2011 has been good to us. Here are what we consider the best songs of 2011. The first 80 are ordered alphabetically, The Top 20 are ranked accordingly. We threw up MP3s on as many songs we could. Enjoy – and if you didn't, post your list up on the comments.
100 Best Songs of 2011
20FRANK OCEAN - "Novacane"
It isn’t purely coincidental that Odd Future members keep showing up on this list. These Breuxs (in this case Christopher Breux aka Frank Ocean) got it going on. The syncopated trumpet loops and the sensual wails are mainstays in the R&B hook catalog. What’s not for sale is Ocean’s ability to stop, drop an epiphany like a bad joke and pick it all back up again like nothing happened. It’s no surprise that he’s some hot singles for stars like John Legend and Beyonce (he penned “I Miss You” off 4). “Brain like Berkeley”. “She wants to be a dentist”. These are lyrics from a guy who actually takes the time to know his ladies.
19CASS MCCOMBS - "County Line"
"County Line" is wide-eyed in a way that counts James Taylor as its greatest influence – but where Taylor’s croons and propositions always maintained New England as a backdrop, Cass McCombs adopts a sense of wanderlust totality. The song’s titular county line, the one “left so far behind,” could be anywhere, as long as it’s far away from whoever it is who “never even tried to love me,” as McCombs declares, in a falsetto like walking on glass that will put chills up your spine.
18CUT COPY - "Need You Now"
Take the respective vocalists of Tears for Fears, The National and The Strokes, fly them down to Australia, load them up on ex and let them commandeer a Korg M3 Workstation. Throw some cowbells and hand claps in there and you have something that should resemble this electronic maelstrom. If one song from this year embodies a return to ‘80s new wave, this would be it. It takes that synthesized yearning and updates it for a contemporary audience. Unlike Dances with Wolves, this epic is just the right length.
17TYLER, THE CREATOR - "Yonkers"
This is the type of freestyle flow you’d hear on 106 & Park on a Friday afternoon. Except Tyler, The Creator is a rap ninja, stealthy and slick with his ability to sever through your mic with a kitana in silence before challenging his swag. Some food for thought: “Bedrock/Harder than a motherfucking flinstone/Making crack rocks outta pussy niggas/ fishbones” or if you prefer something out of left field “I slipped myself some pink Xannies/And danced around the house in all over print panties.” He’s rap’s Floyd Mayweather, assuming the role of villain with incorrigible guile.
16JAI PAUL - "BTSTU (Edit)"
Say what you want to about Drake’s Take Care, but he and producer Noah “40” Shebib sampled arguably the two most progressive artists on any rap album this year. Without Jai Paul’s haunting B-side two-stepping in the background, “Dreams Money Can Buy” would ultimately be a hollow shell. Never has “don’t fuck with me” sounded so hard and soft at the same time. He knows when to tone down the laser show and get back to dealing with what was obviously a painful breakup.
15PANDA BEAR - "Alsatian Darn"
Alsatia is essentially a restricted domain which respects no laws but its own. Or in Noah Lennox’s world, an insular cloister you never want to leave. This stunner still has a penchant for sampling, but not nearly to the degree of sensory overload heard on Merriweather Post Pavilion. Just the way his modulated voice meshes seamlessly with whatever chord all the digital bells and whistles are chiming is enough to make your jaw drop.
14FLEET FOXES - "Helplessness Blues"
If you’re driving through the mountains, waiting for the sunrise to break through the mist, "Helplessness Blues" is essential listening. You will feel the orchestral rapture of Robin Pecknold and company lift you to a zenith of insignificance when you realize how much you want to be part of that “big machine” he keeps referring to. The mechanics of this dazzler are unmatched. Melody changes faster and harder than the likes of Crosby, Stills and Nash could ever fathom. And I actually believe that “If he had an orchard/He would work til he was sore”.
