As is a tradition here for the first week of January on Bolster Your Holster we’re releasing some lists of our favourite stuff of 2011. Below are my 50 favourite songs of 2011, most of them have comments, but some are still coming. Thanks for reading and let us know what your favourite songs of the year were!
50. Wiz Khalifa – Black and Yellow
Black and yellow black and yellow black and yellow. The single came out last year, but the album in February so you can’t stop me from starting off the list with this. Wiz’s album was 5 or 6 songs too long to make it a consistent affair, but it had its fair share of great tracks with this Top 40 single being the catchiest.
49. Rainbow Arabia – Without You
I first thought of this band as a jungle version of The Knife. It feels more upbeat and a lot less creepy. This was their first and most popular single from their debut album.
48. Wiley – Numbers in Action
A first of a few songs on this list that Shaun introduced to me from his various monthly playlists. Wiley is an established British grime MC who is basically unknown in North America. Though his new stuff is not nearly as “grimey” as his previous work, I like it more.
47. Kendrick Lamar – HiiPoWeR
Kendrick once said that 2Pac visited him in a dream encouraging him to keep rapping and keeping the spirit of 2Pac alive. Oddly I don’t see any similarities between the two since he ripped off Kanye West with this song.
46. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Tornado ’87
A sentimental favourite due to the tragedy hitting their and my hometown back in the 80s. It’s a love song with deep macabre undertones if you know the story behind the song.
45. tUnE-yArDs – Powa
“Your power, inside, it rocks me like a lullaby” Merill Garbus uses vocal manipulations to create a whole cast of characters that fill her sophomore albums with stories from all sides. This track has a hip-hop slow jam feel while not feeling like that type of song at all.
44. Colin Stetson – Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes
Yay Canada! So Stetson is not technically Canadian, but he does live in Montreal (who doesn’t these days) and was nominated for the Polaris music prize. This is a cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s blues classic reinterpreted with fuzzy bass saxophone and the beautiful haunting vocals of My Brightest Diamond.
43. Braids – Glass Deers
These Calgarians, now Montrealers (of course), add a little alternative experimentation to the list with this eight minute slice of beauty. They’ve been compared to Animal Collective, but I find this track easier to digest than most things from that cast of characters.
42. Major Lazer – Original Don
I think the album is going to be huge when it drops in 2012, and the leadoff single really sets up the dance party that is going to happen very soon.
41. Coldplay – Paradise
40. My Morning Jacket – Victory Dance
This is how a jam band approaches re-writing Muse’s ‘Knights of Cydonia’ for an older, less theatrical audience. I think I stopped listening to this album after this song and it is the first one on the album.
39. Cut Copy – Need You Now
I liked the whole album, but had to pick one song to represent them on this list. ‘Need You Now’ starts off slow but bursts forth into a beautiful dance track, the perfect way to open one of the great dance albums of 2011.
38. Death Cab for Cutie – St. Peter’s Cathedral
Death Cab always blows me away with at least one amazing song from each album. I’m a fan of the slow burning heart-wrenching numbers from previous albums like ‘Tiny Vessels’, ‘Transatlanticism’ and ‘Summer Skin’. ‘St. Peter’s Cathedral’ isn’t as painful, but still hits where it hurts.
37. The War on Drugs – Come to the City
This is what happens when an American rock band rewrites U2’s ‘Bad’ for the 2000s. It sounds so much like it, yet still amazing. This song really came out of nowhere when I first listened to it and just made me want to pump my fist in the air.
36. Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie XX – NY is Killing Me
Starts off with a warning that something is going to explode, Scott-Heron exclaims New York is Killing Me and then comes the heavy bass. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It makes me feel like I need to discover everything Scott-Heron did in his lifetime. Another XX reference on the Bolster!
35. Radiohead – Lotus Flower
If you can get past the Thom Yorke dance you get Radiohead’s first and only single from The King of Limbs. Weird time signatures abound and just try to clap your hands to this song. There’s always dancing like Thom Yorke…
34. Frank Ocean – Lovecrimes
Do you hear the woman slowly getting annoyed in the background? She starts off laughing, but by the end of the song she demands respect. Lovecrime. The piano and drum beat really make the song, which is rare as Ocean’s vocals are usually the highlight of his work.
