Artwork by the talented and generous Adam Sarpalius.
The final list is here. We have been working on this Absolute (sarcasm) Best Songs of 2009 list all year, updating it at the end of every quarter. I was only going to have PMA’s Top 50 of the year listen, but I couldn’t narrow it down beyond the top 75. This list will represent and acknowledge some of the artists I felt had to be left out of our Best Albums of 2009 list.
As always, I upheld only one rule while making this list: a song cannot be on this list, unless it was released as a single. As a reminder, here is my definition of the word “single” — 1) A song that has been given away for free to promote an upcoming album (known as a promotional single). 2) A song that has been played on TV or the radio (two of the largest mediums of discovering new music). 3) A song with its own music video and/or EP. 4) Loophole: an album-track that has attracted enormous amounts of attention that it’s become that artist’s “calling card” of sorts.
I want to thank everyone who takes the time to leave a comment, even if its obvious that you came here through Google (PMA pops up when you google “Best Songs of 2009″). As always, don’t be shy to share your personal favorites of the year. Trust me when I tell you I didn’t go out of my way to list all of your favorite songs of the year, so if you want those songs represented, list them yourselves in the comments. I also want to thank the wonderful contributors this site has for helping me with this list. And finally, Adam Sarpalius, whose work as graced this list since July.
Now, onto the Top 75:
75. Drake – Best I Ever Had
Drake dazzled audiences on a national level this summer with his perfectly sun-kissed and jaunty “Best I Ever Had”, with absolutely no backing from a label. At least that’s how the story goes.
74. jj – Ecstasy
On “Ecstasy” jj samples Lil’ Wayne’s “Lollipop” and drags it through a lethargic yet compelling haze, shifting it’s signature hip hop lilt into something more subversive, yet equally brash in its own manner. -Jason Oberholtzer
73. Sleigh Bells – Crown on the Ground
After a string of energetic shows at this year’s CMJ Marathon, Sleigh Bells were catapulted to the indie blogosphere spotlight, with a handful of demos to prove themselves. All they ever needed was “Crown on the Ground”.
72. Little Dragon – Runabout
Elegant percussion flourishes abound, the bass-line hits that unobtrusive-yet-omnipresent spot all good bass-lines strive for, and Yukimi Nagano’s light-as-a-feather voice repeating “Runabout… runabout the streets…” sounds like a prescription for fun. -Daniel S
71. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs came back as strong as ever with “Zero”. They promised us a album that was more dance influenced, so we didn’t know what to expect. They released “Zero” not only calming our nerves, but rocking our bodies, making us want to dance. -Will Oliver
70. Girls – Lust For Life
With a beach-punk attitude, Girls longingly depict the perfect summer scenario, in a starry-eyed, out-of-reach manner that almost convinces you that you too are “crazy and fucked in the head” without a beach house, a boyfriend, and a sun tan.
69. The Sound of Arrows – Into The Clouds
Nothing can stop us if we stick together chant The Sound of Arrows over lush synth-pop that’s sunnier than their American brethren, MGMT. With an emphasis on positivity and staying away from the fast life, “Into The Clouds” just might be the best pick-me-up in 2009.
68. The Decemberists – The Rake’s Song
Like any Decemberists song, “The Rake’s Song” is grossly violent and creepy; but throughout the humble narrator‘s recounting his children’s deaths, Colin Meloy never loses an ounce of charm, or our attention for that matter.
67. Matt & Kim – Lessons Learned
The song’s hilariously explicit music video might have overshadowed its merits, but unlike Matt & Kim’s clothes, they are definitely there. “Lessons Learned” follows indie-pop structure fine, but Matt & Kim perform with an honesty and energy that make up for the lack of artistry.
66. Neon Indian – Deadbeat Summer
The perfect summer anthem to just not doing not too much at all, “Deadbeat Summer” has the feeling that it would have just stopped if it weren’t pulled along by those brilliantly pulsating waves of synths. Simultaneously, Neon Indian effortlessly set the benchmark for the inevitable wave of electronic experimentalism. The most lazy of trend-setters. -Phil Gwyn
65. Sunset Rubdown – Idiot Heart
On “Idiot Heart” Sunset Rubdown really hit their groove. “Idiot Heart” has a melody that is instantly memorable, seemingly already familiar on first listen. It’s like meeting an old friend who you don’t really remember – but they’re so cool that of course you were friends! -Chris Barth
64. Neko Case – People Got A Lotta Nerve
It’s hard not to stop what you’re doing and tap your toes to Neko Case’s maneating anthem, when it comes on. This is Neko Case giving her most alt-country accessible performance of her career, claiming new fans left and right.
63. Janelle Monae – Come Alive (The War of the Roses)
I don’t think anyone expected this gritty girl power energy from Janelle Monae after last year’s Neo-Urban oprah, and I’m positive no expected that excruciating high note at the end there. It goes to show that Janelle Monae is one of the post unpredictable artists we’ve come across.
