As we’ve seen in PART ONE and PART TWO of my top 50 songs of the year, there’s been a slew of great songs in the Indieverse this past year. And, as always, great music must be accompanied by awkward, borderline-hack writing by internet writers who rely more on jokes than on actual substance.
But hey, at least relying on jokes is better than relying on being Dane Cook
An example of this can be seen in an email recently sent to me by my friend Ian, who, while going through and listening to the songs I’ve posted so far, correctly pointed out that the Cut Off Your Hands track seen in part one sounded more like The Clash than, as I insinuated, 60’s brit pop. And he’s completely right. I was grasping at straws with that one. But, let’s not forget that the fact that I give you options to listen to all these songs, which at the very least lets you find these songs, and make the correct judgments yourself. So, I at least make sure to do that for you, dear reader.
Dane Cook wouldn’t do that. I really dislike Dane Cook.
But I’m starting things off on the wrong note. I’m awesome, obviously. I have no known food allergies, can solve soduku puzzles fairly rapidly, am one of the founding members of the only Illinois/Nebraska/-via-internet-bedroom-musical-group-recording-primarily-over-digital-cameras-and-laptop-speakers group that I’ve heard of, and I could probably lift up a car if my child was trapped underneath.
Plus, I’m educating you in the 50 best songs of the year. So yeah. Boom. And now, to end the list that literally several people are eagerly awaiting, here are the top 10 songs of 2009.*
10. Los Campesinos! – The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future
Los Campesinos fucking love exclamation points! That might not sound like it applies to their music, but it totally does! They’re happy and energetic! All the fucking time!
He’s smiling because he’s so happy!
This is the band that enthusiastically cheers, “Oh we kid ourselves there’s future in the fucking, but there is no fucking future”! How great is that! Seriously, they’re very upbeat sounding!
Well, they have a new album coming out next year, and this is a single for it! That got released in 2009, so it goes on my best of 2009 list! This gimmick of ending every sentence with an exclamation point is getting very tiresome, but fuck you, I’m going to keep doing it until the bitter fucking end!
The punctuation and face makeup hides an unending sadness!
Well, no, I guess I’m done. “The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future” is a surprisingly somber track from Los Campesinos!, who create a effective and rich character narrative throughout the course of the four minute track. Normally, Los Campesinos! jump around lyrically with aplomb and glib, with tracks like “We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives” or “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks”.
Here, Los Campesinos! don’t really mask the undertone of darkness and sadness usually inherent in their frantic upbeat earnestness. “At 14 her mother died in a routine operation/from allergic reaction to a general anesthetic/ spent the rest of her teens experimenting with prescriptions/ in a futile attempt to know more than the doctors,” Gareth Campesinos! somberly crones, removing the fantastical nature of their occasionally melodramatic lyrical wordplay. Where in “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed”, Gareth masks lyrics like “my body is a badly designed, poorly put together vessel, harboring these diminishing so-called vital organs, hope my heart goes first, I hope my heart goes first!” with high energy, this track, driven by violins instead of frantic keyboard, offers simplistic lines such as, “This thing hurts like hell,” and ends up sounding like watching your high energy best friend in a fit of momentary depression, casting away your ideals of them as carefree and emotionally invincible, leaving behind a flawed shadow that forever alters how you’d look at them. The emotional undertone of each subsequent Los Campesinos! track is tinged by this dose of solemn reality, and that’s what makes it great.
9. Sunset Rubdown – Silver Moons
Wolf Parade is more successful, and Frog Eyes is more quirky and prolific, but Spencer Krug’s project, Sunset Rubdown, has probably been the most consistent. They’ve quietly released three albums already, and have a slew of complex, well crafted songs. And they also wrote the incredible 7 minute song, “Shut Up I Am Dreaming of Places Where Lovers Have Wings”, which to this date is easily in my top 5 as far as away messages to post while you’re sleeping go.
But, three albums deep, “Silver Moons” is probably the most accessible track that begs for enough listens to warrant an inclusion on a playlist. Maybe it’s the piano chord progression, which for some reason stuck in my head so fast I had to spend half an hour with the track on repeat to attempt to map out the piano part by ear. Maybe it’s the subtle but surprisingly deep lyrics (“gone are the days where fires make me think of you”!? Fucking really? GodDAMN it, that’s good. “I believe in growing old with grace / I believed she only loved my face”!? Stop that! You’re making the rest of us look bad!)
“Silver Moons” perfectly matches Krug’s unique vocals, with hesitant female harmonies throughout, this is probably the most consistent, start to finish, track ever performed by the band. Largely piano driven, there’s no overabundance of flare that could potentially drag the song down. Krug instead opts to let the track float, keeping the drums soft in the mix, eventually rising with the assistance of light guitar dissonance before finally ending in a hushed whisper, and in the process, manages to make the best Sunset Rubdown song to date.
