32. Cold Cave – “The Great Pan is Dead”: Overwrought, overly dramatic, overly produced. What happened to hiring a good arranger? This isn’t a wall of sound in the Phil Spector sense, it’s a wall of sound in the guitar center everybody playing at once, make you wanna blow your brains out sense.
31. The Field – “Then It’s White”: zzzzzzzz
30. Clams Casino - “Motivation”: Of the (at least) three different songs called “Motivation” this year, this is the best (over Kelly Rowland & Cam’ron). Clams is one of the more talented up and coming producers and this is pretty emblematic of his cinematic approach to beat construction.
29. Jai Paul – “BTSTU”: This was the first song this guy ever put on the internet, and before the year Drake, amongst others, jacked the hook and instantly made this guy relevant. It is an insanely catchy track – deserving of this list even if it’s the last thing this guy ever does.
28. Danny Brown – “Monopoly”: Three tracks in a row that I like?! Not sure that’s happened yet… Danny Brown is one of Detroit’s brightest lights, and his XXX mixtape was one of the years best. This is actually rap for people that like rap.
27. The Rapture – “How Deep is Your Love?”: These guys are still around?! This isn’t my thing, but it’s pretty undeniably a good song. I guess they did go out of their way to specify that this was a list of “tracks,” and I do think there’s a difference.
26. Beyonce – “1+1”: I like Beyonce. I’m not checking for her new albums or anything, mostly cause I don’t have to – I’m gonna hear it whether I want to or not. I’m not really feeling this song – too much of an 80’s power ballad vibe – but if that’s your steez then I’m sure this song makes you wet.
25. Soulja Boy – “Zan With That Lean”: I love Soulja Boy. Here’s a guy with a track record of writing, producing and recording hits since he was fifteen, a knack for marketing himself and seemingly unlimited commercial potential. So what does he do? He smokes a bunch of weed, invents new slang and casually toss off gems like this and “All Gold Everything” like he’s barely even trying.
24. Kurt Vile – “Jesus Fever”: It is so, so difficult to pull off the white guy with an acoustic guitar thing – it’s been done to death and there’s not much new ground to traverse, but Vile has the necessary measure of aplomb to pull it off. Recommended.
23. Adele – “Rolling in the Deep”: I’m pretty surprised this isn’t in the top five. This song was inescapable this year (as was the Jamie XX remix, which is even better), and if radio still exists in fifty years, I bet this is still in rotation. That having been said, songs like this are why I hate karaoke. Hearing drunk people butcher this melody might be the death of me.
22. Bill Callahan – “Riding For The Feeling”: Bill Callahan is terrific. Brilliant. But is this song particularly memorable? I dunno, put him on the top albums list, but is this really a better song than “Rolling in the Deep?” Music is sooooo subjective yo.
21. Drake – “Marvin’s Room”: You can’t turn on a commercial radio station without hearing Drake, and apparently you can’t make it through an installment of this column without me accusing Pitchfork of having no idea what good hip hop is. This whole, “I’m just a dude, I might be famous but nobody loves me and I’m just like you” is not nearly as relatable as Drake thinks it is (thought it’s farily savvy), and the drunk dial gimmick on this track is a little grating after you hear it once or twice. I like Jhene Aiko’s version more.
20. Gang Gang Dance – “Glass Jar”: I have a crush on Lizzy Bougatsos – who doesn’t? And I’m amazed at the ways Gang Gang Dance have not only reinvented themselves time and time again, but seem to be getting progressively better. Still, I’m not so sure this belongs in the top twenty. It’s eleven minutes long, and contains about two minutes of actual song.
19. Lana Del Rey – “Video Games”: This girl’s style to substance ratio is higher than a crackhead on the first of the month, but she pulls it off – with this song at least. If she proves she has more than one gear (and not every song sounds like this one) then Del Rey definitely has star potential. Love it, hate it, don’t care about it – this is at least a sensible selection.
18. St. Vincent – “Cruel”: I’m going to have a hard time getting that little guitar riff out of my head. This is a well-constructed pop tune. Another fine choice, even if it wouldn’t have been mine.
17. Oneohtrix Point Never – “Replica”: This one right here is for the cool points. Here’s a good barometer for how memorable a song is (and whether it deserves a place on a list like this): when it’s over, do you feel the desire to start it again? Listen to it over and over? Put it on a mixtape for someone you like? This would be great for yoga class or a séance, and I like how this guy is helping bring new age music back, but should it be on this list? In the top twenty?!
16. Tyler, the Creator – “Yonkers”: Oooh, how controversial! There was a short period when the whole Odd Future thing was the hottest ish around, so this probably deserves a place on this list. At the time, a lot of people were asking me my feelings about Tyler and his hyper-violent, misogynist rapping and I tried defending him for a while before I finally reached the conclusion that I’m just not that into this – not for any moralistic reasons, but because I just don’t think it’s that interesting. He can say whatever he wants though, and if you take it literally, you’re dumber than a nineteen year old from LA who thinks rape jokes are funny.
15. The Weeknd – “The Morning”: Kudos to you Pitchfork, the last fifteen songs or so have actually been fairly on point. This is one of those songs that is easy to associate with a time and a place - another good way to determine if a song is truly great, or just something you’re putting on a list because “coming up with 100 great songs is really hard bro.” My mom: “I like this one!”
14. Girls – “Vomit”: Here’s a band from San Francisco that I want to like, but haven’t been able to really get into. I’m not enamored with this song. Also, it sounds exactly like “Love Song,” by the Cure, except not as good. I guess if you’re going to rip someone off, you could do worse.
