10. The XX – Intro
Is it a full-on instrumental? Probably not if you’re picking nits, because of the background “aaahhhh-ing” towards the end, but for all intents and purposes, this is just music, and this is far-and-away the most accessible and soaring piece of music on the critics’ darlings self-titled debut. Not much of a fan of anything else on the record, this opener gives me hope that the young Brits have it in them to ramp up the melody and layer their songs with some sick groove-age, but for now this song will more than suffice. This tune is an attention-grabber from the outset. Waaaay too short at 2:08, I could listen to this song on loop for hours. Less simple than their other songs, there’s still nothing overly complicated here. A guitar lick sent from the Tibetan mountains and that drum beat suggest to me they’ve been chilling with monks. Classy.
9. Phoenix – 1901
Sure, this song sounds like it’s been played over a billion times in the public sphere, finding space on every radio station imaginable, every cool kids iPod and that omni-present Caddy commercial. No matter though, this song deserves it, and it sure sounds like the catchiest piece of tune-age that Phoenix have ever done (and probably ever will do). This sounds like a band in their effervescent prime. It sounds like this song was easy as hell to write, though I’m sure it wasn’t. It all just sounds so bloody effortless. The song, like the band, couldn’t be more warm if they tried. Bonus points for the sing-along-ability and the B(f)allin! yelping.
8. Metric – Gimme Sympathy
Plainly and simply, the best song Metric have ever done, and that says a lot considering the jacked-up strength of their back catalogue. Absolutely filled to its skyscraper brim with hooks and buzzing melody. I hear happiness when I listen to this song, as if the Chesire Cat’s smile infiltrated it, popping up every few seconds, only to slowly disappear before re-emerging again. I’m convinced this song is the reason their April show at the Mod Club was a scalper’s paradise. I find it endlessly interesting that Metric have had this song up their sleeves for at least 2 years, as I can remember hearing it at their Sound Academy show in early 2008, and seeing how much they’ve tinkered with everything about the song except the core melody. Go and watch an early youtube video of this song–it’s almost completely different, both lyrically and musically. I don’t care how many souls they had to sell to get to the final version, because the end result is perfect in every way. I’ll cut them some slack for any misdeeds done in the process and give them all the sympathy they desire. Bonus points for the super-cool video.
7. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – Hysteric
My heart belongs to this song. If I could give it more, I would. I don’t know if they can ever top the emotional resonance of “Maps”, but this may be as close as anything else they have done or will do. Whilst my heart belongs safely to “Hysteric”, Karen O’s heart was unquestionably taken out of her chest and smeared all over this simmering, blissed-out ballad. I don’t know how she managed to put it back in, but she clearly did, as she is one of the most energetic, lovely, weird, and engaging performers the past decade has given us. Brian Chase’s drums are perfect, and Nick Zinner’s guitar histrionics are empassioned to say the least. To have a ballad build up so much anticipation and tension is epic. That the band released a stripped down version of “Hysteric” that is nearly as affecting is a testament to just how on their game the YYY’s are. The acoustic version is soooo bloody strong it’s almost not fair–that violin, ohhh that violin. The music in both versions is perfect, but if I had to pinpoint it, it’s the lyric that leaves the indelible imprint, “You suddenly complete me, you suddenly complete me…” Indeed. I would be a puzzle one piece short if not for this song.
6. Florence & The Machine – Cosmic Love
The song that aspires to the greatest heights. The song that inspired me to write something extremely worthwhile. The song that captured my imagination like a bee to cross-polination. The sound of a woman not only worshipping the stars, but becoming one. The drums. The most powerful vocal performance of the year from the biggest pair of lungs to come along in forever. Her favourite song. Mine too. The song that could soundtrack any honest love story ever told and seem poignant. This song plays in far off galaxies and doubles as a hymn to that which is peaceful, that which is necessary, that which is life itself. The sound of the Little Prince’s journey. All this and I still don’t think I fully grasp how special this song is. With one song, Florence and her Machine have made a fan for life. Vehemently essential.
5. Lady Gaga – Paparazzi
This is pure and perfect pop. I loved this song from the second I heard it and saw what it was destined for immediately–worldwide dominanation. The fact that I liked this song for a solid six months last year, and it’s still sounded fresh to me for all of 2009 is kind of jaw-dropping. The melody is impregnable, and Gaga’s vocal yearns for fame unlike anyone else. She’s flat-out begging for fame, even though she knows it might not be all it’s cracked up to be. She can’t help it. She knows no other way. She is the despot of pop. I don’t where she came from. Yes ‘Just Dance’ was super-catchy, and I, like everyone else, had no idea where she was going to go, or where she’ll eventually end up for that matter, but if I’m placing bets on anyone in pop to define the landscape and then scrap it all and redefine, it’s her. Pretty much as amazing as pop can get.