8. Sleigh Bells – Crown on the Ground
Sure to be the Indie “it” band of 2010 once they release their debut album, Sleigh Bells sounds like a twee band remixed with a thrash band played at half speed while underwater. There is nothing wrong with your speakers, this is how the song is supposed to sound. What’s even more jarring than the opening ten seconds (the blasts of distortion that pulses throughout the entire track) is that, when you scoop up your recently-melted face from the floor, you suddenly want to dance. This amped up blast of power, matched with slightly out of focus female vocals, grabs on and never lets go, leaving you bloodied and messy on the dance floor, and that’s the way you like it, dammit.
He absolutely loves this song
Crown on the Ground is the sort of song that you suspect that your friends wouldn’t like, because there’s so much…out there about it, and then you find yourself surprised when they start nodding along to the beat while listening to it.
When I listen to it at work, I get a sadistic urge to plug in my ipod speakers and blast the song, full blast, for everyone in the office to hear. As a sort of psychological experiment. Would people start covering their ears, screaming, “God, why is that noise so fucking harsh!?” Would a spontaneous dance party break out? Would support staff members start attacking each other, as the entire corporate structure devolves into a sort of Hobbesian, Lord of the Flies melee for survival? Maybe a combination of B and C?
If this were my office I would fucking live there
All I can say is this. If Sleigh Bells ever started a riot, it’d probably be the best riot you’ve ever been in. Hells to the yeah.
7. The Mountain Goats – Psalms 40:2
John Darnielle’s latest album, arguably his best since The Sunset Tree, follows 12 tales based on 12 bible verses. Generally, you get to find a lot of what you’d expect from The Mountain Goats. Acoustic driven songs with solid lyrics that grow upon each listen. They have teeth, but the teeth are hidden in lyrical intention. “Pslams 40:2”, however, is where Darnielle really drives forward with a little grit. This song surges forward with a driving guitar backdrop and an ever-building drum presence as Darnielle seems to add intensity to each subsequent lyric. It all comes to a brilliant fruition two minutes into the track, when Darnielle, who hints at a pickup throughout the whole song, finally lets loose. It’s subtle, a little frill of drums and added vocal emphasis, but it hits like a load of bricks until the closing 30 seconds, when guitars come in and dazzle to close out the track. It makes for a fresh, exciting offering from The Mountain Goats, who as always, rarely disappoint.
6. The Decemberists – The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid
I’m probably in the minority out there, but I found The Crane Wife to be a boring step sideways for The Decemberists, while The Hazards of Love struck me immediately if one of, if not the best album of the year. It’s an ambitious, if somewhat pretentious (but it’s The Decemberists, pretentiousness is practically their defining characteristic) undertaking- a seventeen track rock opera with shape shifters, musical motifs, guest vocals (brilliantly supplied by Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond and Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond, among others) with less folk and more 70’s anthem instrumentals.
Hey, people still think Lord of the Rings is only cool because of this shit
“The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid” represents everything that I loved about that album, and it’s probably the same reason why some (cough cough, pitchfork) might have given it a lukewarm reception. It starts with simple harpsichord to go along with Colin Meloy singing sparsely, probably saying big words. You know how the Decemberists love their big words
Parasol aristocrat dwelling on caveat extremities/ sage perspicacity cast asunder in its brevity. Or some shit like that.
Then, when Worden, who portrays the “Queen” throughout the album, comes in with soulful, sultry vocals over electric guitar so sharp you could perform brain surgery with it. What follows is a lyrical duel between William (portrayed by Meloy) and the Queen, serving as a sort of plot lynchpin meant to set up the events of the remainder of the album, and almost immediately (excluding an interlude) delves into the dark, upbeat track “The Rake’s Song” (see below).
Above all else, what makes this song a top 10 song is the dichotomy between the nasal vocals of Meloy and Worden’s belted vocals, which practically ooze of otherworldly sexuality. It’s hard not to get chills listening to Worden croon and purr, and it makes this lengthy track worthy of multiple, multiple listens.
5. Ramona Falls – Melectric
Ramona Falls, the side project of Brent Knopf from Menomena (when are we getting a new album, by the way, you guys?) makes some really pretty songs. This song is no exception, but it certainly works on far many more levels than any other track from Intuit. The track starts off slow and a little too soft, but when the chorus first kicks in (easily the prettiest chorus of any song this year) it teases you just the right amount. There’s no reliance on any certain section of the part, but when the instrumentals take over for the interlude at the three minute mark, it’s mesmerizing, and when it kicks in again to close out the track with even more force, you forgot how the track started. You’re just mesmerized.
“Melectric” is one of those rare songs that sounds like it should be sad, but it lifts you up. Spiritually, emotionally, musically, it doesn’t matter. This song just…feels good. That’s rare, and it’s something to relish.
