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.

25. Yuck – “Get Away”

Yuck, the ’90s revivalists with their influence-on-sleeve obsessions with Dinosaur Jr. and an assortment of shoegazers of yore, were one of the most hyped bands of the year in the blogosphere. When an artist gets as much attention as these London natives, the backlash is bound to begin. They have been called out by some critics as derivative and a bit deadpan during live performances. When I listen to “Get Away”, though, the opening track from their eponymous debut LP, I simply hear a band obsessed with proclaiming its love of music at very loud volumes. Even though Yuck’s record was released in February, “Get Away” is a perfect anti-summer anthem. The lyrics speak of wanting to go out and enjoy life, yet staying inside because of some vague notion of despondency. When listening to the lyric “I can’t get this feeling off my mind”, we imagine, though, that lead singer Daniel Blumberg might be talking about the song’s central guitar riff. It’s hard to forget. Why would you want to? — Jacob Adams

24. Kreayshawn – “Gucci Gucci”

With her Twitter beefs, nude photo leaks, and N-word touting white friends, Bay Area native Kreayshawn was a 2011 pop culture phenom, landing a huge record deal with Colombia to boot. Not a bad result for a video director-turned-rapper with only one decent song under her belt. But what a song! With its infinitely chant-able hooks, old-fashioned G Funk whistle, and a powerful ‘womp womp’ engine, “Gucci Gucci” was pop-rap perfection, which faultlessly played to Kreayshawn’s cartoonish strengths. — Dean Van Nguyen

23. Elbow – “Lippy Kids”

If Elbow’s 2008 album The Seldom Seen Kid cemented their reputation, then this year’s Build a Rocket Boys! was the icing on the cake for the Manchester band. The delicate “Lippy Kids” is its finest cut. At a time when young people are increasingly vilified, it celebrates the follies and triumphs of childhood, perfectly straddling the line between sentimentality and northern English grit. The song’s admixture of distinct piano lines, and its softly soaring guitar lines complete its quiet beauty. — Alan Ashton-Smith

22. Girls – “Vomit”

“Vomit” is Girls’ latest tour-de-force, a vertiginous mix of nostalgia rock elements that ends up sounding like nothing you’ve heard before in their hands. It’s a sprawling piece of yearning, burning rock that gains momentum slowly but surely, as pensive acoustic plucking builds to a crescendo of electric squalls that match singer Christopher Owens’ desperate vocals. But the indie epic ends with a twist, as some gospel backing traces Owens’ lovey-dovey lines to reach catharsis. It’s a gorgeously decadent touch, even for a band as freewheeling and free living as Girls. — Arnold Pan

21. St. Vincent – “Cruel”

Few songs in this or any year cover as much stylistic ground as St. Vincent’s “Cruel”. At once pretty and haunting in tone, both artsy-fartsy and basically a three-minute pop song in form, “Cruel” runs the gamut of aesthetic approaches, from the fluttery fairy tale orchestration that opens the song to its robo-funk grooves and crisp electro rhythms. But what really stands out about “Cruel” is how all the eclectic parts hang together when channeled through Clark’s unique artistic vision, which finds the sweet spot between the avant-garde and pop. — Arnold Pan

20. Cults – “Abducted”

From the release of her debut (with band partner Brian Oblivion) to appearing on Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life, it’s been a banner year for Cults’ Madeline Follin. The highlight of all this activity came from the very first track of Cult’s debut. Calling “Abducted” an example of homage to the girl groups of the ‘60s doesn’t quite do it justice. Instead, it’s a vibrant recreation with a distinctly modern twist. — Nianyi Hong

19. Wild Flag – “Romance”

The second time that Carrie Brownstein and Mary Timony sing “sound is the blood between me and you” in Wild Flag’s debut single “Romance”, Brownstein hits that “you” extra hard and it sounds like it’s in caps, with an exclamation point or two. That exuberance isn’t just a high point of an infectious rock song; it also defines the album, the band, and pretty much everything you love about rock and roll. “Romance”, with rollicking, interlocking riffs from guitar and keyboards, backed by a relentless Janet Weiss drumbeat, is really about intense, heedless music love — the kind fans had with Brownstein and Weiss’s last band, Sleater-Kinney and may find themselves fast-developing for their new adventure. It’s also love at first listen. — Jesse Hassenger

18. The Mountain Goats – “Estate Sale Sign”

A driving, doom-haunted inventory that could be surveying the wreckage from Tallahassee nearly ten years later, “Estate Sale Sign” is John Darnielle at his most immediately ingratiating. It might take a devotee to relish the way he rushes through “stock shots, stupid stock shots”, but anyone listening can hear the ecstasy and terror in “I don’t wanna know!” It’s a song about waiting for the point of no return to finally arrive. And then, like the man says, every martyr in this jungle is gonna get his wish. — Ian Mathers

17. Wilco – “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”

“This is how I’ll tell it,” warns Jeff Tweedy in the first and last stanza of Wilco’s “One Sunday Morning”. As the narrator buries his father, the song slowly unties the knot of their troubled relationship. Tweedy’s 12-minute ballad transcends the normal boundaries of pop and achieves an almost hallucinatory beauty. “Ring them cold for my father / frozen underground / Jesus I wouldn’t bother / he belongs to me now.” A father’s disapproval coupled with a son’s furious guilt reveals a terrible truth: that men bury their fathers with both anguish and relief. — John Grassi

16. tUnE-yArDs – “Gangsta”

This year, multi-instrumentalist and all-around musical ninja Merrill Garbus secured the proper recording budget to turn her scratchy, genre-hopping bedroom project into a formidable, full-blooded band. The freewheeling w h o k i l l touches on just about every genre you can name (and a few more that you can’t) yet it’s the feral “Gangsta” that offers the perfect distillation of Garbus’ gonzo sound. Part social commentary, part club banger, “Gangsta” is framed by Garbus’ looped police siren wails (harmonizing wails, no less), Nate Brenner’s spindly, hip-hop bass line, and some skronky horns.

Never one to take a straight path from point A to point B, Garbus keeps us on the edge every step of the way — inserting uncomfortable silences, messing with time signatures, cutting and pasting random snatches of dialogue. We’re never quite sure whether we’re supposed to shake our asses or run for cover. Occasionally, the music drops out completely and Garbus, holding a single drumstick high above her head, defiantly shouts “Bang bang oui! / Never move to my hood / ‘Cause danger is crawling out the wood.” Heard. — Daniel Tebo