In full list format, here are my complete rankings for the best songs of 2009.
January quickly approaches, which means it’s time for me to discuss my favorite music of the past twelve months. Last year, I had created a list of my favorite fifty tracks, but for some reason, I never got around to publishing them. Quick sidebar – for the record, MGMT’s “Kids” was number one. This year, though, I was determined to do a list for tracks in addition to full albums. Note that I used the term tracks and not singles, because some of these were simply songs on albums that I enjoyed, while most were actually commercially released as singles. My list details the top fifty songs of the year, with an extra ten as honorable mentions.
60. Tegan and Sara – “Alligator”
The Canadian twins are back with a light-hearted song declaring independence and strength at the end of a relationship. The protagonist sings “No hissy fits, mind my manners/Won’t make a scene, oh, over you.” The lyrics are witty and fun, with a almost arrogant smirk sung throughout the perfectly manicured and energetic beat.
59. Neko Case – “This Tornado Loves You”
Neko Case continues to showcase her abilities as a talented singer/songwriter. Her metaphor of natural disasters for people in a relationship blurs the line between literal and figurative. Part of the reason she can succeed with such a metaphor is because her voice itself is a force of nature. Swirling instrumentation, including a banjo, shaker, and keyboard, helps to create the feeling of a charging train or, perhaps, a tornado.
58. A.C. Newman – “The Palace at 4 AM”
A third Canadian musician in a row, and the second member of the New Pornogaphers on the list so far, Newman paints a wild night out on the town with this song. He delivers a song that is well layered musically with thumping percussion and an infectious drum section.
57. Will Hoge – “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”
Fellow Nashville resident Will Hoge, who’s a perfectly nice guy in person, sings an excellent ode to growing up with the dream of a musical career. The song builds on itself as it progresses, highlighting the love of the song itself as the chorus reels you in, hook, line, and sinker. Hoge is a rare talent in the way his voice really conveys an emotion behind the lyrics, unlike other, more popular artists.
56. Real Estate – “Green River”
The first half of the song is purely instrumental, as swirling guitars, tambourines, and countless other instruments create a sonic metaphor of a river. Once the lyrics cut in, distant and soft, you can practically feel the sunshine on your arm and the smell the grass on the banks. The song really is that transcendent.
55. Coldplay – “Life in Technicolor ii”
The biggest band in the world delivered the EP Prospekt’s March technically back in 2008, but this single was officially released in February, so I am totally counting it. One of several gems embedded within the EP, “LiTii” has strings, drums, and reverb build on each other for the first minute or so, and then Chris Martin begins to describe the world around him on an epic night on the town. “Oh, love, don’t let me go/Won’t you take me where the streetlights glow?/I can hear it coming, I can hear the sirens sound/Now my feet won’t touch the ground.” With some of the band’s most enthralling lyrics, it reminds me of U2’s “City of Blinding Lights,” if that song were actually good.
54. Telekinesis – “All of a Sudden”
Not the last song on my list that’s perfect for a trip to the beach or a rainy day, this British group puts addictive claps, catchy lyrics, and introspection together for a classic summer jam. The opening notes fake you out, as shades Death Cab for Cutie’s “No Sunlight” materialize, but then the distinctive lyrics and stuccato hand claps kick in, and you’re in an entirely new place. “All of a sudden it’s the summer time” still works at the end of December – trust me.
53. Karen O and the Kids – “All is Love”
The brash lead singer of The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s struck out on her own this year with the soundtrack to the film Where the Wild Things Are. This is the standout song of the album, with Karen and a choir of several children singing lyrics like “L-O-V-E/It’s a mystery/Where you’ll find me/Where you find/All is love…is love…is love…is love” The whoops and yells in the middle of the song, followed by an adorable attempt at harmonizing and whistling simply adds to the charming sensibility of the song. If I had a kid, this would be our theme song, hands down.
52. Feist and Ben Gibbard – “Train Song”
Two of indie music’s finest representatives duetted on this classic 1966 track from British songbird Vashti Bunyan. The two sound incredible together, and while it adds a certain je ne sais qoui to the piece for having what are presumably two lovers sing to each other, Vashti’s original rendition is still far stronger. There’s a resigned grace to the song that Leslie and Ben kept here, Leslie especially rose to the occasion to imbue real emotion in the lyrics.