62. Yes Giantess – Tuff ‘n’ Stuff
Boston’s Yes Giantess inject Grade A pop magic into their signature sugary-sweet synthesized love song “Tuff ‘n’ Stuff”. With simple lyrics and a smooth time signature, Yes Giantess have opted to create short-and-sweet pop tunes full of youthful vim and refrain from over-exerting themselves, a lesson a lot of bands should learn.
61. Hockey – Too Fake
As soon as the LCD Soundsystem blips introduce “Too Fake”, your toe is tapping. You might even catch a few James Murphy vocal cues before roaring Strokes-like guitar riffs. But Hockey don’t sound like their New York godfathers, instead they’ve created a jam that will appeal to fans of the DFA-set and the Strokes-set.
60. Washed Out – Feel It All Around
“Feel It All Around” is an appropriate title for a song that sounds like partying all night in a dark, sweaty room and waking up on a beach at dawn next to someone you like, cold sand in your hair. It doesn’t sound like dance music or party music or techno music – it is a sensuous electronic whirlwind, but that isn’t really a genre, is it? -Genevieve Oliver
59. Discovery – Orange Shirt
Discovery is Ra Ra Riot’s Wes Miles and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, and instead of churning out lovely orchestral pop, they churn out… jams. “Orange Shirt” is one of these Z100-style club-banger jams, with autotune and fuzzy synth and lyrics like “google yourself when you get home.” Jams of the caliber of “Single Ladies” or “Yeah!”-era Usher, and not just for the indie kids. -Genevieve Oliver
58. Japandroids – Wet Hair
Though I wasn’t listening to many other songs on Japandroid’s Post-Nothing in the beginning, I always had some fascination with “Wet Hair,” which happily prevented me from writing off Post-Nothing as just another loud, albeit fun, album. For those of us who crave strong and heartfelt melody with their noise, “Wet Hair,” really might be the best place to start. -Ricky Schweitzer
57. Röyksopp – The Girl and the Robot (feat. Robyn)
Inspired by the marriage of melody and technology, masters of their craft, Royksopp worked with Scandinavian songstress Robyn on the icy “The Girl and the Robot”. Robyn tells the story of living with a robot; an absent, workaholic lover, with a fiery passion that cuts through the immense electro backdrops presented by Royksopp with one of the biggest hooks I have heard all year.
56. Beach House – Norway
Although it’s unmistakably a Beach House track, “Norway” suggests that they might have built upon their signature languid tone on their Teen Dream. It seems less dreamy than their previous work, and Victoria Legrand’s warm, full-bodied tone gives weight to the track’s heartfelt and picturesque restraint. It is as she sings: “We were sleeping ‘til you came along” – and now, Beach House has woken up. -Elle Hunt
55. Tiesto – Feel It In My Bones (feat. Tegan and Sera)
The collaboration between Tegan and Sara and Dutch trance DJ Tiesto was an unexpected one. On “Feel It In My Bones”, Tegan and Sara are undoubtedly out of their element, but somehow it works, it works surprisingly well. The sisters’ light-as-air vocals float through the waves of Tiesto’s grainy synths, so effortlessly and so skillfully that you begin to wonder if Tegan and Sara have found their true calling.
54. Simian Mobile Disco – Audacity of Huge (feat. Chris Keating)
Huge was this name-dropping, Kanye ego-sized, gloating summer anthem, paired with a bodacious mother-of-all bass-lines and none other than Chris Keating, lead singer to the equally-trippy art-rocking Yeasayer, on the mic. While “Audacity of Huge” was a step towards the Chemical Brothers and away from Attack Decay Sustain Release, it held dance floors and iPods in a headlock for months this summer.
53. Free Energy – Dream City
“Dream like there’s nothing to scream about” sing Philly’s absurdly-named Free Energy on one of this summer’s best feel-good tunes. We owe most of the magic that surrounds Free Energy to James Murphy, who has produced the band’s debut long player and signed them to DFA. “Dream City” is an infectious anthem, a beach fire sing-along, an ode to wholesome city fun, and a mainstay in summer night soundtracks.
52. Miike Snow – Animal
In their polarizing debut single “Animal”, the mask-wielding Miike Snow raked in unexpected and often laughable comparisons, like Daft Punk meets The Empire of the Sun, or my favorite, Animal Collective meets Phoenix. As crazy as it sounds, that last suggestion of the marriage of experimental freak-folk and French indie-rock seems to fit Miike Snow and “Animal” nicely.
51. YACHT – Psychic City (Voodoo City)
I’m convinced 2009 was the year of the summer song. At least it was for me. I don’t think anyone expected “Psychic City” from YACHT. I didn’t think they had a pop song this joyous and wonderful in them. While the song is self-indulgently showered in bubble-gum pop bliss, we never forget that this is YACHT we’re listening to. Throughout the song we are treated to rubbery, light but finely tuned electronic flourishes that have definitely made DFA proud.
