“Midnight City”

The fact that M83’s “Midnight City” came out within a couple months of Nicolas Winding Refn’s anti-action movie, Drive, must mean that the universe is up to something. It’s not as if this is the first time we’ve seen ’80s revivalism, which has existed since approximately January 1, 1990. What sets these two cultural treasures apart is not that they recreate history, but that they rewrite it, making the era seem much more interesting than it ever was. Maybe some time-traveling rogue went back to the ’80s and figured out how to make the decade darker and sexier, and now the universe is course-correcting itself. Whatever the case, “Midnight City” is all outsized cool with none of the cheese, exemplifying everything that made the ’80s great with not so much as an ironic nod to what made it lame. DH

Tyler the Creator

Geez, do you remember where you were the night Odd Future debuted on Jimmy Kimmel? If you do, than you probably also remember the disappointment that came with hearing Tyler the Creator’s debut, Goblin. While Wolf Gang hysteria moved at hyper-twitter pace, the promise of Tyler’s first monster single, “Yonkers,” was soon dissolved in that album’s indulgent self-hate and stunted inconsistency. Luckily, we can still look back on “Yonkers,” with its throbbing, wicked, bottom-feeding beat and Tyler’s heaviest lyrics to date. For those three minutes, you’d think the youngster was peerless. It’s a shame this song might be the high point of 2011’s most polarizing new act. KJE

The Black Keys
“Lonely Boy”

Oh how far these dudes have come! The last few records Pat and Dan released were just that: full records you’d listen to start to finish. Not to say they didn’t have standout songs, just nothing like this one. Holy crap, it’s everywhere! And every time it comes on, I have no choice but to crank it up. Before it was easy to pick out who was doing what, but this time Dangermouse and them Akron kids added some “glory hallelujah” to the burning-tire blues jive they perfected and then changed into this whole other thing. My mom likes this song, my six-year-old nieces and nephews dance to it, and my girlfriend can’t help but cool jerk a little bit when Carney’s snare shuffle comes through clear after the screwed guitar goes clean. And then there’s the lyric. It’s a future classic a la “Tired of Waiting for You.” MPO

Souterrain Transmissions

The threatening tableaus in “California” harken back to Lou Reed’s “Caroline Says Part II,” (from Berlin), but Erika M. Anderson defiantly claims a first-person perspective and twists the knife much deeper. Really, it’s an incredible dis record. Lyrically, it shares as much lineage with Eminem as it does with Patti Smith, and in person, EMA channels both as she performs it. She’s so determined not to give an inch that she barely bothers with melody. Call it recitativo vitriolic, as she spits over widescreen drones and moans, and vents the goriest details of a deranged love “so real, so fucked, it’s 51-50.” All the while, she’s “begging you to look away,” but you can’t because she’s looking you dead in the eye the whole time. MS

Britney Spears
“Till the World Ends”

Maybe it was fitting that 2011, a year loaded with unfulfilled rapture predictions and 2012 apocalypse hype, marked another mini-renaissance for Britney Spears, highlighted by her immensely catchy “Till The World Ends.” Written and produced by Katy Perry’s dream team of Dr. Luke and Max Martin (with an assist from Kesha), the song’s energetic electro-pop dance beat and chanted vocal hook seemed to become a sort of omnipresent background soundtrack as the year wore on. “Till The World Ends” sounds perfectly suited for Spears, whose vocals only add to the song’s vibrancy and vivacity, making it one of the tracks from 2011 with a shelflife that may indeed extend for a very, very long time. RW

Jay-Z and Kanye West
“Niggas in Paris”

“Niggas in Paris” isn’t the best song on Watch the Throne; it’s the type of song that both Jay-Z and Kanye could toss out in their sleep. But it’s instantly addictive. There’s something about the combination of the verses with that beat and the minimal keyboard stab and snare cracks that dissolve into a sick 808 drop that had the internet freaking out when the album dropped. It also has an absurd amount of quotable lines. Is there a lesson to be learned? Only if you weren’t aware how hard Jigga and Ye ball. Is it braggadocious? Is it over the top? Yes. And your point is? DSH

Park the Van

The Generationals proved that they know how to craft the perfect pop tune with last year’s “Trust.” The first couple times you hear the hand-clapping percussion, reverberating guitar and clean hooks of “Ten-Twenty-Ten,” the New Orleans duo of Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer sounds as if they could share some Swedish lineage with Peter, Bjorn and John or the Shout Out Louds. By the third time you hear the contagious guitar riff, you’re sure you’ve heard it somewhere before. Because it’s just so catchy, it sounds like a familiar favorite after no time at all. JR

Lana Del Rey
“Video Games”

Granted Lana Del Rey’s rocket success is based in viral meme and Tori Amos might deserve some royalties for this single, but it’s hard to discredit the instant ubiquity of Del Rey’s “Video Games” single. Whether she is manufactured or a true talent is yet to be seen, but her Stepford wife demure and topical lyrics about the elegance of despondency were a perfect combination of soulful diva and hipster pin-up. That “Video Games” is smoky, string-led drama sounding like a stoned kiss-off from one lover to the next (and never intended for public ears) adds a third dimension of voyeurism, with all eyes on how Lana’s career will eventually evolve. KJE

Das Racist
“Michael Jackson”

Authenticity is an annoying concept in any genre (see Lana Del Rey), but particularly rap music where personal stories and struggles often inform the artists’ best work. So when your biggest song to date is about a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, it’s going to be an uphill battle for legitimacy no matter how tongue-in-cheek you are. But if Das Racist’s first two mixtapes left any doubt, then Relax and its lead-off single, “Michael Jackson,” proved that even when Heems and Kool AD joke about “tiny-ass cheeseburgers,” they’re turning a critical eye on society, though that only matters if you care for arguments about “serious artistry.” The most important thing to gather from “Michael Jackson” is a confirmation of what Das Racist already know: they’re “fucking great at rapping.” DH

Times New Viking
“No Room to Live”

While on past records it’s always been possible to discern pop songs peeking out from beneath Times New Viking’s self-made noisy constructions, with this year’s Dance Equired, the band brought its collection of hooks out in the open for all to see. There is probably no better example of the band benefitting from such an approach than on “No Room to Live,” the album’s lead single. Here there’s still something delightfully unmitigated, with the track bearing some scruffiness, if not actual fuzz. The trio sounds slightly world-weary and a tad pensive as they embrace a simple melody and turn it into a song for the ages. SS