Again, it was a year of songs rather than albums, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. These are the jams. For your listening player, the songs have been compiled in the zip files below. They are not ordered, because I have no idea how to export a playlist that way (and that makes me sad):
50. Modest Mouse - “Satellite Skin” from No One's First and You're Next
This is the song that made me realize I should have listened to Modest Mouse's last LP and not written it off because “Float On” was on Kidz Bop and despite getting Johnny Marr to play with them, assumed they'd sold out and sucked. This EP is the fucking jam, and it's lead off track is pretty goddamned great.
49. Andrew Jackson Jihad - “Heartilation” from Can't Maintain
Rambunctious folk-punk from a band that's released a million albums. I first became aware of them via a cover I heard by some band I forgot, but it led me to their latest album and I thought it was the best things since Against Me! This is simple as all hell, and references Con Air.
48. Mirah - “Generosity” from Aspera
This record took me a LONG time to get into and took seeing Mirah TWICE to fully embrace it's orchestral wonders. It veers from her indie-pop roots (which I adore) and explores a more baroque, mature side of pop music.
47. The Mountain Goats - “Matthew 25:21” from The Life of the World to Come
Easily the most haunting song on John Darnielle's “Bible Record.” This is the first of two songs on this list about watching someone die from cancer. In this case, it's Darnielle's wife's mother and it's a perfect encapsulation of what that's like. I've never seen anyone die of cancer, but watching a couple of grandparents wither away causes me to identify with this. It's also a stripped-down return to Darnielle's roots, which still fits like a charm after all these years and a decade of outstanding records.
46. Surfer Blood – “Swim (To Reach the End)” (technically off of an album that comes out in 2010 but whatever)
Of all the Shit-wave bands that broke this year, Surfer Blood seem to be the most promising. Mostly because of this song, which has such a fucking killer pop hook that caught me at the tail end of summer and didn't let go. I stupidly FORGOT about the Art Brut show, which Surfer Blood opened, and I saw some dude the next day with a Surfer Blood shirt and I was like “goddamnit, this band is probably going places and I missed their show and forfeited my bragging rights!” This song is just a total fucking blast without trying to be carefree and fun and don't-give-a-fuck.
45. Anni Rossi - “Living in Danger” (Ace of Base cover) from Rockwell
I saw Anni Rossi twice at SXSW. Once was at high noon at Maggie Mae's playing to maybe 15 people on a patio with her violin hooked into a practice amp. She was amazing. I had nothing to do and was with my KJ compatriots and it ended up being one of the best random choices of SXSW. Later that night, she was opening the 4AD showcase at this incredible church. There she played to a sold out crowd and I swear, that's where her full potential lies. Her songs are quiet, she's incredibly restrained but there's this grandiosity there that can't be ignored. Even this Ace of Base cover, which could have been played for laughs, is dead serious and affecting as hell. Love it.
44. Karl Blau - “Dark Sedan” from Zebra
The pop jam from Karl's “Africa Record” kills. It took seeing Blau w/ Lake to get me to finally listen to this record and this song ended up on endless repeat for a few weeks. Now, listen to this and imagine the singer. If you've never seen him, here you go: Six-foot-five, beard, mullety hair with pigtails, Marty McFly vest. The horns here, good god.
43. YACHT - “Psychic City” from See Mystery Lights
A summertime jam if there ever was one, and the reason I've forgiven YACHT from abandoing the Blow. Because this song is just so fucking perfect. I usually HATE stuff like this, too. It's just too goddamned irresistible not to love.
42. The Thermals - “When I Died” from Now We Can See
This could really be any song from Now We Can See, but this is the monster jam. It's just like every other Thermals song, in that it causes your head to rock back and forth, your fist to do an invisible drum beat in the air, and it causes you to gesture along with Hutch Harris' vocal line. These assholes just can't make a bad record (and by assholes, I mean super sweet, nice people, I just get annoyed (in a fake way) at their alarming consistency).
41. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – “White Jetta” from Vs. Children
“Those Kansas City boys are dull as butter knives,” Owen Ashworth sings. He's right, you know. He also makes reference to the KC boys leaving in the fall for college, so I relate to that shit. This is the last song on a pretty great record. It didn't make my year end list only because I pry didn't give it enough time, given that it's really a grower, much more than anything else in Ashworth's canon. This song though, it's representative of every great song he's ever written. Depressing, funny, and catchy as hell.
40. Camera Obscura - “French Navy” from My Maudlin Career
My Maudlin Career's only fault was being too fucking upbeat and too fucking pop. I know! I'm the fucking pop guy but it was just too sweet for my taste. Not to say it's not a brilliant record. This song is the stand out, the inignorable massive jam that kills every time. It might as well have come out in the sixties, it's that classic.
39. Califone - “Funeral Singers” from All My Friends are Funeral Singers
This is a pretty weird record, full of tangents, but this is the heart of it. Tim Rutli sounds as weathered as ever. 2009 was also the year of me listening to Red Red Meat for the first time and holy FUCK, Have you heard Bunny Gets Paid? You probably have, because I'm surely the last person to have heard it. I tend to shy away from anything tagged “Blues-rock” because I imagine Blues Hammer from Ghost World but fuck that shit, Tim Rutli is a god and there's nothing more attractive than an indie rock dude becoming legend.
38. The Antlers - “Shiva” from Hospice
I really love that this record is basically constructed around the same vocal line, yet it's consistently engaging. The only thing that would making it more affecting is if this story of watching someone die was actually true. Despite that, Peter Silberman is a damn fine storyteller. He sounds a bit like Alan Sparhawk with more of a knack for the dramatic. I really could have put any of the songs from Hospice on this, and I really should have not put any, but I couldn't help myself. “Bear” was a REALLY close contender and makes the most sense, given that it's almost a standalone track, but “Shiva” is the song that hooked me and made me fall in love with this record.
37. Bill Callahan - “The Wind and the Dove” from Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle
Bill Callahan just doesn't know how to fuck up. He can't err and make a shitty record, he just cant. On his latest, he's perfected his brand of alt-folk even more and “The Wind and the Dove” is the best song on the record. It's iconic or something.
36. Wavves - “No Hope Kids” from Wavvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvves
Despite all the media drama Nathan whats-his-name went through this year, and despite him coming out of that shitstorm looking like a colossal asshole, this song is a fucking jam. Perfect for summer, perfect for being jobless. I've grown tired of this shitgaze shit, and though this album is a bit of a slog, you really can't fuck with this jam.
35. Handsome Furs - “I'm Confused” from Face Control
Dan Boeckner and his astoundingly hot wife Alexei Perry make some goddamned fine synth laced indie rock. Boeckner's songwriting has been improving year after year (in what I see as an attempt to keep up with Wolf Parade bandmate Spencer Krug) and he's better for it. Their first record, Plague Park, never really hit me but Face Control grabbed me by the...face and...controlled it. So yeah. This video ruled too.
34. Crocodiles - “I Wanna Kill” from Summer of Hate
Another outstanding track from a mediocre record. This one flirts with being a synthy, drum machined post-punk throwback before it hits that transcendent chorus and turns into an amazing fuzzy indie rock jam.
33. Swan Lake - “Heartswarm” from Enemy Mine
It wouldn't be a year-end list without Dan Bejar. Though Spencer Krug and Carey Mercer also contributed excellent tracks to the excellent Swan Lake sophomore album, this was the clear standout to me. It sounds a little like a Trouble in Dreams b-side but goddamn if it isn't just as amazing as anything else Bejar's done. Plus Mercer's weird backing vocals that pop in and out are great!
32. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - “Young Adult Friction” from S/T
I went through a phase this year where I thought this was the greatest album ever. It was on Slumberland and it sounded like all the records I loved form that record, notably Black Tambourine. It also sounded like every twee pop band I've revered over the last three years. Then after a while, and seeing them play a really shitty sounding live show at SXSW, my enthusiasm began to wave. By the end of the year I saw it as a nice album, but one lacking any real original ideas. Maybe they have it in them, but it sounds like they're trying to sound like someone else. It sounds a little forced. Still, they've got some amazing songs with some excellent vocal lines. This is a standout.
