40. Adebisi Shank “International Dreambeat”
It is difficult to justify putting instrumentals into end of the year countdowns like this because pop music is so heavily weighted on the strength of a vocal performance. Without the vocal performance, it is hard for a song to be catchy based on instruments alone. Adebisi Shank do not have that problem with their sophomore album’s opening track, “International Dreambeat.” The track is a hard-hitting, math-rock track that never fails to stay in your head. It is truly a rare feat.
MP3: Adebisi Shank “International Dreambeat”
39. DJ JS-1 featuring Tonedeff “Last to Know”
In May, DJ JS-1 released his guest-appearance filled third installment of his Ground Original series. While the album felt too packed with guests and not enough with concept, buried deep on the album (the 21st track!) was this single guest gem. Tonedeff drops two verses but it is his second verse that remains one of the best of the year. He raps a conversation between fans and himself “Man, you should be famous/no doubt, I appreciate it/Keep it underground for life/of course, I love to be paid less” and “why don’t you tour with Common?/Awesome, more I’ve never thought of/You should ghostwrite for Ke$ha/I’d rather be drawn and quarter by chihuahuas/Dumb it down like Jay/I’m too smart to lower my prowess/Just get a track from Dr. Dre/All right, well hold up while I call him. You got his number? I don’t!”
MP3: DJ JS-1 featuring Tonedeff “Last to Know”
38. Battles featuring Matias Aguayo “Ice Cream”
When “Atlas” dropped and became a major “thing” in 2007, no one would have thought disjointed math-rockers Battles would ever be soundtracking an international FIFA 12 commercial. Four years later, that is exactly what Battles did with “Ice Cream.” The song is spastic enough to accompany flashing images of people like Steve Nash playing FIFA which still, as Dave Konopka described, having “an underlying level of sexiness.”
MP3: Battles featuring Matias Aguayo “Ice Cream”
37. The Belle Brigade “Losers”
When you tour the country as an brother-sister acoustic duo, I am sure it is hard to seem cool but not since Beck described himself as a loser in the 90s has the title of “loser” seemed so okay. Maybe that is because of how Belle Brigade‘s lead singer Ethan Gruska defines loser. To him, being a loser is not caring about winning or being smooth with women, or being the life of the party. It seems like a majority of people fall into that category but it is the being okay with it that makes the song seem like an anthem for the self-actualized.
MP3: The Belle Brigade “Losers”
36. St. Vincent “Cruel”
I have never been a huge fan of St. Vincent‘s albums but I’ll be damned if I do not like her singles. “Cruel” is the kind of song almost everyone can get behind. In a world where bullying is the kind of issue that needs a ham-handed Glee episode to be address, St. Vincent belts out “Cruel” with all the nuances to get the point across while not seeming preachy. Add that to the fact that the track’s catchy as all hell, it amounts to a pretty great single.
MP3: St. Vincent “Cruel”
35. Fitz and the Tantrums “MoneyGrabber”
Released mid-way through 2010, Fitz and the Tantrums‘ debut album, Pickin’ Up the Pieces nearly faded into obscurity before releasing “MoneyGrabber” as a single in 2011. The track peaked at 33 on the US Rock charts and 34 on the US Adult charts. While those are nice distinctions, the song is neither very rocky or adult; it is, however, the best O’Jays-aping track heard since the mid-80s. From the opening piano line to “ooh” backing vocals and big horn chorus, the track is straight out of the 70s, in a very good way.
MP3: Fitz and the Tantrums “MoneyGrabber”
34. Lil Wayne featuring Cory Gunz “Six Foot Seven Foot”
Lil Wayne debuted “Six Foot Seven Foot” at New Year’s Eve 2010 parties. So after being able to meditate on the track for an entire year, it still seems as fresh as the first time I heard it. The beat is based off of a fairly singular sample similar to “A Milli” but the more proper chorus somehow makes it not quite as annoying and the addition of Cory Gunz gives the listener’s ears a rest from Weezy’s occasionally grating voice.
MP3: Lil Wayne featuring Cory Gunz “Six Foot Seven Foot”
33. Lykke Li “Youth Knows No Pain”
As the opening track to Lykke Li‘s sophomore album, Wounded Rhymes, “Youth Knows No Pain” has the unenviable task of trying to summarize the album’s pathos while hooking the listener in. The track combines Lykke Li’s emotive vocals with tribal drums and 60s organ to create great pop music while not feeling fluffy.
MP3: Lykke Li “Youth Knows No Pain”
32. Beastie Boys featuring Santigold “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win”
While many other white rappers have experimented with reggae (I’m looking at you, Snow), Beastie Boys have avoided it until now. “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” seems to work because it is less a vehicle for the Beastie Boys and more a Santigold track. The first 45 seconds of the track is all Santigold and after a brief Beastie Boys interruption, Santigold is back for the chorus. Not to say the Beastie Boys don’t have anything to do with the track’s success, MCA’s mere declaration of “that’s danger!” during the chorus seems like a perfect pop moment.
MP3: Beastie Boys featuring Santigold “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win”
31. Acid House Kings “Would You Say Stop?”
Twee pop sometimes get a bum wrap because it seems too cutesy. Acid House Kings masterfully mix cute and catchy with some depth on Music Sounds Better With You. This combination is exemplified in the album’s lead single “Would You Say Stop?” The track’s lyrics seem to be the giddy companion piece to Adele‘s “Someone Like You” but the flamenco percussion and drawn out piano chords shout ABBA.
MP3: Acid House Kings “Would You Say Stop?”