BEST SONGS OF 2011
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.
These are my 100 favourite songs of 2011: songs I love more than plums & peaches & lesser harvests of almonds.
I follow just one arbitrary rule: that no artist may be listed twice.
I made similar lists in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The best way to browse this list is to click the little arrow beside each song and then to listen as you read. The things you like you can then download by right- or ctrl-clicking with your mouse.
You can also download the complete 100 songs, in two parts: songs 1-50 (259mb) / songs 51-100 (249mb). (mirror)
Said the Gramophone is one of the oldest musicblogs. We try to do just two things well: finding good songs, and writing about them. We don't mess about with tour-dates, videos or advertising. We post new songs and old songs, write clumsy dreams of what we hear. If this is your first time here, I hope you'll bookmark us or subscribe via RSS. You can also follow me on Twitter.
Of these 100 songs, approximately 65 are fronted by men, 35 by women. 47 artists are American, 26 are Canadian, 15 are British, 3 are Swedish, 3 are French, 2 are Australian, and there is one Finn, one Swiss, one Dane and one Beninese.
My favourite songs of the year do not necessarily speak to my favourite albums of the year. But if you want full-length records that are the best, the best, these were my top 12 in 2011: Colin Stetson's New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, PJ Harvey's Let England Shake, Kurt Vile's Smoke Ring For My Halo, Adam & the Amethysts' Flickering Flashlight, Shotgun Jimmie's Transistor Sister, Destroyer's Kaputt, Tune-Yards' w h o k i l l, Eleanor Friedberger's Last Summer, Katy B's On A Mission, the Luyas' Too Beautiful to Work, Bry Webb's Provider and Real Estate's Days.
Some songs that you heard in 2011 may have been omitted from this tally because I heard them before this year, and included them in my Best of 2010. For example works by Little Scream, Pat Jordache, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Maison Neuve, Jai Paul and Katy B.
original photograph by Edward Chambre Hardman (via the White Hotel)
- Tune-Yards - "Bizness" [buy]
In 2008, Tune-Yards' "Fiya" was #5 on my songs of the year; in 2009, "Hatari" was at #11. In 2011, our friend Merrill Garbus released her second album, w h o k i l l, which takes BiRdBrAiNs' private cacophony and edges it in scarlet, technicolor, gold; it is an album that knows its driftwood is seaworthy, knows it's got a shot, feels its California tan. There is debate at Gramophone HQ between the song called "Bizness" and the white-hot one called "Powa" (stretched livingly lain ... perpetually libidoing): both are extraordinary - and perhaps even moreso live, where Merrill simply roars. But in 2011, a year without anthems, "Bizness" is the tune that kept appearing on my sidewalk like a thrown hopscotch rock. It's at once nervy and lush, ferocious and beautiful: the ripple of synths, the tangle of uke, the lap of voices, the surf of sax. A jump of bodies, muscles flexing.
- Destroyer - "Poor In Love" [buy]
Destroyer sings, "Apocalypse, oh", or maybe he sings, "Apocalypso", a neologism formed by apocalypse and calypso. This ambiguity alone is enough to persuade me that we should put Dan Bejar's face on all of our currency.
- Wye Oak - "Civilian" [buy]
A terrific bristling number, like a hand searching the back of a dusty drawer and finding a bearclaw. (The animal hand, not the donut.) Imagine two lovers in bed, fist-fighting; an untouched glass of water; a card that is never signed. I forgot to mention: this is a rock'n'roll song.
- Beyoncé - "1+1" [buy]
An r&b ballad in the late 80s style, right down to Pete Wolford's guitar solo. But the yes of the song is entirely in its performance: Beyoncé, just fucking thrillingly fierce & in love. Words sung so well, so well. Previously: I did not expect it to be so easy to find happiness. I was twenty one years old when I met her. I still drank Bailey's Irish Cream and I still listened to Oasis. I feel funny even writing that down. Six years later, I don't do these things. In the morning we kiss goodbye and in the evening we ride our bikes over overpasses, along canals.
- When Saints Go Machine - "Kelly" [buy]
If every song sounded like this, if every song was this good, we would all age faster, and be happier, and scowl less at the radio in the coffee-shop. We would stroll with our lovers, blissful, dying twice as quick. I am not sure whether it's our hearts that would go, or whether it'd be something at the cellular level. (I am not a scientist.) Just that we wouldn't be able to keep it up. Too much, too soon. Before we knew it, we'd hit the fade-out.
- Lana Del Rey - "Video Games" [buy]
Lana Del Rey has been rightly challenged: already famous, but at the time of writing she has released only two songs which are not awful. Luckily this one, "Video Games", is absolutely exceptional. Sugar, magnolia, melting ice cube. Her summer dress is off and then it's on. She is against the jamb.
- PJ Harvey - "On Battleship Hill" [buy]
PJ Harvey's Let England Shake was one of the two best albums of the year. This song is darkly beautiful, lush & skeletal, indebted to "Tam Lin" and Anne Briggs. But it's the singing that sets it apart, PJ Harvey's thin falsetto singing, like a river over rocks or - at 3:44, the greatest moment on the record, - a single wild rose that suddenly blooms.
- TEEN - "Better" [buy]
Dan found this song, posting the excellent Quicksilver-copping video. And holy shit "Better" is so damn good, Roxy Music crossed with Electrelane, clanging and blousy and spokes spokes spokes. A confession to the body gods that not all thinking has been critical.
- Bry Webb - "Undertaker" [buy]
Last month I wrote about another song from this album, the first solo record by Constantines' Bry Webb. I said that the songwriting on Provider is humble and serious. It does not draw attention to itself. It recalls the best lyrics of Neil Young, but none of his solos. "Undertaker", with horns arranged by Colin Stetson, is lovely, almost drowsy. But it is not a vague song, a song of cloudy niceness. It is so precise. It is as deliberate as a casket lowered into the earth. It is very darkly wry, so darkly wry, but girded by promises, pacts, a lover's weary covenant.
