50. The Airborne Toxic Event – Numb/All I Ever Wanted
“Numb” and “All I Ever Wanted” continue the trend of The Airborne Toxic Event birthing song-after-song of stadium-ready pop-rock tunes. They’ve raised the bar so high the sport of pole vaulting has been eradicated. About time someone came through on that.
49. The Joy Formidable – Whirring
Six minutes and forty-seven seconds of exultant pop-alt. And nothing less.
48. Fucked Up – Serve Me Right/Queen of Hearts
It’s Father Damian’s acerbic delivery. “Serve Me Right” is two petards and an itchy trigger finger. “Queen of Hearts” is somewhat sweeter, at least in the sense that a chopped off left arm is better than lopping off both legs. From the alarmingly good David Comes to Life album. I believe Fucked Up have something important to say. It’s a good idea to listen.
47. Maroon 5 – Moves Like Jagger
I was disabused of the notion that Maroon 5 had reached their peak in the (sort of) distant past. “Moves Like Jagger” is a startling return to form; one of the best pop songs of the year, and maybe the best they’ve yet released.
46. Clive Tanaka Y Su Orquesta – Neu Chicago (Side A) [For Dance]
What a stirring, almost instrumental tune. That one guitar string being held at the end in an ambient, Edge(U2)-kind of way makes the song for me. One of the best, and most sunny, dance tracks of the year. A fortuitous discovery.
45. Nicki Minaj – Super Bass
Who knows what goes on in this chick’s brain. Whatever it is, we can be sure that it’s “slicker than the guy with the thing on his eye, uh”.
43. The Antlers – I Don’t Want Love/Putting The Dog to Sleep
“I Don’t Want Love”: If beauty formed an accord with anguish. Buoyed by an elegant falsetto, Peter Silberman’s vocals during the last third of the song are something out of this world. What a ride. A fitting album opener to a superb LP.
“Putting The Dog to Sleep”: If anguish formed an accord with suffering, who then alligned with sorrow, coalescing with heartbreak to form a dire scourge of a record. Yet in all this pain, the song is still dazzling. A fitting album closer from a marvellous LP.
42. Cults – Walk at Night/You Know What I Mean
Like 1950’s doo-wop teeny-boppers cavorting around late at night unbeknownst to their parents, making the best of youth yet exaggarating every scar beyond any rational measure, Cults, and in particular, “Walk at Night” and “You Know What I Mean” feature the oldfangled heavily and without remorse. The addition of guitars to the process makes the sound extremely attractive.
41. Austra – The Beat and The Pulse/Lose It
What a stunning debut. “The Beat and The Pulse”, with its The Knife-like beats and Glasser-like vocals, is a racing bullet of a synth-pop song. “Lose It”, with its Glasser- and Florence and The Machine-like vocals, is sweeter than a honey-coated Cinderalla. These songs are statements of intent from a band that bombarded its way onto the scene and carved out its own niche quicker than you can check if the band is named after the European country. That’s quick. And mighty impressive.
40. Future Islands – Before The Bridge/Balance
*Spoiler alert* There is more to come about Future Islands higher up on the list, so I’ll limit the pontificating here. “Before The Bridge” is a stirring peace offering. It’s how the bass drops at 0:30. It’s how soul meets body. It’s how the moon is listening. It’s “how to forget a love, is to regret”. “Balance” is a lilting, pleasing, wizardly love song that bleeds nostalgia. Continuing to produce hits at such a hurried pace, Future Islands are The Truth.
39. Lana Del Ray – Blue Jeans/Video Games
Lana Del Ray sure has finagled her way into the alternative (now mainstream) music consciousness this past year. While the rival factions argue over her authenticity (some call her a charlatan, a mountebank), I’ll be content to sit back and enjoy two startlingly raw and bare songs from a siren-voiced chanteuse. Both “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games” are immaculately constructed ballads, containing prodigious melodies and vocals. What a sexy, simmering showcase to the world these two songs are. 2011, the year Lana Del Ray’s star was propelled into deep space.
38. Mates of State – Mistakes
Perhaps the loveliest, most melodic song on Mountaintops, “Mistakes” contains one of the most honest lyrics of the year as it relates to the human (relationship) condition: “I need you, but it’s not normal, if I refuse, to be by myself”. Consistently affecting, honest and reliable, Mates of State are one of the most underrated bands of this era.
37. M83 – Intro (f. Zola Jesus)/Midnight City
From the outset, “Intro” lets the listener know they’re in for a trip. Not a trip down downtown, to the ‘burbs, to the nearest metropolis, down south, or halfway around the world. This trip is astral, divine, and for infinity if you want it to be, because once you’ve immersed yourself in M83, in Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, in “Intro”, the path back is hard to find and just about meaningless. Zola Jesus offers an impassioned guest spot on the record, and her turn driving the cosmic bus is an astounding one. “Intro” leads into “Midnight City”, and the possibilities propagated are endless. “We didn’t need a story, we didn’t need a real world; we just had to keep walking, and we became the stories…”
36. Manchester Orchestra – Virgin
Manchester Orchestra have an antipathy to that which is not catchy; I get that now. But this is ridiculous. There are so many hooks in “Virgin”, you’d swear it was the supplier of Bass Pro Shops. Manchester Orchestra continue to be a criminally underrated outfit. “Virgin” is the sound of a rock band being a bad-ass rock band.
