Beer and Pavement

Twenty Best Songs of 2011

Posted in MoL, Records by SM on December 7, 2011

I don’t always do lists for best song, but I’ve paid particular attention to a few that have drilled holes into my brain and set up permanent residence. Most are the regulars but some might surprise. Also, I’m ranking art, y’all.

1. “Senator” – Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – This, unsurprisingly is a sign of things to come, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why no one is on this bandwagon. Just listen to the song.

2. “Another State” – Dee Bird – Here’s a local song that I haven’t been able to get out of my head all year. It’s simple, lovely, and connected to this past summer’s visit from the cicadas. One-half of the twindie duo Dubb Nubb creates easily my favorite local track in years.

3. “Rubber” – Yuck  – Shoegazing, drugged, grungy, feedback-riddled, slacker rock just makes me feel 18 again. Yuck are great nineties revivalists that have captured the decade of my youth and for that, I am eternally grateful. BTW, the video is NSFW. Also considered “The Wall”

4. “Gangsta” – Tune-Yards – Tune-Yards has masterfully figured out how to make dance-able indie rock, utilizing big beats, emo vocals, and the essential loud-quiet-loud dynamic. Although I came into possession of this album late, the songs have been running in my head all year. “Gangsta” is a standout. Also considered: “Bizness”

5. “Michael Jackson” – Das Racist – I like humor and weirdness in my hip-hop. I also like a hook. “Michael Jackson” has it all. After 3 hours of Jay-Z and Kanye West, all I could hear in my head was this track.

6. “Future Crimes” – Wild Flag – This song is just so full of angst and urgency. It makes me uncomfortable in my skin. It makes me want to dance. For me, this is the highlight of one of the year’s best albums. Also considered: “Romance”

7. “Mother” – Wye Oak (cover) – This one was from the A.V. Club’s Undercover series where bands passing through would record a song from a list of suggestions. Wye Oak eventually released this one as well as their first Undercover appearance playing a Kinks song. Also considered: “Holy Holy”

8. “Go Outside” – Cults – For my money, this was the song of the summer. Isn’t going outside all we want to do when it’s so nice out and we have to sit inside working all day?

9. “Ni**as in Paris” – Jay-Z/Kanye West – This is a pretty wicked song that the duo played like three times to close out their show in Kansas City.  There’s also the perfectly timed and placed sample from Blades of Glory. (NSFW) Also considered “Otis”

10. “Helplessness Blues” – Fleet Foxes – Epic and sprawling, the title track from this year’s Fleet Foxes release all of that and a bag of granola. The sentiment is a bit sappy, but as with most FF tracks, it’s all in the vocal performances. This album faded for me down the stretch, but this track stood strong.

11. “Shell Games” – Bright Eyes – It’s been a long while since I would have ranked a Bright Eyes song so high on a year-end list. The album is really uneven, but when Conor Oberst gets a song right, he really gets it right. The song’s so upbeat for a Bright Eyes track that it’s almost a pop crossover hit.

12. “Ice Cream” – Battles – I can stand Battles in small doses, but those doses are pretty incredible. This song is so bizarre that it appeals to that teenage, indie geek inside me. (NSFW)

13. “Video Games” – Lana Del Ray – OK. Let’s ignore all the hype and debate over her authenticity. This song took the world – indie and otherwise – by storm this year. It’s haunting and beautiful with a highly contemporary narrative. Yes, I’ve fallen for it as well. I probably won’t buy the album, but I’ll listen to this song whenever possible.

14. “America!” – Bill Callahan – I got to see Bill Callahan this summer in Washington, D.C. and this song stuck out. For some reason, I haven’t picked up this record. That may have to be rectified in the coming weeks.

15. “Perth” Bon Iver – Justin Vernon outgrew his cabin in the woods with this one. I mean, there are actual electric guitars in there. Some of his latest effort strayed from the cabin fever he spread across the land his first time out, but even with some electric guitars this track shows Vernon at his atmospheric best.

16. “My Mistakes” – Eleanor Friedberger – This song should describe the conversation I had with Eleanor Friedberger . Nonetheless, this song translates well live, but it doesn’t have to as it’s just a great rock song.

17. “Wake and Be Fine” – Okkervil River – Somehow, I’ve forgotten about this album over the course of the year. Luckily, I remember being pretty excited for its release when this video was released. The big sound played well with the video’s cinematography.