13. Tuneyards – “Bizness”: I’m officially nominating Merril Garbus as the best living female artist with a mustache; we can call it the Frida Kahlo award. This song is catchy as hell and helped make Tuneyards a pretty unlikely success story. I hear she’s even better live. Maybe I’m biased (I live in Oakland), but the Bay Area is killing it on this list.
12. Kanye West & Jay-Z “Niggas in Paris”: This beat bangs. No doubt about it. But Jay isn’t at his best and Kanye just isn’t that great of a rapper. Peedi Crack and Young Chris’ version is better. Don’t know who those guys are? Exactly. It’s a young mans game. Still, this track isn’t embarrassing (“Otis” is), and I can’t really begrudge it a place this high on the list.
11. James Blake – “The Wilhelm Scream”: Oh James, you were so much before you fell in love with the sound of your own voice. This is still a good song, and Blake is obviously extremely gifted, but narcissism is a slippery slope. On one hand, Kanye (and countless others) have proven a massive ego isn’t in and of itself detrimental – but you have to avoid the self-indulgence trap. This (and his whole self-titled LP) walks the line.
10. DJ Khaled feat Drake, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne – “I’m on One”: Realllllllllllly?! This is how we kick off the top ten? This song is the definition of vapid, and the only list it belongs on is “top ten over played mainstream rap radio tracks you hear twice an hour on the same station for some inexplicable reason.” At this point I’m forced to conclude that Pitchfork loves Drake, and therefore, hates rap music. Why do they even bother trying to cover this stuff? Stick to the indie stuff; trying to ride for Drake and acting like Kanye West is making all-time classic albums is absolutely destroying Pitchfork’s credibility.
9. Cass McCombs – “County Line”: I’ve liked this guy since I first heard him… in 2002. I’m kind of amazed he’s just breaking out now (he’s on the cover of The Fader this month), and that this song is in the top ten. It kind of sounds like a John Lennon solo track, Double Fantasy era. Interesting selection, sort of bizarre to see it so high, but hey at least Drake doesn’t have a verse.
8. Azaelia Banks – “212”: Perhaps people will look back at 2011 and see it as the year that female rappers really started gaining traction (though this list doesn’t reflect it). I like Banks, I’d put her up there next to Rye Rye as a rapper, and leagues ahead of Kreayshawn or V-Nasty. Expect big things from her next year.
7. Beyonce – “Countdown”: There are so many melodies in this song, it’s amazing that she’s able to splice them all together so well. Beyonce is the queen right now for a reason, and it’s easy to take it for granted how consistently she cranks out quality singles. Color me impressed.
6. Destroyer – “Kaputt”: This. Is. Truly. Awful. Between the grocery store soprano saxophone and the opening lyric “wasting your days/ chasing some girls ok/ chasing cocaine through the back rooms of the world alright” this song establishes itself as garbage in less than 45 seconds. If you identify with this song you need to take a long hard look at your life and ask yourself, “when did I become such a little bitch?” Is that harsh? Can you tell I really don’t like this? I haven’t had this visceral of a negative reaction since the last time someone tried to force me to listen to The Doors.
5. Real Estate – “It’s Real”: These guys again! This one is better than the other one, but it still sounds like the 9th best song on the second best Shins album. If this song were actual real estate it’d be an acre lot in Hoboken. Beyonce, for example, would be half of Manhattan and to really stretch the metaphor, Cass McCombs would be a farm in the Catskills.
4. Nicki Minaj – “Super Bass”: Can you blame an artist for trying to sell as many records as possible? I don’t think so, and I always thought accusing someone of “selling out” was pretty dumb. But does an artist who is clearly capable of so much better deserve a place at the top of this list? Hell no. I love Nicki (though I’m tempted to put that statement in the past tense) enough to keep giving her a chance, but this is pap. What about this is good? Once again, stick to what you know Pitchfork – this is embarrassing.
3. EMA – “California”: Damn, a top three song from an artist I’ve never heard of? This could be good! Or at least, that’s what I thought right before I clicked on this turd. The first line is “Fuck California/ you make me boring,” which I don’t even know how to begin to parse. Whoever EMA is doesn’t seem to need much help being boring. Was this the result of a high school poetry contest? This sucks harder than a black hole.
2. Bon Iver – “Holocene”: I don’t even know what to say about Bon Iver any more. If this is the kind of music you get really excited about, then you must not really like music all that much. Which fine, most people enjoy music casually – but Pitchfork ought to be held to a higher standard. This song sounds exactly like every other Bon Iver song I’ve ever heard. Maybe this guy is our generation’s James Taylor - although that’s sort of disrespectful… to James Taylor
1. M83 – “Midnight City”: Ugghhhhhhhhhhhh. This is as damning of an indictment on Pitchfork as any. This sounds like a Passion Pit song from three years ago. It sucked then, it sucks now and it will suck forever. I’m sure that there are people out there (with good taste) that love this stuff, but for me, this is akin to torture… and here comes another smooth jazz sax solo! It’s official, Pitchfork has completely lost their edge.
And apparently so have I. This whole exercise was meant to get me to re-engage with music criticism, but all it wrought was more disillusionment. I used to love to assign albums star ratings, make lists and voraciously argue with anyone who disagreed with my haughty opinions, but now… not so much. I’m always down to talk about music, but when it turns into a pissing contest I just wonder what the other person is compensating for.
There’s just too much good stuff out there to cover to pretend any website could possibly be comprehensive– and let’s face it, we don’t really need music critics anymore. We still need people to sift through the infinite pool of music out there to expose the few gems, but those people are running genre specific blogs that are able to cover a niche deeper than Pitchfork. You don’t need me, or anyone else to tell you what’s good or bad anymore – just hop on youtube and figure it out for yourself.
Did I mention I think these lists are dumb? I feel dirty. Never again.