Tuesday, December 3, 2013

From the Archives: 100 Songs for 2009

[We'll be premiering 100 Songs for 2013 on December 9.  Between now and then, we'll be re-visiting the 100 Songs collections of previously years, now with Spotify playlists!]

DECEMBER 11, 2009:

It was a strange year for me. I suspect it was a strange year for a lot of you, too. On one level, I can list a pretty good number of once-in-a-lifetime accomplishments. I ran the Boston Marathon, passed the California bar exam, and spent eleven weeks wandering in South America with a girl who amazingly still loved me when it was all over. I saw two concerts at two different venues on the same night, then went to Coachella two days later, where I saw those same bands again. I sat in a hostel in Rio de Janeiro and watched the Minnesota Twins make the playoffs in the most dramatic way imaginable, and I also attempted to watch twenty-four consecutive hours of college basketball. I have a new job and a new apartment and a new television. I said goodbye to the sub-human filth of 332, but kept all the great memories. Decades later, I will undoubtedly see this year as an unmitigated triumph.

And yet, when I think of these songs, and the feelings and memories they inspire in me, a different picture emerges. These are the songs I listened to while sitting in coffee shops for eleven hours a day, struggling to stay awake, fighting to stay focused on the minutiae of the law. These are the songs I listened to at three in the morning on the all-night bus down the coast of Brazil, wondering if my stomach would ever settle, wondering if I would ever make sense of Portuguese. These are the songs I listened to while I worried about my future. These are the songs I listened to while everything changed, and I wondered if it was changing for the better.

In a nutshell, these are the songs that brought those two paragraphs together, the songs that got me through the hard times, the songs that allowed me to eventually find some level of happiness and success. This list really is the best possible summary of my 2009.

As I wrote in my blog, overwhelmed by the enormity of studying for the bar:
I am naked without headphones. I spend at least eight hours a day sitting in public places, yet I maintain almost zero contact with the outside world. I do not talk to people. I actively discourage them from talking to me. 
I have one more week of this. 
And the music helps. When I’m not listening to baseball, I have had plenty of time to discover great new songs. When I AM listening to baseball, I’m mostly muttering “stay in the park … STAY IN THE PARK!!!” to worried strangers at the Royal Ground on Fillmore. 
So the music helps. 
People like to debate whether Year X was a good year for music, or if it was better that Year Y, or what the best time for music was, and this has always seemed kinda foolish to me. It seems similar to arguing about what the best year was for food. How could you even attempt that? There was so much great food out there that you didn't eat. What's more, the food you did eat was a direct result of your efforts in seeking that food out. 
Right now, I think it's a great time for music, but that's just because I have an almost unlimited time in front of a computer, on the internet, with headphones. There is no new music that I am not aware of. And so it is a great time.
And it WAS a great time, but for me it was a great time in an unfamiliar landscape. The collective output of my favorite bands was as follows:

- The Hold Steady: live album, Bruce Springsteen cover song on charity compilation
- Los Campesinos!: two singles, album due out Jan. 2010
- Vampire Weekend: two singles, album due out Jan. 2010
- New Pornographers: AC Newman solo project, b-side on charity compilation
- Drive By Truckers: Rarities album, Patterson Hood solo project
- The National: one song on charity compilation
- Arcade Fire, TV on the Radio, Architecture in Helsinki, Rogue Wave: Nothing

So, while there were excellent albums from old favorites like The Mountain Goats, Phoenix, Islands, and Wilco, on the whole it was a year for seeking out the new.

Here is what I found:

1) Free Energy – Dream City
I have no idea what this song does to me. On some level, I can be objective about it. It might be the most derivative song on this list (“Spirit in the Sky” plus “Get It On (Bang a Gong)” equals 2009 song of the year?  That math may not add up). It’s recently been featured in a Flip phone commercial, which means it could hit some kind of over-exposure threshold soon. I can psychoanalyze myself for clues about why I love it so much (the guys are transplanted Minnesotans just like me, the song’s classic-rock-revival sound makes me nostalgic for the “All new music sucks” mindset of my own misplaced musical youth). There are a lot of reasons why I shouldn’t love this song so much. Also, Curt doesn’t like it.

But … if we ignore all that … if we just look at which song has given me the most happiness this year … it’s this one. It’s absolutely this one. And that’s all I want from a song. That it makes the early-morning drives to Bar/Bri tolerable. That it inspires Ilana to make up wonderful nonsense lyrics about lasagna. That its “Na na na” singalong outro makes you forget where you are and what you’re doing. That it makes you smile. This song makes me smile. And it always did, even at times when nothing else would.

2) The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa (f/ Ezra Koening)
One part Malawian singer, one part British production team, The Very Best gave us an excellent mixtape last year, sampling Vampire Weekend, Architecture in Helsinki, and “Paper Planes,” and creating a one-of-a-kind African sound that was all primal happiness. For their 2009 full-length album, the guys brought Ezra from Vampire Weekend on board, and the result is the perfect mix of authenticity and homage. This song is like a tribute to itself.

I first played this song for Ilana as we sat in the car during a bar exam lunch break. Her response: “Can we please download everything these guys have ever done?” That pretty much sums up my feelings about The Very Best. I always want more, and right now if possible. The “Warm Heart of Africa” vs. “Dream City” debate went back and forth more than a few times. This song should be numbered 1A.

3) The National – So Far Around the Bend
I have now written 99 song reviews, and I’m coming back to #3, looking for a way to describe the simple brilliance of this song, an ode to searching for someone within the shifting landscape of parties and bars, of smoking weed with an apple pipe and praying for Pavement to get back together (and apparently they are, in 2010!).

This song is the unchallenged highlight of the two-disc all-star charity comp Dark Was the Night, and it reminded a lot of people that this one song is the only new material the band has released since 2007. I’ve missed them.

And there’s no leaving New York.

4) Passion Pit – Little Secrets
I don’t know if I can be objective about these Passion Pit songs. There was a time when this one was a serious contender for the #1 spot. I love the children’s choir sing-along chorus. I love the near-perfect blend of rock and dance. I love that Passion Pit started out as one guy making songs on his computer, that originally all he wanted to do was make a CD for his girlfriend. I should have nothing but good feelings associated with this band and this song.

But … Passion Pit put on the worst live show I’ve ever seen (well, worst rock show … still not worse than either Snoop Dogg OR Nelly). I don’t know how the singer could sound this good on record and this bad on stage. This album must have required a thousand takes to record, because, live, within the normally acoustically-excellent surroundings of Bimbo’s 365 club, he sounded like a reluctant karaoke performer. It’s the only concert I’ve ever left early in disgust. I’ve never felt sorry for a performer before.

Still, the song is the song. And, considering it in a vacuum, it is brilliant. And so it still makes the top five. But I will always be conflicted.

5) Phoenix – 1901
I love Bill Simmons. I really do. I read his entire 700 page Book of Basketball, and I even stood in line to have him sign it. The man knows basketball. He does not, however, know music, and it’s so awkwardly wonderful when he tries to talk like he does. I’m pretty sure he still thinks The Killers are an obscure indie band that only he knows about. Recently, he got all “Just check this song out … you’ll thank me later” about MGMT’s “Kids” (which had reached oversaturation levels by the time it made my 2008 list), and acted incredibly disappointed that “1901” was now featured in a car commercial, like his little musical secret was out. Can’t wait for him to introduce me to the Arcade Fire sometime in 2015.

