The Top 200 Songs of 2011 – The Top Twenty

20. Wiz Khalifa – Roll Up

Delivering sing-song verses, that trademark stoner laugh, and a chorus you’ve memorized by the second time you’ve heard it, Wiz Khalifa might be one of the laziest rappers on Top 40 radio. But that’s exactly the point. He’s not some uptight, eccentric, crazy ambitious, domineering figure. He’s that pot-smoking friend who’s down for whatever, and if your down, he’s down. The most casual summer jam of the year.

19. Martin Solveig and Dragonette – Hello

Do yourself a favor: set an alarm with this track as the one you wake up to. I’ve been doing it for about half a year, and I’ve become quite the morning person. It’s likely you’ve heard this enough to be aware of it without knowing what the hell it is, and that’s fair, advertising does that. What it is is one of the best club jams of the year.

18. Born Gold – Lawn Knives

Nothing rocks as hard, or comes across as brash, as the opening track on Bodysongs. The rest is great, but you’ll know within thirty seconds whether you’re up to the task of completing this spastic, yet entirely infectious record. In between the layers of distortion, feedback, splices, screaming, and other miscellaneous noise, there’s a simple pop melody guiding you along the way.

17. Givers – Up Up Up

If Thao provided the blueprint for this hop-and-skip indie pop sound, Givers have taken it, added a dash of New Pornographers charm, and tempo shifts reminiscent of the Fiery Furnaces. Consider “Up Up Up” a crash course – a five minute barrage into handclaps, dueling guitar and xylophone, and one hell of a refrain. By the time the cymbals start caving in, you’ll know what I meant by “crash.”

16. Phantogram – Don’t Move

This is great from the start: chopped male vocals connect with an unusual tempo amongst that oh-so-awesome horn sample. Then it all stops – do they have your attention? Layered verses surround a looping synth line until the chorus, surprisingly the most subdued part of the track. That part will grow on you. The rest is pure candy.

15. The Joy Formidable – Whirring

If you’ve heard it, you know: there’s a 180 that occurs with three minutes left. Just when you think you’ve got this band figured out, that they’re doing something complacent, they amp up the reverb you’d been hearing in the background, and all hell breaks loose. What we’re left with is a crash-and-burn, speed metal ending to what was originally a sweet female-led pop tune. Eat your heart out, Belly.

14. Ringo Deathstarr – Do It Every Time

Goth rock meets shoegaze meets Molly Ringwald pop in this absolutely terrific, too brief song. Incessant guitars battle who can be louder while a smooth baritone complains about his girlfriend in throwaway lyrics. And if you can read the title above, you already know all the words to the hook.

13. The-Dream – Body Work/Fuck My Brains Out

This two-parter was supposed to be the precursor to The-Dream’s next awesome LP. Alas, that day will come later, but still, this song is a beast. “Body Work” is a typical, albeit awesome, sex-soaked Dream jam, but “Fuck My Brains Out” turns up the Prince to heat things up. We go from a romantic romp to the realization that our protagonist is a polygamist, but yet, she doesn’t care.

12. Tyler the Creator – Yonkers

The only song worthy of mentioning from Goblin is actually one of the best tracks of the year. Lines like “I’m a fucking walking paradox/No I’m not” and the description of the brutal murder of Bruno Mars are simultaneously dark, funny, and memorable. A single reminder that this kid has something to offer the masses once he grows up.

11. Jay Z and Kanye West – Niggas In Paris

Some would say “Otis,” but years from now, when people remember Watch the Throne, this is likely the song they’ll remember. Low-key production, braggadocio rhymes, a bouncing rhythm, the title of the album repeated over and over in front of a speaker-rattling bass drop, and two (that’s right! 2!) samples from the already-obscure Will Ferrell flick Blades of Glory.

