CoS Year-End Report: The Top 50 Songs of ’09: 25-1

25. Andrew Bird – “Anonanimal”

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Violin virtuoso and wordsmith Andrew Bird has said that “Anonanimal” is the answer to the question “What kind of animal are you?” On the surface, the song’s wordplay, tempo changes, and jumbled title are entertaining enough, but listening to Bird croon his way through the song, you realize he’s examining the decisions he’s made and person he’s become over the years. Where many songwriters wallow in self-pity, Bird actually works out his issues and makes beautiful music in the process. -Anthony Balderrama

24. The Thermals – “When I Died”

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This may be the most rocking song that involves a fish metaphor. The Portland punk trio’s been known for their thematic works, but the latest in the series is about life from the eyes of a corpse. And, of course, such a theme demands a certain musical quality to it. “When I Died” best represents their more hard rock-skewed sound. But that’s not to say the album still isn’t punk as hell. With its rapid fire delivery and angsty-with-a hint-of-sorrow lyrics, the song is about the ineffectiveness of trying to run away from something and the inevitability of it all. It may be the about the ultimate loss, but it’s not so bad after all. Especially with this gem from an album that’s going places. -Chris Coplan


“When I Died”

23. Beyonce – “Halo”

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Sure, Beyonce’s always been a diva. But with “Halo”, the pop goddess took on a whole new air of elegance and orchestral beauty that she’d never quite hit before. It’s got that sensation of being hopeful and airy while still maintaining a sense of reality and passion — you can thank Jay-Z for that last part. But more than anything, Beyonce’s singing is the star. She did away with the gimmicks and their ferocity that she often gets caught up in and found a voice that is both in control and more vulnerable than ever before. This song, and its album, best represents why Beyonce was the savior of female pop for 2009. Take that, Gaga. -Chris Coplan

22. St. Vincent – “Marrow”

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“Marrow,” the standout track from St. Vincent’s fantastic second album Actor, is simply one of the most exciting tunes of the year. It’s overflowing with fun ideas: complicated, “Sir Duke”-esque horn arrangements; fuzz guitar scratches that would make Arto Lindsay smile; and of course, Annie Clark’s gorgeous voice sitting quietly at the center of the storm. If asked to bet on when she’ll start to suck, I’d put my money on never. -Aaron Kelley

21. Patrick Wolf – “The Bachelor”

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Patrick Wolf’s ambition can often overshadow his talent, but when the two intersect he proves why he remains an artist to watch. Wolf’s reworking of a folk song is a dramatic declaration of bachelorhood that celebrates solitude as much as it mourns it. The screeching strings paired with the androgynous vocals of folk musician Eliza Carthy create an intense three-minute journey into a young man’s romantic frustrations. -Anthony Balderrama

20. The Dead Weather – “Will There Be Enough Water?”

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It’s a tad bit redundant to say that Jack White can do anything. Why? Because he can, without any effort at all. This is especially prevalent on his newest project The Dead Weather. Tackling his love of traditional blues and country, White and the gang have come up with one of the sultriest songs of 2009, the elegant “Will There Be Enough Water?” White and lead singer Alison Mosshart offer great vocal harmonies and playful bouncing off each other throughout the song’s six minutes. White’s guitar and piano certainly add that old fashioned country/western vibe, as if the band just stepped out of their local saloon after a long night of bourbon and brawls. Whether there is enough water for 2009, there’s certainly enough musical bullets for these Nashville based Desperados and that’s what make The Dead Weather yet another great breath of fresh air and another feather in Jack White’s musical cap. -Jay Ziegler

19. Mos Def – “Auditorium”

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California beats, some love from London, and Brooklyn storytelling all come together for one of the top five rap songs of the year. No one does it quite like Mos Def, and this track off of 2009’s The Ecstatic stands out above the rest. Middle Eastern instrumentation lays a background and the lyrics never stop flowing. All of this is great but Slick Rick’s verse really pushes the song over the top, adding a British charisma that could only come from him. -Bruce Matlock

18. Dirty Projectors – “Stillness is the Move”

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Uhhhnnnnnn. That’s the general reaction to “Stillness Is the Move”, Dirty Projectors’ killer single from their killer album Bitte Orca. In a decade in which the weirdos put their unique stamp on decidedly mainstream styles (in the film department, see David Cronenberg making his version of action movies), the Projectors did their part by twisting Beyone-esque pop into something of their own. -Aaron Kelley

17. The Temper Trap – “Sweet Disposition”

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Opening to jangling guitars and one of the best falsetto vocals in recent history, “Sweet Disposition” was a luscious slice of indie pop, maintaining integrity whilst still going for the pop jugular. It veritably set The Temper Trap’s rapid rise into motion. -Will Hines