Artwork by the talented and generous Adam Sarpalius.
50. VV Brown – Shark In The Water
With 60s power pop stylings, VV Brown kicks off her great single to-date with “Sometimes I get my head in a divvy, feeling so lost, ticking you off”, and for the next 3 or so minutes, we’re blown away by this young girl’s voice and her ability to command the breezy, cheerful music around her. Carrying itself with a George Michael “Faith”-like acoustic guitar, handclaps, and a magnificent set of do-do-do‘s “Shark In The Water” seems to grow bigger as it progresses, peaking at the humongous refrain that takes it all home.
49. Peter Bjorn and John – Nothing To Worry About
“Do this thing this type of thing, put a little money in this type of thing, we’ve got nothing to worry about. I got nothing to worry about.” From the opening high-pitched children’s choir shriek of “Nothing To Worry About,” Peter Bjorn and John had me hooked. It bubbles over with infectious joy and fun, and it bubbled the indie rock world with excitement for their album, Living Thing. – Adam Offiitzer
48. Jónsi – Boy Lilikoi
The first song to be taken from Jónsi’s solo debut was “Boy Lilikoi”, and what a song it was. Immediately after the song’s whimsical 36 second intro, you will notice that Jónsi is singing in English, a pleasant surprise for most Sigur Rós fans. The song progresses beautifully, becoming a symphonic anthem that Jónsi, as part of Sigur Rós, has been known to work with. At its liveliest point, “Boy Lilikoi” is a majestic force of woodwinds, strings, and assembly-line percussion that demands to be heard.
47. La Roux – Bulletproof
“Bulletproof” is a rejection of weakness, a shedding of mistakes, adoption of emotional armor, an acknowledgement by vocalist Elly Jackson that she should’ve known better. Not only her lyrics – the strength of her voice, the song’s dancy propulsion – everything seems to contribute to a recently discovered and inarguable power: “this time baby I’ll be bulletproof.” - Genevieve Oliver
46. Gossip – Heavy Cross
It’s no secret that Beth Ditto’s voice is one of the most powerful in indie rock. Then why are we still left in awe when we listen her unleashes her tour de force? The Rick Rubin-tinged “Heavy Cross” is Gossip’s most accessible single yet, rivaling the critically embraced “Standing in the Way of Control” in dance floor appeal. Despite the sometimes congenital over-production and coldness of dance music, Ditto is never lost in the track’s blistering staccato guitarwork and percussion. Instead, she commands it with a familiar warmth.
45. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Heads Will Roll
Who knew that asking kids to dance through an extended Legend of Sleepy Hollow-esque decapitation metaphor could work so well? I don’t know if Karen O’s “dance until you’re dead” is entirely necessary – organ that’s at once funereal and electrifying seems to do the job by itself, and combined with Nick Zinner’s classic fuzzed-out guitar and some kinetic drums, I’m surprised Karen has to threaten us at all. We should already be dancing, right? – Genevieve Oliver
44. The Dodos – Fables
On “Fables” the Dodos enter sunny, feel-good indie rock territory a la Shins (thank Chutes Too Narrow and “Fable”-producer Phil Ek for that). Some fans are upset that the energy resonant on Visitor has been put to sleep on “Fables”, but I call bullshit. Listening to an indie band shed layers of cool to reveal their pop sensibilities is an eye-opening moment.
43. Dan Deacon – Build Voice
“Build Voice” would have been out of place on 2007′s Spiderman of the Rings, with Dan Deacon’s simple and distant harmonies (the clearest I’ve ever heard from him) seemingly detached for the hazy soundscape surrounding it. Deacon’s dexterity and maturity as a producer is clearly showcased in the controlled crescendo, making up the track, slowly letting the choas seep out of its cage, slowly building Voice.
