10. Neon Indian “Polish Girl”
Neon Indian has to hate M83. It seemed almost inevitable Alan Palomo’s synth-line was going to be 2011’s most memorable before the ascent of “Midnight City.” The two synth-lines were so iconic that even blog elitists like Stereogum confused the two when they proclaimed that “Polish Girl” soundtracked a Victoria’s Secret commercial when indeed it was M83. The truth is, if M83 did not exist, that spot probably would have belonged to “Polish Girl” because the riff is that catchy and iconic.
MP3: Neon Indian “Polish Girl”
09. Drake “Marvins Room”
What makes Drake so great is his ability to take a typical hip hop situation like drinking in a club and turn it on its head. Instead of “Marvins Room” being a song about partying, Drake highlights the loneliness that follows the party. The track’s minimal beat allow for Drake to explore what happens after the girls have left and he is drunk and alone. What unfolds is a story about drunk dialing an ex and the conversation they have. While you might expect lines like “fuck that nigga you love so bad” to come out of other rappers’ mouths, there is something that sounds so earnest about it when Drake uses his melodic flow to express it.
MP3: Drake “Marvins Room”
08. Destroyer “Kaputt”
If you were to write a list about artists most likely to sing about cocaine, Destroyer‘s Daniel Bejar would probably not be high up there. What has always made Destroyer great is his ability to put himself into unfamiliar situations and still tell a compelling story. “Kaputt” transfers you into a dream world of backrooms filled with cocaine and groupies. The instrumental reflects this dream world with its Italian disco sound and 80s easy listening schlock.
MP3: Destroyer “Kaputt”
07. Real Estate “It’s Real”
While a good amount of the top ten tracks 2011 features strong synth-lines, Real Estate‘s “It’s Real” is the only one to feature a strong lead guitar riff. The catchy, surf-inspired riff is placed over Byrds-esque guitar arpeggios and a lazy but upbeat drum line. For a group of former beach bums, it is impressive they wrote such an arena-size chorus of ohs and the single line of “it’s real.”
MP3: Real Estate “It’s Real”
06. EMA “California”
It takes a couple of listens to properly evaluate EMA’s “California.” The first listen is spent waiting for the shock of the opening line “fuck California, you made me boring” to wear off. The second time through, the listener can concentrate more on what is going on in the song. The noisy instrumentation sets the backdrop for EMA’s confused and conflicted lyrics. Blips of social commentary like “What’s it like to be small-town and gay?” lies among personal commentary like “I’m sorry Steven and Andrew that I ever left you,” mix the message of the song but not the power. The track remains the most haunting four minutes recorded this year.
MP3: EMA “California”
05. Beyonce “Countdown”
If “1+1” is the sentimental love song, “Countdown” is Beyonce‘s overjoyed, giddy love song. The track’s instrumental features horns reminiscent of “Crazy in Love” over militaristic drums and video game beeps. With so much going on musically, it is easy to think that the vocals would get lost but Beyonce delivers a strong vocal performace. She mixes longer diva-esque lines amongst faster, syncopated vocals creating a dynamic performance.
MP3: Beyonce “Countdown”
04. Adele “Rolling in the Deep
While “Someone Like You” is probably a lyrically better song, “Rolling in the Deep” set the tone for Adele‘s sensational year. The track features Adele’s finest vocal performance on 21. As the opening lyric’s state, “there’s a fire” to Adele’s vocals. The fire is accompanied by thumping drumbeat befit of a White Stripes, striking piano, and gospel-chanting backing vocals. The stripped-down instrumental helps accentuate the vocal tour-de-force while still giving it character.
MP3: Adele “Rolling in the Deep
03. Lana Del Rey “Video Games”
Lana Del Rey seemingly came out of nowhere. Suddenly the blogosphere was smitten with the pouty-lipped, husky-voiced singer. “Video Games”‘s odd instrumentals a combination of Hollywood soundtrack string programming and long, drawn out piano chords sets the melancholic backdrop of Del Rey’s sex-soaked vocals. Provocative lyrics like “holds me in his big arms” and “I’m in his favorite sun dress/Watching me get undressed” paint a picture that is rare for debut singles. Whether the track is signs of bigger and better things to come or if Del Rey becomes another one hit wonder, “Video Games” seems to have a certain timeless quality that will live on.
MP3: Lana Del Rey “Video Games”
02. Jay-Z & Kanye West “Niggas in Paris”
Everyone knows somebody who during the year referred to a night on the town as “going gorillas” or greeted you by saying “what’s drugs, my dealer?” But the most quoted hip hop track of the year is odder than that. From the opening clip from Blades of Glory, it is obvious that Kanye and Jay-z‘s “Niggas in Paris” is not your standard hip hop anthem. The track’s chorus is basically just Kanye saying “that shit cray” but it is the ice-cold synth-line that gives the song stayingg power. Nine notes is all it takes to turn a simple beat into one of the year’s biggest hits.
MP3: Jay-Z & Kanye West “Niggas in Paris”
01. M83 “Midnight City”
When I think back on 2011, it will be hard for them not to be soundtracked by the opening synth-line of M83‘s “Midnight City.” The distorted synth-line’s minor feel gives it a sense of melancholy for the sad memories. The party atmosphere of the song allow it the versatility for the good memories. No matter if it was a good year or bad year for you, “Midnight City” seems to have the answer.
MP3: M83 “Midnight City”