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The Top 100 Tracks of 2011

By ; December 13, 2011 at 12:00 AM 

Check out One Thirty BPM’s top songs of 2011 in this Spotify playlist.


The Mountain Goats

“High Hawk Season”


The Mountain Goats have a formidably big back catalogue, so it’s difficult to say that a song is unique in the catalogue, but “High Hawk Season” is exactly that. It’s an acoustic ballad, but its specialty comes in the form of the barbershop-sounding backing vocals that back up John Darnielle. The song is about time coming for people to step up and take control. It could be seen as a call to a whole group, like a generation, or to a singular person, but in either instance it doesn’t lose any of its power. The song starts off calm enough (with the low-key passion that Darnielle always brings to his songs), but by the end the song is more direct, and when everything cuts out for Darnielle to yelp “we are young supernovas and the heat’s about to break!” you can cut the tension with a knife. This is one of the most unpredictable and original songs of the year, and the fact that John Darnielle can still produce curveballs like this 13 albums (and countless other releases) into his career is something that should be applauded.

Rob Hakimian


St. Vincent

“Strange Mercy”


Who would’ve thought that by year’s end, “Strange Mercy” would have been looked at as the secret weapon of St. Vincent’s brilliant third album? Its nonchalance is its charm as well as the factor that leads to its lasting impact and re-playability. It isn’t until the piece has sunk in that one realizes how drawn in s/he has become to the song’s core elements; from the repetition of “Oh, little one,” to the hypnotically spare percussion pattern. Such subtlety allows one to attach themselves deeply to these reference points and be utterly devastated by their exclusion and ultimately, their reemergence. Moreover, it leaves one completely unprepared for one of the most beautiful lyrics of the year, a couplet that lends the album its title as well as its thematic center. When Annie Clark sings “Oh little one I’d tell you good news that I don’t believe if it would help you sleep. Strange mercy,” the immediate comparison that comes to mind is Neutral Milk Hotel’s, “How strange it is to be anything at all.” Both lyrics seem to comment on the remarkable peculiarity of the human condition, though with different aims. Whereas Mangum is speaking to the essence of “being” in its Platonic form, Clark’s thought is purposefully less straightforward. She is examining the oddness of which actions are deemed acceptable in an honest and true love. Of course, the concept of the white lie has been explored before, but hardly with such lyrical nakedness. Further complicating matters, she is as willing to lie for her “little one” as she is to fight for him. This becomes clear during the song’s stunning climax in which Clark doubts the self control she might exhibit if confronted by those who have hurt her aforementioned loved one. These lyric strips Clark, the song, and the album of any pretense. With Marry Me and Actor, one often found themselves asking the question of just who St. Vincent was. The ultimately humanizing “Strange Mercy” takes giant strides towards uncovering this secret.

Ricky Schweitzer




[Fat Possum]

Grunge revival? Sonic Youth worship? Hell, Yuck could have started as a Foo Fighters tribute band and I’d still love their debut album. And no song better encapsulates its crunchy melodicism like “Operation.” In another time (i.e. the nineties) the guitar riffs alone would have made this an alt-rock radio hit, and the angsty ennui of lyrics like “I lie in bed cause I feel so low / I try to think but I just don’t fucking know” is as gleefully adolescent as a diary hidden under your mattress. But what truly makes Yuck special is their appreciation of sheer songcraft; for all their electric distortion, Yuck make structured, good-old-fashioned pop music. This may sound like a backhanded compliment, but I mean it in the best possible way; it’s this pop sensibility that makes songs like “Operation” so endlessly listenable. Reality bites, but Yuck bite back with an unpretentious sincerity that transcends the trendy garage-noise micro-scene. “Well-designed” indeed.

Josh Becker





In 2011, as ever, Burial remained the reclusive figure that everyone expected him to be. However, 2011 saw a flash of productivity in the Street Halo EP and his collaboration with Four Tet and Thom Yorke. Despite unfulfilled rumors of a full length coming at the end of this year, we had a pretty solid year of Burial releases given what we’re accustomed to him putting out. “NYC” is one of the prime tracks that we’re treated to. Off of the aforementioned Street Halo, it’s a classic Burial track, built on moody vocal samples and clattering drum patterns. Though he leaves a lot of chances for his contemporaries, and even his followers, in the bass music world to pass him by, Burial always comes back to prove that, yes, there is a reason he is considered amongst the best at what he does. Street Halo was a striking reminder of this as a whole and “NYC” is a proper 7-minute reminder in and of itself.

Colin Joyce


Lana Del Rey

“Video Games”


Chances are, you already have an opinion about Lana Del Rey and nothing I or anyone else say or do will sway you one way or the other, but here’s my two cents anyway: whether she turns out to be the next great thing or the next great failed major label project, “Video Games” will still be a great song. Boasting one of the best piano hooks pop music has heard in quite some time, the song makes its case before Lana makes hers, but her case is just as strong. No amount of plastic surgery could have given her the pipes she possesses, and she milks every velvety syllable for what it’s worth. The production is grandiose, but not overblown, giving her just the right amount of orchestral backing without undercutting sense of the inner loneliness the song evokes. However, such a strong debut single begets a nigh insurmountable level of expectation for her debut album, and even if “Video Games” isn’t the only great thing to emerge from the collagenated lips of Lana Del Rey, it will still hold a decent place in my heart (all the special places were taken).