16. Lady Gaga – “Poker Face”

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The Divine Ms. G layers monster synths on top of robotic vocals to create a song about gambling. Or sex. Or gambling while having sex. Whatever. The result is 3:57 minutes of electro pop bliss. -Gillian Rosheuvel

15. Wilco – “One Wing”

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The best Wilco song in a long time is a slow building rocker that sees Jeff Tweedy’s sparse words of heartbreak chased down by Nels Cline’s smooth electric guitar. “You were a blessing/And I was a curse/I did my best not to make things worse,” Tweedy sings alongside incessant acoustic guitar strums, turning a breakup into an Animal Planet-friendly metaphor. He a bird’s wing, his ex its counterpart: “We once belonged to a bird/Cast a shadow on this earth… One wing will never fly/neither yours nor mine/I feel we can only wave goodbye.” From the get-go it has a sense of deep, regretful understanding. Then Glenn Kotche works in his magic behind the drum set, turning the energy level up and allowing for Tweedy’s poetry to float along with ease. In typical Wilco fashion, the thing quickly turns into a deconstructed Kotche-Cline showdown of a breakdown before Jeff returns with a finish. But like always, by the end it all goes down smoothly. Though “Wilco (the song)” is the one that tells you outright, “Wilco will love you,” perhaps it is “One Wing” that gives you a reason to take them up on the offer. -Drew Litowitz

14. The Decemberists – “The Rake’s Song”

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This year marked a big score for The Decembrists. After being an underground indie sensation, they struck a chord with The Hazards of Love showing they were capable of creating a masterpiece and “The Rake’s Song” shows why they have always been so cool. With beautiful vocals, a sludgy guitar sound, and powerful drumming, they create something truly beautiful, emotional, and raw, making you want to chant out all those “Alrights” with the band during the chorus. -Ted Maider

13. Julian Casablancas – “11th Dimension”

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Whether you were even interested in his side project or not, Julian Casablancas walked out and dropped off something exceptional for everyone to enjoy. “11th Dimension” pulls The Strokes into the decadent, money hungry ’80s, and while we’ll always prefer the guy in denim and ’70s throwback hair dos, the future trip was very welcomed. Running off of eccentric keyboards and a hip-shaking electronic drumbeat, Casablancas croons as he always does, massaging any grime and grit we’ve come to collect over our hearts, letting us know, “It’s okay.” The only downside? As it fades away, we’re not fast enough to keep up, and it’s over for us all. Bummer, man. -Michael Roffman

12. Jay-Z – “Empire State of Mind” (feat. Alicia Keys)

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Jay-Z came back swinging with his ode to Brooklyn. Featuring a damn-near ingenius collaboration with Alicia Keys, the track somehow manages to reference coke, MDMA, Ambien, Jesus, Biggie, Bob Marley, and every awful basketball team in the tri-state area as tributes to New York. Think “Proud to be an American,” circa 2001; now it’s time for New York pride to welcome in the next decade. -Shayna Hodkin

11. Little Boots – “Meddle”

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The loopy beats (courtesy of the tenori-on) and natty synth line (from Mr. Stylophone) were only a small part of this dense track. The live performances were legendary and saw Hesketh doing four things at once, but the song’s framework was surprisingly simple, with a simple message: don’t mess with girls. -Will Hines

10. Animal Collective – “My Girls”

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Anybody who heard the opening minute or so of this song knew to expect something extraordinary when it kicked in. Of course, they were right. “My Girls” was the kind of song that made you want to listen to Animal Collective and sure enough, that’s what happened. Finally, the rest of the world caught on that this was a band they should be listening to, and for all the right reasons. “My Girls” was the song Animal Collective needed to make because it put them at the status they should be known for by everyone: talented a hell. -Ted Maider

9. Girls – “Lust for Life”

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I always picture this song as a running dialogue of an overheard phone conversation. The girl on the other line is wishing for just a decent man in her life, wishing for tangible change to make life a bit better. The boy on the other end, is a dreamer, wishing for simple means of escape. This back and forth coupled with the simplicity of desire is as good as a “pizza and a bottle of wine.” -Charles Poladian

8. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Heads Will Roll”

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This song’s unbridled hook, its propulsive use of synths had everyone up and dancing. The thumping drums and Karen O’s vocals shine as this song is a modern dance gem. The imagery and chorus juxtaposed beauty
and grit. A change of pace, certainly, and definitely not what we expected from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but damn it if we couldn’t stop ourselves from singing along. -Charles Poladian

7. Jay-Z – “Run This Town” (feat. Kanye West and Rihanna)

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A self-referential rap song — what’s changed? The people delivering it, that’s what. Bringing Rihanna back into the recording world and teaming up with protégé Kanye West, “Run This Town”‘s message was simple and true. Kanye veritably blows Jay off his own track with his rhyme, but sticks to his area, the superficial. Jay is the glue that keeps this all together. -Will Hines