- A$AP Rocky - "Bass" [download LiveLoveASAP mixtape]
My favourite hip-hop song of the year, from my favourite hip-hop album of the year. In a year were the charts seemed dominated by eurodance and the Weeknd's listless smoke-rings, I was so grateful for this skewing, hooky, bassy rap. Producer Clams Casino is making marvels, and Rocky's got this chewy swingin flow, surefooted, half-sly.
- Colin Stetson - "Fear Of The Unknown And The Blazing Sun" [buy]
Colin Stetson's ...Judges was my favourite album of 2011. This song is just one song, a branch ripped from a tree. With vocals by Laurie Anderson and Shara Worden, but under those singers it's all Stetson you hear. This was recorded at Montreal's Hotel 2 Tango in single takes, no overdubs, by Stetson, Shahzad Ismaily and Silver Mt Zion's Efrim Menuck. It is the most exciting and devastating record that I have heard in seasons; it is a roaring, terrible sadness ... Twenty microphones, planted like roses around a room - capturing the ripple of notes, the wails of resonance, the violent clack of fingers on keys and the shriek of Stetson's own voice, sounding through the horn; like Stetson has two hearts, four lungs, can sing two different sorrows at once. Please buy this LP.
- Owen Pallett - "Export 3 (The Great Elsewhere) ft Shara Worden" [free download of Export]
"The Great Elsewhere" first appeared on 2010's Heartland. But here Pallett has transformed it - arranging strings, guitar, silver vocal dives. And he lends it to the singer Shara Worden (see #11). I love how "Export 3" elides classical curlicue and a dashing sort of swing: the way the searching becomes a dance, all the consternation joyful. Earlier, I wrote: I won my pride, dancing. I won my life, my fortune, my notion of myself. I kicked and swerved. But I did not win my god. I have spent twenty-five years under the vast weather, among thunderclaps, stepping & pivoting & showing the sky the palms of my hands.
- Wiz Khalifa - "Black & Yellow" [buy]
Out in 2010 but this was the year I heard it; and really this was "Black & Yellow"'s year - from Haiti's "Red and Blue" to Montreal's "Go Habs Go". Diabolical, irresistible, dumbly (and brilliantly) pop. I feel like I have been carrying this song around since the first time I heard it, like an amazing royal bruise.
- Adam & the Amethysts - "Dreaming" [buy]
When I wrote about "Dreaming", I proposed that it might be (deep breath) a solution to the post-postmodern crisis - the one that threatens to swallow up all notions of Truth, Love, Beauty and Goodness. But I'm pretty sure it's probably just a spectral jam, a work of gorgeous wistful yes, with "oh-oh-oh-oh-oh", murmur, harmony; and that electric guitar, like painted lines on a long, garlanded road.
- Gym, Deer - "Darlings" [buy]
Haunted doo-wop - clumsy, tender, fragile as fog on found glass. (Previously.)
- Sandro Perri - "Wolfman" [buy]
Ten minutes of distending easy-listening. At first it seems so plain: electric folk, jammed with guitars. But gradually this song seems to split out of phase, double-vision, with the shadows leaning wrongly. Sandro is a wizard, old magic and high-tech. He has cascading synths, rayguns, mellotron, soft-rock bass, nudges of sax. All his songs are about changes - moultings, crysalis, hearts rolling over. There is so much pleasure in "Wolfman"'s long running-time - that roaming change, unhurried, revelating.
- Kurt Vile - "Baby's Arms" [buy]
He makes it seem so simple, this pretty drawlin' love song. But through the haze and glitter there's a careful craft, a discarding of excess.
- Gillian Welch - "The Way It Will Be" [buy]
To tell this slow song of heartbreak and ruin, I wrote of riots: The rioters had already been chased through F---- Lane so now the road was empty, full of smoke and sirens. She stood in the shattered glass, peered into the bakery. Part of her expected crumbs, so many crumbs, feathery bits of puff pastry. But the inside was clean, undisturbed. Cheap cakes sat under glass. She didn't want to ever see M---- again. (Gillian also played my favourite Montreal concert of 2011.)
- Moonface - "Fast Peter" [buy]
I've met Peter, the Fast Peter of this song, and I heard about his lover on the other side of this country. It sounded very nice. But when Sunset Rubdown's Spencer Krug heard this story, at a party, when he was high on drugs, it hit him in a different way. It hit him like a slug to the chest, I guess. Because he bicycled home and he wrote this song, which is fast and yearning, romantic, kissed. It is almost the entirety of a happy ending.
- The Weather Station - "If I've Been Fooled" [buy]
I think it ends prematurely, this folk song. But it is acutely - sharply - lovely, in a manner that recalls Sandy Denny, Shirley Collins. Tamara Lindeman's voice feels like it is exactly the same shade as the notes she plays on her guitar, as the malleted drums, as the bells that are not in fact sounding.
- The Luyas - "Cold Canada" [buy]
A song that belongs to a rooftop, that deserves to be there, noisy and triumphant and redemptively defeatist. The trumpet calls out to Mount Royal, the drums skim the skyline, and Jessie Stein sings her cheerful truth: WE'RE GONNA LOSE / WE'RE GONNA LOSE / WE'RE GONNA LOSE. Also, she sings, SNOW WILL ALWAYS WIN. You can imagine the cats and dogs in the streets, the businesswomen with attaché cases, the young men with toques and hockey-sticks. They'd squint at the rock band on the roof, pure and scattered, wondering if the organ sound is burbling up from the storm drains.
- James Irwin - "Halfway to Mexico" MySpace]
"Halfway to Mexico" has acoustic, steel guitar, saw, a hangdog singer. But (as always) James Irwin has made something stranger than it seems. Look to the slant of lyrics, the hard tough lines. Glib heartbreak, smothered wrath, ice.
