2009 has been a fantastic year in music - an excellent way to bring the 00s to a close. It has seen two of the decade's best and defining bands (Animal Collective and Phoenix) put out their most exciting and, at the same time, most accessible albums to date. Other younger bands have positioned themselves to be the defining members of the 10s with excellent debut offerings (The xx, Delorean, The Big Pink, Washed Out, Passion Pit). Two of the decade's defining lead singers, Thom Yorke and Julian Casabalancas embarked on exciting solo tours - now it seems both are looking to be making new music with their bands for release next year (can't wait!).
On the cusp of the new decade, the divide between the mainstream and the great music out there in the ever expanding landscape that is "indie" music has never felt smaller. Mainstream heavyweights Jay-Z and Beyonce were digging Grizzly Bear, Beyonce's sister Solange covered Dirty Projectors (excellently), Thom Yorke wrote a song for New Moon and the mash-up of Notorious B.I.G. and Miley Cyrus is (gulp) one of my favorite songs of the year (and if I am being honest my most played). And having said that, I could not be more excited about the future of music. Never before has it been easier for a band with a great new and exciting sound to find an audience. I hope to continue to bring many of these new sounds to your ears in the coming years.
Look for my top albums of the year coming soon.
Now here are my top 25 songs of the year (ALL SONGS ARE ON THE LALA PLAYLIST IN THE UPPER RIGHT including the notables):
25. La Roux - "In For The Kill" (Skream's Let's Get Ravey Mix)
24. Spoon - "Got Nuffin'"
23. Washed Out - "Feel It All Around"
22. Discovery - "Orange Shirt"
21. Big Boi (featuring Gucci Mane) - "Shine Blockas"
20. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Skeletons"
19. Volcano Choir - "Islands, IS"
18. Handsome Furs - "I'm Confused"
17. Japandroids - "Young Hearts Spark Fire"
16. Yeasayer - "Ampling Arp"
Julian Casablancas is THE brain child behind The Strokes (unlike most lead singers he wrote ALL of their music) so expectations were high for his solo endeavour. With "Glass", Julian pens an electro ballad equal to his best Strokes output. The chorus soars with crescendoing guitar and blaring vocals. This is an all out anthem - Casablancas always had a way of making the dreariness of life seem so fresh and exciting.
14. Passion Pit - "Moth's Wings"
Passion Pit have had one hell of a year - from starting off as a Valentine's Day gift EP to lead singer Michael Angelako's girlfriend to ending it as one of the most recognizable names in indie music today. And why? Because even though Michael sings like a Eunuch on crack their music is pop candy - the absolute best kind. Moth's Wings is epic - it builds like a classical piece, drives like an Arcade Fire anthem and in this one Michael sings NOT in falsetto (please less falsetto) and they absolutely kill it.
13. The xx - "Basic Space"
The xx put out the best debut album of the year hands down. What makes it that much more spectacular is just how minimalist it is. No band this early in their career (the band members are all 20!) has ever had this much conviction in their arrangements. They use empty space as if it is an instrument. And on this absolute highlight from the debut LP, the band weaves the theme of space in relationships with their spatial music arrangement to just brilliant effect.
12. Bat For Lashes - "Daniel":
Natasha Khan (aka Bat For Lashes) has my favorite voice in indie music today. It is haunting, vulnerable and tremendously effecting. On this gorgeous ballad, the main instrument is her voice. She is the force that drives this song with her unique mix of fragility, confidence and uncertainty. She is one of the most exciting artists in music today. And this is her at her best.
11. Altas Sound - "Walkabout (w/ Noah Lennox)":
Bradford Cox (of Atlas Sound and Deerhunter) and Noah Lennox (of Animal Collective and Panda Bear) are two of the biggest forces in indie music right now. When they get together for a collaboration people listen. This one would have fit right in on Panda Bear' Person Pitch. With its looping organ, nostalgic ,yet of today feel, and feel good vibe, it was the perfect summer jam (or the perfect longing for summer jam now.)