42. Joy Orbison – Hyph Mngo
Inexplicably pulling off the impossible balancing act of raising heart rates of both dubstep experts and well, people like us, “Hyph Mngo” twists from an initially disarming introduction into synths and cut up vocals that plunge into the murky world of sub bass. It grabs dubstep by its slightly elitist balls and drags it into the mainstream, and it is exactly because this desire to tear off into the unknown and also its arresting simplicity that “Hyph Mngo” is a record that resonates perfectly with 2009. -Phil Gwyn
41. N.A.S.A. – Gifted (feat. Kanye West, Santigold, Lykke Li)
Don’t know if it’s Lykke Li’s Japanamation-like chorus, Santogold’s sweet contribution, or that Kanye actually realized that he should only rap, never sing, but this is some his most impressive work since Graduation. There are times where “Gifted” gets dangerously close to self-indulgent. Still, when any work of art comes across like that it’s usually because it actually is something to be proud of, and that’s the case with “Gifted”. It really is a brilliant collaboration – Jeff Lind
40. Basement Jaxx – My Turn (feat. Lightspeed Champion)
Basement Jaxx make quirky house music, and the bass bumping throughout new track “My Turn” certainly won’t challenge the assumption. However, “My Turn” isn’t a banger to drop on the late night. Although Basement Jaxx tracks can sometimes feel like the guest vocalist is there just to be there, Dev Hynes (aka Lightspeed Champion) really touches the heart strings with his vocals, and they never feel extraneous or cheesy. – Daniel Siegal
39. Jay-Z – Empire State of Mind (feat. Alicia Keys)
He’s the most respected man in hip-hop, he has more Number-One albums than Elvis, and he’s married to Beyonce. If anyone was qualified to write a high profile thank you letter to New York, it’s Jay-Z. And he doesn’t disappoint. On his ode to hometown, Jay-Z drops cultural references you didn’t know existed, but when heard in that cocky tone of his, they sound like your favorite memory of the big city.
38. Diamond Rings – All Yr Songs
A precise drum machine, vocals like the National’s Matt Berninger amped up in register and positivity, a sweet guitar-folk structure – but most affecting of all are John O’Regan’s lyrics. “In the summer weather we’ll put sunscreen on together; I would not want your skin to burn.” -Genevieve Oliver
37. Beyoncé – Sweet Dreams
Beyoncé, and her slew of instant-classic #1 singles, don’t come around often. Not since Whitney Houston has a female artist sent the R&B and Pop communities ablaze, and with “Sweet Dreams”, Beyoncé kicks off her first electropop tune. Digital Spy put it best: “Oh, and if you’re still in any doubt as to Beyoncé’s credentials, consider this: she’s just named her first electropop tune after one of the most famous electropop tunes ever… and pulled it off.”
36. Freelance Whales – Generator ^ 1st Floor
The minute I heard “Generator ^ 1st Floor”, I knew I had stumbled onto something marvelous. Freelance Whales captured my heart and ears with their savvy folk instrumentation, youthful ambition and pop sensibilities. Their project was a smart and wholly unique fusion of Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire. Like we said in our gushing review, just enjoy falling goofy in love with this band.
35. Big Boi – Shine Blockas (feat. Gucci Mane)
A couple of months ago, when I first visited Big Boi and Gucci Mane’s “Shine Blockas” all I had to say was “thank you Big Boi for giving me everything I ever wanted in a rap song.” Nothing has changed since.
34. Bon Iver – Blood Bank
If you haven’t heard it already, you will probably be fairly apprehensive as to how this sound has come out since For Emma, Forever Ago, as I was. The perfect cure for this natural apprehension is to listen to “Blood Bank” a few times and realize that Bon Iver has, actually, got better. “Blood Bank” will silence doubters and possibly even convert some dissenters thanks to Bon Iver’s new sound. – Phil Gwyn
33. Mos Def – Quiet Dog Bite Hard
After an excerpt from Fela Kuti, Mos Def blasts off with the percussive and minimalistic “Quiet Dog Bite Hard”. The brilliant combination (all hail producer Preservation) of an African rhythm, banging wood blocks, handclaps, shakers and I don’t know what else, give Mos Def the room to deliver some of wildest lines he’s written in years, with flawless precision. It goes without saying that his call to arms had been answered throughout countless parties this summer. QUIET DOG BITE HARD, LETS ROCK!