Harrison Suits Baer


Active Child

“Playing House” (Feat. How To Dress Well)


On October 28, M83 was scheduled to play the Black Cat in Washington, DC and I was lined up to cover the show. Active Child, who we’d had some stories and reviews about throughout the year, was set to open, so it was a great opportunity to finally see what our staff was so fond of. But it almost didn’t happen. Traffic was bitch, I was running late as it was, and the press list was late to arrive at the entrance. It seemed almost certain that I would miss part of, if not all of, Active Child’s set. However, in what was truly one of the year’s most fortunate twists of fate, the list arrived and I got through the doors with a few minutes to spare — it’s a good thing sound check ran a bit late. Had I missed that show, I probably wouldn’t have discovered one of my favorite songs of 2011. “Playing House,” which boasts a feature spot from Tom Krell aka How to Dress Well, is easily one of the three or four most instantly addictive songs of the year, combining key electronic foundations and slick rhythm and blues vocals, foregoing Active Child’s signature harp strumming. Even after repeated listens — and in this case, “repeated listens” quite literally means “a one-song playlist strung out for an hour or so” — it still has every bit the impact it did hearing it for the first time, which came startlingly close to not transpiring at all.

Andrew Bailey


Junior Boys

“Banana Ripple”


Some of 2011’s best tracks are expansive works that push the boundaries of what we’ve come to expect from the artist or likeminded giants in their respective genre. These ambitious exercises in form typically fall into three distinct classes within the album format: Gang Gang Dance’s “Glass Jar” is a shimmery, burgeoning introduction to their alien world; Destroyer’s “Kaputt” is the coke-dream core, and title track, to Dan Bejar’s honest-to-Steely-Dan rock vocal breakout; whereas “Banana Ripple” is the elegant end song, a theme expanding red giant to Junior Boys’ typically minimalistic, synth-ridden indie R&B. The latter borders on twisting into a maximalist’s playground, as Jeremy Greenspan’s shrieking falsetto eventually poses a stark polyphonic contrast to the electronic squiggles. Elsewhere, he presents soothing tones in the same vein we’ve grown accustomed. But until now, we haven’t quite seen the Junior Boys exhibiting this level of technical prowess; their craft is consistently refined, sure, but never has it been such a centrifugal force. “Banana Ripple” is one of the year’s best, and a career watermark for the Canadian duo.

Michael Tkach


Kendrick Lamar


[Top Dawg Ent.]

The first time I listened to Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 I was kinda surprised when “Ab-Soul’s Outro” turned out not to be the record’s last track. For all intents and purposes everything about that track screamed final statement with Lamar going so far to define himself in the bluntest of terms: “I’m not the next pop star, I’m not the next socially aware rapper / I am a human motherfucking being over dope instrumentation.” But proving that old mantra “show don’t tell” still holds strong, Lamar takes to the mic one last time on “HiiiPoWeR” with that patented coolness cracking intermittently in fits of rage. A polemic, a mission statement, a call to arms, a display of vocal elasticity and incredible lyrical savvy, Lamar sums everything up in that chorus that catches you off guard each time: “Five star dishes, food for thought bitches / I mean this shit is” — and it seems like he’s lost his footing for a sec in something too familiar and he does tumble, but into “Huey Newtown goin’ stupid / You can’t resist his Hiii Power” with the confidence and ease that makes your ears perk up every time. It’s a line jam packed with historical and cultural knowledge, humor, anger, honesty, and passion delivered by an MC who’s just plain hungry and you know he’s coming back for seconds.

Jon Blistein




[Souterrain Transmissions]

“California” is one of those tracks that seems to defy any preconceived notions of music’s size limitations. The layers of reverberating piano notes expand like an atom bomb concussion wave sweeping gently across Earth viewed from the peaceful heights of outerorbit. But it’s the contrasting smallness of Erika Anderson’s earnest, snowballing sentiments of displacement as she stands at the center of the shapeless melee that give the track its weight and impact. The song manages an atmosphere of apocalyptic deterioration with its melting drones of guitar feedback and simmering violins, which is reflected pitch-perfect in sing-song lines like “I’m just twenty-two / I don’t mind dying” that seem to capture (for better or worse) the hopeless dissatisfaction of a generation .

Will Ryan


Gang Gang Dance
“Glass Jar”


There are those who say that the first track of a good album is like the first sentence of a good novel: it grabs the listener’s attention and compels the listener to keep listening. “Glass Jar,” then, is quite the run-on sentence of an opening track, but one which grants great reward to those willing to take in all 11 minutes of its running time, not a single second of which is wasted. From the opening declaration of “I can hear everything / it’s everything time,” the pieces of the song hum and whirr to life, and build more anticipation. Layers upon layers are added to a simple synth motif until the sound reaches epic proportions. Suddenly, slightly past the six minute mark, the drums start tapping double time and the ride down from the immense buildup proves to be a pleasantly dizzying one, accompanied by the floating, ethereal vocals of Lizzi Bougatsos, asking “Is that you in the glass jar? / Is that you?” So smoothly does the song fit together, you don’t realize after it’s over that you’re already 11 minutes into the album. Instead, you want to keep listening.

Harrison Suits Baer

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