So look, we at the Ze Cat offices don’t really care about Adele. She’s talented and we understand that her music is enjoyable to many. It’s just not something we haven’t already heard a million times before, and by better artists. So no, you won’t find Adele tracks sprinkled throughout our list. You also won’t find Britney Spears or Katy Perry or Jay-Z or Kanye or Rihanna or Nicki Minaj tracks. We like pop music, we just don’t like where pop is at in 2011. Aside from Rebecca Black and Beyonce. Those gals are great. Gaga blows. And why listen to Jay-Z and Kanye’s ode to materialism and lazy verses and beats when Common spent time working with No I.D. and Nas?
1. “You Make the Sun Fry,” Ty Segall – Typically, when asked to name my favorite tracks of the year, I go for big, epic, crazy or inventive picks, at least towards the top. This year, however, the choice for No. 1 was undeniable: a short, garage rock blast of noisy sing-along brilliance. There’s not a bit of tune I listened to 1/10th as much as I blasted this cut from Ty’s top-to-bottom killer new record. A simple slice of rock n’ roll bliss made perfect – and seemingly in slow-mo – for the garage stoner in us all. Simple. Perfect. Ze Cat’s new go-to track.
2. “Distorted Cymbals,” Mount Eerie - Mount Eerie honcho Phil Elverum is known for being prolific. He’s released over 10 records in the last 10 years, as well as a number of EPs, singles and collaborative projects. He’s produced a number of artists, played in other bands, executed the What the Heck Fest, painted amazing paintings and even written a book or two. But, in 2010 and 2011, he released no studio albums (okay, last year saw the release of the GREAT odds and ends collection, Song Islands, Vol. II, and this year saw a reissue of his Black Wooden EP). What Phil did release in 2011 was a single song, titled “Distorted Cymbals,” released by his old friends at K Records. The song isn’t officially out until February 7, 2012, when it will be released as a 7″ single, but we’ve been listening to it on K’s blog for two months now. Obsessively. It’s the best of Phil. Almost as if he attempted to make the most Phil Elverum-sounding song of his career. Deeply detailed beauty that sounds like no one else, ever.
3. “Tigers,” Stephen Malkmus - One has to assume that this song, the opening track from SM’s best record since Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, is aimed at his two little daughters. It’s loose and funny and bright and hopeful, Malkmus even singing the lyrics “change is all we need to improve” with – gasp – no irony in sight. And it sounds as much like Malkmus as any song ever – the guitar tone, the jangle, the girly vocal twist, the slight chug of the rhythm section, the unlikely ending. The perfect SM single, a great song from a great album, and one of his best tracks … ever.
4. “Holocene,” Bon Iver - I’ve been informed that it’s now uncool to like Bon Iver. Some girl at Starbucks told me. Funny. I like the guy. I mean, I don’t like everything he does, but when he’s good, he’s DAMN good. And I think “Holocene,” from his eponymous sophomore record, is his most impressive production to date. An elaborate and delicate song that reveals itself more and more with each spin. One of those rare “how the fuck did he think to do that” songs. And damn, what an incredibly dramatic tune.
5. “Deceiver,” Jon Keller - This big sounding, heavily ornamented, hugely produced track was almost entirely recorded by one guy, in a tiny bedroom, over several months. The track sees Keller stepping away from his Elliott Smith lovin’ roots in favor of his own voice. So good. A great way to kick off one of the year’s best discs. Listen to “Deceiver” HERE. Now if this lazy Nashvillian punk would just make a music video already.
6. “The Bad in Each Other,” Feist - Authentically emotional songs are rare. Well, I should say, good songs that are authentically emotional are so rare. Sure, this wasn’t what most people wanted out of Leslie “1 2 3 4″ Feist, but that only adds to the allure. The girl is the real deal. The best song from a hugely underrated record.
7. “Santa Fe,” Beirut - It was hard to pick a favorite song from Beirut’s killer new album, The Rip Tide, but, for today at least, we’ll go with “Santa Fe.” Beirut has a lot of grand ambitions and ideas, and in the past that has made for spotty albums full of promise. On this new record, and on this track in particular, Zach “Beirut” Condon seems to have finally figured himself out all the way. And, damn, is that a good, good thing.
