BEST ALBUMS OF THE DECADE: 20-11

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Happy New Year!  Here is the next entry in the Decade’s Best Albums series.  I hope you enjoy, and check back soon for the next installment!

20. We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes by Death Cab For Cutie

So many times in the past 10 years, I’ve seen Death Cab get tossed aside, as whiny, sell-out rock that stands as trendy and pointless.  Yet in my estimation, every album is essential, full of vitality and strong personality.  Of course, I do play favorites here.  We Have the Facts is a bit more sparse than their other albums and holds an air of mysteriousness.  The music isn’t quite as muscular, but the spaces work wonders, giving a real desolation and distinction.

19. Franz Ferdinand by Franz Ferdinand

You got your disco in my rock!  No, you made my dance music have strong guitars!  No matter what the angle, Franz Ferdinand would have been labeled relatively successful if they had only released this debut.  Strong repetition and tight rhythm keep this party from falling to pieces.  Of course, it helps to have a seductive lead voice and strong lyrical catch-phrases in literally every song.

18. Apologies to the Queen Mary by Wolf Parade

Wolf Parade, Arcade Fire, and Broken Social Scene have all done so much to build up the reputation of indie music in Canada.  From the nation of hockey comes a very personal album, stuffed with bold noises and individuality.  There are no weak links here as each song holds memorable song ideas and commentary.  Yes, there are some hints of Modest Mouse in the production, but there are no other songs on this planet like “Shine a Light” and “I’ll Believe in Anything.”

17. Sea Change by Beck

To be perfectly honest, I don’t label myself as a Beck fan.  I appreciate his strong songwriting skills, but I can never really claim that I enjoy everything he’s done.  But then there is Sea Change.  This is powerful music, with a core that aches, demands attention and support.  Of course, I can’t help but feel that Nigel Godrich helped pull out this kind of performance.  Similar in feel to Pavement’s Terror Twilight, this whole album captures my ears.  Also, this holds a kind of personality like that of Nick Drake’s work.  It’s enchanting, sad, and fantastic.

16. No One’s First and You’re Next by Modest Mouse

This has the distinction of being the only EP in the list, but this is EP only in name.  It’s eight songs and over 33 minutes of brilliant Modest Mouse work.  After starting the decade on two high notes, the subsequent album (We Were Dead) was a bit of a letdown.  But here we find a ragtag bunch of songs that manage to shine brighter than any Mouse album since The Moon & Antarctica.  The biggest problem I have with this EP isn’t even a problem: why weren’t these songs included on a proper release?  Each one brims with more creativity than most of the songs from the past two real Mouse albums.

15. Boys and Girls in America by The Hold Steady

Separation Sunday may actually be a better release, but I honestly haven’t had enough time with it.  I’ve had Boys and Girls for a longer period, and it’s a kind of attachment thing.  Craig Finn’s distinctive voice and the nice crunchy guitars meld great story-songs, full of memorable moments and great riffs.  Yes, this album really works better for lyric fans, but they’ll turn you into one after the guitars get under the skin.

14. You Forgot it in People by Broken Social Scene

If you’re looking for a sort of “greatest hits” of indie, this would be the place.  Yes, it’s by one band.  No, it’s not the best album of the decade.  But You Forgot it in People manages to blend so many ideas and stereotypes of indie in one convenient disk.  Even better: the band plays it so well.  Anthems and fist pumpers have strong feeling, there are phenomenal dynamic changes, and the multiple voices are excellent.  You should really get this.

13. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix

I’ve already gushed about this album in terms of this year’s best.  But it’s worth noting that Wolfgang is really that good in a wider context.  The pop is powerful, the tunes catchy, and the whole thing just makes me smile.  And again: the first two songs are nigh-untouchable, but the rest of the album is charmingly addictive too.  Get it for “Lisztomania” and “1901,” but love it forever.

12. Kid A by Radiohead

So, I feel a bit guilty placing this album so far down.  After some big names (Rolling Stone, Pitchfork) determined this to be the best album of the decade, I was a bit depressed to leave my favorite band so low.  But, Kid A is on my list for a reason.  It’s full of innovative sounds, effortlessly brilliant construction, and some of the best intro-to-electronica most people have ever heard.  And if those aren’t reason enough, please listen to hours of “regular” music before hitting “Everything in its Right Place” again.  It can still give chills.