- Oscar & Martin - "Chaine Maile" buy]
A song like a cache of tiny gems, rubies and silvers, each one slightly different. Australia's Oscar & Martin make pop-songs in a thousand overlapping watercolours; they draw from collage, r&b, twee pop, UK blubstep. You can hear the metal in their declarations, the chainmail's clink.
- Miracle Fortress - "Miscalculations" buy]
You think you like this song, all blue shimmering electro-pop. And then the chorus starts, or the chorus resumes, and you remember that you like it even more.
- Kate Bush - "Snowflake" [buy]
To quote Big Boi: "It's good ride music. It was the first song I heard when I first popped in the CD. I was on the expressway and just driving in circles and listening to it. She seems to be in love like a motherfucker. Really, really, really in love."
- Beirut - "Santa Fe" [buy]
I think this might be a song about faith, or just the big cross that hangs out above Santa Fe. (Montreal has a big cross too.) But the important thing is that Zach Condon has made a great and unlikely pop song, bringing together sounds from across Beirut's history - that plaintive trumpet, the MOR chanson, his early bleeps & bloops.
- Charli XCX - "Nuclear Seasons" [website]
I wish Lady Gaga's music sounded like this. I wish she was at once a 9-year-old girl and a 95-year-old crone, a lilliputian and a giant, a ten-mile glacier and a kitschy grass skirt. I wish you could make a synthesizer by gathering the right gemstones, that microphones could be read like books, that angst was something you could fold, like origami, to look like different dipping birds.
- Bon Iver - "Beth/Rest" [buy]
This song has been maligned. One year after he called Justin Vernon's the "best voice ever", Radiolab's Jad Abumrad complained that Bon Iver, Bon Iver "reminds me a little too much of 1980s Journey". He meant this song in particular. I can tell because it reminds me a little of of 1980s Journey. Or of REO Speedwagon. Or of other things that I don't often listen to. And as I play it (again), my girlfriend says: "I don't like Auto-Tune." And I say: "I do, sometimes." And I do, sometimes. And I love this song. It is not like some of Bon Iver's other songs but I love this song: the way it strains and seeks, lost and finding, swimming in its own feelings. There is too much here - soprano sax, reverby piano, cheesy guitar solos, falsetto - but this too-muchness is the thing that disrupts the yearning, indicates the complications of a certain sort of love. It's what elevates "Beth/Rest" from something sentimental to something unsettled. (& this is a powerful elevation.)
- Darkside - "A1" [buy]
Nicolas Jaar's collaboration with guitarist Dave Harrington. Let's come up with a catchphrase: bluewave, new funk, blues house, reclipse, crow-fli. Whatever it is, it's the nowest thing I've heard in months.
- Wild Beasts - "Invisible" [buy]
Dan told this song as a story of childhood, responsibility, vengeance, doubt. Wild Beasts sound as if they spent many nights in a forest.
- Young Galaxy - "We Have Everything" [buy]
The only thing will stop the spin of the Milky Way is, perhaps, if the universe throws it the perfect pass.
- Eleanor Friedberger - "One-Month Marathon" [buy]
Fiery Furnaces' Eleanor Friedberger sings a song about the end of two lovers' separation. Sexy and tripping, faintly doomed.
- Joe Goddard - "Gabriel ft. Valentina" [buy]
A splendid dance single, that perfect balance between anthem and step/step/step, function and feeling. (And Valentina sounds uncannily like Emmy the Great.)
- M83 - "Midnight City" [buy]
"Midnight City" is a song you want to sing along with. But like Major Lazer's "Pon De Floor" and Daft Punk's "Digital Love", what you're singing along with is a yowling wordless synth line, a frantic and mechanized ghost. Flashing lights, surprise sax, programmed drums like bullets & waterfalls, and you just letting loose, shrieking happy gibberish.
- Shabazz Palaces - "Recollections of the Wraith" [buy]
Midnight bass, a woman's voice through the air. The best raps this year - incantation, evocation, gorgeous rhyme. "Blues: you can shake them."
- Veronica Maggio - "Finns Det En Så Finns Det Flera" [buy]
Beautifully hopeful Swedish electropop. Isn't the end-of-year for treasures like these?
- Tyler the Creator - "Yonkers" [buy]
Most people's introduction to Tyler the Creator, gnarled and sinister. Brilliant in Tyler's steady, grim delivery, more MF Doom than Eminem. And that hard bare beat, like the scene of a factory accident.
- Shotgun Jimmie - "Late Last Year" [buy]
Oh such a crunching perfect funny rock song about falling, crashing, wrecking into love. In winter. God bless Shotgun Jimmie, one of the greatest songwriters in all the ten provinces. "Hey, I figured something out last night when I was walking home." The bananas in the bowl are starting to waft, they want attention, they're growing spots. "I figured it out," slippers pap on the floor, juice sits limitless in the glass, meniscus whisping to infinity, "I love you."
- Jeremih - "Another Song" [website]
Such a nice one, old-school and new-school; R. Kelly wishes. I told it as the story of the Champ, swallowing jukeboxes.
- Yamantaka//Sonic Titan - "Queens" [buy]
An art-psych band from Montreal and Toronto who stand in heavy water, weeds to their hairlines; they scythe through fields with wielded guitars; they recall full summer, apocalyptic winter, the heaviest bits of Espers and Besnard Lakes, Led Zep with the Boredoms ... A messenger arrives form the future, in a time-machine the size of a bachelor apartment. It flicks into existence on the lawn of the White House.
- Grimes - "Oblivion" [Visions is due Jan 31 / shop]
She stares into the stars, night after night, with grim concentration, and nothing changes. It is more than frustrating - it is incendiary, infuriating. She is gifted, witchy, hexed. She is more than these pinpricks. She is the dreaming changer. Her movements leave trails of light.
- Nikkiya - "When I Was High" [download Speakher mixtape]
A little of Erykah Badu, a little of Nicki Minaj, pinned to a stupendous string-&-dulcimer beat. (Previously.)
