Welcome to our annual countdown of the 50 best songs of the calendar year. Songs must be from an EP, LP or demo released during 2011 and no band may appear twice. Today, we count down 50 to 41.
50. California Wives - "Tokyo"
Nothing felt more neon than California Wives' "Tokyo" in 2011. It was nothing but synths and guitars, a chorus rooted in a geographic tautology, "They're building houses and lights in Tokyo." The brilliance was relative and it was made manifest in the metallurgic guitar chords and keyboard progressions. It all felt like little dabs of mercury slipping around the surface of a table.
49. All The Apparatus - "Let's Go Ride Bikes"
All Apparatus appeal to anyone who enjoys the work of Los Campesinos and anyone who enjoys fun. But you don't need to be watching that "Grab Some Buds" Budweiser commercial to feel like even your most asinine behaviors hold a life-and-death importance. For this Portland band, it is the simple act of riding bikes outdoors that doubles as a thesis statement, a raison d'etre. It is youth in revolt; youth screaming a silly chorus; youth playing big horns, guitars and chimes. It is unanxious youth in an age of increasing anxiety.
48. Letting Up Despite Great Faults - "Sophia In Gold"
We were arguably more into Letting Up Despite Great Faults' cover art on their 2011 EP, a sepia toned shot of some girl's knees, than we were into their music. This is compliment to that girl's knees and "Sophia In Gold", a snappy little slice of electro-pop that reminds the listener of a more seriously heartsick Jimmy Tamborello. LUDGF finally quit on the girl, whoever she is, saying, "I can't say your lines for you." This is a final act, to be sure, and a good one at that.
47. Ducktails - "Hamilton Road"
Certainly the most underrated chorus of the year belonged to Ducktails, a Real Estate side project, and their song "Hamilton Road". Nothing sounded more like a lazy summer afternoon played over a broken stereo as the band mushed through the awesomely singable, "We sit by the water". It wasn't even two-and-a-half minutes, and it didn't need to be.
46. The Echo Friendly - "Same Mistakes"
First, The Echo Friendly isolate the guitars, then add a clap track and the most distant male and female vocals of the year. If it sounds obliteratingly sad, it is. They're talking to each other, ostensibly about, well, the "Same Mistakes", but it never feels conversational. These two parties divert and merge with each other like two lost sides of a double helix, intersecting for a momentary duet before chasing each other away again.
45. Deleted Scenes - "Bedbedbedbedbed"
We loved that Deleted Scenes gave the world such a head-nodding single in 2011 and we loved that they gave us the central lyric five times in a row. No one made a better case for the lack of a need for a space-bar as the band reflected on a woman who pulled their act together, cut their hair and made them get out of bed in the morning. It sounded like The Shins on too much cold medicine which was entirely great.
44. Gauntlet Hair - "Top Bunk"
Gauntlet Hair are one of those awesome college radio bands with a good gimmick (the reverb thing) and an uncommon boldness. "Top Bunk" snapped like their previous work, only this time it changed time signatures with the effortlessness of Art School Rock. It spun off the rails toward the end, grinding the echo-chamber to a halt. The original statement of purpose still stood: We can make huge music with three guys and an effects pedal.
43. The Radio Dept. "The One"
The Radio Dept. had their best year in history, releasing a double-disk compilation album featuring the previously unreleased, "The One" to go with a decade of singles. It was a slow-drive version of the band's usual cold keyboard, placed firmly on a reggae upbeat. This wouldn't be the same brilliance as "Heaven's On Fire" but it didn't contend to be so, more victory lap than finishing kick.
42. Yukon Blonde - "Fire"
If Family of the Year was going to break out in 2011-12, then Yukon Blonde was determined to be close behind, maybe even transcendent of their genre rivals. Both bands make pop with a distinctly Western feel, "Fire" featuring some slide guitar and an affinity for the apocalypse that you only find in musicians and certain circles of evangelical believers. Since the band qualifies as solidly the former and solidly not the latter, we assume their references to burning water and faces is purely metaphorical, but entirely sticky, a hook that lodged in your brain like it was its last day on planet earth.
41. Dominant Legs - "Hoop of Love"
There is a world in which you can argue that Dominant Legs' "Hoop of Love" had the single best chorus of 2011. A shimmering slice of guitar pop, the song has a respectable pre-chorus, a vague portent to the take off that happens in the real refrain. Muttered asides about "keeping my mouth shut" blur into the completely elevating hook where the band yelps interrogatives about who will be the one to do a variety of things; they leave these questions unanswered. This fails to mention the bridge, an updated Belle and Sebastian inspiration, full of a flecking strum pattern and a final taxiing to the runway of "Hoop of Love".