35. The Horrors – Still Life
When I listen to this song, I picture it smoking, dilly-dallying, rebelling with the world aflutter around it. A little bit Oasis, a pinch of Joy Division and a smattering of Arctic Monkeys, The Horrors’ “Still Life” is a song that could soundtrack a libidinous love scene or a violent bank robbery. That’s range.
34. Bombay Bicycle Club – Still/Lights Out, Words Gone
At this moment in time, only Bombay Bicycle Club could release the song “Light’s Out, Words Gone”. Combining so many disparate elements into a facile, perfectly mixed concoction of rhythm is cause for celebration among music fans looking to be inspired. I’ve yet to come to terms with “Still”. It’s the most vulnerable thing they’ve ever done, and will likely ever do. It’s mind-boggling. It’s serene. It’s delicate. It’s trancendent. What a work of pristine, crystalline art. I want to take care of “Still” forever. Monumentally precious.
This band will have a (successful) 40-year career in music if they choose to stick around (please, oh please). It all seems to come so easily for Bombay Bicycle Club. There is nothing these brilliant young lads are incapable of musically.
33. Iron & Wine – Walking Far From Home
Sam Beam’s lyrical imagery is quaint, thoughtful, romantic and idyllic. And “Walking Far From Home” deserves to be revered alongside “Such Great Heights”, “Flightless Bird, American Mouth (original)”, “Resurrection Fern”, and “The Trapeze Swinger” as the best of Iron and Wine’s increasingly impressive pantheon. Augmenting his usually descriptive language and folk insistence is an electronic backbone that gives the band’s sound a fresh face. Iron and Wine are truly one of a kind.
32. The Naked & Famous – Young Blood
Pop. Alt. Dance. Bewitchment. Such is the life of “Young Blood”. It’s a good life. A great life.
31. Death Cab for Cutie – St. Peter’s Cathedral/You Are a Tourist
“You Are a Tourist” contains a behemoth of a riff; it’s slightly outside the norm for DC4C, a welcome detour from the signature sound they’ve come to master over the years. I just can’t get over that riff. “St. Peter’s Cathedral” is a smoldering triumph, probably my favourite song on their Codes and Keys album. It’s also a departure from normal DC4C fare, but the kicker is an interesting one. It has a bit of The Postal Service in it, at least more than I’ve heard in any Death Cab song to date. Perhaps it’s true that The Postal Service will not reunite (a shame), and if it is, sneaking a bit of that sound into new DC4C songs is a great idea. The fizzing guitars and repetitive ‘ba da ba da’s’ are rife with ebullience. I’d love to see the band explore that sound further. For now, “St. Peter’s Cathedral” will more than suffice.
30. Wild Beasts – Bed of Nails
“Bed of Nails” is a cheeky rascal. Its melody is insidious, its vocal is gaudy and bedazzling. Lead singer Hayden Thorpe channels his inner Antony Hegarty, but he’s no cheap knock-off, as he injects his vocal with a plush playfulness all his own. My favourite song on their excellent Smother LP.
29. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – If I Had A Gun
Oh Noel. “If I Had a Gun” is the best song he’s released — Oasis or otherwise — in ages. Maybe the most exposed Noel has ever sounded. The melody hovers in the cosmos like a charming celestial guardian. Most affectingly, it’s the way he utters, “my eyes have always…followed you around the room”, in the sweetest, most plausible way one could imagine. Sorry Liam, this fight was never fair.
28. Arctic Monkeys – Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
The sound of rapscallions at play, this ferocious, villainous riff is the hardest thing the Arctic Monkeys have ever done, and it sounds bloody brilliant. I’m floored and loving every second of it. Sneaky little buggers.
27. Glasvegas – Whatever Hurts You Through The Night/Euphoria, Take My Hand
“Whatever Hurts You Through The Night” is the sound of assignation, a sojourn of a romance frothing with fervor but aware its life span is short. Probably the most hypnotic tune on the album Euphoria /// Heartbreak, the song wouldn’t have sounded out of place on their awesome debut LP, Glasvegas. “Euphoria, Take My Hand”, equally reminiscent of the debut record, is the album’s totem, the talismanic symbol of a record that aims to please every aural sensation possible. It works.
26. Cold War Kids – Mine Is Yours/Finally Begin
The sound of a band at the top of their melodic game. Cold War Kids sound eminent and comfortable in their own skin, bridging their innate quirkiness with bucket-loads of charm. “Mine Is Yours”, the album opener, is a giver, asking nothing in return but an ear and a pulse, two conditions I can gladly submit to. “Finally Begin” is the love song, separating love in an AD, BC context. Well put. Well done.