The Best 51 Tracks of 2011

So here it goes. Better late than never, these are my favorite 51 songs of 2011. If you’ve read my previous work, you’ll know how this works. It’s basically a countdown from 51 to 1. Here’s a link to a Spotify playlist that will allow you to get all of the songs in one place. As always, I am incredibly grateful for anybody who reads my tiny corner of the interwebz, and hopefully there will be something new and interesting for everybody.

And without further ado…

51. Drake
“Look What You’ve Done”
Take Care (Young Money)

It feels fitting to start this list off with a track from the biggest commercial album of the year. I went back and forth a lot about what track to choose, but I settled on this one because it highlights Young Angel’s underrated storytelling and the disc’s dreamy, sublime production mostly courtesy of Noah “40” Shebib (the real star of Take Care), though this isn’t one of his tracks. Drake is at his best over these type of airy beats, as he has the rare ability to be easy to relate to, even though he lives a life we could never imagine. Remember, this is a dude who made having sex “four times this week” into a point of vulnerability, even though many of his listeners haven’t had sex four times in the past four years.

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50. Ghostpoet
Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam (Brownswood Recordings)

Though it didn’t really cross over to the states, the Coventry-born MC’s debut album is quietly sensational. Ghost (né Obaro Ejimiwe) deftly toes the line between hip-hop, grime, electro, and spoken word, articulately weaving tales of growing up, breaking up, fucking up, and getting fucked up without ever letting it bog him down. It’s that a decidedly dark album that never feels weighty or melodramatic, which is no mean feat.

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49. Das Racist (f/ Danny Brown & Despot)
Relax (Greedhead)

“I don’t know why people think we give a fuck so often,” mutters Heems — one half of the Brooklyn group — on the best track from the group’s first proper LP. I have no idea who these people are, but they are as perceptive as a pack of diabetic lemurs. If Relax leaves you with one overriding sentiment, it’s that these dudes do anything other than give a fuck. In fact, they’ve taken not giving a fuck to levels previously unimagined. Though the record is disappointingly uneven, this track finds the group perfectly in their element, dropping a track worthy of their two stunning 2010 mixtapes. Danny Brown and Despot — two of the best young MCs around — bring a frenetic energy to this track that is largely missing from Relax.

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48. Cam’Ron f/ Vado
“Girls Cry”

Dope soul sample? Check. Random pop culture allusions (paging Dr. Swayze)? Check. Reee-fucking-diculous video? Check. Delightfully absurd storytelling (“When it comes to my girl, I can tell it all/When I come in the house, she wanna smell my balls”)? Check. All the ingredients of a Killa Cam classic. We’re definitely not mad to have him back.
DL: Link

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47. St. Vincent
Strange Mercy (4AD)

OK. Here’s one thing I know for sure. If Annie Clark is going to start a track by cooing “I spent the summer on my back,” I’m gonna have a seriously hard time keeping my…um, well, you know, but I digress. Besides being unbelievably beautiful and talented, Clark has always possessed the knack for putting just the right amount of wiggle in her songs, knowing full-well coming on too strong is the least sexy thing in the world. Come cut me open.
DL: Link

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46. Princeton
“To The Alps”
To The Alps 7″ (Hit City USA)

I spent an inordinate amount of 2010 writing about Princeton frontman Jessie Kivel’s other group Kisses, and now that he’s back with his original groups, it looks like he’s just going to keep writing absolutely airtight pop songs. Driven by his warm, easy tenor, “To The Alps” sounds exactly what a band called Princeton should sound like. I don’t own any boat shoes, but I’m thinking about…no, no I’m not. They’ll make my feet stink.
DL: Link

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45. Andy Stott
“New Ground”
Passed Me By (Modern Love)

Looking for a track that’s guaranteed to them hands in the sky and dem bitches on the flo’? Try Skrillex or some shit. People love that fuckin’ guy. If you want an engulfing, affecting track that challenges what you think dance music can be, you’ve come to the right place. Just don’t try the Kool-Aid. (Don’t worry: I was sure to be careful with that last reference, I know it’s an antique.)

