It brings me great pleasure to welcome you to Faronheit’s Listmas 2011! For a couple weeks in December, the forward progress goes on hold to take a step backwards and examine the past year in music. Specifically speaking, this week marks the Top 50 Songs of 2011 countdown, and next week will be the Top 50 Albums of 2011. In the earliest Listmas editions dating all the way back to 2008, I’d also break down my favorite EPs, TV shows, movies, music videos and worst albums into lists, but most of that just doesn’t quite jive with the content you’d find on the site regularly, so those elements have been cut. If you want more information on those, email me and I’ll be more than happy to send those lists your way. I’ve got a couple special things planned beyond the two main lists I’ll be counting down as well, so keep an eye out for those when they emerge. In the meantime, we’ve got some hefty (but fun) business at hand. Coming up with a list of 50 and only 50 songs out of any given year is a monstrous task, particularly when you think about all the albums, EPs and 7″ singles that get unleashed week after week. After digging through pile after pile and sifting out only the songs that really stuck with me, I very well could have extended this list to 100 or more. Instead we’re left with only 50, and I’d like to think that makes them the best of the best.
There’s a reason why this list uses the word “song” and not “single”, and that’s because while commercially released singles are often the most pleasing to the ear, they’re not necessarily the best song on any given album or EP or sometimes even 7″ single (a b-side could hypothetically be better than the a-side single). If I start throwing around the word “single” when talking about this list, that limits it to what the commercial market dictates and not necessarily what quality does. Granted, many of the songs you’ll see here are also singles and have places where you can stream them or watch music videos made for them. If an mp3, audio stream or video is available for any of the songs on this list, I will do my best to link to it for your downloading/streaming/viewing pleasure. If you haven’t heard some of these songs before, naturally I encourage you to check them out in whatever way you can. It’s also worth noting that while some albums/EPs/7″ singles have a wealth of great material on them, I’m only allowing one song per artist on this list. The hope is to diversify as much as possible while also giving a little bit of credit to some of those “one hit wonders” that may have wowed with one song and then sucked with the rest. By that same token, some artists have crafted such perfection in terms of an entire record that choosing a single song from it feels a little criminal and distracting from the rest of it. Some albums are meant to be heard as one whole rather than broken down into three minute chunks. If we get to the end of this Top 50 Songs list and the artist responsible for your favorite album of 2011 doesn’t show up for some reason, I assure you I probably didn’t forget but instead couldn’t pick a single song because they were all so great. As a twist on that though, sometimes even the best albums have a song or two that jumps out at you just a touch more than the rest. You will get at least a touch of insight into some things that will appear on my Top 50 Albums list next week though. Try not to read too much into that, you may wind up deceived when this is all over. Okay, enough talking, let’s get right into the list. At a rate of 10 songs per day, here are numbers 50-41 on my list of the Top 50 Songs of 2011.
50. The Strokes – Under Cover of Darkness
Everyone thought that “Angles” was going to be a big comeback record for The Strokes, primarily based on hearing this one song. Upon hearing the rest of the album, it was almost immediately apparent that wouldn’t be the case. Still, “Under Cover of Darkness” is one of the band’s best tracks in recent memory, and addictive enough to earn a place (albeit last place) on this list.
49. Deerhoof – The Merry Barracks (mp3)
Deerhoof is one of those bands that has been putting out consistently great material for years, but they never get the recognition they deserve for it, primarily because excellence has become expected of them. They’re also not the easiest band to fall in love with, as most of their material can be considered “difficult”. Out of love and a reminder of Deerhoof’s greatness, “The Merry Barracks” is the best and most delightful thing on the band’s latest record “Deerhoof vs. Evil”.
48. The Decemberists – This Is Why We Fight
Though “The King is Dead” marked a great step back in the right direction for The Decemberists after the overbearing concept/rock opera that was “The Hazards of Love”, their lighter alt-country shift felt a little slight and bland on the whole. That said, there are a handful of rather good songs on the album, “This Is Why We Fight” being the most potent and exciting of the bunch.
47. Friendly Fires – Live Those Days Tonight
Sometimes you need to just ignore the idea of innovative and challenging music and let the beat take the wheel. Friendly Fires aren’t the most brilliant band in the world, but they know how to write a great dance track. Their debut album was filled to the brim with them, and their latest “Pala” is just as great. “Live Those Days Tonight” kicks the whole thing off and immediately throws things into high gear. It sounds even better when performed live.
46. Neon Indian – Polish Girl
The lighthearted party vibes and day-glo memories of the 80s that permeated Neon Indian’s debut album largely disappeared on his second record, a much darker and more serious (though sonically more focused) affair. “Polish Girl” is a song about loss and heartbreak, complete with rapid-fire stream-of-consciousness lyrics in the verses. But two things truly sell this song: the 6 wordless plinks on the keyboard that consistently pop up, and the main chorus hook that builds tension you just have to relieve on the dance floor.
45. Bon Iver – Holocene (mp3)
I’m prepared to read your angry comments over the placement of “Holocene” (or any Bon Iver song) so low on this list. Please read this less as a comment on how I feel about the record it’s on and more about how tough it is for me to pick a single Bon Iver song to include on this list at all. Very few things about that self-titled album stand out to me, and it was the gorgeous music video reminiscent of Sigur Ros and Iceland that sold me on this particular track. It’s a very understated and humbling track, and deserves to hold an underrated and humble spot on this list.
44. Active Child – Hanging On
From that very distinctive falsetto to the intricate harp melodies he crafts, Pat Grossi aka Active Child did some great work on his full length debut “You Are All I See” earlier this year. While most of the songs on the record are very precious and beautiful, “Hanging On” manages to take those elements and apply them to an anthemic R&B structure. I’ve never heard anything quite like it, and it packs such an emotional punch I get goosebumps every time that chorus comes around.
43. Kurt Vile – Baby’s Arms
Okay, so you may have heard “Baby’s Arms” in a commercial or two. Or three. Before any of that happened though, this ramshackle acoustic ballad was opening up Kurt Vile’s latest album “Smoke Ring for My Halo”. It speaks to the power of relationships, and how when the rest of the world leaves you out in the cold, your partner is the one person that will give you shelter from the storm. Being pretty catchy and quietly beautiful doesn’t hurt this song in the least either.
42. Tennis – Take Me Somewhere
One of the great delights of “Take Me Somewhere” is how unorthodox it is while still maintaining a very familiar feel to it. The first half of the song is like a lackadaisical soundtrack to some classic home movies of your vacation to some sandy beach town. Simply viewing those memories brings the itch to have another adventure, and that’s when the second half takes off like a ship reaching open waters. The tempo shifts sharply upward to a level best described as “jangly”, and you can practically feel a saltwater mist spray into your face. This is one song that’s essential summer listening, or at least great listening for when you want it to feel like summer again.
41. Youth Lagoon – July (mp3)
Given that Youth Lagoon’s debut album “The Year of Hibernation” is essentially a bedroom pop project, you’d expect it to be relatively meek and quiet as so many bedroom-recorded albums are these days. But that doesn’t stop Trevor Powers, the man behind the name, from shooting for the stars. “July” is an incredible track for how it so skillfully builds from a very somber organ and vocal combination into this massive anthem that incorporates everything from bells to keyboards to drums and electric guitar. His vocals soar and go into the red, and 5 minutes later when it’s all wrapped up, you’re left bewildered, wondering exactly how that song went from Point A to Point B. Just imagine what he’ll be able to do with an actual recording budget.
TOMORROW: Top 50 Songs of 2011: #40-31!