8. “Codex,” Radiohead - In 2011, finally, people started to turn on Radiohead. It was inevitable. We at the Ze Cat offices, however, stayed on board the Radiohead Train, loving their new record, The King of Limbs, top to bottom. Maybe we didn’t love it as much as their best records, but, overall, we really, really dug the downbeat, Fourtet-inspired sound. Very thick, layered, melodic, complex and beautiful. And “Codex” is our favorite of the bunch. Today, at least.
9. “Bad As Me,” Tom Waits - Just one of the many great tracks from the latest studio effort from the legendary Tom Waits, “Bad As Me” sees Tom channeling his greatest self, writing another anthem in a timeless manner. We could go on about this one. On and on and on. Another classic from one of Ze Cat’s all-time heroes.
10. “Nasty,” Nas - Hip-hop track of the year? Yeah, we think so. Here Nas returns to his best self, writing classic verses over a classic beat. “Nasty” reminds us of what this man is capable of when he really feels the fire. Now if he could just do this 10 times in one session and finally put out another classic record. We know ya have it in ya, buddy. Hopefully you settle in, pick 10 classic beats (Lord knows the Beat Gods come to you first with their bangers) and really dig in and write some of those smooth tongue twisters soon. Please, dude. F’real. Hip-hop needs you.
11. “Countdown,” Beyonce - Pop music is in a dark, messy place right now. The full-on convergence of hip-hop and pop was inevitable, and pop heroes have almost always had handlers. But these days, most pop stars – the big ones, like Gaga, Katy, etc. – seem like little more than faces. And the music? It’s all over the place. The albums rarely have any sort of definable character and the focus is as much on the clothes and tabloids as it is the music. But Beyonce is the real deal. Her albums are super spotty and she has her share of handlers, true, but each album usually has two or three really great songs. “Countdown,” a song featuring incredible production and our video of the year, is a champion pop track that offers the best aspects of modern pop music. And damn if this isn’t one of the best music videos ever produced. We did the math, and it’s exactly one billion times better than the one that baby Kanye cried about a few years ago.
12. “Parallax,” Atlas Sound - Bradford Cox is one prolific dude. Every year or so he releases a new record and, on each of those discs, there are at least two or three incredible songs (as well as a handful of very good tracks). “Parallax,” a very unique, personal and delicately textured production, just slightly edges out the too-long “Mona Lisa” for Bradford Cox moment of the year in 2011. (Note: Cox released out favorite song of 2010, the great “Coronado,” from Deerhunter’s great Halcyon Days record. One of our faves of 2010.)
13. “Cheerleader,” St. Vincent - The first time this track, the highlight from St. Vincent’s incredible new record, Strange Mercy, hit the Ze Catalist office speakers, we choked. Then cried. Then turned right. Then hit repeat. What an incredible production. WIth this album, we think, Annie Clark steps to the front of the experimental female singer/songwriter pack. Past Bjork, past Feist. up there with Queen Weirdo herself, Joanna Newsom. Annie’s new record feels like a modern ode to classic era Talking Heads to us. Unlikely arrangements and production galore.
14. “Midnight City,” M83 - This track, as heard on a Victoria Secret commercial and in every hip bar or eatery around the U.S., has already pretty much gone down as the best song of 2011. So says the masses. We’d be lying if we said our collective jaw didn’t drop to the floor the first time we heard this cut. Now if only the rest of the album was this good. Regardless, a great, great track. A new nighttime anthem for cool kids with stupid fucking glasses everywhere.
15. “Abducted,” Cults - An incredibly cinematic and tasteful video adorns the lead single from Cults, one of our favorite new bands of 2011. Madeline Follin’s vocals just soar and soar over Brian Oblivion’s killer arrangements. Coupla cool, talented kids we have here. It’ll be fun to see what they do next. We doubt they’ll top their excellent debut, but our fingers are crossed in hope that they’re the real deal.
16. “New Direction,” Black Lips - Just one of the many single- and anthem-worthy tracks from the killer new Black Lips record. Their best album yet. Feels like a modern classic, even if it hasn’t been treated as such by music media and fans alike. One of the great modern garage pop records, and one of today’s best bands at the height of their powers. Don’t be surprised if this song ends up in movies and TV commercials over the next few years. To our ears, these guys have become the modern Stones equivalent; if ya don’t get it, we can’t help ya.
