Every year I try to compile a list of the 20 best concerts, albums and songs of the year and every year at least one of them has to break far over the allotted number. The idea was that “20 in 09” looks close enough to 2009 to work as a non-subtle mental cue. But with the top songs of 2009, we’ve hit a bit of a snag. 2009 was such a good year for music that I couldn’t possibly keep it to 20. Nope, I had to go to 50 with this one. I would apologize, but I can’t imagine you all are hurt by the switch.
2009 was a great year for music. Let’s celebrate with a countdown of some of the best songs you could possibly hear today! [there’s a ZIP of everything at the bottom, too]
You Ain’t No Picasso’s 50 Favorite Songs of 2009
#50 :: MP3: Z-Trip – Work it or Leave It
I’ve kept this one to the bottom of the list, but not for its lack of quality. Mostly I’ve handicapped this track because a) I’m not 100% sure it came out this year, and b) I’d never heard “Leave It” before and that’s over half the magic of this track. STILL this is a fantastic remix. It was the song I woke up to all summer and if you got in my car in 2009, I probably played this song for at least part of the ride.
#49 :: M4A: BOAT – We Want It! We Want It!
Bands, don’t send me a demo of a song unless you want me to fall in love with it. David from BOAT was nice enough to slide me a demo of this song that I fell hard for. So when the finished product sounded just slightly different (mostly just cleaned up and clearer), I felt just the tiniest bit sad. Months later I realized that the song is still really, really good.
#48 :: MP3: Screaming Females – Bell
We didn’t have a Deerhoof album this year and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have turned into an electro pop group. So obviously I was primed for some distorted rock with a lady singer. Sure it’s a lot simpler than either of those bands, but it’s still really flippin’ good!
#47 :: MP3: Raekwon ft. Ghostface Killah & Method Man – Wu Ooh
Truthfully I played the hell out of this song when it leaked, then forgot about it for months. It wasn’t until it started popping up on year end lists that I slapped my forehead and realized that it’d been forever since I listened to it. Wu-Tang members, let’s try to keep it all to this level from now on.
#46 :: MP3: Andrew Bird – Oh No
The biggest letdown of 2009 was Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast. In my eyes it was the first time he’s ever dropped the ball. As such, I spent most of the year really crapping on this album to friends. It does, however, have some very good songs. “Oh No” wouldn’t remotely stand out on any of his last four albums, but it’s still good enough to crack the top 50 in 2009.
#45 :: MP3: Neko Case – People Got a Lot of Nerve
Is there anything not to like about Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone? It’s an awesome record with straightforward, great songs like “People Got a Lot of Nerve.”
#44 :: MP3: Blakroc – Done Did It
If you told me this was a Jay Z outtake, I would have believed it. Who the hell is Noe? I still don’t know, but I don’t really care. This track is fantastic.
#43 :: MP3: Future of the Left – Arming Eritrea
While I was working on this list, I burned two CDs of my choices to play at CD Central and sort of road test my opinions. After this track finished up, a guy came up with a Big Black CD in hand and asked what’d just been playing. I told him about Future of the Left, Mclusky and handed him Travels with Myself and Another and Mcluskyism. He put down the Big Black and went with Future of the Left, thanking me all along the way. Turns out I’m not the only one who thinks this song is fantastic!
#42 :: MP3: Fiery Furnaces – The End Is Near
I really should have hated this song. On paper, the Fiery Furnaces doing a pretty straightforward 70s AM radio song doesn’t sound too appealing. But against all odds, the result is actually pretty good.
#41 :: MP3: Faux Hoax – Foxworthye
In a year with no Menomena, sometimes you’ve got to turn to the group that’s 1/2 Menomena. Danny Seim and Dave Allen (ex-Gang of Four) made a great pair for a handful of songs recorded under the name Faux Hoax this year, “Foxworthye” being the best among them.
#40 :: MP3: Think About Life – Johanna
Sure, the 40-second intro still gets on my nerves a bit, but the rest of the song is fantastic.
Read the rest of the list after the break.
#39 :: MP3: Janelle Monae – Come Alive (The War of the Roses)
Janelle wrote a song that makes my toes tap and my skin crawl. And if the goal of art is to get some reaction, then I guess being both catchy and slightly unsettling is a pretty good success.
#38 :: MP3: The Boy Least Likely To – Balloon on a Broken String
TBLLT’s sophomore album didn’t quite hit me with the intensity that their debut did, but it had some great songs on it to be sure. All of them were catchy, most of them were introspective and a few were sad — “Balloon on a Broken String” was a bit of all three plus a magical fourth: hopeful.
