Once again it is time for the requisite best of lists. As always, I have issues narrowing things down as I tend to like everything. So to start things off, I have the 111 songs that soundtracked 2011 for me. Not necessarily the best songs of the year, but rather the songs that occupied my earballs throughout the year. It seems that there was a lot of garage rock, mellow music, bands with a lot of members, post-dubstep, and bands that sound like old bands. And since I chose a rather large selection of songs, it takes forever to write about and post them, so I will be very brief with most songs, and may even just quote some lyrics for some. I’m lazy like that. – Shaun
111. Ode to Janice Melt – Army Navy
Just can’t get enough of that bouncy piano. A catchy little ditty.
110. Too Much Midi (Please Forgive me) – Ford and Lopatin
This retro 80’s synth number apologizes for its awesomeness.
109. No Church in the Wild – Jay Z, Kanye West, and Frank Ocean
The opener from the most extravagant album of the year. It also happens to be one of the most restrained songs on the album, and it benefits heavily from the presence of Frank Ocean.
108. Can See Miles – I’m From Barcelona
This 27 member band from Sweden always brings a small to my face. My favourite track from a strong 4th album.
107. St. Peter’s Cathedral – Death Cab for Cutie
The way all Death Cab for Cutie songs should be.
106. Morning Thought – Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Scattered electronic intro opens into a layered rock track that slowly textures as it progresses. Fantastic song from a great debut.
105. Bizness – Tune-Yards
One of the most unique voices in the bizness. My Standout track from a breakout album.
104. Sweet – Common
Common is BACK!!! His new album was released just as this list was being made, and it is most definitely a return to form. Also, one of Common’s angriest tracks in awhile
103. Tornado ’87 – The Rural Alberta Advantage
The RRA excel at turning Albertan tragedies into love stories.
102. Shoulders and Turns – The Belle Game
A simple and pretty song. Harmonies and lots of instruments. What else do you need?
101. Windows are Rolled Down – Amos Lee
Blue Eyed acoustic Soul Americana at its best.
100. Little Talks – Of Monsters and Men
My favorite new band out of Iceland! Multi-instrumental New Folk that takes a lot of cues from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. One of the happiest sounding songs of the year.
99. Baby Missiles – The War on Drugs
Having become a fan of Bruce Springsteen in the last 5 years, I have become attracted to bands that are heavily influenced by The Boss. Baby Missiles is an E-Street rocker that brings you right back.
98. Heart Attack – Raphael Saadiq
Mr. New Jack Swing is a huge part of the great new-soul movement. Just enough old soul and new soul to keep it fresh.
97. Bust-Out Brigade – The Go! Team
The perfect soundtrack to any sports medley. Just enough over-the-top Marching Bandness to be awesome.
96. How it Starts – The Features
I could listen to the Features all day. There is a certain energy to their songs, and this song is no different.
95. I Mind – James Blake
On an album full of non-singles, certain tracks stand out at different times. This is a song that I played over and over on vinyl for a few days in a row. This one is all about the layers of samples that build and overlap and separate and then rebuild and the fracture and then attack with a glitchy drum loop that draws you in deeper.
94. Feeding Line – Boy & Bear
This Australian band picks up the space that Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers left by not releasing an album this year. This infectious new folk song builds perfectly.
93. The Birds (Part 1) – The Weeknd
One of the biggest surprise debuts of the year was the Weeknd. Releasing 3 freely released albums (Mixtapes) that dominated the year. The Birds was part of the second mixtape, which may be the least exciting of the three. However, The Birds was the perfect centerpiece to the album, focused around a dirty martial drum beat that develops and crescendos in just the right parts.
92. No Harm – The Boxer Rebellion
A haunting slow burner. ‘Nuff said.
91. Jessica Jalbert – Paris Green
A Local Edmonton Artist that I recently discovered that embraces the lazy female led rock of the 60’s and 90’s.
90. Fuck it. You Win. – Hanni El Khatib
Garage blues rock that sounds like the Black Keys first albums. It also reminds me of what Kris might sound like if he sung some garage rock.
89. Baby’s Arms – Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile’s gorgeous opener sets the pace for his brilliantly understated album. His interesting delivery and flourishes set him apart from the standard acoustic fare.
88. The Valley – Okkervil River
One of my favorite Okkervil River songs in a very long time. It has an intensity that I didn’t think that they were capable of.
87. Black Leaf – The Cave Singers
Another intense burner that sounds like the guitar was routed through a carboard box. Rough and Raw.
