Best Songs of 2011

So yeah, I’m bringing back the blog. Never should have let it go this long, and what better way to do it than to put out a top 20 list that nobody will agree with?

For me, this was a fantastic year for music, and it’s due in no small part to the U.S. debut of Spotify. For those of you who aren’t on Spotify, it’s a service that basically allows you to play any song you can think of. It’s free to use on your desktop/laptop, but pay 10 bucks a month, and you get to stream it on your phone or tablet, wherever you go. For a music lover like me, this is a steal. I was spending at least three times that buying albums.

But even if I didn’t get Spotify, the year in music was still fantastic. So many good albums came out, I was having trouble making time to enjoy them all. Still, I was able to pick out a list of 20 favorites. The Spotify playlist I’ve created isn’t in order of my favorites, it’s more in the order I thought would work best for sitting down and listening all the way through. Still, there were two songs this year that will stick with me for a long time.

Holocene” by Bon Iver

I really believe Bon Iver’s self-titled album is not only the best of the year, but will probably end up being my favorite of all time. The song is a master class in climax and denouement, rising and falling at the exact perfect times. Every single instrument works together to perfection, from the clear, golden tone of the guitar to the swelling clarinets and achingly precious bass line. Most of the lyrics are non-specific enough so that the listener can glean any number of meanings from them (“Not the needle, not the thread, the lost decree/Saying nothing, that’s enough for me.”). But the chorus is at once humbling and exhilarating (“And at once I knew, I was not magnificent…/Jagged vacance, thick with ice/And I could see for miles, miles, miles.”). I’ve probably listened to this song 40-50 times, and every time it moves me to my core.

Midnight City” by M83

Wow. That opening four-note progression. You’ve probably heard this playing under a Victoria’s Secret commercial (and yes, dear, I only looked up at the TV because I heard the song). But that strained synth-line is only the amuse bouche, the insistent, delicate opening to an impossibly layered, frantically paced four minutes of unrestrained joy. While all of “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” is triumphant, this one song delivers like nothing else on the album. And just when you think it’s over, in comes one of the most unexpected saxophone solos I’ve ever heard. This is a rare song that can get stuck in your head after just one listen, yet still reveal new depths and secrets with repeat playings. More than one publication has named this the Song of the Year, and while I prefer “Holocene”, “Midnight City” is stunning.