30. “She’s Enough” Atmosphere
Released April 12 on The Family Sign // Slug and Ant have been busy building their midwest hip-hop empire since the mid-90s, and the fruits of their labor are abundant; Eyedea & Abilities, Brother Ali and new kid Grieves are just a few examples of solid branches stemming from the Rhymesayers tree. Just because they’re signing new talent does not mean that they’re done making records, however. This track stood out in a fun way on their Top 10 spring release.
29. “You Are a Tourist” Death Cab For Cutie
Released March 29 as a single // For a long time, critics of Death Cab for Cutie wondered why singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard was so sad all the time. Well, the group finally put out a semi-uplifting album this spring after Gibbard’s marriage to actress Zooey Deschanel (they’ve since been separated). This song is like a life guide for the high school girl who wants to run away from home and be a model. Or an actress. Or a hooker (Hey, no discrimination here). Plus, the guitar riff is sexy.
28. “Calgary” Bon Iver
Released June 14 as a single // While every indie fan knew of Bon Iver’s existence before 2011 and maybe even owned a few tracks on their iTunes (“record collection”), he was never an essential artist to obsess over. This year’s eponymous album changed everything, and he now finds himself up for multiple Grammy nominations and the hearts of hipsters across the nation. “Calgary” began the charge in June, and is a swirling reminder that this guy is the real deal.
27. “Red Solo Cup” Toby Keith
Released October 24 as a single // One of country’s biggest badasses came through big time on every college campus this fall with this cut. Essentially an ode to drinking alcohol out of a big red plastic cup, Mr. Keith stumbles through this song’s verses with a drunken, preachy air: “You sir do not have a pair of testicles if you prefer drinking from glass.” The video is a good time, too.
26. “Make Some Noise” Beastie Boys
Released April 11 as a single // They survived the ’90s, a couple “ehh…” records and even cancer, but the Beastie Boys are somehow still kicking. The video for this song picks up where the end of the “Fight For Your Right” flick ended in 1986. The trick is that instead of Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock stepping out of a raucous party, it’s Danny McBride, Seth Rogen and Elijah Wood. If you have time, check out the full-length version featuring Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and countless other gut-busters.
25. “Longing To Belong” Eddie Vedder
Released May 31 on Ukelele Songs // It’s not as if we didn’t know Eddie has a soft side. Early Pearl Jam cuts like “Black” and “Oceans” showcased a sensitive lyricist with an ear for a catchy melody. Despite this, there was a decent amount of skepticism when Vedder’s new solo project was announced as “man + ukelele with little else.” This ballad features some nice four-string action and a heart-breaking set of lyrics.
24. “Tree By the River” Iron & Wine
Released January 25 on Kiss Each Other Clean // I was introduced to this song via an acoustic Iron & Wine session on Minneapolis’ 89.3 The Current. The track is almost better in bare-bones form, but the album version has a nice mix to it. The constant variable in both is Sam Beam’s warm voice, which never gets old. His sometimes-odd lyrics (“I’m in love with a potty-mouthed girl”) are easy to shake off and, eventually, enjoy.
23. “S&M” Rihanna
Released January 21 as a single // This is the song that immediately sent my generation to Google. “What the hell is S&M?” was the main sentiment. Well, besides being pop goddess Rihanna’s biggest song of 2011, it also stands for sadomasochism, which is basically the enjoyment of pain and humiliation during sex. It’s not like the video gives you any hints, right?
22. “From the Clouds” Jack Johnson
Released March 1 as a single // This song was fairly under-appreciated this year. When I first heard it, I thought it was the first single from an upcoming record, but it turns out it’s a holdover from 2010’s To The Sea. Jackie J continues his winning ways with the simple formula of a catchy riff followed by a catchy verse, followed by a catchy hook. This guy makes it look easy.
21. “Lightspeed” Grieves
Released March 8 as a single // The first time I saw Grieves, he was standing on the main stage at Soundset 2011 with a goofy grin, looking for all the world as if he had wandered over there from a skateboarding clinic for skinny white kids. What’s the saying again? Don’t judge a rapper by his lip ring? Grieves has found quite a niche for authentic emo-kid-turned-star song themes and lyrics that still make an impact on those listening. This cut was our introduction to his solid Rhymesayers debut record that instantly garnered the Seattle rapper a plethora of new fans.