Words by: Charlie Jones

The 52 best songs of 2011

You can take your Sistine Chapel and shove it: the pop song is the highest achievement of human civilisation, and this year has seen some wonderful refinements of the form. These are 52 songs that made up our year, one for each week, each a drop-your-jaw moment. Endless and instant, these are the jams we love when we hear them in shops and wish played out of every radio in the land. Pop is about that vital moment of impossible connection and totally Now-ness for the four minutes it plays, that “What the hell?” second when music shifts. These are our favourite examples, of varying genre and fame, which were released in 2011.

Pop culture has always existed in a state of fracture; though this year more than ever, for unspeakably obvious reasons. But still, some sweeping statements are possible. In many ways, this year has seen musicians work with and on memory, and previous musics. Our favourite song of the year, Beyonce’s 1+1 is a terrific example of this – it surveys the past of black music with imperial majesty, referencing more-than-explicitly Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World and Prince’s Purple Reign, re-imagining both as a sumptuous love-until-the-end-of-days ballad. And many others below are similarly cross-referencing, mis-translating pop tongues, from southern screwed rap to folk rock to gospel to Detroit techno to dubstep. The odd thing about referencial music, however, is not that it exists. Instead, what is surprising about the below list is the new shapes we have managed to pull the pop song into. If we are, as some fervently believe, reaching some state of terminal velocity, at least the tunes will be great.

The below is our list, in as exact an order of quality as we could manage. Which is to say, a pretty inexact order. More than any other musical object, the pop song is personal. So, instead of beating you around the head with verbiage for each choice, we would rather you click play, jump in and let the disagreements begin.

  1. 1+1 – Beyonce
  2. Touch – Holy Other [Tri Angle]
  3. Peso – A$AP Rocky [self-release]
  4. Measurements – James Blake [Atlas / A&M]
  5. Vanessa – Grimes [Hippos In Tanks]
  6. Replica – Oneohtrix Point Never [Software]
  7. Someone Like You – Adele [XL]
  8. Here’s Your Trance Now Dance – Omar S [FXHE]
  9. Otis – Kanye West & Jay Z [Def Jam]
  10. Hold OnSBTRKT & Sampha [Young Turks]
  11. Wedding Crasher – Terius Nash [self-released]
  12. Holoscene – Bon iver [4AD]
  13. Goddess Eyes – Julia Holter
  14. Glass Jar – Gang Gang Dance [4AD]
  15. White Rune – Iceage [Abeano / Escho]
  16. Comes In Waves – Psychologist [Not Even]
  17. Flash Back – Rustie [Warp]
  18. R E A L L O V E – Factory Floor [Optimo Music]
  19. On Battleship Hill – PJ Harvey
  20. The Noose Of Jah City – Zoo Kid [True Panther Sounds]
  21. Salt Lake Cuts – Kuedo
  22. I’m On One – Drake, Rick Ross & Lil Wayne
  23. Global Lunch – James Ferraro [Hippos In Tanks]
    James Ferraro – Global Lunch by Hippos In Tanks
  24. Super Bass – Nicki Minaj [Young Money]
  25. Space Is Only Noise If You Can See – Nicolas Jaar [Circus Company]
  26. Speed Of Rain – Laurel Halo [Hippos In Tanks]
    Laurel Halo: “Speed of Rain” by alteredzones
  27. Endless Blue – The Horrors [XL]
  28. Far Nearer – Jamie xx [NMBRS]
  29. Plaything – Wild Beasts [Domino]
  30. Motivation – Clams Casino [self-release]
  31. 212 – Azealia Banks [self-release]
  32. Wine – Blondes [RVNG]
  33. Constant Index (Actress Violet remix) – Laurel Halo
  34. We Bros – Wu Lyf [LYF Recordings]
  35. Thunder Bay – Hudson Mohawke [Warp]
  36. Swear – Inc. [4AD]
  37. The Party And The After Party – The Weeknd [self-release]
  38. Stranger – Jhene Aiko [self-release]
  39. Marvin’s Room – Drake [Young Money]
  40. Shake It Out – Florence And The Machine [Island]
  41. Novacaine – Frank Ocean
  42. Romantic StreamsSLEEPOVER [Hippos In Tanks]
  43. Surface – Pure X [Acephale]
  44. BTSTU – Jai Paul [XL]
  45. Runner Ups – Kurt Vile [Matador]
  46. Phoenix – Hyetal [Black Acre]
  47. Joey Rogers – Ford & Lopatin [Software]
  48. Another Girl – Jacques Greene [LuckyMe]
  49. Just A Little PollutionFRKWYS 7 Ensemble [RVNG]
    Borden, Ferraro, Godin, Halo & Lopatin – Just A Little Pollution (Notro) by RVNG Intl.
  50. Break4love – Hype Williams [Hippos In Tanks]
  51. Alothea – Zomby [4AD]
  52. Vomit – Girls [True Panther Sounds / Turnstile]
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