Music made an epic leap in 2011, as far as how insanely expanded the playing field got when major and independent artists filled up the weekly slots with new releases. It seemed like every player had something to add, even if they had just released material in the previous year. Emerging from all of that material came select tracks that got our attention through repeat plays on the radio and numerous hits on the internet, and a few of these so-called “singles” remained in our minds all the way through the year.
Here is a very eclectic set of the Top Twenty Singles of 2011, in alphabetical order. (Note: All tracks mentioned below were released as official singles on or after January 1, 2011.)
Battles – “Ice Cream (feat. Matias Aguayo)”
This is a great track to kick off the list! Battles’ comeback this year with the release of Gloss Drop was sans their star vocalist, but the group still made a splash with “Ice Cream” featuring the playful Matias Aguayo. The track shows that Battles can actually improve and flaunt their stuff even after a potential loss.
Scoop up the video: “Ice Cream (feat. Matias Aguayo)”
Beastie Boys – “Make Some Noise”
Though Battles made a reluctant comeback, perhaps the greatest “comeback” of the year was the Beastie Boys with Hot Sauce Party Committee Part Two. The lead-off single from the album, “Make Some Noise,” is just as fantastically “intergalactic” as any of their hip-hop releases, and it’s bound to get any party started.
Check check check it out: “Make Some Noise”
The Black Keys – “Lonely Boy”
A mere year after the release of the smash hit that was Brothers, The Black Keys have already made their return known with the vigorous El Camino. The lead-off single, “Lonely Boy,” is tight, bombastic fun that continues their current stride.
Be “lonely” and take a listen: “Lonely Boy”
Bon Iver – “Holocene”
Bon Iver delivered his fantastic follow-up to For Emma, Forever Ago with a self-titled trip into beauty. Perhaps the most picturesque track from the album, “Holocene” stands tall as a sweeping and natural experience that impresses on all counts.
Discover the beauty for yourself: “Holocene”
Cass McCombs – “County Line”
Released just in time for those hot summer nights staring at the clear skies, “County Line” is a sweet and slow epic from Mr. McCombs. It manages to consistently keep the gentle beat that not only relaxes the mind, but eases the soul into a state of reflection.
Sit back and take a listen: “County Line”
Coldplay – “Paradise”
One of the world’s biggest bands returned with a smash, as Coldplay released Mylo Xyloto this fall to much fanfare. “Paradise” is exactly the kind of single the band should release: its anthemic, stadium-size glimmer and shine make this simply irresistible track one of 2011′s best.
Dream and listen to it: “Paradise”
Fitz and The Tantrums – “Moneygrabber”
One of our favorite acts from last year pulled out “Moneygrabber” from their 2010 self-titled album just in time to make it onto this year’s list. This band reinvigorates the sounds of the “oldies” in the classiest way possible, and they give us reason to clap our hands and shout – for old time’s sake.
Make your move by listening to the track: “Moneygrabber”
Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues”
Seattle’s indie folk wunderkinds Fleet Foxes released their sophomore effort, Helplessness Blues, this year, and they can’t seem to stop moving forward with the genre. The title track is a harmonious, guitar-centric master craft in the vein of the greatest folk rockers around, with absolutely suitable 2011-minded lyricism.
Sing along to the tune: “Helplessness Blues”
Foo Fighters – “Rope”
Here’s the thing about Foo Fighters: they’re the most consistent big-stage rock act of the last two decades, and Wasting Light didn’t change our minds. With “Rope,” however, they hearken back to more heavier material from their early years, and it’s an absolute blast.
Crank it up to 11 and listen: “Rope”
Future Islands – “Before the Bridge”
Synthpop made a return to the musical stage this year with the release of Future Islands’ On The Water. Instead of simply retreading the sound, the album – and specifically “Before the Bridge” – provides us with a fresh hook that we can give more than a second glance to.
