Top Lyricists of 2011

Words, depending on their usage, can have a variety of functions and purposes. Some use words to inflict hurt, some to express a feeling and some to induce a cathartic release to purge extreme emotions. Though the meaning and purpose of words is largely subjective to each individual, the outlet and art form of songwriting allows for some objective parameters by which to judge the quality and usage of the words of the lyricist. For instance, one can judge the word usage, grouping of words and lyrical structure by the overall purpose of the lyricist. Do the word choices and grouping of words match and enhance the feeling being conveyed, or fall short of effectively fulfilling their purpose? Also, do the lyrics, no matter if they are complex or simple, draw the listener in, appeal to him or her and allow a connection to be made between the audience and the artist?

Unlike the “Best Albums” list, the “Top Lyricists” list takes into account only one particular element of the music. In determining the top ten songwriters for this list, the singular focus was the lyricism. With this narrow perspective, the order and even the artists included on this list greatly differ from the top twenty-five releases of the year. The lyrics of the artists on this list range from immensely intricate to simple, and some deal with complex emotional issues while others are concerned with light-hearted matters or conveying humor and irony through witty, snarky expressions.


10. Zach Condon (Beirut) 

Zach Condon

“Sound is the color I know, oh

Sound is what keeps me looking for your eyes

And sound of your breath in the cold

And oh, the sound will bring me home again

And oh, the sound will bring me home again”

- Beirut, “East Harlem”

9. Heems and Kool A.D. (Das Racist) 

Das Racist

“What good is this Cashmere

If they’re still dying in Kashmir?


There was homes, now there’s just dust there

Next year, same as this year

A rough year

Live in much fear, stay inside after dusk here

Brush tears from eyelids”

- Das Racist, “Relax”

8. Cass McCombs 

Cass McCombs

“Love thine enemy

But hate their lack of sincerity

Love thine enemy

He tried to come between us like a purple ghoul

Hypocrites especially practice the golden rule

I love what you say thought sometimes it’s mean

Without earthworms how else would the soil keep clean?”

- Cass McCombs, “Love Thine Enemy”


7. Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone (TV on the Radio) 

TV on the Radio

“Sunshine I saw you through the hanging vine

All memory of what was mine fading away

And as night heals the ground

And the moonlight steals the sound

I could leave suddenly unafraid”

- TV on the Radio, “Killer Crane”

6. Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) 

Jeff Tweedy

“I’ve been lost

I’ve been found

I’ve been taken

by the sound

My own worries

and voices in my head

I can’t help it if I fall 

In love with you again

I’m calling just to let you know

It dawned on me”

- Wilco, “Dawned On Me”


5. Bradford Cox (Atlas Sound) 

Bradford Cox

“I kept guards and caravans close to me

In case one day I’d need some company

I never looked out towards the wind

i never saw the families gathering around

Holy ghost

Tripled host, I saw

Carry me home

On the backs of beasts that drone”

- Atlas Sound, “Terra Incognita”


4. Ryan Adams 

Ryan Adams

“With cool and silvery eyes

And a heart that was fit for desire

Drowned in a river of tears

Oh, a river she cried left her with a heart

Made of ashes and fire

One day there was silence and it washed through the town

There was no reason to speak and no one made a sound

Her eyes were indigo and the cats were all calico

And the sailboats they all sailed by

And a river she cried”

- Ryan Adams, “Ashes and Fire”

3. Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) 

Justin Vernon

“Christmas night, it clutched the light, the hallow bright

Above my brother, I and tangled spines

We smoked the screen to make it what it was to be

Now to know it in my memory

And at once I knew I was not magnificent

High above the highway aisle

(Jagged vacance, thick with ice)

I could see for miles, miles, miles”

- Bon Iver, “Holocene”


2. Kurt Vile 

“My sister’s stuck

And she don’t think she can unglue it

Sometimes I get stuck in a rut, too

It’s okay, girlfriend

Sometimes I’m in a rut so much

I don’t want it to end

I bet by now

You probably think I’m a puppet

To the man

Well, I shout it out loud

Because I know that I am”

- Kurt Vile, “Puppet To The Man”

1. Christopher Owens (Girls) 

Christopher Owens

“Maybe I didn’t realize
the way I loved the way you moved,
’till I moved so far away
I couldn’t see you anymore.

And maybe all those secret times
didn’t seem so bad until I knew,
all of my little secrets 
weren’t all that secret anymore

Maybe it’s all right,
I mean, I went and found the modern world,
but I miss the way life was
when you were my girl

I know I never noticed then
just what it was I had
up until I lost you,
and man, did I lose you
ain’t that the way it always goes?

And I know you are gonna be just fine,
you know they say it’s better 
to have loved and to lose it,
than to never ever know it,
Easy come and easy go, whatever

Maybe it’s all right,
I mean, I went and found the modern world,
but I miss the way life was
when you were my girl”

- Girls, “Jamie Marie”

Simply put, Christopher Owens was the best lyricist of 2011 because he was able to take the well-documented emotion of heartbreak and convey it lyrically in such a way that had not been heard before. He did not rely on cliché but personalized the emotion to his own lyrical style, which has a balanced mix of complex and simple lyrical musings. Though the themes and subject matter that Owens drew from were sometimes larger than life (a Bible verse was used as inspiration for the breakup ode “Vomit”), he never came off as bombastic or overreaching, but maintained a sincerity and honesty that is tangible throughout the record. As seen by our “Best Albums of 2011″ list, the music just so happened to match the quality of the lyrics as well, forming a classic LP that should be revered years after its release.







Comments are closed.