11. Neon Bible by Arcade Fire

The epic follow-up to an epic debut is bound to leave some fans disappointed.  But after going through the two albums, I find Neon Bible to be on similar footing to Funeral.  The sounds are a bit darker and seem to tend toward Bruce Springsteen, yet people are quick to dismiss this sequel as rubbish.  But guess what: the sounds are still brilliant, and I still want to see them in concert.  Taken as a pair, the two Arcade Fire albums are probably the best combo of the decade.

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BEST SONGS OF THE DECADE: 20-1

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Here concludes my look at the best songs of the decade.  For this edition, I will also have a link to each track on YouTube.  Just click on the last part of each write-up.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this version of favoritism.  Please leave some comments about what you view as the best songs.  Also, check in tomorrow to see the first part of my Decade’s Best Albums list.  Thanks for reading!

20. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk

Techno is a tough thing for me to get behind.  I appreciate all the rhythm and neat computer-ish music.  But the whole thing just seems so fake and cold to me.  But then there’s Daft Punk.  I can’t help but like them.  They know how to conjure a beat and get your body to move.  “Harder, Better” is the highest point of their work.  Thanks to an amazing vocoder breakdown and a real swagger, even just hearing the song causes heads to bop and feet to tap.  I like to believe that, were I a break dancer I would freak out to this song.

19. “Staralfur” by Sigur Ros

Soundscapes can tend to be a bit boring, generally left for those relaxation mixes to be heard before sleep.  Sigur Ros manages to pull the soundscape into a new land, thanks to innovative instrumentation.  The powerful strings blend with light piano notes and production noises.  Things take off when the voice comes in.  Sigur Ros has a real give in their lead singer: he transforms songs from otherworldly to angelic.  You needn’t know what he’s saying, you just feel it.

18. “Energy” by Apples in Stereo

It’s a pretty instant attraction when this song turns on.  The mood can be completely somber, but then “Energy” turns everything bright.  The bright chords, bright voices, optimistic lyrics and fun tempo all add up to something great.  Where Sigur Ros could bring you to another planet, Apples in Stereo carry you to a better place – a state of personal satisfaction.  “And the world is made of energy / And there’s a lot inside of you, and there’s a lot inside of me.”

17. “Pyramid Song” by Radiohead

It bothers me to leave Radiohead so low on my list.  But such was the nature of song content this decade.  “Pyramid Song” has the distinctive nature of being a decidedly unique song in the Radiohead canon.  Everything feels eerie, right from the start.  Syncopated piano rhythms ride above strange electronic sounds and strings.  Soon enough, the drums kick in, slowly dragging their way in, adding to the strangely swung feel.  The whole thing feels like it’s carrying you off to heaven, or maybe hell.  But then Yorke’s last clear claim rings out in your mind: nothing to fear and nothing to doubt.  Believe in this song.

16. “Lisztomania” by Phoenix

One of the best songs from this year, “Lisztomania” is a pop masterpiece.  Catchy lyrics and bright music carry this song along.  Great guitars and solid bopping music are complimented by a touch of electronica, giving the song an interesting touch.  Really, you could pick “1901” here, too.  Both are great songs, proving Phoenix one of the best from 2009.

15. “Blind” by Hercules & Love Affair (feat. Antony)

Disco tends to seem cheesy to me.  Maybe it’s the stereotyped guy-in-white-suit thing.  Whatever the case, “Blind” is strangely freed from any sort of bad disco feeling.  Maybe it has to do with Antony’s vocals.  They really steal the show here, transforming the careful emotional classical singer into a dominant power.  I can’t help but feel like dancing through this song and yet feel terrible for doing do.  Perhaps that is where Hercules & Love Affair really succeed.  They get complex emotions to work in music.

14. “Reena” by Sonic Youth

“Reena” is so wonderfully constructed, making it one of my all-time favorite Sonic Youth songs.  First, it grabs you with those ringing guitars.  Then Kim Gordon manages to sing without sounding annoying.  But after all of the introductory “pop song” stuff, they decide to go all Sonic Youth on us.  For my money, it’s one of their best breakdowns since Daydream Nation.  Everything just goes crazy, drums pounding, guitars thrashing, and then Steve Shelley pulls it back together.  Very circular, very awesome.