86. Helen/I’m on Fire – Felix Riebl
Another Springsteen influence that touches on his more acoustic phase. The delicate beauty of Helen segues so perfectly into the subdued cover of I’m on Fire.
85. Love the way you walk away – Blitzen Trapper
This song soundtracked a small moment in the TV series Chuck, and it stuck out enough to be played over and over and over. The best track on a varied album.
84. The Round – Pickwick
Pickwick is just one of those artist’s that I can’t get enough of. Unfortunately, there are only 6 tracks that they released this year. This is a perfect hybrid of classic soul and the new folk sound.
83. Graveyard – Feist
What all Feist songs need is mournful horns. I just can’t get enough of the last half of this song, it could have fit on Bon Iver’s new album.
82. This is Why We Fight – The Decemberists
My Dad likes to listen to the Satellite Radio upstairs while I work downstairs and listen to my music and movies. I would always pause my stuff to hear this song.
81. Trust Me – The Streets
The second last song on Mike Skinner’s final album as The Streets. A nicely paced cadence overtop a sampled 80’s soul groove. Exiting on a high note.
80. Rumour has it – Adele
Adele’s sophomore debut was riddled with hits, and this one is one of the more lively ones.
79. Without You – Rainbow Arabia
Mix tribal rhythms with the Knife-style vocals and you have the potential for greatness. Kris introduced me to this fantastic band.
78. Cinema – Benny Benassi
Pure pop with a dubstep influence. Very guilty, and very addictive.
77. As Bright as Your Night Light – Nerves Junior
This Kentucky band relies on it’s rock and electronic influences to create a sound that is heavily in sync with today’s scene, yet still sounds original. An all around mid-tempo rocker.
76. My Body – Young Giant
“My Body tells me no, But I won’t quit, Because I want more”. A huge dance number at the Sasquatch festival.
75. Move On – Bing Ji Ling
This member of the Phenomenal Handclap Band, releases a fantastic retro sounding soul album under the moniker Bing Ji Ling (Mandarin for Ice Cream). This one sounds like it is straight out of the Motown era.
74. 2 Hearts – Digitalism
This German Electro-house Duo released this catchy track that borrows heavily from the dance-punk scene of the last few years.
73. Truth – Alexander
Whistling makes music fun. The dude from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes whistles his way into our heads on his solo release.
72. Shuffle a Dream – Little Dragon
If we had to pick our favourite non-North American country to source music from it would be a close call for me between Iceland and Sweden. This band from Sweden features the always-intriguing vocal affectations of lead singer Yukimi Nagano. This song was also featured on Gossip Girl, which I of course overheard as my wife was watching.
71. Ya Messinagh – Tinariwen (Feat. Dirty Dozen Brass Band)
This track comes from an album recorded in a desert in Algeria. The raw and acoustic Tuareg sounds features a brilliant horn accompaniment from the great dirty dozen brass band. Some of the best sounds out of Africa in a long time, or from anywhere for that matter.
70. Eleven – Thao and Mirah (Feat. Tune-Yards)
A collaboration between Thao (and the Get Down Stay Down) and Mirah. This album was produced by Merrill of Tune-Yards and this track features her contributions quite obviously. Three multi-talented female voices combined in one kickass track.
69. Think You Can Wait – The National (Feat. Sharon Van Etten)
From the disheartening movie Win Win, The National do what they do best. Melancholy. Sharon Van Etten’s contributions add to the melancholy and beautify this simple track.
68. Perth – Bon Iver
This track sets the stage for Bon Iver’s transitory album. A song that builds upon Bon Iver’s past and explodes with a fervor that only his live shows hinted at. Martial drums hint at what is to come. And then it arrives. A clear standout on the album, and in his live show.
67. Gathering Stories – Jonsi
This year saw Jonsi relatively quiet. His band Sigur Ros released a live film and accompanying album, and he scored/soundtracked the movie “We Bought a Zoo”. This song co-written with Film Master Cameron Crowe somehow manages to make Jonsi even more cinematic.
66. For 12 – Other Lives
This song is almost like a cross between post-rock and classic country road songs. Maybe its just that one rolling guitar lick, and the jangly acoustic, and the rambling feel of the track. And those ambient string swells overtop. Or its all in my mind. Either way. A song I enjoyed all year, and loved live.