#37 :: MP3: Islands – No You Don’t
In retrospect, Islands’ Vapours was a pretty weird record, huh? It wasn’t bad by any means, but it was quite a turn from the normal turns I would have guessed. But luckily Nick’s songwriting has stayed catchy and smart — a killer combo in pop music.
#36 :: MP3: tUnE-YaRdS – Hatari
Looking back, I’d say the one omission from the list is that I couldn’t find a way to elbow in anything from Micachu and the Shapes. It’s a good record, but lacks any strong standout tracks to me. Also when tUnE-YaRdS came along, they stole some of Micachu’s weirdo folk thunder. And unlike Micachu, I can absolutely pick a favorite: “Hatari” steals my mind, runs off and hides it under something every time I play it.
#35 :: MP3: Major Lazer – Mary Jane
This song is such a goof, but it’s just such a well done goof! The production is as incredible as the lyrics are witty (“Like Jimmy Spliff… I mean Jimmy Cliff!”) I really love “Hold the Line,” but this was the most impressive song off Guns Don’t Kill People … Lazers Do for me.
#34 :: MP3: Bill Callahan – Eid Ma Clack Shaw
No one write a song like Bill Callahan. Come to think of it, no one sings like Bill Callahan either. Any time your Americana-loving grandpa disses modern music, let him know that Bill (and Will Oldham) are making music that kicks the crap out of half of his generation’s tunes. This record is what America is all about.
#33 :: MP3: Roadside Graves – Far and Wide
Hey, Blitzen Trapper. Do you guys need anyone to open for you on your next tour? I haven’t felt this way about a twangy americana/rock album since I heard Furr. “Far and Wide” hits with all the heart of a love lost or a dog being taken upstate to live out its life in the big wild yonder.
#32 :: MP3: These United States – I Want You to Keep Everything
This song blew my mind when it made its Lexington debut a long long time ago. It looses just the tiniest bit of its punch not getting the full thrash of the live guitars in your face, but it makes up for it by having much clearer production than you could ever hope for live.
#31 :: MP3: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero
I knew a lot of people who were really let down by the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs record… but I knew just as many who were really jazzed for it. Personally I think the whole thing was good enough to hold me over until the next record without diminishing my view of them. “Zero,” however, did get a great deal of play from me this year.
#30 :: MP3: Simian Mobile Disco – Audacity of Huge
Doesn’t this song deserve a spot on the list for the title alone? But once I’d gotten over the initial cleverness of the title and the hilarity of the video I realized that I actually liked the song as a song. Sure, it’s like 80% a joke, but it’s a great one!
#29 :: MP3: The Hidden Cameras – In the NA
This was one of the tracks off Origin:Orphan that sounded half like what you’d expect from the Hidden Cameras and half like something else entirely. Luckily the part that was familiar was their reliable pop ways. The jury’s still out on what the hell this song is about, but it’s fantastically catchy and unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
#28 :: MP3: Still Flyin – Good Thing It’s A Ghost Town Around Here
What a jam! I loved this track on record, but seeing it live really takes it over the top. If I ever had to do a Napoleon Dynamite-esque dance to one song from 2009, I’d probably pick this one. It’s a great song to lose yourself to and not worry about how poorly you’re dancing.
#27 :: MP3: Monsters of Folk – Baby Boomer
Didn’t it seem like the Monsters of Folk album should have been a horrible failure? Nope. That record is fantastic. The real trouble is picking a standout track. I was initially leaning toward “The Right Place” or “His Masters Voice,” having just heard Jim James do FANTASTIC versions of both at his solo show. But no, I realized I got the most play out of “Baby Boomer” this year. I guess I’m just a sucker for M Ward and the line “We don’t agree on September, can we agree on Vietnam?”
#26 :: MP3: Franz Ferdinand – No You Girls
I was 100% sure that Franz Ferdinand’s new record would either bore me or make me want to hang myself. I’d lost interest in them since I’d been wowed by their debut and was sure this record wouldn’t be any different. Turns out it was my somewhat-guilty pleasure record of 2009. There’s a great slickness to the songs that you’ll either love or hate. Me? I love it.
#25 :: MP3: Florence and the Machine – Girl with One Eye
Incredible track about sexuality, vengence, power and mutilation. It’s a song that still gives me chills and draws me in without fail.
