Top 100 Songs of 2009 (10-1)

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.

Top 100 Songs of 2009 (25-11)

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.