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.

35. Robyn – “Call Your Girlfriend”

This warm electro beat would be a miracle for any artist to have, but it becomes a masterpiece in Robyn’s capable hands, because all she does is change perspective. Instead of being the girl that’s cheated on, she is the girl that the guy is cheating with, and she is as sympathetic as she is understanding. She tells him how to break up with his girlfriend, how to let her down easy, and how to move on. What an alarmingly fresh perspective on a tired scenario, and what an amazing song to go with it. Robyn may not have re-broken into the mainstream, but songs like this will outlast a lot of what mainstream pop music has to offer. — Evan Sawdey

34. Peter Bjorn and John – “Second Chance”

Also known as the theme song to the new CBS comedy, 2 Broke Girls, as well as the tune used in certain commercials for Bud Lite, it’s easy to see how this spiritual cousin to Writer’s Block‘s “Young Folks” has come into focus on American network TV. It’s bright and instantly catchy with its cooing and cowbells, and boasts a guitar solo that wouldn’t be out of place in Peter Frampton’s songbook. The best thing about this year’s terrific and return-to-form Gimme Some, one can only hope this song gets a second life beyond the boob tube, and rises to chart-topping glory — as it absolutely should. — Zachary Houle

33. Those Dancing Days – “Can’t Find Entrance”

Normally the sort of thing parped out by Katy Perry whilst she gyrates in pink knickers on a cloud, it’s almost refreshing to know “Can’t Find Entrance” is the product of four scruffy-chic indie chicks from Sweden. A glamorous, effervescent pop rush that was the set the bar unbelievably high on second long-player Daydreams and Nightmares, it reminded us what synths were used for before dubstep arrived. Had Those Dancing Days not announced their indefinite hiatus back in August, this could’ve been a sweet taster of what was to come. — David Smith

32. Hayes Carll – “Kmag Yoyo”

A modern cousin to both Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” and Robert Earl Keen’s “The Road Goes on Forever”, riffed in Dylan talking blues, Carll ups the ante in terms of sheer madness and utter insanity. A disillusioned soldier starts steals from the Taliban, deals heroin, gets popped by the men in charge, and is sent off to the deep recesses of space. Or at least, I think that’s what happens. The details are a bit fuzzy, but this biting piece of gonzo songcraft is a great listen and an even greater indictment of good ol’ USA foreign policy. — Jeff Strowe

31. Foster the People – “Pumped Up Kicks”

The instantly recognizable thumping beat with a classic vamp builds until the vocals begin, a quirky treatment using a bullet microphone. “Pumped Up Kicks” sounds sweet and simple, but the lyrics allude to a loner who warns kids to “outrun his gun”. The original demo version with singer/songwriter Mark Foster playing everything was released last January in an EP format, allowing the new band a bit more time to create an album around this single. It quickly went viral, becoming a crossover Top 40 hit that appeared in TV shows, movies and Saturday Night Live. — Jane Jansen Seymour

30. Iron & Wine – “Tree by the River”

If Kiss Each Other Clean is Sam Beam’s attempt at stripping away the enigmatic imagery and busy arrangements of The Shepherd’s Dog to reveal a 70s radio-friendly heart, “Tree by the River” is his hit-that-never-was. But don’t let the vocal harmonies fool you; this is no simple love song. Lost relationships aren’t mourned in “Tree” so much as reflected upon, with Beam’s narrator less fixated on his teenage relationship than with how he and Mary Anne faced the world, living for the present and “strangers to change”. — David Bloom

29. Mayer Hawthorne – “The Walk”

It’s angry. It’s soulful. And it’s groovy. What more could you want from a DJ-turned-crooner from Michigan who loves Hall & Oates? The profanity will remind you of Cee-Lo, but this single from Hawthorne’s How Do You Do is much more authentic than the big man’s silly pop jingle. One listen to those powerful horns, that 1960s falsetto and one awfully catchy hook, and you’ll quickly take notice: “The Walk” feels much more real than anything blue-eyed soul was ever meant to be. — Colin McGuire

28. The Antlers – “I Don’t Want Love”

From the opening snare hit and softly strummed chords that usher in these three minutes of sad and simple beauty, it is impossible not to be drawn completely into the world of desire and denial that is the defining track of The Antler’s beautifully crafted 2011 album Burst Apart. The centerpiece of the song is Peter Silberman’s lilting falsetto which entrances and intrigues, recalling the poignant, striving tones of The Bends era Thom Yorke. This is an anti-love song for the lingering light of late summer nights and the dreamy haze of the morning after. It is an ode to ambivalence and fear that somehow manages to lift you up and fill you with hope, and there is an aching loveliness to it all that will haunt you long after these three minutes are over. — Robert Alford

27. PJ Harvey – “The Last Living Rose”

One of the more accessible tracks on Harvey’s exemplary Let England Shake, “The Last Living Rose” is also one of its strongest. A spare yet tuneful arrangement allows Harvey’s outstanding lyrics to take center stage, with the opening “Goddamn Europeans / Take me back to beautiful England” giving way to a poetic critique of all that her homeland has to answer for. For those who miss the more ramshackle quality of Harvey’s earlier material, the song feels both like a maturation of something found on 4-Track Demos and entirely new terrain for Harvey to explore. — Maria Schurr

26. The Joy Formidable – “Austere”

Heralding a triumphant return of the most glorious aspects of ’90s alt-rock and girl-led Britpop, Welsh trio the Joy Formidable’s A Balloon Called Moaning proved to be an embarrassment of riches throughout 2011, delivering single after single of sugar-rush guitar pop. “Austere” was the most awesome of the lot, riding a wave of a hypnotically squealing vocal hook and a blur of shoegaze-y noise, all culminating in a final, explosive minute of instrumental cacophony. Singer Ritzy Bryan’s melancholic delivery of an opaquely tragic-sounding set of lyrics (“I’d rescue you now / But in velvet you’ll drown”) hints tantalizingly at some hidden depths, but the music leaves the listener in such a happy daze that unpacking this particular “unfinished story” cannot help but take an inevitable backseat to another hit of the “Repeat” button. — Jer Fairall