- Mozart's Sister - "Single Status" [download Dear Fear EP]
"Single Status"'s tingling synths send it air-mail to the dancefloor ... klaxoned electro-pop, surfer lope, whistling whimsy, coalmine funk. Sometimes I think that Montreal needs to be festooned with warning signs, like the alerts for avalanches and deer crossings. Yes, for ice-patches; yes, for croissant and pupusa joints; yes, for places you ought not leave your bike locked up. But mostly it's just LOOK OUT, YOU ARE ABOUT TO HEAR SOMETHING MAGNIFICENT THAT YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD BEFORE.
- Gotye - "Somebody That I Used To Know ft. Kimbra" [buy]
A jaunty, clumping pop song - but what makes it great, weirdly, is the choruses' unexpected Phil Collins impression. (I am serious about this.) From out of nowhere, Australia's Gotye makes this whimsy serious, straining, exactly excellent.
- The Antlers - "I Don't Want Love" [buy]
It's as if the Antlers decided love is a bird collection, a cage full of bluebirds, sparrows, finches, macaws, and then wrote a song about this decision. Peter Silberman sings in high falsetto, both sides of a couple, both sides standing beside the cage and saying, No. But then I don't really think this song is about love, despite its title. It's about something else, gorgeous and seductive, less worthy. It too can be a bird collection. It is wise, in my experience, to stand beside this cage and refuse.
- Blue Belt - "Anymore" [free download of Blue Belt]
Blue Belt's song is lightfooted lovely, blueberry jam, every smudge an improvement. The namedrops are more bookish than thug - Oscar Wilde, Rufus Wainwright, Star Trek - but there's nothing namby-pamby in the setup, nothing nervous in the execution. And more than anything - the beat! oh, the beat. Nina Simone and the neatest of flute samples, perfect topiary, ah-ah-ahs that make me wish I was in a rap crew, just so I could invent something new.
- Lindsey Buckingham - "Seeds We Sow" [buy]
I am not an engineer or a musician but if I had a studio like Lindsey Buckingham's studio, like the studio I imagine Lindsey Buckingham to have, I would never leave my house. Every single dream or wish, I would render in music. I would record a song of true love, of fulfillment, of a holiday in St Petersburg. I build up my friendships with chords, I would say my farewells with reverb. My walls would be lined with golden records, each one with a secret message in the slow fade out.
- James Blake - "The Wilhelm Scream" [buy]
"The Wilhelm Scream" doesn't sound as extraordinary today as it did twelve months ago. This sound was so quickly absorbed into the culture, recycled into a hundred remixes. But there is still potency to the feeling in the song, and especially to the coldness of this feeling. A wall of rising synth, "blind, unsympathetic, almost unmelodic". James Blake covering a song by his father, James Litherland, and finding different results.
- Real Estate - "It's Real" [buy]
Such a shiny afternoon.
- The Donkeys - "I Like the Way You Walk" [buy]
He knew that she was too cool for the song, so he never gave it to her. He'd be listening to it on repeat, cranked, with the windows open; then he'd hear her at the door and lunge for the iPod, switch it to Beach House or Emeralds, get up to meet her with a bouquet of kisses. He'd listen to it in the car, cranked, with the windows open. He'd listen to it on the way to get groceries. He'd hear the bit at the end, with men sorta yelling I love you with all my heart!, and he'd feel that hoarse feeling in his chest. Even if she was too cool for this song. Even if she listened to different things, cranked, with the windows open. But it wasn't until he left her, on the 13th of July, that he really understood what this song was for. He came home to his empty apartment, and it was raining, and he put on the country song that wasn't true any more.
- R Kelly - "Shut Up" [website]
This is R Kelly's version of memoir. He had a throat operation, so he sings about it. He thanks God "for keeping the doctors focused through my surgery". He sings of "lying in my hospital bed / crying mad tears / woo-ooo-oo-oo". And then he addresses the "haters". "Tell em", he advises, "shut up." And because he is R Kelly he makes the admonition catchy, gorgeous, just that tiny bit tinny.
- Snailhouse - "Apple" [buy]
Mike Feuerstack calls out across the shrieking land. Such wonderful, hidden chords. The lyrics, each rhyme like a different key in a different lock. The dashboard hum / the beating of a drum / the scenery we pass // The oscillating tone / the feedback drone / and the price of the gas.
- Megaupload - "MegaSong ft. Macy Gray, Will.I.Am, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, P Diddy, Alicia Keys, Kim Kardashian &c" [you can figure it out]
The producer Printz Board was hired to make a song about the file-sharing service Megaupload. The song he made is very stupid. It is also - how can I put this? - pure. Pop as neurolinguistic trickery. This is all it takes! A looped acoustic guitar, shooting synths, the brilliant interpolation of two-second endorsements by major stars. Vocals by Macy Gray. Repetition, repetition. A dozen gigantic hooks. 2,500 tons of gold are mined every year.
- Surfer Blood - "I'm Not Ready" [buy]
Surfer Blood make it sound so easy. Mingling guitars and John Paul Pitts' clear voice, finding exits to the maze.
- Schoolboy Q - "Figg Get Da Money" [download Setbacks mixtape]
Loosely loping, ready to sling five or knuckle to the chin. Every corner, liquor store / Laundromat, liquor store, laundromat, liquor store. Yup.
- EMA - "California" [buy]
"I'm just 22." Erika M. Anderson tosses a hundred boasts, only maybe they're not boasts, maybe they're not tossed. Helpless and scared, or omnipotent and certain - asteroid strikes, stumbles in heels, bloody knuckles, sloppy spitfire. Friday night lights, each one a demolition.
- Amy Winehouse - "Halftime" [buy]
Amy Winehouse never made that album with ?uestlove and Soweta Kinch - but here's one song of what mighta been, softlit like St Lucia.