13ADELE - "Rolling In The Deep" (Jamie xx Shuffle)
Jamie xx is like a kid in a virtual candy store. He has an infinite supply of heavy airplay to deconstruct and make a thousand times better. That’s saying a lot for Adele’s smash hit, but unlike many of his colleagues, if you hear one of his remixes, you immediately know it’s him. Even though he elects not to use it, he wields his digital clarion like a ruthless editor, cutting the glib and fat out of a track until it’s left picked clean and ready to be consumed.
12THE ANTLERS - "I Don't Want Love"
It’s usually a good idea to follow a morose concept album (equating hospice care with a toxic relationship) with something slightly more upbeat. Not to say Peter Silberman has ditched the heartbreaking honesty of his previous work, he’s just made it more accessible while upgrading its elegance to unseen heights. The slow tempo crooning primes the melancholy heart, but Silberman’s regal tone sounds more like a stand against love. Sure John Lennon, we all need it, we just don’t always want it.
11NERVES JUNIOR - "As Bright As Your Night Light"
For the sake of full disclosure, I gave this album an A+ when I reviewed it almost two months ago. What we are hearing from these Louisville savants is the same sort of ornate distortion we come to expect from a Kid A or Mr Beast, but not a debut album. When Cory Wayne pushes the eject button into the chorus, we know it’s going to be epic. His voice is mesmerizing and sardonic, distant enough to be right in your face. The drums really set this one apart from others in its genre, whether they be a big booming analog kit or digital Rolands they know exactly what obscure tools to use in the studio.
10JAMES BLAKE - "The Wilhelm Scream"
This plaintive spiral into the love chasm might even bring Kaiser Wilhelm himself to tears. Not to be confused with the American tennis player, this British son of session guitarist James Litherland is “falling, falling, falling, falling” in the most sonorous way imaginable. What starts out as a fairly lucid treatment of his madness begins pulsing with an unpredictable frenzy that eventually cools at the coda where he’s still falling, just not as fast.
09BON IVER - "Beth/Rest"
A quick Twitter search reveals just how two-sided the debate on “Beth/Rest” can be, with the song being crowned everything from career-best to album-ruining. Armed only with a synthesizer, vocoder, and some celestial guitars, Vernon crafts a song that evokes the 1980s, but with a sincerity missing from most ironic homages. The fact that he is able to evoke true emotion and joy from a set of sonics long plundered and left for empty is testament to his talent as a songwriter and courage as a man already stripped naked and unashamed. He’s given us Bon Iver at its most raw and, now, at its most processed. This song has done nothing but grow on me.
08TUNE-YARDS - "Bizness"
Thank God someone found a way to channel the energy of Merill Garbus into one self-contained album. No easy feat as you can see here. Feeling the heavy influence of rich textured bass anchoring her perfectly mixed vocal onomatopoeia and strangely tuned ukulele; we begin to feel the gravity of her anti-capitalist message. Survival of the richest takes full precedent over the fittest when she screams “I’m addicted yeah/From a distance yeah/I’m a victim yeah/What’s the business yeah”.
07CULTS - "You Know What I Mean"
That favorite aphorism of anyone who can’t quite put a finger indescribable feelings or the mark of a real OG (pronounced a bit differently of course). Brian Oblivion lays down a killer bass progression for Madeline Follin to nimbly tip toe across until it’s pleasantly derailed by thrashing guitar and angry proclamations of sleepless nights. Then the black key minor piano tappings garnish an already dreary-cool melody. “Tell me what’s wrong with my brain/Cause I seem to have lost it”. Haven’t we all after a round of punch drunk love?
06SBTRKT - "Wildfire" f/ Yukimi Nagano
What do you get when you mate the UK dubstep of anonymous-tribal-mask-wearing artiste SBTRKT and Swedish electronic act Little Dragon? Well for one a booming bass intro that shakes my Beats headphones to their core. And more importantly Yukimi Nagano’s (Little Dragon) high-pitched digital wails which go oh so well with the midi fluctuations and warbled funk. Either way you feel like you are witnessing a conflagration of lust not heard since your last visit to the local underground rave.
