The end of the year brings, as we know, many many lists. But you should read mine anyway.
1. Nicki Minaj – “Super Bass”
Minaj’s consummate craftsmanship as an artist—in image, flow and production choices—makes her nearly anachronistic among contemporary hiphop acts. Originally thrown onto last year’s Pink Friday as a bonus track, “Super Bass” . The constant minute shifts in intonation showcase Minaj as one of the year’s most compelling personalities, sounding like no-one else around. “Somebody please tell him who the eff I is…” as if it could be anyone else but Nicki Minaj.
2. Bon Iver – “Calgary”
Bon Iver is one of many in a lineage of similar-sounding male songwriters. With his sexy beard and flannel shirts revealing just a hint of chest hair, Iver has built quite a fanbase, drawn to his good looks and sultry crooning. Despite his narrow focus on men’s issues, Iver somehow overcomes the limitations of his sex and triumphantly pulls together an anthem for all of us.
3. Lana Del Rey – “Video Games”
Sounding like the missing link between Nancy Sinatra and Timbaland, newcomer Lana Del Rey has emerged with a fully formed, distinctive artist in her own right. “Video Games” reflects on a relationship. The self-directed video adds another layer of meaning, forming a poignant elegy for the faded glory of America.
4. Lykke Li – “Sadness is a Blessing”
Like a postmodern one-girl Shangra Las, Lykke Li singlehandedly reworks the lost love song into an ode for depression itself. Though steeped in the cerebral tradition of theorists like Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva and Judith Butler, Li’s song, as the video makes clear is just as clearly interested in the visceral world of dance. A better invocation of loss and melancholia there has no been for years, perhaps ever.
5. Jojo – “Marvin’s Room (Can’t Do Better)”
This, Jojo’s masterwork, is not a comfortable listen, but it’s endlessly compelling—a jealous, vindictive, bragging, sad, tender drunk dial of a song. It’s not particularly feminist friendly (“fuck that new girl that you like so bad”) in the way it viciously sees an ex’s new partner as a target (“a dancing little Barbie doll”. But that’s immediately undercut with the brutally honest reflection (“she’s not crazy like me/I bet you like that”). I believe her when she brags that she’s a better fuck than the new girlfriend (“when you’re in her I’m in your head” – ouch). Like a messed-up EveryPerson, the narrator’s more drama than she’s worth–and self aware enough to know it–but still not able to break out of that compulsive cycle of paranoia, lust, and power. “I’m just saying, you could do better….”
6. James Blake – “Limit To Your Love.”
Having bubbled under in 2010, this was the year that dubstep pin-up James Blake finally broke. Here Blake, who sometimes even writes his own songs sometimes, covers Feist’s “Limit to Your Love” to great effect. Relying on just a piano, a sparse beat and a cute sub-bass, Blake’s fantastic effort almost makes you forget the original.
7. St. Vincent – “Cruel”
In this razor-sharp ode to the alienation of domestic drudgery, the iniminatble St. Vincent pulls together a startling original palate of sounds, flipping between airy 40s musical interludes to jagged guitars and a driving disco beat. On top of this, she pulls out the year’s most distinctive guitar solo, a dirty sludgy blast of distortion. In an age of video-game wannabes, Annie Clark is the real guitar hero.
8. Beyonce – “Countdown”
On this criminally overlooked single, Beyonce reinvents rnb once again, riding the horn-stabs and staccato drums as confidently as she ever has. “I’m still falling” she croons, and by the time the Boyz II Men sample, you will have fallen too.
9. Florence and the Machine – “Shake it Out”
A transcendent slice of churchified roch, Florence aims for the stadiums in this amazing slice of power pop. As the organs swell, Florence impels us to shake it off, whatever devil may be on your back. She might be “looking for heaven” but like every great mystic, she’s already there by the time the stunning cooed last minute is over. A true devotional for a secular age.
10. Radiohead – “Lotus Flower”
Thom Yorke is not a very talented singer, but the clear tone of his voice works well enough for his indie-electro records. Over a soundscape clever crafted by his producer, Yorke dances through the videoclip like an ethereal, beguiling pixie.
Methodology note: Ok, Sady’s pointed out it might not be immediately clear what I’m doing here if you don’t read as much music criticism as we do. So basically, I used a lot of small cut n pastes from actual reviews – using the reviews of men for the women, and vice versa – then finessed to make them artist-appropriate. I wanted to spotlight the way that music criticism minimises women’s achievements through using “objective” aesthetic criteria that work to privilege male artists as a whole.