51. Portugal. The Man – “Work All Day”
The blatant rhythm that courses through this song is an instant head bouncer, and the chorus is refreshing in its references to work songs field laborers used to sing. It’s almost as if they took the lyrics from a 19th century field song and added psychedelic, poppy notes to cascade around them.
Tracks 50-1: The Real List
50. Jay-Z and Alicia Keys – “Empire State of Mind”
The ubiquitous megahit was popular for a reason – Jay-Z knows to produce a rhyme. The lyrics aren’t his best, but Alicia’s soaring chorus works with the piano-drive beat to produce a love song to one of the best cities in the world. How can you not love a man who claims he made the Yankee cap more popular than a Yankee can?
49. Little Boots – “New in Town”
This British poptart creates an opening track to her album that served as a bit of a summer anthem for me. “I don’t have a penny/But I’ll show you a good time” is just one of the outstanding lines she delivers over a pounding background of synthesizers and police sirens. Great song for drunken college dancing or big city walking on a sunny day, as the momentum of the music is sure to inspire a boost in energy.
48. Lady Gaga – “Bad Romance”
Gaga is clearly one of the dominant forces in pop music after her obscenely successful year. This song, her fifth single, doesn’t have her best lyrics (that distinction goes to “Paparazzi’s” rich satire), but the catchy hooks of “Bad Romance” are all consuming as they attach themselves to your brain. I love how the discordant synthesizers symbolize her shaky mental state throughout her infatuation. The call-and-response bridges and the unapologetic over-the-top energy of the entire piece only make the track more diabolically perfect in its pop construction.
47. Animal Collective – “My Girls”
I think I’m one of the only indie-bent people in America who doesn’t swoon when I put onMerriweather Post Pavilion, quickly hailed as the best album of the year when it was released in January. That said, I can recognize good construction when I hear it, and “My Girls” utilizes its intricately layered, nearly hallucinogenic synthesizers to full effect. The pace of the song picks up considerably in the second half, as simplistic but endearing lyrics fold in on each other from multiple members.
46. Julie Peel – “Unfold”
The calming and effortless French folk of Julie Peel comes through best on this song. “Yeah I feel lost…lost like I’ve never been before/I can’t unfold and my dreams are gone and buried” connects on a truly elemental level. Her soft guitar, cello, and harp, among other instruments, wrap the alienation of the lyrics in an easily digestible package. The song in lesser hands would sound whiny, or even bore the audience, but Peel truly excels with this piece.
45. Kidz in the Hall – “Jukebox”
Effortless flow from the hip hop duo Kidz characterizes this flawless track that’s perfect for work out mixes and party playlists everywhere. One of the best beats of the year supplements an impassioned plea at the dance club for some love from a stranger. “See your body could be my hobby” is followed up by a request for a Blue’s Clue; outstanding lyrics make you smirk as much as dance. Listen to it once and try not to love it.
44. Kelly Clarkson – “Already Gone”
There were a lot of pop divas with strings/hard percussion songs this year – Beyoncé’s “Halo,” Jordin’s “Battlefield,” and Leona’s “Happy” come to mind. Clarkson trumped all of them with this heartfelt gem about a doomed relationship, despite Knowles stealing the arrangement when she heard Ryan Tedder working on it last year. Clarkson was so embarrassed this was released as a single (because of it’s similarities to “Halo,” not because of any flaws in the song), that she completely rearranged the construction for live performances, and it’s still haunting. Her vocal instrument is at its peak in this track, and the lyrics she wrote with Tedder still resonate nine months after its release.
43. Generationals – “When They Fight, They Fight”
A timeless song that could just as easily be from 1969 than 2009. The harmonies from the members between verses help balance out the hand-clapping throughout the rest of the song to create an indie pop-standard for years to come. The piano builds on the drums which builds on what seriously sounds like someone banging on empty Mason jars. Maracas, hand claps, and horns all contribute to a perfectly layered song that will make your foot start tapping immediately. Everything collapses in on itself near the end, and the result is melodious bliss.
