2009 was a great year for music, and I had a hell of a time whittling down a list of over 2 dozen tracks to a tighter top 10. I’ve even managed to rank them this time, by way of iTunes’ play-count column. (In other words, these are sorted by least-played first, just to add a little suspense to things.)
10. The Xx – Islands
These young ‘uns are one of my favorite male/female vocal duos, right up there with Mates of State and the (very) similar-sounding Savoir Adore. Also check out “Basic Shape” from the same EP.
9. Animal Collective – My Girls
When the Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion came out in early January, people were saying that the race for “best album of 2009” had come to an early close, and they weren’t wrong. This album is Noah Lennox’s Ok Computer. “My Girls” is the catchiest track on the disc, although “Bluish” and “Brother Sport” are also sharp as tacks, and indeed, the whole collection is the kind of work that only happens once in an artist’s career, if at all.
8. We Were Promised Jetpacks – Quiet Little Voices
The only rock-out song on my 2009 playlist is from a little-known punk outfit from Edinburgh. This song is hardly “quiet,” though. I have Emusic to thank for this little gem.
7. Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks
Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood refers to these guys as his “favorite band.” Not really much more you can add to that, I think. Also check out their New Moon contribution “Slow Life.”
6. The Swell Season – Feeling the Pull
I’ve been following Glen Hansard’s work since The Frames (and later, Once) and his current partnership with Marketa Irglova is generating some of his most optimistic work to date. The whole album is full of these candid, bittersweet and fervently hopeful hymns. (“Two Tongues” is a very close second as the best track here.)
5. Modest Mouse – The Whale Song ()
It’s hard to understate ex-Smith Johnny Marr’s influence on Modest Mouse’s continually evolving sound. “Whale Song” is probably the best example of this, a careening guitar anthem in which you don’t even get any vocals until the three-minute mark. Also check out “Satellite Skin” from the same EP.
4. Thom Yorke – Hearing Damage
Radiohead has been quietly pushing out a handful of tracks via their website for much of 2009, with Yorke himself releasing the sinister Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses EP. “Hearing Damage” is from the New Moon OST, and is possibly his most accessible (and infinitely listenable) solo work since “Harrowdown Hill” in 2006. Perfect for the sparklers.
3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Soft Shock
The It’s Blitz! album is a great piece of work, the kind of followup fans wish for but rarely ever get. Other folks will probably pick “Heads Will Roll” or “Zero” as their favorite tracks off this masterpiece, but it’s so close as to be impossible to call.
2. Phoenix – 1901
I’ve listened to “1901” and my number one pick more times this year than the rest of the top 10 songs combined. Phoenix’s pop indietronic sound blows a hole through the ceiling of what this subgenre was thought to be capable of, and there’s a nary a track on this album that doesn’t instantly grab the listener. (Although if you need additional hints, point your headsets at “Lisztomania,” “Lasso” and “Rome.”)
1. Passion Pit – To Kingdom Come
For a band that was formed as a Valentine’s Day gift for the vocalist’s girlfriend, these guys are remarkably accomplished musicians. Their relative inexperience (they formed just two years ago) speaks to the breadth of their potential. The Manners album is a gem, the kind of electronica that turns cellphones into glowsticks, and hipster bars into dance floors. “Sleepyhead” is the most distinct track in this collection (it’s been used in a number of commercials since 2008), but “The Reeling” and “Make Light” are must-listens as well.
Honorable mentions to The Avett Brothers’ jaunty bluegrass “Kick Drum Heart,” Sea Wolf’s balladeer “The Violet Hour,” Bon Iver’s ruminative “Blood Bank,” and Stagecoach’s rocky “Good Luck with Your 45.”
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