32. Vampire Weekend – Cousins
Vampire Weekend have always had energy, but there is something different about “Cousins”. “Cousins” has a different and remarkable kind of energy – it is driven utterly by itself, and yet it shoves at its own boundaries. Cousins is kinetic. Its motion gives it power. Everything leads effortlessly into everything, a thousand quick and smooth and completely logical progressions – every element upon every element. And this is where the talent of Vampire Weekend lies. So many facets and progressions, all of them built together with such continuity so as to be entirely natural. -Genevieve Oliver
31. Gotye – Learnalilgivinanlovin’
You would be forgiven for thinking, on a blind listen to ‘Learnalilgivinanlovin’, that you were witnessing a glorious new cut from some recently unearthed box of James Brown rarities. But no, quite the opposite – this is, in fact, the musical musings of young, white, exuberant Wally de Backer (aka Gotye). Everything about him exudes colour and vibrancy – from the multi-hued animation that bedecks this tracks video, through his delightful polka-dot pyjamas so gaily displayed on his MySpace page, to this perfect pastiche of all things good about Motown. – Fred Mikardo
30. Japandroids – Young Hearts Spark Fire
Young Hearts Spark Fire” opens like so many songs by twenty-somethings: with lyrics of empty wine bottles, two hearts beating, and having gotten so drunk that you’ve gone numb; yet it is that one repeated lyric, “We used to dream. Now we worry about dying” that sells the album. Through all of their drunken ranting, clamoring for girls, and rocking, at the heart of Japandroids lies two boys, scared to grow up, and not forgetting this fact no matter how wrapped up in girls and partying they might tell us they are. -Ricky Schweitzer
29. Major Lazer – Keep It Goin’ Louder (feat. Nina Sky & Ricky Blaze)
Truthfully, I only gave Major Lazer’s Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do a few listens, but the great, “Keep It Goin’ Louder” has kept me coming back. It has all the elements of a winning pop song with a deadly beat and infectious vocals. It is a pop song that should have dominated the top 40. However, it is better kept as an indie treasure, proving to be better than anything you will hear on the top 40. -Will Oliver
28. Free Energy – Free Energy
If Free Energy the song is meant to define the sound of Free Energy the band, it defines them as a fuzzed-out summery ecstasy of a sound, all the happiness in something as simple as being “young and still alive,” the same simple joy and hazy garage fuzz used to great effect by bands like the Strokes. Not a bad definition, if you ask me. -Genevieve Oliver
27. Bat For Lashes – Daniel
Two Suns first single “ Daniel” is the unequaled highlight of the album. Yes, it’s about heartbreak, but it rumbles along with a hip-snapping beat, constantly buoyed by Natasha Khan’s catchy lyrics that make it somewhat danceable. A Bat For Lashes first? Quite possibly. -Phil Gwyn
26. Passion Pit – Little Secrets
Little Secrets is all about that glorious energy in feeling alive: keyboard like something out of a video game and playful percussion are all well and good, but the real power lies is Michael Angelakos voice, that childish, ecstatic register, layered over everything: “no one needs to know we’re feeling higher and higher and higher but I feel alive.” -Genevieve Oliver
Artwork by the talented and generous Adam Sarpalius.
25. Girls – Hellhole Ratrace
Girls front-man Christopher Owen isn’t asking for your sympathy on the deeply nostalgic “Hellhole Ratrace”, but instead asking for your good times. If “Lust For Life” was Girls’ summer-fun anthem, these seven minutes of unadulterated genius is their heartbreak moment. A moment that does not drag on with song’s repetitive nature, but instead grows more powerful with each renewal, until you finally hear “Hellhole Ratrace” for what it really is.
24. White Rabbits – Percussion Gun
Percussion Gun is a masterful coming together of many disparate parts, one at a time until we wind up with a breathtaking finished product – a perfect, precise mix of several things that just fit, just barely, just tenuously enough to communicate that hurried energy of possible total disaster. And that energy is evenly matched with that of Steve Patterson’s lyrics: “Even rats would jump this ship.” Masterfully, effortlessly, even though that ship may be sinking, White Rabbits manage to keep it afloat until the very end. -Genevieve Oliver
23. Matt & Kim – Daylight
Cabaret-style piano and “we cut the legs off of our pants, threw our shoes into the ocean” is how Brooklyn’s happiest indie-duo open their catchiest and most reflective song yet. With Matt’s celestial synth and bass line and Kim’s stuttering drums, wrapped up in one of the biggest hooks of 2009, “Daylight” can brighten up the gloomiest of days and make Bacardi mojitos even more appetizing.
22. Dragonette – Fixin’ To Thrill
An unapologetically brash opener, “Fixin To Thrill” offered up one of 2009’s best beat drops, a mere 20 seconds in. From there on, we were ready for the floor, Martina Sobrara’s oddball lyrics complementing the crashing drum beats: “And the boys they offer diamonds/But they’re giving them quartz”
This was a pivotal song, built around a dutty synth line and call to arms: “Get on the floor, don’t make a fuss, just do it!” Who gives a fuck about strategic track listing? “Fixin To Thrill” was all about cojones, and this band certainly has them. -Will Hines
21. Phoenix – 1901
There is something very classic about Phoenix, something that must have existed before it existed. Upon the guitar entrance about fifty seconds in, when Thomas Mars distills a sentence like “I’ll be anything you ask and more” into a series of sweet and mindless “hey”s – there is a weird, joyous pop perfection in that, transcendent of any era. “Past and present, eighteen-fifty-five-nineteen-oh-one.” – Genevieve Oliver
20. Yeasayer – Ambling Alp
“Ambling Alp” is the type of bright, weird pop gem that you yearn for, without knowing it. But the satisfaction that comes after the first few listens is undeniable. Yes, Animal Collective reference have been thrown around, but aside from the obvious Animal Collective loop-over-loop-over-loop stylings, there is a lot going on here. The squishy electropop bass line and funk horns will save “Ambling Alp” from being pigeonholed, and with some justice, being written off as the Poor Man’s “My Girls”.
