Favourite songs of 2011

Once again, would like to get this over with before all the other end-of-year lists go up, because I get horribly, irreversibly corrupted by them.

There’s a change of presentation from previous years where tracks were divvied up into genres. For the first time I’ll be counting down like other music nerds. I tried dividing them up, but realized pretty quickly that this didn’t work anymore. Pop has cross-bred to such a bewildering degree that setting up boundaries has become hopeless. It doesn’t help that the list is even longer this year, which makes the mess all the more evident. I ended up with five massive catch-alls: pop-r&b, hip/trip hop, grime-funky, post-dubstep-drum&bass and indie-chillwave. But where do you put the hip hop chillwavey stuff from Tri Angle, the rave-indebted pop coming out of the UK, grime MCs on dubstep tracks? Not only that, but I get the feeling that my musical tastes have narrowed somewhat. I could only find three entries for the hip/trip hop category, only one a recognizable rap song (it kicks off the list). My consumption of music broadly defined under the indie banner has also declined (about 11/60 on the list). Focus has zeroed-in more than ever on UK dance music of all descriptions (39/60 on the list), a testament to the richness and diversity of the various scenes, for sure. But there’s also a personal connection that I’ve increasingly become aware of and treasured, a change from the days where I largely looked to the USA and Pitchfork for relief from landfill indie. Actually, the fact that the people making this stuff also grew up or live in England (that I’ve even seen some of them!) adds a salience to their productions that’s ineffable but powerful.

Simon Reynolds and Martin Clark have continued to be much-relied-on guides through the glut of sonic material out there. The guys from Butterz have single-handedly restored my faith in grime, for which thanks are due. Alex Macpherson’s enthusiasm has pushed me further into long-forgotten pop and r&b areas. FACT, Resident Advisor and The Quietus have joined Pitchfork as go-to publications for new emissions. The many contributors at ILX and Dissensus have also become key sources for exegesis and cutting edge developments. Sometimes I get the feeling that I spend as much time reading about music as listening to it, which doesn’t worry me too much, since music is there to be shared and thought about. A four-minute pop song is a compact package of ideas and emotions that can represent the most non-verbal aspects of being human better than anything we have. Thinking about how you react to it, and learning about other people’s reactions, are both valuable instruments in the search for ever-greater self-awareness.

Lists have rules (which are of course bent and ignored at the discretion of the list-maker). This one steals a few from Kieron Gillen, which are adapted to suit my now rather different tastes. One track per artist becomes difficult when you get to collaborations, particularly between producers and vocalists in grime tracks, so I've made many allowances. One track per artist also means that the other work the artist has done this year that I’ve liked gets factored-in by higher placements, which is usually noted. A couple of entries are thus stand-ins for the albums they have released, which saves me the trouble of doing a separate favourite albums list. Since my attention has been mostly occupied with electronic dance music, a singles genre if ever there was one, I can count the albums that I've stuck with through the year on one hand. Finally, I’m not posting the whole thing immediately, because sixty write-ups is a lot of work. Plus, it helps pad the blog out a bit. And for those reading, part of the fun of lists is the anticipation, right? Top sixty to fifty appears today, then I’ll post batches of ten as and when I feel like it. I make the rules, after all.

Compiling lists like this looks daunting from the outset, but actually modern technology makes it pretty easy. Sort by date on the iTunes (your library should of course be kept fastidiously tidy). Pick out your faves from the current year, lob them in a playlist, and compare tracks to their neighbours, which quantifies quite clearly how much something means to you. Check Last.fm to see if anything is missed out or misplaced. If yr really mental, you’ll listen to the playlist bottom to top a couple of times to be absolutely sure of the running order, but I didn’t really have the time to do that. Nor do I care thaat much about what comes after what, so long as it gives a pretty good idea of what I value the most.

Favourite songs of 2011: 60-51

60. Young Bleed - Holla At Uh Dog

With the video: True Blood alternative credit sequence if the show was about Lafayette. As it should have been.

59. Vibezin - Mad Sick

The vocal is blurry around the edges, the synth bleets muted, the drums reverbed. Cobbled together from the crates, and the crates are dusty. A funky roller from another time and place.

58. Dauwd - Ikopol

Stood out from the more established names on the [unclassified] Adult Swim mixtape. Perhaps I’ve just been missing my regular dose of Mount Kimbie? The track is breathless, unsure, a male voice croons, repeating 'want you to...' And at around the 2.55 mark he finally gets his answer, impossible to decipher, but aching with enthusiasm.

57. Elite Gymnastics - So Close To Paradise

Jungle, meet noise pop. I think you'll get along. Hushed confessionals over sweeping vistas -- the personal becoming cosmic.

56. S-X - Bricks

Riding in triumph. Crown on your head. Slaves at your feet. Glory all around.

55. Hyetal feat. Alison Garner - Diamond Islands

I didn't have time to involve myself with M83's new double album (the reviews, even when good, suggested that it was a bit of a chore). But I had this instead, which served adequately. That booming drum sound and the swelling chorus is so 80s, it’s embarrassing. ‘I don’t remember... your eyes, your face’. Yeah, but you remember the soundtrack.

54. ASC - Silkworm

Kills everything Boddika has done dead. The Autonomic sound doesn’t get better than ASC, I think. Silkworm is a smooth roller, but its edges crackle with intercepted transmissions, striking a nice balance between serenity and paranoia.

53. The Chain - Lostwithiel

Post-dubstep that kept the drums.

52. xxxy - You Always Start It

Stepping into the shoes Joy Orbison kicked off. Swirls of synth spin you around as ‘you... you-yup-you...’ hiccups along. And then the groundswell, the pathetic ‘you ALWAYS start it!’. The sound of all your arguments running out and being too confused to be reasonable anymore.

51. Clams Casino - Illest Alive

As close to a club banger as this Tri Angle hip hop stuff gets. And thus, awesome.

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