Recounting the top 60 songs of 2009 with accompanying blurbs was a far grander undertaking than I had originally anticipated. Like most great comic books and hip hop albums (when is that Nonymous ish going to drop?) this last batch of great songs is finally here… but only after numerous delays.
It’s a common mistake to assume it would be easier to write about songs you like the most. In some ways it is- enthusiasm, whether positive or negative, can definitely push a writer through a dry spot of creativity (whatever THAT means). But in the case at hand , I had so much to say about certain songs (“Brother Sport,” “In the Flowers,” “Bicycle” and “House of Flying Daggers”) it was daunting to condense it into the “come for/stay for” format. In other cases, I felt it would be dangerous to overanalyze songs such as “Wet Hair” or “Are You Still in Vallda?” and I kept things short and sweet.
If I had to assess the year in music I would take the time to bemoan the lack of awesome hip hop LPs: of the three hip hop songs in the top 20 only Raekwon’s was released in 2009 (Clipse’s album wasn’t released until mid-December). Jay-z and Kid Cudi put out complete trash this past year and I’ve yet to hear the Drake or Mos Def albums (the former due to weak singles and the latter due to his atrocious appearances on Bill Maher’s television program). The Cool Kids never wound up putting out their debut album (after a meh mixtape, “Gone Fishin’”) and even Yeezy and Jeezy didn’t give me a solid summer jam.
Overall, I liked what I heard in 2009. Between Japandroids, Fucked up, Mean Jeans, Future of the Left, The Thermals, Titus Andronicus and DC Snipers, modern punk rock is better than it’s been for a very long time while Memory Tapes/Cassettes, Washed Out and jj have all impressed me with their gorgeous, amorphous and hazy pop.
I’m thrilled to be done with 2009 and am already wrist deep in some 2010 releases that will be covered on Averse in the near future. Albums from Vampire Weekend and Beach House have been predictably impressive, Yeasayer’s new album is a welcome departure from their debut and I cannot wait to see what the world thinks of Titus Andronicus’ opus, The Monitor. I’m still trying to sift through the minstrel-infused Midlake album and Four Tet’s latest ode to background mood music, There is Love in You.
As a special gift to Averse readers we’d like to present most of the Top 60 Songs of 2009 as a compressed downloads so you can spend the first chunk of 2010 catching up with everything you missed (after the post).
20) Big Boi (featuring Gucci Mane) – “Shine Blockas” (from Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty)
Come for: The third (!?!) single from Big Boi’s debut LP which still doesn’t have a release date. Mmmmmm hip hop release date mishaps.
Stay for: The best soul sampling Outkast affiliated track since their tremendous 2007 single with UGK, “International Players Anthem.” I would still put that song in my top 5 if they re-released it this (or any) year.
19) Volcano Choir – “Island, IS” (from Unmap)
Come for: The most emotionally taut song of 2009… that contains almost nothing but non-sequitors: “Come and serve it with an omelette/and you’re on it/with the carpet/you solved it/said you’re corporate/set your orbit/set your coffin/said it’s often/that your old fits/are your old tits/on your hard drive.”
Stay for: The sonic flourishes that come oh-so-close to overwhelming the song but stops short of feeling cluttered: the bubbling keyboard, the sound of pages being turned and someone knocking wood percussively (and literally).
18) jj – “Are You Still In Vallda” (from nn 2) (Download the Legobeat Oceans Remix)
Come for: A mysterious, melancholic, travelogue accented acoustic pop song that stresses melody and economy.
Stay for: The best name drop of the year, when the narrator comments, “You smoke like a young Belmondo.”
17) Discovery – “Orange Shirt” (from LP)
Come for: The perfect cymbal crashes and pulsing synths that cause me to do a quasi- ironic raise the roof celebratory dance; perfect lust pop for a noontime walk of shame.
Stay for: The infinite (and yet, so finite) meaning of the line, “Sleep on a train to Tokyo/Google yourself when you get home.”
16) Pains of Being Pure at Heart – “Young Adult Friction” (from s/t)
Come for: The ultimate shoe-gazeth John Hughes dance-around-your room-with-your- arms-above-your head-summer driving jam. Yes, I dance with my hands above my head when I drive in my room.