From the blog (4/1):
“1901" might be my song of the year as of right now. The part where the synths rev up right before the chorus and dissolve into that "Fallin' / Fallin' / Fallin'" section is definitely my favorite individual music moment of the year.

From the blog (3/1):
When I first met Ilana, she had a copy of Phoenix's It's Never Been Like That in her car. I was very excited about this, and asked her about it. Her reply: "Oh yeah, some guy burned that for me." Needless to say, I was less excited after that response. Luckily, it turns out that she has impeccable musical taste all her own, though I don't think we've ever talked about Phoenix since then. Regardless, this is probably the best new song on this list.

6) Hockey – Song Away
The greatest radio station in the world originates in Montevideo, Uruguay. Urbana 92.5, playing nothing but brilliant English-language indie pop. Check it out, they have a streaming feed that I listen to sometimes at work.

Ilana and I hit Uruguay after ten weeks in the wilderness, and the two things I was missing the most about America were (a) eating burritos and (b) downloading obscure music. So, when we walked into our nondescript Montevideo hotel and heard Little Boots’ “New in Town” and Miike Snow’s “Animal” back to back, it was like the sounds in my head were now being broadcast to the city as a whole. Hearing this song, for the first time, under those conditions, was an incredible moment, like it existed just for me.

While we’re finding personal significance to random coincidences, this song came up on shuffle as I walked from the train to my first day of work, and the “Look what your man has done to the world / Look what the world has done to your man” line hit with force previously reserved for Talking Heads’ “Well … how did I get here?”

Hockey made the list last year, with their Stokes-ish “Too Fake,” and this song takes that formula and improves on to the point of near-perfection.

7) The Thermals – Now We Can See
Oh, Thermals, your Jesus-as-overlord, church-and-corporation obsessed dystopian dreamscape narratives are almost too close to the scenes playing out in the darkest recesses of my brain.

Also, I like the fact that you have a cute, mixed-race girl bass player (whom, interestingly enough, Ilana does not appreciate), and that you like to play at Bottom of the Hill, where they have that ledge near the side of the stage that Ilana can sit on and see everything.

Also, I think it’s adorable that you play angry, anti-social punk rock but your parents come see every show you play in San Francisco. I’m not sure that’s how my parents would react to me being in a band with this kind of lyrical content.

8) Dirty Projectors – Stillness is the Move
From the blog (7/22):
I almost saw Dirty Projectors open for TV on the Radio about a month ago, but we got there late and missed their set. Turns out this is just as well, as the majority of this record is just about unlistenable to me. I guess it’s the brainchild of a Yale-educated composer, and you can really hear the attempts to be difficult for difficult’s sake.

On the other hand, “Stillness is the Move” … I’ve listened to this song so many times in the last week, mostly because something is supposed to happen at the end of the chorus, and it doesn’t, and it’s driving me crazy. I may have to start a band just so we can cover this song in a way that I understand. Only then will I have closure.

Anyway, if you can imagine the whitest, indie-est band of all time trying to write Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” … you’d pretty much get this. Which is wonderful.

9) The Hold Steady – Atlantic City
From the blog (3/1):
TheHoldSteadyTheHoldSteadyTheHoldSteady!!! It's true, I'm a total fanboy when it comes to Craig Finn and Co., so I encourage you to take any Hold Steady recommendation from me with a grain of salt. But please, go listen to this song ... because it's incredible. Haters have always claimed that The Hold Steady were a bit of a Springsteen knockoff, but I think this song dispels that notion by showing both the debt that the boys owe to Springsteen (Finn's gritty storytelling and character-driven lyrics are the big thing, but even instrumentation and chord progressions) but also the ways in which the band improves on the Springsteen formula, really making it their own. This song is both entirely a Springsteen song and entirely a Hold Steady song. And this makes it great (for another example of this, check out the band's cover of Bob Dylan's "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?")

10) YACHT – Psychic City
From the blog (7/22):
There are, somehow, two competing Pitchfork-approved, minimalist-to-the-point-of-being-almost-intentionally-oversimplified, novelty summer jams. One is Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” The other is this one. I dismissed both on first listen, but somehow this one found its way onto my iPhone in a big chunk of new music. And I kept listening to it. And I listened to it in the car. And Ilana composed an excellent interpretive dance to it. And we kept listening to it, this and Free Energy’s “Dream City” on the way to Bar/Bri, and so for ten minutes every morning our souls weren’t slipping away quite so fast. And now I really can’t imagine living without this song. Most of you will probably hate it.

11) La Roux – Armour Love
From the blog (7/22):
Retro-80’s British girl pop. While La Roux’s dance-ier singles (namely “In for the Kill”) are getting all the love on the blogs, I’m infatuated with this ballad, the last track on the album. It’s the perfect soundtrack for that spot in every great, terrible 80s movie where our hero has made his play for the girl, but she can’t see how great he is, and she’s staying with the evil rich kid, and there’s the sad montage where our hero walks home in the rain, sits in his room, and stares off into the middle distance.
It’s hard to explain the significance of individual moments in music, but I’m going to try with this one. There’s a moment in here, at about 3:35, when we’ve heard the chorus a few times, but it comes back for a third time, and she changes the phrasing of it, really spitting out the last syllable of “You seem to believe you belong to someBODY else” as the backing vocals show up for the first time with the defeated line “you know what it’s like, you shouldn’t have to be told,” and it’s just the perfect combination of anger and sadness and it’s as poignant a representation of what a breakup really feels like as I’ve ever heard. And it all happens in about five seconds.

12) Discovery – Osaka Loop Line
One of the guys from Vampire Weekend and one of the guys from Ra Ra Riot make an electro-pop synth-R&B album featuring gems like this one, a song about falling asleep on a train in Japan. All great songs sound ridiculous in capsule summary form, don’t they?

Anyway, there are four Discovery songs on this list, tied for the most by any band, which would lead you to believe that this is my favorite record of the year. It’s definitely top five.

13) BBU – CHI Don’t Dance
Hip hop song of the year! Why wouldn’t it come from an all-but-unknown militant-anarchist group from Chicago whose name is short for “Bin Laden Blowin’ Up”? Listen up, revolutionaries, this is how you do it:verses attack the evils of society, chorus ditches the protest and heads for the clubs, and the whole thing is wrapped in what Pitchfork called “a crack-addictive, Goodie Mob-inspired shout-along hook.”

All we do is juke.

14) The Harlem Shakes – Strictly Game
The saving grace of that disastrous Passion Pit show described earlier was seeing these guys open. Between sets, I picked up their album, and the lead singer was standing around the table, so I had him sign it. He wrote “Cool dreams and warm love forever,” which sounds exactly like what the ditziest girl in school would write in your yearbook (“Stay cool … have a KA summer!”). This makes me question his artistic gift somewhat.

This song is all Talking Heads’ big-city joy filtered through Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s twenty-first century update, but I can’t help thinking that the line, “Make a lot of money, take a lot of shit, feel real bad, then get over it … this will be a better year” is going to sound more and more prophetic as I hit the working world.

15) The Mountain Goats – Sign of the Crow (Live in San Francisco)
I have 492 officially-released Mountain Goats songs on my computer. Seriously, almost 500. I have probably listened to the majority of them, but just barely. When it comes to songs I could identify if I heard them again, that number is even lower. John Darnielle is absolutely the most prolific songwriter of our time.
This is why I will always drop whatever I am doing to see The Mountain Goats perform live. You will hear something wonderful that you have never heard before, and you will hear Darnielle interact with the crowd in a way that may be unique in all of rock and roll.

