November 21, 2011

AwkwardSound Presents: The 25 Best Songs of 2011

At first glance, AwkwardSound's 25 Best Songs of 2011 is a bit of contrast to what last year delivered in all its pop-heavy glory. Maybe the alt-rock single is back in full form or perhaps the void left by Robyn absence this year is really that big. Whatever the case, it's becoming more apparent that we're (literally) living in a 120 Minutes-era revival, which can only be seen as a good thing for independent and alternative music all across the board. Without futher ado, here's to the many choice underdogs of 2011 who gave us a reason to get back in touch with our hardcore / grunge fashion senses and cassette stereos -- The makers of the 25 Best Songs of 2011...

25. HEALTH - "Goth Star"
It's not easy to perfect a song that's already well in tact, but that's what Los Angeles noisemakers HEALTH do on their cover of this stand out from Pictureplane's 2009 debut, Dark Rift. The two experimental acts have long collaborated on remixing each others work, but it's here where the formula turns out to be most beneficially complimentary. Where as the original "Goth Star" glided and scraped in an ethereal sense over a Fleetwood Mac sample, HEALTH accentuate the positives with heavier drums, louder guitars and the addition of ghostly vocals, giving new life to a song that already sounded like one of their own.

24. Tyler, The Creator - "Yonkers"
He's been running his mouth for well over a year now as the defacto leader of indie hip-hop collective Odd Future, but "Yonkers" serves its crucial purpose as the formal introduction to the music meme known as Tyler, The Creator for anyone who's been living under a rock. After a cuss-filled introduction complete with cocky swagger, Tyler serves out a few disses to his radio-friendly counterparts in the rap world and tops it off with an argument with himself over success. Conflicting? Yes, but once he's in your head, it's hard to stop listening.

23. The Horrors - "Still Life"
The Horrors' transformation from gothy post-punkers to shimmering Brit-pop revivalists is completed on "Still Life," the lead single off their third LP Skying. It's a mid-tempo number that refracts the many facets of the UK quintet's sound through a colorful palette of synths amidst their typically morose sound punctuated by Faris Badwan's lustfully melancholic vocals. Somewhere between the light and darkness, The Horrors have found their happy medium...

22. Twin Sister - "Kimmi In a Rice Field"
Twin Sister's dream sequence sound is vividly clear on this lead single that perfectly suits the title of their debut album, In Heaven. Adrift on a cloud of breezy synths and Andrea Estella's airy vocals, "Kimmi In a Rice Field" reboots the shoegaze pop style fine-tuned by 1980s innovators, The Cocteau Twins with a Final Fantasy-homaging 8-bit beat fitting for today's digital era sound.

21. The Weeknd - "Wicked Games"
No one did a "sex jam" better in 2011 than the Drake-approved R&B newcomer, The Weeknd. "Wicked Games" is the most sultry example off the first of three mixtapes to be delivered onto the Internet by the mysterious Abel Tesfaye who brings with him an ominously brooding soundtrack for your cheating heart. You can cut the sexual tension here with a knife despite the cruelty of love-gone-wrong here on "Wicked Games", which makes it seem like The Weeknd enjoys the pain caused by a woman doing him wrong.

20. Florence + The Machine - "Shake It Out"
Florence Welch is one of many in a lineage of similar-sounding female songwriters, but while most are content sitting quietly behind their pianos or acoustic guitars, Florence + The Machine sets her sights on bigger ambitions in this overblown arena anthem. With lyrics tailor made like a how-to guide in reclaiming confidence, you can't help but think that Welch wrote "Shake It Out" for the broken-hearted girl in all of us who wants nothing more than to pour ourselves a tall glass of wine on a Friday night, let our hair down, sing our hearts out and forget about that bastard.

Florence + The Machine - "Shake It Out"

19. EMA - "Marked"
The rockier side of Erika M. Anderson is loyal to its alternative influences, but it's in the somber affairs such as "Marked" that EMA puts it all out there and lies in her emotionally naked state. This song finds the Los Angeles transplant in vulnerable heartache with her weepy vocals backed by a barely-there acoustic guitar. Along the way, though, it's as if EMA has an epiphany when "Marked" bursts open with slightest hint of light -- As if the hole in her head she wishes these bad memories would escape finally opens, giving you the sense that EMA will survive this bullshit.

