After cherry-picking a Top 120 from the (roughly 3000) singles I listened to this year, it can all get a bit Sophie’s Choice. Which is why I have concentrated on the 50 sevens that really struck me, and why there are singles for wallowing, singles for solace, divvy ones - just for larks, and of course, singles that have the frisk quite bad. I love every one of them and still believe in my favourite format, despite having had two stand-up rows in the past week about what actually constitutes a single. It seems to me – more than ever – that we need a little structure, which is why the fresh crop of sevens that submit to my Mondays, still matter to me.
To be entirely I fair, I present my Top 50 (on Spotify, here) in alphabetical order. Anything more empirical seems a bit daft, when you like songs this much.
The full, unexpurgated (and entirely marvellous) DiS Top 120 Singles of the Year Playlist, however is here.
A Top 50 Singles of the Year!
In Alphabetical Order!
Because Why Not!
Africa Hitech - ‘Do U Really Wanna Fight’ (Warp)
Glassy, pristine production, jauntiness unseen outside of dancehalls and wholesome sentiment rarely go together. And never so well as on ‘Do U Really Wanna Fight’, which is about everybody not beating the crap out of each other because beating the crap out of each other is not nice. It’s also got the word ‘schoolface’ in it.
AlunaGeorge - ‘You Know You Like It’ (Super Recordings)
“If you wanna train me, like an animal, better keep an eye on my every move,” sings Aluna Francis, on one of this year’s blue-est sevens. Mainly it is rude because of that fulsome bassline - ripe as a nectarine and just as redolent of other things. It also makes a fine point about how all the things most worth doing in life make you feel utterly ashamed after.
Ane Brun - ‘Do You Remember’ (Balloon Ranger Recordings)
Lyrically, it is a catalogue of all the things that start to pall as a relationship breaks; all its cancerous limbs dropping off. Wheras musically you just (just!) have Ane’s voice - all clarity, the peal of a new bell ringing the changes, hopping from note to note as daintily as a Prima.
The Antlers - ‘I Don’t Want Love’ (Transgressive)
‘I Don’t Want Love’ should be reserved for when you are at your most self-indulgent and WHY ME - that sharp tang of pure ruddy drama, when NOBODY UNDERSTANDS and NO ONE EVER FELT LIKE THIS. It is filmed in Panaramico, MagnaScope, VistaVision and Thrillarama and is the very definition of gnawing agony.
Battles - ‘Ice Cream’ (Warp)
‘Ice Cream’ proves why there should always be a parking space reserved for oddness in pop music. Also why nobody else but Battles should be allowed to park there.
Belle & Sebastian - ‘I Want The World To Stop’ (Matador)
Stuart wants the world to stop and I don’t blame him, I gave myself ten minutes to imagine who I would kick if everyone went still and dead lions apart from me. This train of thought is not exactly what Belle & Sebastian intended when they wrote their perfect, adorable pop tune - but then, they are best friends with God and I think he is a massive shit.
Ben Westbeech - ‘Falling’ (Strictly Rhythm)
I am down with Ben Westbeech, I am down his whispery sexvox and his lyrics about needing and feeling and couplings. But he definitely drove a Pontiac Trans Am with a red stripe down the side to the recording studio when he done ‘Falling’, and it definitely whistled at a leggy bird. Warning: ‘Falling’ is for people who like house music as shiny as a salesman’s forecourt.
Body Language - ‘You Can’ (Double Denim)
‘You Can’ is a slow jam, it is the sort of song the term ‘slow jam’ was made for. It isn’t about pop socks, Hobbycraft cross-stitch kits, Dawn Bibby, removable hair on tiny combs, miniature china rabbits or HDMI cables. It is, however, a really, really amazing song about Special Times, which would ideally be dedicated to all the lovers by a permanently damp DJ. I recommend you do not listen to it unless your favoured companion is reachable by taxi.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - ‘Maniac’ (V2)
‘Maniac’ sees Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sound urgent as Devo. And Lore, does it ever suit them - with drums the rest of the song spends all its three minutes trying to catch up with, and its air of triumphant romantic movings-on. It has the sort of unignorable air that sugar-starved, sleeve-tugging toddlers would swap their best Go-Go for.
