It’s Christmas morning, and I think that means it’s time for the third part of the list. Tracks thirty through twenty one, ladies and gentlemen…
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 Superbad nod 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.
Hope the list is continuing to deliver some real gems and maybe even some new things you hadn’t heard yet. Check back soon for the next ten songs.
As always, here are the files for your listening pleasure.