#24 :: MP3: Intelligence – Moody Tower
I’ve always said that my favorite music is a good pop song that’s got something distorted, weird or jarring going on in it. Well hey, that’s the Intelligence to a tee! “Moody Tower” is a really catchy song, but you’re going to get prickled by some distortion when you’re catching it.
#23 :: MP3: Cymbals Eat Guitars – And the Hazy Sea
If you’re a Built to Spill/old Modest Mouse fan, Cymbals Eat Guitars were a giant no-brainer in 2009. Their debut had great dynamics and a fair amount of that classic 90s indie sound. The record’s full of great tracks, but I think “And the Hazy Sea” is their best moment.
#22 :: MP3: Harlem Shakes – Strictly Game
One of the sadder bands we lost this year. I was pretty into Technicolor Health and really dug this track (especially the video). Unfortunately the “better year” they sung about in this track was one in which their band broke up and ended the possibility of a follow-up record. Doesn’t sound better to me, guys…
#21 :: MP3: Kati Kovács – Add Már Uram Az Es?t!
More cheating! This song is on a compilation called Well Hung – 20 Funk Rock Eruptions From Beneath Communist Hungary Volume 1, but was so good that I had to include it despite having been written decades ago. It reminds me of Os Mutantes at a rocking, tight level that they never quite achieved during their heyday. I could not get enough of this song in 2009.
#20 :: MP3: M Ward – To Save Me (Featuring Jason Lytle)
Now that Jack White had his first misstep with the Dead Weather, M Ward (and Jim James… but more on that later) might be the most sane, prolific, consistent man in music. Hold Time bowled me over, and I’ve had nothing but time to get used to how great Matt’s music is. I mean it really shouldn’t be a surprise any more, should it?
#19 :: MP3: Bishop Allen – True or False
I’m normally a bigger fan of the Bishop Allen songs sung by Justin Rice, but this is one great Darby track. I think I said in the original post on this song that it reminded me of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and Nat King Cole. It’s incredibly sweet and still fun.
#18 :: MP3: The Flaming Lips – Convinced Of The Hex
I was initially a bit let down by the new Flaming Lips album. I was expecting the weirdness, but with just a few more pop melodies for me to hang my hat on. That’s what I’ve alway liked about the lips: they’re super weird, but catchy at the core. Still, “Convinced of the Hex” was a killer song live and a great one one record.
#17 :: MP3: Handsome Furs – I’m Confused
It took me a while to fully warm up to The Handsome Furs’ Face Control. “I’m Confused,” however, took me about 4 seconds to love. I’d like to think that this appeal to both tight jeans wearing hipsters and Mr. Tom Petty himself. It’s just a really great rock song.
#16 :: MP3: Bonnie Prince Billy – Beware Your Only Friend
This one practically wins for the opening line alone: “I want to be your only friend. (Is that scary?)” I mean, the rest of the song is just tops, but that line had me laughing the first time I hit play on this record. Will Oldham is the best.
#15 :: MP3: Deerhoof – Let’s Dance The Jet
I’m cheating slightly, since this is a cover of a song by Mikis Thedorakis from the movie the Day the Fish Came Out. But how could I leave off a song this good? Keep up the great work, Deerhoof. Can’t wait for the next record.
#14 :: MP3: The Thermals – Now We Can See
This is the only track on here that I feel I’m not being completely fair to. If I’d made this list in September, this would have probably been top seven or so tracks. But I’ve listened to this song (and the accompanying album) so much that I’ve become used to it. It’s got the best sing along of the year and a great overall song to back it up.
#13 :: MP3: Portugal. The Man – Work All Day
I was a little late to the Portugal. The Man party, but I arrived ready to party harder than anyone else. They’re a slicker, friendlier version of MGMT’s psych rock with even more classic pop inspiration. The chorus to this song is one of my favorites from the year, but one that I still feel slightly goofy singing along to. Luckily it’s so great that I don’t even care.
#12 :: MP3: Yo La Tengo – Periodically Double Or Triple
This song did not get the respect it deserved in 2009. Do you guys not realize that Yo La Tengo wrote a complete jam that would outshine half the stuff on a Nuggets 60s compilation? Oh well. When Quentin Tarantino has his main female lead enter a bar with this playing in his next movie, you’ll see just what I mean.
