And here’s the entry where I make myself look supremely out of touch with the modern music scene. Eve more so than previous years, when I read all the big music publications’ lists of the best music of 2011, I sat there scratching my head and wondering how I could have been so unaware of so much. Seriously, there’s no point in listing the objectively great music from the past year that I didn’t listen to. The list would be way too long and depressing.
That said, I still listened to a bunch of stuff. BUT FIRST…
My Top 5 Non-2011 Albums I Discovered in 2011
1. Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
For someone who obsesses over ’90s British rock, I don’t know how I missed this for so long. It took a few listens to really get into it, but once I did I fell deeply in love. It’s now my go-to album to listen to when feeling depressed or sad or any variation of the two.
2. Robyn – Body Talk
I was aware that Robyn’s Body Talk trilogy was apparently great back when it was released, so don’t ask me to explain why it took me a year to listen to it. The whole thing is a pop masterpiece. I almost feel like Robyn should retire now, since I don’t see how anyone could top this.
3. The Millennium – Begin
The great forgotten sunshine pop album. This is right up there with some of the best stuff The Beach Boys released.
4. TV on the Radio – Dear Science
Yes, it took me three years to listen to. Yes, it’s fantastic.
5. The Chemical Brothers – Further
I’ve always liked The Chemical Brothers, but I hadn’t checked out their past three albums until I got back into them thanks to the Hanna soundtrack. This, their most recently album, has no obvious singles and no all-star guest vocalists, but as a whole is one of the best things the duo have ever done.
My 25 Favorite Tracks From 2011*
*The rules: one song per artist and the album it originated on has to have been officially released in 2011.
Special Mention: Eric Saade – “Popular”
Yeah, the lyrics are incredibly stupid, but that hasn’t stopped me from listening to it again and again. This could be the new “Everytime We Touch.” Thank you, Sweden. You do pop music right.
25. Radiohead – “Lotus Flower”
I’ll say it: I did not love The King of Limbs. There was a lacking number of standout tracks for me. This was one of the few. Low-key but super groovy. And that video! Thom!
24. The Chemical Brothers – “Escape Wavefold”
My favorite track off the amazing score for Hanna. The scene early on where this track kicked in was the moment I fell in love with the movie.
23. Coldplay – “Hurts Like Heaven”
It might not make me look cool, but the opening five-or-so minutes of Mylo Xyloto are some of the most exhilarating I heard all year.
22. Lykke Li – “Youth Knows No Pain”
Nothing on Wounded Rhymes quite lived up to “Get Some” for me, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a marvelous album. The opening track with its badass organ riff was my favorite of the bunch.
21. Miles Kane – “Come Closer”
This is what I’ve been hoping Kane would do ever since the Last Shadow Puppets album back in 2008. Marvelous ’60s-styled guitar pop.
20. Fleet Foxes – “Sim Sala Bim”
The acoustic guitar freakout at the end clinched it.
19.The Vaccines -“If Ya Wanna”
Regardless of all the hype, this really is the best British guitar-driven rock to come along since Artic Monkeys. It’s about time.
18. TV On the Radio – “Will Do”
There were several other potential options from Nine Types of Light, but the point two-thirds of the way through where the song changes gears and gets extra awesome gave this one the edge.
17. Metronomy – “The Bay”
Those synths. THOSE SYNTHS. The opening 30 seconds blows my mind every time. The rest is pretty great, too.
16. The Sound of Arrows – “Into the Clouds”
This was the year I started regularly reading Popjustice, which led to it being the year I started listening to a lot of Swedish pop. If you were a fan of the Drive soundtrack, you’ll probably dig this.
15. Bombay Bicycle Club – “Shuffle”
Just gonna say, this is so much more fun than “Pumped Up Kicks.” It should have been huge in the U.S. last summer.
14. The Horrors – “Still Life”
It’s been fascinating watching The Horrors rapidly evolve from goth punk to psychedelic New Wave. This is the standout from their excellent new album, and I’d believe it if you told me it was a forgotten classic from the mid-80s.
13. Kasabian – “Days Are Forgotten”
The first twenty seconds of this song combine Bernard Herrmann, Britpop, and Ennio Morricone. Somehow it keeps getting better from there.
12. Nicola Roberts – “Beat of My Drum”
Finally, one of the Girls Aloud members produced a good solo album. Roberts had the good instincts to bring in an amazing lineup of producers, including Diplo, who’s responsible for this song’s amazing beats. And that chorus is just infectious. I’m kind of surprised the hipsters aren’t all over this.
11. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – “If I Had a Gun”
I saw Noel live back in November, and of all the songs on the solo album, this was the one the crowd was ready to sing along with to every word. The best piece of pure songwriting he’s done in ages, with the most chill-inducing chord change I heard all year.
10. Alex Turner – “Piledriver Waltz”
The best song from Turner’s soundtrack to Submarine as well as one of the best on the new Arctic Monkeys album. Some of my favorite lyrics of the year, and this coming from a guy who usually doesn’t care much about lyrics.
9. The Strokes – “Machu Picchu”
As much as I love “Under Cover of Darkness,” this edges it out by being an awesome song plus exploring new territory for The Strokes. It starts as a sort of reggaeish thing and builds to a climax of furious intersecting* guitar riffs and some classic Julian Casablancas vocal cord brutalizing. So, yeah, it kinda rules.
8. Florence + the Machine – “Shake it Out”
I don’t think Ceremonials flows especially well, as the amazing, massive tracks eventually start to blend together. But what amazing, massive tracks they are! This might be the obvious choice, but it really is an incredible, anthemic piece of music. The bit where Florence belts out, “But why the Hellllllll…” might be my favorite vocal she’s ever recorded.
7. Jay-Z and Kanye West – “Otis”
It’s Jay-Z and Kanye rapping over “Try a Little Tenderness.” There’s no chorus, no real verses, only the barest hint of a beat, and the lyrics are as arrogant and materialistic as they come. It’s wonderful. As much as I like Watch the Throne, there’s nothing on there that I enjoy as much as this. Also, there’s at least a dozen amazing, totally quotable lines.
6. Martin Solveig feat. Dragonette – “Hello”
It’s so magnificently simple you’d think it’s been around for years. As far as I’m concerned, there wasn’t a catchier or more fun pop song released all year.
5. Elbow – “Open Arms”
This almost made me tear up the first time I heard it, something that has never happened before with a piece of music. Pretty much the most beautiful, moving song I heard all year.
4. The Lonely Island feat. Michael Bolton – “Jack Sparrow”
This…this is genius. Michael Bolton interrupting a generic club song because he’s so obsessed with Pirates of the Caribbean that he has to keep singing about it? The sheer concept is brilliant. Nothing about this is not funny to me. The totally convincing hip-hop production, Bolton’s insistent additions of “Keira Knightley!” and “Giant squid!”, Akiva Schaffer’s perfect staccato delivery of “Michael Bolton we’re really gonna need you to focus up.” Comedy music is rarely done well. This does it brilliantly.
3. Friendly Fires – “Hawaiian Air”
By a pretty large margin, this and the next two songs were the ones I listened to the most last year. These are the ones that were like addictions, that I’d just loop over and over again for weeks. This was actually my introduction to Friendly Fires (I’ve since gone and listened to their terrific debut album), and so far nothing else they’ve done has made quite as big an impression. Every time I listen to it I relish the split second of silence before the exhilarating force of the opening wave of sound. To me, this is pure aural euphoria that manages to keep getting more exciting as it progresses.
2. Icona Pop – “Nights Like This”
I don’t really know how to sum up my obsession with this song. I mentioned back in October that upon discovering it I listened to it about 100 times in a week. This is everything I could ask for in a dance-pop song: sharp punchy drums, a legitimately headbanging chorus (seriously), and the kind of “ohhhhOOOHHHHH” refrain I have a hard time resisting (see: Coldplay’s entry on the list). I don’t care about the lyrics or what it means or anything like that. I’m in love with it on a purely sonic level, and that’s all I need.
1. Arctic Monkeys – “That’s Where You’re Wrong”
The final four songs on Suck it and See are my favorite music of the year, and maybe the best thing Arctic Monkeys, my favorite currently functioning band, have ever done. My favorite of the bunch changed quite often, but in the end it came down to this, the final track, a perfect piece of wistful, gorgeously melodic guitar pop. Listening to it, I simultaneously feel like it means so many things to me yet I can’t put my finger on any of them. No lyrics this year were branded into my head as intensely as “Don’t take it so personally/you’re not the only one/that time has got it in for, honey/that’s where you’re wrong,” and no guitar riff mesmerized me as much as the one that runs through this song.
What I’m trying to say is…I love it. A whole bunch. I think it’s just swell.
And that is it for music.
UP NEXT: MISCELLANEOUS THINGS