Editor’s note: Below are Brent Stecker’s 1o favorite songs of the year. If you’d like to hear more of Brent’s favorite music check out this Spotify playlist of his picks for the top 50 songs of the year.1. The Antlers – Rolled Together
The guitar and bass spend as much time not playing as they do playing. The drums are absent for half the song. You barely notice the swelling undertow. But what you do notice are the incredible, repetitious vocals — “Rolled together with a burning paper heart/Pulled together but about to burst apart” — and the otherworldly falsetto Peter Silberman pulls out of the bag for two short sessions of head-shaking ecstasy. So simple. So perfect.
2. TV on the Radio – New Cannonball Blues
I think I’m addicted to synth bass. There’s something about setting a sonic bedrock with such low notes, especially if the vocalist likes to take it up to a higher register. Tunde Adebimpe is that kind of singer, equally adept at singing in his natural voice as well as one that mimics Earth Wind & Fire’s Phillip Bailey. Of course the voice is only half the battle, but lucky for us Adebimpe’s also a stellar melody-maker and lyricist, which is why “New Cannonball Blues” has a super-syllabic, note-perfect chorus.
3. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Robin Pecknold has a lot going through his head for such a young lad, but those things always have a way of manifesting themselves in some seriously essential music. The remarkable thing about this song, other than the lofty and big-question-asking lyrics, is how it could basically be two separate but equally great songs. The opening part is pretty, strum-happy British folk, while the second is the Fleet Foxes we’ve all come to know and love — rustic, head-swirling, harmonically arresting. And then the end, so hopeful — “Someday I’ll be like the man on the screen…” It could easily sound pretentious, and lord knows we’d all love to point it out if it were, but Pecknold is so earnest that we know it’s not.
4. Bon Iver – Holocene
On an album full of impossibly beautiful material, “Holocene” stands out because of Justin Vernon’s expertise in emphasizing the right lyrics. “I was not magnificent” leads you into the thick of the track, and “I can see for miles, miles, miles, miles” stops you dead in your tracks just as the song gets ready to wind back up.
The rickety bicycle solo is pretty bitchin’, too.
5. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – FFunny FFriends
Just when you thought Dirty Projectors had the market cornered on whatever the fuck it is that they do, Portland spit up an even better version. I don’t know how to describe shit like this other than throwing out a few verbs like “odd,” “sparkly,” “fun,” “quirky,” and “completely bangable.”
6. Ha Ha Tonka – Dead Man’s Hand
I was immediately attached to the tender mash-up of bluegrass, Americana, folk and country, what with its memorable acoustic lead and perfectly constructed melodies and harmonies. A song like this proves that you needn’t be an amazing singer to blow people away; you just need to know how to use your voice to the best of its abilities.
7. Blitzen Trapper – Astronaut
I typically try to stay away from doubling up bands on the best-of lists, but in addition to the impossibly fun “Street Fighting Sun,” Blitzen Trapper also came out with perhaps their best song by piling up all their trademarks in “Astronaut.” You got great lyrics, playful Southern beats, classic blues harmonica, revved-up guitar, an obvious Elton John influence, dead-on harmonies, and style shifting galore. If you want to know what Blitzen Trapper is all about, this is your gateway drug.
8. Graveyard – The Siren
What can I say, I’m a sucker for slow-burning, hard-rocking psych metal. The soulful singing of the intro draws you in, and just as you let your guard down — “TONIGHT A DEMON CAME INTO MY HEAD!” From there its pretty standard blues fare until around the 2:30 mark, where the tempo picks up and we get our Thin Lizzy on. And just so you know, if anything in 2011 makes me say “Thin Lizzy,” instant Top 10.
9. Boots Electric – Boots Electric Theme
I feel like Eagles of Death Metal frontman Jesse Hughes’ solo debut was unfairly ignored, and I guarantee that you will be dancing your little hearts out as soon as you hit the 80s-excess chorus doubled by Boots and Brody Dalle (wife of pal Josh Homme) on his own personal theme song. I anticipate this glammed-up, funked-out, Stonesy blast of deliciousness to find a home on the soundtracks of dozens of crappy 80s revival movies in the near future, though I hold out hope that we all embrace it before it comes to that.
10. My Morning Jacket – Victory Dance
I cannot think of a more appropriate title to a song than this. If this doesn’t become the soundtrack to every sports pregame ritual, there is something truly wrong with America. Jim James has this knack for making a pretty traditional southern rock band setup push the boundaries, and “Victory Dance” is pretty much the prime example. For God sakes, he mimics an orchestra with his voice, and the guitar leads are somehow right at home among the demonic soul sounds.