Cold Mailman - ‘Pull Yourself Together And Fall In Love With Me’ (Lazy Acre Records)
A deftly written twinkle of a pop tune that should convince the hardest of hearts. It’s not as romantic as it first appears and it doesn’t want to meet your family, but it does want to spend four weeks ignoring everybody else’s texts and pulling blue sickies.
Colin Stetson - ‘Those Who Didn’t Run’ (Constellation)
‘Those Who Didn’t Run’ is not Stetson's showiest work, it is a mood piece with a wavering bass pulse that keeps threatening to escape and let all the jazz monkeys out of their lab cages. But it keeps fumbling the lock. It is a ten minute exercise in remarkable restraint and control, and it is fucking marvellous.
Connan Mockasin - ‘Forever Dolphin Love’ EP (Phantasy)
wears satin shirts
made from the bedsheets
of aged playboys
and makes records
fashioned from jazz
about falling in love with
who just happen to be dolphins
it’s probably about sex
most things are.
Danielson - ‘Grow Up’ (Sounds Familyre)
Danielson have fashioned a song about arguing with your therapist which darts like a newt; never once stopping to make anything clear or easily pinned on your parents; a high-pitched, het-up riddle. ‘You’re not my Mummy, don’t even try,’ they sing, in this ridiculous strop of a song. Which has a sense of momentum that would shame a steam train.
Dels feat. Roots Manuva & Joe Goddard - ‘Capsize’ (Big Dada)
'Capsize’ is about NOW and VER TORIES and CUTS, and how it might be quite a good idea for ‘us’ to ‘stick together’ if we want anything to change. The brilliant thing is that a) it's political in a non-Levellers way, and that b) it rattles with percussive ideas - juddering like the cogs of The Machine as they shift and re-write little snippets of legalese that only start to matter to you personally when you try to return a library book, only to find it staffed entirely by W.I. ladies; jam on everything.
Django Django - ‘Waveforms’ (Because Music)
Once they have got the bobwobwobbing out of the way, ‘Waveforms’ is quite the treat, with some close-harmonied, fuzzy keyboarded atmospherics that build like ladder treads with each satisfyingly beamy chord progression. From ‘Storm’ to ‘Wor’ and now, with ‘Waveforms’, Django Django push my buttons so hard I almost want to tell them to play nice and quit their jabbing. ALBUM OUT IN JANUARY!
Factory Floor - ‘Two Different Ways’ (DFA)
Relentless synth lines, snares that have the air of the slap but the caress of a kiss. What the squares never mentioned in their disdain for music from warehouses, was just how transcendentally calm those concrete walls were; how there was a truth in it, however chemically motivated it might have been. Factory Floor have a purity of approach that appeals to the minimalist I know I will never be.
Friends - ‘I'm His Girl’ (Lucky Number)
Friends’ dulled, ESG-o-like basslines and pin-sharp neat syncopation put me in mind of Luscious Jackson. And 'I'm His Girl' is sung in such a way that reminds you of girls whose only utterances are backchat; it is a single for which the word ‘sashay’ might have been invented.
Fruit Bats - ‘You’re Too Weird’ (Sub Pop)
Using a word like ‘accomplished’ to describe Fruit Bats feels awfully like faint praise, as if one were completing their term-end report and hemming and hawing with a pencil stuck in one’s facehole. Warm, beautifully written and road-trippy to the point of bleached, sunburnt bliss, ‘You’re Too Weird’ (like everything on Tripper), is a balmy delight.
Girls - ‘Honey Bunny’ (Fantasy Trashcan / Turnstile)
With a chorus of ‘They don’t like my bony body, They don’t like my dirty hair’, ‘Honey Bunny’ is a flimsy triumph; the devil-may-care, barrel-drummed victory song of a hated journeyman ignored by all the womens. But after a blip of agony, this single goes all spot-lit prom-snog, slowing to a waltz. Then it dries its eyes, does some finger-swearing at strangers and ponces off into the distance, totally up itself. Any band confident enough to release a song this throwaway deserves to win hearts.
