Sam’s Choice : Top Songs For 2011

It’s that time of the year again folks.  Yes, the time has come for me to post my highly anticipated and talked about (not really in either case…) list of my favorite songs from 2011.  As always, these are not neccessarily songs that came out this year (although I think that most, if not all, of them did), but just the songs that will make me think about 2011 when I hear them because this is the year I discovered them and subsequently wore them out with tons of plays on my iTunes. And few things are as subjective as musical taste, so these are just my favorites.  But hopefully there is some stuff you like here too.

Programing note: the ordering is mostly just in the order that I think they sound the best, not necessarily in order of my favorites (though the 5 five-star songs did lead off the list…so maybe subconsciously they did.) Anyway, here we go!

1. Rock n’ Roll is Free – Ben Harper

This is the ultimate starter song.  The opening funky bass line with slow guitar and snare build into the jangling guitar rift and they just make your feet want to move.  Leave it to Ben Harper to create my favorite rock anthem of the year and to do it with such a catchy tune that even though I listened to this song all year it never got old.  Turn the speakers up loud when you listen to this one, because it only gets better as it goes on, showcasing Harper’s considerable shredding ability on the guitar (which we all knew was there all along).  And could there be a better opening song for this list?  “Rock n’ Roll is free so come and get it!”

2. My Body – Young the Giant

Another foot-tapping anthem holds the number 2 spot this year.  Young the Giant kills this song with a frantic energy that really makes this song’s catchy hooks and distorted guitars leap out of the speakers and into your head.  I love the “take a breath slow down” at about the 3 minute mark that leads straight back into the frenzied finish.  I saw these guys play this song live on TV this year and the energy they brought was about what I thought that it would take to make this song work live and they threw themselves around the set with reckless abandon and made me think they actually loved making music.  Anyway, I just love this song.

3. Free My Mind – Katie Herzig

This is a great poppy and dancy song that is filled with fun hooks and loops.  The fact that Katie has an incredible voice to sing over all of the great beats is what really pushes this song over the top for me.  Frankly, this song just sounds like summer to me (I have no idea what that means, but it just works…maybe fun, light, airy and dreamy).  I also really love the string arrangement in this song that closes it out as it just wraps things up in a nice bow.

4. The Whole Love – Wilco

This song encompasses everything that makes Wilco my favorite band.  A simple growing start that slides into a full hook that pervades the entire song the rest of the way.  Simple yet complex.  Layered yet stripped down.  This song just draws me in and makes me want to listen to it over and over again.  For me, if a song ends and I immediately want to reach down and replay it, that means it’s probably going to end up on this list.  This was by far the best song on Wilco’s pretty stellar release that happens to be titled after this song.  (Sidenote: The day this album came out I was in the den reading while K (my wife) was watching T.V.  This song came on one of the shows that she watches and I immediately recognized it and said “Hey!  That’s the new Wilco song!” I’d heard it twice at that point.  I’m not sure what this story means, except that I really just love this song.)

5. Hold On – The Alabama Shakes

Wow.  It’s tough to make a song any better than this.  I heard this song once on internet radio (HT to Birmingham Mountain Radio here) and knew that it would end up here.  The funky guitar hook with the great interludes and quiet intensity of singing drew me in immediately and has become on of my favorite songs of all time.  My head bobs to the rhythm every time I heard and I bet yours will too.  Bonus points here for the ending with the piano and fuzzed out sound.  I’d never heard of this band before but they’re on my list to see sometime in 2012.

6. Powerful Stuff – Sean Hayes

Leave it to Subaru to not only create the car that I bought this year, but to also introduce me to one of my favorite songs.  This song has such a great laid back vibe with the catchy guitar rift and Hayes’ homey feeling voice.  Couple that with the great snap breaks near the end and the funky beat and I’m sold.  Just like on the Outback.