I saw The Mountain Goats perform at the Swedish American Hall back in February, and this previously-unreleased gem was among the highlights. In fact, it only exists in this live recording, which also includes two minutes of classic Darnielle banter, discussing, among other things, “the tragedy of Warrant.” It is such a tribute to Darnielle that he could write a two-minute burst of brilliance like this (the couplet “Of the several things you have to do today, you’re gonna regret one / This generation asks for a sign, it isn’t gonna get one” is so concise and intense, it’s almost a Mountain Goats mission statement in two lines), only to decide that it didn’t even belong on an album. Thankfully, there are obsessive fans that record shows. And there are obsessive fans who download those shows and put tracks on their year-end “100 Songs” lists.

16) Passion Pit – Moth’s Wings
Combined with “Little Secrets,” the best one-two punch any band delivered in 2009. And, as discussed in the “Little Secrets” section, partially ruined by the fact that this guy couldn’t sing his way out of a paper bag.

17) Big Boi – Shine Blockas (f/ Gucci Mane)
In the same way that history has shifted toward Paul on the “Who was the true genius in The Beatles?” debate, I think future generations will wonder why we ignored Big Boi for so long. And I love Andre 3000 as much as anybody, but Big Boi’s half of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was better, and here in 2009, he’s dropping classics like this, while Andre is … what IS he doing? Is he still doing that cartoon show?

18) NASA – Strange Enough (f/ Karen O, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Fatlip)
The versatility of this song is just staggering. Running mix? Sure. Studying mix? It fits. Taco Tuesday? Poker Night? Halloween Party? Put it on the playlist. First song Ilana and I listened to in the car coming home from taking the bar? Yup. This song works in any circumstance.

From the blog (2/18):
Hey, everybody, it's the latest victim of the Pitchfork Hype Spiral! After months of breathless news reports anticipating the album, everybody's favorite taste-makers gave The Gift of Apollo a 1.8. 1.8? That's just mean. And you guys were so excited about it ... Anyway, this album is the project of two DJs, one from North America, one from South America (that's where N.A.S.A. comes from), and it's basically a grab bag of hipster icons. Kanye West, Santigold, and Lykke Li on one song? Check. David Byrne and Chuck D together? Sure. Kool Keith and Tom Waits? Absolutely (Tangent: I'm not a huge Tom Waits fan, but Ilana's visceral, fingernails-on-a-chalkboard hatred of Tom Waits is not to be missed. I don't think I hate ANYTHING as much as she hates Tom Waits).

Anyway, most bloggers loved this album when it leaked. If you've been coming to Taco Tuesdays recently, I've been playing it. "Strange Enough" is my favorite track. Karen O's vocals make me wish I liked the Yeah Yeah Yeahs more, and ODB's verses make me wish he wasn't dead.

19) Antlers – Two
Okay, I hate this song. I really do. This is hard to square with the fact that it’s number 19 on a list of what are supposedly my favorite songs of the year, but I’ll try to explain. It’s going to take a minute.

I don’t get into too many extended conversations about the nature of art, but every once in a while, someone at a party will start ranting about Jackson Pollock or someone like him with an “Is that art? That can’t be art!  Is that good? How am I supposed to know if it’s good?” theme, and I wonder, deep down, what the point of art really is, and how to decide which art is good. It can’t simply exist to confuse the philistines.

After some thought, I decided that good art exists to inspire joy in its audience, but that definition doesn’t tell the whole story. I’m not saying that the only good songs are happy songs. A listener can derive joy from a song on a number of different levels: listening to an exceptionally talented singer or guitarist is always a pleasurable experience, even on a sad song. You can find joy in the craft. You can find joy in something done well.

More than that, though, there’s a joy that occasionally comes from the sadness of songs themselves, from the feeling that the songwriter has accurately captured the intense and nuanced emotion, this shock of recognition, that this is what it feels like to be miserable, that someone truly understands where you’ve been.It’s comforting.

It must be so hard to write a good sad song. It must be so easy to slip into clichés, or heavy-handed sentimentality, or overwrought sappiness. And, for the most part, sad songs don’t really get to me. Breakup songs are only truly sad if you yourself are currently experiencing a breakup. With a little perspective, you can see that the heartbroken will always move on, and there is always something reassuring about sadness that is destined to pass. Somewhat similarly, songs about death always come off as tributes to me – sad on one level, sure, but always pointing back to good times had, to people who managed to leave their mark, even if they’ve since passed on. Something must have inspired the artist’s mourning.

There is, however, one type of song that just destroys me, and there aren’t many of them out there. There’s a feeling that is rarely captured lyrically, and it is this:

There is a chance that you will never get it right. There is a chance that you will never figure it out, maybe because there is nothing to figure out. Your life is not going to resolve like a movie script.There will not be a third act that will tie up everything nicely. You may not find meaning, happiness, or anything. You might just struggle and struggle and struggle and then die. That might be it. This sadness may not pass. These fears may never go away. The worst may not be over. There may not be anything valuable about your life at all. You may think there’s a point … but there isn’t. This could be your life.

The Mountain Goats do this song incredibly well, and far too often for my emotional well-being, but … they’ve never written a song on the level of this one. This song is just searing. This song is visceral. I can’t listen to it if I’m alone in the apartment. I can’t listen to it late at night. It makes me feel more fragile than I ever want to feel. It hits me on a level I’m not sure any other song has ever achieved.

Honestly, it just about makes me cry every time I hear it. So … is that good? Why would I want that? I am going to spend my entire life consciously trying to avoid this feeling. Everything I do is geared toward minimizing sadness. But here it is, right there in my iTunes “Contenders” folder, and I keep coming back to it again and again. Why?

Honestly, I could try to summarize it, but I don’t think the emotions involved can be distilled any further. I’m including the lyrics to this one:

In the middle of the night I was sleeping sitting up,
when a doctor came to tell me, "Enough is enough."

He brought me out into the hall (I could have sworn it was haunted),
and told me something that I didn't know that I wanted to hear:
That there was nothing that I could do to save you,
the choir's gonna sing, and this thing is gonna kill you.
Something in my throat made my next words shake,
and something in the wires made the lightbulbs break.
There was glass inside my feet and raining down from the ceiling,
it opened up the scars that had just finished healing.
It tore apart the canyon running down your femur,
(I thought that it was beautiful, it made me a believer.)
And as it opened I could hear you howling from your room,
but I hid out in the hall until the hurricane blew.
When I repapered and tried to give you something for the pain,
you came to hating me again and just sang your refrain:

You had a new dream, it was more like a nightmare.
You were just a little kid, and they cut your hair,
then they stuck you in machines, you came so close to dying.
They should have listened, they thought that you were lying.
Daddy was an asshole, he fucked you up, built the gears in your head,
now he greases them up. And no one paid attention when you just stopped eating. "Eighty-seven pounds!" and this all bears repeating.

Tell me when you think that we became so unhappy,
wearing silver rings with nobody clapping.
When we moved here together we were so disappointed,
sleeping out of tune with our dreams disjointed.
It killed me to see you getting always rejected,
but I didn't mind the things you threw, the phones I deflected.
I didn't mind you blaming me for your mistakes,
I just held you in the doorframe through all of the earthquakes.
But you packed up your clothes in that bag every night,
and I would try to grab your ankles (what a pitiful sight.)
But after over a year, I stopped trying to stop you from stomping out that door,
coming back like you always do. Well no one's gonna fix it for us, no one can.
You say that, 'No one's gonna listen, and no one understands.'