Stay for: The oh-they-did-not-what-a-bunch-of-nerds-yet-I-love-it wordplay of the outro chant: “Don’t check me out!”
15) Animal Collective – “What I Would Want? Sky” (from Fall Be Kind)
Come for: The amorphous, wordless built of the first three minutes that slowly dissolves into a dwindling piano refrain.
Stay for: A four minute celebration of indecision and confusion, exemplified perfectly in that the song both asks and answers its own question.
14) Fucked Up – “Year of the Rat” (from Year of the Rat)
Come for: The Canadian shoe-gazi punk band’s yearly foray into progressive punk rock that coincides with the Chinese New Year, albeit briefer than usual: last year’s “Year of the Pig” clocked in at 17 minutes.
Stay for: Every single moment of the 11 minutes contained herein: the ambient intro; the deeply panned snare rolls that lead the song into a hazy punk rock groove; the Dicky Barrett-esque bark of lead singer, Pink Eyes screaming the title; the melodic riff that makes the chorus of “you’re a rat!” palatable pop rock; the sixth minute when the song becomes completely unhinged; all the chunky bass and collapsing guitar patterns; the fake out ending that returns for another brief dip into pop punk chaos; the snippet of news show talking heads that ends with G Dubya saying, “you’d better be prepared to pull the trigger.”
13) Japandroids- “Young Hearts Spark Fire” (from Post-Nothing)
Come for: The fuzzy beauty of perfect pop rock and roll that celebrates the end of our lives, the end of the wine and being too drunk to worry about tomorrow.
Stay for: The cathartic shout of a lyricless “woah!” that comes at the end of the song, a perfect release for the pent up romantic longing and self aware mortality .
12) Think About Life- “Havin’ My Baby” (from Family)
Come for: The novelty of a sped up chipmunk soul sample in the context of a non hip- hop track.
Stay for: The unabashedly glee of these Canadian weirdos that combine TV on the Radio vocals with Go! Team pastiche.
11) Raekwon (featuring Method Man, Ghostface, Inspectah Deck)- “House of Flying Daggers” (from Only Built for Cuban Linx Part 2)
Come for: The best Wu-Tang crew cut since Ghostface’s “9 Milli Bros.” that puts Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer on notice: you’ve got the music to the Bad Boys 3 trailer right here.
Stay for: The intensity of the four on-their-grind Wu-Tang emcees:
Inspectah Deck rips the track open when he announces, “I pop off like a mobster boss/Angel hair with the lobster sauce;”
Ghost woos us with his fashion and social skills, “Still got gear in the closet, that’s stupid live/From Benetton rugby skullies, Oshkosh conductor jumpers/The train hats fit me lovely/Rae job is to make sure the coke is fluffy/While I politic his birthday bash with Puffy.”
Method Man closes things up with a lisp-y verse that takes full advantage of his laconic delivery, “Man, ya’ll niggas ain’t shit to us, still a pistol bust/Split your melon like I split the Dutch/Got a lot of piff to puff, and I ain’t come for fisticuffs/Or for the cop that wanna clip the cuffs.”
10) Clipse (featuring Kanye West)- “Kinda Like a Big Deal” (from Until the Casket Drops)
Come for: The Thorton brothers’ everlasting obsession with cocaine and living big (“Is a blessin’ to spend a hundred thou in a recession with no second guessin”) and the super intense wailing noise that is teased throughout each verse before exploding, perfectly countering the dirge-ish beat and speedy rapping.
Stay for: Kanye West’s best verse in a long time. Which means there is discount store wordplay and hero comparison, “Spittin fire on the PJ in my PJ’s/Fire Marshall said I took it to the Max like TJ/Yea people I said Marshalls we play/I guess I’m like the Black Marshall meets Jay,” before dubbing himself “alligator souffle” and celebrating the backsides of learning disabled women.
9) Atlas Sound (featuring Panda Bear)- “Walkabout” (from Logos)
Come for: One of the rare collaborations (see also, number six below) that lives up to its pedigree.
Stay for: The completely melancholgic chorus of “What did you want to see? What did you want to be when you grew up?”
