The fifth day brings the final section of the list – the top ten songs of the year. I think the top three or four might surprise people, but then again, I never have really agreed with places like Pitchfork or Rolling Stone.
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.
There you have it. The top ten songs of the year. Any thoughts? Are you impressed, disappointed, outraged? Feel free to comment below, since I obviously have nothing else to do today. Thank you all for reading.
For the last time, the files for this section can be found here for you listening pleasure.