19. The Golden Filter – Solid Gold
In 2008, with a single mp3, The Golden Filter captured the attention of thousands of listeners from both sides of the Atlantic. In 2009, “Solid Gold” was released making the Golden Filter’s presence official. With this singular, but brilliant single, the mysterious Golden Filter played big gigs at this year’s SXSW, toured with the Presets, and filled sizable dance halls in the US and UK. The last artist to see so much success with sporadic single releases, without an album to support them, he was called LCD Soundsystem, and we all know how that worked out.
18. Harlem Shakes – Sunlight
Unique-voiced frontmen might be de rigueur in the world of indie pop music today, but there is still something special and endearing about Lexy Benaim, always singing “so close to true” around some kind of lump in his throat. Regardless of the bright titular joy of Sunlight and the band’s uplifting keyboard-driven pop, the melancholy in this song exists: “I did what I thought I was supposed to do” implies a kind of failure. Masterfully, despite this, there’s a blind ecstasy to Sunlight that’s absolutely unmatched. -Genevieve Oliver
17. The xx – Crystalised
No matter how good “Crystalised” is, I don’t think anyone expected The xx to accomplish what they have with their debut xx (according to Last.fm, nearly 100,000 users listen to them regularly). But that’s not to say they don’t owe most of their success to the polarizing “Crystalised”, our introduction to The xx’s brand of melancholy pop, the perfect marriage of lulling, yet lively guitars and soul-penetrating percussion work. The juxtaposition of the light, airy guitars and the heavy percussive tones make “Crystalised” indispensable.
16. Florence + The Machine – You’ve Got The Love
‘You’ve Got The Love’ began life as a one-hit-wonder soul-disco track for The Source, feat. Candi Staton, in 1991 – but in the hands of Florence Welch and her Machine, it becomes a soaring paean; an unwavering declaration of faith and resolve. The song makes a grand enough statement (“When food is gone, you are my daily meal/When friends are gone, I know my savior’s love is real”) to merit, as well as suit, the magnitude of Welch’s voice, and she comes into her own. “As a kid, going to clubs and raves, this song made me feel love,” Welch said of the original Source track. Now, her reinvention of the hit acts as a grander, more contemporary expression of strength for those times it seems that life is just too much. -Elle Hunt
15. Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks
“Two Weeks”, is impossible to dislike – the piano notes dance sweetly while Droste’s honeyed voice does the real work, giving the track legs that stick it firmly in your mind for the duration of Veckatimest. It’s the kind of song that you listen to once and immediately make up your mind about, tell your friends about, write home about. I bet hundreds of hipster kids will have their first kiss to this song. -Chris Barth
14. Phoenix – Lisztomania
The lyrics on “Lisztomania” are almost as hard to work out as they are to interpret, but the song’s instant appeal can be spotted from a mile away. Drawing the song’s title from a term used to describe the massive public response to German composer, Liszt’s virtuosic piano performances, Phoenix write a compelling song about coming to terms with mainstream success, a success that Phoenix must have foreseen. As I write this, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is sitting in iTunes’ Top 40 and Phoenix are sitting on their first GRAMMY nomination.
13. The Antlers – Bear
Nothing was sadder or more beautiful in 2009 than the Antlers’ Hospice, and of those ten songs there was nothing sadder or more beautiful than Bear. The centerpiece of an album about the tenuous connection between a decaying life and a decaying romance, Bear sums up the whole thing. It begins gently and ends powerfully, guitar and vocals gaining reverb and depth and volume and losing the toy keyboard but retaining that same punch in the face of a lyric: “We’re too old. We’re not old at all.” -Genevieve Oliver
12. Animal Collective – Brother Sport
“Brother Sport” actually starts off with one of Animal Collective’s most accessible, catchy refrains to date. “Open up your, open up your, open up your throat,” sing Avey Tare and Panda Bear, bouncing off each other as quickly as the springy noises in “Lion In A Coma.” It’s all on top of a simple guitar hook and the usual AC “whoops” and “whaps.” Then comes the kicker: you’ve got to open up your throat “MATT!” The song explodes. “Support your BROTHER sports BROTHER” ping-pong Tare and Bear back and forth as “Brother Sport” evolves into layers of sound building and building until your mind is about to explode.
And finally, to end this brilliant, epic track, AC close out with some more afro-beats, sing-along lyrics, and a sense of pure, simple, unadulterated joy that is so perfectly conveyed throughout Merriweather Post Pavilion. -Adam Offitzer
11. Music Go Music – Warm In The Shadows
“What kind of heart would break so easy as my own?” sings Gala Bell with disco in her heart and dance in her voice. So is Music Go Music’s calling card single, “Warm In The Shadows”, complete with a discotheque bass-line, ABBA guitars loops, and even a sterling, face-melting guitar solo. This 9-minute journey in epic disco funk is centralized around Gala Bell’s oracular voice, the most important instrument in Music Go Music’s arsenal. Bell’s lucid tones are harmonized against each other, dubbed into endless reverberations, and wrapping themselves around our lonely hearts.