18. “Try to Sleep” – Low – Low really hit it out of the park with this year’s release. “Try to Sleep” was probably the closest they’ll ever come to a hit. It’s sleepy and melodic, much more upbeat than their usual shtick. Also considered “Witches”

19. “For the One” – Waters – Port O’Brien broke up and another narrative was born when Waters was thought up. “For the One” is what Port O’Brien sounded like had they wanted to rock. The Waters album as a whole does not always deliver, but the first single does.

20. “Santa Fe” – Beirut – For several albums, I’ve been curious what Beirut would sound like when not emulating the music and culture of wherever his muse was residing at the time. “Santa Fe” is that song.

As always, what did I forget? What are you favorite songs of 2011?

12 Responses

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  1. Mike said, on December 7, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Nice list. Bill Callahan’s album is worth picking up. “America” would be one of the honorable mentions if I had only five desert island songs from 2011:

    Mister Heavenly’s “Bronx Sniper”
    Kurt Vile’s “Jesus Fever”
    Fucked Up’s “Queen of Hearts”
    War on Drugs’ “Come to the City”
    Wilco’s “I Might”

    • Zac said, on December 7, 2011 at 9:06 am

      That’s a good list for me to consider furthert. I almost included the War on Drugs track. It just missed, possibly from not spending enough time with it. That Kurt Vile track is everywhere. I like him, but there’s something about this song and album that doesn’t wow me. Wilco maybe deserves a look, but I was somewhat disappointed with the last couple of releases despite everyone telling me how great they were. I’m just not into Fucked Up’s screaming. That basically leaves the Mister Heavenly track, one I haven’t heard.

      • Mike said, on December 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm

        Yeah, Fucked Up’s screaming isn’t for everyone, and it’s not something you can just look beyond. If you can embrace his voice, everything they’ve put out is rewarding.

        I loved Wilco up through Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but their post YFH albums have been overly self-indulgent, incredibly boring and inconsistent, respectively. Their new one, though, is worth a listen; I like to think of it as sort of an alternate post-YHF trajectory album; the album that, in retrospect, they should have made instead of A Ghost is Born.

        And if you check out Mister Heavenly, I only give the stamp of approval to “Bronx Sniper;” the rest of the album is sort of nutty doo-wop, which is fine but kind of novelty.

  2. jeffmenter said, on December 7, 2011 at 9:01 am

    • Zac said, on December 7, 2011 at 9:07 am

      That is a pretty good song. Of course, you suggesting TMBG is like me putting SM&J at the top of the list.

  3. jeffmenter said, on December 7, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Jonathan Coulton released an album this year. It’s probably too poppy for you but JoCo is pretty damn indie. (By indie I mean a musician who is independent of record label pressures rather than the aesthetic whatever that means.)

    • Zac said, on December 7, 2011 at 12:20 pm

      Yeah, too poppy/cheesy for my taste, but it’s plenty indie.

      • jeffmenter said, on December 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm

        Cheesy? Lyrics like:

        “This bad coffee’s filling me with equal parts joy and rage” and “And I am still sort of amazed that you can be born in the nineties” are genius.

      • Zac said, on December 7, 2011 at 12:57 pm

        For me, yes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t think they’re genius.

        Try this on for size:

        The Nets could go 0-82 and I look at you like this sh*t gravy
        Ball so hard, this sh*t weird
        We ain’t even spose to be here,
        Ball so hard, Since we here
        It’s only right that we be fair
        Psycho, I’m liable to be go Michael
        Take your pick, Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, Game 6
        -Jay-Z – “Ni**as in Paris”


        The toxins American made
        Weapons-class gray sludge for migrants
        Dioxin the chemical sunset
        The number one subset of all

        I know what the senator wants
        What the senator wants is a blow job
        I know what the senator wants
        What the senator wants is a blow job
        -Stephen Malkmus – “Senator”

        For my money, that’s genius.

      • jeffmenter said, on December 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm

        I don’t even know what that first one is on about.

      • Zac said, on December 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm

        It’s about what a cool cat Jay-Z is even when his basketball team can’t win a game. And he’s cool b/c he’s worked so hard to get where he is. He’s driven – almost psycho – like other greats. He cites great Michael’s like Jackson, Tyson, and Jordan who were also so driven that they were almost mad about success. Game 6 references the last game Jordan played for the Bulls where he hit the winning shot.

  4. […] River – I Am Very Far As I was considering my favorite tracks of the year, I rediscovered “Wake and Be Fine” on another list of top songs. It made me want to […]

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