13. “The Funeral” by Band of Horses

Songs can have some powerful effects, but it’s rare for me to be actually bothered by music.  Band of Horses succeeds here with those haunting, lightly plucked notes that open the song.  Instantly, you realize that this is something very weighty and somber.  Of course, the careful vocals only add to this effect.  “The Funeral” is so powerful that even the loud rocking sections manage to add to the mood.  Repeated listens diminish some of this song’s power, but never leave you feeling comfortable.  Maybe it’s better that way.

12. “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

For all of the loud rock and crazy moments on Fever to Tell, it is the one ballad-like song that we all remember.  Everything about this song gives shivers down the spine.  Those crashing drums, that intro guitar, even the loud rock guitar.  But, of course, it’s Karen O that we all adore here.  Instead of yelling and stalking the stage, she lightly explains her love.  It’s powerful, tragic, and stunning.  This is an impact song.

11. “I’ll Believe in Anything” by Wolf Parade

This song and “Shine a Light” stand tall as the highlights from Wolf Parade’s debut album.  But for some reason, “I’ll Believe in Anything” always seems a step ahead.  I think it has to do with the unashamed emotion that flows in this song.  Seemingly a tale of longing for a lost lover, the whole thing is a bit difficult to dissect.  But it is clear that there is a distinct pain in Spencer Krug’s voice.  The loud crashing music only adds to the raw strength of this song.  By the end of the song, you are also willing to believe, if only for your own happiness.

10. “Clocks” by Coldplay

Coldplay is a very overrated (yes, really) band that garners popular attention because of their refined combination of Radiohead and U2.  They’re big, don’t really have a distinct message, and can generally be described as dull.

So why are they in my top 10?  Because this song is so good.  Perhaps Coldplay was just meant to play this one song and get on with their lives.  I’m a sucker for a good piano song, and this thing is just fantastic.  Chris Martin sings without getting overly annoying, and the looping piano phrase is just brilliant.  And I can’t help but feel taken away when that last phrase hits: “Home, home, where I wanted to go.”

9. “Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives” by Voxtrot

This may be the most low-key song included on my list.  But the whole thing is wonderful rock.  A great, clear voice works well with the instantly appealing guitars and tight drums.  It’s a shame that this band hasn’t really caught on.  With the EP named for this song, they unleashed a set of five amazing tracks.  Every one of them features memorable music, but this is the best of the bunch.

8. “While You Wait for the Others” by Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear made a huge leap from enjoyable folk to super songwriters.  The key track off this year’s Veckatimest is a real highlight.  Its atmosphere is powerful and evocative, bringing forth real emotional responses.  Those voices, that guitar… it’s musical brilliance, with just enough muscle to keep it around your brain for months.  This song clearly eclipses all others from this year, constantly echoing in my head.  This is one to remember.

7. “3rd Planet” by Modest Mouse

It starts so simply.  Lightly plucked, quietly entered.  And then the self-admissions happen.  And then the world starts to open up with giant faith statements, and comments about the nature of the earth.  Oh, yeah, the guitars kick it up too.  This song is a great way to enter the land of The Moon & Antarctica, it’s familiar and disarming all at the same time.  Of course, this was the one song where we all wondered, “Is this really Modest Mouse?”  It’s unfortunate they haven’t reached a height like this again.

6. “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes

If you don’t like the singing, then I don’t know what you’re doing.  I mean, first there is the lead voice, strong, right on pitch, beats the pants off any American Idol-type pop artist today.  Then there are the backing voices.  Each of these singers could take the lead spot and this song would still be in the top ten.  Instead, they blend and create a harmonious point of glory.  This only functions to add to the amazing musical arrangement, thus creating a powerful, memorable song.

5. “Nothing Ever Happened” by Deerhunter

In an album full of abstract ideas, “Nothing Every Happened” stands out as a beautiful culmination of all the strange noise-rock, but with a very accessible mindset.  Of course, it helps to have one of the best outros of the decade working for you.  Big bold drums give up the limelight for the stunning guitar work.  From the noisy breakdown comes the huge finish: clear, powerful, singular notes.

