20. M83 – “Steve McQueen”
As I write this, it’s my current obsession. That’s always dangerous. In two months I may regret this song not being in the top 10. Or who knows, maybe I’m overrating it. But it’s burning up my car’s CD player right now with the best, frenzied percussion build of the year. It breaks into a swarming, 80’s-tinged anthem that is golden to play loud. And amazingly it’s not even the best track on the album.
19. Fleet Foxes – “Montezuma”
If introspective tunes are your kind of thing, then you’ll love “Montezuma”. Robin Pecknold worrisomely ponders his current state (“Well now I am older/than my mother and father/when they had their daughter/now what does that say about me?”) and his future deathbed state (“I wonder if I’ll see/any faces above me/or just cracks in the ceiling/nobody else to blame”). Set over typically excellent Fleet Foxes harmonies, it’s a certain top track.
18. Coldplay – “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”
For me, this one was a grower. Tossed aside as a pretty good track with an awful name, I learned to appreciate more with every listen. But there it is, the guitar that breaks in around 50 seconds in, the synth focus, the pulsating beat. And don’t forget the more typical Coldplay parts, such as anthemic ending or feel-good lines like “I’d rather be a comma/than a full stop”. Over time I’ve grown to appreciate how much this track continues to be Coldplay while still moving in a new direction. Did I mention I hate the name of the song, though?
17. Gauntlet Hair – “Top Bunk”
Emerging out of a mess of sound, “Top Bunk” is a song where I can’t hear many of the lyrics, and I don’t really care. The song is fun and energetic and better the louder you play it.
Link to free download: http://pitchfork.com/forkcast/16126-top-bunk/
16. Mat Kearney – “Chasing the Light”
Returning to his spoken word style that he abandoned in his unfortunately lacking sophomore album, Mat Kearney doesn’t exactly return to full force on album #3, with the major exception of “Chasing the Light”, which could possibly be his best individual work yet. All the things that make Kearney great are here: the innate grasp over storytelling, the alternation between spoken word and smooth vocals, and resolute determination to stay positive that shines through whether relating sentimental memories or thinking about the future.
15. Chief – “Night & Day”
This late 2010 release slipped through last year, but I felt it was still small enough to give notice to. It first came to me in January, and I’ve liked it equally from the moment I first heard it. “Night & Day” is a haunting, pensive track that strikes a great balance between the interesting elements of indie and the singability and immediate grab of pop.
Link to free download: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/14576-modern-rituals/
14. My Morning Jacket – “The Day is Coming”
My Morning Jacket have had plenty of great songs over the years, with an amazing breadth between rock, experimentalism, and beautifully moving tracks. “The Day is Coming” might just take the cake for most beautiful though. With a rhythmic piano reminiscent of Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” and a brilliant insertion of strings, this is one of best tracks MMJ has made to date.
13. Death Cab for Cutie – “You Are A Tourist”
An uplifting Death Cab for Cutie track? It’s true, and it’s also very good. Death Cab have specialized in some of the most forlorn indie epics, but on “You Are a Tourist” they combine a crazy good guitar riff with an ultra-positive message.
12. Bon Iver – “Beth/Rest”
A much discussed track of 2011, Bon Iver hits you with a track straight out of 1980’s adult contemporary. And sure, you could give him credit for messing with a highly chastised sound and succeeding, but I’d be being disingenuous if I didn’t confess that I have no ill feelings towards that sound at all. I own Phil Collins, Richard Marx, and Bruce Hornsby, and do so without shame. So hearing an artist as talented and emotionally potent as Justin Vernon guide Bon Iver in a song like “Beth/Rest” is both immediately satisfying and wonderfully nostalgic for me.
11. Radiohead – “Codex”
In the electronic era of experimental music, it would probably be fair to dub Radiohead as the kings of mood. Turn the lights out or set out on a night walk or night drive while listening to “Codex” and you’ll hear, and likely feel, something special. On Thom Yorke’s soaring wail could make a simple word like “dragonfly” so affecting.
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