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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.


10.

St. Vincent

“Cruel”

[4AD]

St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy is full of memorable tracks, but “Cruel” is the lone one that could appeal to any demographic with its pop sensibility and synthy-sounding guitar hook. But, while “Cruel” is as immediate of a song as you will hear, that doesn’t mean it is easy. In fact, that is why “Cruel” is something more than just a strong single on a strong album. Annie Clark never compromises anything about her sound or her artistic vision to create a hit. From the sloppy, filthily distorted guitar solo, to the way Annie Clark pushes her vocal range to the limit of its capability at the song’s crescendo, the song doesn’t fit the stereotype of a typical earworm. Add in some lyrics about the pressures of physical beauty and you have one of the year’s most unlikely pop masterpieces, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Philip Cosores


09.

The Do

“Too Insistent”

[Get Down]

From the very opening of The Dø’s “Too Insistent” it is evident that this is a rather special song. We get a bunch of whimsical instrumentation including plinking toy pianos, crackling and clapping. Further in the song gets more embellished some rather lovely strings and a few injections of brass which heightens the flirtatious nature of the song. All of this is fantastic, but is secondary to the vocal performance from Olivia Merilahti. Lyrically, the song finds Merilahti stuck at the receiving end of so much affection from an admirer that she can’t take it, ultimately pleading “why won’t you let me go?” in the song’s sing-along chorus. As genuine as she seems to be in her various deflections of this attempted courting, Merilahti only seems to make herself more appealing in her sweetness.

Whether Merilahti is actually wary of her admirer or is just embarrassedly trying to play down her own reciprocated feelings is open for interpretation. To me “Too Insistent” seems to capture that special time when an attraction is blossoming, and whether they both want it or not, it’s still something worth singing about.

Rob Hakimian


08.

Cut Copy

“Need You Now”

[Modular]

The word “epic” gets thrown around a lot these days, especially on the internet. But I can’t think of a better adjective to describe the opening track of Cut Copy’s excellent Zonoscope. From its giddy rhythmic arrangements to its chugging lines of sparkling synths, “Need You Now” manages to keep a steadily energetic pace while clearly building up towards some cathartic release. And what a release it is; the chorus is sung for a second time, the programmed percussion goes into double-time, and we’re suddenly awash in the harmonic exuberance of a lustful crush finally realized. This song is as richly satisfying as anything the Australian trio has released, and any doubts we might have had about the group’s ability to improve upon In Ghost Colours are happily obliterated by the time Dan Whitford’s yearning coos carry us through the slow-burning outro and into the rest of the album. “Need You Now” is joyous proof that underneath all the wiry entrails of Cut Copy’s electronics beats a heart just waiting burst. So perhaps a better descriptor song would be “love,” for this song has it in spades.

Josh Becker


07.

Bon Iver

“Holocene”

[Jagjaguwar / 4AD]

In the past couple of weeks, “Holocene” has gone from the song that many people consider the strongest on the 2011 Bon Iver collection, to the Grammy-nominated, breakthrough for the Bon Iver brand. Still, it seems silly to imagine “Holocene” connecting quickly with the general public, as it is a song that sounds better on the fiftieth listen than the fifth, and continues to unveil secrets and nuances even after. Lyrically, “Holocene” refers to both a specific place (a club in Portland) and something far greater (our current geological epoch that began 10,000 years ago), and the lyrics of “seeing for miles and miles and miles” and not being “magnificent” highlight this juxtaposition.

But still, the song manages to convey both that feeling of being a grain of sand on the beach while also remembering that you are a part of something. You are a piece of the beach. And, it’s not just through the lyrics that this meaning is revealed, but through the subtle high-hat rolls and the guitar builds and releases, allowing its five minutes to pass buy in a flash. But really, only so much can be explained about the magic of “Holocene.” Listen to it alone, loudly, on a cold highway in the middle of the night, and experience the intangibles of “Holocene” that cut to the soul and keep us coming back to it, over and over again.

Philip Cosores


06.

The Weeknd

“Wicked Games”

[Self-released]

You know those people who seem to use their Facebook statuses for the sole purpose of sharing whatever lyric they relate to at the moment? Well, deep down inside, I am one of those people. I try to restrain myself as best as possible because, let’s be honest: no one likes that person. Of all the tracks that I’ve loved in the past year, perhaps none has tested my will on this front more than The Weeknd’s “Wicked Games.” Practically every heart-felt, pain-spiked line is a quotable and there are rainy, lonely nights where “bring your love, baby, I could bring my shame / bring the drugs, baby, I could bring my pain” just feels like the perfect accoutrement for my profile page. But I bite my electronic lip because, well, I’m friends with relatives and co-workers on there. But beyond dripping with quotables, “Wicked Games” has asserted itself as one of the most uniquely alluring songs of the year, running a gamut of emotions from lovelorn, to heartbroken, to lustful, to unabashedly desperate. This song isn’t a recanting of the same old R&B formula; the lyrics are naughty but venerable, the beat cracks, crunches, thumps, and slithers out from shadows deep down in the psyche. There was a time where rhythm and blues was synonymous with raw emotion. “Wicked Games” revives the emotion of those lost eras but funnels it through a refreshingly new aesthetic.

Andrew Bailey


05.

