album for 2012. Check out the performance of this great song on the Letterman Show.
Inspirational Verse: “On my time I’ve walked a fine old line, I held a vacant sign upon my eyelids, on my time, oh Lord, I’ve been so blind, but now I see the light below my doorjamb.”
42. TV on the Radio–You
Another of the many great songs from Nine Types of Light.
Inspirational Verse: “But you threw your hands up and walked away, seems strange I should feel this way, you’re the only one I ever loved.”
Check out this hilarious mock-reunion video below. The song can be heard beginning at 4:00.
43. Bry Webb–Rivers of Gold
We were introduced late in the year to this song and album. We had lost sight of Bry Webb after the hiatus/demise of great Toronto band, Constantines. Webb came out this year with a new album, Provider, which has a much more stripped-down sound. Amongst the many great tracks, Rivers of Gold provided the most.
Inspirational Verse: “We had an understanding only we could understand, I was making a decent living in a Yukon Territory, thinking of all those that came before me, I was the one most free, rivers of gold.”
Bry Webb–Rivers of Gold
44. Bryan John Appleby–Glory
Seattle friends sent us their local songwriter, Bryan John Appleby, this year. From his album, Fire on the Vine, Glory stuck in our heads. And we gave thanks by singing along with the singalong. Who can resist?
Inspirational Verse: “Glory you are the anvil for my hardened heart, Glory you’re the only mystery I can see, I have known you as the song that goes before me, and the only one who’ll be there when I’m gone.”
45. Active Child–Playing House (Ft. How to Dress Well)
Active Child’s Pat Grossi employs hectares of harp and synths, and an angelic voice to great effect. We loved their song from last year, I’m In Your Church At Night, and Playing House continues the string with some added Motown ambiance.
Inspirational Verse: “That don’t make it good for anybody, don’t wanna be in love just with anybody, I’m tired being just Mr. Anybody, so baby come with me, let’s just make a body.”
46. Doug Paisley–What I Saw
Toronto, Canada’s Doug Paisley continues to write spare, perfect North Americana songs. What I Saw is a great introduction to this fine singer-songwriter. The violinist (Kendel Carson) in the video below is a bonus. What I heard and what I saw, indeed.
Inspirational Verse: “Fell out of love, wandered around, wore out my shoes, went to the town, wouldn’t you know, well I couldn’t get back, train that I took was torn from the tracks.”
47. Parsons Red Heads–Kids Hanging Out
LA’s Parsons Red Heads have been traipsing up to Santa Barbara for a couple years now, honing their skills and killing from the stage with great energy and vocals. They are a great young band that writes great songs. Kids Hanging Out is a rocking example from their fine 2011 album, Yearling.
Inspirational Verse: “Baby I will wait for you forever and a day, but I don’t know how long forever’s going to take.”
Kids Hanging Out:
48. Rural Alberta Advantage–Muscle Relaxants
Speaking of rockers, Rural Alberta Advantage’s Muscle Relaxants set the bar (in the bar) really high. Yet another Canadian band. What the heck is goin’ on up in those parts? Check the song below (and see our earlier commentary about trendy swimming videos).
Inspirational Verse: “Never know what you find, and our hearts will slow though I know you hold me tight.”
49. Cass McCombs–County Line
We love Cass McCombs’ music and lyrics, and had a chance to catch his subtle, but captivating, live show at this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. With its Motown effects, County Line was one of our favorite (of many) McComb songs released by this prolific songwriter in 2011.
Inspirational Verse: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.”
50. Josh T. Pearson–Thou Art Loose
Josh T. Pearson scares us. And it’s not just his frighteningly great songwriting talents. It’s his intensity and reach and honesty about his/our darkness. If you don’t believe us, go over and check out another song and lyrics HERE. We love Thou Art Loose, but especially for the lofty goal sung at the end. You got this Josh.
Inspirational Verse: “Yes I’m off to save the world, I’m off to save the world, I’m off to save the world, at least I can hope, at least I can hope.”
If you have time, do yourselves a favor and watch the entire Take-Away Show with Pearson filmed in the streets of Paris below. Or go to 16:58 to watch and listen to a mesmerizing version of Thou Art Loose. Or you can just go listen to the album version below the video.
Josh T. Pearson–Thou Art Loose
51. Jessica Lea Mayfield–Sometimes at Night
Jessica Lea Mayfield quietly strolled into our musical yard in the Fall this year and thereafter dominated our swing-set of sounds and playlist. Sometimes at Night, with its captivating opening couplet, was just one of many stellar songs off of her fantastic album, Tell Me.
