Getting through my decade-end coverage was exhausting enough, so no long preamble for this one. The short form: 2009 was a surprisingly deep year for music with quality surprises at the top of the pop charts and countless gems smashing their charms throughout the blogosphere. These are the 25 singles that hit hardest in 2009. The bottom 10 get a mention; the top 15 get write-ups. Huzzah:
25. Franz Ferdinand – “No You Girls”
24. Black Eyed Peas – “Boom Boom Pow”
23. Kelly Clarkson – “I Do Not Hook Up”
22. Julian Casablancas – “11th Dimension”
21. Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys – “Empire State of Mind”
20. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel”
19. Wilco – “You Never Know”
18. The XX – “Islands”
17. Said the Whale – “Camilo (The Magician)”
16. Sunset Rubdown – “Idiot Heart”
15. The Decemberists – “The Rake’s Song”
A while ago, I was listening to “The Rake’s Song” on my iPod while riding the bus and realized that I was kind of singing out loud. I probably scared the crap out of my fellow travelers by sharing this story of cruel, cold murder and harsh infanticide. Oops. Damn you, catchy Decemberists! Once again you make horrible things sound wonderful!
14. Pearl Jam – “The Fixer”
Would I consider myself a Pearl Jam fan? Hardly – I missed the boat on their 90s heyday and found little in the 00s to get me on the team. But “The Fixer” is easily the best single they’ve produced in a decade: simple, raw and catchy as all hell. Maybe all that Pearl Jam needed to get their groove back was to not try so hard. If that’s the case, success.
13. Keri Hilson ft. Ne-Yo and Kanye West – “Knock You Down”
In addition to award show stages and late-night punchlines, Kanye West showed up a few times on the radio this year, and while his verse on “Run this Town” was better, “Knock You Down’s” R&B bliss is the far better song. Ne-Yo may get the best of this one, bringing his A-game on the killer second verse.
12. Neko Case – “This Tornado Loves You”
Here in Nova Scotia, we’re not exactly big fans of our weather. We tend to complain about storms small and large that greet our shores. But what if the bad weather only comes around because it can’t quit us? Writing in a tornado’s voice, Case croons a beautifully obsessive love song about a storm’s devotion to then human object of its funneled eye.
11. Handsome Furs – “I’m Confused”
The soundtrack to perhaps my favourite music video of the year, “I’m Confused” is the Furs simultaneously at their darkest and their most upbeat. Though other tracks on Face Control are almost Springsteenian in their riffage, this beat and guitar riff want to slash you straight onto the dance floor. And the “woo” right before the first guitar riff is one of my favourite musical moments of 2009.
10. Lady Gaga – “Paparazzi/Bad Romance”
If you had told me halfway through 2009 that Lady Gaga would have a long career ahead of her, I would have had a good laugh at your expense. After “Paparazzi” and “Bad Romance,” though, the laugh might be on me. These two tracks push the Gaga formula to its edges, maintaining its best qualities – cold, efficient dance grooves with an twisted edge – and yet managing to be completely and wonderfully odd.
9. The Flaming Lips – “Watching the Planets”
All too often, bands release an album’s first song as their single, seeing it as the best entry point into their new material. But I have a huge soft spot for when an album’s final song gets the lead single, as it is with the twisted, gigantic “Watching the Planets.” It’s an apocalyptic reminder of just how massive and awesome Embryonic was.
8. Joel Plaskett – “Through & Through & Through”
Part of the core of Three’s appeal is the vocal contributions of Ana Egge and Rose Cousins, and their best moments are in “Through and Through and Through’s” call and response verses. Though it’s probably the record’s least-tossed-off song, the entire track stays playful and fun, from the “lazy licks” to the final chord stomp.
7. Grizzly Bear – “Two Weeks”
Grizzly Bear do nothing by accident; their pop is meticulously constructed and impeccably designed. But though I know they probably recorded it a hundred times to get it right, the opening piano of “Two Weeks” still sounds spontaneous and intimate. Though I love the Beach Boys-influenced harmonies and swooning verses that follow, I could listen to those opening chords endlessly.
6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Zero”
All minimalist bands need to stretch their limits at some point. Though they’ve dabbled in sound expansion at various points in their career, there’s something riveting in how It’s Blitz leads off with keyboards – the thrashy, punky new wave riff of “Zero” which then proceeds to never let up for the duration of its running time. Karen O gives the best yelps of the year, easy.
5. Animal Collective – “My Girls”
They finally did it. Though websites like Pitchfork had been singing their praises for nearly a decade now, Animal Collective had yet to find the song that would win over haters like me and doubters like everyone else. With the blissful “My Girls,” they discovered how to pull the melody our of their noise and make something quite magnificent in the process.
4. La Roux – “Bulletproof”
A track that, at first, seems unassuming – it’s a pleasant enough pop song with Eleanor Jackson’s awesomely asexual vocals elevating it to a slight cut above the rest. But just try to get it out of your head. It’s been three months since I first heard it, and I’ve given up trying to such a degree that here it is, a deserved number four on my list.
3. Japandroids – “Young Hearts Spark Fire”
One of my favourite moments all year was yelling along to this one at the Halifax Pop Explosion, helping along vocalist Brian King whose voice was giving out on him due to illness. A wonderfully retro piece of guitar rock, “Young Hearts” pretty much mandates yelling along to its declarations of post-youth exhilaration.
2. Phoenix – “Lisztomania/1901”
Long a blog favourite, Phoenix caught the zeitgeist this year in part due to the colossal behemoth of pop that was their record Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. But mostly, it was that both “Lisztomania” and “1901” were completely undeniable – and unavoidable. The brat pack mashup with the former is still the best viral video of the year, and the latter was the second-best moment of Girl Talk’s concerts in 2009.
1. Dirty Projectors – “Stillness is the Move”
This should have been the crossover hit of the year. That it wasn’t demonstrates, perhaps, that the music industry’s grasp on our popularity process hasn’t completely dissipated. Or maybe there’s just a hint too much weirdness in here for the masses. Either way, “Stillness is the Move” is not just the pop song of the year but easily one of the decade’s highlights: a riveting mash-up of indie rock and Top 40 that’s also 2009’s defining “stop whatever you’re doing and listen to this” moment. Plus, you know, I’m kind of in love with Amber Coffman. So, number one it is!