So there's no open doors and there's no way to get through,
there's no other witnesses, just us two.

There's two people living in one small room,
from your two half-families tearing at you,
two ways to tell the story (no one worries),
two silver rings on our fingers in a hurry,
two people talking inside your brain,
two people believing that I'm the one to blame,
two different voices coming out of your mouth,
while I'm too cold to care and too sick to shout.

You had a new dream, it was more like a nightmare.
You were just a little kid, and they cut your hair,
then they stuck you in machines, you came so close to dying.
They should have listened, they thought that you were lying.
Daddy was an asshole, he fucked you up, built the gears in your head,
now he greases them up. And no one paid attention when you just stopped eating. "Eighty-seven pounds!" and this all bears repeating.

I … I need a hug. I need to go tell my parents I love them. Honestly, I never want to hear this song ever again. Maybe it should have been #1.

20) Little Boots – Earthquake
I want my musical tastes to rub off on all of you. I really do. I want you to be as excited as I am about that fact that 2010 will almost definitely include new albums by Vampire Weekend, Los Campesinos!, The Hold Steady, Free Energy, and The Arcade Fire. I want you all to have your own personalized Hype Machine Watchlist feed. I want you all to be checking the concert calendars at Slim’s and the Fillmore as obsessively as I do.

For obvious reasons, the person who absorbs the brunt of my evangelism is Ilana. And she had pretty solid taste in music before we even met. She’s good about putting up with my obsessions, but they don’t always rub off on her. She doesn’t read Pitchfork first thing in the morning. Really, as far as I can tell, the one real musical change I’ve brought about in her is that she listens to more bubblegum girl pop now. She loves Little Boots. Two years ago, I don’t think she would have. So yeah … because of me, Ilana has moved even closer to having the same musical taste as Perez Hilton. I have probably made my girlfriend even girlier. I guess I’m okay with that.

      21) Your Twenties – Billionaires
“When I fall, I need someone to catch me, yeah / We can’t leave it to the billionaires.”

From the blog (7/22):
If there’s a melodic line this summer that is going to match MGMT’s “Kids” for recognize-ability and party-starting-ness, I submit that it should be this one. I don’t know if the song as a whole lives up to the potential of the hook, but, then again, I don’t know if anything could have.

22) The Mountain Goats – Romans 10:9
On one hand, every song on The Mountain Goat’s excellent 2009 album The Life of the World to Come is named after a Bible verse. On the other hand, the band often leads crowds in chants of “Hail Satan!” during their brilliant “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.” So, I guess the best you could say about John Darnielle’s spirituality is that the man is conflicted.

23) Fever Ray – Dry and Dusty
From the blog (2/18):
Fever Ray is a side project from the girl half of The Knife, a Swedish electro-pop group that writes some of the most coldly haunting songs you'll ever hear. Some people are scared of death metal. I'm scared of "You Make Me Like Charity." Fever Ray isn't too much of a departure from the standard Knife blueprint, though "Dry and Dusty" comes off as even more fragile, like the most beautiful love song ever written on an inhospitable planet.

From the blog (7/22):
For those of you who enjoy studying to Explosions in the Sky, I highly recommend the Fever Ray album. Yes, it has lyrics, but none of them make any sense anyway. The singer’s voice pretty much just acts as another instrument, one more layer on the spaced-out, spooky instrumentation. This is music for those winter days in northern Scandinavia where it’s dark like 22 hours a day and the northern lights are going crazy at all hours. This is music for the ghosts of Vikings.

24) Gossip – Heavy Cross
I bet a few of you expected me to come back from South America with a backpack full of world music CDs. And, really, I’m kinda surprised that didn’t happen myself. It turns out, though, that I love music of all kinds, but I LOVE American pop music. And nothing else will ever take its place.

And so I don’t have any stories about discovering Brazilian samba bands, but I do have stories about hearing “Heavy Cross” in a hostel in Buenos Aires and being completely blown away. Back in America, it sounds as great as ever.

25) jj – From Africa to Malaga
The other band (along with Discovery) with four songs on this list, jj is an even more unlikely musical success. Released anonymously on the Swedish label Sincerely Yours, this album first exploded onto the internet with lead single “Ecstasy,” a spaced-out ode to drugs that borrowed the drums from Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop.” And everyone loved that song, despite the fact that it is easily the worst song on this album. The rest of the record is a kind of Scandinavian calypso that, as Pitchfork put it, “manages to be pretty, touching, funny, and motivating, in different ways, in all the right places, for nine songs lasting 28 minutes.” I’m obviously not going to reprint lyrics to all these songs, but after the blinding hopelessness of “Two,” above, I’m including the words to this song as a reassuring counterpoint, and the best defense of cautious optimism I heard this year, a song about taking pain and failure and fear of your own inevitable mortality and creating beauty out of it:

It's too easy to cry when everything eventually dies
If not today, then maybe tomorrow

Don’t let that thought slip away, let it come out and play

It takes you down, at the speed of sound
When you’re on the ground, you never think you get up

Up and around, then it goes down
The thought that you found takes you to town
Smashes your face, burns out your heart
Then you go home and turn it into art

It's not easy to die
No matter how down you are, you eventually rise
If not today, then maybe tomorrow

Don't let that soul get away, let it fly high to your dying day
This is the chance for one last glance, one brilliant romance

Don’t cry for the time you lost in your life
The money you spent or those cheap white lies
Kiss them goodbye and see what’s left

I know it’s you
I hope it’s you

I bless the rains and winds coming in, from Africa to Malaga

26) Matt and Kim – Lessons Learned
I heard this song for the first time the day after running the Boston Marathon, so it will always remind me of a wonderful time in my life. Also, I love the lyric “And so I stayed up all night, slept in all day. This is my sound. Thinking 'bout tomorrow won't change how I feel today.” Past that … um … they’re naked in the video. What more do you need?

27) Yeasayer – Ambling Alp
As was the case last year, there were a few incredible songs I heard just days before composing this list.This song here is one of them. It’s blowing my mind right now, but I’ve probably only heard it 7-8 times.How will it age? I don’t know. Where should I rank it? Well … 27, I guess. Seems as good as anywhere.

28) Alphabeat – The Spell
When I talk about my own musical evolution as a fan, there are a few milestones I always mention. I tell people that the first song I was ever truly obsessed with was Oasis’ “Wonderwall,” and this is true, from a rock and roll perspective. However, as an elementary school kid who didn’t know any better, the first song I was ever truly obsessed with was Snap’s “Rhythm is a Dancer.” I would listen to Z-93 for hours at a time just hoping to hear that song.

It’s relevant here because Alphabeat has apparently decided that “Rhythm is a Dancer” was the absolute pinnacle of modern pop music, and have devoted themselves to trying to replicate it. This song is the closest they’ve come yet. 10-year-old Aaron is ecstatic.

29) Los Campesinos! – The Sea Is a Good Place to Think About the Future
Los Campesinos! can do no wrong with me. Sure, the lead singer hit Ilana in the face with a microphone cord at Slim’s last year. But then he chatted with us for a couple minutes at the merch table. And, apparently, when this song was released, he spent a night on the LC message boards, talking about the song and answering fans’ questions. I love this band so, so much. And while this song is sad, it’s visceral, somehow life-affirming in its sadness. I don’t know how they do that.

