California English: Top 20 Tracks of 2011, Part II

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The songs below represent the tunes I played on repeat after hearing them for the first time this year. They made me whip my hair, bust-a-move, or sing at the top of my lungs. Some inspired a contemplative moment. There were so many great tunes in 2011, but these found a unique place in my heart. Ranking each track was particularly difficult, so I used my iTunes play count as an aid. If you find yourself receiving a gift card to an online music store or money this winter break and are looking for some new tunes to sport in your music library, I recommend you download any of these stellar songs.


10. “East Harlem” by Beirut (The Rip Tide)
Beirut really hit their stride on their third album, The Rip Tide, beautifully blending their Balkan influences with retro American pop. “East Harlem” perfectly encapsulates this vibe with its leading accordion, bright horn section, and Zach Condon’s pristine vocals.


9. “Pull Me Back To Earth” by Friendly Fires (Pala)
The entirety of Friendly Fires’ Pala takes the listener for a ride on a dance-powered rollercoaster. This track, “Pull Me Back To Earth,” is one of the high-energy standouts, exploding out of the gate with full throttle. NME magazine once wrote, “Everyone needs to see Friendly Fires’ Ed Macfarlane’s dancing once in their life.” I could not agree more!


8. “Lorelai” by Fleet Foxes (Helplessness Blues)
When I listen to this Fleet Foxes song, I envision fairies gracefully waltzing in a Northern Californian redwood forest. That would be an incredible sight to see!


7. “Holy Holy” by Wye Oak (Civilian)
What makes Wye Oak so unique is their ability to create a full band sound with only two people. When I saw this group live back in September, Andy Stack played the drums with his right hand and the keyboard with his left. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen at a concert. In addition, lead singer Jenn Wasner does some phenomenal work with the guitar and has a beautiful, somber vocal delivery. Check out “Holy Holy.”


6. “Helena Beat” by Foster the People (Torches)
While “Pumped Up Kicks” may be the song that Foster the People is most famous for, I like “Helena Beat” even better. The instrumentation is even more dance-driven and the vocals are just down right addicting.


5. “Dig A Little Deeper” by Peter, Bjorn and John (Gimme Some)
This song easily takes the prize for the most catchy refrain of 2011 with its “Oh-oh, oh-oh’s” strewn throughout. Check out Peter Bjorn and John.


4. “Paradise” by Coldplay (Mylo Xyloto)
This song would be fitting as the soundtrack to paradise, wherever that may be for you. I cannot wait to sing along to the chorus, “Para-para-paradise,” and have my hands held toward the sky when I see Coldplay in Philadelphia this July.


3. “AKA… Broken Arrow” by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds)
I have never been inspired more by a refrain than I have when Noel Gallagher belts out, “Leave me peace I’m on the side of the angels / And if I die in dream / Let me live my life” on this track.


2. “Underneath The Sycamore” by Death Cab for Cutie (Codes and Keys)
Codes and Keys is by far the happiest set of songs that Death Cab for Cutie has ever produced, most likely inspired by lead singer Ben Gibbard’s marriage to Hollywood’s biggest sweetheart, Zooey Deschanel. “Underneath The Sycamore” perfectly captures this newfound sense of cheer. Sadly, Gibbard and Deschanel separated this past November, so more sad songs from Gibbard are probably on the way (hopefully in the form of new Postal Service material!).


1. “You Turn Clear in the Sun” by Telekinesis (12 Desperate Straight Lines)
This song starts off simply with acoustic guitar, shortly followed by Michael Benjamin Lerner and his honest vocals. From here, the song begins picking up momentum like a car rolling down a hill. Drums suddenly appear, adding a driving force and keyboards add another melodic layer. The listener is soon taken on a cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California. Once the song stops, you think to yourself, “Hey—I want to go for another ride!” Listen number two proves to be even more enjoyable than the first time around, and THAT is the sign of a musical gem.


I want you all to enjoy these tunes in their entirety, so I have created a Spotify playlist of my Top 20 Tracks of 2011 (I highly recommend you get a free Spotify account if you have not done so already).

You can also enjoy a Spotify playlist for my Top 10 Albums of 2011 here.


  1. Good choices, especially the Friendly Fires nod, although “Underneath the Sycamore” is about an auto accident.

    • I had no idea that was what “Underneath the Sycamore” was about CG–thanks for the heads up! I’m thinking Ben Gibbard aimed to contrast the unpleasant nature of a car wreck with happier sounding instrumentation. Thanks for your kind words on my other song selections!

  2. There are some incredible song selections in this list. I particularly love East Harlem– Beirut’s new album is incredible. Thanks!

    • It is my pleasure Cookie! I agree–The Rip Tide by Beirut is a wonderful album. I had the pleasure of seeing the band play in Philly this past fall and it was incredible!

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