Song Roundup 8: Club Music–Indie Mix

Let’s not even talk about the massive gap in posts this time.  Maybe later.

I hate club music.  I try not to hate much music, but club music just represents some of my least favorite parts of sound and sonic mentality.  Club music represents sweaty parties full of people drinking to be drunk and dancing only for the sexuality.  I appreciate fun, but this style of music turns heavy bass into a disgusting sensation, rather than an invigorating one.  So on this latest Song Roundup, I want to look at indie music that would make me more comfortable at that next awful party (if only for a few minutes).

There weren’t truly limits on this list, but I did purposefully avoid “indie” techno, as Daft Punk and Justice are essentially definitive dance music.  I can hope that they’re a given for this type of list.

“Idioteque” by Radiohead

Sometimes they’re guitar gods, other times they fiddle with electronics.  Radiohead is a proven musical powerhouse that can touch many genres.  “Idioteque” is one of the most singular songs in their catalog.  That’s quite an accomplishment, but it goes further, making disaster sound exhilarating.  The terrifying sound of primordial computer composition blends perfectly with the rest of the band.  I always get chills, but the rhythm keeps me from a statuesque state.

“Daft Punk is Playing at My House” by LCD Soundsystem

Most LCD songs would be fair game here, but “Daft Punk” is one of the group’s most muscular efforts.  The song really pops with good speakers or headphones and deserves to be played loud.  I’m personally very fond of the version on the London Sessions release, but whatever rendition you get should do the trick.

“Whoo! Alright – Yeah… Uh Huh.” by The Rapture

Dance punk died too quickly in the early 2000s.  That is to say, I wasn’t really aware of it until it was already dead.  But we do have artifacts like this to keep us happy.  The tastefully complex variation on a simple disco drum is the real foundation of this song.  It keeps everything moving at a high tempo and lets the funky guitars work their magic above the rhythm.  But what pushes this over the edge and into greatness is that last bit of lyrical breakdown at the 2:34 mark – almost makes even me want to dance.

“I Can Talk” by Two Door Cinema Club

Two Door Cinema Club has been my guilty-pleasure band-of-choice ever since I first heard them.  Their debut record (Tourist History) is nothing innovative, but it’s simply brimming with energy.  “I Can Talk” is amongst the highlights.  The song has a blistering guitar attack, fun vocals and a massive disco drum/bass pattern filling all the space.  Embrace this Irish band – I think they’re in for big things.

“Dancing Choose” by TV on the Radio

I normally associate TVotR as dense, thinking music.  But at least a few tracks off their most recent record have worked to break my mental stereotype.  Dear Science has some heavy soul power, and tons of personality, and “Dancing Choose” highlights all of that.  Impassioned vocals blend with a propulsive tempo and wild horns to make the art-centric TVotR seem loose and fun.

“Heads Will Roll” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Many have discussed this before, but it’s always shocking to listen to YYYs change from a raw garage band to something more like glam rock or disco rock.  In particular, singer Karen O has removed some of that punk edge and suddenly sounds like a powerful diva.  “Heads Will Roll” is the most powerful example of this change, and makes a strong case for why we should embrace the “new” YYYs.  They do this kind of music the right way.

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BEST ALBUMS OF THE DECADE: 30-21

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Welcome to Part 2 of the Decade’s Best Albums list.  Check back tomorrow for more of this list!  Thanks again for reading!

30. Microcastle by Deerhunter

It’s always nice to see a blend of noise rock and catchiness.  Here, we get all the squawking feedback and loud thrashing, but it all makes sense.  While especially true in Super Song “Nothing Ever Happened,” most of the songs reach this lovely status.

29. It’s Blitz by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

This can be best described as Karen O’s dance diva album.  Equal parts disco and pure energy, It’s Blitz is a very polished disk, featuring great songs and strong emotion.  While those in “the scene” may argue in favor of their first album, I think this release finds the Yeahs at their highest point.

28. Twin Cinema by The New Pornographers

Bonus points all over the place for being so infectious.  Clean guitars, clear vocals (even if you don’t know what they mean), and brilliant harmonizing make Twin Cinema a fantastic road record.  Turn it up, sing along at the top of your voice, and you’re forced to smile.

