My 50 Favorite Songs of 2011

Wahoo! With the end of the year comes the annual tradition where I share my favorite songs of the past 12 months with you. It’s an opportunity to learn some new songs/bands, as well as laugh at my taste. It’s also an opportunity to kill your browser when it takes forever to load… YOU’RE WELCOME.

Each year as I compile this list, I note a new trend in how my musical preferences are skewing. Last year I was more into mainstream and R&B, but this year is a return to indie acts. There’s a bunch with male and female vocalist harmonizing and plenty of sing-along choruses.

This post is set up so you can sample/download songs individually (click play or share then download), or you can download them all as a ZIP file here. As always, the best way to support artists is to buy their music… hopefully by discovering them here, you’ll go out and do that on ITunes or something.

50. Over My Dead Body – Drake

This song is a clever and insightful look into the life of Drake, the man who puts the word “artist” in hip hop artist.

49. Louder Than Ever – Cold War Kids

The Cold War Kids are consistently good, so it was difficult choosing a favorite song from this year’s album. I suppose this is the track I play louder than ever, however.

48. The Honest Truth – Typhoon

I’m not going to lie, this song starts out a little slow, a little typical, but by the time it swells into a massive sing-along and the horns come in, the payoff is well worth the wait.

47. Under Cover of Darkness – The Strokes

It’s been five years since we’ve had a new Strokes album, but some things never change. It’s a new CD, but the same old Strokes style – and I like it.

46. Arms – Christina Perri

Though the song is slightly irritating due to its saccharine qualities, it’s one that got stuck in my head more than I care to admit. Besides, if Vanessa Carlton isn’t around to write this kind of song anymore, who will?

45. Lipstick – Jedward

Not many Americans will be familiar with the mischievous twins Jedward (John and Edward) who gained infamy on the UK’s X-Factor for staying long past their talent warranted. Nonetheless, the duo turned out a legitimately catchy song (in the best guilty pleasure kind of way) while representing Ireland in this year’s Eurovision contest.

44. Moonlight to Sunrise – Electric Valentine

Electric Valentine is a fun electronica band that puts on a great live show. This acoustic track is a vast departure from the rest of their music, but there’s something excellent in its simplicity.

43. Get in Line – I’m from Barcelona

I’m a sucker for an unreasonably large band, so with 29 members, I’m from Barcelona is a favorite of mine. When you have this many people singing and playing instruments, how can it not be a good time?

42. Good Feeling – Flo Rida

Sure, he caught my attention a few years ago with his Apple Bottom jeans and, more importantly, boots with the fur, but I wouldn’t have guessed one of his songs would become something that I genuinely like. The rapping’s all right, but it’s the Etta James sample that really makes this track. Respect your elders and use them well!

41. Cough Syrup – Young the Giant

Playing on the usual conventions that make alternative music enjoyable, Young the Giant made a song that goes down as smooth as cough syrup.

40. Estate Sign Sale – The Mountain Goats

I’m the first to admit that the Mountain Goats’s sound is more of an acquired taste. But I’ve got to give credit to my fellow Pitzer alum – the passion in his music is palpable, with this song being no exception.

39. Icarus – BASTILLE

BASTILLE is a new alterna-pop band coming out of London. BASTILLE still hasn’t released a full-length album yet, but I expect big things from the act. In fact, I know you’ll hear from BASTILLE again… much higher on this countdown.

38. Super Bass – Nicki Minaj

She’s received accolades for a while now, but “Super Bass” is the song that shot her from a featured performer to a superstar in her own right. This hit proves she can spit rhymes in a pop-friendly manner, too.

37. Paradise – Coldplay

The song starts out like your typical Coldplay fare, but once it reaches the midway point and the chorus offers up an infectious “Para-para-paradise”, it’s not hard to admit you’ve been suckered in.

36. Getting Me Down – Blawan

With all due respect to Brandy (so… a moderate amount?), I don’t think Brandy could make this good of a Brandy song anymore. Taking a 90s sample of a Brandy song and combining it with a subtle beat, Blawan has created the ideal club jam.

35. Berlin Wall – The Heavenly States

I never thought I’d be nostalgic for the Berlin Wall – truthfully, I don’t even know much about it – but this song has me interested. Every song I’ve heard by The Heavenly States is well-crafted, so check them out.

