Year End Music Countdowns #10: 2011

Happy 10th anniversary to this countdown! 10 years, whoa I should go eat a celebratory cake. But I won’t keep you waiting any longer, I’m just going to keep eating my cake as I write this.

So, 2011 was extremely front-loaded in terms of good music. I’m talking objectively, subjectively, injectively, etc. Any way you slice the meaty slab that was 2011, most of the biggest and best songs were all released within the first half of the year. But that just made me appreciate the good songs even more, and I have gleaned for you what I think are some pretty decent cuts, both catchy and representative of the sounds of 2011.

Any and all thoughts are welcome! If you got your own top/bottom 10, please let me know, I love lists.

Here we go!

The 25 Best Songs of 2011

25. Fire in the HouseHard-Fi

24. Steve McQueenM83

23. Option†††

22. Before the BridgeFuture Islands

21. EscapeeArchitecture in Helsinki

20. Lucky NowRyan Adams

19. Trust MeThe Streets

18. No Light, No LightFlorence + The Machine

17. Real is a FeelingPictureplane

16. Right Before My EyesCage the Elephant

15. Will DoTV on the Radio

14. Playing HouseActive Child feat. How to Dress Well

13. CirclesDigitalism

12. High for ThisThe Weeknd

11. SailsHooray for Earth

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10. Broken BottlesSilversun Pickups

 

If you had any fears that the band were going to go soft/generic on their next album, those have been assuaged. The stopgap EP for Record Store Day proved that they’ve retained their signature sound and can still write strong melodies. Two of the three songs on the EP were classic ethereal SSPU, with one clocking in at nearly 7 spacey, gossamer-tinged minutes. It’s this track that stands out though, with its raw, razor wire guitar, frantic and tense lyrics, and a gripping outro. If this is a B-side, then the upcoming third major album is going to be golden.

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9. Short and EntertainingJamaica

Was your first thought upon seeing the name of the band “Ya mon!”? That’s because you are probably just a huge racist. I’M KIDDING, I thought that they were gonna be a reggae band too. Turns out they are a French indie-pop group not unlike their peers Phoenix, only less annoyingly cheery and whimiscal. Even though the song is upbeat, you can tell that the singer means what he’s singing; there’s an underlying bitterness that drives the song forward. Not so Irie!

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8. Falling ApartNeverending White Lights feat. Bed of Stars

If there’s one thing Daniel Victor does perfectly, it’s evoking a sense of nighttime in his songs. Not just because he sings the word “night”. He picks the perfect guitar tone, synths, amount of reverb. There’s really no listening to this song when it’s anytime before sundown.

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7. Shell GamesBright Eyes

It’s everything you’d want from Conor Oberst’s swansong under the Bright Eyes moniker. At least lyrically it is. Stylistically, it’s everything you’d never expect from the band. A Journey-like guitar riff? No sign of any folk influence? A bridge intended to inspire fist-pumping at a concert? This is the closest Bright Eyes will ever get to being a “rock” artist. Mostly because the band is done.

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6. CosmonautMillionYoung

2011 came and went and chillwave still didn’t break into the mainstream, but if it did, it would have been with this song. Think Owl City taking on a Washed Out track. The haze is gone, but the nostalgia and wide swaths of syrupy keyboards remain. It’s a little derivative, yeah, but the chillwave genre itself is based on creating new songs from old sounds, and this song is still a solid jam that is right up there with anything in Washed Out’s catalogue.

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5. TigersGuillemots

This song may have very well been ghost-written by Keane’s Tom Chaplin and ghost-performed by them as well. It’s virtually indistinguishable from anything in Keane’s discography, aside from a few subtle touches that pop up if you listen very carefully. It’s one of these touches that ties the whole song together. It’s not the ten-second interval of distortion after the first chorus, or the ghostly sighs floating in the background during the second verse. It’s the line “I wish I was”, which is less of a lyric in the song than it is an understatement. It’s a line made to be put in parentheses, and you realize at the end that the song would lose a lot of meaning without it.

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4. Midnight CityM83

If there were any sort of justice in the club world, trash like Kesha and the Black Eyed Peas would be relegated to themed nights where the theme was “Horrible Jokes”, and M83’s Midnight City would be pumped out of every sound system in the world. This is what electronic music is meant to be. Not a few generic loops and board presets mashed together by a committee, but actual songs with depth, meaning, and purpose. There really is no comparison, it is like comparing apples and moldy, discarded orange rinds. In conclusion, epic saxophone solo at the end.