27. Everything All the Time by Band of Horses

On paper, this sounds like a generic indie album.  Ringing guitars, emotive lyrics, stuff like that.  But Band of Horses do everything so well.  It’s like a primer for anyone new to the land of indie music.  Of course, having instantly memorable guitar lines (see: “Wicked Gil” and “The Funeral”) helps, too.

26. Chutes Too Narrow by The Shins

Even better than the album that many claimed would “change your life” (Oh Inverted World).  Here, the production values are cranked up, the songwriting varied, and the singing bold and loud.  This is a phenomenal effort across the board, offering personal insight blended with great guitars.

25. Third by Portishead

It’s unfortunate that Portishead waited so long to release their third proper album.  But, the wait revealed something amazing: a band at the same powers (or greater) than when it went on hiatus.  Offering a different direction from their trip-hop 90s albums, Third is an atmospheric masterpiece of minimal electronica.  You will be left haunted and amazed, from start to finish.

24. Hearts of Oak by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

This is a relatively late addition to this list.  Only this month have I had the chance to listen to Ted Leo.  But from first note on, I knew I was in for something special.  Like a more punk-rock REM, or a free-flowing Weezer, Hearts of Oak is charming and powerful.  Tight melodies and pinpoint lyrics make this a rising star in my music collection.

23. Seven Swans by Sufjan Stevens

Folk generally leaves me with a bad taste or just generally bored.  But here is an album from a Sufjan Stevens stripped to just his guitar and banjo.  Lightly plucked, Seven Swans is a powerful album, full of personal religious reflections.  It’s rare to see an album this concerned with Biblical ideals outside of ironic or Christian Rock releases.  Stevens weaves powerful songs, unapologetic, even if he can reach a wide audience.

22. Rather Ripped by Sonic Youth

Here lies the best Sonic Youth album this side of Daydream Nation.  It’s a bold statement, but I just love the tunes on Rather Ripped.  They’re faster to get at you than any other Youth release (especially the bright “Reena” and the strong “Incinerate”), but manage to stay with you just like their whole catalogue.  Hear this once for the great highlights.  Hear it over and over for all the details.

21. Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem

It starts off just like “Losing My Edge,” but instantly veers off, creating a new blend of dance and rock, all while considering what it is to become older.  This is the home to the decade’s best song (“All My Friends”), and more memorable moments.  This album is so interesting because of its dual power: all the songs are fantastic, but they work even better together.

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: 15-6

Welcome to my rundown of the best albums of the year.  I take a look at what I found to be my favorite releases.  I’ve reviewed some of these, but haven’t mentioned most of them here.  Keep in mind that the previous scores really don’t mean anything – just because a score was “higher” in the past doesn’t mean that my opinion is quite the same today.  Enjoy the list!

15. 11:11 by Rodrigo y Gabriela

Starting this list with a unexpected twist.  I first ran into this duo on Conan earlier this year and I was totally stunned.  With two acoustic guitars, they completely dominated about four minutes of my life.  Literally, the way they managed to play those instruments was breathtaking and enthralling.  While you can’t watch these magic musicians on album, it remains clear that they’re both up to something crazy on each song of the album.  Get this album and find some of the top guitar players out there today.

14. Wavering Radiant by Isis

I am not the world’s biggest metal fan.  Particularly, I don’t really see much use for the whole screaming thing.  And yet here is a melodic metal album on this list.  Thus is the excellence of this atmospheric and layered release.  It is a great album especially with headphones on, just to rock out and get washed away by the sound.  I’d suggest a similar approach – go somewhere solitary and soak in all the glorious sounds.  It’s a fun time.

13. Them Crooked Vultures by Them Crooked Vultures

Upon hearing about this supergroup, I was very excited.  I mean, how could they go wrong?  Well, they ultimately didn’t disappoint me.  Admittedly, this album is pretty near what I expected, but is that a bad thing here?  The album does tend to be a bit front-heavy, but this is really something that current radio-popular hard rock outfits should be forced into hearing.  Essentially this conversation needs to happen: “Nickelback, you’ve spent so long copying your own filth.  Why not listen to a musically astute group of people creating better music than you could even dream of?  If you copy even half of this, you’d be listenable!”

