It’s a daunting task, picking out the 10 best songs of 2011. There were tons of excellent tracks this year, with styles so wildy varied it’s hard to even stack them up against each other. But “best of” lists are unavoidable, so even though it feels wrong, he’s our pick for the top 10. Feel free to praise our genius or disagree violently (preferably the former), and have a listen on Spotify.
10. “Lotus Flower” – Radiohead
This song is unsettling and a little creepy. Thom Yorke’s voice is at an eerie pitch and the sparse instrumentation feels like the soundtrack to a sci-fi horror movie. It’s a throwback to Radiohead in the Amnesiac days, and for all the weirdness, it’s mesmerizing.
9. “Countdown” – Beyonce
Does anyone know what’s up with the “boof boof” line? Whatever she’s talking about, it’s insanely catchy. Beyonce took some production risks — the drumming is pure marching band, with rapping snares and rolling toms, and the bursts from the horns just sound rude. It’s definitely not business as usual for her fans, but the lyrics are dripping with so much swagger it’s irresistible.
8. “Six Foot Seven Foot” – Lil Wayne
Prison gave Weezy tons of time to think, and the result was this four-minute, rapid-fire stream of consciousness. The “Banana Boat (Day-O)” sample is just fun, and then there’s this line: “Bitch, real G’s move in silence like lasagna.” Brilliant.
7. “Cruel” – St. Vincent
Annie Clark definitely did not have a sophomore slump. The first single off Strange Mercy combines her light, flawless voice with her edgy, aggressive guitar and dissonant synths. It’s gorgeous and a little bit scary.
6. “Vomit” – Girls
So depressing, yet so good. It feels like Christopher Owens is singing with a bottle in his hand, lying on the floor. As the song goes on, he slowly gets up off the floor — the pace picks up and the sound lightens up. It’s impossible not to feel for the guy and absolutely love it.
5. “Art of Almost” – Wilco
Jeff Tweedy once again proves his limitless creativity and drive to do something new. It ambles along with a sporadic, distorted rhythm and Tweedy quietly crooning, then descends into a scorching guitar solo. Even after seven minutes, it’s impossible to be bored. The song pulls you in and keeps you hooked for every moment.
4. “Ni**as In Paris” – Jay-Z and Kanye West
Watch the Throne is a perfectly over-the-top opus in the name of wealth and what it means to be a successful black man in America. “Ni**as In Paris” is the peak of the album — coining the term cray, sampling Blades of Glory, and flaunting excessive wealth with the underlying message, “Fuck you, I deserve this.” Any song that people are happy to see performed 11 times in a row is a true hit.
3. “Yonkers” – Tyler, The Creator
This song upset and confused a lot of people, but it also nailed the angst of thousands of teenagers. It’s the Nevermind for this generation — down to the fact that Tyler dislikes the song as much as Kurt Cobain hated his own anthem. But rather than the apathy of the ‘90s, Tyler is venting a far angrier brand of angst. It’s violent and weird, and the hook is doing its job incredibly well.
2. “Midnight City” – M83
This song sounds straight out of the ‘80s, but in a really good way. The chirping and soaring synths pack tons of emotion, oddly juxtaposed with the monotone vocals. It all wraps up with a saxophone outro for small a human touch. It all feels grand and epic, even among the other show stoppers on the album.
1. “Rolling In the Deep” – Adele
Adele proved the cliche to be true: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. It’s beautiful and terrifying as she’s belting “Go ahead and sell me out and I’ll lay your ship bare.” The song injects some old-school jazz and soul into a pop melody, making it miraculously accessible to anyone. Over the pulsing beat, she pulls us in with menacing hushed tones before absolutely blowing us over proclaiming “We could have had it all.” She picked up the shards of her broken heart and started hurling them at the fool who did the damage.