65. The Sound – jesh de rox
I first heard this song live and acoustic in my Dad’s living room. It was one of those experiences that is hard to explain. Then came this updated studio version that sounds like it was produced by Coldplay. Its over-the-top production transforms the song completely, and somewhat appropriately. There will always be two versions to me, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
[bandcamp track=807628007 bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB size=venti]
64. Shuffle – Bombay Bicycle Club
I love me some piano, and this partially shattered piano loop has me hooked. I like this new direction they are headed on.
63. Half Moon – Blind Pilot
On an album full of songs I became enchanted by, it’s hard to select favorites. The deluxe edition came with a t-shirt with “Hold high how faint your reason” taken from this song. A classic Blind Pilot track that makes me feel good inside. Also featured in a Chuck Episode this season.
62. Life is Life – Noah and The Whale
As with Blind Pilot, I had trouble choosing favorites from this album as well. This song resonated with me on several levels. A song about reinvention. About moving forward.
61. Wildfire – SBTRKT
The UK Bass Dj featured different vocalists on his breakout album. This track features Yukimi from Little Dragon. This is Bass music for the masses.
60. 1 + 1 – Beyonce
Never been a huge Beyonce fan, but when you combine The Dream and have him rip off Purple Rain, you got gold, err, purple.
59. Go Outside – Cults
The perfect summer anthem.
58. Future Starts Slow – The Kills
This album is killer. Loaded with great songs. This one stands out because of the pounding drums, the simple guitar riffs, and the competing vocals.
57. Original Don – Major Lazer
This single released ahead of the album due in 2012 is a very promising sign. The dance anthem of December!!! Run the Track!!!
56. Summer Home – Typhoon
A close second to “Honest Truth”, Summer Home is pure large band heaven. Horns, strings, keys, guitars, multiple drums. This band has it all. A camping favorite for me.
55. She Will – Lil Wayne feat. Drake
Lil Wayne and Drake together will almost always work out perfectly. They seem to be made for each other. By far my favorite track on IV.
54. Serve the People – Handsome Furs
Clearly an 80’s inspired synth-rocker. But, clearly more than that as well. A very anthemic song that soundtracked the last half of the year. Parts of it sound like it was recorded on Bebot.
53. Near Light – Ólafur Arnalds
Ólafur Arnalds decided to record a song each day in his living room. The result is a short EP that exudes beauty at every turn. What makes Near Light stand out from the rest is the burst of electronics and beats that migrate into the last half of the song. It’s the perfect song for a late night in the living room.
52. Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
Helplessness Blues is obviously Fleet Foxes. But something about it feels different.
51. Video Games – Lana Del Rey
Could there be any more hype around this girl? She seems to polarize listeners, but her sultry voice and her nouveau retro sound are striking. “I hear that you like the bad girls honey, is that true?”.
50. Atlas Hands – Benjamin Francis Leftwich
“I will remember your face, because I am still in love with that place”. A gorgeous single from a strong debut album.
49. Can’t Hold Us – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (feat. Ray Dalton)
Just let the rhythm grab you. This song is so sonically captivating you just can’t help but move.
48. Out on a Limb – Joseph Arthur
“Hanging out on a limb in plain sight.” A plaintively beautiful acoustic track with subtle string accompaniment.
47. What the Water Gave Me – Florence and The Machine
From an album that shows no restraint, this is a song that doesn’t apologize for its bombast. It begins with hints, and like all great Florence songs, it builds until it wraps you whole and then squashes you.
46. You and I – Washed Away
Washed Away’s album is one you put on from start to finish and just relish in its simplicity. But You and I is one of the tracks that stands on its own. A playlister so to speak. At times it sounds like the record just isn’t keeping up, but that is part of its charm.
45. Time – Black Lips
Every time this song comes on I am reminded of the early Beatles recordings.
44. Dig Down Deep – Vandaveer
Vandaveer are one of the best bands in the new folk movement. Their sound is traditional and bold. Forward thinking, but strongly rooted in the past. Dig Down Deep is laden with harmonies. It rises and falls, swells and recedes.
43. Lucky Now – Ryan Adams
A song about the passing of his former band mate. Heartbreaking Ryan Adams at his best. “And the night will break your heart, but only if you’re lucky now.”
42. How Deep is Your Love? – The Rapture
This 6.5 minute dance anthem captivates. The religious overtones never overpower the groove.
41. Rolling in the Deep (XX Remix) – Adele (feat. Childish Gambino)
Rolling in the Deep was everywhere this year. A song you just couldn’t escape. Jamie from the XX remixed it into a dancey claptastic affair, and then Childish Gambino added his own touches with a verse at the end. After getting sick of the original, this version brought back my love.
