15. Animal Collective – What Would I Want? Sky
The first half of “What Would I Want? Sky” ranks with Animal Collective’s most inaccessible noodling before turning into their prettiest pop song. Featuring the first ever licensed sample for The Grateful Dead and a beautiful, lilting melody, “What Would I Want? Sky” is Animal Collective at their finest, no small feat considering it came not 12 months after releasing one of the finest records of the decade. (J)
14. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Wind Phoenix
A song that rises and falls and weaves around throughout its 5+ minutes, “Wind Phoenix” announced Cymbals Eat Guitars as one of the best up and coming new acts. “Wind Phoenix” is pure rock and roll, a song more willing to sound good than sound important.
13. Atlas Sound – Walkabout
Borrowing from The Dovers “What Am I Going to Do” to form one of the catchiest songs of the year, Bradford Cox’s teaming with Noah Lennox came off even better than it sounded in theory. Sounding more like a Panda Bear song than an Atlas Sound one, “Walkabout” is a sunny, poppy wonder that was a definite song of the summer contender. (J)
12. M. Ward – Never Had Nobody Like You
M. Ward has always had a penchant for writing catchy songs, but his collaboration with his She & Him partner Zooey Deschenel that is his catchiest to date. Borrowing George Harrison’s riff and throwing in a nice male-female duet, “Never Had Nobody Like You” easily gets stuck in your head, but in the best way possible.
11. Grizzly Bear – While You Wait for the Others
One of the year’s goofier diversions was when yacht-rock superstar Michael McDonald (ain’t no mountain high! ain’t no valley low!) sang “While You Wait for the Others.” But McDonald’s affably overwrought vocals only brought into light how beautifully restrained Daniel Rossen sounds on this song. “While You Wait for the Others” is essentially, vaguely, a breakup song, but one with the lush orchestration and polite patience that has become Grizzly Bear’s trademark. (J)
10. St. Vincent – Actor Out of Work
Charging guitars, distorted riffs, and a short running time combine on a track that pounds itself through all the way to the end. Annie Clark’s calm, cool voice keeps the track together, acting as the perfect compliment to the noisy chaos around her. A short but sweet track that stands out on a great record.
9. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Young Adult Friction
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart wear their influences on their sleeve, but “Young Adult Friction” adds up to much more than the sum of its parts. Thanks to a great bassline, adorably nerdy lyrics, and that insanely catchy keyboard party, “Young Adult Friction” is a joyful piece of pop music that’s as much fun to listen to now as it was in January. (J)
8. Bon Iver – Blood Bank
Expectations were very high for Justin Vernon’s post breakthrough EP, its title track met them in every way. A song that slowly builds and tells a love story in a blizzard outside of a blood bank, “Blood Bank” is a hypnotic track that highlights a songwriter on the rise.
7. Girls – Lust for Life
Like “My Girls,” “Lust for Life” is all about the simple things in life. A pizza. A bottle of wine. A father. Wait, what? The casual darkness, just barely slipping through the edges of an ostensibly bright song, made Girls’ debut Album so strong, nowhere moreso than on its opening track. “Lust for Life” is a puzzling, ambiguous beach rock anthem that doesn’t have any qualms about jacking the title of one of punk rock’s most beloved songs. (J)
6. Neko Case – People Got a Lot of Nerve
The hard edge of Neko Case’s voice that’s heard with the New Pornographers is nowhere to be found on the best song off her terrific Middle Cyclone. Two part harmonies and Byrds-esque guitars highlight a song that is garunteed to get you singing along with your toes tapping.
5. Dirty Projectors – Stillness is the Move
Yes, yes, we all saw the Solange video, but what was shocking about it was how unnecessary it was. In the midst of a conversation about 3/2 time signatures, African rhythm, and the Talking Heads, the Dirty Projectors slipped in the best Prince song of the last 20 years. With beautiful vocals, glitchy electronics, and the Dirty Projectors’ typically strong guitar work, “Stillness is the Move” made the band’s catapult to indie stardom a foregone conclusion. (J)
4. Phoenix – 1901
If there was a hipster party-going anthem for 2009, it was “1901.” Guitar/keyboard riffs rumble through Phoenix’s break out track that is impossible not to like. Thomas Mars croons over the machine like drumming and charging guitars in a song that’s over before you want it to be. It’s no surprise this is the track that finally got Phoenix some recognition, as it’s a great track from a great band.
3. Camera Obscura – French Navy
On the first track of the transcendent My Maudlin Career, Tracyanne Campbell and Camera Obscura finally stepped out of the shadow those other twee Scots and completed their transformation into a Spectoresque rock band with heartbreaking odes big enough to fill stadiums. “French Navy” is as close to pop bliss as this year was able to reach, with Campbell’s honey-like voice spouting a gorgeous tale of lost love over an overpowering wall of sound. In a year marked by lo-fi roughness and bedroom recordings, Camera Obscura remembered the old adage about going big or going home. (J)
2. Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks
Accented with staccato keyboards, atmospheric “oohs,” and thumping drums, “Two Weeks” is a memorizing, catchy song that turned Grizzly Bear into an indie phenom. When the band harmonizes, “Two Weeks” is like sitting in the sun on a summer afternoon. There aren’t many pop songs better than this.
1. Animal Collective – My Girls
Beach Boy-esque vocals and pounding base drive one of the decades best songs from one of its best bands. Animal Collective made a name for themselves with their unique sound, but “My Girls” blew them into the mainstream. Above all through, it’s just a really fun song to listen to. (M)