Inspirational Verse: “I did not ask to be born with these eyes, eyes that always speak for my mind.”
52. Other Lives–For 12
Stillwater, Oklahoma’s Other Lives came out beyond-OK in 2011. They released a great album (Tamer Animals), began the year opening for the likes of the Rosebuds, and then brandished so much buzz that by year’s end had announced they would be opening for Radiohead on their 2012 tour. For 12 is one of many worthy songs from this band.
Inspirational Verse: “I’m still here today, oh, spouting hymns and all’s in them, and forever target, when it ain’t so kind.”
53. Okkervil River–Your Past Life as a Blast
Okkervil River released a sadly overlooked album this year (I Am Very Far). Lead singer/songwriter Will Sheff continues to stake his claim as one of our best lyricists (we couldn’t omit a single word below from this song). Your Past Life as a Blast was a highlight amongst many scintillating songs on the album.
Inspirational Verse (emphasis added):
“Your life, back in a banner year.
A blast of light. A brace of cheers.
A house of wild accolades
evaporating on an August night
when I’m looking out into the sound.
I’m breathing deep. I’m turning around.
“Do you want to swim out to that island?”
Touch my wrist. It’s shaking just like someday
baby when we’re older.
Cash will be inside our kisses, someday,
maybe, baby when I’m gold.
Your hair is thin and light
as a white forest fire in summertime.
Your throat, where it’s exposed, looks like a crime,
all sneak-up slow and whisper quiet.
Your pretty face looks like an island
rising from a sea that’s slowly drying.
When I’m saying,
“Do you want to sail out in the silence?”
“Will you come over here and do me violence?”
Press your ear up to my wrist –
the blood is racing some way, going wherever,
and I’m asking,
“Will you stand up tall and be my shelter?”
How will we go — what do you think?
Into the dust? Into the drink?
You slipped your fears into my head,
some midnight freeway ride along with Jennifer.
Hotels, jails, hospital details.
The highway hugs the water.
I had to cross a field of screaming fire
to see the moonlight on the river.
“Do you want to come and make me shiver?”
Squeeze my arm and feel it pull away like someday,
baby, when we differ.
I’ll tell you what I didn’t say.
I’ll tell you about the way I really miss him.
You tell them what you want to tell them.
Tell them about the way you really loved her.
And we’ll shake it, shake it,
shake it off, and take another,
because no one
is going to stop me
not even my brother.
54. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks–Share the Red
Stephen Malkmus and crew got back on track this year with their Beck (Beck!)-produced album, Mirror Traffic. There are catchier songs off the album, but Share the Red struck home for us. As usual with Malkmus, the music is challenging, but worth the effort.
Inspirational Verse: “I can see the truth, is wasted on the youth, the parental magic is fading away for now.”
55. Wilco–Born Alone
Jeff Tweedy and crew are amongst our favorites, and Born Alone is yet another strong song for the band. Tweedy continues to grapple with metaphysics and music. This one will be especially powerful live on February 10th at the Arlington. You can read Tweedy’s explanation of the song HERE.
Inspirational Verse: “Please come closer to the feather smooth lens fly, sadness is my luxury, will you weather, join the cold, come before I die, more aware of it than me.”
56. Drive-By Truckers–Mercy Buckets
Drive-By Truckers never fail to rend the heart and always lay it out for all to see. Mercy Buckets is either a great new song to a child, a wedding song, or a mission-statement, or all-of-the-above. Check out an all-ages, in-store performance below (oh how we miss John Healy’s Buffalo Records) or the studio version below the video.
Inspirational Verse: “When all your good days keep getting shorter, count on me; when you’re ’bout 20 cents shy of a quarter, count on me; when you just need a place to hide out for a while; I’ll help you hide the bodies in a little while.”
Drive-By Truckers–Mercy Buckets
57. Sarah Kirkland Snider–Naausica
We’ve written before about each year’s fab Believer magazine Music Issue and the treasures to be found therein. This year’s issue brought a crop of contemporary composers and their concertinas. The smart folks at The Believer magazine included Snider’s composition, Nausicaa. The straightforward lyrics of Nausicaa are sung beautifully by Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond. When we needed solace in 2011, we sought out this song.
Inspirational Verse: “You look so lost stranger. But you’re not lost ’cause I’ve just found you. Just take my hand stranger. Just take my hand, and I will lead you home.”
Sarah Kirkland Snider–Naausica
58. Karen O–Abandoned
Karen O (of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs) covered Willie and Waylon’s Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys on behalf of Chipotle’s fundraiser for sustainable-agriculture farmers. In so doing she managed somehow to twist the song from jaunty to haunting. The video and cover moved us immensely.