40. The Wolves – Ben Howard
This is the song that introduced me to Ben Howard, and it remains the one I just can’t get enough of. It has a shuffle feel that reminds me of a train rolling through the countryside, and the vocal inflections in the howls and when he pushes his voice to the edge elevate the song to a new height.
39. Buckjump – Trombone Shorty
I have always been a fan of horns, and this track is an exercise in mostly instrumental horn-based hip-hop. Funky fun.
38. Freaks and Geeks – Childish Gambino
Donald Glover returns to the list only 3 tracks later. This comedian/actor/writer/rapper released an EP and an LP this year. The LP was too much of the same, but the earlier released EP featured this great track. A very explicit track like all of his, but this one features some of the best pop-culture based rhymes in a very long time.
37. East Harlem – Beirut
A beautiful track from a beautiful album. “Another rose wilts in East Harlem, and uptown, downtown, a thousand miles between us.”
36. So Much for Love – Gramatik
Sample-based instrumental electronic glory.
35. Sophia – Laura Marling
A different approach for Laura Marling on this album, and this song showcases her new sound. A progression from her last album into a more band oriented feel, this song builds throughout the first half into a country-folk jam when the band joins in.
34. County Line – Cass McCombs
Cass McCombs released a very quiet album this year. County Line is not only one of the best songs on that album, but one of the best of the year. It borrows heavily from 80’s Hall and Oates era instrumentation, but sounds like a song that could’ve been written in the 70’s, yet not feeling out of place in 2011. It is a song that latches onto your soul, pulling it in and down. “You never really tried to love me, whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa”
33. Lady Luck – Jamie Woon
More UK Bass music up on the list. Jamie Woon’s brand features his silky smooth soul/R&B vocals overtop a polished sampled beat.
32. Tongue Tied – Grouplove
Grouplove released a killer EP last year that hinted at what was to come this year. Tongue Tied perfectly embodies their sound. Upbeat, fun, interesting indie-pop. Also featured in a iPod touch commercial later in the year. “Don’t take me tongue tied, Don’t wave no goodbye”
31. Rolled Together – The Antlers
The Antlers returned this year with more sad songs. “Rolled together with a burning paper heart” is repeated throughout overtop a bed of Sigur Ros sounding layers.
30. Numbers in Action – Wiley
One of the catchiest tracks by Wiley off his great LP. After a few listens, you will be singing the hook nearly every time someone says numbers. “I wanna see numbers in action”.
29. Losers – The Belle Brigade
An anthem for accepting yourself, even if you are a loser. “Don’t care about being a winner, Or being smooth with women, Or going out on Fridays, Being the life of parties, no, no more, no.”
28. We Lay in Caves – Campfire OK
I find it hard to pinpoint what it is exactly that really draws me into this song. It has all of my favorite elements in it, but I think it is the way that they all mix together. A song I found myself playing a lot as I drove alone.
[bandcamp track=649571538 bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB size=venti]
27. Houdini – Foster the People
After the huge success of last years “Pumped up Kicks”, Foster the People became a household name. This was a song that my wife and I would dance to in the kitchen in the summer when we were BBQing up some dinner.
26. I’m Getting Ready – Michael Kiwanuka
This is a lazy soulful number that reminds me of Otis Redding and Bill Withers with a hint of James Taylor. It takes you back a few decades, and puts a smile on your face.
25. Twins – Gem Club
My roommate came home to me laying on the couch in the dark listening to this track. She then proclaimed it to be the most depressing song she has ever heard. But I just hear the beauty of the song. It sounds like it is being performed right in your living room. The echoey piano and foot pedals are accompanied by mournful cello and horns and then there is that Dexter-ish fill that gives you chills. Best heard in the dark.
24. Novacane – Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean is going to be big in 2012. The best R&B of the year was all released free online, and this picks up on a similar sound to The Weeknd. Sexually explicit and drugged up R&B for the masses. “Cocaine for breakfast, yikes”
23. Lonely Boy – The Black Keys
The Black Keys are back with what may be the catchiest song they have ever done. Watch the video, and try not to dance along.
22. Need you Now – Cut Copy
Need you Now is classic Cut Copy. And that is a great thing.
21. Rivers and Roads – The Head and the Heart
A live staple for the Head and the Heart that got released on the 2011 SubPop rerelease of one of my favorite albums of 2010. A great addition.
