Friday, January 01, 2010

Best of 2009: Songs

10. Tiga – Love Don’t Dance Here Anymore - A dance epic in the best tradition of disco 12 inch singles, an insistent bass riff anchors the song throughout its run time, as the vocals swell and ebb crossing from the opening sincere verses to the killer “Tables are turning” riff breakdown. When the cowbell comes in to bring it all home, it crosses over to another level. It’s a modern day Moroder classic.

9. The Flaming Lips – Watching the Planets - An electro stomp so heavy its very sound seems distorted, this track is a tribal freakout that fits perfectly into the aesthetic of 2009. It’s a great blend of dance, rock and tribal rhythms for a hypnotic journey into weirdness. It’s one of the band’s best songs to date.

8. Muse – Uprising - If there was ever a Doctor Who movie and they wanted a pop tie in single, it would be this song, which takes the timeless Who riff and turns it into a glam rock anthem of defiance that even the Vatican loves. I love the interplay of elements, the way that the vocal blends with the keyboard riff, and the underlying pulse of the handclaps and drums.

7. U.S.E – K.I.S.S.I.N.G - This song sounds like The Polyphonic Spree meets Van Halen’s “Jump,” blending effusive group vocals with an instantly hooky keyboard riff. I love this band, and wish that they would expand out a bit from their niche in the Northwest. I’d love to hear them live, their vocoder tinged joycore pop feels like it’s made just for me.

6. Passion Pit – Little Secrets - One of the year’s big breakout bands, Passion Pit have a very 2009 aesthetic, fusing synths and dance rhythms with indie rock structures. They’re not the most original band out there at this point, but with songs this good, it doesn’t matter. This song has a great hook, and a wonderful interplay between the lead vocal and the childrens’ choir sounding “Higher and higher” refrain. It’s extremely happy, and fun to listen to, the high point of a great album.

5. Royksopp – The Girl and the Robot - This song builds an entire universe just through its sounds. The churning bass line, the ethereal backing vocals and Robyn’s forceful lead vocal all work together to create Royksopp’s most emotional, and best, song to date. The band’s previous work is often pristine and emotionless but Robyn brings a desperation and edge that contrasts perfectly with the robotic chorus. It’s a killer beat, and the high point of a great album.

4. Music Go Music – Warm in the Shadows - Another 70s style epic, this song features a great dance bass line, and a soaring painful vocal on top of it. I love the variety of sounds that make up the beat during the chorus, and the fantastic guitar work throughout. But, it’s the vocal that really makes the song work. This is another band I’d love to see live, and this song would have to be on the setlist.

3. Lady Gaga – Bad Romance - The most ubiquitous song on the list, “Bad Romance” has become a huge radio smash, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad! There’s the great bass line underlying the verse, the huge stomp of the chorus, the glossalia breakdown midway through, the “I want your love” plea section, which brings it all back to an epic final chorus. It’s all good, and together it makes for a hyperpop song, one where every section could be the chorus. Special mention has to be paid to the song’s amazing video, a masterpiece of production and costume design, full of some of the most pop avant garde images of 2009 cinema.

2. Phoenix – 1901 - It’s been the soundtrack of a Cadillac commercial, and one of the two key anthems that broke the band out to become a legitimate pop force. “1901” features all the hallmarks of a great Phoenix song, a mechanically precise instrumental backing merged with a looser, more emotional vocal. I love the way the backing synths swell into the “Falling, falling falling…” section of the chorus. It’s a tight, danceable, emotional song, and the best of a fantastic album.

1. Bat For Lashes – Daniel - It’s rare that a song can be simultaneously haunting and danceable, but this track pulls it off. Opening with an eerie, distant synth, it gradually swells to an insistent drum line, all the while Natasha’s vocal sounds like it’s coming in from another planet. She’s got one of the most unique voices, the way she sings it’s like her heart is torn open and laid out before us. She’s begging for something better, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking to listen to. The song is distinctly now, distinctly 80s in many ways, but also timeless. Like M83, it transcends its 80s inspired roots and becomes something primal and subconscious. It’s a beautiful song on a sonic level, and extremely catchy too. The video’s great as well. Thanks Ralph Macchio and The Karate Kid for inspiring such a great piece of art!

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