The Antlers

“Putting The Dog To Sleep”

[Frenchkiss]

The Antlers’ Hospice came out of nowhere and knocked us all off of our collective feet. Peter Silberman seemed to know exactly how to force one to relive the diabolical mixture of love and hatred that s/he might experience towards anyone that has been allowed to get close enough to disappoint. After such an emotionally exhausting breakthrough, one might have expected The Antlers to produce something slightly less… well… dour. While Burst Apart is by turns more oblique and less introspective than Hospice, it certainly doesn’t turn down the emotional manipulation. In fact, one could make the argument that by moving on from the, “dying relationship = terminal loved one,” symbolism to the, “fear of a lonely death = EUTHANASIA OF A DOG,” symbolism, Silberman’s imagery has become even darker; but there is a hint of optimism here as well. Instead of merely lamenting his place as a “dog with a broken leg,” Silberman paints a more complete picture in which he might not end up alone… that is if he can manage to stand out of his own way. As the partner, he sings “You can’t keep… kicking yourself in the head, because you’re kicking me too.” There is a hopefulness underneath the bone-crushing sadness at play. A possibility of a happy ending does exist and tellingly, this is the final idea posited on the album. Of course, none of this would succeed half so well without the unquestionable beauty of Silberman’s voice, particularly biting here in perfect juxtaposition to the shimmering falsetto that dominated the two previous tracks. All of these factors allow “Putting the Dog To Sleep” to achieve a heady romanticism which paints the entire album in a brighter light than it might have been seen in just one song earlier.

Ricky Schweitzer


04.

Girls

“Vomit”

[True Panther]

It’s easy to get caught up in all the influences Girls manage to simultaneously display on Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and “Vomit” is perhaps the most studious example. The track jumps seamlessly from feedback-drenched guitar rock to ‘60s pop ballad to gospel to organ-fueled rock & roll again. But the track’s disparate sonic reference points seem irrelevant upon hearing the devastating heights the track manages to reach by the end of its six and half minutes, as Christopher Owens woefully croons “come into my heart” over and over while a wailing backup vocalist clambers in wordless ascension to embody the desperation and pain and hugeness of the heart in question.

Will Ryan


03.

WU LYF

“We Bros”

[L Y F]

For all their hype, it is refreshing that World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation (A.K.A. WU LYF) can actually deliver. Picked by some as one of the bands to watch in 2011, WU LYF’s ‘heavy pop’ slant has endeared them to many and put some significant substance behind their notoriously mysterious (even guarded) identity. “We Bros” is every bit as stunning as Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, the band’s debut and the album on which the track appears. Songs clocking in at over six minutes generally fall into two categories; overindulgent missteps or enjoyable triumphs. “We Bros” is constantly developing and evolving, shaking off any chance for the usual repetition and stasis that one expects longer efforts to exhibit to develop. There is something so inherently stirring about “We Bros” that fails any attempt at description; it is almost transcendental and must be experienced for oneself.

Liam Demamiel


02.

Radiohead

“Lotus Flower”

[Self-released]

Let’s face it: OK Computer solidified Radiohead as a sociopolitical rock group — fully embracing the underlying hypocrisies of the information age and the monotonous qualities of suburban life. The record’s complex narrative consisted of an uncompromising yet no-nonsense depiction of the future dehumanized by congestion, technology, paranoia, and consumerism. And its aura of impending doom — furthermore emphasized by Radiohead’s daunting atmospheres — continued to develop on subsequent records like Kid A and Hail to the Thief. However, in looking at the pay-what-you-want In Rainbows — arguably their softest record to date — one might argue that the band abandoned their accustomed tonality for a tamer, more gentle sound. Was music’s most dystopian band becoming more user-friendly and, dare I say, romantic?

If “Lotus Flower” solidifies one thing, it solidifies Radiohead as a sexier, more self-composed band. Gone are the post-apocalyptic imageries of the future and in are the amorous lyricisms of a surprisingly loose Thom Yorke. Colin Greenwood provides an infectious bassline that descends and ascends in a dexterous fashion; also admirable is Phil Selway’s drumming, who progresses his repetitious feel from In Rainbows with great precision. Still, nothing catches your attention like Thom Yorke’s vocals, who’s never sounded this self-assured and this open-hearted as a vocalist or lyricist. As he sings “there’s an empty space inside my heart where the weeds take root / And now I’ll set you free,” you can’t help be taken away by his striking candor. While “Lotus Flower” isn’t as groundbreaking as “Paranoid Android” or “The National Anthem,” it showcases a different kind of Radiohead — perhaps less engulfed by the world’s problems. For a band of this magnitude, that’s something to behold.

Ryan Studer


01.

M83

“Midnight City”

[Mute]

I think we can acknowledge that 2011’s been another bummer year. You’ve got endless wars, toilet-located economies, a serious lack of civil discourse, general Herman Cain-ness, a 50% chance that your marriage will end in sweatpants, and then Community gets yanked from NBC’s mid-season line-up — it’s really enough to make you want to bury your head in the sand and pray that in five years everything will be fixed, even though in the back of your head you know the odds of that are slim to none. When the world around you seems too impossibly large and screwed up to even just comprehend, let alone make your mark on, ignorance really starts to look like bliss.

It’s easy to lose yourself in the grandiosity of any M83 track, and “Midnight City,” with its layers upon layers of winding, buzzing, and whooping synths is nothing short of immense. And amidst those drum fills and steady snare hits that burst then careen out into a neon-flecked void, it makes sense that all Anthony Gonzalez seems to be doing is waiting, his voice rising but ultimately dissolving into all that surrounds him. But, for all its awesomeness, the sheer scope it achieves in just four minutes and four seconds, the world it constructs never feels intangible, out of reach. “The city is my church,” Gonzalez sings and suddenly you’re not lost because how could you possibly be when everything’s right there in front of you. And then that kick ass sax solo comes in and it’s like, fuck it man, dream away!

Jon Blistein

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


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