Top 50 of 2009 :: 10-6 [Am I free or am I tied up?]
10. Miike Snow - "Animal"
One of my favorite things about music is how much more "sense" a band makes after seeing them in a live environment. Sometimes that "sense" is bad, forever coloring their music with the stink of a terrible live show. But other times, that "sense" comes to the stage wearing white plastic masks and rocks so hard you can't see straight. Miike Snow are in the later category, walking to the stage at the Mercury Lounge in September wearing featureless, Vanilla Sky-inspired masks. "Animal" proved to be the most approachable song from their self-titled record. Upstroke guitars and a bubbling chorus gave us something that, though profoundly electronic, felt warmer than sunshine. Even if you couldn't read its features exactly, the sense was more than undeniable.
9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Heads Will Roll"
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs went for broke this year, releasing an appropriately-titled record, It's Blitz, with cover art featuring a human hand obliterating a raw egg and electro-rock jams meant to cut. Track two was the shimmering, frustrated and committed, "Heads Will Roll." More plea for pleasant slaughter than a call for direct revolution, "Heads Will Roll" encouraged us to, indirectly, lose our minds ("Off with head") so we could dance until we were dead. It rhymed and we were helpless.
8. The Killers - "Four Winds"
Full disclosure: "Four Winds" isn't an original Killers' cut. It's a Bright Eyes track but I'm no special fan of Bright Eyes. With no sentimentality for the original, The Killers' take on the track approaches the furthest reaches of epic synth-pop. Churning with a massive down-beat and the faux-richness of big keyboard chords, "Four Winds" delivers every bit of the apocalypse Oberst's original lyrics promise. It is the third verse where Flowers finds himself as the shaking ringmaster at the front of a rising arrangement, singing, "And I was off to old Dakota where a genocide sleeps/in the Black Hills, the Bad Lands, the calloused east." He then describes four winds, the four horsemen, leveling the pines. Big, synthetic bells chime all around him and you can't help but think of all the things we've helped destroy.
7. Small Black - "Despicable Dogs" (Washed Out Remix)
It is odd to put your favorite song of the year as at number seven on a list of your favorite songs of the year. Small Black proved to be one of the better things to come out of the New York music scene this year and "Despicable Dogs" proved to be their best song. Then, a few months later, came Washed Out's take on the track, a looping, wistful, cold-medicine take on the original. Pulling out the song's natural lyrical nostalgia, "do it without me/do it when I'm gone," Washed Out filled our ears with lazy synth chords and dancing loops. The original soundtracked my flight out of LA. The remix soundtracked the rest of my year.
6. Wolf Gang - "The King And All Of His Men"
Wolf Gang wasn't a tough band to call but, boy, did we ever call them. Back in March when only one other publication on whole Internet was writing about them, we told you that Wolf Gang would blow up. It was only based on a rough, poorly recorded demo but you can't listen to what it sounds like - you have to hear what it could sound like. "The King And All Of His Men" was exactly what Wolf Gang could and sound like. Opening with big, tribal drums, followed quickly by sweeping keys, vocals and a chorus as crystalline and catchy as anything out this year, Wolf Gang proved to be exactly what we said they were. We wrote about this band more than any other in 2009 and we're calling an even bigger 2010.