December 31, 2009

Favorites 2009: All the things you can fit inside a memory

Of all these endless Best Of 2009 lists, this is the important one, my favorite songs of the year. Songs I wait eagerly for each year, convinced they won't come. That the perfect songs have all been written. Given the demise of the CDR, these 21 tracks won't fit on one disc. Whatever! Note that these are not in any order and many were not actually singles.

Thanks to everyone who read my blog throughout the year. I learned about many of these songs from you! Have a safe, happy and healthy 2010.

1 Florence + The Machine Drumming Song UK SONG OF THE YEAR
Like 3 songs in one, there are so many ideas presented in Drumming. The bit that goes "As I move my feet towards your body / I can hear this beat, it fills my head up" is particularly thrilling. video

2 Royksopp Vision One NOR
Royksopp gave Anneli Drecker her finest recorded moment. Together they wrote one of the smartest lyrics in 2009. My favorite part: "Everybody let us say goodbye to all our notions / 'Cause it's not enough to say that we're humane when we're left behind / It's too late to think that we can worship human emotions / 'Cause we've already evolved into machines in our minds." audio

3. The Gossip Pop Goes The World USA
Lightning strikes. The Gossip deserved so much more in 2009 and this song should have taken them there. It is truly the most massive chorus of the year. In my dreamworld, I am brave enough to go to Glastonbury and The Gossip closes the festival down with a blowout version of this song. Note that it's not even 3 minutes long (and how epic the final repeated chorus is). Beth Ditto is such a Star. audio

4. Fibes, Oh Fibes! Love Child SWE
Teenage memories set to a joyous tune. Sounds like it was recorded at a big party, doesn't it? Another win for Sweden. video

5. Dragonette Pick Up The Phone CAN
Martina is really the best not-famous pop icon. She's kicky and hyper and beautiful and stylish, etc etc. And her voice! You really believe the lyrics. Which is just one trademark that separates Dragonette from the dreck: they actually tell stories with their songs. In this case it centers around joyriding, vandalism and this line: "So we went completely wild / We were married in the Vegas style / And our families were scandalized / Now, I'm sorry but I'm not surprised." video

6. Calvin Harris Flashback UK
I spent 2007 bashing Calvin Harris' arrogance and spent 2009 thinking this was one of the best end-f-decade songs I'd ever heard. I think Chartrigger will agree with me, it's one of those tunes that seems like a massive party jam, but there's something much more emotional going on. It's like a tent revival with party drugs and thoughtful eye contact. video

7. Saint Etienne Method of Modern Love UK
Isn't it amazing how the year started with the most silvery piece of electronic pop this very old group has ever created? It was a touchstone for me all year long. Lyrically, it's so optimistic. The version I prefer is the 4-minute+ mix that ends with some amazing choppy vocal edits. The Pet Shop Boys recent live show was built around the idea of "a great Friday night out, complete with tears in the toilet." This song is that in 4 minutes. Absolutely beautiful. audio

8. Frankmusik Vacant Heart UK
This tearjerker debuted in 2008, so it's been in my brain for a long time now and has never worn out. The sample of Malcolm McLaren's Madame Butterfly is evidence of how smart Vince is. What I most love is the relative calm of this song compared to his others and the way his incredible, rich voice is mixed right up front. Proper singing. audio

9. Natalie Imbruglia Want AUS
Oh Natalie. What happened? This is a worldwide number one hit in my world. I don't know anyone who didn't want to play it over and over after hearing it. It owes a huge debt to the chugging rhythm of Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill and a dark tweak from Coldplay's Chris Martin. I most appreciate the sometimes misunderstood chorus: "I hope you get all that you want, 'cause i didn't." video

10. Prefab Sprout Let There Be Music UK
I hemmed and hawed over which Prefab Sprout song to put on this list (Ride was the alternate). This was recorded in 1992 and the house keyboard gives it away. My favorite part is spoken at 2:01: "I am always near you, so don't think I can't hear you... I wear the thin disguise, a lover's sobs and sighs. Don't you know... who I am?" audio

11. Will Young Hopes and Fears UK
Year after year, Will Young nails it, this time with a great sing-along track. His vocals keep getting better even if ours don't! PopJustice was the first to notice one of the great details of this song: the deeper vocal riffing at around 2:50. A new sound from Will; it's these kind of details that make a great pop song. It also had a terrific (and brave) video.