30) Animal Collective – Bluish
From the blog (3/1):
I just finished reading an incredible book called This Is Your Brain on Music, which attempts to explain, through neuroscience, why we like the music that we do. Basically, music can be defined as organized noise (also the name of Outkast's production team, a fact not mentioned in the book). However, we don't want our music TOO organized - a ticking clock would be the most organized noise of all, and no one's downloading MP3s of that. On the other hand, pure chaos is equally unlistenable, though it seems like every year some avant-garde artist tries to pass off street noise as something beautiful. So we need something in between. We need to have to guess at what's coming next, but we also need to be right almost every time we guess, or we'll get frustrated and chalk it up to noise.

From an evolutionary standpoint, we perceive noise just like anything else in our surroundings. It could be a clue to danger, or food, or sex, or anything else we need to know about. This is why Pavlovian responses work (ringing a bell makes the dog hungry) and also why people can learn to live with the most intrusive background noise (like people who live near airports, or merely those who work near the copier). Simple pop music becomes like that background noise, and you learn to filter it out. Hearing Katy Perry in Walgreen's provokes almost no response. You've learned that it means nothing, and so you ignore it.

Let's try this from a little bit different angle: I recently had a very short argument with Kass about whether good music is by nature somewhat difficult. I said that great music can't be too easily accessible. He said that he wanted his music to be as accessible as possible. I told him that I hated Tom Petty. He told me that he hated Radiohead. I think it's possible that we're both right (although he's wrong about Radiohead). My point, now that I've had time to think about it, is that all music, from a commercial jingle to a symphony, will eventually become played out in the mind of the listener. We can get sick of anything. For me (and, I assume for most people), we get sick of simple songs far sooner. I will never again feel any attachment to "Free Fallin'." It has given me everything it has to give, and in fact it had probably done this by the time I was in about 8th grade. Conversely, every time I hear Kid A, I hear something new. It gives me a new experience, some new emotion. Obviously, there's a time and place for everything, and there's nothing wrong with occasionally desiring the familiar, but I think that music should be about the quest to hear something new. That's why I'm giving you this list of songs, after all.

So let's talk about Animal Collective. This album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, has an obscenely high Metacritic rating. Many knowledgeable music people are already calling this the album of the year. It came out in January. And the truth is ... it's difficult. There's very little structure to most of the songs. They simmer, and, every few minutes, the bubble over into a truly inspiring musical moment, a kind of super-psychedelic Beach Boys sound that I'm sure Brian Wilson was searching for the whole time. The first time I heard the album, very little stuck, maybe one moment every other song. It was complicated. It was organized noise, but it wasn't predictable on the level I wanted it to be. With each additional listen, though, I came to understand it, and every time I listened to the album, I was able to feel it a little bit more. "Bluish" is the most accessible song on the album, and I encourage you to listen to it. If you like it, check out the album. Listen to it a couple times. If you want to be challenged by music, spend some time with this album.

31) Sleigh Bells – Crown on the Ground
I understand that saying a song sounds “loud” is as meaningless a statement as Coors Light claiming their beer tastes “cold,” but … this song really does sound loud at any volume, which I think is a neat trick. Also, I don’t think you can go wrong with any fuzz-rock band so obviously influenced by DMX. This song sounds exactly like “Party Up,” and I mean that as the highest possible compliment.

32) Sambassadeur – Days
The third Swedish act to make the list, and certainly not the last. Even though I will almost definitely die of particle-board lung as a result of all the Ikea furniture I’ve assembled, I feel like Swedish indie-pop more than makes up for it.

33) Deer Tick – Easy
From the blog (6/18):
It still freaks me out that CCR was from California. I mean, they wrote a song called "Born on the Bayou," and all their songs are about Cajuns and swamps and ... shouldn't they be from Baton Rouge or something? Deer Tick is the same way: The band's from Providence, Rhode Island, but their music practically waves a Confederate flag as you listen to it. A dirty, whiskey-soaked good time.

34) jj – Things Will Never Be the Same Again
Next spring, jj is touring the East Coast with The XX. Beyond the fact that this would be a killer show, that kind of novelty tour booking just makes me smile.

35) Drive By Truckers – George Jones Talkin’ Cell Phone Blues
As I mentioned last year, I was late to the party on Drive By Truckers, discovering them in 2008 when Pitchfork had been singing their praises since 2003. 2009 was another year when I combed through the Truckers’ back catalog, discovering a new favorite song every couple weeks. I’ve played “One of these Days,” from 1999’s Pizza Deliverance more than any other song over the last month.

As for new material, 2009 brought rarities and covers compilation The Fine Print, which included such filler as a straight-ahead cover of “Like a Rolling Stone,” and a song called “Mrs. Claus’ Kimono,” which Pitchfork summarizes as “about unrest among the elves and reindeer, who plot to off Santa.” So, some of this stuff could have remained unreleased. “George Jones Talkin’ Cell Phone Blues” is easily the best of the bunch, with the dial on the band’s country-rock equalizer turned all the way to the left.

36) Brother Ali – Talkin’ My Shit
Albino rapper from Minneapolis. Because why wouldn’t something like that exist?

37) Ellie Goulding – Under the Sheets
If the world ever tires of The Ting Tings, I hope they move on to Ellie. British girl-pop really is among the very best things in the world. She’s currently touring the UK with Little Boots, and they really should bring that bill to San Francisco. While this song is definitely her best, the not-undelicious “Starry Eyed” deserves recognition on its own, and was one of the toughest cuts from this list.

38) The Very Best – Julia
Proof that these guys don’t need a familiar sample or celebrity guest spot to make incredible music.

39) Monsters of Folk – Say Please
Folk-rock supergroup? Sure, why not? Conor from Bright Eyes, Jim from My Morning Jacket, and M. Ward combine to make a song that really does sound like three brilliant songwriters joining forces.

40) I Was a King – Norman Bleik
Norway makes the list for the first time (also not the last). Opening line, “People who brought you here are making breakfast downstairs” reminds me of the brilliantly bizarre Mad Men episode where Don Draper goes to California. Then again, I’ve watched so much Mad Men lately that almost everything reminds me of something from that show. When I grow up, I want to be Roger Sterling (Ilana interjects: sans the shameless strings of affairs with teenage secretaries).

     41) Derek Webb – Jena and Jimmy
Before I started work last month, I was considering delving dangerously deep into my teenage years spent listening to Christian rock. For better or worse, I want to know what it did to me. That project is on hold now, but I feel like my great contribution to society will come in this field, though I’m not sure what form it will take.

I bring this up because Derek Webb’s career pretty nicely tracks my own musical development. In the mid-to-late-90s, he was one of the main creative forces behind Caedmon’s Call, a Texas alt-country band whose honest and revealing lyrics stood out in a genre known for bumper-sticker sloganeering and evangelical cliché. Ten years later, Caedmon’s Call is one of the few (honestly, maybe two … it could just be them and Common Children) Christian bands I can go back to and still find some kind of connection. However, as I drifted away from the Jesus music, I stopped keeping tabs on the band.

And, while I respected the Webb’s open-minded and truthful world view, I would never have guessed that he would leave the band because he wanted to write songs attacking the church’s stances on things like gay rights (also, because he wanted to swear in songs, but I don’t know if that’s really too noble). I did not suspect that, in 2009, he would be writing preternaturally catchy pop gems about hooking up at anti-war rallies.