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44. Azealia Banks

The Nicki Minaj/MIA comparisons would be spot on…if MIA was actually cool or Nicki could actually rap. Get down with the Harlem native now so you can tell your friends you were into her before she blew the fuck up. I also deserve some sort of award for writing more than six words about this song without using the c-word.
DL: Link

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43. Beach Fossils
“Fall Right In”
What A Pleasure (Captured Tracks)

There are a lot of reasons to doubt the existence of true love, especially considering that most marriages end in divorce. But nobody told this Brooklyn four-piece. Their unabashed ode to falling headlong into somebody new perfectly captures that very particular feeling. Subtly stunning.

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42. Panda Bear
“You Can Count on Me”
Tomboy (Paw Tracks)

While it remains to be seen whether Panda Bear and his pack can outdo Animal Collective’s all-conquering Merriweather Post Pavillion (2009), the Baltimore-native (né Noah Lennox) deserves some credit for besting his incredible 2007 solo album, Person Pitch, with Tomboy. The pick of the disc — this swirling slab of Beach Boys worship — is the perfect lead-off track to a record that will stick with you long after it’s finished.

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41. Real Estate
“It’s Real”
Days (Domino)

Nowadays, it’s really hard to find understated, and nobody nailed it in 2011 quite like this New Jersey quartet. Truth be told, it’s a travesty to have Real Estate this early in the list, but the album is just so consistently solid, it’s hard to pick a standout.
DL: Link

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40. Nico Jaar
Darkside (Clown & Sunset)

Nico Jaar had the license put his fuckin’ feet up over his Christmas break. You think your year was mega busy because you got promoted to project manager? Please. Dude dropped one critically acclaimed LP and two fantastic EPs, all while attending an Ivy League school and running his own label. The three tracks on Darkside are basically just one long track broken into three parks and show a different side of the masterful, meticulous post-dubstep alchemist.

Album Stream: Link

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39. Wild Beasts
Smother (Domino)

It’s incredible how much this Lake District quartet has grown up in the three short years since their buzzing, gauche debut LP, Limbo, Panto. Driven by the newly-gentle falsetto of Hayden Thorpe, the group combines to form an icy, beautiful track, which is just one of many on their mellifluous, criminally underrated third LP.

DL: Link

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38. Cass McCombs
“County Line”
WIT’S END (Domino)

It’s a little ironic that a guy who’s spent so much of his life moving from place to place would write such a brilliant song about his hometown. But, then again, if you’re as good as Cass McCombs, you can write about just about whatever the fuck you want, and it’s probably going to be pretty great. A spare slab of alt-country goodness.
DL: Link

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37. The-Dream
“Body Work/Fuck My Brains Out”

As much of Terius “The-Dream” Nash’s 2011 narrative will — and should — center around his somber, totally-out-of-character break-up opus 1977, it’s easy to forget about these two sumptuous, totally-in-character slabs of Prince worship. Released as one nine-minute track, these cuts recall the slick, multifaceted, sex-obsessed work of his previous three albums. Originally packaged as the lead singles from his long-delayed fourth LP, The Love, IV: Diary of a Madman, they are a potent reminder of what makes the man best pop musician on the planet. There, I said it.
DL: Link

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36. Future Islands
“Give Us The Wind”
On The Water (Thrill Jockey)
Here’s another example of a track that is further down the list than it should be due to the embarrassment of riches from where it came from. Future Islands is not a singles band, and the Baltimore trio’s third full-length is a muted, ruthlessly honest investigation on the end of a relationship seen through the bleary eyes of manic, unforgettable vocalist/songwriter Samuel Herring. Though much of the vocal histrionics of his earlier work are gone, Herring remains as intense and driven as ever, resulting in another affecting, engaging effort from a band with a truly distinctive voice.

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35. Keep Shelly In Athens
“Hauntin’ Me”
Hautin’ Me 7″ (Transparent)
Very little is known about this relentlessly blog-friendly Grecian duo, except that they craft gentle, airy Balearic tracks. They burst into the zeitgeist with 2010’s stunning In Love With Dusk and followed it up with this soothing, nostalgic 7″ (check the b-side too). Just the kind of track that will help you through those grey winter months…

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One Response to The Best 51 Tracks of 2011

  1. Pingback: Hot Jams of the Day (05.28.12): D’Eon, “Transparency (pt. II)” & “Now You Do” | Thunder Penguin

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