18. Ty Segall - "Goodbye Bread"
Laguna Beach surf bum Ty Segall's gnarly garage rock gets hot-boxed in this slow-moving title track off his latest release. Over the course of his many past efforts, the shaggy-haired slacker's music has been wrought with psychedelic distortion and decibel-bleeding riffs, but "Goodbye Bread" shows a more lonely, mellowed out side of Ty that garners him comparisons to matured classic rock kingpins such as Lennon and T. Rex rather than an angst-ridden Cobain knock-off.

17. Real Estate - "It's Real"
Beachcombing indie quintet Real Estate clean up nicely on their Domino Records debut, Days with the album's lead single, "It's Real." This sparkly pop number subdues the New Jersey quartet's summery sound in favor of something more withstanding of any temperature despite it's breezy feel. As lead singer Martin Courtney's vocals lift their way up and above the winding jangle of Matt Mondanile's signature guitar, "It's Real" is one of 2011's many great examples of lo-fi production quietly going away -- and for the better.

16. Cold Cave - "The Great Pan Is Dead"
Cold Cave has never shied away from wearing their influences on their black sleeves, and "The Great Pan Is Dead" dignifies each any every one of them on this single off their sophomore effort, Love Comes Close. Channeling an aggressive electronic industrial sound, "The Great Pan Is Dead" is high-charged with distortion, dramatic synths and a blissed-out chorus. If you've ever wondered how the former lead singer of American Nightmare bridged his influence of violent hardcore and cold wave pop, this song gives you a better indication.

15. Wild Flag - "Romance"
The indie supergroup made from members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium and Minder may on paper sound like a recipe for feminist rock rage, but Wild Flag takes the exact opposite approach on their cheeky debut single, "Romance." This could be the most pop thing any of these artists have recorded, complete with shout-along harmonies and a hand clap breakdown. Pay close attention to the words, though, as it's there you'll hear that Wild Flag isn't exactly selling out.

14. Touché Amoré - "Home Away From Here"
Living your life on the road can take its toll on both the mind and body, but if the experience results in this emotive outtake from Touché Amoré's Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me, consider the trip well worth it. On "Home Away From Here," we get a brutally honest account of making ends meet when living life DIY from frontman Jeremy Bolm. His lyrics growl like a journal entry ripped from the pages of Get In the Van amid a clamor of melodic post-hardcore, and in these two minutes, the term "emo" finally means something again.

13. Cloud Nothings - "Forget You All the Time"
Dylan Baldi's lo-fi project, Cloud Nothings stepped outside the bedroom in 2011 and along with that, he managed to shed a much-needed realistic portrayal on adolescent angst in "Forget You All the Time." With the help of three new band mates to flesh out Cloud Nothings' pop-punk sound, this relationship kiss-off rides the wave of a crunchy surf rock riff that seems more sinister than sunny considering, you know -- Baldi is basically putting on a front of happiness despite the underlying misery in his voice.

12. Neon Indian - "Hex Girlfriend"
Up until this year, Alan Palamo was the poster child for chill wave, but on "Hex Girlfriend," the Neon Indian mastermind shows off some vibrant new hues he must have kept hidden inside Psychic Chasm's lo-fi haze. The gussied up production may make Neon Indian's synth-driven dance beat glitter and melt, but Palamo also has a way of burning a scorching hook into your speakers in the same way that the track's protagonist commits his object of affection to memory.

11. Drake - "Marvin's Room"
Drizzy's brand of personalized storytelling hits a new level of over-sharing on this dark slowjam taken from Take Care. With Noah "40" Shabib's characteristic woozy R&B production painting the scene, we hear the Toronto hip-hopper drunk dial an ex-lover, which leads to a rollercoaster of TMI that makes good use of his signature half-breed swagger and self-deprecation. On one hand, there's the playboy talking about how many women he's bedded in the past week, and on the other, there's the lover looking for some stability and reality in his life -- Two conflicting traits that Drake excels in making good use of as one of the genre's most emotive artists.

10. Iceage - "You're Blessed"
If Danish punks Iceage's best moments of youthful chaos is heard in the tracks that sound like they're imploding from the inside, then "You're Blessed" is unstable dynamite to the stereo. Sloppy and reckless, this song culled from their debut New Brigade combines the heaviness of hardcore with a jagged edge of post-punk, leaving behind a raw listen unconfined by space and completely unaware to any destruction caused along the way.