Grinderman - ‘Palaces of Montezuma’ (Mute)
‘Palaces of Montezuma’ is a list of all the things Nick would give you as a present if he well fancied you - from ‘the hanging gardens of Babylon’ to ‘the spinal cord of JFK, wrapped up in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee.’ At first I thought it was overcooked and silly, but now I think it the height of romance. Imagine!
Here We Go Magic - ‘Tulip’ (Secretly Canadian)
On which Here We Go Magic have stompy size twelves and a fulsome approach to layered harmonies and reverby strums and cascading flourishes that sound like guitar solos throwing themselves off somewhere really, really high. It even has one of those delightfully extravagant middle eights that idiots like me will >>FF to. Only then is it possible to step off the bus and out into the world with the requisite sass.
Hyde & Beast - ‘Never Come Back’ (Tail Feather Records)
I am fond of any single capable of nifty changes in time signature; singles that wrong-foot as wonderfully as this are hard to come by. Combine this with a woozy brass section shirley lead by Billy Shears and you have a capricious, staccato triumph - a pop song whose every joyful element is daubed in house-high caps.
Icona Pop - ‘Manners’ (Neon Gold)
‘Manners’ is a pop tune of which Lynne Truss would approve, which automatically makes it good; no arguing, no returns. Also it’s got these funny synths on it that sound like they should be played on coloured light bulbs by a non-dread Jarre, as well a PROPER CHORUS in which Icona Pop are singing in multiplied mirrors that face each other. It flickers this single.
Joan As Police Woman - ‘The Magic’ (PIAS)
Having a soft spot a mile wide for FM pop songs that sound like the sort of thing I was absorbing in my Mummy’s tummy in the seventies, I am predisposed to Joan. ‘The Magic’ also manages to sound quite like ‘Cry Me A River’ at the beginning and has nearly as much drama. I would quite like there to be a few more grown up lady popstars like Joan. Or at least, for them to merit a few more pages in interminable music magazines that assume a beard and a poface make for an interesting cover feature.
Lana Del Rey - ‘Video Games’ (Stranger)
I do find this particularly chilling; her, quite the dollface, singing about where being a dollface has got her, and how disastrously she picks ‘em. You see, you need not be a genius nor a tormented starlet to know they exist, and you needn’t even have lived in Hollywood to see how girls might progress from one sordid little picture to a whole, nasty reel. A beautifully-executed pop song, and a proper shivery, proper classic.
The Leisure Society - ‘You Could Keep Me Talking’ (Full Time Hobby)
I struggle with the word ‘pleasant’, I use it when I mean to dole out praise, but I can see its shortcomings as easily as one might hear alarm bells upon reading the phrase ‘no baggage’ in a personal ad. But The Leisure Society, write SONGS YOU CAN SING TO, actual PROPER SONGS, with PROPER MIDDLE EIGHTS and PROPER BITS AT THE END. The joy allergics will hate it.
Low - ‘Especially Me’ (Sub Pop)
Having decided that in order to make a successful song one need only repeat strong sentiments ad infinitum until menace and drama gather as if at a free money party, Low then prove an important point; useful in life, as well as music. You see, you can always add aural tinsel - here a synth twinkle, there a bass whomp - but the real talent, the real ACKFING GENIUS, is when you let simple ideas stand for themselves, almost entirely unadorned.
Matt & Kim - ‘Cameras’ (Different)
‘Cameras’ - with it’s big-beaty synthetic brass, barreling tempo and arm-waving choruses - is about going out and having fun but not spending the whole time recording it for the posterity of Facebook. Quite apart from the fact that ‘the posterity of Facebook’ is largely oxymoronic; ‘Cameras’ argues how - if you’re really, truly lost in joy - the thought of taking photographs won’t cross your mind. I’m Having So Much Fun I Don’t Feel The Need To Document It In Some Way is a great, great central tenet for a single.
Metronomy - ‘The Look’ (Because Music)
What a pristine pop song; the muted organs of a pier ballroom and neat falsettos - it is as if Joseph Mount had a tiny fairground in the palm of his hand. And he decides when it will stop, and when it will go, and if your particular waltzer deserves another exhilarating push. I think it is about going out with a smartarse but am not completely sure, I am rubbish at spotting bad ‘uns until I have wasted all my best years on them.