34. S&M – Rihanna

You’ve got to admire how Rihanna doesn’t just not shy away from sex, she throws it in your face with this raunchy hit. Even if chains and whips don’t excite you as much as it does Rihanna, it’s still an enjoyable song.

33. Expanding Anyway – Morning Teleportation

I enjoy the vocal trill the lead singer does on the verses, the staccato bounciness is reminiscent of a stone skipping on water. It pairs quite well with the slow shouting in the choruses.

32. What the Hell? – Avril Lavigne

I’m an unapologetic fan of Lavigne, as well as a fan of this unapologetic song about wanting to sow her wild oats. (I wonder if it stings her ex-husband from Sum41.) Sure, it’s still got some of Lavigne’s trademark brat in it, but it’s clear she’s come a long way in her songwriting from the “Sk8r Boi” days.

31. Lovers’ Carvings - Bibio

I’m not usually a fan of music without many lyrics (how can I sing along?), but I’ll make an exception for Bibio’s well-orchestrated songs. This song in particular starts out simply, then halfway through transitions to a poppy, peppy tune.

30. Squealing Pigs – Admiral Fallow

A bouncy, ho-down type song that got a deserved re-release this year. While I’m not sure the male and female’s harmonies come together that well, it’s the imperfection that sticks with you and will have you singing the chorus well after listening.

29. Little Talks – Of Monsters and Men

Because it’s time Iceland had a well-known musician other than Bjork! The back-and-forth between the vocalists is cute, and the “hey!”s that get peppered throughout are a real mood booster.

28. Colours – Grouplove

There’s something about the stuttering in this song that’s enjoyable. You don’t have to be a kindergartener to have fun listing colors (sorry, colours) when this song is playing.

27. Shake It Out – Florence & the Machine

I feared that the mainstream would turn Florence’s “Dog Days Are Over” into a one-hit wonder, but this equally enchanting song is helping to cement her presence. Commanding without going too far over-the-top, I’m down to shake it out with her.

26. Get It Daddy – Sleeper Agent

Borrowing some elements from punk without straying over too far from pop/rock, this knee-slapping sing-along from an emerging Kentucky band is worth your attention.

25. Call Your Girlfriend – Erato

Maybe this spot should go to the brilliant Robyn who originally performed this song, but I’m even more taken with Erato’s simple, harmonious cover of the boyfriend-stealing anthem. Accompanied only by table tapping, the women of Erato are pitch perfect and give the song a more somber point of view than Robyn dance song offers.

24. Katy on a Mission – Katy B

Katy B’s sweet voice is on just about every dubstep song you can find lately. However, I’m most taken by this lead single from her solo album about navigating her way through a dance club. Kind of an obvious narrative, sure, but sing what you know… and sing it as well as Katy B.

23. Novacane – Frank Ocean

Ocean is this year’s smooth-voiced R&B singer to watch. If this song were released in the 90s, it’d have been a top ten jam. While Ocean’s rise to fame hasn’t exactly been meteoric or anything, I wouldn’t count him out just yet: he’s got the pipes.

22. There Is No Sun – I’m from Barcelona

Contrary to the song’s title, there is plenty of sun when the massive chorus of I’m from Barcelona sings. These fine folks always put me in a good mood.

21. Hooked – Mayer Hawthorne

When I first heard this song, I assumed it was a Motown hit from decades ago that I wasn’t familiar with. Imagine my surprise to learn that it’s Hawthorne’s apparent ode to our favorite soulful jams. This song could lead a modern Motown revival; I’m digging it.

20. Take Off Your Shirt – Bibio

Though Bibio’s music is generally instrumental with sparse vocals, the act’s attempt at a genuine rock song is a certain success. You’d think they specialized in this style given the addictive results.

19.212 - Azealia Banks

Banks may bill herself as a rapper, but she can sing in so many interesting styles with her voice, I wouldn’t want to pigeonhole her. “212” showcases a bunch of different vocal approaches, all of which show remarkable talent. In fact, the song is so pleasant to the ears that it’s easy to overlook that the lyrics are super filthy.

18. Rolling in the Deep – Adele

Those in the know have been paying attention to Adele for a while now, but it’s no surprise that this great song would catapult her to superstardom. It proves that a song can highlight strong vocals (something pop radio generally lacks) without being just another boring ballad.

17. I Follow Rivers – Lykke Li

She may look like a timid, diminutive Swedish girl, but make no mistake: Li is a musical powerhouse. She always manages to do inventive thing with her music without losing her indie sensibilities. While her whole album is great, this track is the standout.