6. Wale – “Triumph”

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What a triumph it was. By now you all remember/realize/have had it pounded into your heads that people have been waiting for Attention Deficit for years with baited breath. Wale’s jams were all over the radio/television/internet in one way or another, but he hadn’t had a proper album. But, from this opening track, it was clear that the D.C. native had officially arrived. The production by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek includes sparkling electronics and bombastic horn fanfare fit for the debut of a new king. All hail Wale. -Adam Kivel

5. Phoenix – “Lisztomania”

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“Listzomania” was the left hook to “1901”‘s straight right. The song is an understated beauty of a song, with charming hooks, a sweeping chorus, and great use of vocals to dictate tone and emotion. The best trick Phoenix pulls off is weaving together emotion that seems at ease with its insecurity. The song is gift-wrapped to each listener, tailor made to be evocative for completely different reasons. What more could we ask for? -Charles Poladian

4. Grizzly Bear – “Two Weeks”

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When Grizzly Bear finally turned up the volume on their harmonic swoons, we were all mesmerized. From the opening hook, “Two Weeks” boiled every reason why this band, and their latest record, was so revered. It’s four minutes of vocal hypnosis and passive aggressive irony that cant help but get locked in your head. The video was creepy and brilliant with their one eye at a time blinking, devious smiles, and their heads going off like sparklers at a gas station. The song ended up with endless remixes and covers as people attempted what only Grizzly Bear in the end could do right. “Two Weeks” moved them from silent indie gem to the band everyone had to hear and that’s the beauty of it. With a year saturated in bands flexing their harmonic muscle, Grizzly Bear just took what they had been doing all along and stepped it up creating near perfection for 2009. -E.N. May

3. Passion Pit – “Sleepyhead”

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Do you ever wake up with obnoxiously catchy synthesizer riffs stuck in your head? That’s exactly what Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead” was this year. The song contains a melodic hook that nobody in their right mind can ignore (unless they were somehow asleep, like a sleepyhead). Despite its Hampton the Hamster-like vocals at various points, Passion Pit ends up breaking it down with its powerful drums and, of course, diabolical synthesizer riffs, all wrenching listeners off their hypothetical seats. This song isn’t just catchy, it’s triumphant. Never has electro-pop made anybody want to pump their fists in the air so hard. This is three minutes of musical glory that made 2009 that much more of a good time. -Ted Maider

2. Animal Collective – “Summertime Clothes”

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Let’s be real for a second. Who the hell listened to Strawberry Jam and actually enjoyed the music? Okay, so four out of ten. Interesting. Well, for all the acclaim and hipster runoff this band’s “endured,” it was nice to hear something actually, in all fairness, accessible. By now, every reader here knows how much we cherish, love, hug, face suck, and obsess over Merriweather Post Pavillion. Our reply to those whose heads exploded at our top pick: “Find something better.” You won’t, at least not in 2009. Here’s an album that just begs for repeated listens, whether via its layered instrumentation or that really awesome album artwork. The songs aren’t too shabby, either. They’re a little bit of excellent, actually. Okay, so try and rewind to earlier this year. Remember when “My Girls” hit the circuit? Well, while that song roped in everyone to the Animal Collective ranch, it was “Summertime Clothes” that people would eventually come out to love the most. It’s jangly, it’s fun, and it’s just exciting. “Brothersport” or “Daily Routine” could sit right here, as well, but we decided to stick with the stuff that made us smile… and dance… and have this nagging desire to take prescription dr–okay, let’s end there. -Michael Roffman

1. Phoenix – “1901”

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Here’s a musical litmus test for the new millennium: Can a song find its way onto TV and video game soundtracks and national ad campaigns and still be likable? Phoenix’s “1901” passes said test with flying colors. But more than anything, the song is so hugely popular and as equally wonderful because of the relative simplicity of it all. It’s a danceable track, filled with a rave/dance party-like energy and fueled by an elegant guitar sound that works over a heavy robotic drum beat. It’s a basic kind of song in the vein of a sugar sweet and eternally positive love song. But it’s not without its complexities, either. It’s the tale of Paris circa 1901 and the beauty of it, something the band is certain won’t last, like much of everything else in life. But they slide said message into the listener’s ears in an enthusiastic way that isn’t crippling to the song’s effervescent quality. Singer Thomas Mars’ voice is the lynch pin of the song: It’s bright and hopeful with a bit of some well-informed pain built up behind it. You’re going to see this song all over best of 2009 lists, and rightfully so. There’s an intangible quality to it, a feeling that each beat expresses. It’s a life lesson and a warning and total abandonment — all in under three and a half minutes. -Chris Coplan

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