12. Beverley Knight Turned To Stone UK
I had never heard a Beverley Knight song until this album track - it was never a single. It takes me back to the era (early 90s) when r'n'b infused pop was so popular. This could easily be a lost En Vogue track. It also represents one of those uplifting "I can get by on my own" songs everybody needs on a mix. The woahhhhs at the end are the cherry on top.

13. Dame Shirley Bassey After The Rain UK
I would never have guessed that Shirley Bassey would sing the saddest song of 2009, written by the great Richard Hawley. Watch this clip (thanks Phil!) and you can see the moment when Bassey first hears the final mix of this and tears up. It's like she's finally hearing herself as others do and she tears up. Everyone involved in this song deserves a fucking Grammy. Now. audio

14 Just Jack Embers UK
From early in 2009, this song is probably Jack's most artistic statement. The lyrical hook exactly reflects what was happening in the world when this song was released (Obama's inauguration): We are all embers of the same fire
. As goes life, Jack's album sort of flopped and Obama's had a very hard year during which the magic melted. audio on myspace

15 Marina And The Diamonds Obsessions UK
The first time I heard this, I pressed repeat like 10 times. This song sounds like it's from an artist who has spent years honing her craft and learning who she is. Great lyrics about a fucked-up relationship, they veer between funny and insightful. I love the line "One minute I'm a little sweetheart you and the next minute you are an absolute creep." Has a great car singing moment at 1:53 with the bah bah bahs. video

16. Ellie Goulding Under The Sheets UK
There's a complex story inside this song, which is laden with dark images like "We're under the sheets and you're killing me" or "You left a hand-print on the door like all the boys before." Vocally, it's like an indie folk artist stumbled into a pop song. The track also announces the arrival of Starsmith as a producer to watch. Listen to the details like the really high end chimes that your cats can hear better than you, or the great group vocals in the final third. audio at myspace

17. Miike Snow Silvia USA/SWE
The emotional core of a perfect debut album. The lyrics are quite enigmatic, so what really draws you in are the voice and incredible arrangement. Like Royksopp's Vision One, Silvia is the sound of NOW, using both traditional instrumentation and new electronic sounds to create an emotional piece of music. It's loaded with amazing vocals edits and tricks that really make the song without ever distracting. video

18. Erik Hassle Hurtful SWE
What we have here is an old-school mega hit. Everything is right, especially the amazing chorus. Hassle has a fantastic voice and I hope gets the credit he is due in 2010. Let's face it, pop music is loaded with utter shit and sometimes the good ones slip by. If Hassle makes it, ginger will be IN again. video #2 of 3

19. Paloma Faith Stargazer UK
This song is a personal choice. A close friend died suddenly in March and, for about 48 hours, I could not listen to any music, which surprised me. It just didn't help. But later it did and this song was a touchstone. Which is so sappy to say, but let me tell you, if you think your heart cannot be broken, it can. audio

2o Roots Union Rough Diamonds UK
I don't think this ever got properly released, but an album is due in 201o. This is a folk song, but it's accessible to pop music lovers. Incredible melody and story in the lyric: "What you wanna be your older?" the old man in the song asks and the singer says, "Maybe I'll be a dustbin man and ride these streets in a big blue van... but really I'd like to be a singerrrrrr." FREE download here

21 Rihanna Cold Case Love US
What separates Rihanna from her contemporaries? She is giving as much thought to what she wants to say as how she says it. Cold Case Love, a song written for her by Justin Timberlake, is the Big Artistic Leap she needed to make on Rated R. It's the culmination of all the darkness on the album, when her story is finally explained. It also has one of the most epic moments in pop this year, when the song goes from very good too CLASSIC at 3:45 and stretches out for two more minutes. Amazing. audio

Some songs that made it to this list and were cut and added and cut at various times: Daniel Merriweather's Red, The Gadsden's The Sailor Song (which was on last year's list, but just got released), Pet Shop Boys Love etc and The Way It Used To Be, Florence + The Machine's Swimming, Maxwell's Help Somebody and Pretty Wings.


davidlim said...