- Sleeping Bag - "Beside" [buy]
Two jewelled saddles, resplendent. The cowboys ride, with underarm cereal boxes. Crunch, crunch. Two crunches, like a Japanese poem. The first cowboy squints at the horizon. These are the richest cowboys in the West. They got rich on friendship. They look at each-other now, putting simultaneous toothpicks between simultaneous canines. The cowboys have never high-fived. They have never shaken hands. They have exchanged glances and these glances have stood for embraces. Their saddles are made of onyx and emerald. Their horses were raised in Delaware. When they are ready, the cowboys will gallop through the scrub the way that birds move through Spring. They will gallop all the way to the lake.
- Timothy Bloom - "'Til the End of Time ft V Bozeman" [website]
A supple, scorching duet, two-part serenade. So of course I imagined it as the ever-after of Oscar-winning film editor Kirk Baxter.
- Jhené Aiko - "Snapped" [website]
"Baby," Jhene begins, "I got ya / I shot ya." She is a cold-blooded killer. She is deliberate and merciless. She is a girl who runs the world, who writes her songs herself. This is not Lil Kim's misandry, Katy Perry's frisky Catwoman shtick. This is weary wrath, considered fury, a slow song dusted with black powder.
- Jay-Z & Kanye West - "Murder to Excellence" [buy]
"A celebration of black excellence / black tie." Watch the Throne was a disappointment, and I honestly didn't expect to be disappointed. Jay's my favourite rapper, Kanye's Kanye; I guess the video for "Otis" captures what I wanted out of this collab. But "Murder to Excellence" is my favourite of the tracks. No poorly-executed concepts or trashy club beats - just high stakes, glint and shadows, Goya and Basquiat. A song like a gallery, a string of Young Masters.
- Norwegian Arms - "Jitterbug" [download the Trimming of Hides EP]
Dan: It was a baby jesus, hand-carved out of wood, hand-painted with tempera. He was lying on his side, in a cherubic relaxation, and was looking at his fingers. Whether by accident or not, his fingers were stained with brown colouration, which contrasted with his peachy blushing face. And his ear was chipped away, leaving a large wood-coloured scar deep into his cheek. The curl of his smile seemed to come from this flaw, finally deaf to the world, happy, to just study his fingers and think about mud.
- Joakim - "Forever Young (Extended Afro Mix)" [soundcloud]
Summer's not quite running out, but it's taking a deep breath. Quick, while the humidity's looking somewhere else, slip in another jam: "Forever Young" is one part woodblock, two parts LCD Soundsystem's "Someone Great". Its sophistications are each kludgey, slightly obvious. Arpeggiated backbrush, synths shimmering on pause, vocals for coaxing slo-mo dancestuff. But I love the duskiness in this track, the solemnity of its rising cloud. This is July, this is August, fields of strongly-coloured flowers and ten thousand shrilling bugs. (thanks guillaume!)
- Massive Attack vs Burial - "Four Walls" [sold out]
An epic exemplar of Burial's vision, with Massive Attack's music as the raw material. If anyone needed convincing that there's more to Burial than spooky R&B samples, here, here, listen. Broad, complicated, dubstep of several landscapes. I love the flowing sounds and the abrupt ones, the wrong shuddering into the right. (thanks Eric!)
- Feist - "Comfort Me" [buy]
In Leslie Feist's best songs, the sweetness is deceptive: they are underlaid with raw ore, wire, frayed metal. With fury, desire or wilderness. "Comfort Me" begins gently and then comes out clanging, a gang singing along with her distress. There's fun in wrenching mess, sharp abandon.
- Cornershop - "Natch" [buy]
So nimble. Flicking Bollywood hand-gestures, a windowsill ballet, a Mini Cooper car-chase. No idea what she's singing, just that it stops on every dime, flicking, catching, flipping, flipping, catch. (thanks Eric!)
- Forest Fire - "Future Shadows" [buy]
Shaggy-haired indie rock, with jabs of guitar, echo, reverb. Also sandy strum, woodwind déjà vu. There's something over-sincere about Forest Fire, folksy, just this side of Grateful Dead. But on "Future Shadows" it's undercut just right by steel strings, robot handclaps, drums.
- Frank Ocean - "Novacane" [download Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape]
It's dumb: a song about falling in love with a would-be dentist, a clumsy metaphor about the numbing effects of novacane. But it's the song that catapulted Frank Ocean from Odd Future footnote into the studios of Beyoncé and Kanye, and the reason's obvious. This dark and gorgeous production, songwriting that feels familiar, classic, chords drawn up from Bad Boy's 90s heyday. Better than anything Drake made in 2011.
- Lunice - "Hip Pop ft. Young L" [soundcloud]
Love that this sounds midway between two bozos purring nonsense into their MacBook microphone and, um, dry wet spectral Neptunes snap shit. It's that subgenre of hip-hop which is best suited to miners, moth-men, solar astronauts and midnight dancers. Only it was made in Montreal, probably in some #based NDG 3½, just a bike-ride to Akhavan and Momesso's subs.
- Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - "Tune Grief" [buy]
Dan: I was so skeptical of the Pavement reunion tour, fearing Malkmus' cynicism, his arrogance, his limp rebellion would drone louder than the amps. But he proved me wrong wrong wrong on that tour, it was magical. And here I'm similarly excited, I feel like there's motion in the heart of this song, there's wake-eyed looking at the listener, there's work, craft, volume. I say this with great care: it's noodle-less.
- PARADIS - "Parfait Tirage" [buy]
Get up, get up, sit down, get up. Crying onto the synthesisers, just a little. Melancholy dance music, only you're not melancholy as you dance to it - you're getting less melancholy, less melancholy, forgetfulness rising up. (thanks kevin!)
- Silver Dapple - "M'Sorry" [buy]
Barrels of noise, in a warehouse like stacked barns. Feedback in banded oak casks. Two ghosts, one good and one also good, but resentful. You cannot make out their voices. This is what we hear, when the needle drops. It will let us live forever.
