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Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Ten Best Songs of 2011 So Far

The first musical quarter of 2011 is now over.  And, while many great acts loom just over the horizon, we can safely sum up the year so far.  Radiohead spluttered with a damp squib as did The Strokes.  Human League need to retire.  Duran Duran triumphed in the retro-game.  And the best song of the year so far is by an obscure American band, and about 9/11 - a decade late perhaps?  It is a measure of the year's strength that I have not selected Britney Spears, Blancmange, The Decemberists, Lykke Li, The Joy Formidable, Clare Maguire, White Lies, British Sea Power, Cloud Nothings, The Naked and the Famous, Breathe Owl Breathe, Beady Eye, James Blake, Ghostpoet, or Sister Crayon, just to mention a few of the fine artists of 2011 with great songs.

1. 'Boeing 737' - The Low Anthem
It is hard to listen to this stirring folk song that one might sing in a Boston pub, without being reminded of the hardy spirit of the American people at their finest.  A classic.

2. 'Believe It When I See It' - Ron Sexsmith
The baby-faced Canadian has been an also-ran so many times before it hardly seems possible, but here it is - a sweet pop song as well-made as a Bacharach gem.

3. 'Let England Shake' - PJ Harvey
Weird, jangly and fiercely political, this is a very smart song that also happens to be oddly catchy.  Harvey has never been better.

4. 'Step Out Of The Car' - The Boxer Rebellion
Frighteningly slick and stream-lined, this song might as well be a high-end automobile.  Instead, it is a song so cool you feel like you're cruising in LA at dusk, in shades, looking for a perp.

5. 'Rolling In The Deep' - Adele
The love song of 2011, of course.  Heartfelt, wonderfully driven, and sung with bravado, this is the sound of a young artist becoming a star.

6. 'Blind Faith' - Chase & Status
It's hard to imagine a more potent dance song this year - "I am the man with a heavy heart" begins the epic, and then it just swims upwards to "sweet sensation / the music that we play" - grandeur.

7. 'Me & You' - Nero
Almost more biblically potent than 'Blind Faith' this song could close any summer blockbuster and make you want to punch the air and sea-dive off a cliff at the same time.  Stirring.

8. 'Down' - Buffalo Tom
Angry blue-collar American songs in the vein of Tom Petty, The Boss, or John Cougar come along often.  This is well-made stuff, but it is also an attack on "the damage that Abe has done/ they took his only son/ and brought him down".  Very moving.

9.'Leave A Light On' - Duran Duran
When they do ballads, they are among the sharpest popsters of all time.  Think 'Ordinary World'.  This is as good and romantic as that.  Old romantic, new romantic - whatever - they're back.

10. 'With Love' - Elbow
The band everyone wants the best for came back with a great album, and songs as poetic and well-crafted as a Sean O'Brien collection.

11. Honourable mentions - tied for 11th.  REM are back, barely, with a hit and miss album, but 'Discoverer' is vintage stuff.  Black Francis is as weird and wonderful as ever on the strange 'Makanujo'; Harry's Gym have a very lovely song with 'Old Man'.
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