11 for ‘11: The year’s best pop singles
BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic December 22, 2011 5:06PM
Anthony Gonzalez of M83
Updated: January 26, 2012 8:05AM
Here’s to the inevitable demise of the CD, which nearly killed off the single. This year, empowered by easy digital access, some great singles made the rounds, however. Following are 11 of the best:
1. “Midnight City” by M83
French musician Anthony Gonzalez is just killing time, “waiting in a car, waiting for a ride in the dark.” From such a humdrum moment comes the year’s most sweeping, inspiring piece of music. Even if the rest of the rather ambitious double album tanked, this single provides an unbreakable linchpin. Its barking loops, simple thundering rhythm and raking synths exact their pound of gooseflesh. Then comes the only sax solo of the year that serves the song beautifully without grating cheese or winking with a hipster’s irony. “The city is my church,” Gonzalez moans, calling all to gather and worship in his shadowy, neon-lit dreamscapes. Amen, and thank God digital files don’t warp or wear out from the repeated listening that such a beautiful track demands.
2. “Pumped Up Kicks”
by Foster the People
‘f--- you’ song to the hipsters in a way,” he told Rolling Stone, “but it’s a song the hipsters are going to want to dance to.” All year long, in fact — cresting at Lollapalooza when a very sweaty Foster led the crowd bouncing to the song’s tight-stringed bassline and recovery-room vocals. It’s so sleepy-catchy that many haven’t clued into the lyrics, which describe a teenager’s daydream about shooting his classmates.
3. “Rolling in the Deep”
4. “Santa Fe” by Beirut
Zach Condon finally tips his floppy hat to his hometown in this lightly bouncy beauty. He broadened his already worldly horizons on this year’s more streamlined album, “The Rip Tide,” and this effervescent single coos with Condon’s chilly vocals while the techno-lite touches and sleepy mariachi horns color the edges. A fine song, and definitely my favorite video of the year.
5. “Video Games”
by Lana Del Rey
6. “The Wilhelm Scream”
by James Blake
7. “End of the Night” by the Smith Westerns
In 31/2 minutes, Chicago’s Smith Westerns rewrite the ending of “Dazed and Confused.” Refocusing that movie’s ’70s-rock soundtrack — but through a ’90s Britpop lens — they freeze-frame the action before our longhair hero decides to hit the hay, with similarly long-haired shy guy Cullen Omori leaving that resolution in doubt. “Are you gonna go home?” he asks as the sun comes up, the guitars keep twisting, the piano keeps plunking. This party could definitely keep going.
8. “Union Town”
by Tom Morello
9. “N---as in Paris”
by Kanye West and Jay-Z
10. “Still Life” by the Horrors
Beginning life as a frizzed goth quintet, the Horrors have evolved considerably into a bunch of Simple Minds wearing Psychedelic Furs. This cinematic single could have kept John Hughes alive, its synthesizers ringing over a patient, determined big-room beat as singer Faris Badwan offers assurances that he’ll be there when you wake up.
11. “We All Go Back to Where We Belong” by R.E.M.
If it has to end, thank heaven it ended this way. After announcing its breakup, R.E.M. delivered a retrospective box set that included this final farewell, a sweet and ruminative ballad gliding over a Bacharach-like arrangement for French horn and strings. “Is this really what you want?” Michael Stipe sings. Is he asking us or himself? Breakups suck.