Listen to all of the songs on our Top 50 list on Spotify (with a few exceptions) by clicking the button below. View our Albums Of The Year list here.
50. Smith Westerns: “All Die Young”
These Chicago art-rockers smirk at the intensity of young love, but only out of fear and maybe even awe. “It takes all my time to be in love with you,” they sing, delivering that final chorus like a rush of excitement and hormones.
49. Anna Calvi: “Suzanne & I”
No idea who Suzanne is, but we trust Calvi when she sings, “We will rise.” She’s the only artist who gave Adele a run for her money; with a voice as big as a continent, she manages to sound nuanced and subtle even when she’s announcing her presence to the world.
48. The Ettes: “Excuse”
The Ettes didn’t need special effects or Patton Oswalt to get this spectacular garage-pop kiss-off across. Few make disregard quite as charismatic as Coco Hames, whose talk-to-the-hand vocals are matched only by the band’s aggressive riffing.
47. Amy Lavere: “Damn Love Song”
Boy meets girl. Boys pester girls to write a love song for him. Girl pens hilariously dismissive kissoff. “Here’s your damn love song,” indeed.
46. Mekons: “I Fall Asleep”
Rock’s most beautiful losers had their heads in the 19th century on their latest album, but this song—with its hymnlike melody and self-damning confession “I fall asleep when I should pray”—sounds timeless, thanks to the scarred performances by Tom Greenhalgh and Sally Timms.
45. Jens Lekman: “Waiting for Kirsten”
If Lars Von Trier were half the provocateur he seems to think he is, the filmmaker would use this song—about stalking Kirsten Dunst in Gothenburg, Sweden—over the end credits of Melancholia.
44. J Mascis: “Circle”
For most artists, an Edie Brickell cover might sound like a remember-this? lark, but the Dinosaur Jr frontman delivers a delicately resigned acoustic interpretation of her semi-obscure ‘89 single. The refrain “Being alone is the best way to be” may say more about the notoriously reticent Mascis than any lyric he’s written himself.
43. Cass McCombs: “County Line”
You can’t go home again, McCombs learns on this below-the-speed-limit road song, which slows down so he can “see construction sites and your new homes never-ending.” His falsetto strains to reach those high notes, lending the song a delicate resignation that belies its ‘70s soft-rock vibe.
42. Florence + the Machine: “Shake It Out”
Coldplay were supposed to be writing the biggest rock anthems of 2011, but Florence Welch beat them at their own game with this gargantuan song about shaking off your demons and shouting to the firmament.
41. Pistol Annies: “Trailer for Rent”
Palling around with her songwriting friends certainly loosened up Miranda Lambert, whose contributions to the Pistol Annies’ debut—especially this story about a woman evicting his sorry ass—beat anything on her touted solo album.