- Robin Pecknold - "I'm Losing Myself ft Ed Droste" [website]
Pecknold says he is a "slow mover", "the gathering fog", "best-laid plans". He says he sits "with his head in his hands". He sings this gently, over acoustic guitar, and I believe him. But Pecknold is the leader of Fleet Foxes, arguably America's most successful folk act of the past five years. Their debut album has sold more than 350,000 copies. As Pecknold murmurs - with fingerpick, tape-hiss, the gorgeous & understated accompaniment of Grizzly Bear's Ed Droste - this commercial trivia colours my listening. I think, How can a champion feel so forlorn? I think, A thousand musicians would give their loves away, for a success like his. On some level, I know, such triumphs might underline a heartache; they might make a heartache worse. Even winners lose. Yes on some level, I know all this. And so I feel guilty, judging him. I listen to Pecknold's sad song and I feel sorry for my stony heart.
- The Lovely Eggs - "Don't Look At Me (I Don't Like It)" [website]
One dashed racket, caterwaul and cheer. The Lovely Eggs are charging like punks, happily shouting, issuing insults. Look at 'im wif 'is sausage-roll thumb! Look at 'er with 'er dressing-gown nose! None of the insults really make sense. This is at least one half of the point. Pure dead brilliant. (thanks jon!)
- Lil Wayne - "Sorry 4 the Wait" [download Sorry 4 the Wait mixtape]
Lil Wayne coming out from the curtain, band warming up, yes he's ready yup here we go. Then a dozen backflips, backspins, highjumps. Turns himself inside out and disappears. Dan: A paragraph pulled and hung open, words like guts and gusto and bounce. Everything is suddenly engraved, named, changed. A calf marked "veal", a thigh scratched with "heel", a waist called "trashy", a stomach named "kashi".
- Burning Hearts - "Into the Wilderness" [buy]
They're from Finland. Whipsmart, fine, you got me dumbstruck. You talk of "foxes, forests, wilderness," but I'm still right here, present, sure-footed in the just so. I'm too smitten to think faraway, to think spruce-quills and woods.
- Rob St John - "Sargasso Sea" [buy]
A rightly murky, seaweedy "Sargasso Sea". St John sings it searchingly, not quite certain, until the choruses' clear strong crests, waves pushed over cliffs.
- Pacific - "Unspoken ft El Perro del Mar" [buy]
Pretty electro-pop, threaded with gold, but there's also a quirkiness to what these Swedes have done. El Perro Del Mar sings solemn, sultry, above click & ring & echo, yet for the chorus she's joined by another voice, one of Pacific's boys; and he is more Ringo than Nico, like he was hauled in from a telephone booth.
- The Kills - "Pots and Pans" [buy]
Dan pulled no punches: When I pull your hair, make sure to grab my hand, make sure to move with me, otherwise it's really gonna hurt. When I trip you, make sure you fall, otherwise you're really gonna fall. When I slap you, don't anticipate it, it'll look fake. When I'm driving, grab the wheel, 'cause I'll let go at some point.
- Jamie Woon - "Waterfront" [buy]
This is Jamie Woon at his simplest, the synths and echo stripped away. Just bone-dry r&b, with bump and snap. A song that's exactly as long as it needs to be.
- King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - "Bats In the Attic" [buy]
King Creosote has become Scotland's unlikely songleader, its reluctant hero. Here he sings a song of unravelling, of foundering, of growing cold. Beautiful and unfading, but without any happy ending.
- Liturgy - "Generation" [buy]
Dan: In the most recent version of it, this is the music used in the trailer to sell the universe to potential investors. Metal - not metals, but metal, singular, one long unbroken piece of it, barely dented.
- Twin Sister - "Kimmi In a Rice Field" [buy]
It's been two years since I found, and fell for, Twin Sister. In Heaven was somehow cooler than what I hoped their debut would be: it was draped in too much of today's couture, everything already familiar. I missed the unadorned newness of "I Want A House", all-original and not-giving-a-shit. But there's still so much to enjoy, and thus - "Kimmi In a Rice Field". Dreamy, dreamlike, like the kindest of Angelo Badalamenti's imaginings; eros that advances and withdraws, the skirt of a curtain.
- Azealia Banks - "212" [website]
This too is like a string of separate songs, three vignettes. It's hard for me to see Azealia Banks as much more than a hipper Nicki Minaj. Her skills seem similar: dirty words, drama-school impersonations, bending rhymes, raps that champ until she she coos the hook. But Minaj has never made a track that sounds like this, bare basement dance music, unexpectedly shy. And "212"'s secret is in the particular way the parts go together: Azealia's ambition, her raunchy talent, this weird in'n'out thump. It's mesmerizing.
- Dimbleby and Capper - "Let You Go" [buy]
A bouquet of sounds, rich and several. Thundered lo-fi angst and then that pretty, overlapping chorus, as if the carousel is overloaded with slides and you just keep clicking next next next next next. (thanks dan!)
- OG Melody - "OG Realness" [buy]
At first click, OG Melody are something irony-laced and mildly heinous. After all, Isla Craig and Thomas Gill are not Original Gangster. They are young, white, Torontonian. This certainly doesn't put R&B off limits, but their duo is um called OG Melody. This song is um called "OG Realness". When Craig sings, "I call up my OG crew / mixing jams old school," the first image in my head concerns strawberry, pectin, mason jars. Despite this first impression, "OG Realness" is exquisite, gorgeous and sincere. It is bedroom R&B, a song of love and friendship that tilts and pivots. It is full of cut flowers, jersey organ, bare snare.