10. Primus – Tragedy’s ‘A Comin’

Throughout the list, I’ve been commenting on the lyrical content of the Primus tracks, but to be honest, I haven’t really gotten around to analyzing the words to this one. Probably because the slap-pop bass, wailing guitar, and precision drumming takes me back to the glory days of Frizzle Fry so perfectly I haven’t been able to shake it. So happy these guys are back. Seriously.

9. tUnE-yArDs – Gangsta

Everyone agrees Merrill Garbus deserves acclaim this year for her work, but I am apparently the only one in the world that picked this as my favorite. But really, anyone who knows me shouldn’t be surprised. This one’s a quirky take on the downtrodden wankstas of suburban America. Think Ben Folds’ “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” only a little weirder.

8. Lil Wayne – Six Foot, Seven Foot

Weezy’s got a million faces, but nothing beats his “fuck a chorus, loop the hook endlessly” mentality. But don’t get it twisted; this isn’t just “A Milli Part 2.” Carter drops clever rhymes and synonyms quicker than you can digest, with the indirect help of Harry Belafonte. Just remember: Real G’s move in silence like lasagna.

7. Paul Simon – Rewrite

This one has all the makings of a classic Paul Simon song: whistling, African-style guitars and rhythms, and an unbeatable hook. And if, for whatever reason, you listen to this and don’t get why it’s so high on my list, I encourage you to watch him perform it on Saturday Night Live. Impeccable.

6. Purity Ring – Ungirthed

Thanks to the brilliant influence of the Knife, there’s a lot of bands out there incorporating spooky female vocals alongside a synth line and disjointed beats. Usually these groups tell tales of alienation – Purity Ring come closest to this on the aforementioned “Lofticries” – but here they’ve managed to do what others have never succeeded at: bring energy and curiosity. “Ears ringing, teeth clicking…” as the chorus goes, and it never ceases to intrigue.

5. Ford & Lopatin – The Voices

At first listen, it’s the simplest song on Channel Pressure. But as we soon discover, like the entirety of the album, nothing is simple about it. The hook is immediate, but surrounded by layered harmonies and synths. Listen at 1:22 and 2:44 for the best parts, where the beat drops and the vocals are looped – you might think your computer skipped for a second.

4. The Rapture – Children

The group is a far cry from the chaos of “House of Jealous Lovers;” their sound is now the norm, yet the veterans seem to up the ante even when sounding conventional. There’s no hectic cry to dance at a rapid pace, just a regular one. And the refrain feels like parts MGMT and Cut Copy. Yet the track is put together so meticulously, the rises and falls placed so precisely, you know only the Rapture could come up with this absolute thrill.

3. Hooray For Earth – No Love

Disclaimer: “True Loves” was on my 2010 list, otherwise it would be on here somewhere. Having said that, this is a close second best song on Hooray For Earth’s spectacular album. The lead up to that significant synth drop is unassuming, featuring call-and-response male and female vocals. By the time “but I want to, want to learn, I want to want to learn” is uttered, you’ll be shouting along.

2. Drake – Marvins Room

The staple song for Take Care is loaded with ego, shame, narcissism, nostalgia, depression, and regret. A perfect formula for a 4am drunk dial to an ex who will not reciprocate. The conversation gets awkward quickly, as our protagonist rambles about his struggles with a decadent lifestyle, yearning for simpler times when he had only one woman to fuck. We shake our heads, and yet we root for him. Because the ending result feels more human than most output from any other modern-day rapper.

1. M83 – Midnight City

You can sum up my 2011 with four glorious synth notes – perhaps you’ve heard them accompanied by Victoria’s Secret models. Of course, the entire song is epic – that overused word just fits here – from the barely decipherable verses to the fist pumping breakdown to that intense sax solo near the end. But those four synth notes carry the whole grandiose composition on their shoulders. Considering all that is here to take in, that’s gotta be a heavy load, but they pull it off. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is a concept album about childhood dreams; “Midnight City” is the high point, the brightest spot in those dreams, the moment where the happiest events occur. And that sounds just about as perfect as one could imagine.

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