Sexy Synth Pop, Protest Music, and Mentally Draining Songs about Hooking-Up

Emily Harper of Class Actress auditions for an American Apparel ad. Or just listens to one of her sexy tracks. From the Class Actress Facebook page.

This is the first part of our list. To see part two, click here.

We’ve said before and we’ll say it again: lists are to articles what reality shows are to television. They are easy to produce, they are strictly meant for easy consumption, and if they say anything profound it is purely accidental.

This list is a cliche, year-end music list. So why are we doing it? One, we are lazy. Compiling a list of songs is much simpler than writing an essay about 2011’s music. Two, from time to time we recommend concerts on this site, so this list is meant as a frame of reference for our musical tastes.

So these our are 15 favorite songs of 2011. We don’t want to say they are the “best songs of 2011.” These are just the 15 songs we liked the most in 2011, with one caveat: We compiled this list before looking at other top-song lists, since those usually introduce us to a bunch of great songs we never heard. We wanted to be honest and unswayed. (Now, after looking over the top-song lists of people with much more knowledge than us, we realize we missed a ton of good music. So it goes. Sometimes you just don’t have the time to open door number three).

The list will be revealed in 3 parts, and at the end there will be a Spotify list. For now, there are just words and SoundCloud clips. Here are songs 11 through 15, in reverse order:

15. Steve McQueen – M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming

We once vowed to never mention Steve McQueen on Man Up Chicago, since every single effing  men’s website writes about him as if they’ll get fined by the Internets if they don’t. But we are breaking our rule to talk about the song “Steve McQueen,” the denouement on M83’s album “Hurry Up We’re Dreaming.” The song begins with dizzying synthesizer rifts and rapid and repetitive bass drum taps; clearly something exciting is about to happen.
M83’s Anthony Gonzales then delivers the opening lines — “I woke up stronger than ever / Driven by big waves of fire” — and more repetitive drum taps continue before the songs emotion spills over into a firework of a chorus. Put this on your indie rock workout mix.

14. Dystopia (The Earth is on Fire) – YACHT – Shangri-La

“The roof is on fire” is such an antiquated party salvo that we just assumed it was hanging from the rafters and emblazoned on a plaque. Who knew it could be manipulated and turned into a more-than-serviceable party anthem in 2011? Obviously YACHT did, and why this song didn’t become the official song and chant for the Occupy Wall Street crowd, we will never know. Shouting “The Earth, the Earth, the Earth, is on fire!” is far more effective than drum circles. Regardless, this offbeat electronic song is still perfect for parties and future demonstrations (like at the G8 summit in Chicago).

13. Santa Fe – Beirut – The Rip Tide

This is perhaps Beirut’s most accessible song ever, or as accessible as it gets for a group that whose sound is heavily influenced by brassy Balkan music. “Santa Fe” contains a quirky electronic beat looped continuously and doesn’t sound very Beirut-ish until the 1:40 mark. This song is probably the least likely of Beirut’s to be brought when discussion the band’s signature sound. The fact that is so different, but still so good, is why it became one of our favorites.

12. I Don’t Want Love – The Antlers – Burst Apart

When Peter Silberman’s delicate falsetto opens “I Don’t Want Love,” you expect to hear something sweet. Instead you get, “You wanna climb up the stairs / I wanna push you back down.” And so begins the depressed hook-up tug-of-war that is “I Don’t Want Love.” It’s a soft jam, and musically it’s pretty enough to slow dance too. But lyrically, it’s all pain; the desperate pleas of a weak man who can’t resist the charms of a lover he wants nothing to do with. It also contains some of the most beautiful lyrics about drunken sex we’ve ever read: “We wake up with pounding heads / Bruised down below / I should have built better walls / Or slept in all my clothes.” Sounds like someone should invest in a chastity belt.

11. Weekend – Class Actress – Rappocher

It’s not often we describe synth-pop as relentlessly sexy, but then again it’s not often someone as talented as Elizabeth Harper — the key component of Class Actress — is using it as a medium to create an alluring come-hither song. The lyrics to “Weekend” — “You make me late for work / You make me late for church” — lack the bluntness you might find in say, a Kesha song, without dumbing down the sultriness so much that it’s unclear what Harper is getting at. Just as important, the lyrics are dirty enough to make you really want to be the object of Harper’s weekend affection. And just in case you had any doubt that “Weekend” is about some serious between-the-sheets time on Friday and Saturday, check out the video, where Harper’s seductively sings the song in a black dress with a strap falling off.