My 2011 in Song

Like everyone else at this time of the year, I’ve been thinking about the past 12 months quite regularly.  I think I had a good year – I feel like my feet are planted and ready to leap into 2012.  I decided to summarize my year with the songs I really listened to – either all the time, or with incredible gusto – and the songs that had a place in my life, for whatever reason.  It’s an eclectic mix – I’ve put it together on 8tracks for you – so please, listen, and think about your year in song.*

Nikes on my Feet by Mac Miller

I was introduced to this song through the video, which has a nice introduction that showcases Mac getting ready and putting on his Nikes.  It’s a brash song with a mood that betrays its slow-jamz-type attitude, and the I-can-do-anything mood it puts me in makes this a song worthy of repeat mode.

Player’s Ball (Original) by Outkast

A classic Outkast track – complete with punch-in-the-gut beats, Andre’s smooth flow, and Big Boi’s crisp rhymes – that I can’t get enough of.  This came on when I was driving over the highest road in New Hampshire on a beautiful summer day, and I rolled down the windows, slowed the car, and turned up the music.  I felt like I was driving down that hill to the Player’s Ball – but it was just Conway, NH.  Oh, well – I did what anyone else would do, and played it again.

The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth

Something about these Swedish artists is irresistible.  Hauntingly similar to Bob Dylan, Kristian Matsson’s voice deserves first billing on this track.  It almost feels like the simple, quiet strings in the background are feeding off of him – he carries this song and brings tears to my eyes.

Always on Time by Ja Rule, ft. Ashanti

I had a bit of a Ja Rule revival this year, starting with ‘Holla Holla’, in which Ja rides around standing up in a bouncing low-rider.  But this combination of Ja’s sore-throat rasp and Ashanti’s sultry vocal caress is irresistible.

Be Still by Big Boi, ft. Janelle Monae

“Eat ‘em like an urr-ange/ orange” was one of my favorite lines of the year.  And the video is great – the cheerleaders in “Daddy Fat Saxxx” uniforms, the simple piano lick in the background, Big Boi as the Man in the Moon – just strange enough, just ‘thrown together’ enough to fit in with Big Boi’s classics.

Put it On by Big L

Big L is an underappreciated product of the late 1990s – I wonder what he’d have done if he hadn’t died – and this is my favorite song of his.  His lyrics are so crisp and quick, like gunshots, and his confidence is bubbling over.  “I’ve got girls that make that chick/ Tony Braxton look like Whoopie” – get it, Big L.

My Chello by Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks

It’s light and lovely – Dan Hicks’ smooth-as-water-from-a-pitcher voice over the silky fiddle and calming melody makes me smile.

Coming Home by Diddy, ft. Skylar Grey

It was refreshing to hear Diddy talk about himself introspectively instead of through references to vodka and biddies.  Under the poppy beat and ever-catchy Skylar Grey hook (neither of which are bad, by any means) is a relatively touching story by Diddy – a pleasant surprise.

Headlines by Drake

I’ll admit, I wasn’t much of a Drake fan until this album came out a month ago.  But if this is what he’s chosen for his musical identity, I can get behind him.  I was talking with a friend after it came out and said to him, “I have the whole album stuck in my head”.  He looked at me and said, “I said the same thing to someone else earlier today”.  ‘Nuff said.

Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes

The trend of this list is certainly heavy on the hip-hop and rap but I do listen to music like this relatively often.  It’s just that usually, here at school, I need music that will be loud and get me pumped up – and this song, while it does have anthem-like qualities, is one I prefer to play while sitting on my couch, looking out at the sunset after a good day.  And A-Level has taken away most of my sunsets in the last year.

Swim Good by Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean is one of the only artists who appears on here twice, and for good reason.  ‘Swim Good’ was my first solo Frank Ocean endeavor and his rap-croon over its hefty bass backbone sends shivers up my spine.

God’s Gift by J. Cole

J. Cole appears to me as a fusion of Kanye West and Jay-Z in both vocals and production – but this song is his anthem, and he owns it.

No Church in the Wild by Jay-Z and Kanye West, ft. Frank Ocean

I took “Theory of Religion” in the spring to complete my Religion major and therefore the imagery and metaphor invoked by Kanye and Jay-Z in this song made me think harder about a song than ever before.  The conflicting ‘wilds’ presented by the two artists – Jay-Z’s as “Tears on the mausoleum floor/ blood stains the Colosseum doors/ Lies on the lips of a priest/ Thanksgiving disguised as a feast” and Kanye’s as “Coke on her black skin/ Make a stripe like a zebra, I call that jungle fever/ You will not control the threesome/ Just roll the weed up until I get me some” – are haunting and strong critiques of public and private life in America.

