It’s that time of year again, people. Yes, I haven’t posted since last year’s list, but really – who gives a shit? I moved to tumblr and I’m only posting here for my own entertainment/ease. Without any further ado, here are the first ten tracks of the Best Songs of 2011.
50. “Rich Kids Blues” – Lykke Li
The Swedish princess of indie music released her second album this year to rave reviews, and this track specifically captured a zeitgeist of 2011 in its satirical attack on society a la the Occupy movement. Her melody is on point, and her use of the theremin inspired, as Li deftly mocks the 1%. The opening drum line and theremin are simultaneously intense and haunting, with her own vocals adding a rich texture to the song that pulls the audience in. This enchanting layering continues throughout the song, regardless of the instruments used, and as she repeats herself over the chorus, you can’t help but tap your feet. As her lyrics pierce the entitlement of the upper class, Li’s song entrenches itself in the scope of the year, from the sudden popularity of Downton Abbey to the staying power of the Occupy movement as it swept across the nation.
49. “Always (On My Mind)” – Chiddy Bang feat. eLDee The Don
Philly’s favorite black and white hip-hop duo came out with a new mixtape in 2011 that failed to live up to their first set, but this track stands out almost solely on its sample. Pulling from the instant classic “Two Weeks” by Grizzly Bear, Chiddy Bang proves they’ll always know how to improve upon the smallest clip. Chidera “Chiddy” Anamege and Noah “Xaphoon Jones” Beresin combine the haunting harmonies of Grizzly Bear with a rap song about love and support as a young artist leaves for a tour, with guest eLDee The Don promising to always “hold you down.” With a verse that references Watch the Throne, Lindsay Lohan, and Conan the Barbarian within a handful of lines, you can count on Chiddy Bang to satisfy with the rapidfire delivery of pop culture references.
48. “Drmz” by A.A. Bondy
Another act who followed up a classic from a few years back with a disappointing set is A.A. Bondy. His 2009 album When the Devil’s Loose is, hands down, one of the best albums released in years, but the same can’t be said for the 2011 set, titled Believers. The song “Drmz,” however, is reminiscent of earl Bon Iver, with a deceptively austere arrangement caressing the ear. There’s an inherent intimacy in Bondy’s work and voice, similar to Justin Vernon or Cat Power at their best, and every crack in his voice endears him to the audience more. The instrumental bridge that almost seems to utilize wind chimes belies a self-imposed hermitage one feels by listening to the song, almost as if listening to it detaches you from the outside world. Considering the year most people experienced in 2011, the feeling of escape is quite welcome.
47. “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” – Kelly Clarkson
On the other end of the musical spectrum is America’s favorite export from Burleson, Texas: Ms. Kelly Clarkson. Releasing the type of song that’s become her bread and butter doesn’t seem to hurt Clarkson here, as her newest anthem of strength in the face of heartbreak recalls the pop domination of “Since U Been Gone.” Honestly – the song is really that good. Her newest album’s standout song boasts defiant lyrics and self-backed vocals that bounce over strong guitars and an electronic drum beat, truly stirring the soul in the process. Perfect for strutting down the street or just dancing in your boxers, the first American Idol has reclaimed her throne with this perfect pop gem.
46. Lisa Hannigan – “Home”
The woman who got her start singing with Damien Rice has struck out on her own in recent years, and this song is arguably the best work she’s released so far. Her throaty, wounded voice shows off its strength and range here, as her lyrics depict a meandering, peripatetic existence. For any of us who have ever felt lost or struck out on our own to a new and unfamiliar place, this song should reverberate immensely. Her familiar and eerily evocative vibratto climbs steadily through the second half of the song, cascading down the scale just as quickly as she climbed it. The overall effect is quite moving, with the audience slowly realizing the authenticity with which she sings.
45. “Honey Bunny” – Girls
Christopher Owens and Chet “JR” White are back from San Francisco with another delightfully schizophrenic song about hoping for new love. A solid two thirds of the song are swiftly strummed guitars, bouncing drums, and harmonies reminiscent of the surfer rock on their last album. The bridge, however, sounds like an entirely different song, as Owens laments about his doting mother and the search for a woman who loves him as much. The upswing at the end proves the strength with which the song was crafted, implanting images of a sun-soaked city stroll in your head as you dash out in hopes of discovering happiness in the arms of another.
44. “Black Night” – The Dodos
A deceptively upbeat song that appears to describe a possessive relationship, “Black Night” is one of the best songs released by The Dodos in the entirety of their career. Meric Long and Logan Kroebe utilize a dizzying array of instruments to create a song that intensifies throughout, building to a climax as the protagonist stalks his former (possibly current?) lover through the dark night. There appears to be a codependency in the relationship, but the slightly menacing tone of the lyrics begins to expose a more sinister intent, with questions like “Where you going to, are you going through, heaven or hell?” The thundering drums and frantic guitar swirls around the lyrics and creates an almost panicked atmosphere; the end result is something quite enchanting.
43. “I Wanna Go” – Britney Spears
The obvious, pedestrian choice here would be “Till the World Ends,” as it was certainly ubiquitous over the year, either on the radio or in clubs across the country. It’s impossible to argue that “I Wanna Go” was more popular, but it’s quite a simple task to point out that it’s the better of the two. Constructed tightly, with a whistling hook that sinks its claws into your brain and never lets go, the driving beat and reiterated syllables of the chorus emerge over a high energy dance song that is easily one of the best Britney’s ever released. The song serves as almost a mission statement of of her last several albums, coyly apologizing for her need to seek out release – either on the dance floor or in the bedroom. The entire song is a wink to the listener, teasing them for falling prey to the insatiable structure of the track itself.
42. “Se Me Hizo Facil” – Buika
The gorgeously flawed voice of Concha Buika floats over this incredible song; her distinctive fusion of flamenco, jazz, and soul music is simultaneously soothing and sexy. Buika, her parents originally from Equatorial Guinea, was raised near the Gitanos (Spanish Romani/gypsies) in Mallorca; this mix of backgrounds flavors the traditional flamenco of her country with a throaty, strong voice that sounds like whiskey and a smokey lounge. The character and depth of Buika’s voice adds to the charm of the song itself, which details the protagonist’s quest to forget the woman they used to love. If the song seems too slow at first, give it time – there’s quite a swell of energy in the last minute or so that transforms the entire experience and leaves a grin across your face.
41. “Dreaming” – Mayer Hawthorne
It’s almost like Ben Folds is still recording music, but without the condescending smirk. The short-lived strings lead you in to the soothing, charming cadence of Hawthorne’s vocals and classic pop rock. Singing about his questionable sanity over a springy, buoyant tune while employing hand claps, keyboards, and a steady drum beat, Hawthorne sings in falsetto throughout much of the song. The impressive and, at times, subtle range displayed here, and the ease with which he slides throughout the notes shows that Hawthorne isn’t your average singer-songwriter. Regardless, any song that references Punxsutawney Phil while utilizing words like “restitution” deserves some recognition.
So what do you think of the list so far? Surprised by the expanded spectrum of artists? Furious that pop already has two entries in the first ten songs? Wondering why the hell I’m listening to Spanish music? Sound off in the comments below.