10. Milo Greene "1957"
Despite the gloomy lyrics, there's a definite sweetness to this rising California band's "1957." Maybe it's the unison boy-girl vocals or the rockabilly beat, but it feels as comfortable and familiar as a cozy flannel shirt. —Claire Tiller
9. Phantogram "Don't Move"
Sometimes when we're constantly on the go, caught up in our anxieties, it's hard to focus on the here and now. "Don't Move" captures that moment of clarity when the sun shines through our cloudy minds; it literally tells us to chill out and remember the big picture. "You know that you're still alive" — the breezy vocals are telling and questioning the listener, urging to remember what's important. —Azaria Posik
8. The Weeknd "What You Need"
Pop a bottle, dim the lights, and make sure your room's clean, because "What You Need" is some grade-A baby-making music. With lyrics like "I don't give a damn shorty, watch me knock your boots up" sang smoothly over a heart-pumping beat, there's no question that body rubbing will be on your night's agenda. For a soundtrack to a night of endless "between the sheets" fun, I suggest downloading The Weeknd's House of Balloons LP (not based on experience; ladies don't kiss and tell). —JoAnn Schinderle
7. Active Child "Hanging On"
Have you ever been in a relationship and realized something had changed? You didn't know why, but you weren't in the same place you once were. "Hanging On" captures this sentiment in the most striking way; the vocal range and serenity of the harp are absolutely breathtaking. Set aside some time in your day and find a quiet place where you can enjoy the complexity of this beautiful track. —Azaria Posik
6. Wye Oak "Civilian"
Wye Oak creates a massive, powerful sound with just two members. The title song off the band's excellent fourth album, "Civilian" is so full it approaches being orchestral. The song exemplifies many of the things that the duo does well: the track's slow build-up, pounding drums, sharp guitar and driving organ all compliment Jenn Wasner's thick, brooding voice. The closing guitar solo offers some catharsis after three minutes of Wasner's confessional lyrics and the emotional intensification of the song. —David Ruiz
5. Fleet Foxes "Helplessness Blues"
It's as if Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young all had children together (Melissa Etheridge be damned) and these apples didn't fall far from the tree. Brilliant and bright acoustics complement beautifully harmonic voices in this ode to childish hope. The song starts off, however, destroying that hope with Robin Pecknold leading the destruction: "I was raised up believing I was somehow unique, like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes...and now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me." It's a hauntingly beautiful appreciation of the cubicle. But as the song goes on, a peace is made and along with it easily one of the best songs of the year, nothing less than normal from these soon-to-be-legendary songwriters. —Sam Sklover
4. M83 "Midnight City"
Anthony Gonzalez's mysterious, extraterrestrial dance club vibe tempts the limit of your comfort zone. The build-up may forewarn you to anticipate abnormality, but when the intensity peaks sooner than expected, you will erupt into an uncontrollable eargasm. Ultimately, "Midnight City" morphs humans into aliens, aliens into party animals, and invents an absurd experience that you cannot help but register as awakening. —Max Simon
3. Bon Iver "Holocene"
Fans can fondly consider Bon Iver their favorite band, but Wisconsin natives can take it a step further and proudly call him one of their very own. Recorded in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, "Holocene" is from Justin Vernon's 2011 self-titled second album and exudes an interesting combination of summer's ease and the calmness of winter. Along with its choppy vocals and distinctive bridge, it is this versatility in "Holocene" that pushes Bon Iver above the ordinary folk song. —Erica Matlin
2. tUnE-yArDs "Bizness"
tUnE-yArDs' colorful deconstructions of pop music reached its peak in w h o k i l l, Merril Garbus' 2011 opus. The first single "Bizness" carries the eclectic influences and powerful vocals that define the album. Garbus howls over the complicated and layered track that grows with Garbus' voice and keeps adding elements until the tracks pops with enthusiasm. The song's manic energy is driven by tUnE-yArDs' willingness to experiment with all sorts of noises and song constructions; however, her sharp pop instincts reigns in the songs and makes them extremely listenable as well. —David Ruiz
1. James Blake "The Wilhelm Scream"
If there was ever a reason to own a nice sound system, dubstep is it. The genre took the indie scene by storm in 2011 and leading the charge was James Blake. His knack for creating complex electronic masterpieces is unmatched. "The Wilhelm Scream" is a seamless example of his ability to layer sounds in a way that gives the listener a feeling of sorrow and elation in unison. Like a free-fall, the experience it constructs is an auditory sensation that can be frightening at first, but in the end it is an experience that was well worth having. —Nick Crow
Ineligible due to inclusion on 2010 list:
Cold War Kids ("Louder Than Ever" single)
Cults ("Go Outside" single)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. (Horse Power EP)
The Decemberists ("Down By the Water" single)
Foster the People ("Pumped Up Kicks" single)
The Naked and Famous (Passive Me, Aggressive You LP)