TOP TEN SONGS OF 2011

Starting today, I’ll be counting down my ten favorite songs of the year along with my good buddy over at Hope & Anchor. My only rules are that the songs must have appeared on an album released in 2011, and that no band can have more than one song on the list. Check back over the next two weeks as I’ll be releasing one song per day, leading up to my Top 25 Albums of the Year. On with the countdown!

#10: Youth Lagoon/ 17

The more I started putting this list together, I had to give credit to the songs that really stuck with me or that I had a tough time getting out of my head. This one to me has the best melody through the chorus of any song on The Year of Hibernation, the debut album from Youth Lagoon. I also find the lyrics to be some of the most affecting and I absolutely love the way it builds and releases. All of the songs are like that on the album, but this one does the best job in my opinion of showing off that structure dynamic. And the fact that it starts as softly as any makes the coda that much more powerful, yet frontman Trevor Powers still sings with such a hopeless, nonchalant tone.

#9: Panda Bear/ Slow Motion

Noah Lennox is a master of building layers of sound around repetitive electronica. “Slow Motion” is surely as repetitive as anything he’s ever done, but it enters new territory for him thanks to its dark, unsettling tone and its heavy beats. An eerie electronic keyboard loop is backed by Lennox’s echoed vocals and a pouding snare as the track rolls and evolves.

#8: WU LYF/ We Bros

The cascading centerpiece of WU LYF’s intriguing debut never takes a second to rest, evolving from a slow, lush intro of reverb into textures of heavy percussion and melodic, provocative chorus lines. The song is just so anthemic, and draws structural influence from indie rock bands like Wolf Parade while creating atmospheric guitar sounds reminiscent of Explosions In The Sky. The result? A sound all its own.

#7: Fucked Up/ One More Night

This could be the very most intense and emotional moment on an album loaded with them. Lead singer Pink Eyes’ voice sounds especially tortured here, almost as though he’s swallowed an entire case full of broken beer bottles, all while distorted guitar swirls beneath him. And yet, the song still maintains a strong sense of melody, especially as female vocals add depth and harmony through the crushing release.

#6: Radiohead/ Lotus Flower

Radiohead’s somewhat polarizing The King of Limbs caught fans by surprise, but with “Lotus Flower” we received a song in the same vein as many of the band’s classics that we know and love. Unsettling minor chords open and combine with a propulsive bass line and Yorke’s famous falsetto as the track winds and weaves through its many layers. The band sounds as all-together and effortless as ever and for added effect, there’s the somewhat creepy, mildly humorous and definitely badass video.

#5: Fleet Foxes/ Helplessness Blues

The full, rich sound of the acoustic strum that resonates throughout the strong title track from Fleet Foxes’ sophomore album gains additional complexities as it evolves. Halfway through, the track slows down and gains an orchestral atmosphere fit for a sunrise, and leadman Robin Pecknold meditates on the hopes and fears of his future, singing “And I know, I know you will keep me on the shelf/ I’ll come back to you someday soon myself”. There’s an undeniable warming quality to this song.

#4: The Rapture/ How Deep Is Your Love

The lone bright spot on the Rapture’s otherwise disappointing In The Grace of Your Love LP, “How Deep Is Your Love” reminds us what these guys are capable of when they are hitting on all cylinders. A driving, ominous piano loop creates an unsettling underbelly throughout its entirety, but it’s really in the song’s second half, when frantic, maniacal horn elements creep in, that it reaches its full potential. This is a dance track to be sure, but it maintains that same air of darkness that made the band’s earlier work so mandatory.

#3: M83/ Steve McQueen

In all honesty, this spot could easily have gone to “Midnight City”, another standout track from Anthony Gonzalez’s epic double album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. But I’ll give the nod instead to “Steve McQueen”,  a massive textural demonstration of tension and release that is held together by its dominating percussion arrangements. Seriously, listen to the drum patterns through the coda as heavenly synth swirls above and Gonzalez wails “Just waiting, just waiting.” It’s quite a glorious moment.

#2: Gang Gang Dance/ Mind Killah

Of all the tracks on Gang Gang Dance’s magnum opus Eye Contact, this one packs by far the most energy and intensity behind the piercing vocals of lead singer/ guru Lizzi Bougatsos. The main riff is a distorted electric guitar that sounds like a laser beam from space which hits hard as the dominant element here, while tribal percussion beats change the tempo multiple times and ultimately turn this into a full blown jam out session. For being as dark and intense as it is, “Mind Killah” sure is a ton of fun through its sing-along chorus.

#1: Bon Iver/ Towers

The most upbeat and immediate track on Bon Iver’s landmark sophomore record, “Towers’ begins with a folky acoustic riff and Justin Vernon’s sweet falsetto. That’s all we get (and all we need) until the song’s halfway point, when the melody shifts completely and a violin comes in to add depth and power. Much like the rest of the album, every note on “Towers” is meaningful and perfectly placed. The transition from this bridge back to the original melody is executed with effortless precision, as the violin combines with the original guitar line and the song concludes just as softly as it began.

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