31. Yo La Tengo - “Avalon or Someone Very Similar” from Popular Songs
I love this song for the chorus. Something about Georgia's voice that just puts me at ease on my drives home when I constantly re-listen to this song.
30. Voxtrot – “Berlin, Without Return” from Berlin, Without Return 7”
Voxtrot were victims of the mid-decade hype machine and one of the very first “blog bands.” Effectively, they released 3 amazing Eps and got tons of love. Then they rushed their debut LP that was really pretty bad. Then they dropped off the face of the earth, returning earlier this year with a new MP3 that also sucked. I saw them play at SXSW this year and they were really, really bad. Like put me in a bad mood bad because I wanted them to be good again but they seemed well on their way to crashing and burning and I longed for them to just break up. Then I heard this 7” and was totally fucking blown away. This is the Voxtrot I know and love, and I've got my fingers crossed for LP 2, which they're thankfully taking their sweet time with.
29. David Bazan - “Lost My Shape” from Curse Your Branches
This record was all about Bazan completely abandoning Christianity, and as a member of the dark side I was really pleased. I'm just a sucker for harsh words towards Gawd. This song though, this is Bazan's explanation of it all. “You used to sound like a prophet everyone wanted to know/ How you could tell the truth without losing that soft glow/ But now you feel like a salesman/ closing another deal/ or some drunk ship captain raging after the white whale,” he sings in one of the many similes that makes this one of his most biting and terrific songs in years.
28. King Khan & BBQ Show - “Invisible Girl” from Invisible Girl
I was so excited to love this record based on this song. Then I heard the record and hated it and that made me really, really sad. Even after listening to it like, 8 times I still hated it. Except for this song, which is pretty much perfect dirty Nuggets-esque garage-pop.
27. Why? - “These Hands”/ “January Twenty Something” from Eskimo Snow
Choosing a single song from this record was really, really hard. “This Blackest Purse” came in second, and the title track was a contender too, but the one-two punch that leads off the album is what made me fall in love so hard with Yoni Wolf's tribute to moving on. After two fucking jawdroppingly great records full of self-deprecating and misery-laden bile, here he seems at ease. Eskimo Snow sounds like what's leftover after Elephant Eyelash and Alopecia. Everything he's learned since then, refined.
26. The Avett Brothers - “I And Love And You”/ “Slight Figure of Speech” from I And Love And You
Unlike the last entry, where the two songs work together, these two songs are completely different. One is a piano-heavy ballad and one is the most raucous, fun song on the record. Though this record was a bit spotty, the songs that hit the mark (maybe half the songs on the record) were outstanding. The video for “Slight Figure of Speech” was not only the best video I saw all year, but the song got stuck in my head and led me to the record. The title track is the first on the album, and represents some perfect sequencing. I got stuck in my tracks, expecting to half-listen to it at work and obsessing over it for a week or so, picking it apart, and keeping what I liked. Also, contender for best album title of the year.
25. Grizzly Bear - “While You Wait for the Others”/ “Two Weeks” from Veckatimest
AGAIN, I couldn't help myself here. I'm a pretty big opponent the “Veckatimest is a great album” argument. I wanted to love it, I'd had such high hopes and it's completely missing any sort of spark that would make it memorable. Except for these two songs, that is. The sunny, maudlin pop of Ed Droste's “Two Weeks” and the gorgeous restraint and release of Daniel Rossen's “While You Wait for the Others” were the tracks I kept coming back to because they're just completely memorable and perfect. Maybe that's why I was so disappointed with the rest of the album. It felt like there were these two monster jams and the rest just paled in comparison. Mostly, I think critics are singing praises for this record because they feel like they have to, which is sad. Tiny Mix Tapes hit the nail on the head, though, which is why they're the best.