9. M83 - "Midnight City"
Anthony Gonzalez has been flirting with bringing his brand of experimental electronic music to a larger audience since Saturdays = Youth grounded him on synth pop terrain, but on Hurry Up, We're Dreaming's lead single, "Midnight City," the M83 mastermind shows that despite his new found cohesive direction, he's still remains out of this world. On top of the extra-terrestrial synth sirens that launches "Midnight City" into the stars, it's the song's final moments where an appearance by the long-abandoned saxophone seems most originally alien.

8. GIRLS - "Alex"
On their sophomore effort Father, Son, Holy Ghost, San Francisco indie act GIRLS became a quartet with the addition of two new members, and the added muscle did wonders for their throwback rock sound. At the center of their music is frontman Christopher Owens, his bashful annunciations and young love perspective which come together perfectly on "Alex." As the band's rhythm section carries Owens' vocals like a fluttering heartbeat, the awkward frontman hits his stride like a hipster Buddy Holly that has listeners hanging onto each word curling off his lip.

7. Dum Dum Girls - "Coming Down"
Despite the return of Mazzy Star, it was Dum Dum Girls' heavily indebted influence to the slo-core luminaries' style on "Coming Down" that hit the right chord in 2011. Sprawling with lush guitars, less fuzz and frontwoman Dee Dee finding a new confidence in her vocals, "Coming Down" is an anti-"Fade Into You" ballad that delivers one heck of a knockout during it's climactic bridge when Dee Dee assertively tells her ex-lover, "There I go...," walks right out the door and never looks back.

6. PJ Harvey - "The Last Living Rose"
Alt-rock lifer PJ Harvey returns in fine form with this tongue-in-cheek ode to her homeland of England. "The Last Living Rose" is dark and smeared with cultural irony, but you would never guess it by the sounds of clanky guitars and obtuse horns that make for a jolly listen. It's Polly Jean's echoed murmurs that carry off into the distance in the track's tail end however that make "The Last Living Rose" sound like it was written by an old haunt trapped by the shackles of political inequalities and social dreariness that persist in modern day Britain.

5. JEFF the Brotherhood - "Diamond Way"
JEFF the Brotherhood may practice a penchant for psych-rock guitar solos and stoner jams, but "Diamond Way" is far from a rough cut off their 2011 effort, We Are the Champions. Backed by a ripply guitar riff as the brother Orrall channel the simplistic pop song structures of The Ramones (and a catchy "Whoa-oa-oa!" hook to punctuate the effect,) it's a modernized homage to classic punk rock -- Proving once more that a "Diamond" is forever.

4. Yuck - "Get Away"
In one of the year's most scorching opening numbers, "Get Away" is the firecracker that newcomers Yuck throw into your stereo to loudly kick off their self-titled debut with a bang. Complete with an abundance of pedal-to-the-floor distortion, hissing feedback, neon guitars, a stomping beat and lead singer Daniel Blumberg delivering a hook that grabs you into a timewarp of '90s indie rock nostalgia, it's just one of many great tracks Yuck produced this year -- and the only that contains every element of their successful sound.

3. Fucked Up - "The Other Shoe"
Despite the rock opera being designated as the "most un-punk" of music styles, Fucked Up's "The Other Shoe" keeps their daring attitude in tact despite its accessible persuasions. Sure, the guitars twinkle in a very slick way and the juxtaposition of the backing female chorus against Damian Abraham's gruff vocals soften the blow, but "The Other Shoe" is where hardcore, punk and indie finally collide in a way that makes sense.

2. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Belong"
In the grand scheme of '90s nostalgia, it's the lead track off The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's sophomore effort Belong that captures the heart of 120 Minutes-era alternative rock. Veteran producer and mix team, The Flood and Alan Moulder work behind the scenes refining the Brooklyn quartet's lo-fi sound into glossy nu-gaze adorned with crunchy reverb and starry-eyed synths. Counter-complimented by frontman Kip Berman's timid vocals, the slick refinements result in The Pains reaching new romantic heights with their cuddly noise pop style.

1. Trash Talk - "Awake"
A song can reflect the state of the world we live in, and no band symbolically conveyed today's perspective of rebellious turmoil more authentically than "Awake" by Sacramento hardcore act, Trash Talk. In 2011, we watched from television sets and our office windows as people across the globe took to the streets in mass frustration and anger against leadership, corruption, economic inequality and in some cases, just because. Drawing influence from power-violence's rapid fire and youth crew's bombast, "Awake" is Trash Talk's wake-up call to listeners -- A tuneful metaphor for a 2011 attitude during a time when we sure could use something to soundtrack the uprising.


  1. Nice list, thanks a lot for that! SOme great records on there!