Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 30 Songs of 2011

Yeah, ya heard. Thirty. Because twenty wouldn't have been enough. I made a Spotify playlist out of these songs. They all require a listen, so go ahead and do that.

Also, I had written all of this list down, along with writeups that I was feeling pretty good about (probably somewhere in the range of  1000 words. I was proofreading everything, when suddenly my computer rebooted, and when I came back, Blogspot had saved precisely nothing. My fury is undying.

Enough complaining, on with the list.

Edit: The Spotify Playlist is now live. A few of the songs aren't available on Spotify, but 24 of them are.

30. Tim Hecker - The Piano Drop
Ravedeath, 1972

The first time you hear this song, it sounds like noise. Each subsequent listen reveals just a little more until suddenly you're finding yourself riding along with the rattling lower sounds and feeling giddy every time the higher sounds start pulsating from left to right. Listening to this song on a good sound system in a completely dark room is one of the more revelatory experiences of the year.

29. Wugazi - Sleep Rules Everything Around Me
13 Chambers

Okay, so maybe there is a clear number so far as machups are concerned. Hearing Raekwon's and Inspektah Deck's raps from "C.R.E.A.M." laid over the haunting piano from "I'm So Tired" makes it feel like those song were meant for each other in the first place. By the time Ian MacKaye comes in singing "I'm so tired/sheep are counting me", I wasn't sure I wanted to hear them any other way.

28. Cults - Abducted

Boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy, boy emotionally abducts girl, knowing that he'll never feel for her what she feels for him - it's a classic story, but Maddie Follin sings it with such conviction that it still feel fresh. "It tore me apart, cause I really loved him." Ah, haven't we all been there?
27. Jonathan Coulton - Want You Gone
Portal 2

"Still Alive" was, in its own little way, a huge thing that sort of came out of nowhere. It would have been easy for Jonathan Coulton to rest on his laurels and write a silly song about cake and lies. Instead, he easily tops his earlier success with "Want You Gone". "I used to want you dead, but now I only want you gone." is one of my favorite lyrics of the year, comedic or no.

26. Florence and the Machine - Shake It Out

I mentioned te other day that I'm kind of over Florence and the Machine as an album artist, but every so often, they can still craft a hell of a song. "Shake It Out" has everything I want from them - huge voice, huge hook, huge arrangement. Florence's voice has never sounded like it deserves to be booming from every radio on earth to the extent that it does here.

25. Cage the Elephant - Shake Me Down
Thank You, Happy Birthday

After yesterday, you knew it ad to be on here somewhere. The last minute or so of the song is obviously what lands it a spot here, but taken as a whole, it's just a good throwback rock song.

24. Elbow - The Birds
Build a Rocket Boys!

Like I said, Guy Garvey knows how to craft an epic tune. He and the rest of the band make this 8+ minute song seem half that long.

23. The Antlers - No Widows
Burst Apart

It took a while for me to warm up to Burst Apart, but I took to "No Widows" instantly. The lyrics are haunting, the roiling undercurrent of the song is the perfect kind of dark churn, and Peter Silberman turns in one of his most understated vocal performances on the album. It never kicks it up a notch - it doesn't have to. When you've got a song with that much character, you don't need to add theatrics.

22. Childish Gambino - Heartbeat

Who would've known that a beat that sounds like it was lifted from a Justice b-side would be the perfect vehicle for an emo-rap about post-relationship limbo? The last verse here owns.

21. Kendrick Lamar - A.D.H.D.
Section 80

This might be the most atmospheric rap song of the year. The lyrics are sharp, the hook is memorable, and the production feel like it's breathing. I didn't hear the album early enough for it to really have a chance to sink in, but this song hasn't left my iPod for more than a day or two since I first heard it.

20. Viva Voce - Black Mood Ring
The Future Will Destroy You

The absolute highlight of one of themost underrated albums of the year. The ending, where Anita just sings "I won't be coming back" over and over and the almost country-sounding guitar locks in and slowly fades out is another favorite moment of mine this year.
19. Doomtree - Beacon
No Kings

Dessa songs are generally my favorite Doomtree songs. When she teams up with P.O.S., it's even better. This one was a guaranteed hit with me based on that alone, but then you consider the almost video game inspired beat and great lines like "You called it in the air/It landed on its edge/when the crowd gathered round/you turned tail/I turned heads" (another favorite lyric this year).

18. Lana Del Rey - Blue Jeans
Video Games

I thought that "Video Games" was alright, but "Blue Jeans" was the one that really grabbed me. "I will love you til the end of time/I would wait a million years" might be one of the most heart-wrenching lines of the year. If Lana Del Rey can follow up with anything even remotely this good, she'll be worth the hype.

17. Adele - Rolling in the Deep

Yeah, it got super overplayed, and it seemed for a while like it was all they played on the radio. There was a reason for that. This is a tune. It burns with a controlled anger ("You're gonna wish you never had met me", indeed). Adele owned 2001, and rightfully so.