42. The Raveonettes – “Last Dance”
These Danish friends create a sick, morbid version of 60’s doo-wop that must be heard to be believed. With lines like “And every time you overdose/I rush to intensive care,” this song is a dysfunctional relationship, to say the least, summed up into three and a half minutes. The chorus is so superbly composed, however, that the odd lyrics are forgiven – hell, even embraced – as a token of love between these two characters.
41. M. Ward – “Never Had Nobody Like You”
Coming off the heels of last year’s Volume One as half of She & Him and before his collaboration this year in Monsters of Folk, M. Ward creates an outstanding alternative country/folk song about the love of his life. His voice is detached, almost removed physically from the song, and the electric guitar is excellent. Bonus points? I’d put money down that background singer is Zooey Deschanel.
40. Gomez – “Airstream Driver”
Reverb is utilized well here, as Gomez creates a fantastic rhythm for the song and layers over it increasingly as the song builds. The lyrics bounce along throughout the piece as guitar riffs and even – dare I say it? – cowbell is used. A truly ingenius work from a consistent band that’s still solid after all these years.
39. Ingrid Michaelson – “Soldier”
Her guitar strums manically at the beginning of the piece, and soon she’s joined by backing drums, then bass guitar, and finally the chorus ties all together in an uplifting swell. “And so it goes, this soldier knows/The battle with the heart isn’t easily won/….but it can be won” shows the tough facade of the protagonist crumbling around her as she finally realizes what it means to love. Cheesy? Yes. But dammit if it’s not effective.
38. K’naan – “Wavin’ Flag”
I had the privilege of seeing this song performed live last spring, and nothing can compare. When I heard that it was chosen as the theme for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, I was ecstatic. K’naan details his difficult childhood in Somalia and raps in a spectacular flow about how as he grows, so does his strength. It’s literally one of those songs you can listen to a hundred times and still feel your heart start to swell as the chorus kicks in.
37. Jason Lytle – “Brand New Sun”
Psychedelic folk is really the best way to describe this love song for the new millenium. “So you should hold my hand while everything blows away” drifts out softly from Lytle’s throat as the audience gets swept up in the almost apocalyptic lyrics. This could be an especially unfortunate hike or just as easily be a conversation between the father and son team from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. And yet it’s still so charming in the way it conveys his love.
36. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – “Cool Yourself”
Full disclosure: Thao was a friend of mine in college. This doesn’t change the fact that her infectious indie pop here works so well. The strumming guitars coincides with the sunny drums and Thao’s “Oh, gotdayum” vocal delivery. Horns only add to the fun once the obligatory “Whoa whoa whoa’s” start, and the almost jangly captivation of the song takes over.
35. The Dodos – “Fables”
If Grizzly Bear wrote a more upbeat, more accessible pop song, it would most likely sound just like this. The harmonies are spot on and the hard-thumping guitars work well with the cheery lyrics. The instruments seem to spiral out of control near the end of the song, then build back onto each other with an aggression that belies the buoyancy of the rest of the track.
34. Noah and the Whale – “Blue Skies”
When compared to the light-hearted work on NatW’s first album, “Blue Skies” is a far cry from the standard set by the whistling charm of songs like “Five Years’ Time.” The orchestral movements and choral back up of the slow-moving arrangement plays well to the broken heart of the singer. Written after a particularly devastating break up, this song really shows transformation with lines like “This is the last song that I write while I’m still in love with you.”
33. Joe Purdy – “Miss Me”
Purdy is the undiscovered gem of Arkansas, and this song is no exception. “Miss Me” uses the guitar, fiddle, banjo, and slow drums to support lyrics concerning a story of abandonment. There’s a bitterness inherent in the words, a resentment even, but the protagonist seems to still have legitimate concern for his lover that left him so easily for the big city. Once the harmonica sets in halfway through, you’re already lost in the overwhelming charm and heartbreak of Mr. Purdy himself.
