20. Spoon “Who Makes Your Money”
I often contemplate how close Spoon is to krautrock. They make that laid back type of music that’s often very bass driven. “Who Makes Your Money” could have easily been written by Fujiya and Miyagi and no one would have batted an eye. The track’s strong rhythm sections and light, airy keyboards are accentuated by Brit Daniel’s whimsical vocal line. The song seems like the ultimate song to sit back and sip a martini too.
19. Gorillaz “On Melancholy Hill”
I have to admit, I was not overly impressed with the Gorillaz’s first two singles from Plastic Beach. “Stylo” just rubbed me the wrong way and “Superfast Jellyfish” seemed like it was grasping at the magic of “Feel Good Inc.” without replicating it. But I was completely sold on the album’s third single “On Melancholy Hill.” Gorillaz have always made hits by having big guest stars and mixing pop, rock, and hip hop in a nice neat package. “On Melancholy Hill” does none of those things. Instead the song is just a genuine pop moment that Albarn puts out there and it feels totally un-Gorillaz-like but at the same time works at a very human level.
18. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Round and Round”
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti’s “Round and Round” made quite an impact this year. I have to admit when originally concocting my countdown, the track did not really cross my mind to be in the top 50. But after seeing it top many countdowns including Pitchfork’s, I decided to revisit the track and determine if it should be on my list or not. Obviously, I chose to put it on but not nearly as high as some other blogs. The track’s retro-80s throwback vibe and odd structure make it a listen that is probably too high brow for a mainstream audience but for educated music listeners it is a testament to some great song writing from Ariel Pink.
17. Donnis “Gone”
Donnis’ single “Gone” was on my radar long before Adidas used the track in their commercials. The track was played on a regular rotation on Sirius’ Hip Hop Nation and for good reason. The track has the lyrics of a typical hip hop club jam but musically the song is anything but. Needlz produces a whimsical beat with a glittery keyboard line over a traditional Southern hip hop beat while Donnis adds a vocal line that has never made getting “some drink” and “some grass” sound so melancholy. The song’s dissonance between its message and its musical qualities are what make it such an oddity in commercial hip hop.
16. Fol Chen “In Ruins”
The same person that promoted Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti promotes Fol Chen. If I had to put money on it, I would have said that Fol Chen’s “In Ruins” would have made more end of the year countdowns than “Round and Round.” Boy was I wrong. But that doesn’t answer my bigger question of “why was I wrong?” “In Ruins” truly slays. From its M.I.A. style drum programming to its Punjabi MC-esque santoor line, the track seems like a truly worldly endeavor. The child-like female vocals finish off the song into what I thought was a single that would light up the blogosphere.
15. Janele Monae featuring Big Boi “Tightrope”
When I first posted Janele Monae’s “Tightrope” back in march, I noted that the track became an instant song of the year candidate. While I was confident it would make my list, I was pleasantly surprised with how many other blogs picked up on the single for their end of the year lists. The track’s atypical pop beat is accentuated by light funky guitars and a double bass line but the real story is Monae’s voice. The voice seems to step right out of the age that brought us divas like Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross. Of course, Big Boi spitting a verse always helps a track too.
14. The Knocks “Make It Better”
I swear this is the last Knocks song on my countdown. But to be honest, The Knocks deserved to have three songs in the top 50. They produced the best dance music of the year in my opinion. Their crowning achievement was “Make It Better.” The song incorporates standards of 1950s pop with whistling and handclaps, but it also utilizes the standards of modern dance music with the Garageband beat and the wobbly-synth line. The best part happens two-and-a-half minutes in when the track calms back down to just whistling before it explodes into the big chorus one last time.
13. Robyn “Dancing On My Own”
I can not help but compare Robyn with my other favorite Scandinavian pop star, Annie. Both sing incredible pop songs but while Annie often embraces a more bubblegum pop, Robyn seems more apt for melancholy pop as exhibited on “Dancing on my Own.” The track’s twinkling synths and driving bass line keeps the song’s energy but it is the arena-sized chorus that gives me goosebumps.
12. Spoon “Written in Reverse”
I generally try to not have songs by one band this close to each other but Spoon just really made some damn good songs this year. The best song was “Written in Reverse.” Eric Harvey creates a piano part that sounds like Fiona Apple playing a really pissed off version of “Criminal.” Britt Daniel, of course, adds the lyrical content that starts off with a hearse, the ultimate symbol of the end. The song develops into a weird and wild journey that feels like the most unhinged we have seen the generally temperate Spoon in a long while.
11. Big K.R.I.T. “Country Shit”
I listened to Big K.R.I.T.’s “Country Shit” more times than any other song the past three months according to last.fm. What was it about the song that captivated me? Part of it was Big K.R.I.T.’s flawless production that sounds like if Three 6 Mafia’s “Stay Fly” went to art school. Another part of it is Big K.R.I.T.’s lyrics that immediately transport you to a land of fish fries, grits, and purple drank. Lastly, it is all about that incredibly catchy chorus that stuck in my head for days.