25. The Big Pink – Dominos
They don’t come much bigger than this. Intention, chorus, beat, swagger: all larger than life. Sure, in one respect it’s a boastful song about the ease of female conquest, but moreover it sounds like the celebration of life and the possibilities therein if you believe you’re bigger than it all. And we all need pick-me-up songs like this, so rock the funk on Big Pink, rock on. Bonus points because I don’t think I’ve heard a song with such obvious braggadocio since mid 90’s Oasis, and that is a welcome reference point if ever there was one. The Big Pink sound like an amalgam of some of the coolest bands ever (Oasis, The Verve, Chemical Brothers, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Jesus & Mary Chain), and for picking such wicked influences, they get a mega middle finger up in the air.
24. Frightened Rabbit – The Modern Leper
The first amazing song I discovered in 2009. A winter pick-me-up of the warmest kind. “Are you, a masachist?!?!?” Scott Hutchison pleads over and over in this wonderful and powerful song. The Scots struck gold with this one. One of the most likeable songs you’ll come across. Is it possible to root for a song? I think it is, and I would go to bat for this one. It’s the accent, it’s the buildup, it’s the lyric, it’s the urgency…it’s a revelation.
23. Arctic Monkeys – Crying Lightning
Alex Turner and co. return with another winner for a lead single, but turn down the adrenaline several notches from the typhoon of noise that also goes by “Brianstorm”. This song may be a bit slower in tempo, but it still affirms Arctic Monkeys as a youthful band with oodles of charm, slickness, and charisma to offer. I feel like they’re winking at listeners and saying, “you didn’t think we’d come at you like this, did you?” With a lead singer and drummer who are so far ahead of the class, I think they are going to come at us in myriad ways for many, many years. Well done lads.
22. The Tragically Hip – The Last Recluse
Maybe the most “modern” song The Hip have ever done, and they pull it off with aplomb. Lyrically as strong as always with hooks and melody seeping out of the very fabric of the song. “Who are you? The last of the immune?” Mr. Downie asks. I’m not immune, and I’ll willingly catch this fever every single time. Builds to such a strong crescendo with a multitude of musical layers, battering the listener into submission. I love the Gregorian-chant-style vocal that enters at 2:28. Also contains maybe my favourite lyric of the year, “Who are you? The last Canada goose?”. Distinctly and proudly homegrown, once again ladies and gentlemen, Canada’s best band ever, The Tragically Hip
21. The Temper Trap – Sweet Disposition
I read a review of this song that was some of the most cynical garbage I’ve ever read. Will every song be patently original? No. Will every song break ground into new sonic territory? No. Music should make you feel something. This song floats on a cloud and makes love to the sky, kissing it, whispering sweet nothings into its ear and comforting it even in the face of impending darkness. The vocal melody is so gorgeous it could melt even the coldest of hearts.
20. Silversun Pickups – Substitution
Firstly, I’m not convinced this is the best song on the OMFG-good Swoon, and in fact it might not even be top three, but it is my favourite–at the moment. When a band releases an album this strong, favourite tracks tend to change fairly often. “Substitution” does have a certain je ne sais quoi about it though, a mostly straightforward rock ditty that simply clicks. I’m convinced this song was born hypogean styles–bred in a laboratory a hundred feet underground and fed the weirdest and most random things until it burst through earth’s top soil and penetrated air itself to gain traction, unable and unwilling to ever leave the atmosphere. Brian Aubert is a monster and roofie-spreader. I hope he never changes. Bonus points for the simple/extremely cool video with models playing musical chairs.
19. Grizzly Bear – While You Wait for the Others
I don’t have much to say other than this song makes me feel super happy and Grizzly Bear are absolutely amazing at four-part harmonies. Crazy, crazy good.
18. Death Cab for Cutie – My Mirror Speaks
Recorded during the Narrow Stairs sessions, I can only assume they didn’t want to collapse the music industry by making too good of an album, so they saved this whopper for the quite good Open Door EP. So, so, so catchy, with a bountiful spirit to boot. Ben Gibbard is one of the best lyricists in music, and he’s more than on point with this one. I can see a couple different ways to read this one. DC4C are in top form.
17. Wild Light – Heart Attack
This song is wickedly immediate and writhes with intensity in the verses before relenting a bit during the chorus. “I have watched you break your back, what comes next, a heart attack?” sheds light on the perils of the hustle-and-bustle lifestyle, and pleads for contemplation, relaxation and perspective to maintain sanity. A great point in today’s world, and it fits well with such an aurally pleasing tune.