4. “My Mathematical Mind” by Spoon

It’s sometimes hard to point out what makes Spoon so great.  I guess it’s that they break down their songs into the most minimal of ideas, removing the unimportant fuss.  They kind of make you work for it – fill in the gaps almost.  Here, there’s a sort of self-assured power on display.  I don’t really know why exactly this song strikes so much more than any other Spoon song though.  I think it has to do with the pianos, the ideas (“I’m gonna stop riding the brakes”), and Britt Daniels’ smooth voice.  Or maybe it’s just that this song is really one of the four best of the decade.

3. “A-Punk” by Vampire Weekend

The best song of last year is certainly the best pure pop on from the decade.  It’s extremely bright, and from the moment you hear that chord structure, you’re hooked.  For the next two minutes, you have no choice: you bop your head, and you let the music get at you.  Or you watch the video and enjoy even more.

2. “Rebellion (Lies)” by Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire are all about big song and big emotions.  While some may argue that a few of the “Neighborhood” songs are better, I don’t think you can go wrong with “Rebellion (Lies)”  It stands out as such a strong song.  Call-and-response ending in yells of “Lies,” and a string part that acts as primary instrumental melody.  The guitar flourishes and an enraged lead voice closing out the song.  Each of these moments mean so much to those who have heard the song.  If you’re not amongst the believers, let this song prove the might of the Arcade Fire.

1. “All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem

So Pitchfork nearly got it right, placing “All My Friends” at second in their decade-list.  But I view them as wrong.

There are so many great songs focusing on emotion, devastating tragedy, and difficult choices.  But it’s rare for a song to confront the idea of growing up like this.  Yeah, many have taken the general “I hope I die before I get old” path, but how many have really taken the idea of age and turned it into a 7-minute opus?

The whole song grapples with life and this transitional idea.  It’s really strange at first, but by the third minute you’re left wondering where else this guy will go.  It’s an intelligent analysis of the self, and James Murphy has some of the best lyrics in recent memory strewn together to make “All My Friends” work.

Of course, without the backing track, his words are just a poetic reflection.  Instead, the base layer of piano kicks the whole thing along, allowing a gradual build across the entire song.  More guitars are added, louder drums, and even more piano.  Everything almost becomes overwhelming, finally ending in the stunning, maybe empowering reflection, “If I could see all my friends tonight.”

James Murphy has penned the greatest song of this decade.  Its musical, lyrical, emotional, and human elements are all greater than any other single track from another source.  His mastery of his craft and an understanding of himself have resulted in a brilliant song that is forever echoing for me.  It is like no other.

BEST ALBUMS OF 2009: 5-1

Here ends the recap of this year’s best music.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my take on what 2009 has had to offer.  Come back tomorrow for the first part of my look into the Best Songs of the Decade.  Thanks again for reading!

5. Bitte Orca by Dirty Projectors

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Free admission: I had never heard of Dirty Projectors when Pitchfork started hyping this album as the next coming of Jeebus, or something absurd.  But that darned little Lala player thing in their review… so I clicked and before I knew it I was hooked.

Bitte Orca is so interesting because of how scatterbrained it seems.  But the album is such an overwhelming success because it is, above all else, a pop album.  Great hooks, catchy guitars, a solid beat in every song, and enjoyable vocals all sound like something your “average” band would aspire toward.  Dirty Projectors work toward those goals, but with a sense of originality and fun.

Each song has a particular moment that you’ll mentally return to – the first time the guitars kick back in during “Cannibal Resource,” the high-pitched “ooos” in “Stillness is the Move,” or the sense of finality and rest felt throughout “Fluorescent Half Dome.”  Bitte Orca is ultimately so great because it has something for everyone.  For me, it is a stream of catchy indie pop and I love it.

4. No One’s First and You’re Next by Modest Mouse

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There is a strong predisposition in my mind toward the works of Modest Mouse.  My ears are always happy to hear the skittering guitars, the wild rants and the complex drum parts.  I was mildly disappointed by We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, but having so much mental stock in the band, I was pretty excited to hear about this EP.