33. Theophilus London – Wine and Chocolates
First time hearing this I swore it was a TV on the Radio track. Later I found out it was recorded with TV on the Radio which explained a lot. And it was better than anything on TV on the Radio’s album that came out in 2011. I’m disappointed in them, but happy that Theophilus filled that void.
32. Noah and The Whale – Just Me Before We Met
Noah and The Whale ditched the sombre breakup songs for some good old americana on their third album. Another album where every song was excellent I decided to settle on this one because of the chorus. It’s a wonderful track that really livens me up.
31. Foster the People – Pumped Up Kicks
The biggest indie song of the year that was great before I saw them perform it on Saturday Night Live. Why can’t bands act as cool as they sound?
30. The Antlers – Putting the Dog to Sleep
“Prove to me I’m not going to die alone”, opens one of the most depressing songs of 2011. This almost takes me back to Antlers debut album Hospice with feelings of abandonment and despair. Using putting a dog to sleep as a metaphor for the end of a relationship, it is more a song about smartening up and believing in someone rather than throwing it away.
29. Lia Ices – Daphne
Lia teams up with Bon Iver on the best duet of 2011. It’s a magical folk tale of a tree and a girl, her lyrics are almost as bizarre as Bon Iver’s.
28. Raphael Saadiq – Heart Attack
Does anyone remember Tony! Toni! Toné!? This guy was in that band, but now he makes some sweet soul, funk and R&B. I love modern soul that sticks to its roots. Saadiq is at the top of his game here with a rock infused funk burner.
27. Alexander – Truth
Edward Sharpe is not the lead singer of the Magnetic Zeroes. Alex Ebert is. Alex Ebert released a solo album under the moniker Alexander and the highlight was this laid-back soul number featuring some mean whistling and powerful vocals.
26. The Weeknd – The Morning
Most of this list could have been songs from The Weeknd, as I don’t think I’ve ever heard modern R&B done as good as this before. ‘The Morning’ is best summed up with the lines: “House full of hoes that specialize in the hoeing’, Make that money rain as they takin off they clothes”. Sure the lyrics are raw, but isn’t that what makes it real?
25. Elbow – The Birds
I have a sweet tooth for album openers. First impressions are strong and when it comes to albums you gotta come out strong to keep me listening. With ‘The Birds’ I had high expectations since I loved Elbow’s last album and they didn’t disappoint. Check out Bolster’s review of Elbow to learn a bit more about this track and the rest of the album.
24. Jamie Woon – Street
Post-dubstep with smooth soulful vocals and a shadowy feel make this track something to be enjoyed after a late night out while it rains outside. I’m wishing you were here with me walking on a city street.
23. PJ Harvey – The Words That Maketh Murder
Everything that PJ does is gold and this is no exception. A scathing look at war sung in that beautiful voice of hers.
22. Burial – Street Halo
A big fan of what Burial has done here. Scratching, which sounds like rain falling the pavement. Deep heavy bass. A chugging house beat. Distorted female vocals. This is what I thought dubstep was supposed to sound like.
21. Timber Timbre – Too Old To Die Young
Haunted swamp folk, and this is their most up beat song possibly ever? It is the sounds of getting murdered in a 1950s flick combined with David Lynch and maybe even a bit of the Boreal forest in there as well.
20. The Rapture – How Deep is Your Love?
I don’t know whether I was disappointed that this wasn’t a cover of the Bee Gees song when it came out, but at this point I’m glad it reminds me of how good The Rapture were in the mid-2000s. Infectious dance song that is as good as anything they’ve ever released.
19. Lil’ Wayne – She Will (Featuring Drake)
Young Money! Most critics thought that LIl’ Wayne was running out of ideas on The Carter IV, I, on the other hand, enjoyed most of it as the beats were good and Wayne was doing what he does best. This track featuring Drake is a gloomy slice of angry hip-hop.
