Do you remember Tom Cruise in “The Firm,” how he was constantly running? That’s how I feel about 2011.
I spent the first seven months of this year traveling overseas. Then I returned to California, where I moved to a new apartment, started a new job, began grad school and made some new friends. It was a year of movement, of being in flux, of constant motion.
It’s no wonder I could barely catch up with pop culture this year. Until August, I was more familiar with Thai karaoke tunes than anything on Pitchfork. My friends had to sit me down and explain Nicki Minaj. And I still have no idea what a Bruno Mars is, nor do I care.
So it was actually a struggle to compile this year’s list of 14 favorites. (Why 14 songs? Because 11 wasn’t enough, 12 is stupid, and I’m too superstitious to do 13.) The list is a little disjointed and disconnected, but hey — that reflects my 2011 just fine.
Alabama Shakes “I Found You”
Take everything I love about the Black Keys and dip it in sweet tea. And then add a woman with a super-powered set of pipes. That’s Alabama Shakes. They’re still a really young and uneven band, but this song is a true standout.
You know that guy who fronts Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes? Did you think his name was Edward Sharpe? Me too. Well, we were wrong. His name is Alexander, and this is his hip hop-inspired jam.
Beirut “Santa Fe”
His voice sounds like crying. And sometimes that makes me happy.
Blood Orange “Sutphin Blvd.”
Dev Hynes creates music that is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It’s layered, cinematic, complicated … I don’t even know how to really describe it. This song takes me by the hand and leads me into a place I thought I forgot a long time ago.
Booker T. Jones ft. Yim Yames “Progress”
Pure magic. Classic R&B underneath the golden voice of My Morning Jacket’s vocalist. I just want to preserve this sound in a little glass case forever.
The Cave Singers “Swim Club”
I remember being 16 in a humid Ohio summer. Driving back roads with my friends on starless nights full of potential. Laughing until I choked. Feeling like I would never get old. This song sounds like that.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. “Simple Girl”
They come really close to being the modern Beach Boys. The harmonies just kill me.
Friends “I’m His Girl”
This song does the 80s better than the 80s ever did.
Gotye “Somebody That I Used to Know”
Oh, how this song wounds me. It’s a slow lead-up to a powerful payoff. Love it. I’m pretty sure I’ve cried more than once while listening to this.
Los Campesinos! “By Your Hand”
I saw this Welch band play a few years ago at Coachella. They were so sweet and self-deprecating, I was utterly charmed by them. They’re not the strongest or most solid band, but I appreciate their energy and exuberance. They get better every year.
M83 “Midnight City”
My choice for song of the year. I don’t understand it — usually electronic synth pop leaves me more than a little cold — but this song is melancholy in a good way, the way that makes me ache for something unknown. It climbs right into that hollow space underneath my breastbone, settles in and stretches its legs.
Papa “I am the Lion King”
How fun is this band? They are everything fizzy and California.
Toro Y Moi “Still Sound”
It’s weird how this song sounds simultaneously like 1981 and 2011. It’s like watching “3-2-1 Contact” on my iPhone.
This one is just here for the video, which is awesome.