No One’s First is so much more than just an EP.  Clocking in at over 33 minutes, this EP stands tall, managing to last as long as many full-lengths out there.  But more impressive is the overall quality of these “throwaway” songs.  Every song can get under your skin, be it through muscular guitar heroics on “The Whale Song,” the fun wobbling horns of “Perpetual Motion Machine,” or the absolute insanity of “King Rat.”

One point I’d like to return to is this “throwaway” song concept.  Modest Mouse manages to gain a great deal of respect for releasing such collection EPs.  No One’s First joins previous releases like Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks and The Fruit That Ate Itself as a document of the non-album products from recording sessions.  The more complete image of the band’s work is fascinating, but made all the more thrilling when the bonus tracks are as great as those found on No One’s First.

3. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix

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I first ran into these guys on Pitchfork (I sound like such a sheep) and a few blogs that I follow.  I’d heard of them before but never heard the band.  So, when I went to buy Veckatimest from Amazon (real CD, mind you), I decided to chuck Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix in my cart to get some free shipping.  Wow what a great impulse buy.

There must be something in the water in France.  That or they’re given some gene that allows great work with electronics in popular music.  At any rate, this album would have held down a top 10 spot with just the first two songs – “Lisztomania” and “1901” have both been drooled about already on this blog.  They’re fantastic pop with insane musical benefits.

But then Phoenix decided to slap a worthy album at the end of this super-duo.  Amazingly enough, I find myself considering the synth-sounds in “Fences,” the guitars in “Lasso” and the lyrics of “Rome” nearly as much as the starting two.  Ultimately, I find myself falling back on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix more often than any of the other albums released in 2009.  Its position on this list indicates a slight superiority in two other releases, but in terms of sheer play time, it’s hard to find an album that has dominated my life more than this.

2. Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear

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I did not need the internet hype for this album: I’d already hyped it up for myself.  After learning about Grizzly Bear out of necessity (they were opening for Radiohead), I realized what an amazingly talented group they were.  Yellow House was wonderful, but it was their live performance that convinced me.  From that point on, I was insanely excited, realizing that Grizzly Bear might make that breakthrough, maybe creating that next OK Computer

Veckatimest doesn’t quite reach OK Computer, but it does more than admirably.  As has been analyzed by others, the album is one of beauty.  Instead of setting out to impress with flashy sounds, everything here happens through a slow, delicate burn.  The songs take multiple listens to reveal their full brilliance, but are very good even with one trial.  I am always impressed by Veckatimest in how it manages to disarm my tendency to stick with maybe one or two songs.  Yes, “Two Weeks” and “While You Wait for the Others” are stunning singles.  But “Southern Point” is such a perfect starter.  And “Ready, Able” is so heartbreaking and powerful.  And “I Love With You” and “Foreground” form a perfect closing duo.

Yes, Veckatimest is as good as the hype claims.  It’s a stunning, near-perfect album album.  The whole thing should be considered when pondering its excellence, and it never fails to impress.  Only a few months ago, this was a shoe-in for the best album of 2009, and probably in the top 3 of the decade.  But then…

1. Embryonic by The Flaming Lips

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It really pains me to pick this as the best album of 2009.  I was so ready to pick Veckatimest.  The Grizzly Bear album feels an old worn friend.  It succeeded at being the great album I wanted and more.  But it wasn’t even fair.

Previously with The Flaming Lips, we were watching a band sit idle.  After ending the 1990s with such a brilliant album in The Soft Bulletin, the group released a similarly ambitious and sonically rich album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.  Both felt really magical, leaving a sense of euphoria and a musical high with the listener.  But then came At War With the Mystics.  There’s nothing really wrong with Mystics, but it’s just not that great.  The songs seem repetitive, and don’t really carry that sheen of excellence seen before.  It was like the band was running out of steam.  And then this happened.

Embryonic sounds like nothing else this decade.  Massive, overwhelming, almost like a poorly edited idea that got thrown onto an album.  But everything is so good.  Right from the beginning you’re left at attention.  The way the guitar bursts in, you can’t help but wonder what is going to happen.

From here on, you are carried through a whirlwind journey of music.  The key here is the atmosphere.  The Flaming Lips never lose touch with what they’re doing on this album – it’s dark, foreign, depressing and imposing.  Thus every song builds with these ideals as a basis.  How did the stagnant Flaming Lips turn around and explode with such suddenly mysterious, muscular music?

