Due in part to the fact that I spent over half of 2011 out of the country, I didn't listen to enough new music to compile any type of "best of" list. But I do have an enjoyable collection of (mostly) 2011 tunes to keep me company while I grade portfolios during the next few days. If you haven't heard any of these, download them from your favorite legal music source.
1. "East Harlem" by Beirut. Catchy, lilting melodies from a band I decided to sample because of the band name, although they aren't Lebanese. Their 2011 record is pretty good but this is the highlight.
2. "Lonely Boy" by The Black Keys. In 2002 or so, when The White Stripes and Strokes peaked in popularity, this would have been a HUGE hit. Bigger sound than their earlier stuff yet still loyal to that simple, garage aesthetic.
3. "Black Rabbit" by Pujol. Great rock and roll song that deserved to be bigger. Why didn't this get any buzz on avclub, pithfork, et al?
4. "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele. It says something about the lousy state of pop music that when "Rolling in the Deep" comes on the radio, you instantly notice what a beautifully written song it is. But Adele's not just great from a craft and composition perspective. Her voice is lovely and unique and she doesn't feel the need to turn every song into some octave exercise. She gives "Rolling in the Deep" subtlety and nuance.
5. "Otis" by Kanye West and Jay Z. I'll just pick one song from the awesome "Watch the Throne" collaboration. Why not make it the big single? The lyrics couldn't be shallower (gist: we are really, really rich), but the Otis Redding sample is brilliant.
6. "What Can I Do?" by Black Belles. This band killed at the inaugural MI-Fest in September. Band members all dress in black and wear witch hats yet their show somehow worked in the middle of the day (I'm reminded of seeing Ministry play an afternoon slot at Lollapalooza twenty years ago). 60's girl group sound meets riot girl punk.
7. "F*** You" by Cee Lo. I think this is technically from 2010, but I didn't pay attention until Motley Crue tossed in a cover (mashed up with their own, similarly themed "Don't Go Away Mad") at their Detroit show this past summer. Lyrics are completely over the top and the tune is totally addictive.
8. "Forget You" by the Muppets. An all-chicken version of the Cee Lo song from the new Muppet movie. Smartest part of the movie. Repeated listens do NOT get old. Love it.
9. "Future Starts Slow" and "DNA" by the Kills. One of my favorite bands. They get points for sheer consistency--all of their records have been good including the 2011 release "Blood Pressures" (which is getting no end-of-year love). These two tracks show off the drum machine / rock guitar / brooding vocals that form the trinity of the Kills' aesthetic. PS: the band put on an outstanding show in Columbus in July.
10. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by the Muppets. Second greatest moment in the movie. A barbershop quarter version of the Nirvana classic, complete with Beeker deliving the "libido" line, among others. Also stays fresh upon repeated listens.