40. “Discoverer” R.E.M.
Released March 7 on Collapse Into Now // In 2011, we saw R.E.M. throw in the towel after a 31-year career. I reminisced about their legacy and last single back in mid-October, but this song was their freshest of the year. In my mind, it was one of the only comprehensible tracks on the reverb-filled nonsense of Collapse Into Now. A youthful energy belies singer Michael Stipe’s 51 years of age, and Peter Buck’s guitar shreds like it’s 1992 all over again.
39. “Helplessness Blues” Fleet Foxes
Released May 3 on Helplessness Blues // Although a follow-up to 2008’s wonderful debut was expected two years ago, touring and other factors pushed back Fleet Foxes sophomore effort until earlier this year. In order to be as cliched as possible, I’ll say that it was worth the wait. This song commands the attention of fans and lay-persons alike and signals the beginning of a new era for indie-folk’s best-known band.
38. “Worldwide Choppers” Tech N9ne
Released May 31 as a single // Tech N9ne, veteran of the hip-hop thug party world, gathered up as many “choppers” from across the world as he could for a five-and-a-half minute excursion into lyrical oblivion. As far as I understand it, a “chopper” is a rapper who raps quickly. Very, very quickly. If you’re one of those learn-by-example types, it might be best to just click play on the song above. Warning: Do not operate heavy machinery while trying to decipher the words.
37. “Darling Buds of May” Viva Brother
Released August 1 on Famous First Words // For their first single, Viva Brother crafted a weaving alt-pop song that hums along with deft precision. The verse “oohs” from singer Leonard Newell are instantly addictive. This pulsating number is not strong all the way through, but it is a great start for the boys from Slough, U.K.
36. “Brighter Than the Sun” Colbie Caillat
Released May 23 as a single // Here is an example of an artist with a knack for crafting radio hits that keep her in the game when you don’t expect her to stick around much longer. The hook this time around is the first single from her third album, All of You. Just like 2009’s “Fallin’ For You,” this track is a warm splash of sunshine that lets you know Miss Caillat has what it takes to stay in the spotlight for as long as she wants.
35. “Rox In the Box” The Decemberists
Released January 14 on The King Is Dead // Songs that count seem to crop up by the handful each year—i.e. Beyonce’s “Countdown” or Plain White T’s “1234”—but the Decemberists take arithmetic to a whole ‘notha level. Colin Meloy’s nasal voice counts up to 10, skipping four, five and six along the way. While some numbers may be missing, the band’s joyful sound/cryptic message motif works spectacularly in their place.
34. “Two Against One” Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi (with Jack White)
Released May 16 on Rome // If there’s a post-millenium collaboration that was bound to happen, it was Danger Mouse and Jack White. The Black Keys and Gnarls Barkley producer develops a haunting backbeat with Danielle Luppi (a man known for cinematic productions) for White to croon over in this gem.
33. “Burn” Killer Mike
Released May 17 on Pl3dge // What Killer Mike lacks in swift vocal ability, he makes up for in pure venom. This track is seemingly a response to the Oscar Grant murder in January of 2010. The chorus is literally Mike just saying “I will burn…this mother…fucker…down” in a voice that sounds like he actually intends on brutal arson. This is a fresh take on the 1%, acting as a battle cry for those who are fed up with their socioeconomic status.
32. “Lonely Boy” The Black Keys
Released October 26 as a single // The Keys are back in a big way after their popularity went off the charts in 2010. The band sounds as if they are picking up right where they left off on El Camino, released this week. This cut is an energetic bopper, driven by Dan Auerbach’s powerful guitar work and Patrick Carney’s thumping percussion section. It looks like we’re in for another year of Black Keys mania, and these guys are definitely worth it.
31. “Otis” The Throne
Released July 20 as a single // Kanye West and Jay-Z both have countless amounts of material that would blow their collaboration Watch the Throne out of the water, but this track sticks out in a positive way. Yeezy and Hova bounce witty lines off each other over a clever Otis Redding sample, creating an addictive frenetic energy. Hopefully, their future projects sound like this.