05WU LYF - "We Bros"
Famous BBC Radio 1 personality Zane Lowe named “Dirt” the “Hottest Track in the World” after the enigmatic quartet finally dropped a bombshell in the form of their debut Go Tell Fire to the Mountain. Though the aforementioned molten hot track is worthy of its hefty moniker, “We Bros” is that epic little gem tucked inside this imaginary volcanic mountain of aural bliss. I mean hell, if you just look at their Wikipedia picture, they embody the essence of bromance. Aside from all the male love, this song is staggering. The deafening echoes that warp into drunken jubilation. The jangly guitar that weaves throughout with reckless abandon. It’s all gravy in the World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation.
04THE WEEKND - "Wicked Games"
It’s been a banner year for lo-fi hip hop to take center stage in the rap game. Enter Abel Tesfaye and Jeremy Rose whose meteoric rise to fame might have a lot to do with the content of this slow jam masterpiece. Thanks to a bass lurking in the shadows and the rich R&B harmonies, we can really feel the guilt brought on by the very real temptations surrounding him. But he’s “on that shit you can’t smell baby/so put down your perfume”. This is the type of pillow talk that really catapults this one into the same stratosphere as Rick James and Lionel Ritchie.
03LANA DEL REY - "Video Games"
Internet sensations are a dime a dozen, but Lana Del Rey is what A&R reps call a “born star”. This 25-year-old chartreuse chameleon adopts whatever diva is flowing through her body at that precise moment. After watching her spellbinding performance on Later with Jools Holland, what makes her resonate at a deeper level is her crushing lyrics that alternate between the sweet “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you/Heaven is a place on Earth with you” and the sexy “I heard that you like the bad girls/Honey is that true?” So vulnerable, so powerful, every bit deserving.
02M83 - "Midnight City"
This song would make your bleary-eyed morning routine seem like the purest form of concentrated cool. Each element, effortlessly constructed before our very ears, transcends its shoegaze agency and seems to occupy an orgasmic space between what we’re trained to hear and what actually hums through our headphones. Gonzalez says this album is “a reflection of my 30 years as a human being”. Well, I haven't been around as long and have never heard anything oozing with je ne sais quoi to the point of speechlessness. I’m pretty sure that if you fell asleep with this guy on repeat, you would wake up in a Ferrari Testarossa wearing a blazer, pastel tee shirt and white loafers (see Miami Vice).
01BEYONCÉ - "1+1"
Beyoncé has hits to spare. Her two biggest rank among the last decade’s best. Confetti cannons heralded her 2003 debut single “Crazy in Love,” and her arrival as a solo artist. Her dominance was undeniable by 2008, thanks to an inescapable anthem (do really I need to name it?) and its instantly iconic music video. “1+1,” the shiniest jewel in Beyoncé’s (not Sasha Fierce’s) tiara, was somehow met with a shrug. It reached #57 on the Billboard Hot 100. Time will no doubt rectify this injustice.
Oft-repeated comparisons to Sam Cooke and Prince are apt, but they miss the point. “1+1” is an achievement of Knowles’ own. Beyoncé may not know much about algebra, but taken together, the song’s 3/4-time arpeggios, tender strings, howling electric-guitar solo, and superb vocal performance yield a deeply affecting four-and-a-half minutes of pop balladry. That The-Dream gave this song away is insane, an example of artistic generosity (or maybe regret) on par with “Because the Night” and “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
Beyonce’s version, so far superior to The-Dream’s demo, only confirms her own talent. Its definitive version was taken backstage and was recorded on a phone. No sampled horns or elaborate choreography were needed: just a pop star with an insanely good song. Or better put: an artist with a classic.
Bonus: We added every song that we could from this list onto this Spotify playlist.