Saturday, December 31, 2011

Greatest Tracks of 2011

The second installment of my music musings from the past year wastes little time getting down to business with the 15 definitive tracks of 2011.  Look closely now and you'll observe certain patterns emerging.  Two songs have carried over from my opening tracks list, and another few artists make a second appearance.  Signifiers, perhaps, of my forthcoming list of great albums?  Or maybe not.  I'm still not sure I've got that one all worked out.

I nearly went with 10.  I was there, so I thought, until another indispensable inclusion occurred to me, at which point I was more than willing to cheat and declare a tie for 10th place.  That's about when I thought of a 12th, the 13th.  And perhaps you'll forgive my lack of creativity, because this is the third time I've redrafted my intro to accomodate these choices, but I've settled in on a top 15 that I'm really rather pleased with.  One very deserving artist even snagged two spots, and many of the rest could have easily done the same.  But I think 15 is inclusive enough, so there will be none of that honorable mention silliness that would only demean this declaration of the greatest songs 2011 had to offer.  They're ranked, which is a hard thing to stand by since the order could change by tomorrow morning, but that's what I do, even without a number one a decisive as "Sprawl II" was for me last year.

And here it is, friends, for your listening pleasure.

15. "Little Cup" by Thao & Mirah (Thao & Mirah)

Quiet. Unassuming. Infectious. Staggeringly beautiful.

14. "Elijah" by Alela Diane (Alela Diane & Wild Divine)

Apologies for the poor quality.  There's not a song this year with more soul, but I sure plucked it from the depths of obscurity.

13. "Shake It Out" by Florence and the Machine (Ceremonials)

If "Elijah" has soul, then "Shake it Out" has had the soul ripped straight out of it.  It's gothic gospel with one of the greatest vocalists currently working.

12. "Bizness" by Tune-Yards (WHOKILL)

A contender for music video of the year, no doubt, but the quirky highlight of the quirky highlight reel that is WHOKILL cannot be ignored.  It was love at first listen for me.

11. "Midnight City" by M83 (Hurry Up, We're Dreaming)

Funny enough, "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" has done more to remind me that "Saturdays = Youth" ranks among the greatest albums of the last decade than it has to secure it's own place in my pantheon, but it's a mighty fine effort, and that all stems from the electronic epic of "Midnight City."

10. "Video Games" by Lana Del Rey (Born to Die)

Sleepy, but not dreamy, and yet that's entirely a compliment.  Lana Del Rey could crank out ten thousand songs all the same, and I would happy drift along with every one of them.

9. "Get Some" by Lykke Li (Wounded Rhymes)

Ferocious, that's what this song is.  It should probably be higher, if only because it could eat most of my remaining selections alive.  Pop perfection.

8. "Cruel" by St. Vincent (Strange Mercy)

As opposed to pop confection, which despite its indie rock veneer, is essentially what St. Vincent's "Cruel" is.  And I love it for that.  Did I mention the delightful music video?

7. "Only If For A Night" by Florence & The Machine (Ceremonials)

Well, you knew this was coming.  It's miraculous, really, and if Ms. Welch really has taken up that mantle of a modern day Kate Bush (which, in itself, is a bit of a paradox).  She can belt out a song like no one's business, but what really fascinates is how she seems to spring from another age entirely.  Evocative doesn't even begin to describe it.

6. "A Real Hero" by College featuring Electric Youth (Drive soundtrack)

Either the most obvious of choices or one from well outside the box, there was no way I was ignoring the most significant song from one of the most significant films of the year.  It shines and sparkles, but it also glides, and...hell, what do these words even mean?  Just watch the damn movie.

5. "Afternoon" by Youth Lagoon (The Year of Hibernation)

Glorious, hitting the heights that M83 aspired to this year (and very very nearly hit).  What it does better than anything this year is escalate, and that's got to be my most prized trait in any song.  Or better yet, album, but we will get to that soon enough.

4. "Cats & Dogs/Coeur D'Alene"by The Head & The Heart (The Head & The Heart)

The release and subsequent re-release makes this perhaps a dubious choice, but it was a band I firmly discovered in the summer of '11, and at least one of the multiple release dates falls in my favor.  Like "Afternoon," there's a tremendous build to this two-part album opener, which is still one of the greatest packages of indie folk I've ever laid ears on, Fleet Foxes be damned.

3. "The Words That Maketh Murder" by PJ Harvey (Let England Shake)

"What if I take my problem to the United Nations?"  We were long overdue for a album bursting with political fury to emerge from the UK.  Here, then, is blustery core of Let England Shake, and my oh my does it rattle.

2. "The Bay" by Metronomy (The English Riviera)

My most played song of the year by a country mile, though that may be due to the strange power it has to evoke paradise in the most unlikely places.  It's a song that transports you, perhaps to the south of England as the album title suggests, or maybe to some equally unlikely paradise.

1. "Desire" by Anna Calvi (Anna Calvi)

A total vocal explosion with the force of a hurricane.  It sits nicely on top, if only because it seems more singular than so many songs before it.  Most artists, there was at least some debate in my mind as to which song of theirs felt most at home on this list, but to listen to Calvi's self titled album is to instantly gravitate to the deeply hued "Desire."  There were no easy choices across these rankings, but if a number one had to emerge (and that is the point, is it not?) then this is as fine a choice as I could have hoped for.

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