I posted a best songs list for the first half of 2011 back in July (here). Rather than replicate that list for my full year review, consider this the addendum — the best songs from the second half of the year.
When My Time Comes, Barnstar! (from the self-released C’Mon!)
I somehow missed this song when it was released on Dawes’ debut back in 2009. My bad. I’ve corrected that now thanks to the guys in Barnstar! Even better, they’ve taken an already great song and made it even greater. Even Dawes agrees.
Audio Stream: Barnstar!, “When My Time Comes”
Time Spent in LA, Dawes (from the ATO Records release Nothing Is Wrong)
The best songs do more than catch one’s ear, they create an experience that takes you away from where you are. The fact that this song is about Los Angeles misses the point. The melancholy of melody and lyric becomes a destination of its own. “You got that special kind of sadness, you got that tragic set of charms, that only comes from time spent in Los Angeles, makes me wanna wrap you in my arms.”
Audio Stream: Dawes, “Time Spent In Los Angeles”
Why can’t I be more like them, the kind of people who feel sad when relationships end
Well honey I don’t want you now, but it’s not about him
Why can’t I be more like them
Audio Stream: Lydia Loveless, “More Like Them”
The Understanding, Jones Street Station
If you’re going to release only one song in a year, it had better be a good one. By that standard, this Brooklyn quintet doesn’t disappoint. What starts with some quiet harmonies and an acoustic guitar builds into a pop song of epic proportions.
Turn to a stranger, take her hand, then you’ll understand. Where are my friends who are lost and alone. May they find their way back home.
Audio Download: Jones Street Station, “The Understanding”
I was born to be a mover, not a mannequin man
Sworn to shake the sugar, not like a mannequin man
I’ll be damn before you take me like a mannequin man
Audio Stream: Kingsley Flood, “Mannequin Man”
Daydrunk, Butch Walker and the Black Widows (from the Dangerbird Records release The Spade)
I went back and forth between this track and “Summer of ’89.” It was a photo finish to say the least. In typical Walker fashion, this song is a power pop slap in the face – loud, brash and totally awesome.
Audio Stream: Butch Walker and the Black Widows, “Day Drunk”
Stopping By, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (from the Lightning Rod Records release Here We Rest)
Isbell is at his best when he explores the thoughts and emotions of troubled characters. He has an innate ability to provide an honest portrayal that captures the tension in both lyric and music. This track is a prime example, the tale of a child making a surprise visit to an estranged father.
I think the best of me’s still standing in the doorway
Counting cars and counting days and counting years
I could say you made me go through life the hard way
But it might’ve been worse if you were here…
Audio Stream: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “Stopping By”
No Easy Way Out, The Duke and the King (from the So Recordings release The Duke and the King)
I was first enchanted by the sense of wanderlust that permeates this song. Repeated listens, however, showcase the band’s impressively nuanced musicianship.
Audio Stream: The Duke and the King, “No Easy Way Out”
Guilty Girls, Buffalo Tom (from the Scrawny Records release Skins)
From the opening guitar riff to the final fade, the band impeccably combines sparkling harmonies with an edgy rock sound. This is the kind of song that was made to be played loud. And often.
Audio Stream: Buffalo Tom, “Guilty Girls”
Maybe, Paul Collica (from the self-released It’s Not Me, It’s You )
This is a great high-energy power pop song but that’s not the sole reason that it is on this list. Collica infuses the song with a sonic quality that should make many “top 40″ artists green with envy. All the more impressive, he wrote, performed and produced it entirely on his own.
Audio Download: Paul Collica, “Maybe”
For more of my Best of 2011 coverage: Best Albums, Best EPs.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.