Music of 2011: Tracks 20-11

Since a collegiate winter break is accompanied by so many 4:15 p.m. sunsets and lack of productive work, I thought it’d be appropriate to include my top 20 tracks of the year in addition to my top 10 albums. This list is for tracks 20-11, look for 10-1 in the coming days.

#20.  “Lord Knows Best” – Dirty Beaches

Perhaps it makes sense that the creator of this overwhelmingly unique track is a man with an overwhelmingly unique life. Alex Zhang Hungtai was born in Taiwan, but spent a great deal of his childhood and adult life traveling Canada and the rest of Asia. Keeping that in mind, try to listen to this song and not feel like you’re in a saloon from the 1940’s American Midwest. Hungtai exceeds the 80’s nostalgia so popular in music today, and goes back almost half a century more for the source of his inspiration: a poorly recorded, droopy piano line repeats back and forth as Hungtai croons in his deep tenor, as if at any moment John Wayne will bust in with a pair of pistols.

#19.  “Get Some” – Lykke Li

Swedish star Lykke Li released the beautifully haunted pop album Wounded Rhymes early in the year, and the clear highlight is the up-tempo anthem “Get Some.” Heavy toms pound out the beat as Li teases, “Like a shotgun, I can’t be outdone. I’m your prostitute, you gon’ get some.” It’s a song that asserts her power by flaunting her erotic charm, all behind a classically catchy chorus that wraps up the track in a neat and perfectly dark bundle.

#18.  “Need You Now” – Cut Copy

Maybe it’s a testament to Cut Copy’s greatness that although their third album—released in February of this year—was the weakest in their discography, it still produced what was easily one of the best dance tracks of the year. The first song on Zonoscope crescendos quickly from the wavy keyboards that mark the first sounds out of the gate; Dan Whitford starts slow, much like the instrumentation, but by the four-minute mark shimmering guitars and synths explode and Whitford wails the chorus over and over again—just enough until he’s made it perfectly clear that a party has begun.

#17. “Believer” – John Maus

Although virtually all of John Maus’ We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves sounds unsettlingly similar to Ariel Pink’s Before Today of last year (it would make sense since they’ve worked together in the past), the best track on the so-so album is the definitively unique closer “Believer.” Maus’ vocals are heavily reverbed and are almost completely drowned out by the ground bass and dense keyboards, but everything swirls together to create a wistful maelstrom of sounds that’s perfectly evocative of the album’s dark and ghostly artwork.

#16. “Ice Cream” – Battles ft. Matias Aguayo

I always feel like it’s risky for a band to choose a song featuring a non-member to be the lead single off an album; if it ends up gaining popularity, it’ll be a disappointment to play live if that featured musician isn’t there to perform it with the band. Nevertheless, the almost exclusively instrumental Battles selected “Ice Cream” to be the single off of this year’s Gloss Drop. The hyper-excited keyboard riff created by Ian Williams fits in perfectly with the goofy, unintelligible singing of Aguayo and seamlessly encapsulates the fun and brightness that Battles have a built a reputation for over their career.

#15. “MindKilla” – Gang Gang Dance

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