Monster by Kanye West, ft. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, and Bon Iver

Not the most original choice, I concede, but another song that I couldn’t have made it through the year without.  Despite the so-so performances by Kanye, Jay-Z, and Rick Ross, Nicki makes this song worth it every time.  Kanye’s entire album is a masterpiece and in the spring it was playing on my headphones every time I had them on.

Dance Yrself Clean by LCD Soundsystem

No song I listened to this year built my anticipation as well as this one.  Every time I hear it, I know it’s going to take off at some point, but pinpointing it is impossible.  The anticipation has me toe-tapping and head-bobbing from the get-go.

I Follow Rivers by Lykke Li

I’d only heard Lykke Li on Drake’s “So Far Gone” but she has a voice that I can’t help but be completely engulfed by.  I listen to this song with my eyes closed and take it all in.

Midnight City by M83

I didn’t come across this song until relatively recently, but it’s one of those that I would love to see live.  I can picture it simultaneously completely calm and boiling over with energy, and that’s how it makes me feel when I listen to it as well.

Please Don’t Go by Mike Posner

Mike Posner was the Spring Concert headliner (and the opener, The White Panda, would have made it on the list if it weren’t for Girl Talk and 3Lau), a choice that made hipsters cringe.  But every once in a while, there’s nothing like some unabashed college-pop to unwind with, and the concert did just that.  I had a great time jumping up and down to the repetitive, bouncy hook and beats that sound like a floppy drive.

Big Poppa by The Notorious B.I.G.

When you are on a 60-mile day hike with one close friend, the only thing to keep you sane is carrying a portable speaker and playing ‘Big Poppa’ every fifteen minutes or so just to remind you that you can do it.

Galvanize the Empire by Party Ben (Chemical Brothers vs. John Williams)

I really hoped this song would be in the Star Wars Blu-ray re-release – but George Lucas didn’t get the memo.

Echo by R. Kelly

The music video for this song is just R. Kelly’s singing head in front of a plain background, with an occasional scene change to the Alps for some yodeling.  I think that says all that’s needed to say about this song – he carries it, as usual, all by himself.  The “Let’s Get it On” of the 21st century?  I’ll let you decide.

Bad as Me by Tom Waits

A critic describes Tom Waits’ voice “like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car.”  I’d say that’s pretty accurate – this song makes me want to sit in a smoky corner, put my feet up, and look squinty-eyed and suspiciously at everyone who dares stare.

Bizness by Tune-Yards

Tune-Yards’ insane and twitchy energy is contagious.  ‘Bizness’ takes that identity and adds a few shots of espresso to leave me blinking and stunned every time it’s over.

Yonkers by Tyler the Creator

Both the song and the music video are, in my opinion, the best Odd Future has created to date.  Tyler’s straight-faced and terrifying freestyle-like lyrics make one both want to play this song loudly and turn it off and cower in the corner.

What You Need by The Weeknd

‘What You Need’ tastes like a delectable crème-brule with a dollop of homemade whipped cream and a chocolate-dipped fresh strawberry.  Decadent, the best kind of light and heavy, this song plays as the soundtrack to my dreams.

Cameras by Wiz Khalifa

I’ve loved Wiz since ‘Pittsburgh Sound’ and Kush and OJ, so I was incredibly excited for the release of this album.  And Wiz didn’t disappoint – everyone loves Black and Yellow, but there are a host of other tracks that are easily as good, if not better.  This song makes me want to be successful – not for the hectic Kanye life, but for the Wiz dream of chilling all the time.  And then I realize how absurd that would be.

Michael Jackson by Das Racist

I hope the video for this song receives some solid recognition.  Das Racist brings, as usual, their lyrics tinged with genius to the Indian beat for a piece of straight-up entertainment that only Das Racist could present straight-faced and silently mocking.

RayBan Vision (Remix) by A-Trak, ft. Donnis, Pill, Danny Brown, and CyHi da Prynce

When I heard this song in the spring it became my running anthem.  And I wouldn’t play it once – it would run on repeat for the entire eight-mile adventure.  Spurred on by Danny Brown, I felt like I could run forever.

*Two songs not on the 8tracks playlist, Girl Talk’s All Day and 3Lau’s Dance Floor Filth, are too long to put on a single playlist.  I definitely recommend them, if you haven’t heard them – and both are free online.