Artwork by the talented and generous Adam Sarpalius.
10. Atlas Sound – Walkabout (feat. Noah Lennox)
It goes without saying that when artists like Atlas Sound and Noah Lennox (you might know him as Panda Bear, or heard of his band, Animal Collective) come together and create music, it’s going to be mind-bending and magnificent. “Walkabout” sounds exactly like you think it would sound like: unlike anything you could have ever imagined.The song is buoyant and electronic. The imaginative production and congenial harmonies rival those so perfectly executed on Merriweather Post Pavilion. Overall, “Walkabout” is really a Panda Bear track, good vibrations fluttering to and fro in that hazy, layered atmosphere that made Person Pitch an instant classic.
09. Lady GaGa – Poker Face
This is the song that set it all in motion. Lady Gaga’s first single “Just Dance” was a memorable (if safe) dance track, revealing little about the woman behind the music. The release of its successor, “Poker Face”, coincided with her rise to fame in the summer of 2008, charting at number 1 across the globe. It was a hit.
At heart, “Poker Face” is a delectable slice of futuristic-electropop. Less worried about the PG boundaries than it’s predecessor, the song explores sexuality and veils things neatly behind a metaphor for gambling. Lyrics are often ignored in pop music, but “Poker Face” is widely quoted, celebrated and ridiculed (in turn):
“Cause I’m bluffin’ with my muffin/I’m not lying/I’m just stunnin’ with my love-glue-gunning”
Much speculation surrounded this couplet, but its really just hyperbole. The essence of the song is far more complicated than RedOne’s glossy production suggests; “Poker Face” is and will always be the song that launched Lady Gaga. -Will Hines
08. The Big Pink – Velvet
You’re two electro-rock musicians from London. You have history in the business, but now decide to go it alone. You release a critically acclaimed debut album and two epic lead singles. This isn’t you standard trajectory, but The Big Pink are no ordinary band.
Opening with a dance-hall beat, “Velvet” grabs you the moment that bass line kicks in. Lacking the misogynistic tones of “Dominos”, this is an altogether more accessible song, leading us through a haze of distant vocals and shoegaze guitars.
It’s a tribute to the band’s ability that “Velvet” manages to sound epic yet still maintain some sense of intimacy. Layer upon layer is added until the song threatens to collapse in upon itself. Put on a good pair of headphones, crank up the bass response and listen. The beats on this song put many of our ‘producers’ to shame, but it’s about more than that. This is raw, undiluted musicality. -Will Hines
07. Future Islands – Little Dreamer (Jones Remix) (feat. Victoria Legrand)
All credit for the fantastic minimalistic retouching on the Future Islands’ “Little Dreamers” goes to Jones. Here, the craft is all in the way he’s sparingly added just a few elements to this pensive ballad: a series of hi-hat hits, a resounding kick beat, a heartbeat pulse of snare taps, all cut-up, stitched together, and put on the pillow of the original melody.
Not only that, but Jones had Beach House’s Victoria Legrand, Baltimore’s polka-dotted queen of ethereal vocals, to lend some vocal airs on the track. She barely even exhales on it and it sounds great. Unlike most of the remixed drivel you hear around the hype machine these days, the way this one artfully expands on the tone of the original piece (instead of just mashing it up beyond recognition, adding a big beat and a Daft Punk sample or whatever) makes it worth your ears and perhaps a daydream or two. -Josh Cabrido
06. The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa (feat. Ezra Koenig)
Back in 2008, Vampire Weekend were able to take African/World music influences and blend it effortlessly into energetic indie rock to create a juggernaut of an album. It is no surprise, then, that African music influenced bands have risen since. Vampire Weekend made it a lot easier for bands such as The Very Best to have a very good 2009.
Songs like “Warm Heart Of Africa” are unlike anything we have ever heard before, yet they manage to stay perfectly accessible at the same time. It helps to have Ezra Koenig, the face of Vampire Weekend, as the featured vocalist. Ezra is able to deliver his warm familiar vocals over the smooth tropical beat, bringing two worlds together. This is the type of song that is meant for the summer, but it is great enough to sound just as good as we are bundled up in our winter coats. “Warm Heart Of Africa” is undoubtedly one of 2009’s finest moments that both indie fans, and world music fans can smile about. -Will Oliver
Artwork by the talented and generous Adam Sarpalius.
05. Dirty Projectors – Stillness Is The Move
Nothing makes more or less sense than Stillness is the Move. Before their fantastic 2009 album Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors were the obscure and highly experimental project of onetime Yale composition student Dave Longstreth, delivering reimaginings of Black Flag albums or rock operas about Don Henley, laden with Talking Heads-ish afro-beat guitar churning out impossible riffs that sometimes lacked plausible rhythm. And while Bitte Orca is approximately ten times more accessible than earlier Dirty Projectors work, all the pieces are still there – and the best example of this is Stillness is the Move.
