Rankstravaganza: My 30 favorite tracks of 2011

20. “Don’t Carry It All,” The Decemberists

After a few years in the forest of mythical prog-rock epics, the Portland, Oregon, band emerged with a simplified focus on good-ol’ jangly Americana, heralded by this opening boot-stomper about turning seasons and neighborly compassion.

19. “I Know,” David Lynch

Yes, that David Lynch. The man has decided that he is no longer just an L.A. film director/Internet weatherman/general weirdo, but a musician to boot. Between his high-pitched, nasal whine and the noir-ish reverb on the guitars, this song achieves an atmosphere that can only be described as “Lynchian.”

18. “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.,” Noah and the Whale

“How come nobody sounds like mid-’80s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers anymore?” You’ve probably been asking yourself this for years, and this song is the answer to your prayers. Not afraid to play simple, three-chord rock ‘n’ roll, the English band spells out an irresistible hook between tales of aging waitresses and starving writers. (See also: Racking Up Plays: “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.”)

17. “Under the Gun,” Apex Manor

After the breakup of L.A. band The Broken West, singer Ross Flournoy responded to an NPR blogger’s challenge to write and record a song in a single weekend with this power-pop anthem about “feeling under the gun.” Meta-songwriting never sounded so freewheeling. (See also: Racking Up Plays: “Under the Gun”)

[free mp3 via Merge Records]

16. “Violin,” Amos Lee

A gospel tune for the weary, this shuffling ballad gets an ethereal assist Iron and Wine vocalist Sam Beam and his trademark hushed vocals. The Philadelphia songwriter, meanwhile, sounds rootsy and ragged, as he searches for God and finds the answer in an old violin.

15. “Wine & Chocolates,” Theophilius London

I’m familiar with all the objections raised against the style-conscious Brooklyn emcee’s hipster-hop (I just made up a scathing prejorative!), but I forget all about them whenever this track’s cool-as-a-$50-T-shirt beat drops. Plus he’s got a decent singing voice.

Catch Theophilius London live with Nick Waterhouse on Jan. 21 at Mezzanine in San Francisco. Click for tickets.

14. “Make Some Noise,” Beastie Boys

There’s nothing too profound going on hereā€”just Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock laying down some funky-ass keyboard and rhymes about the need to “party for your motherfucking right to fight.” At this point, the Brooklyn rappers have probably earned the right to make an homage to themselves.

13. “Country Kids,” The Downer Party

The Transamerica Pyramid looms as large over this track as it does over San Francisco’s skyline, as frontwoman Sierra Frost suggests that “you can throw yourself off” the iconic building. The San Francisco band hits all the best, cynical notes that made ’90s alt-rock such angsty fun. (See also: Racking Up Plays: “Country Kids”)

12. “Rolling in the Deep,” Adele

Have you heard this song? Oh, you should totally check it out.

Seriously, though, I find it encouraging that it’s still possible for a song to become an inescapable, international phenomenon simply because it’s so well-crafted that literally everyone likes it. Perhaps there’s hope for pop music after all. (See also: Racking Up Plays: “Rolling in the Deep”)

11. “Birth of Serpents,” The Mountain Goats

You know how I know John Darnielle is an amazing songwriter? Because the North Carolina resident can take the process of film developing (Note to anyone born after 1997: Cameras used to take pictures using strips of light-sensitive plastic called “film.” It’s true! Google it!) and turn it into a folk-pop song that not only sounds profound but gets stuck in my head for days at a time.

[free mp3 via KEXP]


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