Mozart Parties - ‘Black Cloud’ (Merok)
‘Black Cloud’ has the sort of overlapping choruses and verses that sound like each part of the song is having a sup from the hipflask. And it is neat, this; the way your ears follow one part along until another emerges, each one taking you by the hand so you can’t get lost. It also has the sort of kindness of tone brasher, more vulgar bands would kill for - all the openness of group therapy but none of the attendant whine.
Nautiluss x Lord Skywave - ‘Ultraviolet’ (Hemlock Recordings)
‘Ultraviolet’ is a glitchy, twitchy-snared dub-ballad with slow, elongated vocals that can’t quite dissipate the air of spooky threat; those Twilight Zone synths in the background are definitely up to something. As gleefully modern as a thing could be.
Okkervil River - ‘Wake And Be Fine’ (JagJaguwar)
‘Wake & Be Fine’ is all about pace, it knows that drums should spring off the starting blocks as if they were a substance-addled sprinter. It has wild syncopation and a string section that doesn’t wank itself all the way to the speccy shop. It’s basically a pop tune that just happens to also be a grand, dizzying waltz. You could dance to this forever, whirling like a Moira until a skip and a hop off a balcony started to seem like a good idea.
Panda Bear ‘Surfer’s Hymn’ (Paw Tracks)
I didn’t think Tomboy had done much for me until I heard the a cappellas and was assaulted by strobes at his live show. Then I found myself closing my eyes and not caring if this looked ridiculous to my fellow attendees.
The Phantom Band - ‘Everybody Knows It’s True’ (Chemikal Underground)
'Everybody Knows It's True' has chopped, bleated voices that provide the climbing-framework and so many layers it might as well be headed to the North Pole. But as quickly as it builds itself up, it starts removing bits of itself away again - leaving you wondering what has gone on. They’ve probably had your watch away, the hoodlums.
PJ Harvey - ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ (Island)
PJ is singing the words of a man who is on his way back from the killing fields, sung over the most atmospheric of metallic strums. And they might as well be played on a magic lyre that could turn back the clocks and undead all the young men who merrily tossed their limbs into trees for the protection of our shores. If you want a song that proves how splendid a height it is possible to reach with a simple idea, do take ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ to your very bosom.
The Revival Hour - ‘Hold Back’ (Antiphon)
Here is ‘Hold Back’, with its bold first line about how D.M. Stith is the ‘loneliest climber of them all’, and here are the gospel choir and piano lines scaling the cliff face with him; nobody look down. And it is just such a triumph, a song with the desperate air of a nightmare chase sequence, a black ball of sharp-toothed hell nipping at his ankles, a pained falsetto that (for once) earns every glassy top note it strikes.
Sad Day For Puppets - ‘Sorrow, Sorrow’ (Sonic Cathedral)
‘Sorrow, Sorrow’ is not a wallow; it does not want to drag us through hedges leafed with torment, and it does not want to show us the first edition Camus it once bought in a Parisian back alleyway. Because even though it wants to sing us a song about trying and failing to get rid of its demons, it wants to make said song sound like angels, rolled in sugar.
Standard Fare - ‘Suitcase’ (Melodic)
Emma Kupa’s very unfetteredness is the thing I like most about Standard Fare, she has such an enormous gob and nothing horrible ever comes out of it. What a magnificently plain, and plainly magnificent voice she has.
Summer Camp - ‘Better Off Without You’ (Apricot Recording Co / Moshi Moshi)
On ‘Better Off Without You’ Summer Camp pull off having it both ways. Raging smartarses, they manage to present us with pop music that is reverentially indebted to the past, but doesn't have pastiche stinking up the place. This could have quite easily been sung by Patsy Kensit were she blessed with stouter lungs and a braver heart. Even the talky bit is good.
Timber Timbre - ‘Woman' (Full Time Hobby)
As every Timber Timbre song is about either a) having sex on some sort of ankh-shaped plinth in the woods, or b) witchy drinking rituals which provoke a person to do a); and because involvement in either of these things is likely to lead to a state of confuddlement where it will be necessary to listen to a Timber Timbre song to make sense of it all; might we just take a moment to say thank you to Taylor Kirk. Nobody is making songs that are this delirious, about practices you do not find listed as a hobby on Guardian Soulmates.