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3. CalgaryBon Iver

“Whoa, hold on!” you might be thinking, “I thought D-Man absolutely loathed Bon Iver! What a dirty hypocrite!” And I fully and completely refute that thought of yours by saying: I’m still not a fan of pre-2011 Bon Iver. But that’s not important! What’s important is that this year, Justin Vernon, the dude behind Bon Iver, fleshed out his music into something incredible. Lush, ornate arrangements populate the entire album, particularly this song. The highlight of the record, it’s cavernous yet intimate, bleak yet stuffed with flourishes. Within 15 seconds you realize the sparse folk of 2008 is long gone, replaced with vast soundscapes created by a guy no longer restrained by a cabin in the woods.

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2. New LowMiddle Class Rut

There’s an ever-expanding vacuum in modern alternative music. Every year fewer reliable hit-makers are born, and more big names of yesteryear fade into irrelevance. How many new bands who came to prominence in the past year could potentially have a ‘Greatest Hits’ in the future? Like, two? Middle Class Rut have yet to prove that they deserve a whole disc celebrating their oeuvre, but with their unique sound, they’re on the right track. The main reason: it’s hard to put these two guys in a niche. While they’re a sort of spiritual successor to Rise Against, bottling the anxiety and tension of the depressing economic climate, they can’t really be sonically lumped in with any of their contemporaries on the charts. “New Low” can be best described as “workman-punk”. Backing self-doubting lyrics and a ruthlessly efficient guitar, the drums literally sound like an assembly plant, pounding away like the band’s namesakes, unrelentingly right to the end.

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And my favorite song of 2011 is….

1. Punching in a DreamThe Naked and Famous

Come on. If you’ve talked to me about music anytime in the past 11 months, you’d know this song would at the very least end up somewhere in the top 5. To put it bluntly, this is a perfect, 10/10 pop song, with no less than three arena-sized hooks buried in here. First there’s the opening keyboard jingle, which already would suffice– it’d be a decent song if you just had that repeating throughout. But then you also get the “wai-ai-ai-ai-ait” in the chorus, which sounds like that Mr. Postman song but way better! And then finally, at 1:06, out of nowhere you get a post-chorus synth riff bigger than you ever could have imagined with your wild brain. AND THEN, at the end, they have all three hooks going simultaneously. It’s the essence of a sugar rush distilled completely into audio, a 4-minute stadium pop classic, and in my opinion, the best song of the year.

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And now it is obviously time for….

THE 10 WORST SONGS OF 2011

As the current industry of Big Music enters what looks like its final death throes, the output coming out is less horrible than it is unrecognizable. The beats, the melodies, the keyboards, the lyrics (club, all night, drinks, dancefloor, in the house) all sound exactly the same in 90% of pop tunes. They’re being pumped out of some sort of horrible factory and they all sound like what dog poo would sound like if it had a sound. Even the release strategies are the same– Put out an album, then a year later put out a “Deluxe version” with two more singles.

Notable awful development this year– the monotonous verse with a hard lead synth (sounds like a vacuum cleaner), mashed with a wildly incongruent chorus. Examples: LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem”, Black Eyed Peas “Dirty Bit”, and Cher Lloyd’s “Swagger Jagger”, along with like 10000 others. David Guetta, Flo Rida, Karl Wolf, Pitbull…they all sound THE SAME.

It’s no surprise that every year more and more of the songs on the bad list come from the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Almost all of below tracks are super-popular. So chances are a few of you readers might like them. Which is a nice segue into my disclaimer– Please do not be offended if I bad mouth something you like! It’s all just my opinion, aka the truth.

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10. [The ViewMetallica & Lou Reed]-It’s all been said, and it really is lazy of me to throw this on here, but it really is that bad. Atonal rambling over completely disparate instrumentals, and nothing to suggest that it’s all a GOTCHA! joke song about the daytime talk show.

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9. [Girls (Run the World)- Beyonce]- Well, if you’re gonna use a Major Lazer beat you’re already dooming yourself to horribleness, but Beyonce did nothing to salvage the song, and instead just did a weak MIA imitation over the aforementioned super-annoying sample.

