[feature] New Year’s Count-Up: 2011 in five songs

Jay-Z and Kanye's long-awaited collaborative album is realized.

- Jan 4, 2013

As the new year draws closer, we’ve decided to take a look the music that’s gotten us to where we are today. So in an effort to broaden our musical horizons and our understanding of contemporary artists, we’re counting down 2012 by counting up from 1952, taking a look at a handful of songs from a different year every day until January 1st. You can find the full list here. Today we’re heading back to 2010!

Jay-Z and Kanye West - "Niggas in Paris"

Jay-Z & Kanye West - Ni**as In Paris (Explicit)

On the Watch The Throne Tour, Kanye and Jay-Z would perform this song five, six, seven times in a row. The crowds loved it; they wanted to see a record-breaking number of performances in their town. At five times on end, that Hit Boy beat becomes hypnotic, elevating the track from a brag-song by the two biggest players in the game to a cycle of hymns, a worship service. On Dec 12, 2011, they played it nine times in a row at the Staples Center. The next night, still in L.A.: ten. This past summer in Paris, Kanye told a crowd "This song isn't called 'Niggas in Los Angeles,'" so they gave the crowd the song 11 times. And then, a couple of weeks later, 12 times back-to-back.

St. Vincent - "Cruel"

St. Vincent - Cruel (Official Video)

On Strange Mercy, Annie Clark grows the pop experimentation of Actor, emerging as a full-membership David Byrne acolyte (a sign of things to come). "Cruel" has Clark put her guitar fanfare — fuzzy, and at times, downright filthy (that guitar solo) — against her own velvety voice and a whole pit of classical strings. Headier pop than the radio might care for, but every bit as sweet.

James Blake - "Limit to your Love"

James Blake - Limit To Your Love

James Blake's minimal dubstep version of the Feist tune appears on his self-titled studio debut. That sub-bass wobble and Blake's dejected tone through the verse take Feist's melancholy piano ballad to a much darker place. Listen with headphones – those laptop speakers just won't do.

tUnE-yArDs - "Powa"

Tune-Yards - Powa

I could show you Merrill Garbus the face-painting, world beat experimenter whose songs deliver the child-like exuberance and maximalism of the Macy's Day Parade, but I won't. Instead, I give you this downtempo number. This isn't in spite or to betray the thrust of her sound or to misguide you in any way, but rather to remind listeners of how fucking excellent a singer she is — the ne plus ultra of vocalists working today. Do you hear those chops? What about that impossibly high note that awaits patient listeners in the song's dying seconds?

Lana Del Rey - "Video Games"

Lana Del Rey - Video Games

Her lips are bloated grotesquely by filler, her big Saturday Night Live performance was hailed "one of the wost outings in SNL history," and her past failed pop career was uncovered, bringing up all sorts of questions about authenticity, but don't for a second think that these aren't part of her allure. Del Rey's torchy, Nancy-Sinatra-hollowed-by-coke schtick is the perfect conduit for the postmodern love song. Her ballads are the form presented in itself, pure and simple, devoid of any emotion (besides apathy, if you can call the negation an emotion) or attempt to conceal the artifice of the pop machine. Her's is the sound of vacancy, and goddamn, it sounds perfect and spooky — like a corpse made up for its funeral; serene, but not of warm blood.

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