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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.


20.

Jay-Z & Kanye West

“No Church in the Wild”

[Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam / Roc Nation]

In the light of “H.A.M.”’s colossal disappointment, Watch the Throne became a foggy event for critics and fans alike. Sure, we had “Otis” — the good-humored first-single from hip-hop’s biggest stars — but taking into account the hype surrounding Kanye West and Jay-Z, people were expecting hip-hop of gargantuan proportions.

It’s only fitting that the opening track of Watch the Throne dispelled all disbelief from the get-go. While the rest of the record shakily balanced unabashed egotism with social-conscious lyrics (“Murder to Excellence”), “No Church in the Wild” offered an introspective glimpse into the protagonists’ troubled minds. It was a perfect example of Watch the Throne’s great pomposity — capturing “how heavy lies the crown” with a sense of ambition, thumping instrumentation, and a somber hook provided by Odd Future’s Frank Ocean (“what’s a God to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything?”). And while it may’ve seemed trite for a bunch of millionaires, Jay-Z and Kanye brought such tenacity to their performances that you couldn’t help but feel convinced by their inhibitions. While not as drastic as Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the song nevertheless showcased how the mighty could truly fall at the peak of their powers.

Ryan Studer


19.

Thom Yorke, Burial, Four Tet
“Ego”

[Text]

While a certain other long-awaited Thom Yorke collaboration from this year turned out to be an utter disappointment, this dream combo lived up to expectations. It’s been long known that Yorke has been friends with Four Tet and Burial, and having heard the two London beatsmiths team up on last year’s “Moth”/”Wolf Cub” single, we already knew that they had a strong partnership. Throw Thom Yorke’s vocals into the mix and you’ve got a hit. Through his solo album and Radiohead cuts like “15 Step” we already knew Yorke knew how to sing around a beat, but the way he does it here might be the best yet. The sensual verses that end in the unbelievably cheeky and catchy “I bet you get this all the time” are the most obvious 20.ear candy on display here, but beneath this is a heap of treasures including a brilliantly underplayed bass, tinkles of random noises, atmospheric metallic yawns and a lovely repeated piano riff that comes in towards the conclusion. The song is near seven minutes, but, as you would hope, not a millisecond is wasted by these three musical masterminds.

Rob Hakimian


18.

Atlas Sound

“Te Amo”

[4AD]

Ah “Te Amo,” a jaunty, midtempo, Latin-flavored paean to dreams and romance; truly, this is Atlas Sound’s “La Isla Bonita.” And that’s a compliment; “La Isla Bonita,” after all, is the standout track from Madonna’s True Blue. But while in that song she expresses a desire to be with her lover, on “Te Amo” Brandon Cox shows that even consummated love can be unfulfilling; he’ll “pretend you were the only one” before going on to “have such strange dreams.” About what? Well, if the tinkling piano keys and start-and-stop percussion are any indication, perhaps he’s dreaming of an exoticism he can’t have. As a wistful guitar recalls the languorous six-string work on Deerhunter’s “He Would Have Laughed,” Cox moans and comes to a Charlie Brown-like conclusion: “when you’re down, you’re always down.” So maybe he’s realized that just because the grass is greener on the other side of the fence doesn’t mean it’s more comfortable against your bare feet, and just because you’re sleeping with a loving partner doesn’t mean you’ll dream sweet dreams. Of course, when your melancholia sounds this delicate and beautiful, why would you even need dreams in the first place?

Josh Becker


17.

James Blake

“The Wilhelm Scream”

[Atlas]

James Blake turned heads last year by revealing that he could sing on Feist cover, “Limit To Your Love.” Refusing to leave his voice shrouded in mystery, “Love” lifted the curtain to reveal, not merely a passable croon, but a downright outstanding baritone. As strong as that track was, it held closer to the chillier side of his earlier tracks, more “CMYK” than “I Only Know (What I Know Now),” and therefore failed to truly connect on a deeply emotional level. That all changed with the release of his self-titled debut album this year, on which fans were treated to the profundity of soul that Blake is able to convey vocally. This is hardly more apparent than on “The Wilhelm Scream,” arguably Blake’s finest track to date. Still holding dear to his roots in post-dubstep production techniques, “Scream” expands upon his previous work by demonstrating Blake’s ability to word-paint as he develops a musical texture that is equally appropriate for lyrical dance as it is for introspective headphone listening. When he bemoans that he is “falling, falling, falling,” the melody coils downwards with him, allowing him to logically conclude with “might as well fall in.” There is a coherence in both the trajectory of this phrase and in the piece as a whole that is rarely seen outside of classical music. Few releases this year have showed a more keen synthesis of lyrics and musicality whilst still managing to be heartbreaking, powerful, and downright fascinating. Without question, “The Wilhelm Scream” is a peerless standout in this very narrow field.

Ricky Schweitzer


16.

Real Estate

“It’s Real”

[Domino]

It was always clear that Martin Courtney and co. wrote good songs. Beneath the haze that their debut offered were shades of solid songwriting. With this year’s Days Real Estate shed the reverby facade that they so carefully constructed around their self titled debut, and with exceedingly positive results. As the lead single, the Courtney penned “It’s Real” provided early indications that Real Estate would be further showcasing their actual playing on this album. The vocal hook is one of the best that Real Estate has put forth so far. The guitar hooks which would have been previously buried in the mix in reverb-soaked form are here allowed to be downright bouncy. Real Estate’s debut was a lot of things, but it couldn’t have predicted the sprightly, catchy chorus present here. Though Courtney alongside Matthew Modanile — who has more recently come to fame under his Ducktails — have crafted good songs over the past few years, “It’s Real” proves to be an astounding achievement steps above these other works.