32. Free Energy – “Dream City”
You might recognize the first few notes from the ubiquitous flip camera commercials, but the entire song is outstanding. The pop rock beginning transitions to almost a croon, as the instruments subside into the background. A raucous guitar provides our backdrop while a brass section adds a certain flare to the experience. The energy picks back up soon, however, and horns and drums work together to build to a climactic end section. Once the “Na na na na’s” begin, try to resist the allure of Free Energy.
31. Conor Oberst and Gillian Welch – “Lua”
Another entry from the compilation Dark Was the Night, and another duet on the list. I chided Feist and Ben Gibbard for not really adding anything to the song they used, but quite the opposite is evident here. Conor covers his own song, but the addition of Gillian’s lilting voice creates more sympathy and an evocation of pain than the original, which sounded far whinier. The mandolin almost seems like the heart strings themselves are being plucked. In the end, a cover should transform the song, and while this change was subtle, it was thorough and quite affecting.
30. Wale ft. Lady Gaga – “Chillin’”
DC gets some representation in hip hop with Wale, who experienced his break out this year with his lead single “Chillin’.” An outstanding beat supports his rapid-fire flow and constant pop culture references, including the best Superbadnod I’ve ever heard. Lady Gaga provides the hook as an M.I.A. clone, but the brassy synths supporting the verses more than compensate for her derivative performance.
29. Bombay Bicycle Club – “Always Like This”
The bass line is overwhelming at first, and the snare drums start to pick up some of the slack, but about a minute and twenty seconds in, the real meat of the song begins. “I’m not whole/I’m not who-o-ole” starts to surround the listener, and the song only gets better from there, only building on itself through the second half. Ennui experienced by the quarter life crisis crowd is captured effectively through the lyrics.
28. Maria Taylor – “Time Lapse Lifeline”
The music in this song, while alluring, plays backup to Taylor’s voice and haunting lyrics. Simplistic drums, guitar, and even some orchestration lie in the background of the lyrics and vocals (one interesting and subtle change – when the music literally rewinds after Taylor sings the word in the second verse). “Oh, we dreamed of life…and just like that it’s done” shows a wistful approach to nostalgia and possibly even regret. ”Back it up, back it up/Stop, fast forward, rewind” shows that Taylor’s protagonist wants desperately to be anywhere but here – a chilling and appropriate feeling for many people in 2009.
27. The Swell Season – “In These Arms”
The geniuses behind Once, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, come back with a calming but disquieting ballad about comfort for a damaged lover. The beginning lists faults like using “the truth as a weapon” and causing offense every time her feathers get ruffled. The overall piece is dominated by a softly strumming guitar and Hansard’s dulcet voice, but the chorus utilizes Irglova’s soft whisper for harmonies and the full emotion hits as both proclaim “Maybe I was born to hold you in these arms.” A love song for the new millennium, to be sure.
26. VV Brown – “Shark in the Water”
I honestly can’t stop listening to this song. No joke, for seven or eight months running, this song has been playing on repeat. The breezy verses rely on a steady guitar and some superb background singing from Brown herself. Choruses contain the money notes, though, as they burst out of seemingly nowhere to proclaim her lover’s cheating ways in bellowing vocals. Horns puncture the arrangement as irrepressible energy bounds out of the song. Her bridge two thirds of the way through is one of the best of the year by far, and a wall of sound hits the listener in the last minute of the song. So many better known artists struggled to create songs that were even close to this slice of truly perfect pop.
25. Arctic Monkeys – “Crying Lightning”
I have to admit, this song took a bit to grow on me, but now I can’t stop listening to it. There’s a real sinister tone to this British rock, as lead singer Alex Turner snarls his way through the lyrics. If this had been released in an earlier decade, it surely would have become a classic with its thunderous drums and stellar riffs. The bridge collapses as wind swirls around Turner’s voice before a truly riotous climax. Well done, boys, well done indeed.
24. Kasabian – “Fire”
Forgive the metaphor, but this song is a real slow burn for the verses that eventually leads to a true conflagration during the choruses. A simple rhythm accompanies Tom Meighan as he rides his notes, stretching out the words into an almost hypnotic delivery. The chorus kicks in, the drums and bizarre guitar riff join the party, and the song takes an almost disco-rock detour. The best part about it is that it all works, and astoundingly well.