The whole thing also seems to focus on the wrongs of humanity, the working of the machine, the tendency of evil.  It’s all rather overwhelming… and yet it fits the huge, ambitious music perfectly.  Embryonic was just so surprising and amazing.

With a bit of time now to digest things, I really had no choice in the matter.  Embryonic is clearly the best album of 2009.  My heart may wish to go otherwise, but to leave this album would be so wrong.  Maybe even more impressive is how this album has managed to reach that kind of plateau where I can think about it along with The Moon & Antarctica or OK Computer.  Its scope, concept and style of music fits the bill.  This is an album I hope to be playing years from now, still considering how lucky I was to run into it.

BEST SONGS OF 2009: 10-1

Yet again, you can click on the last phrase of each comment to see a stream of each track.  The video is embedded for the Top 3.  Let’s see where it ends…

10. “Guilty Cocker Spaniels” by Modest Mouse

It is an absolute shame that little attention was paid to Modest Mouse this year.  No One’s First and You’re Next was a fantastic EP, offering more great music in its few tracks than most bands have in a full-length album.  “Guilty Cocker Spaniels” is a highlight on this album, built on classically-jangling guitars and Isaac Brock’s clever lyrics.  It’s a bit lighter than some of their other fare, but the song has a great construction, offering no real structure, yet never straying too far into uncharted waters.  What really wins me over is the lightly plucked intro and outro; it’s lovely and innocent – a great foil to the titular dogs.

9. “Mind Eraser No Chaser” by Them Crooked Vultures

The supergroup of Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, and John Paul Jones sounded very exciting from the start.  I would argue that even if this was the only result from their meeting, the whole thing was a complete success.  Hard rock has been missing the thunder provided by Grohl’s drums and the thump brought forth by Jones’ bass.  Interestingly, it’s Homme (the least legendary member) that pulls the whole thing together.  His great guitar and singing presence really elevate this tale to a fantastic new high.  Listen in and let your mind be done anew by this instant classic.

8. “Cannibal Resource” by Dirty Projectors

“Stillness is the Move” may have a better sense of R&B, but Bitte Orca is at its peak where it begins.  This song ultimately summarizes what makes the rest of this Dirty Projectors album so great.  The structure is fairly random, bouncing back and forth between a semi-call-and-response verse, a cooing comment on the “arbitrary life”, and an attacking guitar structure.  What really pushes this song ahead is the previously mentioned guitar.  From the startup, through the midsection, right until the end, the song stands out thanks to great singing and sight guitar.  Hear it and break into this album the right way.

7. “Zero” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Breaking away from the garage rock of Fever to Tell, suddenly the Yeah Yeah Yeahs act as a brilliant electronic glam rock unit.  Here, Karen O takes a full leap into a super-diva.  Her voice is still explosive, but now it’s wide-ranging stunning with the new musical backdrop.  “Zero” is interesting in lyrical content, not just vocal delivery.  The song is directed at the loser (the zero of the title), a sort of realist’s view and inspirational all the same.  They offer that you “No one’s gonna ask you [your name]” and you “better find out where they want you to go.”  It’s mildly humbling, but really pushes you to reach the top.

6. “Daylight” by Matt & Kim

Yes yes, this song has been everywhere.  But honestly, it’s really worth all the attention.  The piano basis is so simple yet utterly brilliant, offering a rhythmic and melodic template for the entire song.  Of course, this would mean nothing without that fantastic swagger that seems to carry through the song.  It is fun and high quality.  A great example of where popularity is deserved.

5. “My Girls” by Animal Collective

Pitchfork has made this the year of Animal Collective, and that sort of labeling is pretty well wrong.  Yes, Merriweather Post Pavilion is a good album, but it is nowhere near the top of the decade.  It’s overdone, too big, and generally quite boring.  The main exceptions to this are “Brother Sport” and “My Girls.”  However, it is “My Girls” that is clearly the top Collective song and one of the best of the year.  Sincere and heartfelt, this song explodes with stunning creativity.  The premise alone would probably make this song worth mention; it’s a reflection on the need for family and only the basic essentials necessary to carry out such a life.  This song’s power only increases in the context of the dead singer’s father.  MPP may not be worth $20, but this song is golden.