24. Cass McCombs - “Dreams-Come-True-Girl” (ft. Karen Black) from Catacombs
Who gets old-school actress Karen Black to sing on their songs? It seems so fucking random, but she's really the only person that can sing on this song with McCombs. This record still has some work to do until I'm in love with it, but I know I will be given the amount of care McCombs took when making it. Every step feels planned, perfectly placed, yet it still feels off the cuff and real and raw. I often find myself singing the opening lines to this song aloud, often to my girlfriend because I wish I'd wrote them more than any lines this year. “You're not my dream girl. You're not my reality girl. You're my dreams come true girl.” Love and tenderness without sappy sentimentalism. It sounds like he really means it.
23. Neko Case – “People Gotta Lot of Nerve” from Middle Cyclone
Had Neko left off her awful cover of my favorite Harry Nilsson song from her latest release, this record may have ended up on my best records list of the year. Instead, I'll stick with this song, which has an insane amount of replay value. It was between this and “This Tornado Loves You,” and ultimately I had to go with this, the first leaked track from the record and one that got my hopes up too high.
22. Alec Ounsworth - “Holy, Holy, Holy Moses (Song for New Orleans)”
Another song that got my hopes up. Ounsworth's first solo album was good, but if every song was as good as this everyone would be saying “Clap Your Hands Say Whatttt?” instead of “oh yeah, this isn't as good as that first Clap Your Hands Say Yeah album but it's better than the second one.” Ounsworth's band were a victim of the P4K backlash that began in the mid-00s and is tied to the blog-buzz that destroyed Voxtrot. Bands get love, bands get tossed aside six months later and black balled. It's a sad thing and makes me hate the internet because the internet is actively effecting these bands and influencing their decisions. Here, Ounsworth feels at peace, like he's doing what he wants to do and this song just ACHES. It hits me all the places that make my heart feel like it's going to pop out of my chest.
21. Transmittens - “My Heart's in the Dumpster” from Our Dreams
Transmittens have a song on their forthcoming WeePop! Release that's going to maybe be my favorite song of 2010. I wanted to put that song, “Marfa, Texas” on this list but I wanted to wait til it had an official release. Wait til you hear that one. Holy shit. That, and I wanted to put this song on the list because it's just a perfect song for the dumped. Danny knows the age-old twee-pop trope of the cynical yet not too serious break-up song a-la Heavenly and the like and Jen delivers them with American Amelia Fletcher style. It's nice, and I'm glad these people live a block away from me.
20. Julie Doiron - “Consolation Prize” from I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day
Julie teams up with former bandmate and ex-boyfriend Rick White for the first time in years! This song sounds like modern Eric's Trip and it's GREAT. The rest of the record is half upbreat distortion jams and quiet acoustic numbers that she's made her name out of for years. The noisy breakdown in the middle of the song gets me every time. That phone ringing! Anyway, I relate to this song.
19. Japandroids - “The Boys Are Leaving Town” from Post-Nothing
God, I forget how good this album title is. Japandroids are one more reason why a.) Canada is awesome and b.) that guitar and drums bands can succeed and make amazing noise-pop records. This is an epic opening statement that ultimately convinced me to give the rest of the album a chance when I thought it was a little samey.
18. Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard - “Slogans” from Em Are I
ANOTHER amazing track from a spotty as hell record. Lewis mostly abandons his anti-folk acoustic guitar stuff in favor of a full band and punk spirit gleaned from recording a record of Crass covers. This song is just so insanely catchy, and the bass line that separates the verses is the best bass line of the year, in my opinion. Infinitely relistenable, one of the best songs about “getting over it” that I've heard in a long time.
17. Times New Viking - “No Time, No Hope” from Born Again Revisited
These guys are so good live! I just wish Born Again Revisited clicked with me, because I wanted to love it after hearing this song. I know I rail against shitgaze or whatever it is, and though these guys are typically seen as shitgaze pioneers, they're still 10 times better than the people who followed in their foot steps. This is just plain fun, unencumbered and joyful.
