WFOETYLs #2: Top Nine Songs of ’09

Entertainment Column
Written by Nathan Mattise

I know, I know. This list is stale. It’s a week after ’09 and everyone has a top songs list – from other aspiring music writer friends to major sports writers.  By this point I could’ve done a “Top Songs List of ’09 List.”

Every year though you need to do either best albums or best songs though. They are the Ace and King of the music deck and anyone hoping to jump in on the game someday needs to know how to play them. With 2009 marking the end of the decade where a lot of influential voices are proclaiming this decade as the end of the album (due to things like iPods, iTunes, digital file sharing, etc.), songs seemed a fitting way to close things out.

As always, a few guidelines to start:

  • The act only had to release a song in ’09 to be considered. They did not have to release a full-length album and they certainly didn’t have to produce one of the best albums of the year. In fact…
  • …a top song can come from a top album, but if a track doesn’t really stand out on an album it’s difficult to call it one of the best of ’09 (Call it the “teammates rule?” In the Heisman or Naismith voting, if two teammates are both vying for it and neither of them is clearly above the other, they usually split votes and not end of making it. Apologies to Metric and Phantogram here).
  • Finally, I know there are a million factors in determining what makes a good song. I also know there is plenty of albums and tracks I wanted to hear but didn’t for a variety of reasons. I recognize the subjectivity of this list.

With that out of the way, it’s time for the list. In descending order…

9. “11th Dimension ” – Julian Casablancas

If you lived for music in the Aughts, how can you deny Julian Casablancas? His debut solo album marks the return of the Strokes’ lead singer to the music scene. His voice is as distinctive and powerful as ever, that alone really making his album noteworthy. “11th Dimension” really embodies the new sound of Casablancas. Pop-friendly synth hooks fall under familiar dark Strokes lyricism, bridges rely on heavy bass and low register vocals that could be found on “Is This It?” and choruses that let Casablancas’ voice soar above a mix of it all. If this doesn’t make you believe in Strokes IV rumors, shame on you. It’s time to get excited.

8. “Electric Touch / Little Machine” by ERIKINO

Look, I know there’s a history of favoring local music here. So… where is a track off the Discovery album or “Mouthful of Diamonds” from Phantogram (don’t worry, Phantogram’s year is coming in 2010)? ERIKINO’s light, simplistic piece of electronic bliss dwarfs it all. Subtle lyrics delivered in airy vocals are catchy enough on their own, but ERIKINO’s compositions are wonderful. He’s an electronic minimalist and the approach makes a listener focus on every individual track. The result is a song where every little nuance has you playing the track back to appreciate it again.

(And yes, I know the demo off his official web site is fall ’08, but the track debuted on iTunes in ’09)

7. “Too Fake” by Hockey

The first time I heard this track was when a friend e-mailed the (seemingly unavailable everywhere…except here) Fallon performance. It was a day before the band was scheduled to play in Syracuse with Portugal the Man. They ended up canceling their set, and it’s the biggest musical disappointment I had in ’09 in wake of “Too Fake’s” brilliance. The rest of the album doesn’t stay within the same style, but “Too Fake” is a dirty-night club, indie rock gem. There’s a heavy bass lead, vocals that are on the verge of shouting and a steady off-beat hi-hat to keep you moving throughout.

6. “Heartbreaker” by MSTRKRFT (f/ John Legend)

This is the best thing both MSTRKRFT and John Legend did in ’09 despite each having fairly successful albums. It’s more characteristic of a Legend track – seductive vocals, catchy piano comps – but the MSTRKRFT twist of repetitive electronic beats and heavy synth solo sections is what puts the track over the top. Fans of both acts can unite on this unique blend of two different genres. It says something when this tops “Green Light” as Legend’s best collaboration in ’09.

5. “Daylight” by Matt & Kim

The entire world was humming the hook of this song for the summer, right? After Bacardi used it in an ad around that time, “Daylight” was everywhere.  The sing-a-long chorus and big beats give the song a universal appeal beyond the typical Matt & Kim crowd. In a normal year this would be a contender for the top spot in any song list, but that goes to show you how secretly robust the song landscape was in ’09.

4. “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z (f/ Alicia Keys)

The anthem that now represents the marquee U.S. city is a must on any ’09 playlist. Any collaboration between Jay-Z and Alicia Keys is bound for greatness, but “Empire State of Mind” lives up to whatever hype you’d image for a track between those two. The word play is fun and all topical, the chorus is so good that Keys even took it for her own solo album and the track has enough of a widespread appeal that it was the opening act for the 2009 World Series. To top it all of, “Empire State of Mind,” became Jay-Z’s first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Top 100.

3. “My Girls” by Animal Collective

Merriweather Post Pavilion was No. 1 on basically every major Album of  the Year list. It’s an primal rhythmic, pseudo-ambient experience on many levels but I’d argue it’s tops largely on the merits of “My Girls.”  The song is a rare combination of psychedelic noise and dance rhythm that take ambient to a place where anyone can enjoy.

2. “1901″ by Phoenix

Ironically Phoenix ended up at No. 2 in my Top Live Acts of ’09 countdown (they’d likely be my 2nd fav. album as well, behind “Fantasies” by Metric). Listen to the performance of 1901 from that night. It may be the perfect pop song, written by a respected rock act and adored by the masses. The synth intro is rocking, the chorus features a tremedous sing-a-long chorus and the beat is infectious throughout.  Like “Daylight” this song couldn’t be escaped in ’09, but no one was complaining.

1. “Make Her Say” by Kid Cudi (f/ Kanye West and Common)

I’ve always liked to say that in any year end list, you need to acknowledge the it rap album of the year. Common thought would lead you to Jay-Z this year but Kid Cudi’s album easily rivals it, his song tops. “Make Her Say” is incredibly catchy (what ’09 list doesn’t have some Lady Gaga, even if it’s a sample) with the familiar hook and great world play. Those are exactly the same things that make it such a smart song too. With references to Gaga, Ray J, Asher Roth, T.I. and Jaime Foxx among others, Kid Cudi is the definition of post-modernism and show a heightened understanding of what makes interesting, popular art today.

The End | (The iMix of this list)

Others in serious consideration: “Marrow” by St. Vincent, “Help, I’m Alive” by Metric, “Mouthful of Diamonds” by Phantogram

(Links today from YouTube, Wikipedia, Curator Magazine, SPIN, KEXP.org, Pitchfork and Entertainment Weekly)

Have an argument to make with the list? E-mail it.
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