- Orval Carlos Sibelius - "I Don't Want A Baby" [buy]
In this song, Orval Carlos Sibelius, who lives in France, offers his partner about 100 reasons not to have a baby. These reasons include his dwindling cool, his capacity of exaggeration, his intermittent self-loathing, his possible cancer, the magnificence of the status quo, and his sudden brainwave that they could instead enjoy an orgy. These arguments are, in their way, effective. But "I Don't Want A Baby" itself becomes a compelling rationale for taking this man and shanghai'ing him, as quickly as possible, into fatherhood. Because there's so much beauty in the song's delirious clanging sprint - there's wisdom and wit, peace and racket, an ear for blurring noise and wiry harmony. Orval offers whistling, la-la-la, ratatat, Spanish and North African guitar; imagine the wonders his daughters & sons might make. These diverse tastes need to be borne into the next generation. We need more Orvals, more Caloses, more Sibelii. Let's get him laid.
- Cannon Bros - "Out of Here" [buy]
From Winnipeg, hounding splendid singing rock'n'roll. Sez Dan: It's pure teenager, it's as important as anything was as a teenager. It's lovely. And he wrote a gemstone of a story, too.
- Radiohead - "Separator" [buy]
The Oxford quintet revisit "Reckoner", I'd say, but "Reckoner" is among the greatest songs they've ever written, and the innovation here is the guitar line, the one that appears at 2:34, shining white hot, like sunstuff, like lit magnesium, so lovely, so lovely, so lovely, Radiohead, well done.
- Cant - "Too Late Too Far" [buy]
Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor steps out. Sick for six days, eyeing the potted plants, feeling like their leaves are blurring into the wallpaper. You know this is a dream but you do not believe this is a dream.
- Kate Wax - "Dancing On Your Scalp" [buy]
Spooked and wonky, precarious. Do not blame Kate Wax for the clumsiness of the word "scalp: she's from Switzerland, she didn't know. (thank you Joseph)
- The Blow - "Hey Boy (Nicolas Jaar rework)" [buy]
Nico Jaar takes Khaela Maricich's indolent complaint and makes it a thing of regimented community, marshaled handclaps. It's my favourite kind of dry and hopscotch beat: you trace and retrace the same dance steps, stamping footprints into the floor. Clouds assemble and dissipate; hurricanes wave and skim away. The boy never calls.
- Sean Nicholas Savage - "Can't Get My Mind Off You" [buy]
Dan: In a room with light pink carpeted floors and walls, bare white socks dance silently. Palm leaves burst from the corners of the ceiling, bright green and dewy. Soft white shadows, bright white underwearings. Pants that dance so quiet, with eyes to the light. ... Sean Nicholas Savage is from another world, one that received only AM-band-MJ and Tiger Beat.
- Low - "Nothing But Heart" [buy]
More than a decade ago, this band helped invent the thing called slowcore. Since then, Low have walked a crooked path away from that notoriety, made songs that groove and shimmer. Not here. They slip their old strings into their new guitars. Secretly, they murmur a mantra they learned from Neil Young. Then they flick the switches on their amps and begin to play, slow and hardcore, beautiful and roaring, standing under studio lights and showing all the ways they're different from, all the ways they're the same as, the Minnesota couple that clasped hands in 1990.
- Zammuto - "YAY" [website]
Music by Nick Zammuto, one half of the Books. Happy, juddering and glitched - but not so broken that it can not scramble to its feet and run, leaping fences, skimming clover, pop. (thank you mark!)
- Austra - "Lose It" [buy]
A collection of synthpop circles, linked or enclosing. Under Katie Stelmanis' warble, the shiny keyboards, all that black lace, there's just piano. And it's playing the same plain two notes.
- Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo - "Ma Vie" [buy]
Dan, brilliantly, sensitively: How many notes did you know when you were a child? How many notes do you know now that you are old? How many of them do you play? You are difficult to understand. I don't mean speaking, I understand the things you say, you say you love me and I believe you. But I mean your body. What are the codes, where is it written, the map to understand your body? What do the different parts mean? What does it mean when they move?
- Braids - "Peach Wedding" [buy]
Braids borrow sounds they like, make them hallmarks: slum drum, cacophony, bells, water. But it works, it works, and I like it when their taste for pop songs trumps a love of getting baked, and vibes.
- Lykke Li - "Unrequited Love" [buy]
Dan: 1A-8F is business, beige, and cowards. 9A is t-shirt, 9B is skirt. 9C looks to D, his leg in the aisle, strap of his bag. 9E is already nodding off ... 14B too much coat, 14C is empty but paid. 14D is imagining herself from outside herself, 14E this makes it a million, 14F is tired in a brand new kind of way. The way a machine would be tired if it could be. The way a pier would be tired, no more waves, thank you, I'd really like to be a tree again.
- Timber Timbre - "Bad Ritual" [buy]
He had eyes like garnets. He threw these across the room, like dice. When he murmured in a woman's ear she wilted or she bloomed. He bit her with his teeth, circled her wrist with finger & thumb. Whenever he lit a fire, it sputtered and spat, like it was resisting. He breathed in the smoke, eyes open. He spoke.
And that's 2011's century of songs, best as I can say. There's so much that didn't quite make it, that I wish I was pointing you to. At Said the Gramophone we spent the year writing about as many wonderful songs as we could, and old songs too, treasures kept in drawers. If you're new to the site, please come again (or subscribe). We update almost every weekday, penning tales about the tunes that make us think yes
Thanks for reading, sorry for the broken links, please support these artists with your money. Happy holidaze to all and to all a good night.
Posted by Sean at December 19, 2011 2:07 AM
Always one of my favorite year-end features, been waiting for this list for weeks now.
It wouldn't be Christmas (for me) without the annual StG end-of-year best-of list. I am really looking forward to listening, as ever, on the long journey home to visit family and friends for the festive holidays... Fantastic.
Thanks for the link and the hat tip, Sean!
For the record, I am emphatically on Team Powa. Also: She throws out the most withering insults in music. "Lions" on Bird Brains and then this from "Wooly Wooly Gong:" The world revolves around your tiny little skull. I for one would not get into a war of words with her.
