"I can't believe 2011 is over."

One of the best parts of a year ending is the numerous year end countdowns.  So without further adieu, here is our countdown of the top 21 songs of 2011.

21. The Joy Formidable- Austere

Think of a Tegan & Sara voice and a chunkier guitar and you get this great track from The Joy Formidable. There’s an echo vocal that is catchy and a good dose of distortion.

20. Still Corners- Cuckoo

Normally we are hesitant when guitars are too muted and reverbed in order to mask the performance, but here it works. It enhances the delicacy of the vocals. The singing isn’t very catchy, but has a sophisticated vintage tone, and a softness that can be heard by others like Lykke Li. The keyboard also brings a bit of Beach House influence to our ears as well.

19. Fleet Foxes-The Shrine/An Argument

Technically, The Shrine/An Argument might be considered two songs, and they sound as such. But the variance and connectivity is a great balance. Fleet Foxes departed slightly from their first album release and went deeper into what we might tag as progressive folk. This new recipe has a tad less sunshine pop, but the baroque harmonies still abound with even more elaborate instrumentation and experimentation. It all works. The world/eastern/freeform jazz vibes and the longer track times make it less accessible, but it still holds up well. This song, as well as their others, may take it a bit to grow on you, but still have the craft of great songwriting.

18. The Naked & Famous- Young Blood

Starting off with the electropop grooves, we could tell the song could go in two directions- ultracheese 80s revival or a mainstay track that we could imagine being played in Forever 21 and increasing their sales. I think its the latter. The song has potential to get old, but only time will tell for this one. The female vocals really hit the spot and seems like a poppier cousin to Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).”

17. Smith Westerns- All Die Young

We would never think of slide guitar (is that what it is?) fitting with a hybrid indie-pop song with a falsetto voice. The 70s rock guitar suits the tune as well, then a bridge kicks in that comes out of the Happy Days era 50s pop, then returns with the indie stylings of today.

16. Bon Iver- Holocene

When we first heard this song, we could tell that we had heard elements of it before. In fact, the riff comes from an early incarnation during Justin Vernon’s solo career before his fame came (see Hazelton in our earlier playlist). This overhaul includes horns and more high-pitched singing with a matured vocal palate. It also has a little less vocal intensity than Hazelton, but has stronger orchestration which drastically changes the tone. What it does lacks is the simplistic emotional power of his earlier album, For Emma, Forever Ago. This is also one of the songs that wasn’t too synthesized compared to others on his 2011 release. The 80s keyboard didn’t do it for us- maybe we are just stuck on his Soul/Folk/Twang origins. Still, its a calm song without fluff.

15. Gauntlet Hair- Top Bunk

A strange melody with an Animal Collective style swirl of guitar. Experimentation can get a little redundant and sound the same, but this song manages to be unique. The voice has a British quality similar to Bloc Party, but they are actually from Denver. The avant garde sounds may be comparable to Foals mixed with TV on the Radio.

14. The Kills -Future Starts Slow

The piercing one-note guitar sells it for us. The band in general doesn’t always impress us, but this track sure did. So much, that it played on repeat during a work session. The male/female duo is gritty and perfectly paired. It sounds bad (as in devious). The spoken style just enhance to the overly simple punk blues riff. Very raw and minimal, but so impacting.

13. Gudrid Hansdottir – Í Mjørka

When we saw this Faroese songwriter in concert, this song really stuck out to Kathryn.  Joey didn’t really think of it as the best song he had heard, but it grew on him. It does have a lasting flare that represents the folk of Northern Europe, and the subject also beckons the grey fog of Seattle as well. It definitely sums up our first winter experience in Seattle.

12. Milagres- Glowing_Mouth

Another one for the record books that uses staccato organ to draw you in. It does an excellent job and brings to mind Grizzly Bear’s Two Weeks. In fact, it’s almost the same tempo, but the voice is what stands out as being different. The light singing fits really well.

11. Grand Hallway- Roscoe (What a Gift)

“What a gift to be born” is a self-descriptive lyric when you hear the song. The uplifting, thankful tone proclaims the positivity of music and life in an ungimmicky, angelic manner. The acoustic guitar is finger-picked in a way that the voice bounces off  each pluck of the string. Even if you aren’t spiritual or religious, there is a praiseworthy emotion that is stirring and contemplative.

10. Metronomy – Everything Goes My Way

Listening to Metronomy’s third album, The English Rivera, was a pleasant surprise.  Instead of the electro pop that we have come to expect, the album boasts a melancholic, introspective vibe.  The song, Everything Goes My Way, featuring Roxanne Clifford, epitomizes this shift.  It is a beautiful, mesmerizing song.

9. Alex Winston- Choice Notes

Alex Winston has a great voice. This super catchy tune sounds like it came from an episode of Muppet Babies. The tinkling piano keys set you up for a happy ear-to-brain experience. And her voice is a bit childish, yet skilled polished and at the same time. The group of females have a solid girl-group-revival going on. As a pop song, this really takes the cake.

8. Generationals- Greenleaf

This is the type of song that exudes pop sensibility.  The upbeat piano draws you in right from the start and makes you want to jump out of your chair and start dancing.  It is peppy, fun, and energetic.  I guarantee that after listening to Greenleaf, you will have a smile on your face.

7. Wu Lyf- Dirt

We love this band. They are pros at making simple sounds so powerful and completely digestible. The only thing we can’t praise is that the lyrics aren’t fully comprehensible. And that may be a deal-breaker for some people. Others may scoff at the preposterous grunts of rage. Or maybe you dislike their anti-marketing of secrecy and perceived snobbery. Either way, the music reaches the visceral and subconscious crevices of youthful instincts, whether you care or not.

6. TV on the Radio- Will Do

It has a similar beat as their earlier hit DLZ, but has a somber feel that’s a bit more laid back. Good for petting your animal to or watching some Prince-inspired videos made by TV on the Radio. I really like the inflection when he says “caldera.”

5. Zoo Kid- Out Getting Ribs

This sounds like it could be an early ballad done by the Replacements if they had zany britishy accents. This captivates us in a bare sensibility of consciousness. The post-hardcore contemplation seeping through the gentle guitar is not to be messed with.

4. Grand Hallway- Little Sister

This has a great music video. Besides the video, the song is a gentle one, that flows and runs nicely. The voice is non-masculine. It keeps the softness that are evoked in the lyrics.

3. Nurses – Fever Dreams

Fever Dreams is an all around memorable song with a nasally voice steered in the direction of Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, yet it is different in its own way.  It is very easy to get stuck in your head, but in a good way.

2. Youth Lagoon- Afternoon

Trever Powers, the musician behind Youth Lagoon, is only 22 years old, which surprises us. From such a young kid, his yearlong effort is full of nice songsmanship. It has a pure digital-lofi appeal and enough chillwave gusto to capture the hearts of today’s music trenders. It also has a tinge of garage pop goodness to satisfy our historical reflections. We dig the rolling guitar that meshes with the simple electronic keyboardage. The recording came out of speakers blaring in a garage and has an interesting clash of analog and digitalism.

1. Wu Lyf- Spitting Blood

Energy spills out in a crazed and wild swing of island chaos. Jiggle your torsos and be so happy to withstand bizarro utterances of joy and naive futurism projected into some unfathomable danceable chant rock. Out of the cradle of Tom Waits and jam-packed with the umph of organesque Arcade Fire, we are left with the triumph that happens when you combine the screams of primitivism with the cinematic ups and downs of well-made post-rock instrumentals.

Enjoy these songs, and please support the artists by purchasing their music and attending their concerts. Keep on listening to music in 2012!