I have to say, this list was much harder to compile than I’d anticipated. For several reasons – for example, I’m in Australia, so whilst I get to hear lots of great local releases (including my absolute favorite song of the year, Washington’s transcendent “Cement”) I realize that some of the readership may not be familiar with them. Accordingly, I’ve tried to be fair and keep this list to songs that have had at least a reasonably wide release.
Additionally, my decision that the songs must have been released as singles in some form ruled out some of my favorites (am I the only one who didn’t think the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll” didn’t hold a candle to “Dull Life” ?), but eventually I arrived at these songs, in this order:
|20. Lay It Down – Peter, Bjorn and John
Only Peter, Bjorn and John could make Lay It Down’s chorus of ‘Hey, shut the f**k up boy, you’re starting to piss me off sound so polite. Three years on from “Young Folks” , the bouncy lead single from “Living Things” showed that they’ve lost none of their talent for skewed pop craftsmanship.
|19. New In Town – Little Boots
Before it was used to soundtrack Megan Fox being sexy in the unfortunate “Jennifer’s Body” , “New In Town” was a strutting, flirtatious introduction to Victoria Hesketh and her glittering, uniquely British disco, with a perfect chorus of which any vintage Kylie Minogue record would be proud.
|18. 15 to 20 – Phenomenal Hand Clap Band
Silly? Yes. Catchy as all hell? Definitely. By far the high point on the debut release from a collective of New York musicians including DJs Daniel Collas and Sean Marquand and TV On The Radio drummer Jaleel Bunton, “15 to 20” is probably the only song in 2009 to graft a rap about hostage negotiation onto squealing 70s funk guitars and disco drums to create irresistible dancefloor magic.
|17. Sink Into Me – Taking Back Sunday
Urgent riffing + handclaps + backing vocals that go “Hey! Hey! Hey!” + random screams = perfect 2001-era emo-pop.
|16. Velvet – The Big Pink
The Londoners produced one of the albums of 2009 with the slow-burning “A Brief History Of Love” , which is what you hope The Jesus And Mary Chain would sound like if they were still recording. Less immediate than their world-conquering first single “Dominos” , but lyrically deeper and just as fuzzily anthemic.
|15. Kiss With a Fist – Florence and the Machine
The most danceable song about violence ever? These two minutes and four seconds of hyperactive indie-rock announced Florence Welch and her immense voice to the world. The world was grateful, rewarding Ms Welch and her Machine with 22 consecutive weeks in the British charts and festival-favourite status.
|14. Gimme Sympathy – Metric
Emily Haines has a voice like velvet and ice cream and everything else that’s soft and appealing. Metric’s fourth album, “Fantasies” , was packed with enough sugar-sweet synth-pop to cause cavities; its second single [following on from 2008’s Tegan and Sara-esque “Help I’m Alive” ] has delicious 80s keyboards and a swooning chorus which sparked an unfortunate Beatles vs Stones debate on the video’s YouTube page.
|13. Winter Hill – Doves
1993? Is that you? This single from Doves’ long-awaited fourth album could at first listen be mistaken for something Evan Dando might sing with the Lemonheads whilst swishing his mane to the insistent cymbals and jangling guitars. And that’s no bad thing.
|12. Oh My – The Drones
In which Gareth Liddiard and his band of Australian noise merchants create the most blackly hilarious vision of the apocalypse this side of Nick Cave and the Birthday Party. They’ll eat your dog, bury their dead or eat them instead. It’s entirely up to you.
|11. Satellite Skin – Modest Mouse
Five years ago, you wouldn’t have thought it possible for two songs featuring former Smiths man Johnny Marr to make it into anyone’s list of the top 20 singles of 2009. This, the first, comes from an EP comprising offcuts from his current day job’s last two albums; the delicately lovely melody paired with Isaac Brock’s typically oblique lyrics and spluttering delivery make you glad that this Mouse displayed no false Modesty in keeping its discarded tracks under wraps.
|10. My Girls – Animal Collective
A wistful ode to domesticity it may be, but the psychedelic synth waves and multi-layered surround-sound vocals on the standout track from the Maryland trio’s eighth album bring to mind some sort of polygamous woods-dwelling prophet, surrounded by more babes than Hugh Hefner and preaching the gospel of having a good time. You’d be easily converted, admit it.
|9. Fire – Kasabian
‘Move on! You got to move on! You got to hit ’em to the hip and get your shake on!’ Well, since you asked so nicely. And since you have the most killer dance-rock hybrid since the Stone Roses, with an instantly memorable guitar line that could make you serious bank providing the soundtrack to sports telecasts.
|8. Treat Me Like Your Mother – The Dead Weather
The most diverting of 2009’s rock-royalty “supergroups” , The Dead Weather’s “Horehound” saw Jack White and Kills banshee Alison Mosshart unite for an album whose best track combines White and Mosshart’s duelling vocals to excellent effect. Given the group’s antecedents this is probably what’s going to be played on classic rock radio in ten years’ time, so it’s a good thing it’s so much fun.
|7. At The Bottom – Brand New
“Daisy” , the Long Islander’s fourth LP, may have confounded many listeners but this song from it was perfectly straightforward, with a belting chorus just made to be played at maximum volume whilst driving with the windows down.
|6. 11th Dimension – Julian Casablancas
Dear Strokes, as much as I like you I just want you to know that it’s totally cool if you prolong your “hiatus” if it means more great solo work from your members [see also, Albert Hammond Jr]. Love, Me.
|5. Brooklyn We Go Hard – Jay-Z feat. Santigold
Dear Santigold, as much as I adore your solo work I just want you to know that it’s totally cool if you put off finishing your new album if it means more epic collaborations [see also, Major Lazer]. Love, Me.
|4. Give Blood – Rain Machine
TV On The Radio frontman Kyp Malone’s debut solo release mixes chaotic jungle percussion, handclaps, scuzzed-out guitars, an unfathomably catchy falsetto verse and the sense for strident absurdity that saw him touring with the Pixies earlier in the year, and defies you not to dance.
|3. Seven – Fever Ray
Another debut solo release, this time from The Knife vocalist Karin Dreijer Andersson, Fever Ray’s self-titled album was a spooky, uniquely Scandinavian revelation; “Seven” , with its vaguely New Age guitars, haunting chorus and cryptic lyrics [not to mention Andersson’s voice, a hybrid of Kate Bush and a deranged child] is the musical equivalent of a walk through a pitch-black pine forest.
|2. Bounce – MSTRKRFT feat. N.O.R.E. and Isis
‘All I do, drink my brew, get high too’ growls N.O.R.E. on the year’s best club banger. To which Isis (who sounds like a sexier Nicole Scherzinger) replies, “I get high too!’ Ah, true love. Set to queasy futuristic synths and the best deadpan male-female vocal exchange since Busta and Kelis on 2006’s awesome “I Love My Bitch” .
|1. Cheat On Me – The Cribs
The good news? This is the most perfect three-and-a-half minutes of soaring, 80s influenced, Johnny Marr-featuring indie-rock you’ll hear for a long time. From the moment the first chord crashes abruptly into life, overlaid by shimmering Thatcher-era student-common-room guitars, you know you’re listening to something special, even before Ryan Jarman’s anguished vocals lift the immense melody in exactly the right places. The bad news? Nothing else on its parent album even comes close.
And some honorable mentions:
So Far Around The Bend – The National
Where You At? – Astronomy Class
Islands – The Xx
Sticks & Stones – Jamie T
I’m On A Boat – The Lonely Island