I’m going to be a little less ambitious than last year, when I did a list of my 40 favorite songs of 2010, and just do my 15 favorite songs of 2011. I’ve paired them all with Flickr Commons images (click the photos to find out more about each), and have a couple of legal downloads where available. Enjoy!
[See also: Favorite NYC Concerts of 2011]
15. Other Lives – Tamer Animals
I’m not surprised that out of all the Oklahoma bands I saw while I lived in the state, Other Lives (then known as Kunek) are having the most success. They always had a very serious, professional approach to their symphonic music. The title track of their 2011 album Tamer Animals, is a carefully built wave of piano, percussion, and droning lyrics. (And has an unsettling music video to go with it.) I saw them perform earlier this year at a packed Mercury Lounge and the songs had the whole place in a trance.
Download (right click)
14. Nat Baldwin – Weights
I saw Nat Baldwin open for Chad VanGaalen (who will be making an appearance on this list) at the Music Hall of Williamsburg and was astounded by his performance. It was just him singing and playing the stand up bass, which, actually, doing those two things successfully at once is pretty crazy. I looked up some of his music the next day and found this cool video of him performing the eerie “Weights” in a basketball court in Brooklyn. I hope to have a chance to see him perform again soon.
13. Cut Copy – Need You Now
No, I don’t know what’s going on in the music video, some sort of sports war/Olympics commercial for the future, but perhaps you can’t have dance scenes for every dancey song. The Australian group Cut Copy’s 2011 Zonoscope isn’t quite as unceasingly lively as 2008′s In Ghost Colours, but the album, highlighted by “Need You Now,” is an equally contagious ear worm.
12. Hooray for Earth – True Loves
Sure, I’m a little sad that there are no dancing puppets in Hooray for Earth’s over-the-top music video for the title track of their 2011 album True Loves, like in their euphoric “Surrounded by Your Friends” video, but I forgive them for that. I’ve had this song on repeat for a few months and I imagine that it will be true for many of their songs in the future. Keep an eye on their 80s-minded music, because I think it’s reaching some sort of electro-nirvana.
11. Ravens & Chimes – Carousel
Why are Ravens & Chimes not more popular? They release striking and light indie rock and put on skillful live shows (I saw them open for Other Lives this year, and for Voxtrot in 2010, and their “Division Street” was on my favorites songs of 2010 list). “Carousel” is an winding song with a mesmerizing build. I love it so much I used it as a looping soundtrack for writing one of my latest short stories.
10. Beirut – Santa Fe
Oh Zach Condon, I can’t hate you, even though it would be so easy: you’re younger than me and insanely talented, already releasing three marvelous full length albums as Beirut, including 2011′s The Rip Tide. “Santa Fe” is a catchy song about Condon’s hometown, with plenty of Beirut’s usual brass and Condon’s lovely voice, and a few synths on the side. I got to see Beirut perform much of the new album at this year’s Northside Festival, the perfect music for a summer’s night in Brooklyn.
9. Deer Tick – Main Street
Deer Tick are quickly becoming one of my favorite bands, with their slightly unhinged, raspy rock fueled by old country. I was lucky to see them twice this year, once in an intense show as Deervana, their Nirvana cover band, and another out on Pier 54 as themselves, which meant more intensity, but of the more light hearted variety. “Main Street” is off their 2011 album Divine Providence, and is a steady ballad accompanied by a music video with plenty of dangerous-looking explosions.
8. Wye Oak – Civilian
The Baltimore-duo Wye Oak made my favorites list last year after discovering them late in the music game with “Die,” and they put out another thrilling release this year. Civilian and its title track are captivating from beginning to end, with just enough creepy lyrics about baby teeth to keep me listening over and over.
7. The Decemberists – Down by the Water
I hadn’t been keeping up with the Decemberists’ new music in recent years, although their early album were college listening staples. However, I found myself going to see them in Prospect Park this summer and instantly was enamored with their songs off their 2011 album The King is Dead. “Down by the Water” is my favorite track, with the amazing Gillian Welch on guest vocals and guitar by Peter Buck of R.E.M. (R.I.P.).
6. Destroyer – Suicide Demo for Kara Walker
So seeing Destroyer live for the first time back in April at Webster Hall was a little disappointing. He seemed to sleep walk through the set, used a lyric sheet for his own songs, had a general air of not caring. It also didn’t help that I was seeing him the day after LCD Soundsystem’s legendary final show at Madison Square Garden, a hard act to follow for anyone. But I love Dan Bejar and his wandering voice and will forgive him for just about anything, his music is that good. You might remember I had “Chinatown” from his 2011 loungey album Kaputt on my best songs of 2010 list, as it was released as a single that year, and this year I’m adding “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” to my list of favorite Destroyer songs. Although most of Bejar’s songs make sense only to him, with obscure lyrics and references to his other songs, this song was derived from cue cards the artist Kara Walker sent to Bejar that he chopped up into a skillful collaboration between stark words and glittery sleaze.
5. Patrick Wolf – Together
The real strength of Patrick Wolf’s 2011 album Lupercalia really came out when I saw him play much of it acoustic at le Poisson Rouge. It was my first time to see him live and I wasn’t sure he could pull off the vocals of his albums, but he did not at all disappoint, and was an incredibly charming performer who made me like him even more, which I didn’t think was possible. “Together” was especially good, so much so that I wish he’d recorded the acoustic version for the album instead, which made the celebratory tone of the original version suddenly heartbreaking. But since it’s Patrick Wolf, both versions are of course wonderful. And there’s a music video where he sings it with taxidermy foxes on his shoulders, so of course you want to watch that.
4. The Mountain Goats – The Age of Kings
You know that if the Mountain Goats release an album it’s going to make my favorites list. Not just because they’re one of my most loved bands, but because everything John Darnielle writes continues to be great. I was able to see them play much of their 2011 album All Eternals Deck at the Bowery Ballroom in April and it was just as good played in the large venue as late nights in my headphones. “The Age of Kings” is a stand out track, with sonic layers under Darnielle’s evenly stated, ominous lyrics.
3. Chad VanGaalen – Sara
After obsessing over his music for quite a while, I finally got to see Chad VanGaalen play live this year when he stopped at the Music Hall of Williamsburg to support his new album. He played “Sara” on a guitar he might have built himself. “Sara,” like all of his best songs, has a simple beauty that stays with me.
Download (right click)
2. M83 – Midnight City
M83, the French electronic act mostly headed by Anthony Gonzalez, released another great album this year. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is a sprawling, starry album with the single “Midnight City” being the most addictive track. Once it happened to come up on my iPhone just as I was crossing the Manhattan Bridge one night on the N train. No song released this year is more perfect for speeding across the East River towards the towering glitter of the NYC skyscrapers.
1. The Antlers – No Widows
My favorite song on my favorite album of 2011. The Antlers’ 2011 album Burst Apart may not be as achingly haunting as their 2009 release Hospice, but it’s just as gorgeous and has a rich delicacy. While I love the whole album (and listening to whole albums is a rarity for me these Pandora/Spotify days), “No Widows” is instantly transporting no matter how many times I listen to it. I was also lucky enough to see them play a free “secret” show at the Ace Hotel this year, after seeing them play on Pier 54 in 2010. I can’t wait to hear what music they’ll create next.