16. Superchunk - “Learned to Surf” from Leaves in the Gutter
Jenny sings this song ALL time time and now Superchunk is one of her favorite bands. This just proves that Mac and co will never die or get stale because the ten-ish year gap between this and their last record is pretty much non-existent. Mac shows the other kids in the game that he's still top dog when it comes to punky pop jams.
15. Au Revoir Simone - “Shadows” from Still Night, Still Light
This song knocked me on my ass the first time I heard it. “Oh, nice girly synth-pop” I was expecting. This whole album, actually, totally kills. This song though hits really close to home, and once I got past the lyrical content I noticed the construction with the synths and all was really, really fucking amazing.
14. Dirty Projectors - “Useful Chamber” from Bitte Orca
The whole album summed up in one monster jam. I'm sure you've heard this song, and maybe you're nodding or maybe you're like “Stillness is the Move” is better and I will say “Stillness” would have been better if Beyonce actually covered it instead of her lame sister. Despite that song being the jam, it still sounds like it's fronting a little bit. This one though, goddamn. It's everything Dave Longstreth has been working towards over the last decade, and everything that Dirty Projectors are capable of.
13. Kurt Vile - “Monkey” from Childish Prodigy
It was hard picking a favorite from this record, but I opted for “Monkey” over “Hunchback” given that “Hunchback” has already been on like, 8 records already. Plus, this song has my favorite line of the year: “I swear I held my own hand pretending it was yours.” Love it. It's the closest weirdo Kurt Vile gets to a love song and godDAMN does he succeed at pulling off ache without looking like a pussy. Still a total badass, for life.
12. Animal Collective - “Summertime Clothes” from Merriweather Post Pavilion
My favorite Animal Collective song ever. I mean, “I want to walk around with you”? Something so simple that say so much and pretty much says what EVERYONE I know wants to say to someone. I mean, what more could you want from another person? I'm really sad this came out in the winter because it would have been the perfect summer record. By June I only listened to it periodically and it didn't have the same effect. On a positive note, this song reminds me of winter in a good way. It was fucking cold, Jenny and I had just gone on our first date and when we got in the car this came on and I was inspired to make a move and kiss her because, you know, what more perfect moment could there be?
11. Phoenix - “Rome” from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Yes, “Lizstomania” and “1901” are THEE jams on this record, but “Rome” is the one that makes me weak at the knees every time, and the one I've listened to once the frantic pop genius wore off. Do you know how good this song is? Did you make it past the opening jams? I hope you did, because it takes a special band to put their two most insanely accessible songs right up front and then convince the listener to stick around for 9 or so more songs. And then burying gems like this in the back half, fuck them. Fuck Phoenix for getting everything right. Right now I'm frustrated at how good this song is. How I'm STILL not sick of it, despite months of getting excited every time it comes on my car stereo.
10. Sunset Rubdown - “Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!” from Dragonslayer
Man, this was a tough call. First it was “Silver Moons,” then the epic title track, and ultimately, I had to settle on the catchiest song on the record because, well, that's just what I do. The places this song goes though! The build, the crescendo! It's all very Spencer Krug, and it's Spencer Krug at his peak. But really, he seems to peak every year and will soon be out of control like some Canadian Katamari. No one should be this good at writing songs.
9. A.C. Newman - “All of My Days and All of My Days Off” from Get Guilty
This is the song that inspired me to chase after my girlfriend after she'd pseudo-dumped me. “I give you my days, all my days, and all of my days off.” A romantic notion! Good for Carl Newman for getting married and writing love songs as good as this. That is, love songs that never feel like love songs but are inherently so.
8. Islands - “Tender Torture” from Vapours
How did everyone overlook this record this year? I've been a huge Nick Diamonds fan since 2003 when the Unicorns were changing my life, and all through Islands, even Arm's Way, I've thought he was one of the best songwriters in the game. And here's Vapours, totally underappreciated! Which is a shame, because I think it's his best work in years, and easily his most cohesive album...well, maybe ever. If it takes cutting most of the band to get your focus back, well then do it. This song, god, what is it with love songs this year? I'm stuck on 'em. This song just sounds like pure bliss, like I could listen to this forever Willem Defoe style.
