Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2011 Songs of the Year, #16-30

I realize that 30 might be a weird number for this list, but 25 just wasn't enough.  Here's my first 15, starting with number 30.

30. "Trouble On My Mind" - Pusha T feat. Tyler, The Creator

Pusha T has been one of the most respected voices in rap ever since his career with Clipse.  Unfortunately, this year has been mediocre for the Bronx rapper (Fear of God 2 is pretty bad).  This song is a lot of fun, though.  Over a super-heavy Neptunes beat, Pusha and Tyler rap about hardship and parodize themselves.  Check out the song's great video.

29. "FFunny FFriends" - Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Much can be said about the eclectic UMO sound.  This song is the catchiest example of their fuzzy indie rock, with leader Ruban Nielson's piercing falsetto vocals singing one of the year's most captivating melodies.  My friend Kale pointed out to me that the song's chord progression is a five-measure one.

28.  "The Bad In Each Other" - Feist

Feist put together a powerful opener for her excellent 2011 release, Metals.  Featuring an arrangement that's got more layers than Martha Stewart's rainbow cake, this song is really heavy.  But Feist is still a songwriter at heart.  She tells a great love story here.  I love the way the song switches to a major key for the chorus.

27.  "Outside" - Childish Gambino

Here's another great opener to an album.  I really like the way Glover delays the beat to begin on beat two.  That's one of the elements of this song that really got me hooked on the album as a whole.  The choir during the chorus gives it a dark flavor that sets the mood for the rest of the album.

26.  "MindKilla" - Gang Gang Dance

Eye Contact is an album I sorta forgot about, and didn't listen to as much as I probably should have.  But no song on that album captures the unique sound of this Manhattan band than this one.  Sweeping synths, powerful percussion, and the strange vocals of leader Lizzi Bougatsos make this track 2011 most unexpectedly danceable number.

25.  "Someone Like You" - Adele

This song didn't get enough credit this year, being largely overshadowed by the super-hit "Rolling In The Deep" from the same album.  But here, Adele displays her indisputable talent as both a wonderful singer and a gifted songwriter.  The English artist sings a beautifully haunting melody that's one of my favorite of the year.

24.  "The Grey Ship" - EMA

This song is just one of the many songs on Erika M. Anderson's Past Life Martyred Saints that starts slow and builds to the end.  She is a master of this songwriting device.  "The Grey Ship" starts with slow-moving acoustic guitars, but changes in the middle and builds to a satisfying climax at the end.  This is one of 2011's most hard-hitting rock songs.

23.  "Smile" - Smith Westerns

This young Chicago band has been compared to glam-rock artists like David Bowie time and time again, and if there's one song that most obviously characterizes that, it's "Smile."  It opens with shimmering synthesizers and slow-moving percussion.  Then, guitarist Max Kakacek comes in with the best guitar riff of 2011.  Cullen Omori's decidedly hip vocals give these rockers a little indie flair on this, my favorite summer anthem for 2011.

22.  "Tip The Scale" - The Roots feat. Dice Raw

I always know that when I hear Black Thought's voice, the song I'm listening to is going to be great.  Combine that with the anchor of Questlove on the drums, the Rhodes organs, and the beautiful strings, and this is 2011's darkest hip-hop tracks.  The entire first verse is one of Black Thought's best ever, and it contains my favorite line from undun: "Soldiers of the streets with eighth grade diplomas."

21.  "Te Amo" - Atlas Sound

The solo project of Deerhunter's Bradford Cox is something I've just gotten into over the last few weeks.  What really makes this track, and is really the basis for all the music Cox does with Atlas Sound, is the layering and looping.  The interplay between the piano and guitar as the song opens is beautiful.  Then come the dreamy vocals, and more layers of guitar, percussion, and keyboard.  It's gorgeous through headphones; everything feels like it's swirling around and through your head.

20.  "Look At Me Now" - Chris Brown feat. Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne

Busta Rhymes' verse on this hip-hop megahit is probably 2011's most imitated musical moment.  But I'm sure every one of those white kids on YouTube knows that Busta is the only person in the universe who can really pull off that verse.  Over a fantastic and minimalist Diplo beat, Busta has lots of room to do whatever he wants, and he does just that, spitting the fastest verse ever.  What's great is that Brown and Weezy try their hands at the fast game, and they make it work, as well (for the most part).  But Wayne is really missing out.  Sushi is great.

19.  "Get Away" - Yuck

"Pavement + noise = Yuck."  That was a comment on the London band's Last.fm page I saw a while back, and I think that's pretty accurate.  Yuck capture the sunny, late-90s indie rock flavor, but still manage to be melancholy shoegazers.  That chorus is so catchy, and that riff is so great.  I'm glad that 2011 saw a great guitar comeback, with this band and Smith Westerns, among others.  I nominate this as the year's best winter pick-me-up song.

18.  "Yonkers" - Tyler, The Creator

This is really the song that started the huge OFWGKTA craze.  Back when I was really into the rap group, I declared this song as the group's best release, and I stand by that.  It's by far Tyler's best rap performance, and definitely one of my favorite beats of his.  Somehow, the 20-year-old has a great sense for jazz piano voicings, and that part where it changes and the piano is featured sounds fantastic.  This song isn't just riding off the novelty of OFWGKTA, it's actually a fairly coherent hip-hop track.

17.  "High For This" - The Weeknd

Here's another hip-hop artist that became huge overnight.  I wasn't such a fan of Abel Tesfaye's slow-moving R&B for a while, but I started getting into it over the last month or so, and I realized that this song is really great.  Aside from the fact that Tesfaye might sound a little bit like the whiny lead singer of a bad pop-punk band, this song kicks so hard.  Every time he sings "open your head," something awesome happens.  I live for that awesome percussion.  And maybe I take back the thing about the bad pop-punk band.  He can really sing.

16.  "Take Me Over" - Cut Copy

I will never forget jumping in unison with 20,000+ other people to this song at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago this past July.  Cut Copy's set at the festival was one of the most enjoyable for me, and this song is equally pleasing.  "Take me over, take me out / Through the jungle, through the night / To paaaaradise" sings frontman Dan Whitford.  This song is pretty damn near close to paradise.


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As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned!  More lists to follow!


Tomorrow (read: later today):  2011 Albums of the Year, #11-20
Wednesday:  Best Music Videos of 2011
Thursday:  2011 Songs of the year, #1-15
Friday:  2011 Albums of the Year, #1-10

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