4. La Roux – Bulletproof
Speaking of amazing pop, The Little Red One came out of nowhere to bring us the best electro-pop song of the year, hands down. The chorus is absolutely ridiculous. This song is like the unstoppable force, only there is no immovable object to stand in its way. If I was ten or maybe even five years younger, I’m pretty sure this would be my song of the year, but to get to the top spot now, a tad more is needed. That’s weird because I don’t think this song could offer any more condensed awesomeness, but that’s the way it goes. I love the way she says “bulletproof”, I love how every musical layer fits together to sound so cohesive, and lastly, I love that this sounds like vintage yet futuristic Ace of Base. If you don’t like to eat sugar, this tune can more than help you out. Candy for the ears never sounded so good.
3. The Big Pink – Velvet
An incendiary beat with a haunting vocal coo as its centrepoint. Once again, The Big Pink use their gargantuan, layered style to awe-inspiring effect. “These arms of mine don’t mind who they hold/You call out my name, for the love you need” Robbie Furzone sings, and it’s as urgent as it gets. Considering the mega-sized bravado to which The Big Pink stand beside, this is probably the most romantic and vulnerable thing they could ever say. Laced with melodic distortion and more hooks than a Peter Pan convention, “Velvet” is the ultimate head-bopping and foot-tapping song. “I found her in a dream, looking for me” is apropos, as this song sounds like it was borne of a dream. A staggering Indie/Electro tune.
2. The Killers – Four Winds
The most anonymously-great song of 2009, released as a B-side on the “Spaceman” single. Like Metric’s “Waves”, this is no B-side. This is a soaring, synth-laden, gem of a song. And oh yeah, it’s a cover. Sure, Bright Eyes are more critically credible, and a lot of people consider the original “Four Winds” a work of irreproachable art, but I say screw that. The point of a cover should be to make it as different as can be, if not, what’s the point? Well, The Killers certainly accomplish that here. And to be frank, I think it’s a much better version than the original, which was already a good song with a great lyric. What works here is the gorgeous pop melody that The Killers have become known and the deep, considerate lyric. It’s clear Conor Oberst cared and thought deeply about this song before he wrote it, it’s just that I don’t feel the music matches the grand lyrical aspirations. This version does. A swirling mass of synths descends upon on the listener like the first snowfall for a tropical refugee.
This song stands up with The Killers’ best, and that is an astounding claim, considering they’ve built an empire with anthems that connect to such a large and diverse audience. When I gave this song a couple listens, it hit me–a rush of endorphins like a joyous, jumping dolphin and the smell of freshly baked, home-made muffin. The shame is that I don’t think a lot of people even know this song exists. I hope more do. In a non-album year, The Killers still find a way to have three top songs of the year. I think it’s a testament to their chameleon like shiftiness and preternatural abilities with melody. In addition to being one of the biggest bands on the planet, they have quietly become the world’s best cover band. They’ve done at least five (“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, “Shadowplay”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Four Winds”) that are absolutely monumental and many more that are very, very good. Maybe my favourite song of the year and almost the best.
1. Animal Collective – My Girls
I don’t know where to begin with this track. This song is simultaneously batshit crazy and gas-panic hazy, while being the most accessible Animal Collective have ever sounded. The sound of a ridiculously potent chemical concoction. The sound of the newest and freshest designer drug that will make the streets go broke. That loop–wow does that loop grate on the psyche like sports go with Nike and Brad Pitt is Pikey. Those soaring vocals–wow do those vocals belie description like JK Rowling writes fiction. Those every-man lyrics–“I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things like my social stats” should make other bands cower in the corner and re-evaluate why they are writing songs in the first place. Presumably a song about their own families and struggles, Animal Collective have, intentionally or otherwise, invited us to commune with them as one. It is easier that way.
This song is a mesh and woven web of some of the most forward-thinking music human beings can make. This song will sound fresh in 2025, I guarantee it. Some electronic songs feel a bit empty. That coudn’t be further from the truth if you made a martini without vermouth. This song is not just a hymn that you hear at church, this song is the church, the priest, the congregation and the Sunday afternoon cookies and tea. “My Girls” is not a tenet of faith, but religion itself. “My Girls” is not a branch of social philosophy, but the tree that gave us speech and discourse itself. “My Girls” is a revelation, a revolt against everything that came before it and a warning for anything else that might come after. The modern timeline should not be B.C. and A.D., it should be B.M.G. and A.M.G.
To me, this song is akin to finding water on Mars; we always knew it was there, we just needed to find it. We always knew that Animal Collective had it in them to be prolific, but I for one wasn’t a fan of their older stuff. They needed to find themselves, and with “My Girls” and their Merriweather Post Pavilion album in general, they have not only found themselves, they’ve celebrated the sense of sound and inspired worship of the purest kind. Possibly a once in a lifetime effort, I’ll have no complaints if it is, as this stuff will be sufficient forever. After seemingly endless deliberation, I can’t come to any other decision, “My Girls” is the best song of the year. Wow. Just wow.