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Top 10 indie songs of 2011

The Joy Formidable at SXSW 2011
The Joy Formidable at SXSW 2011
Photo by Stacy Schwartz

2011 was a damn good year for music. When compiling this list of what are, in my opinion, the best songs released this past year, I had to continually keep myself on task, resisting the temptation to listen to the full album by each of these talented artists. Their collective work is just that good.

And while any year-end list is clearly up for debate, I believe that if all music lovers give another listen to the vast array of stellar releases that came out in '11, everyone can agree that this year had plenty of stirring, striking music that will continue to move us all for years to come.

So take a listen with me as I present to you my favorite songs of 2011.

10. Fleet Foxes: "Bedouin Dress"

While the title-track grabbed the most headlines from Helplessness Blues, "Bedouin Dress" was the track that I gravitated towards immediately on this glorious record. The harmonies and classic melody both soar, crafting an uplifting anthem that always takes me somewhere special.

9. Burial: "Street Halo"

No one quite captures the foggy grime of London's midnight streets quite like the enigmatic Burial. His hypnotic beats lead listeners on a guided tour of the city at night, all rough edges, dark corners and shadows.

8. James Blake: "The Wilhelm Scream"

By the time someone comes up with an appropriate genre that fully encapsulates exactly what James Blake sounds like, chances are he will have already changed up his sound completely and taken it in a new direction. For the time being, though, he has given us this gorgeous paean to the power of our own dreams.

7. The Horrors: "Still Life"

It took me a while to realize how great the Horrors new record Skying is, simply because I couldn't stop listening to its first single. It's a slow-burning bit of pop perfection that I will never grow tired of.

6. PJ Harvey: "Written On The Forehead"

I was fortunate enough to be one of the first reviewers to hear this track in advance of Polly's glorious Let England Shake, and while the sample-heavy track sounds nothing like the rest of her austere album, I've never been able to shake the urgency and inventiveness of this number.

 

5. S.C.U.M.: "Whitechapel"

This hypnotic, soaring track from this young British band caused me to test out my MINI's Harman/Kardon soundsystem on many different occasions, and certainly helped hasten my inevitable hearing loss. I'm still waiting for a chance to see them play this massive song live.

4. Radiohead: "Codex"

Sounding like the seamless, graceful continuation to their "Pyramid Song," Thom and company once again make us all swoon with this poignant, piano-laden ballad. A sublime quiet moment amidst the shitstorm of 2011.

3. Bon Iver: "Holocene"

The diaphanous beauty of this track stops me in my track each time I hear it. Justin Vernon exceeded everyone's lofty expectations on his follow-up to For Emma, and might just come away with a few Grammys for his efforts. But if not, he captured more than a few hearts with this plaintive, moving number.

2. Beirut: "Santa Fe"

I can't help but smile broadly each and every time I hear the brassy, uplifting elegance of this number. Zach Condon captures a vivid slice of his New Mexico on this jubilant, wistful track, and takes all of us there right along with him.

1. The Joy Formidable: "Whirring"

Anyone who saw this Welsh trio absolutely destroy the Entry with this song while closing out their incendiary local gig back in April knows the true potency of this track. Ritzy and her mates simply rule, as does this fierce, combustible number. I can't wait to hear them perform it live again someday soon.


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