11. Lil Wayne - Six Foot Seven
This song has the best one-liners of any rap song this year ("Woman of my dreams, I don't sleep so I can't find her," "Paper chaser, tell that paper, 'Look, I'm right behind you,'"). My favorite is "Real Gs move in silence like lasagna." Wayne doesn't tell many stories with his songs anymore, and that saddens me, but he is still the wittiest rapper working. Run all that over this frenetic, "Day-O" sampling beat (thanks to "A Milli" producer, Bangladesh!) and you have a song so joyous it had me dancing 12 months of the year.
12. The Weeknd - Wicked Games
For me, this song is "House of Balloons'" center. It sets up the themes, the sound. In some ways, it's the least risky -- "Glass Tables" is weirder and more innovative, sound-wise -- but I like simple when it's done well. All said and done, this was the song I returned to most often from The Weeknd. Abel Tesfaye's a belter, a hook-maker. And here, that all comes together perfectly.
13. Youth Lagoon - Afternoon
Much of Youth Lagoon's album is sad, a quiet unraveling and study of his anxiety. This song is bouncier, happier, the kind of song you want to listen to at sunset as you drive. The lyrics -- about a metaphorical demon -- are just as sad as the others, but what stays with you after hearing this one is the oh oh ohs, the beats that sound like whistles, at the song's end. And they are pretty dang joyous.
14. Fleet Foxes - The Shrine/An Argument
This is by far the weirdest song on the album, so for my first few listens, I skipped over it. When I did listen, I kept getting stuck at "Sunshine over me no matter what I do." For a line that seems so sunny, it sounds so sad. Eventually, I came to feel both meanings -- usually at once -- as I listened. Sunshine, when you don't want to feel it, can be painful ("In the morning waking up to terrible sunlight ... when you talk you hardly look in my eye"). But by the year's end, that line felt hopeful, if still urgent. I love the turns this song makes, and, as always, I love Fleet Foxes' harmonies.
15. The Head and the Heart - Lost in My Mind
This is just an old-fashioned, foot-stomping alt-country revival of a song. I love the harmonies. I love the beat. I love the lyrical concept (along with the line, "Put your dreams away for now"). On many late-night drive homes, I sang this song as loud as I could, my rallying cry of 2011.
16. Lana Del Rey - Video Games
Ryan and I liked this song long before we knew there was a video or controversy or snobbery about her. I think it's ridiculous that in 2011 people are surprised to find someone may have been manufactured. Her plastic surgery lips are her own business. Personally, I just like this song. It's haunting, dark and pretty and thoroughly modern in its imagery.
17. The Vaccines - Wetsuit
This album reminds me of the early days of Interpol. This song is my favorite, mostly because it sounds like being 28: "We all got old at breakneck speed. Slow it down, go easy on me."
18. Drake - Marvin's Room
In this thoughtful, somber song, Drake gives voice to the late, drunken call to an ex. For most rappers, this moment would be reduced to one line -- and it'd probably be a drunken text -- but Drake is unlike other rappers. He expands the moment into a meditation -- on lost love, on his own life failings, on what it means to need someone "to put this weight on." Somehow he also squeezes in gender and race relations.
19. tUnE-yArDs - Powa
Her voice is just so special. I feel like she is most in control of it on this song.
20. Lil Wayne - How to Love
This sounds unlike any other Weezy song. The lack of frills makes Wayne sound more genuine than he usually does. I don't love hearing auto tune, but it's just barely there. The song is so plaintive and straight-forward. On it, Lil Wayne raps over a slow bass line about a woman who has had a lot of moments but none that were real. This perspective is new for Wayne, too. He usually has some choicely misogynistic words for women. With his next singles, he was back to old business, but I'm grateful for this respite.
21. The Weeknd - Coming Down
Abel Tesfaye's voice sounds especially beautiful and urgent here. As with other Weeknd songs, this one starts slowly with Tesfaye's voice at a sultury almost-whisper. Then, at "Ihe party's finished and I want you to know," the song explodes with a desperate beauty. This album, and this song especially, is, sonically, the sexiest I heard all year.
22. Adele - Someone Like You
I've had to stop myself several times this year from sending a note to someone saying "For me, it isn't over." Who didn't get all choked up and nostalgic with lost love listening to this?
23. ROSTAM - Wood
This is so soothing and pretty.
24. Drake and Rihanna - Take Care
My favorite aspect about music in 2011 is the way musicians keep building on each other’s work. Crack-addled (yet still clear somehow) Gil Scott-Heron wrote “I’ll Take Care of U.” Then Jamie XX pushed it forward with his remix. And now Rihanna and Drake are spinning it still further forward with this track, a song about "dealing with a heart (you) didn't break," about dating someone whose past comes with them.
25. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - FFunny FFriends
Music blogs call this song krautrock, kaleidoscope and psychadelic. I don't have words for it, but the first time I heard it, I wanted to hear it again. And again. And again. I thought it was something old, maybe dubbed from a cassette tape in the midwest somewhere. But it's new and from Portland, and I love it.