10. Sleigh Bells - "Crown On The Ground":
This song is not for the weak. It is an all out aural assault. As I wrote previously, "If Jack White and Timbaland produced a club anthem for M.I.A." it would sound like this - but first you would have to push every dial into the red. Alexis Krauss' delivery sweetens it up just perfectly. I love this song (and look for this band to make a lot of noise in 2010). This is the club anthem for the hipster set.
9. Notorious B.I.G. vs. Miley Cyrus - "Party and Bullshit in the USA" :
On second glance this may be one of the least surprising mashup ideas. Look for similar song titles of hip hop star and pop star - cut and paste. Here is where it became completely shocking: the combination is the absolute best mash-up outside of Girl Talk and Danger Mouse. If you want to start a party, put this on.
With Radiohead mostly taking the year off, Thom Yorke seized his own moment. Putting on the best show I saw all year (twice) with new band members in tow (including Flea), Thom Yorke brought The Eraser album to life. "All For The Best" is a cover of a Miracle Legion song to benefit lead singer Mark Mulcahy's family after the tragic death of his wife - it comes off like The Eraser to the next level. With its added pulsating drum beats and his haunting delivery of Mulcahy's lyrics, Yorke still manages to blow my mind in an "off" year.
7. The Big Pink - "Dominos":
The Big Pink are well on their way to making a big impact on the 10s. Their debut album, A Brief History of Love, is very strong and as the title may imply all about love and relationships. "Dominos" is a break-up / single guy's anthem, but it is so damn catchy everyone gets caught up singing it.
6. Phoenix - "Lisztomania":
Phoenix have had their coming out party this year and it is about time. This is one of the best bands out there in music today. This song is such a perfect embodiment of 80s nostalgia that no write up could quite do it justice. Really only this video does:
5. Grizzly Bear - "While You Wait For The Others":
Vecktimest was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year. For me, it is a bit inconsistent, but at their best, Grizzly Bear delivers staggeringly beautiful songs. "While You Wait For The Others" is one of the best breakup songs ever written. When the vocal harmonies kick in at the 3:00 mark the song becomes other worldly. Or maybe that was when Michael McDonald covered it. Trust me just stick with this gorgeous original.
While Jay-Z's Blueprint 3 isn't Blueprint, it has some very strong efforts. None better than the now ubiquitous, but still just as great, "Empire State of Mind". This is not just the best song on a good, but not great Jay-Z album. It is one of his best songs ever. As catchy and anthemic as "Izzo" and as central to his New York City rhyming peak as "Heart of the City" - Jay-Z still got it and then some.
3. Phoenix - "1901":
I have been raving all year (and already a lot in this one post) about Phoenix. Not much more to say other than for me "1901" is their pinnacle. This song is everything that is exciting about this band - 3 minutes and 18 seconds of musical perfection. Phoenix is all about "moments" and seeing this song performed in the pouring rain as the encore for their Central Park show cemented its place as one of my all-time favorite songs.
2. Dirty Projectors - "Stillness Is The Move":
Dirty Projectors are a band having a breakout year. Their album Bitte Orca is already and will continue to top year end lists. The album has a number of standouts but nothing as audacious as this. Part R&B, part afropop, part indie, part Mariah Carey in her prime. This song always sounded like it was made to be an R&B hit and Solange (Beyonce's sister) covered it well enough to make it one. But once again it is the original that shines brightest. This is one of the most original, fun and musically adventurous songs it is easy to overlook its brilliant lyrics and message. It is a love song about settling down not having to stanch growth (personal and relationship wise). Stillness is the move...
1. Animal Collective - "My Girls":
"My Girls" is not just the best song of the year, but one of the best songs of my lifetime. It is perfect in its simplicity: a constantly looping light electronic texture, harmonized vocals layered on harmonized vocals, a tribal drum beat. And its message the simplest of all: "Isn't much that I feel I need...just four walls and adobe slabs for my girls". Animal Collective has been one of the defining bands of this decade with its only consistency in its commitment to change. In this year, Animal Collective found their sweet spot with an album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, that takes all of their individual ideas from the past and patches them together in a cohesive, brilliant and accessible to all masterpiece. "My Girls" is their "God Only Knows", "Like A Rolling Stone", their "Fake Plastic Trees".
Check out some other notables in my LALA Playlist!