10. "The Dude" – SimplyEsoteric (from the album "No Choking")
I'll admit: David Arthur's band name put me off at first. And a timid, wistful lead track about the Big Lebowski should not, in any universe, work. But it's a pleasant surprise, and my introduction to the big-hearted songwriting of a prolific St. Louis artist who, sadly, is moving back to Austin. He leaves behind at least one new fan, and one great cover of Jon Hardy's "Cassius Clay." Catch ya on down the trail, David.
9. "Thunder on the Mountain" - Wanda Jackson (from the album "The Party Ain't Over")
And DeVotchKa thought it had "Best Horn Hook of 2011" locked up with "Contrabanda." The Queen of Rockabilly gets Jack White's "Loretta Lynn makeover" treatment and gives Bob Dylan's original track a big kick in the ass at the same time. This track cooks.
8. "Some Children" - Holy Ghost feat. Michael McDonald (from the album "Holy Ghost")
I've moved on, have you? I hated Michael McDonald. Then I loved him ironically. And now? Now I'm proud to call him a St. Louisan. Well, I am when it comes to tracks like this one anyway. Let's not get crazy. There's no shortage of blippy '80s throwback disco music right now from the Indie Flavor of the Week, but this one bumps, baby. First Grizzly Bear and now a guest on a Holy Ghost! track? As trends go, I could stand one of these a year.
7. "Virginia" - David Bazan (from the album "Strange Negotiations")
David Bazan remains one the most under-appreciated lyricists in music: from his challenging look at faith, to his snarling commentary on American politics, to his dark parables. The songs have always been deeply personal, but since Bazan stepped out of the Pedro the Lion moniker he's been expressing himself less through invented characters (from cheating politicians to homicidal farmers) and more as simply David Bazan. And never more devastating, wonderful and sad then on "Virginia," a song about a friend who recently passed. "Was it heaven or hell that you saw when your eyes closed? You smiled at us, floating high above the question. Like you knew something we didn't know."
6. "Sometimes at Night" - Jessica Lea Mayfield (from the album "Tell Me")
Of the many incredible sessions I was lucky enough to witness at KDHX this year, this one stopped time for me. I swear to god when Ms. Mayfield sang, "I did not ask to be born with these eyes," she looked at me for a flickering half-second, and I turned red and hid behind a wall. That's how I remember it. This beautiful slow burner is vulnerable, honest and as sexy a song about female philandering as you'll ever hear. I mean, she sounds ashamed. She is saying the words. But I don't believe it, do you? She knows what she's doing. That poor cabana boy!
5. "Post Break Up Sex" - The Vaccines (from the album "What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?")
I first heard this on Rob Levy's Juxtaposition my first month at KDHX, and couldn't have been more excited that Interpol had released such a great track. Correction: The Editors had done it again. Wait, the Vaccines? Who? At any rate, this song is the ear-wormiest track on an album of wonderfully ear-wormy pop rock. And I was crestfallen when their St. Louis show was cancelled. Guys: If you wanna come back, it's all right. It's all right. It's all right if you wanna come back.
4. "Lion's Share" - Wild Beasts (from the album "Smother")
Thank god for Wild Beasts and this lusty little number kicking off an overlooked album of songs dripping with pure libido. An indie rock album you can dance and screw to? There's a fun concept. A pulse throbs steadily alongside a tender piano line, and Hayden Thorpe gets next to your ear and promises everything short of "I'll be gentle." If lines like "I take you in my mouth like a lion takes his game" make you blush and recoil uncomfortably, you might want to stop there and go see what Stephen Malkmus is up to instead. ‘Cause there's plenty where that came from.
3. "Repatriated" - Handsome Furs (from the album "Sound Kapital")
From Wolf Parade's ashes, the Handsome Furs threw it down this year. As really sexy, married synth-rock acts go, I look at it this way: Matt and Kim are Playboy Magazine, but Handsome Furs are Hustler. Dan Boeckner sidestepped the fantastical, playfully obtuse approach of ex-mate Spencer Krug and instead -- alongside wife Alexei -- exploded with the energy, the excitement and the catharsis of traveling the world, opening your eyes and playing dangerous rock in Eastern European basements. Then they brought that gift of Feeling Alive back to their listeners. "I will never be repatriated," Boeckner barks, defiantly. A reminder that you don't have to go home, and you don't have to stay here, either.
(Note: Their Off Broadway performance also takes my greatest live concert of the year vote. If you saw it, you know why.)
2. "No Church in the Wild" - Jay Z/Kanye West feat. Frank Ocean (from album "Watch the Throne")
I still maintain Yeezy's "My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy" will be his "Stankonia/The Love Below" moment: a pretty good, over-hyped release that collects dust a year later. On the whole, it can't hold a candle to "Watch the Throne": the Galactus of team-ups. On a near-unimpeachable album of Tunnel Bangers, you'll probably find more crowd-ready tracks than this. But none that pound at your door and control the mood like "No Church in the Wild." Heavy as a tree trunk, this thing moves confidentially, steadily, like a monster that will not be stopped. With each escalating thump and heavy breath, this track announces, "We're coming for the non-believers first, and you're next."
1. "It's Real" - Real Estate (from the album "Days")
The Shins are slapping themselves for not writing this one. "It's Real" made the pangs of summertime bubble up into my throat on every listen. It's a soft bullet. This track couldn't be more pure if you ran it through a Brita filter. The effortlessness of it all: the straight-ahead chorus and lyrics, the by-the-book hooks—caused some sharp pressure behind my eyes in what I can only assume is, whadda ya call them? Emotions? And that's before I saw the goddamned video with the dogs in it. Something's in my eye, I gotta go. That's all for this year.
- "Surgeon" by St. Vincent
- "Mr. Magpie" by Radiohead
- "Small Towns" by the Transatlantic
- "Video Games" by Lana Del Ray
- "Still Life" by Horrors
- "Perth" by Bon Iver
- "Not in Love" Crystal Castles w/Robert Smith
- "Contrabanda" by DeVotchKa
- "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" by Das Racist
- "Cainthology: Songs in the Key of Cain" by Tim Hidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Because, come on people … it's an entire album about Herman Cain by Tim Heidecker. That's just hilariously insane.