4. Art Brut – Demons Out
Art Brut, you cheeky bastards! Each Art Brut album is good for at least one line that you cannot get out of your head, because it’s just so…Art Brut. Art Brut is about the only band that can write a song saying, “fuck you, audience” that makes the audience nod along and say, “Yeah! We suck!”
I’ll never know true love! Awesome!
This song is the most fun you’ll have hearing a rock song all year. Standard Art Brut rock instrumentation occurs throughout, but the lines of the chorus for this (technically) the title track of Art Brut vs. Satan, a song that could sound pretentious and preachy instead manages to charm the pants off of you. Maybe it’s the unexpected lyrics, maybe it’s just the sheer audacity behind it all, but goddamn if this is not a good song. As the chorus first moans, “How can I sleep at night/ When no one likes the music we write?” it eventually devolves into the amazing line, “The record buying public, we hate them!/ This is Art Brut versus Satan!”
Art Brut both insults most of his potential audience, insisting that “the record buying public shouldn’t be voting” and then ups the ante with lyrics like, “A brush with Satan can be fatal/ we’re doing this for you so you better be grateful!” And realistically, if you’re the sort of person who would listen to Art Brut, and appreciates Art Brut, you agree with them. The record buying public made Nickelback the rock band of the decade on Billboard.
This is the first thing you’ll see when the Zombie apocalypse begins. Somehow I always knew it would end like this…
We are grateful, Art Brut. Please, save us from ourselves.
3. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Don’t Haunt This Place
You could make the argument that “Don’t Haunt This Place” was the best song of 2009, and I wouldn’t give you much of a fight. On paper, it’s a standard bittersweet breakup song, but there’s so many little things that elevate this to be so much more. The frantic, yet addictive, drum play of Paul Banwatt, the soaring vocal harmonies supplied by Amy Cole, lyrics that strike the perfect balance between personal and relatable, between yearning and resignation, between past nostalgia and a futile attempt to hold onto what is already gone, all expressed instantaneously.
Lines such as, “Never want to see you again/ I never want to feel this again” and “I want to hurt/ I want to betray/ it’s not like me to make your heart break” seem almost cliche on paper. But they’re a cliche for a reason, and anyone who has gone through heartbreak understands the subtext. But what’s incredible is, even for someone still trapped in the ebb and flow of bitter separation, these lines don’t feel like desperation. In fact, you feel uplifted. The chorus swells, with violin and sparse synthesized organ softly tinting the driving drum instrumental focus, as Nils Edenloff and Cole swoon “The things we never had/ The things we wished would come back/ Because we need this oh so bad.”
Though only two and a half minutes, the song works like warm covers on a cold weekend night. You fear the song is almost over, but when you see there’s still a minute left, you breathe a sigh of relief, and cozy up until the end. And then you play it again.
2. The Decemberists – The Rake’s Song
Who here expected a kickass, high voltage, get-your-ass-out-of-bed rock song from The Decemberists this year? That’s right, none of you. And who expected it to be about a Rake who kills all of his children? Okay, uh, some of you expected something along those lines. But still. Fuck yeah, “The Rakes Song”! Infanticide! …Wait…
Don’t let The Decemberists babysit your kids. Ever.
With this song featuring, if I’m counting right, five deaths in a three minute span, I’m pretty sure The Decemberists now have a higher body count than Jack fucking Bauer. No, seriously, there’s a website and everything.
“Chloe, beware! Verily, there is an incendiary device within the confines of that academic structure! Alas and alack!”
On a personal note, this song somehow ended up becoming a “fuck you” song for me. You know the type of song, one where you rock out angrily and afterwards feel a little emotional release? I tell myself it’s because the two separate times where they rock out with pickups, or the great booming drums, as well as the shouted chorus of, “Alright! Alright, alright!” Otherwise, I’d be worried I might be a little bit of a psychopath.
“The dew of this velvety humor both allays my interior beast, whilest I fight for righteousness in the name of villainy!”
1. The Thermals – Now We Can See
The Thermals are awesome, but “best song of the year” awesome? You betchya. From the opening “oh-way-ah-oh-woah” choral chant to the face melting guitar, this is the catchiest song of the year, one that begs to be blared out of the windows of your car as you drive through questionable neighborhoods and want to point out that you’re Indie/probably white. You’ll be highlighting that last point by awkwardly drumming on your steering wheel and belting along, slightly off key.
Once you take in the song on a basic level, and start focusing on the lyrics, you start to see why the track is the best of the year. Just about every line is a”fuck yes!” moment. “We were born in the desert, we were reared in a cave, we conquered in the sun, but we lived in the shade” the track starts. You find yourself kicking into the air when Hutch Harris sings, “Now we can see/ But the images don’t stick/ Our enemies lie dead on the ground/ But still we kick/ Hey!”
At 3:30, this song is about as long as two normal Thermals songs, but it’s the perfect song to flesh out. It’s high energy that you never want to have end, and a perfect track to have as the best song of the year for the last year of this decade. Happy, upbeat, and leaving you hungry for more.