Top Songs of 2021

I live in a weird music bubble. I don’t listen to the radio, and at my age I don’t really have any peers left who listen to new music with any kind of passion. So, I discover things on my own, either via browsing the Apple Music store or through the occasional bits of music news that leak through. I don’t even use Spotify or stream music–I purchase it. This makes me a throwback, I know, but it makes the music much less disposable and much more enjoyable for me. (And has the added benefit, I think, of putting more money into the artists’ pockets.)

I’m not going to pretend to have a particularly elevated taste or even know much about music. I really don’t. I have zero musical ability, and I actually quite like that. It’s one of the few artistic things I enjoy purely as appreciation and not so much examination. But I do have taste, of a sort. All the music I like is GOOD. Feel free to disagree (I know you will).

At the end of every year, I make two playlists. One is my Top 10, and the second is my Top 11-20. I segregate them this way because I want my Top 10 to be a TRUE Top 10. I force myself to make difficult choices to create a truly excellent playlist worthy of being revisited, and then the 11-20 list is what is leftover. Still great songs, but just not Top 10. Both lists are ordered for listening pleasure, not by ranking.

There are a few rules that govern these lists. They are as follows:

1. No artist may appear twice in one list, even if they had some truly excellent songs that would otherwise qualify.

2. Any song I discovered in the past year is fair game, no matter what year it was actually released. No matter how late I came to the party. (See: West, Kanye)

3. When trying to pick between two great songs, greater weight is given to the song released during the current year.

This year, a theme emerged in the songs I like best: being a jerk. Whether it’s identifying jerkiness in others or being self aware enough to recognize your own jerkiness, there’s a lot of reflection and regret going on in these songs. I’ll let my future self suss out whether that’s just the year in music or something I’m working out within myself.

Also, it’s a 50/50 split between male and female vocalists. That’s pretty cool. I like the variety.

So, here, by no demand whatsoever, is my Top 10 and Top 11-20 playlists. All songs are either the clean versions or homemade edited versions. If you choose to wade in, I highly recommend the following listening order:

TOP 10

1. All My Favorite Songs – Weezer

2. Ringside – Julien Baker

3. Runaway – Kanye West feat. Pusha T

4. brutal – Olivia Rodrigo

5. Amy Shark – Amy Shark

6. Better If You Don’t – CHVRCHES

7. Locust Laced – Sleigh Bells

8. Needle – Middle Kids

9. I Lied – Lord Huron & Allison Ponthier

10. In My Room (At My Piano Version) – Brian Wilson

TOP 11-20

11. True Seekers – Sleigh Bells

12. Extreme Ways (Reprise Version) – Moby

13. Somebody Desperate – The National

14. Happier Than Ever – Billie Eilish

15. I Made It – Andrew W.K.

16. Flathead – The Fratellis

17. Bad Neighbours – Middle Kids

18. In the Car Outside – The Killers

19. Sometimes – James

20. Funeral – Phoebe Bridgers

Top 5 Movies of 2011

I’m a huge movie buff, but ever since I stopped working at a movie theater those many years ago, I don’t get to see nearly as many movies as I’d like. That’s why this is a Top 5 list instead of Top 10. Even at that, there were some movies that were incredibly difficult to leave off. In order from 5 to my number one pick…

5. The Muppets

I’m a sucker for the Muppets, but I’m shocked to find this movie in my Top 5. If you’ve seen it, you’re not shocked at all. Consistently inventive, funny, and joyful, The Muppets was made by true Muppet fans, including star and co-writer Jason Segel. Sometimes when the fans take over a beloved property, things go haywire. Being a fan of something and knowing WHY the thing works on you the way it does are two different things. Here, they got it right. Kermit and friends get back together for another show and I’m smiling from ear-to-ear the whole time. Can’t ask for much more than that.

4. Thor

This is a movie that I don’t think gets nearly as much love as it should. For my money, it’s the most successful movie Marvel has made thus far. Director Kenneth Branagh showed a real understanding of how to bring the elevated speech of Thor and his world down to a level that’s relatable to the rest of us. It’s a fun, clever and imminently rewatchable movie with great scene after great scene. And the two lead performances by Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki leave me very, very excited for what comes next for them in this year’s The Avengers.

3. Hanna

This is the sad case of an action movie that flew way, way under the radar–probably because its star is a 16-year-old girl. WHO. WILL. KNOCK. YOU. FLAT. Director Joe Wright is a guy who, like Steven Spielberg, always knows where to put the camera. His compositions tell as much of the story as any dialogue. Go back and watch his Pride & Prejudice if you don’t believe me. But what really grabs me with Hanna is the way he edited the film and the kinetic energy he put into the action scenes. Wow. You’ve never seen anything like it. Plus: soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers!

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

I have a hard time respecting any Top 10 list of 2011 movies that doesn’t put this movie in there somewhere. Yeah, it’s the 8th film in the series. But, this is where Harry Potter fully grows up and he takes the filmmaking right along with him. This is the whole package, from design to costuming to cinematography to acting to directing. Only one other film in 2011 thrilled me and moved me as much as this one. That’s the only reason this is number 2.