16. Ra Ra Riot – Can You Tell
Boy and girl wake up next to each other, she, having to extricate herself from his grasp as she gets up to stretch and him, reticent to leave bed. A kettle is put on in the kitchen, they have a cup of tea while eating some toast with home-made jam. Seeing that the jam is almost finished, they smile at each other and know what to do…they move outside and take in the mid-morning sunshine. She takes a deep breath and smells thyme and rosemary growing in the front yard. He inhales a sense of calm and sneaks a smile as she’s on bended knee, examiningthe first growth of a rose bud. Taking each other’s hand, they proceed to walk down a path, marvelling at the clearest of blue skies and warmth of early spring. A sparrow tends to its young up in a tree and the world seems to stop moving. Nothing else is important. It is their surroundings, it is their hearts aflutter, it is them… Walking deeper into the forest, rays of sunlight pierce through and touch ground, as a butterfly’s multi-coloured imprint is accentuated in the sunlight. Finally they reach their mysterious destination and come upon a plant unlike any other. It is somehow able to grow raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, boisonberries, and blackberries, all on its relatively few branches. Happy at the sight of this wonderful and surreal piece of nature, he begins to pick some of the berries as she unwraps a loin cloth to put them in. Laughing as they pick and eat them, he comes in for an unexpected kiss, her blushing matching the vibrant red shade of the raspberries. They start to go back to the house, but not before they each give thanks in their heads. He for the Caribbean-blue water starkness of her eyes. She for the crimson-red hue that adorns his lips. Both of them for their one-of-a-kind tree and moreover, each other.
15. Florence & The Machine – Dog Days Are Over
“Happiness, hit her! Like a bullet in the head!” sings the irrepressible and incomparable Florence Welch. Coincidentally enough, I felt like a bullet hit me in the head the first time I heard this song. It was poppy but soul-infused. It was mesmerizing and otherwordly. And that voice. Oh my word, that voice. Ms. Welch has one of the strongest voices I have ever heard, and she puts every ounce of strength into her vocal performance, whether she’s singing in a hushed whisper like in the first few words of this track or when she loosens her belt and goes apeshit when the first “happiness” comes in. From one of the best debuts of the year, a shining star is born.
14. White Lies – To Lose My Life
Epic pop/rock through and through. Channeling Joy Division, New Order and The Killers, White Lies bring more than morsels of menace to their particular brand of synth-pop. “Let’s grow old together, and die at the same time.” Okay. It’s worth noting that their other undeniable hit, “Death”, was one of my favourite songs of 2009 also, but it was so good in its limited release last year that I had it in my top thirty of 2008. I wouldn’t forgive myself if I pushed another song out at the expense of double-listing “Death”, as great of a song as it is, so I mention it again to make myself feel better. Exhale.
13. M83 – We Own The Sky
A perfect summation of what it feels like to be in love. It took me a while to appreciate “Kim & Jessie”, but it took me even longer to see what a beast of a tune “We Own The Sky” is. This song flies Urbi et Orbi, to the city and to the world, making stops to drop little pieces of heaven wherever it goes. I love how this blends the most perfect pop sensibilities with the understanding that the best dance songs build to a climax and add layers every few bars to hit the spot. By the end of the song, there are so many sounds layered on top of each other that I can barely make them all out; I can also barely remember where I am as this song takes me to such a far off place. Anthony Gonzalez is a genius.
12. Lady Gaga – Bad Romance
Wow did this song shoot up the list like a bat out of hell. This is the sound of a woman knowing exactly what she needs to sound like in order to capitalize on the attention she’s drawn to herself. At first I didn’t think this song was much of anything. Then I gave in a bit and thought the verses were absolutely mega and the chorus was ho hum. Then I gave in even more and realized the chorus is indescribably massive. Combined with the sick-as-funk bridge, the cascading synths that rain down like an anti-moribund monsoon, and the passion with which she belts it out, Gaga has created a monster of the most malevolent kind. She has a vision: she is the new Queen of Pop and if you don’t like it, you don’t matter because she’s going full steam ahead no matter what. Pop hasn’t sounded this energized in a long, long time. Bonus points for the cool-as-hell video and the what-the-hell is she saying “Whatjabaromance”.
11. Beirut – No Dice
I’m not a huge fan of March of the Zapotec and Realpeople – Holland, not because it isn’t any good, but mainly because Zach Condon’s previous releases have changed the way I thought and felt about music–tough shoes to keep laced–and it almost by definition couldn’t keep up. I understand the record is more of a collection of stuff he’s had sitting around his house, and I understand that he wanted to show people he was more than just an amazing brass instrumentalist and far-older-and-wiser-than-he-is vocalist, hence the foray into electronics. It took a couple listens, and then I realized the exercise in reflection was all worth it, thanks to the best electro-pop instrumental song of the year, otherwise known as “No Dice”. DJ’s all over the world would kill to have cut this track, and the guy who helped redefine the boundaries of Indie comes along and let’s this banger loose without breaking a sweat. Unreal. I believe Zach Condon can do absolutely anything musically. I also think he’s probably Batman, Santa Claus, the Pope, LeBron James, Seth MacFarlane, and the Smoke Monster from Lost on the side. Show-off.