For any music lover, it's that list-making time of year again. In the past I've taken the list way too seriously, to the point of getting stressed out because I hadn't heard one thing or another or because my list wasn't interesting enough. Recently--like, maybe this year--I've reminded myself of how much fun this process is. Rather than worrying about being derivative or bandwagony, I've used other lists to discover albums or songs that I missed, and I easily doubled my pool of 2009 songs with a newfound openness and excitement. I encourage you to do the same with my list. Chop it up, re-order it, love it, or throw it away. Just have fun with it.
I have a tendency to over-write, so I'm limiting myself to one or two sentences for each capsule. I might throw in a semi-colon though. Unlike in past years, I'm ranking any song from 2009, not just singles. It's hard to define what a single is anymore. Below, I've linked to a completely illegal zip file of all the songs for you to put into any order you wish.
Top 25 Songs of 2009.zip
25. Atlas Sound feat. Noah Lennox- "Walkabout"
24. Phoenix- "1901"
23. Animal Collective- "What Would I Want? Sky"
22. Rihanna feat. The-Dream- "Hatin' on the Club"
21. The-Dream- "Rockin' That Shit"
20. Washed Out- "Feel It All Around"- I was listening to the Sirius XM U station in a van with a guy in his forties last week (don't ask), and he commented, "This sounds like music you would come down from drugs to." I guess I can't argue with that.
19. Soulja Boy- "Turn My Swag On"- I listen to a lot of music, but it's hard to tell if this is the most melodic or the most anti-melodic song of the year. Soulja Boy does things here--like asking a question and then answering it without pausing for any punctuation--that I couldn't do no matter how long I tried. I guess I'm still calling him an idiot savant, but it's getting harder and harder to discuss him with back-handed compliments.
18. Neon Indian- "Deadbeat Summer"- Glo-fi, glo-fi glo-fi--glo-fi, glo-fi? We're in January, but summer still hasn't ended.
17. Keri Hilson feat. Kanye West, Ne-Yo- "Knock You Down"- The sentiment of this song is nothing new, but Danja's unorthodox beat and Kanye's most heartfelt verse of the year buoy a modest but powerful vocal performance from Hilson.
16. Wavves- "So Bored"- More than any other song, this lo-fi gem reminds me of how much can change in one year. It was my theme song during a really low point in my life, and I feel as if I've come out the other end still loving the song, as a trophy as much as anything else.
15. Julian Casablancas- "11th Dimension"- On his genre-hopping solo debut single, Casablancas sounds exuberant and carefree, but there's an added focus to his vocals that we've never heard before.
14. The Very Best feat. Ezra Koenig- "Warm Heart of Africa"- Since Vampire Weekend was accused of pilfering African culture for their debut, it only makes sense that those repping Afro-pop would bring its singer in for a soaringly jubilant chorus.
13. Joker & Ginz- "Purple City"- Critics write on and on about dubstep's off-time rhythms, but no one mentions the melodies. Once the main synth taunt wiggles in, this track goes from catchy to irresistible.
12. OJ Da Juiceman feat. Gucci Mane, Cam'ron- "Make Da Trap Say Ay (Remix)"- I knew there would eventually be a rapper so southern that I couldn't understand him. OJ Da Juiceman is that rapper. This song is worth hearing if only for Cam's line "Bricks, hammers, and shovels/Yeah, I'm the Home Depot!"
11. Smith Westerns- "Be My Girl"- These guys sound like Big Star if Big Star grew up with XBoxes and dollar menus. Deliberate and controlled but still inspired.
10. Big Boi feat. Gucci Mane- "Shine Blockas"- Riding a Bobby "Blue" Bland sample that Jay-Z had already made legendary, one of rap's elder statesmen hooks up with one of its young guns for some sunglasses-at-night steez. Big Boi's flow is slippery and deceptively fast, and he has the foresight to leave us wanting more by the song's end.
9. Dirty Projectors- "Stillness Is the Move"- Dirty Projectors are at their best when the women of the band are at the foreground, and this single is the showcase that matches them up against a slinky, ever-changing melody. As angular as the guitar line is, there's still something sexy about all of this.
8. Passion Pit- "Moth's Wings"- Michael Angelakos and his falsetto won me over last year, but he came back this year with a full band behind him. I would say that the chorus is especially cathartic and moving here, but I think the whole thing is chorus. I'm waiting to hear this on the end credits of a hipper-than-thou movie any day now.
7. Phoenix- "Lisztomania"- "Lisztomania" unfolds as a blueprint for how to write pop songs and eventually become as big of a rockstar as Franz Liszt, which is to say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Behind the same driving, loopy guitars and tight songwriting that got them here, Phoenix creates something more ambitious and satisfying and rowdy than we ever could have expected.
6. Grizzly Bear- "Two Weeks"- Grizzly Bear negotiates a delicate balance here between airy harmonies and the thump of rubbery bass, each of which punctuates dreamy keyboard plinks. Ed Droste, the de facto lead singer, lets his words hang and drip in the air along the starts and stops of this Veckatimest centerpiece.
5. Japandroids- "Young Hearts Spark Fire"- "Young Hearts Spark Fire" is, judging from the refrain "We used to dream/Now we worry about dying," about lost time, but nothing the boys say communicates this sense of lost time as much as their furious, breathless playing. The charging immediacy of this song is as good of an example as you'll get of execution meeting theory.
4. Drake- "Best I Ever Had"- 2009 hip-hop definitely belonged to Drake, who delivered as perfect a rap love song as anything since "I Need Love." The sweetest song to ever promise to make your pussy whistle.
3. The Big Pink- "Dominos"- The duo behind the ambitious shoegaze project The Big Pink creates such a gigantic sound that it's easy to forget how simple this song is. A five-word hook, thunderous drums, and an arching, swirling guitar are enough to keep you singing along for days.
2. Girls- "Hellhole Ratrace"- Shakespeare's themes are often described as "universal truths"--things we all know but need validated anyway. Christopher Owens is not Shakespeare, but as his fragile warble repeats a refrain I won't spoil here, he carries that torch of universal truths for a full seven minutes.
1. Animal Collective- "My Girls"- It's possible that "My Girls" is the most accessible song Animal Collective has ever made. Although it does feature one of those loops they're so fond of, even a forty-year-old in a van can't deny that those harmonies are gorgeous. As it opens up with its bass drum knocks, "My Girls" sounds like a corner being turned, an expansion within but without the band's established comfort zone. The lyrics are more mature than anything the group has recorded, but the band isn't done taking chances.