I like your taste in music, man. Absolute kudos for 'Pick Up The Phone' - can't believe this gem was composed in the noughties! Sounds fresh out of a time machine blasted from the 80s!

John said...

Okay, there's "Pop Goes the World". I was a little concerned. I have the Miike Snow CD sitting on my desk, and it will be my first CD to check out for the new year. Hope you had a good celebration.

zen~ said...

Great list for 2009, mate! I always enjoy dipping into your blog, checking out where your (musical) head is at; comparing it to where I am at (and also, what I am missing!). You have impeccable taste.

I would definitely put Frank's 'Vacant Heart' in my list of faves for '09...and I do owe it to you. I was immune to his musical output, probably because I found his sound a bit too hyper and manic for my liking. '..Heart' proves that he is a great singer and arranger, and I find that it is a great song to round off a CDR compilation (of sorts).

There were too many great tunes (and like you: not necessarily singles) this year for me to properly collate into a top ten. It'd probably go summin' like this:

1. Dog Days Are Over - Florence & The Machine
2. I Am Not A Robot - Marina & The Diamonds
3. Vacant Heart - Frankmusic
4. Love, etc - The PSBs
5. Method of Modern Love (Richard X mix) - St. Etienne
6. I Believe - Skye Edwards
7. Shelter - The xx
8. Silvia - Miike Snow
9. A Funny Thing - Penguin Prison
10. Byrds of Prey - Bertie Blackman (in fact, ANYTHING by Bertie Blackman -- an artiste that I feel you have not investigated or have overlooked this year; her 'Secrets & Lies' album is sheer brilliance!)

Coming up the rear: Natalie's 'Want'; Bat For Lashes''Travelling Woman'; Flunk's Çommon Sense'; Marius & Roisin's 'Yellow Moon'; Gossip's 'Dimestore Diamond' & 'Long Distance Love' & 'Heavy Cross'; A Fine Frenzy's 'Electric Twist'; Simian MD's 'Cruel Intentions'; Ali Love's 'Diminishing Returns'; 'Heads Will Roll'- The YYYs; 'Change of Heart'- El Perro Del Mar; and the list can go on and on! x

D'luv said...

That's right, you did bash Calvin Harris a lot two ye---oops!---THREE years ago!

"Flashback" is pretty epic. Who'd have guessed?

The Miike Snow album is pretty good for the most part. There are some parts that lag. They should've brought Britney in for backing vocalzz.

Mr. Will-W. said...

agreed totally re: martina! and yes, vacant heart is often forgotten, such a gorgeous track!

happy new year xo!

xolondon said...

@David, now we have to wait another 2 yrs for more Dragonette. :(

@John, Miike is sublime in a very lowkey way.

@Zen, I am going to check out some of the ones you mentioned. Shortly there will be a post with literally every favorite song this year and some of yours are on it.

@D'luv is trying to provoke me with the Titney comment.

@Will, you have a great year too!!

D'luv said...


Sam said...

i wasn't interested in rihanna's output at all this year (or, like, ever) until you posted "cold case love" on this list, and i gave it a spin. you're right--it successfully combines medium and message in a way that i don't think the singles from rated r have (not being a fan, maybe i'm wrong about that). and the timberlake production sounds like him without being aggressive about it.

xolondon said...

Sam-ola! The Rihanna record works well as a whole. G4L, the sort of offensive one, is actually an electronic masterpiece. I also now really like the Jacksons thing on Hard. Be sure to see that video.