1. Warrior

It’s criminal that this movie is so underseen. You’d think a sports movie with action this great and with a heart this big would be a MONSTER hit. It deserves to be. I don’t even like sports. I have no use for UFC or MMA or any of that. My wife even less so. And we both loved this movie. That you know the climax of the film within the first 10 minutes doesn’t matter one bit. It’s the character revelations and performances along the way that keep you hooked. This story of two brothers and their recovering alcoholic father devastated me in the best possible way. See this. See this now.

That’s it!

For the sake of information, here’s a list of all the other movies released in 2011 that I saw (some that are not on this list I still intend to see, like Moneyball and War Horse). Also, please note that some of these were seen under duress:

Green Hornet, The Company Men*, The Way Back, Just Go With It, Adjustment Bureau, Rango, Limitless, The Lincoln Lawyer*, Source Code, Arthur, Soul Surfer, Rio, Fast Five, Something Borrowed, The Beaver**, Bridesmaids*, Midnight in Paris**, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Tree of Life, X-Men: First Class, Super 8, Green Lantern, Bad Teacher*, Cars 2, Prom, Of Gods and Men, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Pearl Jam Twenty, Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon, Winnie the Pooh, Captain America: The First Avenger, Cowboys & Aliens, Crazy Stupid Love**, Rise of the Planet of the Apes**, The Help, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

* = I saw an edited version of the movie.

** = Movies that just missed my Top 5.

What’s your Top 5?

My Top 10 Songs of 2011

What follows is my list of favorite songs of 2011. I consume a lot of music, but I don’t hear everything. I don’t even hear everything the year it comes out. So keep that in mind as you read this list. This is MY 2011. It may not bear complete resemblance to the actual 2011.

Song’s are in ascending order of preference, from 10 to 1. Click on the song titles to go to YouTube to hear the them. (Sorry, can’t embed on this blog.)

10. Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes – I wasn’t entirely sold on their second album, but the Fleet Foxes built an evocative, perfect song in “Blues.” This is what I want the Foxes to sound like all the time.

9. Young Blood – The Naked and Famous – I thought about not even including this song just because it’s been used in every commercial and movie trailer that came out this year. But. But… I can’t deny it’s a great song and I discovered it long before the mainstream public did and fell in love with it based on its own strengths. So here it is at number 9.

8. Colours – Grouplove – This was tough. There are so many Grouplove songs I love, but this one with the stuttering lyrics and pounding rhythm was the first I heard. And it’s still the one that resonates most strongly with me (though Love Will Save Your Soul is a close second).

7. Headlong Into the Abyss – We Are Augustines – This one hits the sad/inspirational sweet spot that I’m always a sucker for. The dude’s voice is odd and I can barely understanding what he’s saying, but the emotion is so clear that this song means whatever I want it to and changes from moment to moment. I never want to read the actual lyrics.

6. Open Arms – Elbow – The only song to ever really make me cry. When I hear the chorus, I imagine my God speaking to me in the moment of my death, saying the words I long to hear. Maybe that’s a nutty thing to read into a pop song, but there it is. I feel this one down deep.

5. Video Games – Lana Del Rey – This is the newest song on this list. The lyrics paint such a beautiful, sad picture. If you’re aScott Pilgrim fan, imagine if it wasn’t a comedy and Knives Chau got to sing a ballad. This is exactly what she would sing. Exactly. Haunting and spectacular. And when her voice goes light and airy at end of the line “I heard that you like bad girls honey, is that true?”–man, that kills me.

4. We Are Young – Fun. – This band and Grouplove are the finds of the year for me. This is just a perfect singalong track that I can’t believe it’s not already a huge hit on the radio. It may be, I dunno. I don’t listen to the radio. Can’t wait for the full album in 2012. Just a stunning song. I dare you to resist it.

3. Numb – The Airborne Toxic Event – My current favorite band and the best song off their second album. Why this wasn’t a bigger hit, I’ll never know. Love the guitar on this. Such a great sound. Pop mechanics with an emotional undercurrent. That’s Airborne’s stock in trade. This is one of their very best.

2. Tigers – The Submarines – I played this song so much this year that one day my wife and daughter just started singing it together spontaneously. I had no idea they even knew it. The song is addicting. I dunno why, but as soon as it’s over I want to start it up again. Great duet about the challenges of being a couple. A married couple, from the sounds of it.

1. Faster and Louder – Peter Furler – I’m really surprised to find this one at the top. Peter was the leader/songwriter for the Christian band Newsboys for more than two decades. He left the group to do his own thing a couple years ago and then unexpectedly came out with a solo album. Dude is in his 40’s and you can’t tell by the album. Faster and Louder is his new credo. His rebellion against an artist’s tendency to slow it down as they get older. Mellow it is not. Peter’s pop sensibility is finely tuned and the clever lyrics he deploys here put this song on the top of every mix I made this year. The drops are insane. Can’t hear this one enough.

That’s it! You can listen to my Top 10 2011 playlist on Spotify right here. Which tracks stood out for you this year?