Jake Robinson’s 50 Best Songs of 2011 (10 – 1)

Posted on January 1, 2012

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You’re Dripping Egg’s music writer Jake Robinson likes music. He also likes making lists. Lucky for his readers, he’s combined both these talents to count down his top 50 songs of 2011, in three instalments, in time for 2012.

Here it is, Jake’s top 10 ‘Best Songs of 2011’, for your listening pleasure. Happy New Year, folks!

10 Destroyer – ‘Chinatown’

‘Chinatown’ positively shimmers. The simple arpeggiated guitar lines, the wah-wah effects, the spiralling saxophones, the beautiful guy/girl vocal melodies, the watery synth lines cascading around the ears. Destroyer’s post-prog approach incorporates soft rock songs with jazz elements in a swirling production.

9 M83 – ‘Midnight City’

This song brilliantly encapsulates the night out in the city. The dizzying synth lines layered on top of each other, the hazy evocations of waiting for cars, drinking in dark lounges and dazzling neon signs; “The city is my church, It wraps me in the sparkling twilight”. M83’s Anthony Gonzalez has created a synth-rock dance song that avoids the excesses and simple beat manufacturing of other producers and instead develops ‘Midnight City’ with layers and depth.

8 The Black Keys – ‘Lonely Boy’

Blues duo the Black Keys announced their album El Camino with their best single to date. A rancous swampy beast that is made for festival dancing and shouting. The impact of Gnarls Barkley’s Dangermouse as producer for the past couple of albums has elevated the Black Keys to genuine stars, made for a commercial near you.

Ed. Note: I’ve changed my mind – this is the best thing I’ve seen. Ever. 

7 Radiohead – ‘Lotus Flower’

The song that best straddled the two halves of The King of Limbs’, it managed to meld the dense rhythms of the first half with the melodic songs of the second. The music video featuring Thom Yorke’s dancing became an internet sensation, with mashups of Yorke dancing to Beyonce and gunning down Justin Beiber.

6 Bon Iver – ‘Calgary’

Justin Vernon describes the songs from the second, eponymous Bon Iver album as soundscapes evoking the places they are named after. ‘Calgary’ displays Vernon’s obscure, cryptic lyrics that are open for interpretation. ‘Calgary’ evokes a small boat facing the fury of an approaching storm.

5 Girls – ‘Vomit’

Girls front man Christopher Owens has a real talent for slow epic builders. ‘Hellhole Ratrace’ was the centrepiece of their first album while ‘Carolina’ was a highlight of the subsequent Broken Dreams Club. At the heart of their 2011 album Father, Son, Holy Ghost (and the lead single) was ‘Vomit’. The song recalls the travails of a man wandering through empty nights alone looking for his love. Although the song builds ominously on throughout the first half on this sad, lonely odyssey, the final coda dramatically shifts to the positive. The chords shift from minor to major and the gospel choir kicks in. And when Owens beckons love to come into his heart it is no longer melancholic longing but hopeful.

4 The Vaccines – ‘Nørgaard’

One day the lead singer and songwriter for the Vaccines, Justin Young, decided that he had grown sick of writing about the women in his life and the distress they caused him. So instead he worte one about a girl his mate had hooked up with. This goofy song, chanting out the eponymous Danish model Amannda Nørgaard’s name, packs a whole lot into 98 seconds, recalling the thrashy fun of early punk bands like the Ramones and the Clash.

And yes, that is her in the video clip.

3 Arctic Monkeys – ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’

Arctic Monkeys’s 50’s -60’s inspired return was distilled perfectly into this beautiful 3 minute pop song. They first gained immense popularity through a string of brilliant pop singles, yet frontman Alex Turner appeared determined to push the boundaries of the form, constantly experimenting with structures and obscure lyrical bents.

Like so many other Turner songs ‘Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’ is about the moments of tension and misunderstandings in relationships, the brief hesitant seconds behind interactions. He has the amazing ability to describe how, in these moments, women can wrap themselves around the deep recesses of a man’s mind and utterly posses them with the sharpest flick of the tongues or devilled gaze, where your just left to “sing another fucking shalalala”.

2 Gotye ft. Kimbra – ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’

The highest selling single in Australia of 2011, it has sold half a million copies and spent eight weeks at no. #1. Anyone who had a radio this year would have found this song absolutely unavoidable as it was played seemingly every hour. Through all this over-exposure it may be hard to remember what made this song so utterly charming in the first place. The charming glockenspiel opening, the shuffling bass line, Wally de Bacher’s hushed soulful delivery. It also has the undeniably brilliant, hurtful chorus and Kimbra’s cameo.

The song is undoubtedly one of the greatest pop songs to come out of Australia in many, many years  and deserves all the plaudits it receives as it continues to spread its domination throughout the music world.

1 James Blake – ‘The Wilhelm Scream’

As James Blake broke across the music blogosphere in 2010, through a series of EP releases, his music began to trend away from the bass-and-dubstep roots towards a hybrid singer-songwriter form. His cover of Feist’s ‘Limit to Your Love’ showcased both his unconventional production techniques and revealed his soulful vocal style.

For ‘The Wilhelm Scream’, Blake appropriated the melody from one of his father’s songs (James Litherland’s ‘Where to Turn’). The name is derived from a film sound editor’s in-joke, a scream effect that has been used constantly for the past 60 years including in all Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.

The song itself is a beautifully restrained mix of simple beats and synths that graciously build on top of each other, one after the other, while the melody line is repeated with slight lyrical variations. The first time I heard this song I was driving around and when I heard the bridge kick in I thought the bottom of my car was about to fall away beneath me. And as Blake’s voice echoed around I could hear him calling, “might as well fall in”. One of the few truly breathtaking moments in popular music this past year.

Jake Robinson is You’re Dripping Egg’s highly prolific music staff writer. For the rest of his ’50 Best’ list, have a look at part 1: 50 – 31, and part 2: 30 – 11.

What do you think of Jake’s delicate protestations concerning the music of 2011? Do you agree with James Blake’s no. 1 position? Are you sick of ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ yet, or does that charming glock still get you every time? Leave your comments below:

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Posted in: Music