Colin Joyce


15.

SBTRKT

“Wildfire” (feat. Yukimi Nagano)

[Young Turks]

“Wildfire” is the answer to the question, what do you get when you mix a UK underground masked electronic producer and the vocalist of Scandinavian odd-pop heroes and sometime Damon Albarn collaborators Little Dragon? It’s a merging of styles that enchanted many in 2011 with its big squelching bass-line, contrasted with the charmingly offbeat slightly hip-hop tinged vocals of Yukimi Nagano. The bass on the track represents the rise to prominence of the UK electronic and dubstep scene of which SBTRKT has always been a part of, and has also seen artists such as James Blake and Mount Kimbie rise through. However, the track’s exuberance and less niche appeal meant its audience was much wider than previous arguably less accessible SBTRKT material.

“Wildfire” in many ways was SBTRKT’s genesis to reaching the ears of the many, no doubt helped by trend-setter artists like Drake and Shabazz Palaces offering their own interpretations on it. Perhaps the most positive thing about “Wildfire” though, is the attention it brought to SBTRKT’s excellent self-titled debut, a record that may have otherwise been a little more low key and unappreciated. And not forgetting, that bass wobble.

Toby McCarron


14.

Fleet Foxes

“Helplessness Blues”

[Sub Pop]

Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues” plays as a folk-pop anthem for those meandering proto-adults struggling to cast off the badges of unique individuality pinned on by their gushy Baby Boomer parents; “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique” Pecknold croons.

Against a façade of cathartic triumph undercut by tinges of uncertainly, irony and regret, singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold yearns to trade his prickly sense of distinctiveness for a modest niche within some unidentifiable colossus. “After some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be / A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.” Over springy, urgent acoustic strumming, Pecknold cries out with a measure of certitude reserved for those hoping to convince themselves of some speculative proposition that his existential quandaries will be answered… eventually.

Unable to identify a path that reconciles his conflicting needs for authentic uniqueness and the protective womb of group identity, the singer betrays his burning passion for the simple, populist spirituality of agrarian toil. The track explodes with a naturalistic, serene orchestra, as Pecknold sings of pristine beauty amidst golden four-part harmonies. Balanced by Skyler Skjelset’s sparse, tasteful electric guitar riffs, the singer echoes with ravenous longing for a bucolic countryside: “If I had an orchard, I’d work ’till I’m raw!” With perfectly intertwined lyrics and music, “Helplessness Blues” delivers that rare soul piercing quality that truly great art offers the human spirit.

Henry Hauser


13.

Tyler, the Creator

“Yonkers”

[XL]

When looking back on the year in hip-hop, it is almost impossible to find a hip-hop song that even comes remotely close to reaching the magnitude of “Yonkers.” Tyler, the Creator’s Odd Future had already built a solid foundation of blogosphere buzz, but it was this song — and yeah, the video helped too — that legitimized everything. This wasn’t a scratchy mixtape cut and it wasn’t a regurgitation of whatever was hot on the radio at the time. When “Yonkers” first hit, it was a white hot shot over the bow of hip-hop. The beat is staggeringly brilliant in its simplicity and potency, while Tyler’s verses are delivered with a tongue so sharp it could cut right through the diamonds he claims on the track he doesn’t need. But most of all, Tyler sounds poised, methodical, and unlike anyone else spitting bars anywhere.

Andrew Bailey


12.

Cold Cave

“The Great Pan Is Dead”

[Matador]

The amazing thing about “The Great Pan Is Dead” is that despite hitting all the marks of an epic display of bombast, Cold Cave never once leaves the red. It cuts out that obnoxious middleman, the valleys, and is all peaks for four glorious minutes. On the back of pummeling hi-hat and snare hits and a guitar riff that rips through the song as if it were a Gatling gun, the twinkling synths and bells, give “The Great Pan Is Dead” a warmth that at first catches you off guard before welcoming you into its arms — your fist held high at all moments though because everyone knows what time it is. Not to mention Wesley Eisold’s baritone — the only voice that could sing “I will come running / Gunning through the years / Hunting heart / Crushing fear” with the kind of shuddering power that reverberates throughout your skull. “The Great Pan Is Dead” ends on this violin that manages to worm its way in, and even with all its swooning and lulling and sweetness-juxtaposed-with-fury-type stuff, that last note still knocks you on your ass. After that, of course, you get right back up and hit rewind.

Jon Blistein


11.

Arctic Monkeys

“That’s Where You’re Wrong”

[Domino]

On Arctic Monkeys’ sign off from their latest album Suck It And See they channeled lats 90s pop rock to produce a gem of a song. Alex Turner is in fine form vocally and lyrically, delivering both skewed picturesque images (“A pussyfooting setting sun”) and whimsical nonsense (“Street lamp amber wander lust / powder in a blunderbuss”) in his newfound calm neo-croon. Amidst all this, Turner manages to drop some genuine wisdom in the (dare I say it) timeless chorus “Don’t take it so personally, you’re not the only one that time has got it in for, honey / That’s where you’re wrong.” We have all of this, and then we have the perfect closing of the album through Jamie Cook’s twanging lead guitar and the harmonised repeat of the song’s title and refrain. That’s all there is to it, but we’re left with a song that takes an unhappy person and spins them in a musical web of hope.

Rob Hakimian

[100-76] [75-51] [50-41] [40-31] [30-21] [20-11] [10-01]


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