20. Get Some – Lykke Li
Lykke Li’s sound changed significantly this year. Get Some is the anthem of the new sound. A little more grown up. A lot more sultry, sexy and dirty. I like it.
19. Little by Little – Radiohead
I listened to “The King of Limbs” a lot this year. And this was the song I always came back to. It wouldn’t seem out of place on any of their last 5 releases.
18. Crystalline (Omar Souleyman Remix) – Bjork and Omar Souleyman
Iceland meets Syria. Bjork’s Biophilia album felt flat. It was unique, but it felt cold and calculated. Omar Souleyman remixed 3 of the tracks from the album. The remix of Crystalline elevates it to something that has energy and even picks up the uniqueness quotient. Best Bjork track in awhile.
17. It’s Real – Real Estate
This one of those songs that you just like and don’t know why. It has a hidden charm.
16. We are Young – fun. (Feat Janelle Monae)
Somehow fun. have become popular. They toured with Janelle Monae, get played on the radio, and were covered on Glee. This is the song that changed things for them. An advance single from their album due to be released on my birthday in February. As mentioned earlier it features some of my favorite storytelling set to song this year, and they just released a new video for it.
15. Laut – Lockerbie
Icelandic post-rock bliss.
14. Dirty Paws – Of Monsters and Men
3 of the last 5 songs are from Iceland. Of Monsters and Men released a fantastic debut album this year that borrows heavily from American sounds. I just can’t get enough of Dirty Paws and its animal story.
13. Niggas in Paris – Jay Z and Kanye West
Best hip hop track of the year. That Shit Kray!
12. Blue Jeans – Lana Del Rey
Taken from her upcoming album to be released January 31st, another slow burner that sounds fresh and timeless. “I will love you til the end of time”.
11. I Don’t Know – Kassidy
A classic premise. The getting over you song. But really, can you stop singing along to this? I don’t know. Harmonies, claps, and sing-alongs.
10. Hacienda Motel – Pickwick
A soulful number about the death of Soul legend Sam Cooke. Live versions are fuelled by bring your own tambourine moments and jazz hands.
09. Wicked Games – The Weeknd
Rough and Raw R&B fuelled by more sex and drugs. Another popular theme in music… I am so depressed that I just need you to pretend to love me. A theme that Frightened Rabbit has perfected. “So tell me you love me, Only for tonight, Even though you don’t love me.
08. Get Away – Yuck
This song take me back to high school. A time when rock was noisy, and feedback and distortion were used in abundance. “I want to but I can’t get this feeling off my mind, I want to, I need to.”
07. We are the Tide – Blind Pilot
A simple acoustic rhythm guitar repeated over a lumbering elephant-sounding drum, fleshed out by pedal steel, harmonies, trumpet and harmonies. A sweet and simple song that just makes you feel good. “Everybody on the street is singing like it’s a Sunday”
06. Heart is a Beating Drum – The Kills
Back when I was a kid listening to Nine Inch Nails, I always wanted to use odd everyday samples as rhythms in Rock music. One of those was Ping-Pong balls. Heart is a beating drum uses Ping-Pong samples so perfectly its crazy. “It’s not the door you’re using, but the way you’re walking through it”.
05. Tonight’s the Kind of Night – Noah and the Whale
One of those perfect pop songs. A story of transition. A catchy chorus. A timeless sound. This was my anthem for the year.
04. Midnight City – M83
The pieces of this song come together so well to create a song that is pure 2011. It’s a song to dance to. To run to. To drive to. It’s a song that just fits the year perfectly.
03. The Honest Truth – Typhoon
A complete reworking and rebuild of last year’s “Mouth of the Cave” that turns the 45 second acapella interlude into a 4-minute new-folk anthem. This is a song that dominated the year. One I came back to several times a month.
02. Holocene – Bon Iver
One of the most beautiful sounding songs in a very long time. Seemingly nonsensical lyrics that appear to support the music that builds upon layer upon layer. “…And at once I knew I was not magnificent” A song that stands on its own and supports the magnificent album it hails from.
01. The Wilhelm Scream – James Blake
This song came as a surprise to me. It somehow steals you away from everything else. Blake’s voice has enough sorrow and soul and emotion to captivate you and make you feel what he feels, yet it is purposefully detached as well. And then there is the minimalist beat throughout layered with electronic and organic sounds that eventually erupt into a cacophony of sound that shrinks the world around you, bringing you in deeper. Then it releases you in a flash, and you return, wishing you could go back in.
Thanks for paying attention. Stay tuned for the best albums of the year.