17. “Apathy,” Mikal Cronin - Holy donuts. This one caught our ear in the final seconds of 2011. What a doozy of a song/record this is. We’d say more but, frankly, we’re still getting to know this tune, and Mikal in general. Killer track from Ty Segall’s best pal.
18. “We All Go Back To Where We Belong,” R.E.M. - One of the best tracks of the year from one of the best bands ever is supported by a video featuring the actress who gave the best performance of the year. Sad to see R.E.M. go, but like Neil said, comes a time. Going out with this incredible new track is a sweet move, Stipe/Buck/Mills. We’ll miss you dudes forever.
19. “Jesus Fever” – Kurt Vile - Talk about a breakout year. Here’s the best song from one of the best albums of the year. The artist all your favorite musicians were listening to in 2011. While they were getting baked, we’d bet.
20. “Blue Eyes,” Middle Brother (tie) - Stomp your feet, drink cheap beer, stay up all night, do it again. Here it is, one of the bro anthems of the year. THE bro anthem of the year. Lots of talent in this crew.
20. “I Get Lifted,” Snoop Dogg + Wiz Khalifa (tie) - The best pure Snoop track since … well … Doggystyle? Yep. The album, as a whole, isn’t the best, but this song is so chill, so classic, so instantly likable. Great beat, great production, great hook. And the Wiz verses are absolutely killer. Great little slice of classic West Coast hip-hop.
ALSO: 21. “After It Ends,” John Vanderslice; 22. “Senator” – Stephen Malkmus; 23. “Art of Almost,” Wilco; 24. “Forever 28″ – Stephen Malkmus; 25. “Drop D Blues Weekend,” Church Shoes; 26. “Where Nebulae Die,” Lee Miles; 27. “The Wall,” Yuck; 28. “Vomit,” Girls; 29. “Gun Shy,” Thunderhawk; 30. “East Harlem” – Beirut; 31. “I Might” – Wilco; 32. “Es-So,” tUnE-yArDs; 33. “Talking At the Same Time” – Tom Waits; 34. “The Last Living Rose,” PJ Harvey; 35. “Culture War,” Arcade Fire; 36. “Six Foot Seven Foot,” Lil’ Wayne; 37. “Kindness,” Ryan Adams; 38. “Bad As Me” – Tom Waits; 39. “Don’t Mess Up My Baby” – The Black Lips; 40. “It’s Real,” Real Estate; 41. “Perpetual Storm,” DromemorD; 42. “Small Talk in Hieroglyphics,” The Elky Summers; 43. “Gorgeous Georgie” – Stephen Malkmus; 44. “The Rip Tide” – Beirut; 45. “Perth” – Bon Iver; 46. “Es-So” – tUnE-yArDs; 47. “Spidey’s Curse” – The Black Lips; 48. “Chloe In the Afternoon” – St. Vincent; 49. “Get Away” – Yuck; 50. “Rubber” – Yuck; 51. “The First Thing” – Jon Keller; 52. “Lotus Flower,” Radiohead; 53. “A Bottle Tonight” – Jon Keller; 54. “Ghetto Dreams,” Common and Nas; 55. “Mona Lisa” – Atlas Sound; 56. “Dawned On Me” – Wilco; 57. “Gangsta” – tUnE-yArDs; 58. “Not Enough” – J. Mascis; 59. “Already Dead” – Jon Keller; 60. “Don’t Carry It All,” The Decemberists; 61. “Morning Mr. Magpie” – Radiohead; 62. “Calgary” – Bon Iver; 63. “Heart In Your Heartbreak,” Pains of Being Pure at Heart; 64. “Runner Ups,” Kurt Vile; 65. “Ashes + Fire” – Ryan Adams; 66. “Save Me” – Ryan Adams; 67. “California,” EMA; 68. “You,” TV On the Radio; 69. “Pumped Up Kicks,” Foster the People; 70. “Friday,” Rebecca Black.
Yeah, sure. We forgot a lot of good stuff. T’was a damn good year for tunes. Now go check out Rob Sheffield’s list and have yourself a solid laff.