4. “1901” by Phoenix

Back in June, I may have commented something about Phoenix existing as an unknown band, guessing that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix would never sell much.  Whoops.  Turns out that Phoenix has gone crazy this year, finding themselves on the Billboard album charts for months, playing on SNL and being prominently featured in car ads.  “1901” is one of two super-songs on the album, reaching past the regular excellence seen in the rest of the album.  Electronics blend brilliantly with the guitar and drums.  Of course, “1901” would be nothing without the great personality from the band.  Oh, to be French and brilliant musically.  So much more than just a commercial jingle.

3. “King Rat” by Modest Mouse

Guess what: Modest Mouse is still amazing.  This song features the insane brilliance of Isaac Brock, his psychotic lyrical delivery, bombastic guitars, and some powerful horns.  This song is the crown jewel in the fantastic No One’s First EP, offering a song that is miles better than anything off We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.  It’s stunning, especially when accompanied with the crazy video directed by the late Heath Ledger.  Certainly one of the best songs of the year.

2. “Lisztomania” by Phoenix

So Phoenix unleashed a pretty great album with Wolfgang Amadeus.  The top highlights are the stunning one-two punch that start the album in “Lisztomania” and “1901.”  I personally find “Lisztomanina” to be the superior tune, with the catchier lyrics and the brighter music.  Of course, I don’t think you can go wrong with either tune – they’re superb pop with a touch of electronica to keep things interesting.

1. “While You Wait for the Others” by Grizzly Bear

“Two Weeks” is wonderful, but “While You Wait for the Others” really takes the top prize this year.  Ever since its debut on Conan, this song has been a beautifully haunting reminder of how great Grizzly Bear might become.  The development of this song and eventual outcome on Veckatimest is spectacular.  The atmosphere is powerful and evocative, bringing forth real emotional responses.  Those voices, that guitar… it’s musical brilliance, with just enough muscle to keep it around your brain for months.  This song clearly eclipses all others for the year, constantly echoing in my head.  This is one to remember.

Last year, the top song was a catchy pop piece, now my cell phone ringtone in “A-Punk.”  This year, we find nearly the inverse.  Instead of bright, happy pop, there’s a moody, introspective baroque-pop song.  Does that lessen either?  Not really, but it provides an interesting point of comparison and a great way to realize how amazing and broad popular music has become.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the best songs from this year.  Come around tomorrow night to find out what I view as the best albums of 2009.  It should be fun!

Review: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix

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“Pop” is such a funny phrase today.  Rooted in the idea of “popular” music, that claim really doesn’t match the very general use of the term today.  While big acts on “popular music” radio still fit the word, many of these songs stem from different areas: R&B, Rock and Rap especially.  Yet “pop” also gets thrown to indie groups, meeting a sort of lighter, bubblegum-esque feel.

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix fits squarely into this oxymoronic notion of indie pop.  Jangly guitars abound on this release with Phoenix even dipping into Shins territory on a multiple occasions.  Leadoff track “Lisztomania” is a prime example: the chorus is bright and uplifting with the tight-yet-flowing guitars.

While Wolfgang could find success through guitars alone, the inclusion of electronics push this release past the output of other pop groups.  “1901” combines the guitar effort of an R.E.M. song with a series of synthetic sounds to from an alternate guitar (of sorts) and a memorable tune.

Phoenix furthers their ambitions with the peculiar mid-album combo of “Love Like a Sunset Parts I and II.”  Placed as a counterpoint to the bright pop of earlier tracks, the exploratory, near-ambient style is initially jarring.  But upon further listen, it’s clear that Phoenix gets it right: the pacing is fantastic and offers more room to flex their electronic muscles.

The latter half of the album also holds up well with repeated listens.  “Countdown” starts slow and builds up and through various phrases, with a controlled drum effort driving the tempo.

Of course, this says nothing of the fine vocal work.  On par with the Shins throughout, the falsetto of the lead Phoenix singer is superb.  Emoting when necessary but projecting constantly, the great guitar and electronic work would be different without the singing.

As a whole, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix brings no real weak points to the table, all while displaying great pop sensibility in a musically mature way.  Phoenix has probably released the first great pop album of the summer – even if it never sells much.

RATING: 8.7/10