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The 20 Best Songs of 2011 You (Probably) Haven’t Heard

For those who are sick of the mainstream, here's great music from this year that probably hasn't shown up on your radar.

by
Jonathan Sanders

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December 22, 2011 - 2:04 am

#15. Hey Rosetta! – “Yer Spring”

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Hey Rosetta! can seem a bit too artsy for their own good at times considering their overall garage rock leadnings, “Yer Spring” is the perfect song to showcase what their album Seeds has to offer. The invigorating percussion and subtle yet complicated instrumentation puts some heat in the blood, perfect for the winter month when the album saw its release. But the real reason this song is such a winner is the band’s ability to slowly build the energy through the length of the song, like winter turning into spring, culminating in a full band explosion of sound. Like the rest of the album, “Yer Spring” rewards listeners who are willing to give time for thematically, musically and lyrically adventurous music.

#14. Mike Doughty – “The Huffer and the Cutter”

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Mike Doughty’s burned as many bridges to his days as Soul Coughing’s frontman as he possibly can, which can make it difficult for the uninitiated to give a damn what he’s doing with his solo work. But to ignore what he offered on 2011′s Yes and Also Yes would be downright criminal. A prime example is “The Huffer and the Cutter,” which features Doughty’s deadpan stacatto vocals against a backdrop of dense, thumping synths which simulate the experience of living in all its twisted, delicious glory. This may be his finest song in years, diging its way into your brain like meth-coated dark pop candy for the Breaking Bad generation. I dare you to find anything else from 2011 that’s quite this mindbendingly twisted.

#13. Matt Lowell – “Calling”

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The deep bass rumblings that greet us upon first listening to “Calling” are juxtaposed with Lowell’s echoing vocals which hearken back to the likes of “Games Without Frontiers”-era Peter Gabriel without sounding dated. What stands out the most about this particular song is how Lowell seems perfectly unafraid to subvert what we initially expect from his blend of electronic experimentation and alt-pop confections. Fans of anyone from Massive Attack to Radiohead are likely to appreciate what Lowell offers up here. This one will definitely stick in your head long after you’ve hit the stop button.

#12. David Bazan – “Wolves At The Door”

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Stripped down to its barest essentials, “Wolves At The Door” is a commentary on the cynical, fear-based discourse which has been prevalent last decade. The poor, desparate protagonist lets these wolves into his life and they destroy him from the inside while he blames everybody except himself: “They took your money and they ate your kids and they had their way with your wife a little bit while you wept on the porch with your head in your hands cursing taxes and the government,” he sings over a propulsive mix of bass, acoustic guitar and percussion. It’s a stirringly dark arrangement for lyrics of a twisted bent, but Bazan knows how to twist the knife just enough while maintaining a delicious hook which dares you to stop listening. It’s among the most memorable songs I’ve heard this year by a long shot.

#11. The Wailin’ Jennys – “Swing Low, Sail High”

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This is as close to perfect as folk-country music gets, with a rich acoustic arrangement built to support the most stunningly evocative three-part female harmonies you’ll hear anywhere this year. Though this album, Bright Morning Stars, didn’t get much distribution beyond the indie folk scene, the beauty of the song stands out brilliantly against the mess that was most of 2011′s country music scene. If only folk-inspired music like this could make headway against “pop” country, the genre wouldn’t have such a poor reputation outside die-hard fans.

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