This is, hands down, the best Justin Timberlake song recorded this year.

42) Discovery – Swing Tree
The problem with putting four songs by one band on this list is that, honestly, I’m completely out of things to say about both Discovery and jj. And we still have a long way to go.

43) Islands – Switched On
This is my favorite song on Vapours, the new Islands album. It is the first track on the album. My second favorite song on the album, as mentioned later, is “No You Don’t.” It is the second track on the album. My third favorite song? Yup, “Vapours,” the third track on the album. More bands should organize their records based on how much I like the songs.

44) The Kickdrums – Things Work Out
In what will become another theme on this list (see Miike Snow, Simian Mobile Disco), a production team decides to make its own music, and it’s great. Two white dudes who’ve made beats for 50 Cent (among others) make their rock debut, and while the driving hip hop drums are there, this song shows considerable rock chops all its own.

45) The Hold Steady – 40 Bucks
A bonus studio track from the group’s life-affirming 2009 live album A Positive Rage. By the band’s standards, it’s good, not great, but Craig’s storytelling is as sharp as ever, piano and horn-driven hook shows the band’s willingness to explore new directions. Live recordings of new THS songs have been making the rounds of late, and there’s no reason to doubt that their upcoming 2010 album will absolutely be the greatest recording in the history of Western Civilization. I … I can’t be rational about The Hold Steady.

46) Miike Snow – A Horse Is Not a Home
First of all … Sweden! Second, this is the side project of the guys who wrote Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” Third, is this song in response to someone who thinks that a horse IS a home? Do people think this in Sweden? Maybe they do. It is a strange and magical place.

47) AC Newman – The Palace at 4 AM
From the blog (3/1):
Saw AC Newman last night at the Independent. It was a good, but not great, show. Workmanlike. The same could be said for Get Guilty, his sophomore album. His solo stuff will never be a substitute for his work with The New Pornographers, but it's solid in its own right. "The Palace at 4 AM" is the standout track on the album, and its title is a reference to a short story by Donald Barthelme that I have never read. I like my rock stars to be more literate than I am.

48) Free Energy – Something in Common
To the best of my knowledge, Free Energy has released four songs in the band’s short history. Three are on this list, and the fourth, “Dark Trance,” might have made the cut if I could find an MP3 of it (you can check it out streaming on MySpace). Yeah, I’m pretty excited for their debut full-length to finally come out.

49) Clipse – Kinda Like a Big Deal (f/ Kanye West)
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what my at-bat music would be if the Twins finally decided that I was their best option at third base. I’ve always been partial to the swagger of Lil Flip’s “This Is the Way We Ball.” However, I think this song may be my new favorite. I would cue it up for the beginning of the third verse, right where Malice growls out, “LLLLLLLIGGGGHHHHTTTTSSSS.” Intense.

I would definitely NOT cue it up to the second verse, where Kanye West apparently brags about having sex with developmentally disabled high school girls.

50) Simian Mobile Disco – Cruel Intentions
Somewhere around 2000/2001, when rap metal was sweeping across America like the plague of locusts that it was, some in the hipster community started dreaming of a band that approached that same synthesis from the other direction. Instead of rapping over rock tracks, they wanted a group to lay indie rock vocals over Neptunes-style minimalist beats, which were all the rage at the time. The Great, Shining Hope for this movement was Simian Mobile Disco (who, at that point, was just called Simian), whose album We Are Your Friends, in hindsight, just sounds like a watered-down version of what Phoenix would do better just a few years later. After that, no one really heard much from Simian, until JUSTICE remixed one of those songs into a massive club jam. Simian, seeing where the winds were blowing, became Simian Mobile Disco, and started making their own techno-influenced dance jams, like this one, featuring the girl from The Gossip. 

“Call me up … We’ll hang out …”

51) Cam’Ron – I Hate My Job
I don’t mind Cam as a rapper. He says some funny stuff now and then. I like the verse in this song where he plays a woman working a menial job who kicks herself for not going to nursing school. That’s pretty imaginative. I don’t think Young Jeezy would have gone there.

I don’t love Cam for his lyrical skills. I love him for his ear for beats. The man just knows hotness, and this beat is no exception. And, as a rapper, isn’t that really your job?

52) Phoenix – Lasso
Earlier this year, Phoenix cancelled a show in San Francisco where they were scheduled to headline a dance music festival at the Grand Ballroom. The show was to run from 8 PM to 4 AM. And Phoenix was going on last. Now, there aren’t enough drugs in the world to make eight hours of dance music tolerable, so if I was going to this show, I was going to show up at 2 AM for Phoenix. Like, I was going to go to sleep early, and set my alarm for the middle of the night so I could get up and see this band.

A lot of people say, “Yeah, I would see those guys anytime, anywhere.” Well, as a band, if you want to test the devotion of your fans, I guess I would suggest headlining a dance music festival. Deep down, I’m glad they cancelled. I need my beauty sleep.

53) Matt and Kim – Daylight
From the blog (7/22):
Matt and Kim are everywhere right now. This song is in the background of some tequila commercial. “Same Old Fashion Nightmare” is in the background of commercials for that new sit-com starring Joel McHale. Now that the internet has destroyed record sales, this is how bands make money, and really I’m cool with it. I hope we’re all past the idea of “selling out” now, as long as it doesn’t affect the quality of the band’s output. I mean, we can all hate O.A.R. for saying, “I know we used to be a frat-stoner white-boy-reggae band with a cult following, but what if we scrapped all that and tried to sound like an even wussier version of The Fray? Maybe we could get on a Gray’s Anatomy soundtrack album!” That’s selling out, and it’s still terrible. But Matt and Kim are making the same great music they always have, and now some big corporations want to give them money for it. That’s just a win-win.

54) Free Energy – Free Energy
Last of the Free Energy songs on the list, and, since God Help the Girl’s “God Help the Girl” missed the cut, it’s the only song on the list where the artist name and song title are the same. So that’s quite an honor.

55) Islands – No You Don’t
Last year’s Arm’s Way was a festival of sprawling strings. This year’s Vapours is a minimalist celebration of synths. Next year’s Islands album? My guess is a rock opera performed entirely on water glasses filled to different levels and hit with a spoon. Fingers crossed.

56) Tegan and Sara – Hell
I guess it would be easy to hear “pixieish identical twin lesbian sisters from Canada” and think “novelty act,” but Tegan and Sara have been making razor-sharp pop music for three albums now, so its safe to say their longevity is based far more on their songwriting chops than any curiosity factor that might be present. “Hell,” the first single on 2009’s Sainthood, is more of the same, comforting familiar and tantalizingly new at the same time.

57) The Mountain Goats – Genesis 3:23
So, I LOVE John Darnielle, and far be it from me to tell him what he can and can’t write songs about, but … this song is exactly the same as Barenaked Ladies’ “The Old Apartment.” Seriously. They’re both about breaking into your old apartment and being nostalgic for a place you lived during a trying time in your life.Both include references to counting steps. Mountain Goats chorus: “I used to live here.” Barenaked Ladies chorus: “This is where we used to live.”

Is it possible the John Darnielle does not know this?

58) One for the Team – Best Supporting Actress
One for the Team is the fronted by a man named Ian Anderson. Ian Anderson also writes and edits the blog “Minneapolis Fucking Rocks.” Ian Anderson also wrote a book called Here Come the Regulars, about how to start and run your own indie record label.