7. Barton Hollow – The Civil Wars

My choice for folky, funky song of the year.  This song has a hauntingly catchy quality to it that keeps you humming it even after it has ended.  I love the little parts where the instruments drop out and only the voices and the percussion sound through, which only add to the greatness of this song.

8. Take Me – Jesse Payne

My love for all the songs Jesse Payne has created has been well documented before on this blog, so I’ll spare you.  But even so this song is vintage Jesse.  It has a raw feel to it that is catchy and toe-tapping.  It builds and descends.  It makes use of horns and and an organ.  And then it starts a final move towards the end at about the 3 minute mark that really finishes things off well.  Just a great song and I’d encourage you to buy all of his music.

9. Alabama Pines – Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

Another song that comes to you courtesy of Bham Mountain Radio (seriously, just find this station on the internet and start listening).  Another great folksy song with great guitar rifts and a strong beat (sensing any kind of a theme here?).  There is something about this song that just feels right, which is really saying something since I’d probably more inclined to favorite a song about California than Alabama.  So it must be good.  Even if it does have a little twang to it…but maybe that’s the appeal.

10. Down in the Valley – The Head and the Heart

We enter double digits with a song from my favorite discovered artist of the year.  I don’t think that there is a song by these guys that I’ve heard that I did not like immensely.  It’s got all the hallmarks…piano, stings, guitar, and good beats combined with catchy hooks and slow builds.  Yep, that’s me alright.  And this song would be great in and of itself, but then it kicks into another gear at about the 2 minute mark that really tops things off.  The frantic build up to the finish ensured it’s inclusion in this list and the fact that this is my favorite newly discovered band of the year. (Sidenote: After listening to this band for about a week I remarked to K that I had found this band that I really liked and that I thought she should listen to…and when I told her it was The Head and the Heart she said “Oh yeah, I’ve been listening to them for a while now.  They’re really good.”  Well then.)

11. Keep You Right – Blind Pilot

This is my second favorite newly discovered artist of 2011.  I heard these guys on NPR doing an interview and I liked the snippets of songs they played and their remarks so much I came home that night and got my hands on a ton of their stuff.  This songs has great vocal harmonies and wonderfully melodic backing instruments.  All the pieces are there; guitar, piano, drums; but the way they put them all together sets them apart.  Great song.

12. Roll Away Your Stones – Mumford and Sons

This songs starts with an incredible instrumental opening that leads into a frantic folk song.  In a way, it’s almost like walking from a fancy dinner into a hoedown.  And I think that it is the juxtaposition that makes it so great.  And again, all the things that I love combine to make a great song that moves back and forth from fast and slow, almost like it’s letting you catch your breath.  Tough to beat as far as musical talent goes. And I just love when the chorus of voices join the singing.

13. Chisel and Pick – Through the Sparks

This is just a really catchy tune.  It has a jangly hook that makes use of the piano and then brings in horns and other voices to make a finished product that is ragged and yet smooth (if that makes any sense…).  This is a great track but I really love the way that the end sort of descends into chaos and finishes.

14. Steal Your Heart – Augustana

This song is exactly why Augustana is one of my favorite bands…that is it is catchy, smooth, has a great chorus, and incredible instrumentation.  This is off of their third album and all of three of them are really, really good records.  These guys really seem to enjoy playing music and I feel like that shows through, especially in a song like this.  The cool drum stop at the end doesn’t really hurt anything either…

15. Empire – Rococode

This is a Canadian band that recently formed and contains some guys that I semi-know, who also happen to have played with Tegan and Sara.  This is the first single off their album that is coming out early next year and if this song is any indication, it is going to be a good one.  This song has a great rhythm to it and is pretty much everything I am looking for in a great indie-rock song.  A catchy chorus rounds it all out and makes for the inclusion in this list.

16. These Days – Foo Fighters

What more can I say about Foo Fighters that has not been said?  This song has everything we’ve come to expect from them including great guitar rifts, catchy hooks, incredible drumming and Dave Grohl singing his head off.  For me, this was the standout track on their great new album that came out this spring.  If you haven’t seen the documentary that came out at the same time I’d urge you to do so, as it is really, really good.