18. Yacht – I Walked Alone
17. Bjork – Crystalline (Omar Souleyman Remix)
Omar Souleyman should remix every Bjork track. I love the Middle Eastern vibe that flows throughout this song. The original is very minimal, but this makes it a track you’d hear at an Iranian wedding, something that Souleyman has sung at hundreds of times in his career. You want to get people dancing, put on this song!
16. The Head and The Heart – Rivers and Roads
A bonus track from the reissue of their album and a live favourite, ‘Rivers and Roads’ is longing at its finest. The finest long-distance song of the year, I know I listened to it many a night in 2011. The emotion in this song, especially when played live, makes it hit both the head and the heart.
15. Okkervil River – Mermaid
I wrote about this song earlier this year and commented that Okkervil River was back in from and writing kick-ass depressing music. ‘Mermaid’ was better than any song on their 2011 album I Am Very Far and still resonates as their best song since Black Sheep Boy.
14. M83 – Midnight City
13. The National – Exile Vilify
My favourite band released three new tracks this year. This was used as the theme to the video game Portal 2, which I have yet to play, but hear is outstanding. They’ve moved towards more piano driven ballads, but still write magic.
12. Lana Del Rey – Blue Jeans
Her album comes out in January, but this preview single really set the bar high. It’s a rip-off of Chris Issak’s ‘Wicked Game’ with Stevie Nicks and Tori Amos vocals. Highly addictive and suggestively erotic, it really gets under the skin.
11. Adele – Rolling in The Deep
I think you’ve heard this song before…
10. Big K.R.I.T. – Sookie Now
‘Sookie Now’ just soars in and takes over. This has to be played in clubs, has to be played at parties, it is just Southern hip-hop at its best.
9. James Blake – The Wilhelm Scream
I don’t know about my dreams anymore. What’s that thing they call post post dubstep? I think this guy invented it.
8. Ellie Goulding – Lights
Released as a single in 2011 from a 2010 album makes this an iffy selection, but it really is one of two great pop songs in my Top 10 that deserve recognition, even if they were released in 2010. ‘Lights’ is one of those songs that grabbed a hold of me ever since seeing her perform it on SNL. She just seemed to be putting everything into the song and that it really meant something to her. I admired that and feel it every time I listen.
7. The Weeknd – Wicked Games
6. Radiohead – Give Up The Ghost
A very minimal Radiohead song that plays out more like a Thom Yorke solo piece than a full band effort. We have sampled vocals, an acoustic guitar and Yorke’s lead in the front and way in the back is the rest of the band. It’s beautiful though, their best song since In Rainbows and something very Radiohead on a very un-Radiohead 2011 album.
5. Washed Out – You and I
I’ve never been a fan of chill wave, but Washed Out works both as a pick me up or a come down. ‘You and I’ makes me want to dance and cry at the same time, which usually means that it will be one of my favourite songs of the year. The female vocals that enter around the 3:30 part add just enough to change up the track and make it stick.
4. Florrie – Left Too Late
I’m breaking a big rule here by having a 2010 song up this high, but it was too good to not put on the list. Her Introduction EP was released in November 2010, but I didn’t hear this song until 2011 so I’m putting it here. Likely my most listened to track of 2011 this is the perfect pop song. The way it takes off when the guitar and synth come in, it’s just perfectly produced.
3. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Niggas in Paris
“we’re gonna skate to one song and one song only” Why the clips from Blades of Glory, i don’t know, but they work seamlessly with the track. The beat and production on this one is stellar and I would say the first two minutes are the best hip-hop you’re going to find this year.
2. Bon Iver – Holocene
This song is beautiful but it makes no sense. I don’t understand a word of this song and think he keeps saying “Shake and Bake and stick with her”, but it just is and that is what makes it so magnificent.
1. The Antlers – I Don’t Want Love
An oddly-titled song to have as my number one for anyone who may know me, this ended up as my number one song though I never really pictured it there before making this list. Once in a while a song comes along that doesn’t seem to have anything special about it, but over time it really takes a hold. I found this with The XX and The National before and with The Antlers I found it this year. ‘I Don’t Want Love’ was something I could listen anytime, though the lyrics aim at something fairly devastating, and love it.