The Rock’s Backpages Rewind: The Best 20 Tracks of 2011
A playlist for the year just passed: twenty sublime songs to lift the spirit and heal the soul—Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
1 "The Glorious Land" by PJ Harvey
Polly Jean becomes the conscience of Albion on this urgent, elegiac lament. Glorious indeed.
2 "The World (Is Going Up in Flames)" by Charles Bradley
More hand-wringing, this time in the form of anguished retro-soul. The ghost of O.V. Wright rises from the inner city…
3 "The Bronx" by Booker T. Jones
… and segues into this superb fusion of Memphis soul and hip hop beats. The best thing Lou Reed appeared on in 2011.
4 "Perth" by Bon Iver
Justin Vernon rewrites alternative rock with the aid of martial beats, mariachi horns and overloaded guitars. An elliptical song of defiant hope.
5 "The Way It Will Be" by Gillian Welch
Taking its melodic cue from Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer", this song of muted rage was the standout cut from the mildly underwhelming Harrow and the Harvest.
6 "Caught a Long Wind" by Feist
The Canadian priestess of offbeat melody and arrangement returns with an entrancing song of avian metaphors. Ballad of the year.
7 "Limit to Your Love" by James Blake
Brit boy wonder Blake covers Feist's earlier beauty and fashions a glitchy, introverted masterpiece from it.
8 "Wild Man" by Kate Bush
The only really great song from 50 Words for Snow but as good as anything Kate's given us before — a deep cry of compassion for an innocent primitive.
9 "Bats in the Attic" by King Creosote and Jon Hopkins
Exquisitely sad plaint of regret and reproach born of the interesting collaboration between a Scottish bard and a master of the new electronica.
10 "Pay Me" by Tom Waits
The prettiest, saddest ballad on Bad as Me. Grainy, blunt, heartbreaking.
11 "Lion's Share" by Wild Beasts
A driving synth pulse motors this wracked mid-tempo ballad. Jimi Somerville fronts Coldplay, but far superior to either.
12 "Midnight City" by M83
The latest edition of ironic French '80s Americophilia: a ridiculously beautiful and OTT anthem of urban euphoria.
13 "The Plains/Bitter Dancer" by Fleet Foxes
The best track on Helplessness Blues, if only (or mainly) for the central section that kicks in at two minutes. The most sublime close CSN-meets-America harmonies of the year.