12. The Hazards of Love by The Decemberists

Not but a few weeks ago I thought very little of this album.  Then I gave it a harder try, and the whole thing opened up for me.  This is a really difficult listen, but if you properly invest some time into things, you’ll find a wealth of sounds coming forward.  What effect does the concept-album plot have on the quality of things?  That’s hard to say.  I’m not big on concept albums, so it really didn’t mean too much to me.  However, if you like a lengthy musical tale, this is right up your alley.

11. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

An interesting blend of pop-mentality and sludge Sonic Youth/MBV guitar (but sometimes REM-type jangle!) makes this a strange type of music to initially consider.  But with repeated listens comes a satisfaction.  The band doesn’t overstay their welcome, and all the songs are at least slightly danceable.  I’ve never bought into the hype for Isn’t Anything from MBV, but I’d like to think that this can function like a more accessible alternative.

10. Blue Roses by Blue Roses

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Deep emotions are sometimes hard to convey in a legitimate way through music.  Often, such efforts sound half-assed, or just plain whiney (see also: emo).  Here, Blue Roses moves beyond any failure by offering sincerity and heart.  This is driven home by the straining, beautiful voice of Laura Groves.  She perfectly brings forth such sorrow on this album.  Perhaps the only warning that should be offered is that repeated listens tend to cause personal depression.  It can be tough to help bear her sadness… but you’ll be left hooked by the enchanting music.

9. Tonight by Franz Ferdinand

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Franz Ferdinand take a decidedly darker route here, leaving the “Dark of the Matinee” to seem like a sunny day in July.  The trick is that bigger bass sound.  Yeah, the electronics are something new, but that fat bass really adds a depth to every song.  What brings this album high on my list is its cohesiveness as a whole albumTonight manages to act like a faux-concept album, looking at different facets of a night out.  But they never hit you over the head with such high-mind ideas.  Instead, you’re left to piece it together, and eventually it clicks.  This thing may not be as hooky and fun as their first, but Tonight is a richly rewarding album, even strong enough to overcome the slight misstep in the new version of “Lucid Dreams.”

8. Middle Cyclone by Neko Case

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The hook is her voice, but you’ll be left thinking about everything else once done with the album.  It’s almost unfortunate that Case will almost be taken for granted like that.  Because it’s really the blend of music and vocals that really pushes Middle Cyclone so far.  Without that booming voice, the pop-folk would seem interesting but boring.  Yet Case would seem crazy and hyper-emotional without the stunning backdrop offered by great acoustic guitars, piano, strings, and a solid rhythm section.  Maybe the best blend of the two realms is seen in “Vengeance is Sleeping,” an angry sort of remembrance of a lost love.  Without her, the song would be flat, but without the guitars her voice would seem somewhat silly.  Thank goodness the combinations work well throughout – Middle Cyclone is superb for everyone involved, especially the listener.

7. Farm by Dinosaur Jr

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It rocks and rolls from the very start.  Insane solos, strong rhythms, and a great sense of melody all propel this guitar album to such a high spot.  I really wish I was a Dinosaur Jr follower before this.  Every track has a loveable gritty work ethic that works in tandem with the band’s clear talent.  While “Pieces” may be the best single track, each song has a memorable guitar line, and interesting lyrics.  Farm keeps you interested throughout, thus giving a great bang for the buck.

6. It’s Blitz! by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

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I was not convinced that Yeah Yeah Yeahs would be able to translate their shtick into some sort of electronic-disco setting.  Yet here I am, wondering how I didn’t see Karen O as a super-diva before.  It isn’t immediately clear that you’re into something great – “Zero” is spectacular, but can put you a bit out of sorts.  “Heads Will Roll” convinces you that the powerful Karen O is still around and then gets you to believe the electronics.  From here on, the album leads you through a series of power songs and semi-ballads.  You’re always left wondering how a song will conclude, making for a fun first listen.  After that, the whole album solidifies.  It’s Blitz may now be the best of the YYYs.

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of the Best of 2009 stuff.  Fun story: Merriweather Post Pavilion did not make my top 15 list.  It seems pretty clear to me that Pitchfork and many others vastly over-valued Animal Collective this year.  Despite having two brilliant tunes, it does not make my list.  What will be featured in the top 5?

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!