17. Allies – MuteMath  NOTE: This is not Allies as there was not a copy available and Warner Brothers does not allow uploading to sample.  So this is Blood Pressure, a good song in it’s own right but not on the list…

As a rule, MuteMath albums are best consumed whole.  Therefore, while it is annoying that I could get a stream of Allies for you to listen to, Blood Pressure works too.  Either way, the new MuteMath album that came out this fall was fantastic.  As was their introduction concert in a small venue with like maybe 400 people or less.  Just get the album already and be done with it and then go see them when they come to your town.  Thank me later.

18. Royal Blue – Cold War Kids

Again, the Record company foils any attempt to get people to listen to their music…so the above is about a third of the song for you to listen to.  Either way this track is a great song by Cold War Kids that features a strong bass line, a great guitar hook, and a catchy chorus.  Even better, it includes some hand claps (which I am always partial to) and a slow fadeout, which is great. Pretty typical of most Cold War Kids stuff, so I’d encourage you to check out their stuff.

19. The One You Should’ve Let Go – Zach Williams & The Bellow

Zach himself best describes his own music “It’s like trying to catch lightening in a shoe box.”  That’s about right.  There is literally nothing else about this man or his music that I can say that I have not already said on this blog.  So watch the video, enjoy the music and buy the album when it comes out later this year.

And that concludes…oh wait.

Honorable Mention for Most Played Out Song of the Year – Pumped Up Kicks – Foster the People

It’s sad frankly.  I really, really liked this song a lot.  And then every radio station and DJ and retail store caught on that it was a good song and started playing it non-stop everywhere I went and I could not escape it.  And thus, it got overplayed.  I did not want to add it to my list but I guess it fits my criteria from above and K said that I had to since it was apparently THE 2011 anthem.  So here it is.

And that is all the songs that were fit to play in my Top 10 (give or take 10) for 2011.  Love or leave ’em, these are the songs that I loved this year and will remember forever as 2011’s best songs.

Love and Sweatpants.



The Week That Was

So it’s been a while.  And really, I have no good excuse.  I’ve had plenty of time to blog, I’ve just not done it.  So I apologize for your lack of reading material in the past couple of weeks.  Hopefully I can draw you back in with charming and witty posts…

Music That I Am Listening To and Enjoying – Two weekends ago was Foo Fighters weekend on my TV.  HDNet broadcast their Skin and Bones concert DVD which was fantastic and informative as well as entertaining.  And then, Austin City Limits broadcast their Foo Fighters show, resulting in an all out Foo Blitz.  Watching them play only reinforced my feelings that they are not only an epic group of musicians, but they are cool guys that I’d like to hang out with.  That counts for a lot in my book.  No need for Diva Rock Stars here.  I like my rock stars down to earth and funny.  And Dave Grohl definitely fits that bill. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Jesse Payne as well.  And last, but not least, I’ve been working on some wedding playlists which has me coming my musical archives for the perfect songs.  I’m a little obsessive about my playlists and these promise to be epic.  I’ll share more later…

Customer Service Moment of the Week – I’ve spent the last two weeks adjusting to life in a new Starbucks, learning where the lids are kept and who all the regular customers are.  It’s been great to this point and I really think that I’ll enjoy the new store.  Much more relaxed and lowkey, which results in less stress for me, which I consider a good thing.  But I digress…onto the moment.  There is a couple  that used to be regulars at my old store and have made an appearance in this spot before (The Vivanno size discussion people) that were in the store a few nights ago.  They started arguing and the man packed up his things and headed out the door.  but before he did, he stopped and wished me and my co-worker a good night, then walked a few more steps, stopped and said “Just a piece of advice: Don’t ever get mixed up with a crazy lady.”  And then he walked out.  I stole a glance at the woman he had left at the table and she was crying.  AWKWARD…I pretended to be really, really busy as she walked out and then watched as they got in the same car together.  Apparently the conversation was long and successful as they stayed in the parking lot for a few hours but have been back together the past few nights.  But now I always fight off a laugh whenever they come in.

