Best Songs of 2011
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The 75 Best Songs of 2011

Nostalgia Alert! Jump back a decade and enjoy the best songs of 2011. They are headlined by a synthpop classic, a massive hit from a hot diva, pristine harmonies of a young band headed for greatness.

55. Blondie – “Mother”

It’s rare that 35 years into their career, a band release a single on par with their classic hits. Blondie has. The group’s Panic of Girls (2011) spawned “Mother”, a rousing anthem that underscores why Deborah Harry remains an iconic figure and a peerless purveyor of pop melodies. Written by Harry with Kato Khandwala and Ben Phillips, “Mother” is fueled by the group’s patented power pop and lures you to wail its irresistible melody. It is an essential addition to Blondie’s legacy. — Christian John Wikane

54. Hammers of Misfortune – “The Grain”

It’s wonderful how the best metal song of 2011 is so stripped-down and simple. Built around a straightforward yet immensely satisfying, galloping rhythm riff, “The Grain”, written by guitarist/songwriter John Cobbett is the sort of stately epic that hearkens back to the 1970s. Plenty powerful and propulsive, Cobbett smartly provides enough room for melodies, Joe Hutton turning in a soulful performance, Sigrid Sheie adding a piano coda that evokes “Layla”. It’s all enough to make even the toughest headbanger misty-eyed. — Adrien Begrand

53. Kurt Vile – “Jesus Fever”

The prettiest pop song on an album filled with prettified versions of Kurt Vile’s warped blues, “Jesus Fever” glides gracefully like a morning train ride through fog, while Vile sings both of moving on and of movement inside his body, in his heart, stomach and veins. Everything’s disappearing, even the song itself. This “Jesus Fever”, I’m not sure what it is, but it’s a state of ecstasy or something harder to pin down. The urge to lose yourself, make yourself vanish. — Dave Heaton

52. The Weeknd – “The Zone”

As the Weeknd, Abel Tesfaye littered 2011 with a clutch of jams alternately apt and completely vital to experiencing the full pleasures of pre-party, peak-party, post-party, and mid-coitus euphoria. It was “The Zone”, however — the centerpiece of Thursday, his second of two 2011 mixtapes — that most ably and mercilessly captured all these altered trajectories in one suave embrace. The track’s stoned, near-expressionless hook (“I can’t feeel / A damn thiiing”) arguably encompasses the Weeknd’s M.O. better than any aesthetic accoutrement ever could, but its Drake who walks away with the cameo of the year (and the verse of his career), nimbly weaving a lament for strippers worldwide in an alliterative, concise, and laser-focused (adjectives few would use to describe Take Care) tour-de-force of tantalizing bravado. — Jordan Cronk

51. Austra – “Beat and the Pulse”

For all the eclecticism heard on Austra’s shimmering debut Feel it Break, breakthrough single “Beat and the Pulse” is the album’s one overtly gothic exercise. Built around a sultry, gently pulsating synth groove that feels part Siouxsie and the Banshees, part early Nine Inch Nails, singer Katie Stelmanis is the big reason why the song succeeds, her detached vocal delivery making the song even more enigmatic, even menacing. — Adrien Begrand

50. Glass Candy – “Warm in the Winter”

Call me deluded (“You’re deluded” – a reader, somewhere) but when Ida No purrs “We love you” towards the climax of this long-awaited, extraordinary, cosmic masterpiece I believe her. LOVE!… and superfoxxy romantico space disco IS the answer! The apocalyptic decline of civilization in the years since 2008’s Deep Gems has been no mere coincidence; we need Glass Candy to save the world. At the very least make us shake what our momma’s gave us ’til the sun falls out o’ the sky. Johnny, Ida, consider these words a message in a bottle; Hurry, and bring your love. — Matt James

49. Liturgy – “Glory Bronze”

Liturgy’s Aesthetica is a completely overwhelming album. Upon hearing “Returner”, the first single, a listener could be forgiven for assuming that song is the album’s high point. The song’s cascading energy, the screaming, and yes, the wall of sound that results, point to a climax that sounds impossible to top. Though to think this is a mistake because in comes “Glory Bronze”, a song that turns the myth of Icarus into a sonic gale force. All members of the band proceed with astonishing speed and coordination, “bursting” together (to use the parlance of the songwriter). Although the song stops to breathe in its middle, eventually the opening riff returns, and the song closes with a wail that aptly describes the magnitude of the sound: “An abyss spits out another abyss.” — Thomas Britt

48. Fitz & the Tantrums – “MoneyGrabber”

If Cee-Lo Green won the award for best kiss-off-get-lost breakup song in 2010, Fitz & the Tantrums has earned the 2011 honors. “MoneyGrabber” epitomizes the Fitz indie/soul esthetic and manages to sound simultaneously retro and contemporary. Like every classic song of its kind (“Go Your Own Way”, “Fuck You”), “MoneyGrabber” succeeds not just because of its spot-on arrangement, but also for the accompanying middle-finger attitude. Here’s one instance where the sounds of past and present fit together without seeming forced and overwhelming. — Jeb Inge

47. Big K.R.I.T. – “Dreamin'”

Big K.R.I.T. has plenty of songs I’d call definitively essential to hear, but “Dreamin'” takes the quintessential mount in his songbook for combining all of his best traits into four intensely personal minutes. Built on a sample of the Brothers of Soul’s “Dream” that whispers “he’s dreaming” and “it’s not for real” under 808 kicks and Southern guitar licks, K.R.I.T. tells us the quite detailed story of how he came to stand on stages for a career. He tells us about his family and friends ignoring his dreams of being the next Eightball & MJG or Three 6 Mafia, his struggles to pay attention during football practice because he was too busy writing rhymes on his equipment, and his early attempts at coming up as a rapper in Meridian, Mississippi, a town as well known for its rap exports as Idaho is for its metropolitan areas. In the process he creates a pensive ode to artists of all forms, music or otherwise, exclaiming “Try for yourself / Just know that I was once considered just a dreamer / But I paid my dues and turned so many doubters to believers / They used to say…[he’s dreaming].” It’s hard to imagine any rap artist will create an equally picturesque tale of self-discovery any time soon. — David Amidon

46. Middle Brother – “Million Dollar Bill”

Break-ups are always emotional affairs. When a love affair ends, blame tends to get placed on the other party, and regret, longing, and despair usually sets in. Irrationality is also present and the “I’ll show him/her” mentality takes over. Such is the sentiment in “Million Dollar Bill”, where the jilted protagonist adopts the personas of millionaire, astronaut, and famous movie star all so that he can stay relevant in the eyes of his former paramour. Taylor Goldsmith’s song actually pops up twice this year, once on his band Dawes’ Nothing Is Wrong album and again here, performed by Middle Brother, a superior version that highlights the collaboration between Goldsmith, Deer Tick’s John McCauley, and Delta Spirit’s Matthew Vasquez. — Jeff Strowe