7. Julian Casablancas - “Out of the Blue” from Phrazes for the Young
This could also be substituted by “11th Dimension,” “Glass,” or “Tourist.” “Out of the Blue” wins because it's Casablancas getting back on top of his game. It's like a story, from the end of Room on Fire to present. Apparently the third Strokes record was a “shit sandwich,” although I doubt it was that bad. I don't know why I haven't heard it, given how much I've listened to their first two records over the last few months (only because of how fucking good a handful of songs on this record were, good enough to make me feel stupid for shunning the Strokes). Anyway, synthy and brilliant and I don't care if you are fashion anymore, Julian. This is it!
6. Dinosaur Jr. - “Over It” from Farm
This is the sound of a group of geezers putting the young upstarts in their place. Somehow, Dinosaur Jr (like Superchunk) manage to remain consistently badass despite being advanced in age. I probably listened to this song 100 time this year and I'll listen to it 100 more next year and I guarantee I won't get sick of it. It's too simple not to work. Honestly, I found that every song I tried to write after hearing this tried to steal parts of the vocal line, usually the chorus, and I'd have to start over.
5. St. Vincent - “Actor Out of Work”
Talk about form! Jesus Christ, there really wasn't a tighter song that came out. And it doesn't feel tight, it feels off the cuff a little. It's uneasy, but it's so focused, in control. Annie Clark is pretty much a genius and though I want to hear more poppy rock songs out of her, I'll settle for her film-score influenced jams any day of the week. But this one, the clear stand out from the immaculate Actor, kills.
4. Bon Iver - “Blood Bank”/ “Brackett, Wisconsin” from Blood Bank EP/ Dark Was the Night comp
Couldn't choose. Both of these songs are impossibly good, and “Blood Bank” was an early front-runner for song of the year. Basically, both of these illustrate that Justin Vernon is NOT a flash in the pan and his next record and every record after that will be pretty much outstanding. He's tapped into something, like a police scanner of my soul. I don't know what, somehow he manages to make the most affecting songs I've ever heard.
3. Free Energy - “Dream City”
This song is absolute freedom, an anthem of the highest degree, and one of my top summer jams. It just never seems to get old. On top of that, I got into these guyses old band, Hockey Night via this. And produced by James Murphy! Can't go wrong! Wish I could write more, but just listen to this. It's like Thin Lizzy meets your drunk friends.
2. Rooftop Vigilantes - “Copper is Free” from Carrot Atlas
Choosing number one was very difficult. This is the song I listened to the most, hands down. When I was driving around, I would often listen to this song before getting out of the car. Especially if I needed to get pumped up. It's easily the best song that's come out of Lawrence in, god, I don't know, maybe better. Songs like this just don't grow on trees. The thing is, I'm sure this wasn't labored over. This sounds like a song that was tossed off and just happened to be fucking magnificent. It's short, and it's goddamned sweet as all hell. I was sure this song was going to blow up and get everywhere and sadly, it didn't and that kills me because I know people will come back to this song in the next couple of years. They have to. It's too good to remain in obscurity.
1. Girls - “Lust for Life” from Album
It's so fucking simple, and yet it kind of defines 2009 for me. It's just a handful of chords and some wishing from Christopher Owens about wanting a boyfriend, pizza and wine, a beach house, and all of the little things that make life worth living. I love this song because it's a perfect pop song. It's a song that I could see anybody, anywhere, loving. And I love how the opening line would instantly make some people hate it and break out their homophobia (even though all the other songs on the record are about girls). Like “Copper is Free,” it feels tossed off in the best possible way. It comes from the gut without too much tinkering and that's what makes it great, does that make sense? It's pure bliss, joy, and fuck, it has the gall to title itself after Iggy Pop's most popular song and be pretty much as good as it. Girls come off as a bunch of drug addled lunatics, but at least they're honest about it. It's impossibly good.