Maybe it's because I'm dling from Sweden but my speed is so low.
I really expected Lykke Li to have a higher spot than 99.
I too have been eagerly awaiting this list. Thank you.
Hey Said, I'm a long time follower - thank you for the music, the share & the taste :)
At first scan there's so much on this list that I listen to endlessly that I'm now driven to listen to and find all the rest. I'm sure that was your intention, so ... well played!
Two notable omissions:
Adele "Someone Like You". I know, I know, it's the biggest selling album in years, but it's because it's a fucking fantastic album, and this song is a real standout.
Dan Mangan "Rows of Houses", I know you don't like him, but I still think this is one of the best songs to be released in Canada besides Colin Stetson this year.
what a fantastic list. many of my own favourites, and lots of new stuff for me to check out. you guys never disappoint, do you?!
A big HURRA for your blog and this top 2011.
the songs are good, but the writing is even better.
My favorite event of the list season! Thank you for the music & writing and happy holidays to you, Dan and Jordan.
Were I a musician, this is the company I'd aspire to keep. Excellent list as usual, Sean.
Your list is one of my favorite things about the end of the year. Thanks so much for your work and your time!
I've been looking forward to this for weeks. Another excellent year-end list! Thank you.
Great list. I have to get my 2011 playlist in shape.
thank you thank you thank you
Thank you for this, it's such a wonderful cauldron of goodness. Not sure if you're interested, but J Mascis' record he put out in March was a real surprise gem.
The highlight of my musical year! Thank you for putting this together with such love and thought.
When I sneak away, on Dec. 26, with cat in lap, cocoa in hand and headphones afixed, THIS, dear Sean, Dan and Jordan, will be why I have a happy holiday. Thanks!!! Will definitely be sharing.
Love, love, love, love, I love StG and Sean and that you continue sharing your loves (and likes, and sometimes mehs) with the world every day/month/year! This is the best present a girl could ever ask for!
ha, when the presets released Apocalypso in 2008 I had the same opinion of such brill mashup.
Great list, although I think I associate black & yellow more with 2010 (despite its popularity during the superbowl).
so many great picks here-- weather station, wild beasts, grimes (phenomenal live!), gillian welch...!
Geez, wonderful list. I don't even care about the specifics. I just of reason and listen.
Oh just one thing. Where's Metronomy?!
keep up the good work! thank you :)
Such an excellent list. I've plenty to keep me occupied now.
Also, I'm very glad that you said this:
"'Reckoner' is among the greatest songs they've ever written" — I whole heartedly agree!
One more thing:
If I had to add to an already excellent list, I'd have Jónsi's "Tornado" on there. If that song doesn't move you then nothing will.
Some of the links don't work....just my lame computer? Another night well spent perusing your blog.
Great list, impressively comprehensive. Kudos all around.
Wonderful list as usual! Like others above have said, this is one of the end-of-year things I look forward to most. Thanks for putting it together with such care. Hope you all enjoy the holidays---
I know a lot of the stuff on the list but look forward to discovering the rest!
Keep up the good work!
This is my FAVORITE holiday tradition! Thank you so much and Happy Third Night of Hanukkah!
I first came across StG a few years ago, when bored of listening to the radio I turned to the internet and blogosphere to rediscover my love of music. And I've been coming back ever since. As if the great taste in songs wasn't enough, the writing itself compels you to return. Great list as usual. And the only one I've come across so far to feature 'Natch' by Cornershop! Definitely one of the most overlooked and underrated albums to be released this year IMO. What do you folks think of WU LYF at StG? Would have loved to have seen them up here. Thanks for the wonderful music!!!
I really love you for including R. Kelly's "Shut Up." It's so funny and catchy and ridiculous.
i have a very busy profession so haven't been able to read music blogs like i used to a few years ago. but i was eagerly awaitingw the STG best of list since november. thank you.
wow. i just read your previous post on beyonce's 1+1. i'm speechless and have decided i need to start reading STG regularly again. absolutely beautiful writing sean.
Lovely list, again. Thank you for keeping it up. I haven't read everything you ever posted, but what did you make of Childish Gambino? Or Nicola Roberts? Gang Gang Dance also made a worthy album this year.
The StG year-end round-up listening party is becoming my New Year's weekend tradition -- thanks for the hard work that goes into the list and blogging thru the year ...
AWESOME list - my top twenty is here.
This was the soundtrack to our new year's party! Thanks for the list, and for keeping me on top of things musical once again.
How wonderful. Do you guys ever use spotify?
after all the lists, reviews etc of 2011 -> this is definitely the quintessential one. Thxs
this is a great list and I mean no disrespect and I'm so biased that I'm barely even saying this, but there are at least four songs on Western Teleport that, in light of their absence, put at least one of these choices (I'm looking at you, "Video Games") to shame. but again: I am biased. otherwise a great list filled with great songs and great artists and bands, many of which StG brought to my attention this year.
I don't think I'll be able to listen to Radiohead's "Separator" the same ever again. Bravo!
Awesome list! I know and love about 80% of this list, which means 20% is probably new music I get to explore. Much obliged. Check out the list I recently wrote for some new ideas http://imveryape.com/
Wonderful writing and diversity of selections.
I gave your list a listen, amazing collection of 2011 music, well done ( :
Highlights for me are: Lana del Ray, Kurt Vile, Adam & the Amethysts , Charli XCX, Blue Belt, Robin Pecknold, Future Fire, Burning Hearts, Amy Winehouse, etc.
Feel free to stop by my blog and say Hi, and take a look at my year-end music lists:
Wow there's a lot of songs on this list I've never even heard of. Think I really took my eye off the ball in terms of following music last year! Thanks for this list! I'll have a listen to some of them.
Great playlist loaded now :). Thanks for the list
about said the gramophone
This is a daily sampler of really good songs
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If you would like to say hello, find out our mailing addresses or invite us to shows, please get in touch:
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