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Grading Pitchfork’s Top 10 Tracks of 2011

Pitchfork’s Top 100 Tracks of 2011: #10-#1

Pitchfork Media, arguably the most significant of mainstream indie tastemakers, are out again with their annual top 100 tracks of the year.  I must not subscribe to the same podcasts as Pitchfork (read: I don’t subscribe to any podcasts), because I have heard maybe 30% of these tracks.  That said, I usually like a lot of what they put in their top ten.  Let’s have a listen to what they deem to be the best of 2011 and see if we (read: I) agree with their choices.

10. DJ Khaled – I’m On One (feat. Drake, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne)

It’s somewhat arresting that in an economic climate of high unemployment and low consumer confidence and a political climate marked by fear and malaise on both sides of the aisle that a track like this could be so popular.  Top 40 Hip Hop has for the past decade or so been dominated by in-the-club dreck that focuses primarily on what’s in the rapper’s glass or how many zeroes are located to the left of the decimal in his bank account and those concerns are well represented here.  Perhaps Drake, who is known for his self-analysis if not necessarily for his self-awareness, recognizes how socially tin-eared this all must sound because he offers something of an apology in the line “my excuse is that I’m young.”  The problem is that people far younger than him have demonstrated (especially this year) their ability to be concerned with things beyond drinking and smoking.  But perhaps the real key to all this is his admonition to “get it while you here, boy / cause all that hype don’t feel the same next year, boy.”  Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, indeed.

9. Azealia Banks – 212

I have to admit that I hadn’t heard this until I’d read the Pitchfork list, but this is a jam.  Don’t put this on the iPod at your company holiday party, because the language is absolutely filthy.  This is notable chiefly because it’s surprising: you don’t expect those words to come from a voice like that (the effect is amplified by the happy-go-lucky irreverence of the video, complete with Azealia in a Mickey Mouse sweater), as the Pitchfork review points out.  This song is kind of a jam.

8. Cass McCombs – County Line

Another that I hadn’t heard before the list.  It’s a nice song, but this hardly feels like where music is at in 2011.  When listening to it, I can’t help but feel like this is the sort of track that’s perfect for the opening credits to an indie, 80′s period film.  Think “A Whiter Shade of Pale” as used in the opening to Withnail and I, but less incredible by several orders of magnitude.  And probably at night.

7. Beyonce – Countdown

Beyonce is very pretty and her smile is incandescent.  While this song (and certainly the video) can be described as being similarly bright, I find little of value here.  Something like this is probably meant to be listened to and enjoyed by people who are similarly in loving relationships, but it’s unclear if finding oneself in such a situation is enough to render you sympathetic to the sort of musical ADHD on exhibit here.

6. Destroyer – Kaputt

Yep, another track I had never heard before.  Maybe if I didn’t run all of my spotify searches around electronic dance music I’d be more in tune with the year’s popular indie music.  Anyway, this one is awesome and serves as an example of why I look to Pitchfork for new music.  Will now go buy the whole album before remembering that I have spotify and can listen to music for free.

5. Real Estate – It’s Real

At this point I’m just going to mention if I have heard a song before.  This is not one of them.  “It’s Real” makes for nice background music for a day at the beach, but I’m not sure I understand how this got to be a top five track when better and more interesting tracks from the likes of Girls, St. Vincent, Ohneotrix Point Never and James Blake (all of which are featured in selections #11-20) couldn’t crack the top ten.  De gustibus non est disputandum, I guess.

4. Nicki Minaj – Super Bass

No.  I won’t even link this.  Awful.

3. EMA – California

I don’t even know what I’m listening to.  A rant, I guess.  Not that this should be a major consideration when determining whether or not a song is good, but can you picture somebody saying “Oh, put EMA – California on?”  At a party?  In a basement?  At a ritual suicide?  I’m not a big fan of spoken word in general, but I’m surprised that Pitchfork, whatever you think of their taste, would consider this to be the third best track of the year.

2. Bon Iver – Holocene

No dispute here: great song from a great recording artist.  Listening to Bon Iver often feels like listening to Fleet Foxes as remixed by James Blake, which is to say that it’s amazing.  Just a word of warning: I find it helpful to not pay too much attention to the lyrics.  They can be saddening.

1. M83 – Midnight City

YES.  Standing ovation.  I have had nothing but a pure love for M83 since I first listened to Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts and it’s good to see them get some recognition, even if getting a #1 track on a Pitchfork list is a relatively meager honor.  Midnight City scored an even bigger honor, however, in that it was recently featured in a Victoria’s Secret commercial, meaning I now can’t listen to this song without picturing that.  Not that I’m complaining.  But seriously: listen to more M83.  You’ll be happy.

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