20. “Brendan’s Death Song” Red Hot Chili Peppers
Released August 29 on I’m With You // Twenty-seven years after their inception, the Chili Peppers are still cranking out tunes. Their latest effort was without all-world guitarist John Frusciante, but newcomer Josh Klinghoffer fills the void nicely, especially on this luscious jam. A melodic finger-picked intro gives way to an emotional chorus and a moving ending. This was easily the highlight of RHCP’s tenth studio album.
19. “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” Arctic Monkeys
Released April 12 as a single // The Arctic Monkeys have been slowly drifting away from the sound they captured on their chart-topping debut album, and their fourth LP continues their sonic development (or “slide,” as some fans might say). Although their records are becoming more experimental and less enjoyable, this ditty stands out as a strong track. Still, it’s light years away from “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.
18. “Till I Get There” Lupe Fiasco
Released March 4 on Lasers // It’s hard to categorize Lupe Fiasco’s work. He dips one foot in the pop stratosphere, and another in the pool of intellectual hip-hop. His third album is (unfortunately?) related more to the former category, with the mega-hit “The Show Goes On” leading the charge. This cut is my favorite, featuring a despondent Lupe rhyming over a instantly catchy piano beat.
17. “If You Wanna” The Vaccines
Released March 14 as a single // I happened across the Vaccines on accident this summer when they opened for the Arctic Monkeys at First Avenue in Minneapolis. I had no idea who they were, but there seemed to be a buzz about them being “the next big thing” in the U.K. After a few songs, I could definitely see what people were talking about, and this infectious number instantly latched on to my brain. Singer Justin Young is constantly brooding, but in a joyful manner. This track and “Post-Break Up Sex” are the best examples of this happy angst from the band’s debut, What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?
16. “Moves Like Jagger” Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera
Released June 21 as a single // Best songwriting of the year? Ehh… Catchiest songwriting of the year? Duh. That has to count for something, and between the incessant whistling and irrelevant Aguilera verse, Adam Levine and his mates doodled up a winner here. Before you hate on this choice, please recall the ten million times you sang this song under your breath in 2011.
15. “Barton Hollow” The Civil Wars
Released January 10 as a single // I haven’t heard any other tracks from the Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow, but this single alone brings me very close to buying the whole thing. This is a duet of intensity and release, with energy dripping off of it by the time its three-and-a-half minutes are up. Joy Williams and John Paul White see-saw through the gnarly down-home guitar work and gingerly weave across the bouncing kick drum. Think of this as the White Stripes, Americana-style.
14. “Sleep Forever” Portugal. The Man
Released July 19 on In the Mountain In the Cloud // This band is one of the most productive music outfits of all time, with 12 combined LPs and EPs since 2005. Their latest effort, In the Mountain In the Cloud, is their first under the Atlantic record label umbrella, and is yet another small step in the band’s continual transformation. This track closes the album, combining haunting vocals with a backbeat that hesitates before bursting with joy.
13. “MoneyGrabber” Fitz and the Tantrums
Released January 5 as a single // I didn’t realize that Fitz and the Tantrums’ Pickin’ Up the Pieces came out in August 2010, so it’s a little sketchy to have this song on the list, seeing as an official single was never released. I will count it, however, because some sort of digital download package was released in January, and this song didn’t really take off until 2011. Therefore, we can all enjoy this tasty bit of neo soul one more time (you’re welcome).
12. “Under Cover of Darkness” The Strokes
Released February 9 as a single // Much like the aforementioned “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair,” this song took a while to sink in. After a couple initial listens, I was disappointed, but as time dragged on, I realized this is one of the best songs The Strokes have ever produced. It’s by far my favorite from Angles, and the piercing guitar riffs that at first seemed very questionable are now a welcome sound whenever the radio is on.
11. “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” Katy Perry
Released June 6 as a single // I’ll admit it. I have a soft spot for Katy Perry. There’s something about her voice and her songwriting that is inescapably good. Perry tied Michael Jackson’s long-held record for most consecutive No.1 singles from one album this year (I wrote a small piece about it back in August), and “Last Friday Night” was 2011’s biggest hit during that run. There’s nothing super memorable about the instrumental parts, just an easy-flowing background synth that allows Perry to tell her story of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in her irresistible hum-drum manner.