Toddla T feat. Shola Ama & T2K - ‘Take It Back’ (Ninja Tune)
Sometimes when people ape klub klassix they do such a grand job, and buff everything up to such a high sheen, the only thing you can concentrate on is how shiny it is. I put my hands in the air when this is on and I don’t understand or want to talk to people who don’t.
Toro Y Moi - ‘Still Sound’ (Carpark)
Having wisely dispensed with the waft, Toro Y Moi brought the bass with him on ‘Still Sound’ like he had it in his pocket all along; the sly old dog. In many ways, this is the bounciest of toyshop balls made manifest, with a bassline of irresistible vim and verve providing a sturdy climbing-frame for all the noodly bits to hang off with one arm.
Tune-Yards - ‘Bizness’ (4AD)
What is most delightful about Merrill Garbus is that her songs sound untrammeled, no one is getting in the way of her canvas or sneaking in to fiddle with her brushes when she isn’t around. I think this makes for some of the most honest, bawdy and intricate pop music we have; ‘Bizness’ childlike pleas for control being a good example.
Veronica Falls - ‘Bad Feeling’ (Bella Union)
‘Bad Feeling’ sees Veronica Falls sounding like a girl-group Shadows with a little of the Monday Mondays about them. As far as I am concerned this is a tripling up of influences I can get very, very excited about - even if, as a single, this is positively allergic to now. Three minutes, and leanly perfect.
The War On Drugs - ‘Baby Missiles’ (Secretly Canadian)
In many ways, ‘Baby Missiles’ is redolent of the sort of pompous rock that accompanied Judd Nelson punching the air at the end of The Breakfast Club. But I try to concentrate on The War On Drugs’ rampant abandon - because it is accompanied by non-Bob mouth organ and pianos that sound like someone were pouring the keys out of the grandest, largest pitcher; let them tumble into my ears. And let me do that dance you can do sitting down which is half-fit and half-contained punch, pumping my fists close to the sides of my body and nodding furiously; no one is watching.
Wolf People - ‘Silbury Sands’ (JagJaguwar)
Wolf People live in a CANYON made of BROWN ROCK and will whip your whiny, ballbearing-bottomed, lily-livers into next Tuesday if you QUARRELLE with their MANLY. DANG, goes the opening bar, DANG. I mean, retroism is a fine line - but as someone once said, there have to be exceptions for every rule, and that is where Wolf People come in; incense wafting off them like sauna steam. They get away with paying no heed to Now, because they are well the flipping best at being Old.
Marry Waterson & Oliver Knight - ‘Windy Day’ (One Little Indian)
Marry Waterson's voice is the happy marriage of Kirsty MacColl, Paul Heaton and Alison Moyet, so she is definitely Christmas, New Year and Birthday allatonce. ‘Windy Day’ on the other hand, has more pedigree than Crufts and though deceptively straight-forward, warms one’s winkles in a way that fly-by-night strummers never could. It’s about leaving. It aches.
Woom - ‘Quetzalcoatl’s Ship (Deerhoof remix)’ (Polyvinyl)
'Quetzalcoatl's Ship' is rinsed in static and loudhailers, it is curious, joyful, messy. It puts you in mind of cassette tapes you are meant to play to children to introduce them to music. But Deerhoof and Woom have sneaked away a primary-coloured vessel, put it in the washing machine, stamped on it, pulled out its endless shiny tape, kissed the length of it, and then stuffed it all back in the plastic housing.
Jamie Woon - ‘Lady Luck’ (Candent / Polydor)
if ever a name
were ripe for verse
it is jamie woon
one could write a paragraph
dripping in vowels
like double humbert
from that book
that is my favourite book
and ‘lady luck’ is my favourite song
‘it ain’t something you can synthesise’
‘and it ain’t something you can buy’
he’s right, you know.
Young Magic - ‘You With Air’ (Carpark)
‘You With Air’ is gloopy and treacly and there are children in a playground playing high-spirited, kiss-based chasing games as they try to work out what the point of men and women bothtogether is. And the whole excursion is furious, intoxicating. Mostly it is the boom of the synths that have had all their plastic stripped away; his keyboards are made of wire wool. To listen is not unlike putting plugs made of bumble bees into your ear canal - sinister, furry, and too unsettling to be cute.
