Last Updated at 11:00 a.m. on 2/14/12
Believe it or not, compared to some past years, I’m early in finishing up my favorites list for the year that was. Having to go through a year’s worth of compilations, albums (digital and hard copy) that I both loved and forgot about, and listen (again) to random 2011-era mp3s in my always-expanding music library on my laptop takes some time. Then there’s the fact that every January I find out about some really great stuff I somehow missed out on during the 12 months of the previous year.
So after listening to hundreds of new songs over the last 13 months, I’ve weeded down my list of favorite 2011 tunes from somewhere in the 70s to 50. I did not include any covers, which helped me narrow down my list. And I did not rank my picks either. How I feel about a given song can change by the day or mood, so there’s no point in putting a permanent ranking beside each song.
Instead, all 50 songs are grouped in alphabetical order, by the last name of the artist (even if you see the first name first). Instead of rankings, songs that meant more to me than others have a bit of commentary beside them.
So without further delay, here are my favorite 50 tunes of 2011.
1. Active Child “Playing House (w/How To Dress Well)”
2. Ryan Adams “Lucky Now” – I dug this tune so much that I did my own version of it late last year as part of a solo acoustic/electric set at a local (Boston) bar. The dude just can’t stop writing great songs.
3. Adele “Rolling In The Deep”
4. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead “The Wasteland”
5. Anthrax “The Devil You Know”
6. Beach Fossils “What A Pleasure”
7. Best Coast “Sunny Adventure”
8. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears “You Been Lyin’”
9. Black Keys “Money Maker” – I could have picked lead single “Lonely Boy” or pretty much any other track from El Camino, the Ohio duo’s latest record (which is all aces). However, the soft but cool talk box guitar solo on this track separated itself from the pack.
10. Bon Iver “Perth”
11. Buffalo Tom ”She’s Not Your Thing”
12. Lindsey Buckingham “In Our Own Time” – Age may never slow this guitar wizard down. His aggressive, guitar-stabbing style kicks ass, and mixed with other and more intricate melodies, this track is truly impressive (especially live).
13. Cake “Long Time”
14. The Cars “Blue Tip” – 2011 was the year Ric Ocasek finally came back to the group he co-founded in the 1970s to record and release Move Like This, the first Cars album in 24 years. This track proves he can still write instant synth-pop gems. If only Benjamin Orr was alive today to be part of this welcomed reunion.
15. Catwalk “One By Words”
16. Chickenfoot “Three And A Half Letters (I Need A Job)” – This is a timely, lyrically heartbreaking but musically muscular song by this supergroup (ex-members of Van Halen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, & Joe Satriani) about veterans returning home from war and your average middle-class laid off neighbor pleading for help in joining the workforce once again.
17. Chris Cornell “The Keeper”
18. Clams Casino “I’m God” – I didn’t discover this New Jersey-based DJ until last month while listening to a local college radio station, and am glad I did. This is a gorgeous, calming and cool electronic tune that skillfully samples Imogen Heap’s “Just For Now.”
19. Death Cab For Cutie ”Unobstructed Views” – Somewhere Brian Eno is smiling and enjoying this bit of headphones music bliss.
20. Death Cab For Cutie “You Are A Tourist” – Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla play more piano and keyboards now than in years past, but show here that they will never totally abandon their trademark angular, guitar-based rock.
21. Destroyer “Chinatown”
22. Explosions In The Sky “Trembling Hands” – This is just tremendous, soaring progressive instrumental rock at its finest.
23. Field Mouse “Glass”
24. Fleet Foxes “Helplessness Blues”
25. Foo Fighters “White Limo”
26. Fucked Up “The Other Shoe”
27. Gold Panda “MBP”
28. PJ Harvey “Written On The Forehead” – It’s like vintage Cocteau-Twins, only weirder.
29. Joy Formidable “Whirring”
30. The Lonely Island “Turtleneck & Chain (f/Snoop Dog)”
31. M83 “Midnight City”
32. Maritime “Annihilation Eyes”
33. Mastodon “Curl of the Burl”
34. Mastodon “Spectrelight”
35. Memory Tapes “Wait In The Dark”
36. Thurston Moore “Benediction” – Sonic Youth may be no more, but this pretty, Beck-produced acoustic-based track suffices for now.
37. My Morning Jacket “You Wanna Freak Out” – Jim James and cohorts always seem to find new ways to incorporate little bits of country to their brand of rock. This one has such elements (steel guitar) and somehow they naturally fit in with the hard-edged fuzz box-laced guitar riffs that take this fine track to its apex.
38. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds “The Good Rebel” – Whether with Oasis or now this new group, Gallagher always wrote very good b-sides, and this tune is no exception.
39. Pentagram “8”
40. Puro Instinct “Stilyagi” – This indie act is the female answer to Wild Nothing.
41. Radiohead “Give Up The Ghost” – It’s eerie, yet soothing. Only these guys could pull something like that off.
42. Real Estate “Wonder Years” – It’s impossible not to just like, if not 100% love this delicate indie pop gem.
43. Paul Simon “The Afterlife”
44. Skysaw “Capsized Jacknifed Crisis” – In his new band, the gifted ex-Smashing Pumpkins drummer alternates between his impossibly fast stick work and “Tonight, Tonight”-style rhythms on this brilliant slice of pop rock.
45. Smashing Pumpkins “Owata” – The live (and more raw) version is still better, but it’s nice to finally have a studio version of this unusually sunny tune from Billy Corgan.
46. Teddybears “Cardiac Arrest (f/Robyn)”
47. Twilight Singers “On The Corner” – Greg Dulli (ex-Afghan Whigs) is back with another intensely powerful rocker that also happens to have some of the best bass lines of the past year.
48. Tom Waits “Hell Broke Luce (w/Keith Richards & Flea)” – There is no misprint here. This is one heck of an allstar collaboration, and features Waits angrier (about war) than ever.
49. Lucinda Williams “Buttercup.”
50. Yuck “Shook Down” – Sugary sweet pop from yesteryear.