Sticking to Longstreth’s skill with the guitar, love for those inconceivable guitar rhythms, and effortless appropriation of afro-pop melodies, Stillness is like Mariah wailing over a mashup of every song on Remain in Light. Amber Coffman’s voice is an instrument, everywhere at once, as intense as her lyrics. If you have listened to Stillness is the Move as much as I have, you know that there is no greater truth than Amber’s repeatedly wailed insistence that “there is nothing we can’t do.” There is truly nothing Dirty Projectors can’t do. -Genevieve Oliver
04. Animal Collective – What Would I Want? Sky
The song begins with a three minute instrumental, a psychedelic Willy Wonkian boat trip set to a sharp-sounding drum loop in an intriguingly elusive time signature. Animal Collective’s characteristically indiscernible flurry of sampled hypnotic blips makes for a partly fluid, partly static texture that begs for headphones. And just when you think the instrumental is dragging on a bit too long, the track cross-fades into the significantly cleaner second part.
Now, Avey Tare sings a reverby lead while Jerry Garcia does backup on that wonderful Dead sample mentioned above. This, combined with a “My Girls”-type big kick beat, makes for Animal Collective at its faux-poppy best. Tare’s surreal hummed verses are as enigmatic as their samples.
“Old glasses clinking and a new board is blinking/ and I – /I should be floating but I’m weighted by thinking” – beautiful stuff. Call it an extension of their Meriwether Post Pavilion sound, yet different and intriguing enough to show that Animal Collective is still pushing in new directions, maturing their blend of avant-garde and pop aesthetic, showing when it comes to making good music the sky’s the only limit. -Josh Cabrido
03. Grizzly Bear – While You Wait For The Others
Pitchfork, a website that loves to damn with the faint praise of a six or a seven, gave this track a perfect 10. In other circumstances, this sort of exceptional commendation would raise eyebrows. Because, really, can one track ever be a 10/10? Isn’t there always room for improvement?
In other circumstances.
Listen to ‘While You Wait For The Others’, and it’s possible to understand how this, the second single from Veckatimest, could have bewitched the Pitchfork staffers so completely. The track’s sense of space, and its fluid movement with which it veers between sparse and lush textures, is exhilarating. Ed Droste’s voice enters only to the rangy flex of a clean guitar chord and a bass drum, before that angular bass line leads the listener into the billowing chorus, saturated with color and succulent vocal harmonies. Despite its richness, it’s a break-up song (and a biting one, at that: “You’ll only bleed me dry”) – but ‘While You Wait For The Others’ has risen out of Droste’s failed relationship like a phoenix out of the ashes. It’s a shame that not every break-up results in something this beautiful. -Elle Hunt
02. Passion Pit – Sleepyhead
We’ll point it out now, so you don’t have to: Passion Pit’s ‘Sleepyhead’ came out in the fall of 2008, on the band’s Chunk of Change EP. The way that we justify its presence on this list is that Manners was released in May 2009, and ‘Sleepyhead’ was an undeniable musical presence at that time of year. So, now that we’ve got that out of the way – how does ‘Sleepyhead’ deserve its number two spot?
For many, ‘Sleepyhead’ was the standout track of Manners, a fantastic album. Built around an unlikely sample of ‘Oro Mo Bhaidin’, by Irish harpist Mary O’Hara, it’s a lurching, woozy romp that manages to sounds fresh and original, despite belonging to a genre (synth-pop) where it’s hard to do so. ‘Sleepyhead’ glitters: synths stutter in some places and stagger in others, and guitars swirl, anchored throughout by the kick of that bass drum, and Michael Angelakos’ unbridled, shrill vocals. The countless covers (Ellie Goulding, Run Toto Run) and remixes (Kids at the Bar, Max Tundra) that have popped up also serve to validate its position on the list: if imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then certainly – this track deserves every reworking it gets. – Elle Hunt
01. Animal Collective – My Girls
I rarely find myself at a loss for words, but when the layers of “My Girls” wash over me I find it tough to voice my feeling. The best words I can find to describe the track are big, epic, massive. It’s the kind of track, if you listen to it loud enough, that builds up slowly inside you until it’s about to explode, at which point it gracefully excuses itself and leaves you in the rain wondering which way is up. “My Girls” is at once lushly complex and devastatingly simple – an off-rhythm bass drum and light percussion move the track forward, while repetitive vocals and continuously lilting electronic loops take the listener to a state of euphoria.
I can count on one hand the number of songs that completely immobilize me the way “My Girls” does – Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place”, Four Tet’s “She Moves She”, TV On The Radio’s “Staring At The Sun”, and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”. Judged by the company it keeps, “My Girls” will be echoing in my ears for years to come. -Chris Barth