8) Phoenix- “1901” (from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix)
Come for: The song that united us all in 2009: the bros, the critics, the hipsters, the indie snobs, the franco-philes, James Franco (presumably), the sorority girls who wore out their Passion Pit mp3s and the ad execs at Cadillac.
Stay for: Every Phoenix pop moment: the urgency of the announcement, “It’s twenty seconds till the last call/You’re going “hey hey hey hey hey hey!” that segues into a stretch of music that sounds exactly what future promise feels like.
Linger around even longer for: The roaring siren, the pledge to be “anything you ask and more,” the ping-pong echo and a frequently misheard song lyric (it’s “fold it!” repeated after the chorus, not “falling!”).
7) Memory Tapes- “Bicycle” (from Seek Magic)
Come for: The wooshing disco beat that fires down shortly after the first minute, giving this tale of a rainy two-wheeled escape a desperate urgency.
Stay for: The complete euphoria of the last two minutes: heavenly “oohs” and “ahhs” surround rubbery bass and a New Order flanger soaked guitar solo that dissipates, leaving the listener with the same feeling of escape the song’s narrator seeks.
6) Dirty Projectors & David Byrne- “Knotty Pine” (from Dark was the Night compilation)
Come for: The plucky bass, which, coupled with sparkling acoustic guitar and twinkling piano keys set the backdrop for the Dirty Projectors’ most pop song to date.
Stay for: The only unhinged moment of a remarkably tight song: a laser zing guitar line that makes an appearance in the last 30 seconds.
5) Future of the Left- “Arming Eritrea” (from Travels With Myself and Another)
Come for: The chance to yell at the song’s unknown nemesis, a fellow named Rick, that you aren’t a prize, a cynic, a rope, a drunk, a child, or special, but that you DO know your own worth and that he should pull up his socks. Seriously.
Stay for: The realization that the driving breakdown that starts at 1:46 isn’t the climax of the song at all and that twenty seconds later the drums will triple time and the music will coalesce into swirling, unhinged mayhem.
4) Animal Collective- “Brothersport” (from Merriweather Post Pavillion)
Come for: A frighteningly danceable song that begs to be screeched in three part harmony with your friends when intoxicated. So I’ve heard.
Stay for: The persistent rave siren that stays rhythmically consistent for the middle of the song just as the drums and keyboards build to something far more intense, which is interrupted by an angelic cry of “Matt!” and a perfect crystalline melody line on an album chock full of perfect crystalline melody lines.
Siblog-Only Stay For: The fact that Animal Collective wrote a barn-burning ode to brotherly love that contains my brother’s name.
3) Japandroids- “Wet Hair” (from Post-Nothing)
Come for: The first two verses: “She had wet hair/Say what you will/I don’t care/I couldn’t resist it” and “These girls are raw, Bikini Kill/We need a ride to bikini island!”
Stay for: The epic third verse: “We own the gauntlet!/Must get to France so we can french kiss some french girls!”
2) Phoenix- “Lisztomania” (from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix)
Come for: The fact that the backbeat will make your feet involuntarily move as if your lower body was covered in the pink goo from Ghostbusters II.
Stay for: The gleeful ability to sing-along with every completely indecipherable phrase that Thomas Mars’ throws down. E.g.:
“From a mess to the masses!”
“Duel it, duel it, duel it, juggle it, duel it, duel it!”
“Discuss, discuss, discuss, discourage!”
1) Animal Collective- “In the Flowers” (from Merriweather Post Pavillion)
Come for: The sound of submergence that introduces Animal Collective’s instantly classic album (sorry guy); the incessant hand claps; the hypnotic psuedo-latin guitar; the brief echoed tease of the line “If I could just leave my body for a night.”
Stay for: My favourite musical moment of the year: the massive tonal shift the song takes two and a half minutes in: the monumental tribal drums; the cricket-esque hum; the second electronic beat that sneaks in a few seconds later; the percussion that answers Avey’s every whimsical pledge to his wife; the fact that any piece of music made up of disparate sounds can express the simplest desire to dance with someone you miss so effectively.
But really stay for: the fact that listening to this song on your headphones might make you feel like you are on drugs. Or in love. Because really, what’s the difference?