So yes … Ian Anderson writes songs, records them with his band, releases them on his label, and then promotes them on his blog. Ian Anderson IS music. And, as for his reward? Well, one of his songs was featured on “Gossip Girl.” That’s as big as indie bands get these days. Ian Anderson wins.

59) Miike Snow – Animal
While I do love almost everything that the Swedish indie scene does, I’m not on board with their habit of giving bands names that sound like one person. “Miike Snow” is a band. “Herman Dune” was a band. This is confusing for those of us who only digest your music via snippets on sporadically-updated blogs.

60) K-Os – I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman
From the blog (4/26):

I think this song was created just for me. Canadian underground rapper samples the theme from The OC, quotes lines from "When Doves Cry." I mean, who else would enjoy something like that?

      61) Tegan and Sara – Alligator
“Over you, over you, over youuuuuuu …”

62) Slow Club – It Doesn’t Have to Be Beautiful
From the blog (7/22):
This sounds like a combination of Bishop Allen and Tilly & the Wall, which means … well, it means that this REALLY sounds like the FreeCreditReport.com commercials.

Side note – I forget who I was talking about this with (I think Powers), but the guy responsible for those commercials is the same guy who did both the Geico gecko and Geico caveman campaigns. Which means, make fun of those commercials if you want, but that guy could buy and sell you.

63) Wave Machines – Keep the Lights On
From the blog (4/26):
Scissor Sisters-like half-speed vaguely gay white-boy funk. Wow that's a lot of adjectives.

64) Bishop Allen – The Ancient Commonsense of Things
Someone on Deadspin once referred to this song as “gayer than Easter.” That’s pretty accurate.

From the blog (2/18):
My buddy Curt is a big Bishop Allen fan. I'm not quite there yet, but their new album (Grrr...) is slowly winning me over. Another one that's been in recent Taco Tuesday rotation, it's more consistent then their two previous records, and not quite as cutesy (on the other hand, it is called Grrr..., which is about as cutesy as you can be, so who knows). Some bands need a tower of Marshall amps to sound good. Some need a backing orchestra. I'm pretty sure you could play Bishop Allen's whole catalog on a Fischer-Price xylophone and not lose that much, and that's a compliment to the band. These are good, simple songs.

65) VV Brown – Shark in the Water
The poppiest song on this list, and the gloriously mixed metaphors in this one have to be deliberate. As I understand it, there’s a shark in the water … under her bed … howling at the moon. Did she forget anything?

66) K’naan – Wavin’ Flag
This song has been named the official “anthem” for the 2010 World Cup, which means two things:
- You will be incredibly sick of it by this time next year
- FIFA has much better taste in music than any American sports governing body, since apparently they have all named the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” the official anthem of everything ever

67) BOAT – The Name Tossers
I’m still not entirely sure how this list features both a band called YACHT and a band called BOAT, both of whom insist on all-caps spelling. Apparently if I started a band called SCHOONER, it would be awesome by default.

68) Harlem Shakes – Sunlight
From the blog (4/1):
Alright, it's April already, and it's time for me to openly gush about an album for the first time this year. The Harlem Shakes' Technicolor Health. I LOVE this record. Every song on it. Some more than others, but still ...

Anyway, the Harlem Shakes belong to a long line of New York bands that bloggers got sick of before anyone else had ever heard of them. Vampire Weekend, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah ... so many others. So by the time I get around to reading the yawning, so-over-this Pitchfork review of single "Sunlight," I knew I was in for something good.

See, there must be a reason why East Coast bloggers are sick of these guys. And that reason is this: they are so awesome. I'm sure I'll be sick of them too, in a few months, after I've played this album 500 more times.

Anyway, it sounds like a less grating, happier CYHSY. Please listen.

69) Los Campesinos! – There are Listed Buildings
I don’t think there’s another band in the world that could pull off lyrics like “I remember being naked to my waist though not in which direction.” I don’t think anyone else should even try.

70) Phoenix – Lisztomania
Pitchfork explains the title to this one as follows: “At one point in the schlocky 1975 musical comedy Lisztomania, Roger Daltrey whips out an absurdly large phallus and no less than five women simultaneously straddle it like a cannon. It's as insane as it sounds. In the movie, Daltrey plays Franz Liszt, the 19th century Hungarian pianist and composer known for his flamboyant playing style-- hysterical women fought over his handkerchiefs at concerts more than a century before the Beatles.” So, this is a song … about a bad movie … about a 19th century Hungarian pianist.

I would hope that … if I ever start another band … we would write songs about things like that.

71) Silversun Pickups – Panic Switch
Still writing the songs we wish Smashing Pumpkins were still writing. Even though this song has been in heavy (HEAVY) rotation on both Bay Area alternative radio stations, I’m always happy to hear it one more time.I’ve gotten sick of a lot of songs this year (Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” for example), but this wasn’t one of them.

72) jj – Are You Still in Valda?
Seriously … this album was released anonymously on a Swedish label … what more could I possibly have to say about them at this point?

73) Conor Oberst – Nikorette
Is it indie to name-check brands, but then to spell their names incorrectly? Is there any other explanation for the title of this song?

74) Bat for Lashes – Daniel
Yeah, I’m out of things to say about British girl-pop, which is too bad, because this song deserves a fawning review. And it reminds me of the Eurhythmics “Here Comes the Rain Again,” which I didn’t think would be a good thing, but here we are.

75) NASA – Way Down (f/ RZA, Barbie Hatch, and John Frusciante)
NASA’s The Spirit of Apollo, as discussed earlier, was an all-star mashup of everyone from Tom Waits to Kanye West, and this song is no exception, featuring members of the Wu-Tang Clan and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And … Barbie Hatch. I have no idea who Barbie Hatch is. I know she only has 233 MySpace friends, which seems like an incredibly small number for an artist featured on a project with so many musical celebrities. Anyone with information on the mystery of Barbie Hatch should email the staff at tipofyourtonguetopofmylungs.blogspot.com immediately.

76) Animal Collective – My Girls
Prediction: This one is number one on Pitchfork’s Top 100 list. This one or “Stillness is the Move.”

77) Discovery – Orange Shirt
Somehow, Discovery has TWO songs about falling asleep on trains in Japan. How did that happen?

78) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Contender
Seriously, how are these guys from Brooklyn? This is the most British music in the history of the world. This is more British than “God Save the Queen.”

79) Think About Life – Havin’ My Baby
A song I discovered two days ago. It’s possible that in a month I will wish I had slotted it about fifty spots higher, but for now I’m being conservative. The excellent blog “Ca Va Cool” says: “One of my best friends told me recently that he’s starting a new playlist entitled Happy Songs and that this song was the inspiration for it. Escape the fall of Fall, share a hug with a friend and dance your face off to this infectious Avalanches-meets-TV on the Radio style banger from Canadians Think About Life.”

80) Taylor Swift – Jump Then Fall
I spend the first thirty seconds of this song thinking, “Okay, this is absolutely indistinguishable from Lifehouse’s ‘First Time.’ Why do I like this song again?” I spend the next three and a half minutes being so completely won over that I consider moving this song up a few spots. I know Taylor is everyone’s token country artist, but that’s okay. She’s mine, too.