59. Yourself in the Air–Trampolines
One of the catchiest songs of the summer for us was Trampolines by the young Chicago band Yourself and the Air. It shimmered and soundtracked the summer season for us.
Inspirational Verse: “Jumping, been running, been dancing….”
60. Jump Into The Gospel–Photovoltaic
Another summer song, Photovoltaic’s chorus swept us away all summer long (and beyond). It is a catchy amalgam of 80s styles and sounds.
Inspirational Verse: forget the lyrics and dance.
61. Richard Buckner–Traitor
With Traitor, Richard Buckner added yet another song to his long list of well-wrought songs. Check out a live performance below and the studio version after. He’s one of our best.
Inspirational Verse: “Sowed what you’d say, walked where you’d like, and said what they wouldn’t say to the shadows in the night.”
62. Wild Beasts–Loop the Loop
Brit-band Wild Beasts didn’t catch our ears until late in the year. We were oblivious to their driving torch songs until Loop the Loop took us for a loop. Hayden Thorpe’s vocals are mesmerizing throughout, and the band’s sound floats on seamlessly, reminding of Blue Nile but adding more rhythm. Check out a great live rendering below and the studio version after.
Inspirational Verse: “Oh don’t you think, that people are the strangest things, design of desire, means all that the heart requires, is what it can’t sympathize.”
Wild Beasts–Loop the Loop
63. Megafaun–Hope You Know
Of a quiver of great songs off of their eponymous 2011 album, Megafaun’s Hope You Know, with it’s spare sound, perfect piano opening and heavenly harmonies never failed to grab us. Not exactly Top 40 radio, but a beauty nonetheless.
Inspirational Verse: “Oh, I hope you know, when I go, you’re always close.”
Megafaun–Hope You Know
64. King Creosote & Jon Hopkins–Bats in the Attic (Unravelled)
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins are another act that only came to our attention in the latter part of the year with their small meisterwerk, Diamond Mine. Bats in the Attic (Unravelled) sang to us with its lament for latter years and relational unravelling.
Inspirational Verse: “And you said 12 years in retirement, the hours go by like sips of water, the record lies unbroken, and no doubt it’s white flour in my diet, that’s going to be the death of me, a sweet drum roll for those embittered big ideas.”
65. David Wax Museum–The Least I Can Do
If you’re homesick or sick of home, this song will take you back and aback. Check out the heart-rending live version below by the smarty-pants (Harvard/Wellesley) duo, David Wax Museum, and then the studio version below. It’s the least you can do. That’ll do nicely.
Inspirational Verse: “I don’t see my sisters too much, as if state lines were cattle guards,I don’t see my parents that much, Mama’s health makes traveling hard,I don’t see my hometown that much, but I picture it frozen in time, everyone has moved on in some way, as I have moved on in mind.”
David Wax Museum–The Least I Can Do
66. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.–Simple Girl
Despite their idiotic name that might cause you to think differently, Detroit’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. write quirky, deft indie-pop songs. Simple Girl is a great, Beatles-esque example from the band.
Inspirational Verse: “I’m always looking for, some kind of sign, there’s something more than this.”
67. Waters–O Holy Break of Day
Rising from the ashes of the much-lamented Port O’Brien, Waters is Van Pierszalowski’s new band. O Holy Break of Day grabbed us by the ears immediately and bodes well for the band’s future. Check out a great live version below and the studio version after.
Inspirational Verse: “Feeling reckless but there’s a light at the edge of my room, I never imagined I could be a free man this soon, take my warnings just to find my way back through, home isn’t waiting, oh Lord i am overdue.”
Waters–O Holy Break of Day
68. The Rosebuds–Go Ahead
The Rosebuds put out a great album this year (Loud Planes Fly Low) that featured a gaggle of great songs. Go Ahead was amongst the crowd of memorable songs.
Inspirational Verse: “Go ahead and be my world, and everything will be okay, just hide there in plain sight, too big to see, yeah to see.”
New Orleans band, Generationals, rose up from the south and created a good buzz this year amongst the cognoscenti. Songs like Ten-Twenty-Ten helped the cause.
Inspirational Verse: “All my friends seem to think you might leave me for dead.
70. The Belle Brigade–Losers
We liked the video so much by these up-and-coming harmonists that the song itself became embedded in our heads.
Inspirational Verse: “This ain’t about no one in particular, but I could list a few, I’m removing myself from the queue.”
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