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October 5, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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Kim’s Top Ten Songs of 2009

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It’s official, we’ve just entered 2009’s home straight. In celebration of the end of another year (and another decade), Salient’s music writers will be getting together to drink some drinks, make some lists and, well, reminisce. The fruits of that labour shall be revealed in the final issue of the year, but as a little tease for the retrospectives that are to come here is my personal list of the ten best songs of 2009:

1) Animal Collective – My Girls

‘My Girls’ is at once exuberant and ambiguous; its potent melange of fey harmonies, cutting-edge electronics and found-sound samples give the listener plenty to explore. In fact, there’s almost so much going on that it almost becomes difficult to pinpoint exactly which constituent element makes ‘My Girls’ so damn brilliant. If pressed, I think I’d say that it’s the childish “whooo!s” which provide the final coating of fairy dust that convince you of the veracity of Animal Collective’s magic. ‘My Girls’ is a sort of aural equivalent of Alice’s Wonderland; a seemingly infinite adventure, full of fantastical delights and emotions. Want another ride down the rabbit hole? Just press repeat.

2) The Antlers – Wake

A slowly unfolding epic, ‘Wake’ is the emotional climax of the most gorgeous album of the year. Its first half is a delicate ballad that’s all spectral “Oohs” and ticking clocks. Despite their wistful quiet, these first four minutes slip by without ever feeling innocuous. After a brief piano segue, ‘Wake’s’ second half progresses inexorably towards an immense crescendo, and is topped off by one of Peter Silberman’s most heartfelt lyrics: “Don’t ever / Let Anyone / Tell You / You Deserve That.”

3) Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks

Grizzly Bear’s note-perfect performance of ‘Two Weeks’ on Letterman almost single-handedly kick-started the immense hype machine which preceded the release of Veckatimest, their delightful sophomore album. Its success should come as no surprise. The baroque qualities of its staccato piano line and of Ed Droeste’s weightless crooning hark back to pop music’s formative years. Paradoxically, Grizzly Bear’s rhythm section serves up a relatively modern sounding combination of off-kilter drums and muscular bass lines. Put it all together and you can hear why ‘Two Weeks’ is the sound of timelessness personified.

4) Dirty Projectors – Stillness is the Move

Indie artists have threatened to dabble with R&B for quite some time now, but not until 2009 did the two genres collide with full force. In the digital age, music has become such a malleable medium that extragenre experiments have long ceased to surprise. What might come as a bit of a shock is the identity of 2009’s most successful proponents of this new hybrid form. The Dirty Projectors might sound like your stereotypical art-rock band, but thanks to some impressive technical chops, as well as a talented pair of female vocalists, they manage to conjure a wildly successful combination of polyrhythms and pop posturing on ‘Stillness is the Move’. I’ve never heard anything quite like it, and I doubt anyone else has either.

5) Mount Pleasant – In Lust

Jonathan Phillips has been New Zealand’s most prolific and most potent songwriter of 2009, but only fifty people have noticed. Released as part of an odds and sods EP called I Forgot, ‘In Lust’, is arguably Phillips’ finest recorded moment to date. With its paired down arrangement, horror movie glockenspiel and string interjections, and a vocal performance so emotive that Phillips’ voice breaks, rendering him almost entirely incomprehensible, ‘In Lust’ is also the most unsettling song of 2009. And then there’s its devastating final lyric: “In lust we fall apart / In lust we fall apart.”

6) Animal Collective – Summertime Clothes

If ‘In Lust’ is 2009’s most anguished moment, then ‘Summertime Clothes’ might be its diametrical opposite. Sampled sounds of running water and children playing establish a summery, nostalgic aesthetic that Animal Collective’s instrumentation promptly seizes upon, and never relinquishes. Bright synth melodies, ebullient harmonies and an insistent percussive framework all play their part, but it’s Avey Tare’s wonderfully inclusive chorus (“And I want to walk around with you”) that really makes this song a winner.

7) Washed Out – Feel it All Around

If there was ever a perfect soundtrack for the sunburn+hangover combo then ‘Feel it All Around’ is it. The finest exponent of 2009’s sound du jour—the wasted summertime jam—‘Feel it All Around’ might even have the staying power to outlast the fad. The secret to its success lies not in Washed Out’s excessive use of reverb, nor in the breezy synths, but in the repetitive, almost dub-inflected bassline. It’s a rubbery piece of head-nod inducing brilliance that will probably get sampled to the point of nauseous ubiquity once crate-digging DJs in search of the next big thing stumble across it. But for now, enjoy this piece of blissed-out brilliance while you can. It’s almost summer after all…

8) Raekwon – House of Flying Daggers

(ft. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Method Man and RZA)
2009 has not been a vintage year for hip-hop. Jay-Z bombed and none of the up-and-comers (Drake, Wale, etc) managed to shake the furniture up enough to gain serious attention. And so it was left to a returning veteran to release the most essential hip-hop album of the year. Thankfully, Raekwon did not let us down. In fact, he brought his A game, and (almost as importantly) so did the rest of his guesting Wu brethren. Their finest moment on Only Built for Cuban Linx Pt. II is the posse cut, ‘House of Flying Daggers.’ Each verse is so brutal that I still can’t decide which is the best. Sure, it’s nothing new, but when the MCs are this talented, and the beat bangs this hard, who cares?

9) Phoenix – Lisztomania

‘Lisztomania’s’ best quality is the sense of urgency that its so-simple-it’s-almost-stupid arrangement manages to create. From the outset (an insistent two-note guitar riff) Phoenix sound like they’re in a rush, and by the time the second guitar, the keys and the punchy drums have all piled into the mix they’ve built up such a strong head of steam that it seems inconceivable that they’ll ever be able to slow down. In fact, they do manage to take a foot off the accelerator for a brief moment before launching into its Cadillac-class chorus: a high-speed disco-fist pumper, which finds Thomas Mars’ baguette-bearer lover-boy vocals at their blue-eyed best.

10) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero

With ‘Zero’ the YYYs finally escape the shadow of ‘Maps’, and they do it in fine style too. Karen O has always been confident, but ‘Zero’ finds her positively swaggering. The band are on fire as well, but still manage to have the patience to hold something back until around halfway through, when they drop in synth line so huge that it could be the bastard love child of ‘Time to Pretend’, ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ and ‘Policy of Truth’. Post-Punk, New-Wave and Garage Rock; call it whatever you like, but I prefer to call ‘Zero’ anthemic.

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Comments (5)

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  1. a dick says:

    I like that Phoenix song but they sort of look like a bunch of douches on the Lisztomania video.

  2. Cherie says:

    Kim you look like a total hottie.
    Crushing on you!
    PS why did you think Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 was so crap? I thought Death of Autotune wasn’t too bad.

  3. Johnny Hall says:

    “Jonathan Phillips has been New Zealand’s most prolific and most potent songwriter of 2009, but only fifty people have noticed.”

    Apparently 416 people have noticed:

    Mount Pleasant – In Lust
    http://www.vimeo.com/3191252

  4. Diamande says:

    I’ve never seen a more annoying song and video than Dirty Projectors. It looks like the extras from a Kylie Minogue video wandered to far into the forest. Hope they never came back.

  5. Al Gangbang says:

    The only band more annoying than Dirty Projectors is fucking Times New Viking.

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