16. Panda Bear - Tomboy

There are lyrics to this song. I only really know that because I looked them up online. They're not particularly important, because Noah Lennox's voice is just another instrument in this song - but what an instrument. They overlap, dart, and weave into the very fabric of 'Tomboy'. They (and the guitars, I suppose) make this my favorite Panda Bear song to date.

15. Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks

Right before this song surprisingly got huge, people acted genuinely surprised that this song had a dark undercurrent. I don't see how that's possible. The bassline bleeds menace. It's really the bassline that does a lot of the heavy lifting in this song. Sure the hook is catchy as hell, but there's always that bassline, just waiting for you to get too comfortable...

14. M83 - Midnight City
Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.

I'm not breaking any new ground by calling 2011 the 'year of the saxophone'. Bon Iver used it, so did The Rapture and Destroyer. Hell, even Lady Gaga and Katy Perry released singles that prominently featured the saxophone. Even still, the winner for 'Best Saxophone of 2011' has to go to "Midnight City". Sorry, Katy, at least you had that video with Kenny G.

13. Burial - Stolen Dog
Street Halo

When Street Halo was announced, I was hoping that it would have the traditional Burial sound. I needn't have worried, I guess. The best song on the EP is "Stolen Dog", which is maybe the best distillation to date of what Burial does very well. There's plenty of artists who employ the skittering future garage beat, but I can't think of another artist who does so which this much warmth and bona-fide human feeling to it.

12. Bon Iver - Calgary
Bon Iver, Bon Iver

I like "Holocene" and all, but I was surprised to hear that the majority consensus is that it's one of the best songs of the year. I'd say it's not even the best song on the album (that would be this one, just so we're clear).

11. The Vaccines - All in White
What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?

"All in White" sounds vaguely like something that Interpol would've made a few years ago. That's by no means a bad thing. Justin Young's exasperated exclamation of "Lord I know your type..." is great.

10. ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Summer of All Dead Souls
Tao of the Dead

Trail of Dead are pretty good at making rock music sound big. Some people have lamented the fact that that's the type of music they want to make now. I'm not one of those people.

9. Beastie Boys - Make Some Noise
Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2

The video's fantastic, but this song for me meant one thing above all.

The Beastie Boys are back.

8. James Blake - The Wilhelm Scream
James Blake

It's just one phrase, repeated over and over again, deteriorating a little bit every time, until staticy electronica threatens to overtake the whole song. Then James Blake does something genius, he brings it all back into focus for one last run through. "I don't know about my dreams/I don't know about my dreamin' anymore/All that I know is/I'm fallin', fallin' fallin'/Might as well fall in".

7. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong

Crunchy guitars, soothing vocals, superhuge chorus. A great anthem.

6. TV on the Radio - Second Song
Nine Types of Light

In yesterday's list, I made note of the fact that this song made me smile more than any other song this year. It's absolutely true. The hook is just so funky. It demands movement. I hate dancing, and I grooved to this song every time it came on in the car. The song will not be denied.

5. The Weeknd - House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls
House of Balloons

It's the sample. Mindless Self Indulgence used it and became stars in their own super-weird way. The Weeknd appropriated it, and made the most undeniable party song of the year. Every time I heard this song, I instantly wanted to start one of those lurid, almost kind of creepy parties. Then 'Glass Table Girls' starts, and everyone remembers why those parties are usually terrible ideas.

4. Tyler, the Creator - Yonkers


I mean, how could Goblin not be awesome with a lead single this good??

3. The National - Exile Vilify
Portal 2

I'm still not sure exactly what this song has to do with Portal 2. A radio in one of the test chambers is playing this haunting, piano-driven piece. I carried that radio around the entire chamber, it was very inconvenient to do so, but I didn't even consider leaving the radio behind. Come to think of it, I didn't leave the radio behind on any of the subsequent playthroughs, either.

2. Radiohead - Codex
The King of Limbs

This song could easily be the sequel (or maybe prequel?) to "Pyramid Song". Same structure, with a somber piano providing the skeleton, and Thom Yorke giving his best vocal performance on the whole of The King of Limbs.

1. The Go! Team - Buy Nothing Day
Rolling Blackouts

Give Ian Parton a lot of credit, this song was recorded before Bethany Cosentino became huge with Best Coast. Only this blows away anything she's ever done with that band. It's just a bomb of up tempo bliss that caught my ear and wouldn't let go. It's been a long time since I've just flat out enjoyed a song this much. Expect tambourines, expect fun, and expect the catchiest song of 2011.


  1. I'm using the morning to plow through E's favorites of 2011, but I require a link to your Spotify playlist.

  2. Ugh. I knew I had forgotten something. I'll get a Grooveshark playlist up pretty soon here, then edit in the Spotify playlist this evening.

  3. I love the beat on "Heartbeat" too. To me, it sounds like if Kanye used a Michael Jackson sample, sprinkled with a little something else I can't quite place.