Music  |  Lists

The 50 Best Songs of 2011

November 30, 2011  |  7:30am
Every day between now and New Year’s Eve, we’ll be looking back at the best music and pop culture of 2011. Today we look at the best songs.

10. Bon Iver – “Calgary”
“Calgary” starts with a lone synthesizer under Justin Vernon’s voice, and the track shows how great a careful, deliberate approach to songwriting can be. The progressions are hooky and clever, every added instrument has a purpose and Vernon’s imperfect falsetto is as charming as it gets.—Tyler Kane

9. Cults – “Go Outside”
Even though it was originally released in the dead of winter, “Go Outside” became the ultimate summer anthem when Cults dropped their self-titled debut in June. Manhattan-based duo Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin re-introduced us to the precision of noise pop, which the song perfectly exemplifies. There’s nothing downbeat about the track and it really does make us want to go outside and just experience everything life has to offer.—Adam Vitcavage

8. Wilco – “Art of Almost”
Over the past several years and handful of Wilco albums, some have admittedly questioned the Chicago sextet’s musical direction and fade into a relative sense of complacency. Jeff Tweedy disproves any such doubts, recapturing our attention at a moment’s notice. “Art of Almost,” their intricate seven-plus minute album opener, is standing proof that the generational rock group can seemingly do whatever it wants whenever it wants.—Max Blau

7. Tom Waits – “Bad As Me”
Tom Waits’ gravel-and-sandpaper voice has always evoked images of things that go bump in the night, and on his latest album’s title track, he uses it to perfectly craft an anthem for those all us sinners. “You’re the letter from Jesus on the bathroom wall, you’re mother superior in only a bra. You’re the same kind of bad as me,” he snarls, reminding us all we’re not as high and mighty as we like to think we are.—Bonnie Stiernberg

6. Generationals – “Ten-Twenty-Ten”
Writing catchy pop songs has always been The Generationals’ strong suite, but “Ten-Twenty-Ten” takes their craft to a whole other level. Their lead Actor-Caster single is a more focused cut, stripping back the over-the-top horns from their earlier albums. It makes all the difference as the New Orleans duo Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer have created one of the year’s best pop songs.—Max Blau

5. Phantogram – “Don’t Move”
Self-described street-beat, pysch-pop duo Phantogram’s “Don’t Move” is a beautiful and haunting piece of electronic trip-hop. Sarah Barthel’s airy, ethereal vocals swell over thick, fuzzy beats as she pleads with her subject, “Keep your body still / Keep your body still.” Addictive and hypnotic, to say the least.—Kyle Smith

4. tUnE-yArDs – “Powa”
There are, quite obviously, a number of different factors that influence our picks for song of the year, but if you’re looking for pure technical prowess—the kind of vocal feats of strength that make the hair on your arm stand up—look no further than the last 40 seconds or so of “Powa.” After tearing her way through most of the sultry track over a ukelele that sounds like a mean electric guitar, Merrill Garbus slips into a falsetto that would make Prince proud, capping it off with a high note that probably has Mariah Carey nervously lying awake at night.—Bonnie Stiernberg

3. Typhoon – “The Honest Truth”
Sometimes more really is better. Even with a dozen or so members, Typhoon made a song that isn’t overbearing on any level and the right amount of everything: horns, strings, drums and a chorus of gorgeous vocals. Kyle Morton has orchestrated a song on par with an Arcade Fire classic. It’s epic. It’s honest. It’s the truth.—Adam Vitcavage

2. M83. Midnight City”
The lead single off of M83’s monster double album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming sees Anthony Gonzalez at his spacey, dramatic best. “Midnight City” paints a vivid picture of neon-lit drives through dark cityscapes, capturing both the beauty and isolation of modern urban life.—Kyle Smith

1. Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues”
If there was one track this year made you question your place in the world, it was probably Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues.” Frontman Robin Pecknold’s near-paranoid lyrics ask the big questions. The singer even touches on the meaning behind creating music itself in the loaded five-minute track backed by the band’s breathtaking arrangement and harmonies.—Tyler Kane

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