25 singles for 2011

Also published at NV.

Inspired by Al Shipley's annual 50 singles list, the rules were:

  • Has to be on an album released in '11 [Otherwise 'Ass on the Floor' would have made an appearance]
  • Has to have a video ['Hope She Cheats On You' doesn't for some stupid reason, and it stays]

1. Wild Flag – Romance – I wanted to love Wild Flag. They made it easy. It’s not Sleater-Kinney 2.0, it’s a thumping, organ-riddled system-tester that’s even more fun than the video, somehow. It sounds like unity, from the the odd power-button beginning to the clapping breakdown to the calando ending. Great pop song, team effort – though Janet Weiss on the drums gets MVP awards.

Wild Flag

2. J. Cole - Work Out – I’m actually partial to the video because it quotes Paula Abdul’s ‘Straight Up’ in the opening bars and that lack of pretense is why I like Cole more than Drake and his pocketful of eyebrow combs. This flopped but didn’t deserve to; it’s a wonderful talkbox-featuring light summer jam that I’ll be breaking out every BBQ until the end of time.

3. Marsha Ambrosius - Hope She Cheats On You – Marsha always had a way with love songs, but since Floetry stopped she’s turned herself into a whole identity – and here she indulges the petty, vengeful side that we all feel when we see an ex with someone new.

4. SBTRKT - Wildfire - The most entrancing first twelve bars of the year lull you in, then siren Yukimi Nagano tags out for something that sounds like an actual siren on codeine, then the chorus drops. And it somehow gets better from there.

5. Black Keys - Lonely Boy – Danger Mouse cleans up the living room; the Keys stretch out on the couch, flip over the Ottoman, and jam some pop in their blues-rock.

6. Mayer Hawthorne - A Long Time – Detroit’s not dead. Not as long as people love it like Mayer do. Somehow, he snuck a history lesson into the most faithful ‘70’s soul imitation since the 80’s.

7. Jill Scott ft. Paul Wall - So Gone [What My Mind Says] – It’s great to hear Jill pour out her ‘can-I-resist’ conflict  into a grooving crucible – and then Paul Wall, rap’s id, shows up to tip the scales; #1 on the get-the-draws tape list.

8. Robyn - Call Your Girlfriend – Robyn’s fembot pop is far preferable to Gaga's fleshy Madonna tributes, and has presence to spare; this assertive other-woman jam isn’t about the other woman at all.

9. Pistol Annies - Hell On Heels - All roads lead to Dolly in top 40 country, but this is more than tribute, it's mythology, a supergroup slow-burn by demon-bound ladies who are up front about what they want - your wallet, your land, and your heart. By the time they wind down a capella, it feels like you might not mind.

10. My Morning Jacket - Holdin On to Black Metal – Sounds like it could have come from any time. Jim James falsettos his way through a copse of horns, and by the time he meets up with a children’s choir at the chorus, you’re sold.

11. Fun. - We Are Young ft. Janelle Monae – The only song on the list I might hate in a month, but the obviousness of the anthem-gunning and reediness of the singer’s voice is obscured by how triumphant it is – big assist to Janelle’s arrival after the second chorus. Highlight reel music, best crescendo of the year. For now.

12. CJ Hilton - So Fresh ft. Nas - CJ may never get an album, but his voice will keep Macgyvering interpolations of Marvin and the Four Tops so they somehow sound organic next to the trunk-wobbling Rhodes chorus; Nas shows up, addresses his divorce, closes the curtains, lets Hilton smooth it out.

13. Adele - Someone Like You - Every bit the power ballad her voice deserves - will never leave radio, just transition from today's hits station to yesterday's.

14. Das Racist - Michael Jackson – The promise meets the premise; after making a bunch of novelty/bland tracks, critical darlings make an unexpected banger as entertaining and kind-of discomforting as their stage show.

15. Oh Land – Rainbow – I adore Oh Land, and this echoing marimba-sprinkled love song was my favorite track on her astonishing debut album. Also, my ringtone for my partner.

16. Big Sean - Marvin Gaye & Chardonnay – Big Sean was better on mixtapes, maybe because we’re conditioned to accept who’s-the-man-this-guy posturing in that lane – but the bright spots on Finally Famous really shined and here, Sean and ‘Ye shirk the for-the-ladies responsibility, point at themselves and just rap about getting laid over a beat so unabashed that a simulated bed-creaking on the verses makes perfect sense by the end.

17. Jackie Chain ft. Bun B and Big K.R.I.T. - Parked Outside – I love that Jackie Chain exists. The long-haired half-Asian rapper from Huntsville, AL has a voice built for my favorite beat of the year, somewhere between Pimp C’s drawl and Big Gipp’s slurring. Bun B shows up. You can’t play this and drive over 40; it’s cruising music.

18. Foster The People - Pumped Up Kicks – Just an earworm of a song about a kid killing people that hits all the right frequencies.

19. Beyonce – Countdown – I can’t stand Beyonce. But the lab experiment’s a success – The-Dream is still a champion lyricist, the BoyzIIMen sample is perfect, the drumline from the best Destiny’s Child single ever keeps the whole thing kickin’, and even Bey’s rap verse kinda goes.

20. Rye Rye ft. Robyn - Never Will Be Mine – Rye Rye’s Bawlmer-tinged voice has a tolerance issue; this airy breakup review solves it by relegating her to chant duty on Robyn’s lovely chorus and halving a verse.

21. James Blake - Limit To Your Love – Every bit the talent-show opportunity ‘Someone Like You’ is, but with a helicopter-landing bass texture and James showing off the Cockneyiest pipes we’ve heard in forever.

22. CREEP ft. Nina Sky – You – The intertwined voices of twin duo Nina Sky are just instruments in the spacey arrangement here, but they’re really good instruments and it’s a really good arrangement.

23. Astronautalis ft. Tegan Quin – Contrails – A wordy indie rapper stuffs words in a suitcase about a doomed relationship – Tegan sounds like Tegan, the whole track vibratos – it’s a hit.

24. Janedear Girls - Shotgun Girl – John Rich wins. There’s a certain submission to patriarchy in the role the Girls describe here – what, a girl can’t drive? – but the hook, harmony, and fiddlework are undeniable.

25. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Wings – Kind of a nod to the enormity of Macklemore – an unsigned rapper who covered the Seattle Times, played Key Arena, and Kickstartered this Nike-aping video – that this doesn’t feel completely forced. A nod to Ryan Lewis that the organ- and trumpet-fueled track with a guy preaching about consumerism sounds this accessible – and dope.