Last week, when I listed the Best Albums of 2011 (So Far), I expected to receive a fair amount of acrimony (it's what happens when you eschew Britney Spears in favor of F---ed Up's David Comes to Life), and, of course, I did.
But mixed in with all the hate were a few requests for me to do a similar list of my favorite songs too. So, not wanting to disappoint my fans (Hi, Mom!), I've done just that: Here are my picks for the Best Songs of 2011 (So Far), 20 tracks that have defined the first half of the year for me. Not all of them were actually released in 2011, but all of them have managed to make an impact in some way, be it on the charts, the blogs or in the ever-expanding "weird song" quadrant of my mind.
I'm sure you'll take issue with some of my selections, so if there's a song I've missed, let me know about it in the comments below. And, yes, just to head you off at the pass, Britney made the list this time around. So, without further ado, here's my top 20:
20. My Morning Jacket, "Holdin' on to Black Metal": Or, as you probably know it, "the song that includes portions of Kwan Jai and Kwan Jit Sriprajan's 'E-Saew Tam Punha Huajai.' " Delightfully oddball sorta-funk/ Siamese soul from Louisville, Kentucky.
19. Beastie Boys, "Make Some Noise": Vocal nods to their License to Ill party phase. Rattling boom-bap from their Check Your Head days. Cowbell break courtesy of Paul's Boutique. Welcome back. To the future.
18. Peter Bjorn and John, "Second Chance": Airtight Swedes ditch the whistling and plow headlong into rollicking, retro-leaning rock. The chorus may not be better than "Young Folks," but, hey, there's a guitar solo!
17. Cage the Elephant, "Around My Head": Hey, you guys like the Pixies? Cool, I do too! Maybe we can hang out sometime?
16. Against Me!, "Russian Spies": Searing, surging punk from Gainesville, Florida, lifers Against Me!, it proves that their time on Sire Records didn't soften them one bit. It only made them more resolute. And, strangely, sadder too.
15. Black Lips, "Modern Art": Without question, the best song you'll hear all year about taking drugs and looking at art. Oh, like you haven't tried it.
14. Lil Wayne (featuring Cory Gunz), "6 Foot 7 Foot": I can't even begin to comprehend the ongoing drama between Wayne and producer Bangladesh, but there's no denying the fact that both men are better off together. Knotty and slightly seizure-inducing, like "A Milli" times, well, a million.
13. YACHT, "Dystopia (The Earth Is on Fire)": Every day the sky gets lower (lowerlowerlower!). And every day the flames get higher (higherhigherhigher!). So, with apologies to Rock Master Scott and the Dynamic Three, the disco duo just decide to let the mother----er burn.
12. Chris Brown, "Beautiful People": Regardless of what you may think of Breezy, you probably cannot deny the sublimely subtle genius of this track. Then again, maybe you can. And, y'know, your loss.
11. Washed Out, "Eyes Be Closed": Massively ebbing and echoing bed-tronica (don't call it "chillwave") from some dude in Perry, Georgia. Bonus: Sounds nothing like Perry, Georgia.
10. Beyoncé, "Run the World (Girls)": I am an unabashed fan of "crazy" Beyoncé (you know, the one who shows up on tracks like "Ring the Alarm," "Get Me Bodied" and, of course, "Single Ladies"), so there's no way I could overlook "Girls," the single craziest moment on her decidedly straightforward 4 album. From the Major Lazer sample to the Warrior Princess video to the part where she growls "Houston, Texas, babay," it may have confounded some of her fans, but to me, it was psychotic pop perfection.
9. Bright Eyes, "Ladder Song": For as much noise as Conor Oberst is capable of making, it's the quieter moments where his rickety, ramshackle genius really shines through. And "Ladder Song" — a heartbreakingly raw tribute to a friend who committed suicide — is among his quietest. And his best. Backed by little more than a piano and a handful of otherworldly noises, Oberst plumbs the depths of despair, his voice reedy, wavering, but pure and, when he reaches bottom, discovers there are small beauties that make life worth living. It's too bad, he ultimately laments, that his friend didn't discover them too. You won't hear a more achingly beautiful song this year, I promise.