      81) Donkeyboy – Sometimes
Norway strikes again with this retro synth-pop anthem. Ilana’s take: “Where have I heard this before? Have you been playing this a lot, or does it just remind me of every eighties song ever put together?”

82) Lightning Dust – I Knew
I like this song quite a bit on its own merits, but I’m fascinated that Pitchfork called it “an especially appropriate track to explore now, since both lyrics and melody pretty precisely capture the ephemeral nature of summer (and its accompanying flings), making ‘I Knew’ a welcome addition to any mixtape chronicling a proggy mid-year romance.”

Has anyone ever had a relationship they would consider “proggy”? What could that possibly mean? Here, in a sense, proggy is short for progressive, so are they talking about a same-sex relationship? A mixed-race relationship? I know they mean “prog” like the prog-rock of the 70s and 80s, but has anyone ever had a relationship primarily characterized by the fact that you both love Yes? This is why I love Pitchfork so very much. I’m not being sarcastic. I’m sure the writer of that passage really HAS had all kinds of proggy romances, and it makes me happy that people like that exist out there in the world.

83) I Was a King – Step Aside
From the blog (6/18):
Norwegians who sound just like Teenage Fanclub, only with fuzzier guitars. Again, sometimes it seems like music exists just for me. This sounds like something I would have included in a Top Ten Bands That Should Exist But Never Will list.

84) jj – Masterplan
Fun fact I learned while researching this: the vocal sample on this song ("I'm dyin' in this fucking country-ass fucked-up town") is from a YouTube video where an on-location reporter freaks out when a bug flies into his mouth (search for “Reporter Turns Ghetto in 3 Seconds”). The video has been posted at least ten times, and one of them has been viewed over five million times. I will never understand how viral media works.

85) Little Boots – New in Town
From the blog (6/18):
I have a lot of guilty pleasures in music. I mean, I've seen Good Charlotte in concert. Still, I think my biggest guilty pleasure is British girl pop. Sugababes, Girls Aloud, Natasha Bedingfield ... doesn't matter how cheesy, I think it's all great. Little Boots is more like that. I can't really explain why I think these songs are incredible and yet Katy Perry makes me want to punch myself in the ears. Maybe you can't tell the difference. Maybe you feel the opposite. But you'd be wrong. Because Little Boots is great. And I won't listen to anyone put her down.

86) Internet Forever – Break Bones
I called their band name stupid back in April, but, really … it’s possible that it’s brilliant. There is no middle ground, though.

From the blog (4/26):

Ignore stupid band name. Enjoy excellent twee-fuzz single.

87) Dreamdate – How Low are You?
I’m not sure I fully understand the blogosphere’s obsession with retro-Motown-type girl groups. The must-read blog Pop Tarts Suck Toasted gushes: “Basically this is the best of both worlds, definitively garage rock yet also super cutesy pop music. I guess it makes sense and it definitely makes me happy listening to this kind of upbeat pop rock.” I say: Eh, this is pretty good. And they’re from Oakland. So they come in at number 87.

88) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Young Adult Friction
The one where they sound exactly like The Stone Roses. Fine with me.

89) Discovery – So Insane
The twenty-first century “Electric Slide.” “Gonna teach you, teach you …”

90) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero
From the blog (4/1):
Though it's obviously kinda played out, I will always believe that "Maps" is a Top 20 all-time love song. Past that, though, I never really got into the YYY's. This album is supposedly dance-ier than previous albums, and I have no real frame of reference for evaluating that statement. Anyway, this came on the radio one time in Nate's car, and he said "This sounds like the kind of thing you'd be into." Either because of or in spite of that statement, I DO like this song.

91) Shout Out Louds – Walls
One last representative from Sweden, and one last “Song I heard for the first time this week, and probably should have ranked higher on this list.” The band’s last album, 2007’s Our Ill Wills, was incredible, and, if this song is any indication, their 2010 follow-up will be just as good.

92) XX – Crystalised
The last song to be added to the list. I really enjoyed the album, but could never pick a standout track. Then, a couple days ago, sitting at Grace and Ben’s, this song came on some internet radio station, and I thought, “Yes, this song IS very good. It should be on the list.” So, sorry Grizzly Bear’s “While You Wait for the Others.” It could have been you.

93) Voxtrot – Berlin, Without Return
While Pitchfork called “Trepanation Party” (#99 on our list) “a moribund comeback wallowing in production tics,” they still conceded that Voxtrot had “miles of potential.” This song is a hopeful return to that potential, back to the more immediate sound that characterized their first three EPs. I worry that this list has become nothing more than a “Bands Who Have Albums Coming Out in 2010” primer, but I have to add one last plug here: New Voxtrot next year. I still believe.

94) Junior Boys – Parallel Lines
Maybe the best song for headphones on this list. When people talk about the “textures of sound,” I’m pretty sure they’re talking about music like this.

95) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Everything with You
This is the one where they sound exactly like The Smiths. Again, fine with me.

96) Girls – Lust for Life
The biggest local hit of the year, which isn’t that bold a statement, unless you’re a big fan of My First Earthquake’s “Cool in the Cool Way.” As much as San Francisco is lauded for being artistic and cutting-edge, the list of breakthrough rock bands the Bay Area has produced in my lifetime is basically: Third Eye Blind, Counting Crows, Train, Trapt, Smash Mouth. So it’s nice to see Girls get some love on a national stage, though I think most people expect this song to be an Iggy Pop cover (it’s not).

97) Camera Obscura – French Navy
I like a band with a sense of humor, and Camera Obscura has an album called Underachievers Please Try Harder. I also like bands that write airtight hooks, and this song’s “I wanted to control it / But love, I couldn't hold it” chorus is as good as any.

98) Amos the Transparent – Lemons (aka Big Fish, Little Pond)
From the blog (4/1):
I have no idea who Amos the Transparent is. I've never heard anything else he's done. This song sounds like a lost Elliott Smith single, and it's just a study in songwriting. The genius of it is this: the first transition doesn't really work for me. It's too sparse, it feels like an attempt at a key change that doesn't happen, the song barely hangs on. But when they do it the second time, with more instruments and a backing vocal and more powerful drums ... it's perfect. I think the high point of this song (the line "Maybe in a month or two you'll count this as a blessing / Or maybe you'll spend years second-guessing") is like the last piece locking into a puzzle.

99) Voxtrot – Trepanation Party
From the blog (4/1):
Another band going the dance-influenced route (Ilana thinks this sounds kinda like Depeche Mode, and I agree), Voxtrot is a band that, honestly, I never thought I'd hear from again. They came out with three awesome EPs in 2004-2006, then released a full-length in 2007 that sounded like overproduced Grey's Anatomy soundtrack rejects, then disappeared. This song is not without its flaws: It's too long, and some of the lyrics (especially "I will always be an outlaw for your love") are a little clichéd, but I'm just so excited to have these guys making music again. Their songs got me through a tough time in my life (those wonderful Caltrain commutes from San Jose to the city), and seeing them live at Great American Music Hall in 2007 was one of my first great "I can survive in San Francisco" moments (plus, Krunal was there - always a bonus). Here's hoping for a full return to greatness from the boys.

100) Young Dro – On Fire
From the blog (7/22):
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have one change to the program this summer. If you’ll turn to page four … playing the part of T.I. for this summer’s “Southern Rap Hit” will be Young Dro. That’s Young Dro in T.I.’s role. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. And now, “Southern Rap Hit” …"

Also, there’s a swine flu reference in this one. Topical!

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