Sports Moment of the Week – In a time and age where athletes make headlines more for repeated infidelity and gun charges, it is refreshing to see athletes actually do something good with their fame.  Such was the case this weekend in Australia at the Australian Open.  As Roger Federer got wind of what was going on in Haiti, he talked to his agents and the facilities director about doing a benefit for Haiti the night before the tournament.  They got it all figured out and Saturday was Hit for Haiti, a fun exhibition that included most of the top men’s and women’s players.  They raised over $100,000, which I think is pretty good given the short notice they had.  And that is my top sports moment of the week, maybe even the month.

Books and Movies of the Week – I saw Avatar.  And while it was visually stimulating, the story was predictable, agenda filled, and so bad it was distracting.  I found myself thinking the whole time “They actually created a new way to do 3D for this crappy story?”  Had it not been 3D and fancy, it would have been horrendous.  If you see it, see it in 3D but do not rent the DVD for at home viewing.  You’ll be disappointed.  I also caught up on a lot of past movies that I’d missed and I really enjoyed both The Prestige and The Guardian.  Both movies drew you in through different means and provided surprise endings.  Away We Go was another movie that was seen, but I was not at impressed with it.  I liked it, but it was not great.  Funny though.

Video of the Week – A little background here:  There is a huge to do going on right now over late night talk shows.  Jay Leno has moved to 10pm but is getting horrible ratings.  Conan O’Brien took over The Tonight Show but is not doing as well as Leno did, so NBC is going to put Leno back on The Tonight Show.  This has everyone up in arms, including David Letterman on CBS and Jimmy Kimmel on ABC.  Last week Kimmel went on Leno’s show and answered some questions.  This is what happened…

I have to say, I think Kimmel is hilarious and Leno is a tool.

5 Things I Think I Think

1. I think that watching the destruction in Haiti provides everyone with a little perspective.  Life may be hard, but at least we aren’t digging out of rubble or wondering where we will get food and water.  If you have not yet donated to the relief efforts, please do so.  World Relief is a great agency that I personally trust to not only provide physical resources, but spiritual light as well.  But even if you choose to donate somewhere else, please do so, even in a small amount.  As Jesus said, “Whatsoever you did to the least of these, you did to me.” This is our chance, in the smallest way possible, to help the least of these.

2. I think that I’m glad that the really cold weather has passed.  We had 13 days where it was below 25 at some point, and my home is just not designed to withstand those cold temperatures.  It was space heater and jacket time inside, even with the heat running.  So I’m glad that it has finally warmed up.

3. I think that I’m not sure if I’m ready for school to start.  I’m looking forward to my classes, but I’ve really enjoyed the break.  But, this is my last semester, so I’m determined to enjoy it and to get the most out of my last few months at Beeson.  I’m not sure what happens next, but I’m trusting God to provide and lead, as He always has.

4. I think I’m grateful for men and women like Martin Luther King, Jr, who we celebrated today.  He was a pioneer and a leader, but one who strove for equality for all people in an era when that was a dangerous and unpopular idea.  I often wonder what I would have done had I lived here in Birmingham when all the Civil Rights things were going on.  I know that if that happened now, I’d be at the front leading the charge, but what is going on today that I am oblivious to, or even worse, accepting as normal that is just as large of an abomination as the segregation and racism was?  It really makes you think, which I believe is the best way to honor people like Dr. King.

5. I think that my To-Do-List gets longer and longer as my break gets shorter and shorter.  Not sure how that works, but there is a lot of stuff to do in the next week and not a lot of time to do it.  So here’s to being productive and knocking some of it out.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to donate to Haiti and to check out the wedding blog.

Love and Sweatpants.