Top 10 Singles of 2011

Top 10 Singles of 2011

Industry veterans and new faces on the scene made this an unforgettable year with these standout songs

Top 10 Singles of 2011

This year has seen the tragic loss of geniuses such as Gil Scott-Heron and Amy Winehouse, and an unprecedented number of indie gigs (the Drums, Vivian Girls, the Whitest Boy Alive). The year also saw the return of some of our favourites, including Radiohead, Florence and the Machine and M83, as well as a crop of exciting new artists such as James Blake and Lana Del Rey. Without more ado, and in no particular order, here are our Top 10 tracks that defined 2011.


Adele's return this year has been nothing short of momentous, and it's clear from the start when the slightly angry British diva delivers the track's opening line with such palpable liberation: ''There's a fire starting in my heart/Reaching a fever pitch and it's bringing me out the dark.'' Through skilled songwriting, she fosters and brews the tension before letting it all erupt in a falsetto ''We could have had it all/ Rolling in the deep,'' one of this year's most dramatic, deliciously angst-ridden hooks we've had the pleasure of wailing along to.


James Blake is a true experimenter, and on his most accessible number (apart from the cover of Feist's Limit to Your Love) The Wilhelm Scream, the British sound wunderkind effortlessly blends electronic with a slice of post-dubstep minimalism. The track runs on deafening negative space, embellished with odd noises _ a drop here, a bang there _ as Blake muses ''I don't know about my dreams/I don't know about my dreaming any more/All that I know is/I'm falling, falling, falling, falling/Might as well fall in.'' It's a fascinating experience to hear the soundscape unfold.


There seems to be two types of people in the world _ those who appreciate Lady Gaga and those who don't. And if there is one song that could possibly sway the haters, this is it. The Edge of Glory sees the pop diva at her least affected, singing about a simple act of falling in love: ''I'm on the edge of glory/And I'm hanging on a moment of truth/Out on the edge of glory/And I'm hanging on a moment with you.'' It's inspiring as it is insanely catchy, and when that '80s-inspired saxophone solo kicks in, there's just no turning back. Haters gonna hate, but like it or not, Born This Way is undeniably one of this year's best pop records.


Speaking of falling in love, here's another love-themed number by a match made in pop heaven _ R&B empress Rihanna and Scottish DJ Calvin Harris. Taken from her latest album Talk That Talk, We Found Love has Rihanna knee deep in the realm of banging house electro loops, provided by the brilliant Harris. Her vocals are uncharacteristically ethereal and affecting _ a whole different persona from the sassy chick on Rude Boy and What's My Name. Come on, it takes a genius to make a simple verse like ''We found love in a hopeless place'' oh so compelling.


After her lukewarm first single What the Water Gave Me, pop goddess Florence Welch gets back on her pedestal with Shake it Out, the second single from her second album Ceremonials. Opening with brooding organ, Welch muses ''Regrets collect like old friends/Here to relive your darkest moments/I can see no way, I can see no way/And all of the ghouls come out to play/And every demon wants his pound of flesh.'' Simple in its musical arrangement, Shake it Out brings out the best in Welch's powerful voice and allows it to overshadow the apparent absence of the usual theatrics found in the band's earlier offerings such as Rabbit Heart, Dog Days Are Over and Cosmic Love. Hands down a solid comeback from one of the most exciting artists out there.


After more than three years in absentia, French electronic producer Anthony Gonzales of M83 finally makes a welcome return (and seems to make up for lost time) with his 20-song double LP Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. The album's first single, Midnight City, starts with glimmering, pulverising synthesisers before engulfing itself entirely in live percussion. ''Waiting in a car, waiting for a ride in the dark,'' Gonzales murmurs, simultaneously giving way to an assemblage of cacophonous sound effects and roaring drums. And like a cherry on top, the song finishes with a goosebump-inducing saxophone solo _ a nod to the glorious '80s. Pleasantly haunting, Midnight City is truly a commendable feat.


American singer/songwriter Lizzy Grant emerges this year as the new indie ''It'' girl with a demure new persona, Lana Del Rey. The first single, Video Games, sees the ''gangsta Nancy Sinatra'', as she describes herself, pouting along to provocative lines like ''I'm in his favourite sun dress/Watching me get undressed/Take that body downtown.'' Musically, the track doesn't really give much away except for the ascending string and snare drum when Del Rey croons ''It's you, it's you, it's all for you/Everything I do/I tell you all the time.'' ''I heard that you like the bad girls, honey/Is that true?'' she coyly questions. Subservient, yet strangely defiant, Video Games is one of this year's most intriguing tunes.


On their highly anticipated eighth studio album, The King of Limbs, Thom Yorke and Co progress into a full-fledged electronic territory with Lotus Flower (which generated quite a bit of buzz earlier this year, thanks largely to the weird and wonderful video that accompanies it). ''I will shake myself into your pocket, invisible/Do what you want, do what you want,'' Yorke sings in the opening verse. Things get epic once the hook kicks in as he swiftly switches to his endearing falsetto ''Slowly we unfurl as lotus flowers/'Cause all I want is the moon upon a stick/Just to see what if, just to see what is.'' There's an underlying sense of urgency hanging in the air, which, when paired with the calming effect of Yorke's vocals, results in one the most memorable moments in music this year.


There's something about whistling that makes a pop song so incredibly catchy (Foster the People's Pumped Up Kicks being a perfect example). And there's plenty of it on Maroon 5's Moves Like Jagger, without a doubt one of this year's most infectious tunes. With the aid of vocal powerhouse Christina Aguilera, the track pays homage to the Rolling Stones' frontman, or rather his famous swagger. ''You wanted control, so we waited/I put on a show, now we're naked/You say I'm a kid, my ego is big/I don't give a s**t/And it goes like this'' Adam Levine sings before going on to boldly claim that he's got the moves of the legendary rock icon. With a delicious bassline, the song is a cheeky wink to disco and funk, and is guaranteed to get just about anyone up and moving.


If there's one song that best encapsulates the general doom and gloom of the global economic meltdown, the Drums' unabashedly earnest single, Money, is it. Taken from the band's second album, Portamento, the track runs amok on the Smiths-esque unrelenting jangly guitar riffs and a simple arrangement. ''Before I die, I'd like to do something nice/Take my hand, and I'll take it for a ride,'' frontman Jonny Pierce confesses. The track works so well because it resonates with most of us _ wouldn't we all want to buy nice things for the people we love if we could afford them? It's succinctly eloquent while at the same time taking a subtle jab at materialism. Just brilliant.

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