30. Wild Flag “Romance”
So I heard Sleater-Kinney frontwoman Carrie Brownstein and Drummer Janet Weiss start a new band with Mary Timony, I thought “this is going to be some crazy post-punk riot grrrl shit!” Then “Romance” comes on and I think “riot grrrl is not supposed to be this poppy.” But the song works as the introduction to Wild Flag and a new style for the quartet ready to shed the rough-on-the-ears persona and make music that is easily digestible but still rocks.
MP3: Wild Flag “Romance”
29. Jeff the Brotherhood “Hey Friend”
No song this year had as many fake outs as Jeff the Brotherhood‘s “Hey Friend.” It begins with an annoying DJ bullhorn making you think “is this going to be some reggaetone bullshit?” Then it kicks in with a blistering minute-and-forty-five-second guitar solo before the song actually starts. When the song actually starts, the first line is “I’ve been thinking about your mom/you can’t tell me if its really wrong” and you are thinking “what is this? ‘Stacy’s Mom’?” But as you listen to the track, you realize that the track is not about a boy with a crush on a mom but a boy who is estranged from his kin and just wants to be absorbed into his friend’s family.
MP3: Jeff the Brotherhood “Hey Friend”
28. Florence + The Machine “Shake It Out”
Florence + The Machine‘s Ceremonials was a fairly well celebrated album in 2011. Noted for being a vocal tour-de-force and “lavish orchestral spectacle,” no song showed off both quite like the single, “Shake It Out.” From the intro of Florence belting over a solitary organ to the gospel choir-style chorus, the track seemed bigger than anything Flo accomplished before; a track to fill an arena but still did not seem like an exercise in pure egotism.
MP3: Florence + The Machine “Shake It Out”
27. College featuring Electric Youth “A Real Hero”
If you know me, you know I have this unrequited love for French culture. But if you look at recent music history, the French get music. Daft Punk and Phoenix in years past and this year we had M83 and College. Producer David Grellier created a hazy 80s-inspired synth pop beat that sounds like the Chariots of Fire theme song mashed up with a Hall and Oates instrumental. Add over that, Electric Youth‘s reverbed vocals and you have the year’s best track to muster 80s kitsch without needing a saxophone solo!
MP3: College featuring Electric Youth “A Real Hero”
26. Jens Lekman “An Argument with Myself”
Jens Lekman has proven time and again that he is one of the best moodier storytellers in music. “An Argument With Myself” is the perfect example. He seamlessly takes us on a trip through Swedish streets as he walks home after a break up. The track’s story line follows him yelling at himself quips like “oh please, no you oh please!/I wanna see you drop down on your knees/I wanna see your hand waving farewell/why you hitting’ yourself, why you hitting yourself?” The lines seems almost too goofy to work but woven into the story, Lekman pulls it off.
MP3: Jens Lekman “An Argument with Myself”
25. Adele “Someone Like You”
Not many songs can be as popular and overplayed as Adele‘s “Someone Like You” and can still make the listener feel awkward listening to it. If you listen to the lyrics, it is like watching the heroine of a movie hit rock bottom. Turning up uninvited hoping to win back the man of her dreams only to be rejected again. You can not help but cringe but as you listen on, you hear Adele reemerge stronger and regain her dignity. It is the type of defeated-turns-triumphant story that has made great cinema for decades.
MP3: Adele “Someone Like You”
24. Toro Y Moi “All Alone”
After his chillwave 2010 debut full length, Toro Y Moi went a slightly different direction in 2011. His album, Underneath the Pine seemed to go more in the direction of electro-psychedelic. It was not until later in the year, when he released Freaking Out that the bridge between his debut and sophomore album seemed to be gapped. The EP’s opening track, “All Alone” takes the disco taste of Causers of This and mixes it with the psychedelic electronics of Underneath the Pine to create a handicapping jam that sounds like the indie rock equivalent of “A Roller Skaing Jam Named Saturday.”
MP3: Toro Y Moi “All Alone”
23. Nicki Minaj “Super Bass”
Nicki Minaj seemed destined to be known as an artist that peaked too early. Her show-stopping verse on Kanye‘s “Monster” seemed like a high point followed by the massive let down that was her debut album, Pink Friday. But buried deep in the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition of the album was the gem, “Super Bass.” The Kane Beatz & JMike beat perfectly balances pop and hip hop and allows Minaj to successful explore both her singing and her rapping in a way that no other track on Pink Friday accomplishes. But make no mistake, it is Minaj that deserves credit for the track’s success. Her spastic in-and-out-of-various-accents flow is humorous, engaging, and unique in a way that no other emcee has ever accomplished.
MP3: Nicki Minaj “Super Bass”
22. Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris “We Found Love”
At some point in the year, I vowed to not post anymore remixes or mashups featuring the acapella from Rihanna‘s “We Found Love.” Partially it was because Rihanna created one of the most overplayed songs of the year. Partially it was because there is only so many times I could listen to her sing “we found love in a hopeless place.” Partially it was because Calvin Harris deserves a hell-of-a-lot of credit for the success of the track. The spot on production switches between bouncy 90s-style house to Ibaza party crescendo flawlessly creating the kind of anthem that could be played in an arena, club, or house party and have the exact same result.
MP3: Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris “We Found Love”
21. Nas “Nasty”
At least a couple times over the last decade or so, hip hop fans had to have written Nas off as incapable of ever writing anything quite as good as Illmatic again. Infuriating beats, weird collaboration choices, and label politics have all conspired to derail Nas but what can be forgotten is, Nas is one hell of a rapper. He demonstrates this on “Nasty.” With his “no time for a chorus” flow, Nas creates a captivating non-stop 3 minutes of rapping few emcees can rival.
MP3: Nas “Nasty”