8. Lykke Li, "Get Some": Bewitching, otherworldly single from Li's Wounded Rhymes album, it would be sexy even if she wasn't calling herself your prostitute. The drums thump, the bass vibrates and the guitar stings — and then Li pushes the whole thing over the top with her smoldering, sumptuous vocals. The kind of song that requires a cigarette and a cold shower after repeat listens.
7. Foster the People, "Pumped Up Kicks": The year's catchiest rock tune was actually last year's catchiest too; it just took people a while to catch on. Hazy, loping and scratchy like a mohair sweater, it recalls a headier era, when bands wrote ultra-hooky singles about ultra-dark subject matter (Eels' "Novocaine for the Soul," the Smashing Pumpkins "Today," etc.) and no one seemed to care. Also known as the 1990s.
6. Kreayshawn, "Gucci Gucci": Either the smartest song of 2011 or the dumbest, the beauty of "Gucci Gucci" — and Bay Area "Based Goddess" Kreayshawn, for that matter — lies in the fact that it's probably both, but it doesn't care one bit. Folks can kvetch about sticky subjects like "authenticity," but I prefer to just listen to the music: the goofy horror-movie synth squiggle, the dollops of low-end whomp, the part where Kreay claims to have swag coming out her ovaries — it's all good. Even if it's not.
5. Nicola Roberts, "Beat of My Drum": Sublimely saccharine single from erstwhile Girls Aloud member that mashes together every notable pop moment from recent history, yet somehow manages to be better than the sum of its parts. Dancehall rhythms? Check. Drum breaks? Yep. Electro-vocal tics? And how. It's all courtesy of producers Diplo and Dimitri Tikovoi, though the real power lies in the supercharged sing-a-long chorus — arguably the year's best — where the whole thing comes together into a head-spinning rush and Roberts positively blossoms. She should go solo more often.
4. Katy Perry (featuring Kanye West), "ET": The California Gurl turns space-pop princess, with glorious results. "ET" bloops and bleeps like a satellite in eternal, icy orbit (or a malfunctioning digital watch), and the chorus burns like Spacelab descending through the atmosphere. Also, it's about sex. Sure, 'Ye's verses may be phoned in — he'll probe you if you'll let him — but even they can't dim the wattage of this brightly shining star. Appropriately, it's become a galactic hit, though one can't help but wonder what would've happened if Three 6 Mafia had gotten their hands on it first.
3. Britney Spears, "Till the World Ends": The final stage of grief is acceptance, after all.
2. Lady Gaga, "Heavy Metal Lover": It's buried toward the back of Born This Way, an odd choice considering it's far and away the best song on the album (even better than "The Edge of Glory.") A masterful mix of "Transformers"-sized techno whomp and supple, slipstream synthesizers, it pulses and twitches, expands and contracts and, quiet as it's kept, is probably the best example of what we all hoped BTW would be. As an added bonus, "I want your whiskey mouth/ All over my blond south" may very well be the line of the year too.
1. Adele, "Rolling in the Deep": Unquestionably the song of 2011, a crackling, breathy thing that roils along on a stubby guitar line and some primal pounding, then positively roars to life the second the chorus hits. There's little else at play here, but when you're building with blocks like Rick Rubin's raw production and Adele's prodigious pipes (and the powerful range of emotions they conjure up), they sky really is the limit. The fact that it's a crossover smash (true story, this weekend I heard it 10 times on three different radio stations) is merely icing on top of the cake at this point, not to mention a blow against the creeping, Auto-Tuned insurgency that threatens our nation's airwaves. Sometimes all it takes is one deceptively, devastatingly simple song to turn the tide.
What did we miss? Share your picks in the comments below!