2011: SONGS of the YEAR

You know the deal – these are my 50 favorite songs of the year.  For the sake of variety, no artist appears more than once.  You can stream each track, you can download the ones that were promo mp3s this year (the yellow ones), and you can hopefully find some great new artists in here that you never heard before.  If you like what you hear, come “like” PHW on FB, click the little button somewhere over there à

50.  Thurston Moore /


49.  Expwy / Armory Hall

48.  Roadside Graves / “Hank Williams”

47.  The Creepy Crawlies / Get Buried!

46.  J Mascis / Not Enough

45.  The Weeknd / The Morning

44.  Smith Westerns / All Die Young

43.  tUnE-yArDs / Bizness

42.  Clams Casino / I’m God

41.  Real Estate / It’s Real

40.  WU LYF / “LYF”

39.  The Roots / “Make My”

38.  Pure X / “Easy”

37.  Crystal Shipsss / “Smile”

36.  Balam Acab / Oh, Why


34.  Future Islands / Before the Bridge

33.  John Maus / Believer

32.  Howth / Deep In My Heart

31.  Great Elk / Walk Down Yr Own Road

30.  Tyler, the Creator / Yonkers

29.  The Decemberists / “January Hymn”

28.  Burial / “Street Halo”

27.  Cass McCombs / “County Line”

26.  Girls / Vomit

25.  Kurt Vile / “Baby’s Arms”

24.  The Vaccines / “All in White”

23.  Belong / Never Came Close

22.  Disappears / “Guider”

21.  Handsome Furs / “No Feelings”

20.  Frank Ocean / Songs for Women

19.  Dirty Beaches / Lord Knows Best

18.  Forest Fire / Mtns Are Mtns

17.  Tom Waits / “New Year’s Eve”

16.  Arrange / Ivory Carpets

15.  Cymbals Eat Guitars / “Keep Me Waiting”

14.  Wilco / “Dawned On Me”

13.  The Field / Then It’s White

12.  M83 / Midnight City

11.  Shabazz Palaces / “Recollections of the Wraith”

10.  The War on Drugs / Come to the City

“Come to the City”, the centerpiece to The War on Drugs’ Slave Ambient, is an invigorating road anthem; you can sing this song to stay awake as the smeared city lights slowly come into focus at the edge of a blank nighttime sky. 


9.  Bon Iver / Holocene

After a handful of confounding initial listens, it was this Grammy-nominated track that became my gateway into Bon Iver’s sonically brave + stunningly gorgeous sophomore record. 


8.  EMA / “California”

As far as opening lines go, “Fuck California, you made me boring” ranks with “All the other girls here are stars, you are the Northern Lights” or, hell, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.  Not to stop there, EMA follows it with 4+ more minutes of pinpoint imagery and apocalypse-baiting noise/pop.

7.  Tim Hecker / “In the Fog II”

Pulling a single track off of Ravedeath, 1972 is not an easy task, as Hecker’s magnum opus works best if you close your brain to any and all external stimuli and just let it overwhelm you.  But “In the Fog II” stands out to me, like so much of Ravedeath, for the simple fact that it subverts every genre tag that gets thrown at this music.  It’s far too musical to be called drone or noise, and the foundations of these songs are too organic, having been recorded primarily on an organ in one day in an Icelandic church, to be called electronic.  I don’t know what the fuck to call it besides mind-blowing.


6.  Okkervil River / “Rider”

There is not a single working indie-rock band that pulls off this kind of heart-pumping Phil Spector homage with more gusto than Okkervil River.  Check “John Allyn Smith Sails” from The Stage Names, or click that little arrow below for “Rider”, a standout from the criminally underrated I Am Very Far. 


5.  Centro-matic / Only In My Double Mind

Will Johnson does not write pop songs.  Not for his solo records, not for South San Gabriel, and certainly not for the trucker cap hard indie-folk/rock of Centro-matic.  But “Only in my Double Mind” makes a case that he should attempt them more often.  Layering glorious vocal melodies over thunderous drums and some droning guitar chords has produced the most immediate moment among a catalog of, literally, hundreds of great rock songs. 

4.  David Shane Smith / Benzene

The occasionally jarring songs of experimental L.A.-songwriter David Shane Smith are seemingly obsessed with the numbing effects of our quickly decaying natural world.  Many of the song titles on his latest record, Control SM, tell the story – “Cool Pesticide”, “Global Warming Makes Me Hot”, “Over Feeling”.  Never is this depressing subject matter more affecting though than on the electro-pop/rap of album closer “Benzene”.  Aided by an insistent, nervous beat, a subtle string section, and a dash of auto-tune, Smith spits his evocative, rapid-fire lines like Kid A all grown up and dealing with a whole new set of issues.  The singing becomes more frantic and twitchy as the song progresses, as though the narrator’s mind is quickly losing a battle against an unwanted chemical agent. 

3.  Yuck / “Georgia”

I think it’s fitting that this song, from an album that so gratuitously (and successfully) mines 90s indie and alternative rock influences, appears on a list with legends like Thurston Moore and J Mascis.  The boys and girls in Yuck might have been in diapers when Slanted and Enchanted or Last Splash dropped, but they sure were paying attention to what their parents played around the house. 


2.  Destroyer / “Poor in Love”

 “Poor in Love” seems like a relatively minor song when placed between mission statements like “Kaputt” and “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker”.   But for me the best song on one of the year’s best albums was this achingly gorgeous version of Dan Bejar’s blues.  For all the various soft rock 80s influences decorating Kaputt, it’s actually The Replacements I think of when I hear this one.  As singers they may be from different planets, but there’s the same type of heart and disarming detail in “Poor in Love” that Westerberg used to poor into ballads like “Unsatisfied” and “Within Your Reach”.  And then there’s the guitar solo, which swoops in like Bob Stinson did on “Sixteen Blue” and elevates the song to an entirely different level. 


1.       Mogwai / “George Square Thatcher Death Party”


As a child of the 80s, to me Margaret Thatcher was just some frumpy old English bird who was always in pictures with Ronald Reagan.  I never knew until years later that a lot of folks really didn’t like her very much.  I’m not educated on the woman’s politics, and I can’t say I condone a song that may want to revel in someone’s death, however misguided they may or may not have been (though Kim Jong Il seems like the place to start).  But there’s still something undeniably rousing about this song; I get chills practically every time I hear that unintelligible, robotic melody.  There wasn’t a song I loved more or listened to more in 2011 than this.   




Filed under year in review

2 responses to “2011: SONGS of the YEAR

  1. Pingback: 5 Years/5 Songs: 2011 |

  2. Pingback: [video] David Shane Smith – “Reaper Quits” |

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