Was 2011 the year of the sneak attack? So many of big musical moments in the past 12 months seemed to appear out of nowhere. There was the unlikely return of the ukulele, which took a starring role in one of the year's most fascinating and talked-about releases, the tUnE-yArDs album w h o k i l l. Wilco and Bright Eyes, each coming off a run of albums that divided fans, dropped career-defining records — no less odd or experimental than their predecessors, but packed top to bottom with hummable songs. The Roots seemed to spin a dense, story-driven concept album out of thin air, with barely a peep of advance press. And Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum, missing in action for more than a decade, reemerged with a sold-out solo tour and heaps of previously unreleased music.
Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, Stephen Thompson and Ann Powers take on these head-spinning moments and more — including their favorite songs, albums and discoveries of 2011 — in this year-end edition of All Songs Considered. You can listen to the complete show above, and complete selections from the discoveries and songs of the year in the list below. And don't forget: Once you've listened, head to the blog to vote for your own favorite music of 2011.