Art Museums - ‘Dancing With A Hole In Your Heart’ (Slumberland)
Breton - ‘Edward The Confessor’ (Fat Cat)
Bibio - ‘K Is For Kelson’ (Warp)
Beat Connection - ‘Silver Screen’ (Tender Age)
Beirut - ‘East Harlem’ (Pompeii)
Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny - ‘Liliputt’ (Mute)
Celestial Shore - ‘Pals’ (Double Denim)
The Chain - ‘Lostwithiel’ (R&S)
Cloud Control - ‘There’s Nothing In The Water We Can’t Fight’ (Infectious)
Cults - ‘Go Outside’ (In The Name Of / Columbia)
Dan Haywood's New Hawks - ‘John's Shoes’ (Static Caravan)
Darren Hayman feat. Elizabeth Morris - ‘I Know I Fucked Up’ (Fortuna POP!)
Dent May - ‘Fun’ (Paw Tracks)
Deerhunter – ‘Memory Boy’ (4AD)
Dum Dum Girls - ‘He Gets Me High’ (Sub Pop)
Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi, with Jack White & Nora Jones - ‘Black’ (Parlophone)
Doldrums - ‘I'm Homesick Sittin' Up Here In My Satellite’ (No Pain In Pop)
First Aid Kit - ‘The Lion's Roar’ (Wichita)
Florrie - ‘Begging Me’
Purity Ring - ‘Ungirthed’ (Transparent Recordings)
Ghostpoet - ‘Survive It’ (Brownswood)
Herman Dune - ‘Tell Me Something I Don’t Know’ (Strange Moosic / Fortuna POP!)
Magic Bus - ‘Magic Bus’ (Static Caravan)
James Blake - ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ (Atlas)
Jonny - ‘Candyfloss’ (Alsatian Records / Turnstile)
Kelpe - ‘Same New Era’ (MYOR)
K-X-P - ‘Easy’ (Melodic)
La Sera - ‘Devils Hearts Grow Gold’ (Hardly Art)
Liz Green - ‘Displacement Song’ (PIAS)
Lucas Santtana - ‘Super Violão Mashup’ (Mais Um Disco)
Mo Kolours - ‘Biddies’ (One Handed Music)
Papercuts - ‘Do You Really Wanna Know’ (Sub Pop)
Patrick Wolf - ‘House’ (Mercury)
Paul White feat. Guilty Simpson - ‘Trust’ (One-Handed Music)
Physical Forms - ‘On The Brink’ (Polyvinyl)
Raffertie - ‘Visual Acuity’ (Ninja Tune)
The Rapture - ‘How Deep Is Your Love?’ (DFA)
Real Estate - ‘It’s Real’ (Domino)
Roots Manuva feat. Spikey Tee - ‘Here We Go Again’ (Big Dada)
Rotifer - ‘Canvey Island’ (Enhanced Analogue)
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - ‘Senator’ (Domino)
Stay+ - ‘Stay+’ (Double Denim)
The Streets - ‘Going Through Hell’ (679)
Tasseomancy - ‘Soft Feet’ (Turf Records)
Theophilus London feat. Devonte Hynes & Solange Knowles - ‘Flying Overseas’ (This Is Music)
Those Dancing Days - ‘Can’t Find Entrance’ (Wichita)
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs - ‘Trouble’ (Greco Roman)
Villagers - ‘The Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever)’ (Domino)
WhoMadeWho - ‘Every Minute Alone’ (Kompakt)
Wiley - ‘Numbers In Action’ (Big Dada)
Warpaint - ‘Shadows’ (Rough Trade)
Wilco - ‘I Might’ (DBPM / ANTI)
Willy Moon - ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ (LuvLuvLuv)
Y Niwl - ‘Undegsaith’ (Aderyn Papur)
Those playlists again, to save your scroll. Top 50 here, or Top 120 (8 hours of ace singles!) here.
- DiS albums of the year 2001-2011
- Vote in our 2011 reader poll
- A list of all our staff members' number one albums of 2011
- DiS editor's songs of the year, playlist
Wendy is on Twitter, here. See you next year.