23. The Asteroids Galaxy Tour – “Around the Bend”
This Danish alternative pop band came out of complete left field to produce one of the most upbeat and surging songs of the year with “Around the Bend.” Perhaps you recognize it from the ubiquitous Apple ads, but like Feist before them, they transcend commercial obscurity. The hooks jump into your brain, followed by unruly drums and tempestuous horns. The bridge simplifies the delivery as vocalist Mette Lindberg teases you with “Give me good good times around the bend/I’ll stay forever.” Keep making songs like this, and so will I.
22. The Doves – “Jetstream”
I know I’ve discussed layering a lot this year, as the construction of songs is something I’ve really come to admire. ”Jetstream” builds like nothing I’ve ever heard. Minutes separate the addition of new instruments, and the song slowly builds up to a fever pitch, adding a sick drum beat, mesmerizing guitars, trippy keyboards, and possibly the best bass line I’ve heard in the past ten years. It really starts to come together about three minutes in, and the sheer mastery demonstrated here is truly awesome.
21. The Temper Trap – “Sweet Disposition”
2009 was a huge year for this song, showing up in several commercials and, most notably, the indie hit (500) Days of Summer. The atmospheric track starts out slowly, followed by grand guitar riffs and a killer falsetto that bests The Darkness. The lyrics are simple, but the delivery really swamps you and pulls you in. If you’re in the right mood, this song is a moving experience; even in a bad mood, it’s a staggering piece of music.
20. Wild Light – “California On My Mind”
It’s downright endearing how this band embraces profanity on this record. Puritans, beware: you’re going to hear curse words, and they’re not apologizing for it. Wild Light has created one of the most upbeat angry songs I’ve ever heard. This song personifies the devil-may-care attitude, with simple guitar riffs and drum beats, and an occasional harmonica or tambourine to liven things up a bit. The protagonist is beyond caring about anything anymore, and it’s ambiguous whether he’s angry or just over it. The magic is in the lyrics – “Give me a lake that I can dive into/Bury my head in the shit at the bottom.” Classic.
19. Chiddy Bang – “All Things Go”
Perhaps better known for their MGMT remix “The Opposite of Adults,” this Philadelphia outfit follows the trend of good hip hop artists utilizing independent bands for sampling. In this case, they used Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago” to sublime effect. The flow is inspired and creative, resulting in one of my favorite lines of the year – “And we be Peter Parker/In love with the Mary Jane.” Lyrics reference an ambition and determination to not fade softly into the night – a great sentiment for the current generation. Overall, it sounds like the future of hip hop, and my arms are wide open to welcome them.
18. Metric – “Help I’m Alive”
There’s a paranoia inherent in the track that really instills in it a frantic, contagious energy. Emily Haines is a talented vocalist, and while I struggle to call this pop or dance, it’s an upbeat song that’s well suited to her range. The tempos shift easily in this song, and guitars, keys, and drums pair in rotating shifts almost. A huge chorus and great hooks prop up Haines’ voice as it sways between throaty and crystal clear. The line “My heart is beating like a hammer” really nails the mood, and it’s repetition works well.
17. Passion Pit – “Sleepyhead”
Technically, this was released on their EP last year, but since it was rereleased on the full length album Manners in May and I can do whatever I want, it counts. The cacophony of samples, claps, harmonies, and swirling keyboards are off-putting at first, and it took me several listens to finally appreciate the rhythm that’s embedded in the piece. It keeps you guessing the entire time, constantly changing instruments and samples, and when you see them live, it’s even more frenzied. If you don’t like it at first, trust me – give it a few more spins. It’s worth the wait.
16. The Avett Brothers – “I And Love And You”
A love song for Brooklyn? Yes, please! These North Carolina brothers hide a timeless love story in a tale about moving to the best of the boroughs. The story isn’t that simple, though – the protagonist is coming to Brooklyn because he’s fleeing a failed relationship. The piano, strings, and harmonies all accompany each other so well, but the real zinger is the line “Three words that became hard to say – I and love and you.” If that’s not an emotional punch to the gut, I don’t know what is.
15. Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson – “Relator”
Recorded in 2006 (read as: before She & Him), this pairing works like gin and tonic. Yorn’s a veteran singer/songwriter with a knack for song construction, and Johnasson, surprisingly, doesn’t suck. The smooth track, inspired by Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg discussing the end of a relationship, banters back and forth between the vocalists stupendously well. There’s a bounce present here that’s catchy and belies the true intention of the song – they’re breaking up.
14. Miike Snow – “Animal”
When you want to make stellar pop, head straight to the men known to the producing world as Bloodshy & Avant, the team that brought us that epic track known as “Toxic.” Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, their legal names, join singer/songwriter Andrew Wyatt to make up Miike Snow, one of the truly fresh acts of 2009. Keyboards, synthesizers, drums, and an excellently altered voice create an earworm like none other. If you make music this well, why not create an entirely instrumental minute-long bridge?
13. The Big Pink – “Dominos”
There’s a boisterous tone to this song, a swaggering cockiness of the guitars and drums lambasting you as “These girls fall like dominos” echoes out over the arrangement. The hooks here are massive, and the build-up is superbly executed throughout the song. The raucous energy of the song is perfect to blast in your car or at the local pub. K’naan may have been chosen as an actual sports anthem, but this song has stadium staple written all over it. If only the world had better taste in music.
12. Harlem Shakes – “Strictly Game”
The static that starts the song starts to fade into a set of harmonies a simple drum beat, then a guitar starts to layer over everything; once Lexy Benaim’s vocals begin, the song really starts to coalesce. I throw the word anthem around too liberally, but with lyrics like “This will be a better year…/Make a little money, take a lotta shit/Feel real bad, then get over it,” I think Harlem Shakes has something here. There’s a catharsis involved that really elevates the song above your average radio single. The “Na na na’s” over echoing synthesizers at the end only add to the joy ride.
11. Lily Allen – “The Fear”
She’s come a long way from her debut album, and the ethereal electronic pop of this lead single proves it. The dreamy keyboards and echoing notes encircle her protagonists’ vitriol. Much of the appeal is, in fact, her biting sarcasm – a genial ruthlessness that points out the hypocrisies of the world. Partly a satire based on the pressure-filled world of celebrity/Hollywood and partly a satire on the celebrities themselves (especially the fake celebrities discussed recently on Gawker), “The Fear” is arguably her best song yet. Allen coos over the choruses, noting that the disingenuousness she feels surrounded by may be worst in her.
10. Matt and Kim – “Daylight”
All you need for a first-rate song is a keyboard, a set of drums, and an over-the-top joie de vivre. The song captures you from the first few notes, beginning with some enthralling key-pounding. Matt provides all the vocals, backing himself up throughout the song; his voice is not what you would call traditionally talented, but it has its charms. The real appeal here, besides the addictive music, is the devil-may-care lyrics about life as a twenty-something. In the perfect world created by this song, we do what we want and there aren’t any consequences. ”And in the daylight I don’t pick up my phone/
‘Cause in the daylight anywhere feels like home” sums up this rootless lifestyle perfectly.
9. Girls – “Lust for Life”
Another summery song that works all year long. The first verse is pretty existential, with an ostensibly straight lead singer wishing for a boyfriend, making it clear this song is more for outcasts and marginalized people than anyone else. Eventually the wishes transition to “a suntan…a pizza and a bottle of wine” and you can’t help but smile. The harmonies, tambourine, and hand claps in the background join the rapidly strummed guitar for a blissfully sunny song. I listened to it first as I was driving through the Norfolk coastline at sunset, which, visually, sums up the song better than anything else I can imagine.
8. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Zero“
I should have known that electro synth-pop would be such a consummate match for Karen O and her band. The song is slow to build, but not at all boring, engaging you from the first second. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ riffs are equally as intense as the thundering beats and synthesizers, that together with the almost metallic coldness of Karen’s voice reflect a dismissive strength I rarely hear from them. ”You’re a zero/What’s your name?/No one’s going to ask you” is a jarring lyric, and Karen’s voice, usually full of squeaks and breaks, cuts loose with it, bringing the art of the moan to an entirely new level.
