The Best Singles of 2009

by PopMatters Staff

17 December 2009


20 - 11



“Hellhole Ratrace”

Girls’ hallmark single epitomizes the way they take simple sentiments and blow them up to colorful, swooning big-screen proportions. Here they reach that epic scale surreptitiously. Lead singer Christopher Owens sings about how alone he is, then fixates on the notion that he doesn’t want to cry, he wants to dance, and takes it as a mantra. Shimmering electric guitars rise up and open the song to a Red River-type landscape view, and the whole feeling changes. Sullen becomes joyous and the song becomes their most monumental. Dave Heaton




“Young Hearts Spark Fire”

“Young Hearts Spark Fire” was most people’s introduction to Vancouver’s Japandroids, and it made quite an impression. Recalling Hüsker Dü at their caterwauling prime, the duo takes a maximalist approach to being a two-piece and aims straight for your heart. Many hearts were won over by the song’s mantra of “We used to dream / Now we worry about dying / I don’t wanna worry about dying”, which feels like a rallying cry for resisting the onset of adulthood. Ben Schumer




Mos Def
“Casa Bey”

This fiery track does more than simply wrap-up Mos Def’s wonderful The Ecstatic. It features one of his finest deliveries—try not to drop your jaw at his flow—and a strong, reinforced message to never give up. Lyricism and flow aside, “Casa Bey” is one of his finest moments musically. Mos and in-house producer Preservation sample Banda Black Rio’s “Casa Forte” perfectly. And once those jazzy horns and drums fade, it melts into a sublime, piano-laden dreamscape with Mos crooning softly. Andrew Martin




Lady Gaga

The strongest element, by a mile, is that Gaga reboots the title every time it comes up in the chorus—“Papa-paparazzi”. By that point the melodic implications are so strong that you know exactly which notes the last two syllables will consist of even before she sings them; both would be perfectly harmonious with the C minor backdrop, but then there’s that stutter, which unexpectedly pushes them back such that they instead land on top of the subsequent A flat major. Surprise! They fit just fine with that chord too. (If this doesn’t work for you, that whole Electra complex angle is also still available as a backup.) Vijith Assar




Speech Debelle

Songs about struggling are nothing new, which is why 2009 Mercury Prize-winner Speech Debelle deserves that much more credit for “Searching”. It starts out disarmingly simple, with a jazzy guitar and Debelle masterfully setting the scene: “2 AM in my hostel bed / my eyes them red / my belly ain’t fed.” The deceptively upbeat music suggests that Debelle is interested more in understanding than resignation. “When life hits your with issues / makes you wanna cry and wet tissues,” she exclaims, seemingly aware that this is normal, and these sad times will pass, but they are no less worthy of saving for something so heartfelt. David Abravanel




Kid Cudi
“Day ‘n’ Night”

On “Day ‘n’ Night”, Kid Cudi’s minimalist ode to stoner self-reflection and isolation, Cudi achieves what has been seemingly impossible for Kanye West and other hipster hip-hoppers: a completely unique song that defies categorization without sounding contrived, pretentious, or just plain bad. In a sentence, Cudi’s jam is the “It Was a Good Day” for the backpacker millennial generation. Though everyone loves the Crookers’ remix, for my money, the “remix” with Jim Jones flips the song from hipster cool to hood chic with ease. Tyler Lewis




Fever Ray
“If I Had a Heart”

A gripping foray into dark ambient music and accompanied by a video that matches the grimness of the music step for step, the first track from Karin Dreijer Andersson’s solo debut is extraordinarily subtle, as a pulsating modal drone underscores a simple keyboard melody. For all its simplicity, though, you won’t come across a more harrowing single from 2009, Dreijer Andersson’s disembodied, pitchshifted voice sounding alternately desperate, naïve, lustful, and at times pure evil. Adrien Begrand



cover art

Bat for Lashes


Bat for Lashes

While a slew of bands cranked up the distortion and the feedback and hollered over the whole sloppy mess this year, Bat for Lashes set up camp, both musically and vocally, in another stratosphere. Blending drama, nostalgia and strings in an alternate universe, “Daniel” became the pulsing microcosm of the ethereal atmosphere that Natasha Khan cultivated over an entire album on Two Suns. A breath of fresh air from the ironic posturing of most indie rock, “Daniel” bled urgency from every soaring note of Khan’s soprano while striking the rare balance between tender affection and epic ambition. Ryan Marr




Atlas Sound feat Noah Lennox

Contrary to popular belief, Animal Collective do not sound like the Beach Boys. However, put Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear, in front of a winsome and anodyne hook from a 1960s nugget (the Dovers’ “What Am I Going to Do?”) and you may have a case. Yet Lennox’s track with Bradley Cox (also of Deerhunter) is not a simple retro retread. Rather, it’s a disembodied narrative about the impenetrability of the rear view mirror, which is represented here by the sunny innocence of that wonderful little loop. The opaque clusters of reverberation elsewhere make the substance of youth seem like an oneiric Elysium, but the track also warns against the hagiography of nostalgia. “Forget the thing you left behind/ Through looking back you may go blind.” Timothy Gabriele




Basement Jaxx

Basement Jaxx always have a knack for making great singles, but few would’ve guessed that the Jaxx’s big “comeback” track would be something as ear-busting as “Raindrops”, a sweet little dance song that just so happens to drip raw sexuality from each and every verse before launching into a chorus made entirely out of bass-synths-as-neutron-bombs. It’s been awhile since everyone’s favorite UK house duo have made something this visceral, which is only part of the reason that this song sounds as fresh on its first listen as it does on its hundredth. For those who may have had doubts before, fret not: the Jaxx are back, and they’re kicking ass. Evan Sawdey


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