First, a word on lists. Lists are essentially useless, but people who love music often love making them. It’s impossible to make an ultimate “best” list, because all music means something different to different people. But that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing a useful list.
There’s a few different “best of” lists I could have made. I could have done the “Best” Songs or Albums of 2009. Or the “Most Important” Songs or Albums of 2009. That would probably go something like this: 1) Dirty Projectors 2) Animal Collective 3) Grizzly Bear. Bo-ring. That’s not useful or exciting to you, the reader. You’ve already heard those albums are good from everybody else, so what do you care?
Instead, I’ve compiled two lists. My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009 and My Favorite 25 Albums of 2009. They’re not what I think represent the “best” music this year, but it was the music I found myself listening to the most. The songs that soundtracked my life. This is what I listened to when I was working, partying, sleeping, reading, hooking up, cooking, hanging out with friends, feeling sad, feeling anxious, feeling happy. I’ll look back to 2009 and remember my life in reference to these songs and albums, whether or not they got a good ranking on Pitchfork (though many of them did, I suppose). My goal with this method is for you to hopefully discover a couple new bands and a few songs that you will love. I tried to be as honest as I could. It’s a little embarrassing how much I love some of these bands, but I love them, so I put them high on my list. This also has its downside, too. It’s hard to argue against a list like this, because I can just say, “Well, I dunno, I liked it.” Still, I’m excited to hear any feedback.
As for My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009, I made a few rules for myself. First, a band can only appear once. Also, this is purely about singles I enjoy. For instance, I would never put Harlem Shakes’ Technicolor Health on my favorite albums list, but “Sunlight” made it pretty high on this list because it’s a great pop song. I like a lot of Grooms’ songs and think they’re probably better than many of these, for instance, but none of them made it onto this list because they work much better as a group of experimental songs on an album. This gave me a chance to give recognition to many bands from this year I would otherwise have left out. And, for the record, I think this list of songs is less important but more fun than my forthcoming list of best albums of 2009. You can download all of the songs by clicking on the words in bold.
So here it is, in five installments beginning today, My Favorite 50 Songs of 2009.
50) “Necro” – Box Elders I think this song is funny. On one level, it’s about having sex with dead people. But on another level, it’s about being in love with someone you can never have. Box Elders have a great punk sound, especially with that thick organ pervading all their songs. This short, catchy number happens to be my favorite.
49) “Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare” – Matt & Kim Sometimes Matt & Kim get a bad rep because they get such a good rep in the mainstream media and aren’t always technically good musicians (seriously, did any other band get more licensing deals this year?). To that, I say pft. Was Joey Ramone a good musician? Matt & Kim’s 2009 album, Grand, is filled with unbelievably catchy songs. I like the sparse drum beats and cheesy strings on this one. It’s a different sound for them, and it’s just as infectious as their more keyboard-driven tunes.
48) “Warm Heart of Africa ft. Ezra Koenig” – The Very Best I do not care for Ezra Koenig, but I do care very much for Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit. This has to be one of the most joyous songs of the year, and certainly one of the best perspectives on the whole “African” trend. I find this song to be entirely genuine, and Koenig’s inclusion on the track to be mildly hilarious.
47) “Fables” – The Dodos I was never really into The Dodos when everyone else was a couple of years ago. But I knew they were important enough that I ought to pay attention to this underrated album. It’s as if suddenly everyone got tired of hyping them. This is a simple song, but it’s got a lot of heart. Guitars and pretty melodies. I find myself humming “I don’t wanna go in the fire,” in the shower in the morning.
46) “Hi-Fi Goon” – Throw Me The Statue This song sounds like the 90s. Throw Me The Statue came out with a good rock album this year, but I’m not sure that anyone really noticed. I’m including this song from that album in particular (in addition to the fact that it sounds so delightfully 90s) because in the midst of all the lo-fi shitgaze music that got hyped this year, we really missed out on some great “hi-fi” albums (what up, These United States!). This song has a great hook that deserves to be recognized.
45) “Not Sorry” – Says She’s Ms. Blat After so much chick music coming out of Williamsburg with airy voices and whiny synths, it’s great to finally hear someone with real piano skills and a voice that kicks as much ass as the songs. I love the opening of this tune “I’m not good at keeping in touch/I’m not sorry.” Watch out for this duo in 2010. You heard it here first.
44) “AXTXTXIXTXUXDXE” – Lovvers This is a great British punk song that sounds even better live.
43) “Dream City” – Free Energy In all honesty, this Philadelphia band is probably getting a little too much hype. Their live show isn’t particularly remarkable (though I did see them towards the end of CMJ, which could account for any lack of energy), but this song is FUN. It’s about driving around in cars and being young. It would go perfectly on the modern-day soundtrack to American Graffiti.
42) “Rich Doors” – New Villager This is song is in the same league as Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead.” Unbelievably listenable, danceable, and full of interesting new sounds. I doubt you’ll be able to listen to this one just once. Kudos to one of the best record labels of the year, Two Syllable, for putting this out.
41) “Ambling Alp” – Yeasayer I’m a little bit dubious about including this track on this list (or else it would have been higher up) because it’s on an album that’s coming out in 2010. But I had to include it because it’s been on constant repeat for me for the past month and a half. It’s no secret that this song is a good. Yeasayer really doesn’t sound like anything else. Sure there’s lots of synths, but they’re so masterfully layered that even I can’t complain about “too much button-pushing.” Plus, the lyrics and vocals are achingly beautiful. The break with the falsetto male voices along with lyrics like “And if anyone should cheat you, take advantage of, or beat you/Raise your head and wear your wound with pride,” make this an exceptional song. It’s just a beautiful piece of art.