30 Great Tracks from 2011 - Part One: In which Doris gets her oats

In 2011, we saw a lot of chaos unfold around us. The economy continues to stumble. Occupy surged, slowed and soldiered on. And a several great (and unequivocally not-great) people died. But, for all the shit-storm action in 2011, it also brought us some truly incredible music, yet again. And a lot of that music slipped past/under the collective popular radar. We saw old stalwarts continue making great stuff. Great returns by Sloan, TV On The Radio, The Decemberists, Raphael Saadiq, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, St. Vincent and so many more, made the year, as crazy as it was, a tolerable one. Also, I turned 30. So, in admittedly vain and somewhat hackneyed honor of the beginning of my 31st year on this little ol' planet Earth, here's a list of 30 great tracks from 2011. This post is Part One: In which Doris gets her oats. (And if you don't get that reference, please seek out a little song called "I Dig A Pony" by the Beatles.) Because, we're referential as hell around these parts. You know, it's literary.

The tracks on this list are in no particular order. There are tons of music mags and blogs that rank them based on quality, but really, the listening experience is so subjective (based on mood, repetition, likes and dislikes) that it's difficult (if not impossible) to properly assign an arbitrary, or even critically determined, number to each one. Instead, here's the first 15. If you're savvy, and I know you are, you can check out the whole list by hitting up my Best of 2011 GLMedia playlist on Spotify. Of course, if you've got a bit of Christmas/holiday spirit left in you, you can also stop listening after the end of this list and wait until the next post (coming oh, so soon) to finish it out.

But, before we get to the other tracks, I have an honorable mention. This track, and its creator were not active in 2011. The Popovers were active between 2004 and 2009, a joint, exceptional pop band comprising Tim LaFollette and Catie Braly. They never played live, but they did create some memorable, incredible songs over those 5 years, including my honorable mention track, a cover of Snuzz's "The Worst In You," one of 12 perfect tracks from their compilation album Make It So! Sadly, Tim was suffering from ALS over the last few years, and this year he succumbed to his illness. It was tragic not merely because of the loss of life, but because LaFollette was such a talented song-writer and a brilliant lyricist. The loss of potential is terrible. With a heavy heart, I give 2011's honorable mention to The Popovers' "The Worst In You," a song you won't find on Spotify, but one that I hope you will listen to.

Now, the list.

1. Sloan "Follow the Leader" from The Double Cross - Sloan has been active for 20 years, and they just continue to write amazing power-pop. This song opens the playlist with vigor, and some appropriate "leadership."

2. TV On The Radio "Will Do" from Nine Types of Light - One of the best albums of the year, TV On The Radio returned triumphantly. And this sweet, romping, twinkling, experimental and instantly catchy track highlights just how great they can be. And that's VERY great.

3. Raphael Saadiq "Go To Hell" from Stone Rollin' - Saadiq, formerly of Tony! Toni! Toné!, gave us one of the year's best soul, funk and 50s-60s genre rock albums. And with "Go To Hell" you get a song with beautiful horns, true lyrics, and complex instrumentation. It's beautiful.

4. Okkervil River "Wake And Be Fine" from I Am Very Far - Will Sheff and the boys of Okkervil River provided one of my favorite shows of the year, despite an ankle injury that made my experience hellish. And this track has all the pop sensibility and energy of their best, with the maturity only a veteran band can possess.

5. The Decemberists "I 4 U & U 4 Me" from Long Live The King - This track, a home demo from the band's post The King Is Dead EP, is just about as purely folk-tastic and sweet as anything they released on the full record. It's a great love song, and a brilliant piece of Americana Redux.

6. Cut Copy "Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat" from Zonoscope - While their 2011 release wasn't as perfect as 2008's In Ghost Colours, it still produced a large handful of mellow, dance-rock wonder. This is one of those, and believe me, I had a hard time choosing only one.

7. PJ Harvey "Bitter Branches" from Let England Shake - England's post-punk, fuzz-rock, experimental darling PJ Harvey returned with an epic album. "Bitter Branches" is perfect mix of her old-style clatter blended with some palatable song structure. It's raucous, driving and enjoyable.

8. Radiohead "Morning Mr. Magpie" from The King of Limbs - Well, it's Radiohead. The album is still better than many remember. It's not an instant classic, but it has a lot of quality and a lot of character. And this song is one of the best they gave us this year; chaotic, jumbled and satisfying.

9. The Decemberists "Down By The Water" from The King Is Dead - Yeah, I know, two songs by Colin Meloy and Co. I'm a fan. I won't apologize. This one is so fun, rousing and delightful that it had to make the list, even if that makes me seem a little biased. Long live the Decemberists! (I bet no one used that doozy of a pun-continuation all year.)

10. Big K.R.I.T. "Sookie Now" from Return to 4EVA/R4 The Prequel - Big K.R.I.T. is doing some of the best rhyming around right now and this anthemic, party-starter, leaves you full of energy and ready to rock the faces of every crowd you meet. Beat that Bon Jovi.

11. Starfucker "Mystery Cloud" from Reptilians - This is just a beautiful, dream-space dance tune. Starfucker is instantly catchy. And the climbing pseudo-8-bit strings and measures are infectious. It's a good disease of the ears.

12. The Antlers "I Don't Want Love" from Burst Apart - I mean, tell me this isn't amazing. The opening line "You want to come up the stairs, I wanna push you back down," is a perfect bit of a-romantic hyperbole. (I hope.) Just beautiful.

13. Maritime "Paraphernalia" from Human Hearts - While it might not even be the best song they've written (still a tie between "Twins" and "People, The Vehicles" from We, The Vehicles) this perfectly captures their style and really calls to that great album. Beautiful lyrics and jangling guitars.

14. Peter, Bjorn & John "Second Chance" from Gimme Some - After "Young Folks" PB&J were kinda pigeonholed. Then they released Living Things and fans jumped ship because of the sonic darkness, but Gimme Some brought back the pop and the glee. It's not as folksy, but "Second Chance" is great and hey, listen to that cowbell!

15. Fucked Up "The Other Shoe" from David Comes To Life - Fucked Up's concept album about heartbreak and starting over was a huge surprise for me, simply because it's so complex and ornate, pulling away from punk toward a more theatrical design. This song is a perfect example, with great harmony and a powerful, addictive riff.

Alright, that's Part the First. Dig into the list on Spotify. Or use Share My Playlist at this here link: http://bit.ly/vV9axP

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