#11 :: MP3: Neon Indian – Deadbeat Summer
I’ll be honest: I’m not the biggest fan of chillwave, GvBcore or whatever we’re calling the lo-fi washed out movement. But my God, did anyone completely nail their genre’s hit song so well as Neon Indian did with “Deadbeat Summer?” Unless you’re the kind of person who listens to only one genre all day long, you’ve got to admit that this song kills.
#10 :: MP3: Wale – Nightlife
Is it normal for a young hip hop artist to release a string of great mixtapes and then put out a mostly boring record? Maybe it is. But that doesn’t change the fact that Wale’s best song by far this year was “Nightlife” off his Back to the Future mixtape. The production is one hundred times better than his full length and his lyrics are a hit way more often on here.
#9 :: MP3: Local Natives – Sun Hands
#9 :: MP3: Local Natives – Airplanes
Up until last week, I would have picked “Airplanes” as the clear standout off Local Natives’ incredible debut Gorilla Manor. But I jammed the album while driving around town running errands and Christmas shopping and realized that “Sun Hands” is a ferocious track that hits on three different levels with equally startling intensity. It’s a Yeasayer-ish yelper, a pure pop melody and laid back dreamer. But I really couldn’t leave out the pop track that made me fall for the band, so “Airplanes” stays in the list’s only TIE!
#8 :: MP3: Wilco – Bull Black Nova
God, yes, Wilco. Do more stuff like this! The new album is pretty good, but “Bull Black Nova” is just miles beyond every other track on there. I’ve always wondered what would happen at the intersection of Americana and Krautrock and they answer it here better than they ever have. And I would have ranked it higher if they hadn’t gone on Wilco auto-pilot for the solo from 1:46-2:24.
#7 :: MP3: St Vincent – Marrow
The first minute of St Vincent’s “Marrow” plays like this in my mind: Annie comes in from a Disney-esque woodland scene into her house. She seductively sings herself over to a mirror, then takes out some lipstick and proceeds to completely lose it and draw maddening war paint all over her face. “Marrow” is a beautiful vocal track over an wildly chaotic distortion of guitar and woodwinds. It’s why we love women: they’re beautiful and fierce.
#6 :: MP3: NASA – The Mayor
Man, Pitchfork really crapped all over this track. They said of the Ghostface/Scarface/Cool Kids collab: “Even those of us who like the Cool Kids acknowledge that these guys don’t have anything approaching the gravitas you need to share a mic with these two.” This was one of my favorite driving tracks of the year and my favorite hip hop song of 2009.
#5 :: MP3: Spoon – Got Nuffin
Spoon’s “Got Nuffin” EP was such a tease. One decent song, one experimental throw-away and one of the best singles they’ve ever written. The title track is the same classic, consistent Spoon we’ve grown to expect over the years. And it keeps alive that old question: what is Spoon’s weak spot? They’ve got some of the tightest production, best lyrics and some of the only halfway interesting guitar solos out there.
#4 :: MP3: Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks
I’m already having trouble remembering what it was like before Veckatimest. It’s one of the best, most well-produced albums of our generation and — thank God — it was received just as well as it deserved. “Two Weeks” was one of our first hints into the record, and what an incredible one it was.
#3 :: MP3: Dirty Projectors – Stillness Is the Move
The way I spent ’09 describing “Stillness is the Move” to people was this: “if you took Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” single, broke it with a hammer and put it back together all crazy.” It’s not a bad way to describe this tricky song, I guess, but it sure didn’t sell many people on it at the record store. Luckily the Dirty Projectors weren’t resting their hopes on my music critic skills and instead sold thousands of copies on basis that a lot of people heard this and other tracks and immediately bought Bitte Orca.
#2 :: MP3: Animal Collective – My Girls
Though I didn’t pick it for the #1 spot, let’s all agree to remember 2009 with “My Girls.” Animal Collective sacrificed nothing of their weirdness to create their most accessible album of their discography — highlighted by this track. It was tough to pick a clear favorite, but this track is ultimately just fantastic.
#1 :: MP3: Phoenix – Lisztomania
There’s something about “Lisztomania” that makes me distrust it slightly. It’s just a little bit too good and too unlike most pop songs I’ve ever heard to be the product of a handful of ordinary guys from France. But as near perfect as it is, I can’t even begin to distrust it 1/1000 as much as I love it. It’s an inspiring track that is part of the reason I’ll fight for the legitimacy of the four-minute pop song as an art form.
ZIP: You Ain’t No Picasso’s 50 Favorite Songs of the Year (273 MB)
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