The Best Singles of 2009

by PopMatters Staff

17 December 2009


30 - 21



Julian Casablancas
“11th Dimension”

It’s a little ironic that the knock-out single off of Julian Casablancas’ solo debut Phrazes of the Young, an album that was supposed to find Casablancas breaking out of his Strokes-constricted shell, sounds so much like the Strokes. Not that anyone’s complaining. Without a proper release from the band since 2006, “11th Dimension” finally updates the Strokes’ proven formula for blissfully catchy garage-rock in a post-Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix world where keyboards, Daft Punk-inspired beats and hyper-processed production work are the going currency. Ryan Marr




The Decemberists
“The Rake’s Song”

In a shrewd move, Decemberists’ leader Colin Meloy made the ugliest, most reprehensible narrative on their rock opera The Hazards of Love the album’s catchiest song. It’s built on a simple acoustic guitar riff and an instant sing-along refrain that consists of the word “alright” repeated three times. A buzzing, fuzzed-out bass adds intensity to that refrain while an armada of drums pounds out a powerful backbeat as more and more voices join the chorus. All the while, Meloy, in character as the villainous Rake, sings gleefully about how he grew annoyed with, then murdered his three children after his wife died in childbirth. It’s a little unsettling how fun the band makes killing children sound, and yet you can’t help but join in the chorus. Chris Conaton




Grizzly Bear
“While You Wait for the Others”

Laying claim to standout status on an album as masterful as Veckatimest is no easy feat. “While You Wait for the Others” however, was the moment when the most meticulously crafted 45 minutes of music of year threatened to bubble over. The most visceral song yet from a thoroughly self-possessed group of nice young men, this is bro’s in arms, Grizzly Bear style, as Daniel Rossen finds back-up from his bandmates in apparently cutting loose of some heartbreaking hussy. Being Grizzly Bear, it is all excruciatingly polite (I can’t imagine anyone this side of the 19th century has ended a relationship with the words, “I’ll ask you kindly to make you way home”). However, being Grizzly Bear, it also boasts plenty of the verdant vocal harmonies that titivate all corners the band’s third album, yet taken to a whole new level of gorgeousness. Even better though, those harmonies are here just one subplot in a song chock full of buoyant pop melodies and dramatic flourishes of guitar. Chris Baynes



cover art

Matt & Kim


Matt & Kim

As good as some of the songs on Matt & Kim’s debut were, none of them prepared you for “Daylight”. And I’m not just talking about the way the drums skitter and thump, or the increasingly complex keyboard arrangement (although those and the newly lush production are great too). It’s more about the way the lyrics and even the feel of the song evokes a whole world of young adult aimlessness and romance, one we may have to leave eventually but we’ll always miss. Ian Mathers




”(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To”

This single from Weezer (2009 model), with its summery, puppy-love romance built on trips to Best Buy, dinners with parents, and Titanic viewings, has been compared to teen pop, along with the rest of their arrested-development Raditude album. But “I Want You To” owes its crazy infectiousness to a power-pop tradition far richer than the Jonas Brothers: the jangly acoustic riff sounds a bit like the Jam’s “Town Called Malice”, while the sing-along chorus explodes into Cheap Trick territory. Even the lyrics, with their last-verse flash forward to the couple in the future, less ecstatically in love but still clinging to the titular phrase, has a sneaky, bittersweet twinge of adulthood. The band may not make Blue Album caliber full-lengths anymore, but make no mistake: this song is classic Weezer. Jesse Hassenger




Deer Tick
“Smith Hill”

“I could drink myself to death tonight / Or stand and give a toast / To those who made it out alive / It’s you I’ll miss the most”—if that doesn’t sound anthemic, I don’t know what does. From an unassuming intro of lightly strummed guitar and introspective lyrics, “Smith Hill” blossoms into an epic portrait of a relationship at a crossroads. Building and building, telling its tale with fragmentary lyrics that don’t reveal the whole story, “Smith Hill” is emotionally raw and powerful. Andrew Gilstrap




Dizzee Rascal and Armand Van Helden

From its woozy, siren-like opening, “Bonkers” is a three-minute musical firecracker, which finally confirmed Dizzee Rascal as a mainstream pop star. Layers of kinetic house, a bassline like heavy artillery, throwaway lyrical hooks and choppy sound effects, create the aural equivalent of a hyperactive teenager in a dancefloor riot. The result is not as transient as the lyrics suggest, creating an instantly anthemic song, so feverishly catchy, it should be approached with pandemic levels of caution. Tom Fenwick




“Bay of Pigs”

In a song structured essentially as straight European disco, Daniel Bejar manages to create the culmination of Destroyer’s music over the last 15 years: getting drunk, singing plenty of “la la las”, and recollecting various failed flings and broken hearts. The song’s 13 minutes are both lighthearted and tragic. It sounds like Bejar calling you up drunk at 2 am, rambling about how good it used to be. At the same time, few lyrics come closer to explaining human isolation better than that opening line: “So listen, I’ve been drinking.” Michael Miller




The Flaming Lips
“Convinced of the Hex”

Before the shockingly excellent Embryonic arrived, “Convinced of the Hex” was presented in advance as an appetizer/challenge. It was claustrophobic, bass-driven and crackling with energy. Gone was the schmaltz of yore. The Flaming Lips weren’t returning to any roots here… they were completely recasting themselves. On first listen, “Convinced of the Hex” may have sounded like a chaotic mind-fuck, but, by the fifth listen, it was lodged in your brain and its voodoo groove owned your hips. Ben Schumer




Animal Collective
“Brother Sport”

When “Brother Sport” leaked last November, it quickly became the world’s first taste of Merriweather Post Pavilion. And what a first impression it was: glitchy repetition, tape-loop sensibilities—these are a few of Noah Lennox’s favorite things. It should be no surprise, then, that the track singlehandedly ushered in the first truly post-Person Pitch Animal Collective album. From the tension-and-release synth build-ups to the infectiously layered vocal chants, “Brother Sport” sounds like it could be a number one radio hit on Mars. And for all I know, it is. Zach Schonfeld


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