Bob your head to this one: “Before the Bridge”
James Blake – “The Wilhelm Scream”
James Blake’s sinister dubstep took over the first quarter of 2011 with his self-titled debut LP. “The Wilhelm Scream” is one of the few standout tracks that plays it cool and finds its footing to stick with its delicious beats and, of course, Mr. Blake’s reverb.
Enjoy the sounds and listen: “The Wilhelm Scream”
Jay-Z & Kanye West – “Otis (feat. Otis Redding)”
Otis Redding is undeniably one of the icons of soul music, but when matched with the antics of Jay-Z and Kanye West, two of the icons of hip hop? Well, you get “Otis,” a catchy and rather unconventional track featuring a suave battle of the MCs.
Watch the Throne here: “Otis (feat. Otis Redding)”
M83 – “Midnight City”
French shoegazer Anthony Gonzalez churned out a whopping double-album this year, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and the single “Midnight City” was its main feature. Rightly so, the track is a neon-lit dancer that could easily be heard when driving around through the city.
Prepare for this one: “Midnight City”
PJ Harvey – “The Words That Maketh Murder”
PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake was somewhat short-sighted this year, but luckily “The Words That Maketh Murder” was made to be a hit single. With Harvey’s strong vocal prowess and simple but inspired chord progression, “The Words That Maketh Murder” makes itself important and is very self-aware of it.
Make note of this track: “The Words That Maketh Murder”
The Roots – “Make My (feat. Big K.R.I.T. & Dice Raw)”
This is a rather late addition to the list, having come out close to December of this year, but hip-hip/neo soul band The Roots have once again proven themselves with “Make My.” It’s uniquely soulful, as it should be, but it’s also unlike anything The Roots have ever put out, even while still sounding like a Roots’ record.
Settle with the groove: “Make My (feat. Big K.R.I.T. & Dice Raw)”
St. Vincent – “Surgeon”
Strange Mercy from Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, is strange enough, but wait until you get to “Surgeon.” This wonderfully raging track sounds sweet for its first half, and then turns into another kind of animal in its last, evoking some “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” influences. You won’t know what to make of it when it’s over.
Take the trip: “Surgeon”
tUnE-yArDs – “Bizness”
The second album from New Englander Merrill Garbus, titled w h o k i l l, gave 2011 quite a startle with its unexpected energy and vibrancy. “Bizness” is perhaps its most accessible track, featuring a gleeful Garbus who clearly isn’t afraid of what’s ahead of her.
It’s “Bizness” time: “Bizness”
TV On The Radio – “Will Do”
From the experimental rockers that brought us Nine Types of Light in mid-April, “Will Do” earns respect as a tried-and-true love song. With the track’s downbeat groove and satisfying lyrical intimacy, TV On The Radio has not only brought us one of the best songs in their catalog, but also the most sensual song of 2011.
Share the love and listen here: “Will Do”
Tyler, The Creator – “Yonkers”
MTV’s “Best New Artist” Tyler, The Creator was at his most vulnerable on his album Goblin, but perhaps he was strongest on his hit single “Yonkers.” With some intriguing construction, brilliant rap verses, and addictive beat, “Yonkers” is – with all its vileness – one of the most memorable tracks of the year.
Seek some therapy and listen: “Yonkers”
Wild Beasts – “Bed of Nails”
Third time was the charm for the British indie band who released Smother this year. Amongst the album highlights, “Bed of Nails” is a fantastically honest record that hints at the underlying potential this band has to hit the top of the charts in the future.
Get “wild” for this track: “Bed of Nails”
Death Grips – “Guillotine”
Last but not least, I’d like to mention Death Grips. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what Death Grips or their single “Guillotine” is. It’s the kind of rap that bleeds so much tinkering and experimenting that it may possibly be ahead of its time. Either way, it’s extreme, it’s invasive, and it’s some kind of awesome.
Head into the unknown: “Guillotine”
And that’s that! These tracks were what made us get up in the morning and stay up all night during a year of comebacks, throwbacks, and debuts. 2012 looks like it’s going to be another fantastic year of music with a new set of stand-out singles waiting to be heard, so let’s hope for some more magic!