7. The xx – “Crystalised”
The sparse instrumentation of this song makes every note seem intentional, and rightly so. It’s hard to believe this is a debut effort with such a deliberate and mature approach to the music. The moan that introduces the song is incredibly effective as a wispy backbone to the song. Singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim create an experience that makes the audience feel almost uncomfortable, as if they’ve witnessed something too personal, too intimate for public consumption. ”Crystalised” is stunning in its simplicity.
6. Grizzly Bear – “Two Weeks”
One of the more addicting songs of the year starts with the best harmonies I’ve heard since Fleet Foxes. The psychedelic rock of the band truly surrounds the reader, as pounding piano and genius keyboards complement vocal mastery leading up to the chorus. This is where the dizzying effects of Grizzly Bear really take over, and the comparisons to Fleet Foxes become warranted. This is one of those songs you can’t help but sing along to, which is pretty impressive considering the deliriously layered vocals.
5. Florence + The Machine – “Kiss With a Fist”
Florence Welch and her random backing band created a fiery, rambunctious song full of throaty vocals and overpowering riffs. The obscenely violent domestic dispute in the lyrics is metaphoric for an extremely dysfunctional relationship – almost like an R-rated version of “My Life Would Suck Without You.” A few guitars and some drums create a richly textured sonic landscape as Welch’s voice slides all over the place in this soul-inspired indie rock gem.
4. Phoenix – “1901″
This French group, which has been making consistently solid albums for years, came out of nowhere this year to become almost ubiquitous with the epic track “1901.” How can three guitars, a set of drums, and a synth create such complex arrangements? The music builds to an incredible crescendo near the end of the song, and Thomas Mars personifies the desperation of finding love at a bar, almost squealing, “And I’ll be anything you ask and more/Going hey hey hey hey hey hey.” If the world had better taste, this would replace “Closing Time” as the traditional song to announce last call at the bar.
3. Diamond Rings – “All Yr Songs”
John O’Regan of Canadian act The D’Urbervilles decided to write and record under his own name, so he created the moniker Diamond Rings to experiment. Luckily for us, the song “All Yr Songs” came out of his boredom, and the simple, beat-based track focused on almost cheesy expressions of love. The lyrics are excellent, but I think his droll delivery really sets the song apart. He skewers women like Regina Spektor with his distant, affected stuttering between verses, and the effect is glorious. Arguably the best love song of the entire year.
2. Kid Cudi featuring MGMT and Ratatat – “Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)”
Hip hop has found its savior with this Kanye West protegé out of Ohio. A handful of forward-thinking MC’s have sampled indie music this year, but Cudi actually collaborated with two of the best indie acts out there for a game-changing track. The bombast is missing, the unabashed egocentrism that’s overshadowed so much of mainstream hip hop lately is nowhere to be found. In its place is introspection and doubt as Cudi discusses nightmares and dreams, ambition and goals. There’s a world wariness present here; Cudi raps “Everything that shine ain’t always gonna be gold” but goes on to say “I’ll be fine once I get it/I’ll be good.” In a year as turbulent and uncertain as 2009, who didn’t identify with his message?
1. Say Hi – “November Was White, December Was Grey”
Yes, the best song of the year. This simple, aching song of isolation is sheer genius from one man band Eric Elbogen. Even more impressive is that he plays all the instruments and records each song in his own bedroom. Lo-fi rock at its best, Elbogen’s voice is distant in its double loop, slightly echoing as he provides his own harmonies and almost sporadic instrumentation. The description may lead you to believe there’s a weakness in this song, but it’s actually quite the opposite. A calm strength exudes throughout the track, as Elbogen sings, “I’ll feel better when the winter’s gone” to remind us that, in time, things will get better.
For individual files of the songs for your listening pleasure, please click on the respective posts for links to free downloads. Again, I hope you enjoyed the list, and feel free to comment below.