16. Why I Love You – Jay-Z & Kanye West

Though the duo’s collaborative album has gotten middling reviews, you can’t deny a hook this contagious. The interplay between their raps works well here, too.

15. We Found Love – Rihanna & Calvin Harris

Everyone wants to work with Rihanna, and who can blame ‘em? Good things come from her collaboration, with this song being no exception. But it’s Harris’s dance arrangement that really makes this song shine, complete with – as some pointed out to me – the song climaxing into a musical orgasm near the end of the song.

14. The Edge of Glory – Lady Gaga

Making a dance-backed power ballad that tops “Bad Romance” may not be an achievable feat, but Gaga shows she can pen more songs that entertain in the same way. Out of a bunch of good tracks on Born This Way, this one is the standout.

13. Headlines – Drake

I like Drake and really respect that he released a subdued song like this one for his first single rather than something super flashy. The content is still there, making for satisfying listening.

12. Lonely Boy – The Black Keys

Even great bands are guilty of having many of their songs sound alike, but I’m constantly impressed how each of the Black Keys’s songs has its own distinct sound. This lead single demonstrates the band’s creativity and range. If you haven’t checked out the jolly fellow who dances to this song in the video, do yourself a favor.

11. Exile Vilify – The National

Gentle yet haunting, the National’s ballad created for the soundtrack of Portal 2 is wrist-cuttingly good… if wrist-cutting were good, that is.

10. Night – Kavinsky

Yeah, so I called the Drive soundtrack cheesy, and while I stand by that, this track isn’t JUST cheese – it’s gorgonzola. And talk about evoking a mood: put this song on while you’re cruising and there’s no way you can’t feel important – and better still – totally cool. Juxtaposing a thuggish electronic voice with a quiet female voice shouldn’t work this well, but it does.

9. Young Blood – The Naked and Famous

This famous (not sure if they’re regularly naked) New Zealand band has finally made some noise in the U.S. I tried to resist this song initially, but its youthful exuberance with a dash of underlying hipster cynicism won me over.

8. Shake Me Down – Cage the Elephant

Cage the Elephant became had several hits on alternative radio this year, but it’s this song’s intermittent anger and repetition that suit lead singer Matthew Shultz’s nasally voice the best. Seven consecutive utterances of the lyric “even on a cloudy day” may seem excessive, but I’m still not ready for him to be done with the line as the song concludes.

7. You Know What I Mean – The Cults

It’s not normal to feel so compelled to snap along to a ballad, but you’re going to have to sit on your hands not to want to participate with this song. Moreover, each time the song swells to a dramatic crescendo, the intensity is contagious. I may not know exactly what the Cults mean, but I’m prepared to agree with whatever she’s singing about.

6. Flaws – BASTILLE

A lot of performers lose their accents while singing, but I love how BASTILLE’s British charm is still identifiable as he makes his way through this catchy tune. If BASTILLE can make the leap from the indie scene, I reckon this song is destined to be a smash.

5. This Is Why We Fight – The Decemberists

This year’s Decemberists album is solid and I’m especially smitten with this track, which showcases what the band does best: blending a complicated arrangement with meaningful lyrics.

4. Someone Like You – Adele

Adele deserves all the adoration she receives: she definitely has the songwriting talent to match her magnificent chops. In another artist’s hands, this song might be forgettable, but Adele makes you feel every ounce of hurt in her performance. If this song doesn’t make you want to weep, you’re already dead inside.

3. Till the World Ends – Britney Spears

After several “comebacks” over the years, it takes an apocalyptic song, easily her best in a decade, to get me excited again. It’s not just pop, it’s arena rock; if Jock Jams were still a musical institution, it would fit perfectly. Surely a stadium full of people would want to chant the “whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh”s with me?

2. Helena Beat – Foster the People

Radio stations are still playing the hell out of “Pumped up Kicks”, my #11 song from last year. It’s a shame that people haven’t opened their ears to this even better Foster the People song. “Helena Beat” is slightly unusual, but a whole lotta fun.

1. The City – Patrick Wolf

In a rare feat, my first favorite song of the year is still my favorite at the end of the year. I’ve been a fan of Wolf for a few years now, particularly enjoying how his music manages to be both grandiose and whimsical simultaneously. It’s a style all his own and I give him a lot of credit for it.

Again, you can download all 50 songs here.

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