10. Civil Wars – “Poison & Wine”
When it comes to pure, gripping emotion and sincerity, the male/female tradeoff on the Civil Wars’ “Poison & Wine” is about as good as it gets. It’s an amazing accomplishment considering the general simplicity of the music and a tribute to the masterful vocal work between Joy Williams and John Paul White.
9. War on Drugs – “I Was There”
Maybe I don’t have to miss The Verve anymore. From the first taste of the psychedelic electric guitar that snakes through the ambient “I Was There”, you’ll be hooked. Add in the deliberate piano and distant harmonica over the musing vocals and you have clear top song.
8. The Strokes – “Machu Picchu”
I use the word “moving” a lot. Well, maybe you’ll be happy to know there’s nothing moving about this track at all. It just plain rocks. From the opening guitar and synth work to the irresistible riff at 1:20, The Strokes come back with a vengeance, providing me with my favorite track of theirs of all time.
7. M83 – “Midnight City”
To be clear, I had this song in my Top Ten long before Pitchfork named it the best song of the year. The truth is, there’s just nothing not to like about this track. It’s powerful, soaring, complicated, and dripping with character. When the drums kick in and the synth swirls after the declaration of “the city is my church!”, followed by an amazing saxophone solo, it’s one of the true great song moments of 2011.
6. Bon Iver – “Perth”
The year’s top album begins with “Perth”, a perfect introductory track, birthed out of simplicity then bursting forth amongst a perfectly placed snare drum to build to a swarming symphony of horns, strings, and more. One track into album and we had the first indication of greatness.
5. Frank Ocean – “Strawberry Swing”
There certainly is no debating the most surprising song of the year. Frank Ocean is one part of a shock hip-hop outfit called Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All. Then he goes an does a pseudo-remake of Coldplay’s excellent “Strawberry Swing”, keeping portions of the general music and reworking the lyrics. The result? One of the best and most moving tracks you’ll hear, and lyrical perfection to someone who has moved as much as I have, leaving behind friends every single time.
4. The Antlers – “I Don’t Want Love”
The Antlers didn’t wait long proving that the gut-wrenching sage that “Hospice” was not a singular moment of success. Their new album starts off with “I Don’t Want Love”, a masterful mixture of Peter Silberman’s falsetto, electronic experimentation, keyboard, and guitar. There’s something special in the way Silberman delivers, and The Antlers are now firmly entrenched as a favorite band.
3. Gotye ft. Kimbra – “Somebody That I Used to Know”
Were it not for this song immediately lodging itself in my brain, demanding its attention, I might have resisted “Somebody That I Used to Know”. But I cannot resist this perfect blend of catchy pop, raw emotion, and detail. Buried within this pop gem: bongo, synth, xylophone, to name a few. But in the end it’s primarily the sincerity that makes you feel where Gotye is coming from. He knows it’s over, and he’s okay with it, but why did she have to be so cruel? And, as the just-as-perfect video shows, there’s also an acknowledging shame when he is reminded how culpable in the whole process he is as well. Turn up the sound and sing along.
2. The National – “Think You Can Wait”
As far as making the kind of impact with a song that gets you right to the core, no one can do more with a simple song than Matt Berninger of The National. Owners of last year’s best album with “High Violet”, The National released this track for the indie movie, Win Win, and its impact as the credits song is even more palpable after watching that film. Berninger has a baritone voice like no one else in music today and his band also has a pure knack for crafting adult songs about adult problems, such as self-doubt in a marriage or the need for your loved ones during a midlife crisis. When The National drench it with moody piano, strings, and longing backup vocals, the song transcends every song this year in terms of pure heart.
1. Fleet Foxes – “Grown Ocean”
Known more for woodsy, folksy indie full of layered harmonies, Fleet Foxes move well beyond the simplicity of big hit “White Winter Hymnal” with “Grown Ocean”, while retaining fully the magic that makes Fleet Foxes so endearing. It is their most racing, most forward moving, most sweeping track yet. As the bookend to fellow Top 50 track “Montezuma”, it is perfection. Where “Montezuma” wonders about whether deathbeds will be full of regrets, “Grown Ocean” looks forward excitedly, longing to achieve dreams over pulsating percussion, impeccable guitar, a trilling flute, and trademark harmonies.
Link to free download: http://www.pitchfork.com/reviews/tracks/12159-grown-ocean/