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8. [Price TagJessie J]- The only reason this talentless wreck isn’t higher up on the list is because we were mercifully spared from most of her “work”. As hard as the corporate machine tried to foist her upon us, she crashed and burned here. Mostly because she is horrible, but also because she is pointless. Her image is just another wannabe-Gaga, wearing wacky clothes and acting like a Tim Burton character. And since our market is over-saturated with the over-dressed (Kesha, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj), Jessie J failed. YEAH!!! Schadenfraude!

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7. [The StandMother Mother]- When you look at the history of Canadian rock bands and compare past icons to what we’ve got now, you really get disheartened at how bad things have gotten. In the 90’s we had Our Lady Peace singing about social issues; the 00’s had Alexisonfire taking up the mantle and also plunging deeper into histories and ideologies. In the past two years of the new decade we got bands singing about favorite colours, favorite foods, ostrich races, and, in this song, bikes and straggling. What. This is supposed to represent us? A song that sounds like a montage in a goofy Nickelodeon kids show, complete with sound effects, baby xylophone, and ridiculous dialogue? This is a cartoon soundtrack, not a rock song.

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6. [SkyscraperDemi Lovato]- The oversinging in this song is unbearable. This Disney poopstar gasps and enunciates like she’s been climbing a million stairs…up a skyscraper.

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5. [What the HellAvril Lavigne]- There’s a line in this song where Avril sings “All my life I’ve been good”. UH WHAT. First of all, you haven’t. You’ve always been terrible. Second, if you actually take it the way she means it, she’s literally contradicting her last big single, where she boasted about stealing a guy’s girlfriend. So in her own little world she doesn’t even obey her own rules. Then again, it’s well known that she, despite being “Ms. Rebel Punk”, is just like all the other pop starlets, and doesn’t write her own songs. So her drug-addled brain probably forgot that she never played the good girl persona.

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4. [I Wanna Go- Britney Spears]- She wanna go. I wanna her to stop.

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3. [All DayCody Simpson]- One of the easiest targets in the music world right now is Justin Bieber. If you are a hack comedian, you will somehow work Justin Bieber into a joke. So then, why isn’t a horrible little squished rip-off of Bieber getting the same amount of vitriol? Especially when the song is this brain-melting? He sings something about listening to the same song ALL DAY, and then watching a music video ALL DAY. Isn’t that Guantanamo Bay? They ought to make this little puke listen to his own song and watch his own video for 24 hours straight as punishment for recording this tripe.

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2. [Dance (A$$) RemixBig Sean feat. Nicki Minaj]- I honestly and totally respect if any of the songs I loathe happen to be your favorites. Also, if you hate all my favs. It’s all subjective, it’s all opinions. But if you actually like this song, you have got to be developmentally challenged. Okay maybe not, but you should really re-evaluate what you enjoy in life. This is what we’re leaving future civilizations? An ode to where poo comes out? And a mangled, tarnished sample of Hammer Time? And another rap video that looks like hundreds before it? And the insufferable Nicki Minaj, who is the most obnoxious personality to emerge from the music world in the past year. Also, this whole trend with Big/Lil’/Young/Yung rapper names has gotta end.

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1. [T.G.I.F. (Last Friday Night)Katy Perry]- Imagine a Youtuber penning a parody song called “Irresponsible Skank Anthem”, sending up youth trends of the day and exaggerating them to create a character who just does the most stupid things all the time. Now open your eyes. Turns out it wasn’t a joke song. It was a totally real hit song created by no less than twelve people for Katy Perry to sing. One, two, twelve heartless beings wanting to melt our ears and brains. Ah, ah, ah. Something else I noticed– most lines in this song could be replaced with “Then we did some stupid things.” It fits with the cadence of both the verses and the chorus! “Yeah we did some stupid things/then we did some stupid things/then we did some stupid things”, etc, etc. And yet, there are plenty of people who actually take this repetitive, artificial hunk of audio waste as a checklist for nights out on the town. Two hit songs about the joys of Friday were released this year, and this wasn’t the one that got ridiculed. And that is why the generation of kids listening to this are gonna be the end of the human race.

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On that cheery note, it’s a wrap! So let’s meet here about a year from now and see what’s up, k?

Lates.