Here it is, our annual salute to the greatest of the (contemporary) greatest: our most-listened-to tracks of 2009. The usual rules apply: each band only gets one song, so despite the fact that most of our Top 10 most-listened-to 2009 tracks in ITunes are from Johnny Foreigner's superlative Grace And The Bigger Picture, only the most-played track gets a slot on our list below. The main reason for doing this list is to spotlight great songs that might not have been on an album that warrants best-of-the-best status for the year. The inclusion of George Washington Brown's "End Of The..." is a perfect example, as the tune was released on a Slumberland split single, not the sort of thing that ever makes a year-end albums list. Even so, our Top Songs list does shed light on certain albums that will be on our year-end list. That said, if you've regularly read along this year, you probably already have a good idea of what the albums list will bring. You'll know for sure a week from today. But for today, here they are: Clicky Clicky's Top Songs Of 2009.
1. Johnny Foreigner -- "The Coast Was Always Clear" -- Grace And The Bigger Picture
We'd call this the anthem to end all anthems, except that given the band's track record we expect there will be a song equally as good if not better released by Johnny Foreigner in the future: the act is among the most consistently excellent combos in indie rock today. In 2009, despite intense competition from itself and the rest of the acts on this list, the number one anthem is "The Coast Was Always Clear." We long harbored fears that the album version of this track could not possibly compare to the YouTube version with Dananananaykroyd or the New Slang 2008 bootleg version we played to death last year. Those fears were unfounded. The layered lines in the coda ("He's half asleep for you" and "I'm not done holding hope in my hands") are among the most beautiful musical sentiments of the year. And sure, the tune structurally is similar to the final track on the band's first full-length, that doesn't detract in the least from the series of spine-tingling moments in "The Coast Was Always Clear," which seems to somehow have about four different choruses. That's just how Johnny Foreigner rolls, and we look forward to new music from the Birmingham, England-based noise-pop titans in the new year.
2. The Beatings -- "All The Things You've Been Missing" -- Late Season Kids
This is a classic E.R.-led screamer from the storied Boston quintet, and it is filled with visceral moments that make you feel like you are shedding your skin. And then, when the chorus hits and the guitars cascade around you through curtains of reverb, you are born again. We're not sure why this track is wedged in the middle of Late Season Kids, but then again, it's not like the rest of the album sucked. As we said in our review of the set earlier this year, The Beatings really have no business being this good this late into the game. "All The Things You've Been Missing" sets the new high water mark.
3. Projekt A-ko -- "Hey Palooka!" -- Yoyodyne
Deciding which track is best on Projekt A-ko's shockingly good debut is like deciding which nine fingers to cut off. Every track touts its own revelations delivered via squawling guitars and brilliant disjointed lyrics. So although for months we believed that we'd select "Here Comes New Challenger!" for our year-end list, it is Yoyodyne opener "Hey Palooka!" to which we ultimately give the nod, primarily because we've been unable to get these lines from the second verse out of our heads since March: "and all the stars are out, they kiss you on the mouth, they kiss you on the." Full stop. It's a sweet sentiment. And as we'll always tie the release of Yoyodyne to their birth of our daughter, that sweet sentiment carries a lot of weight. It also helps that the slow build of the song's opening is an homage of sorts to the opening cut on Drop Nineteens' earthshaking 1990 debut Delaware.
4. Favours For Sailors -- "I Dreamt That I Dreamt That You Loved Me In Your Dreams" -- Furious Sons
2009's shooting stars flamed out and lodged themselves in the soil long before the end of the year rolled around. One of a crop of contemporary English bands indebted to some of Pavement's more tuneful moments, Favours For Sailors released the Furious Sons EP on Tough Love Records in March, but by July the London-based quartet had called it quits. This tune is a melodic, uptempo guitar anthem with clever lyrics that beg to be stumbled over in the chorus. The real pay-off is in the final moments, when singer JRC drops in the last kick "...but you don't." It's fitting emotional punctuation that parallels the dashing of fan hopes by the announcement of the band's dissolution. Let's see, what else: nice harmonies, there's some kick-ass tambourine work... uh... we think the lead singer looks a little like Greg Kihn. And Favours For Sailors were not afraid to bring the chorus back over and over, because they knew they had a killer on their hands.
5. Dananananaykroyd -- "Black Wax" -- Hey Everyone!
This is one of those tracks that is so good it doesn't matter that you can't tell what the hell the singer is saying. Sure, Dananananaykroyd's dual fronters tout Glaswegian accents, but they are also excitedly hollering, and even when the words take shape in your mind ("write your name in cellophane strips something something blah blah blah"), it is hard to figure out what they are on about. But with Dananananaykroyd none of that really matters, as the band's singular mix of maximalist hardcore energy and wonderfully saccharine hooks makes the end product undeniably arresting. The sextet also made a killer video for this track, incidentally. As we get older we are finely tuned into things we perceived as redemptive or transformative, and the crescendo two-and-a-half minutes into this track certainly qualifies as the latter if not the former. But even that is secondary to the overall electrifying vibe and delicious guitars that make this track one of the best of the year.
6. The xx -- "Basic Space" -- xx
Twenty-five years ago this song would have been perfect for use in a television show that was trying to depict music of the future. It's sort of space age, but it is minimal to the point of being almost transparent. Between the electronic beats, diaphanous house keys, understated bass playing, reverbed guitar and murmured vocals, the London trio (a quartet for most of the year until the departure of keyboardist and singer Baria Qureshi) somehow crafts one of the most gripping, darksexy tracks of the year. We had the pleasure of taking in The xx's sold-out Boston show at the beginning of December and report with pleasure that the band is even more of a sensation live. Not because of the somewhat affectless performances, of course, but because all of the elements of the record were powerfully underpinned by the electronics being blasted, bass-heavy and at gut-level, through the house sound system. The embiggened beats and tones provided an added dimension of shadowy aggression to the music which was exciting. It also made our insides wiggle, and we liked it.
7. Fleeting Joys -- "You Are The Darkness" -- Occult Radiance
Another year goes by in which we wonder when Fleeting Joys will finally get wide recognition they deserve. Certainly if "You Are The Darkness" can not break the Northern California-based duo into the broader underground, then we don't know what will, because this track is as fine a shoegaze anthem as has been written. It's up there with Ride's "Taste" or Lilys' "Claire Hates Me" (well, nothing is as good as "Claire Hates Me," but it's in the ballpark). Sculpted guitar guitar, breathy vocals with perfectly layered harmonies: it doesn't get better than this.
8. The Answering Machine -- "Another City, Another Sorry" -- Another City, Another Sorry
While this Manchester, England-based quartet is generally wired for writing pop-leaning tracks, the title tune to its long awaited 2009 full-length debut is an outright scorcher, and the most exciting two-and-a-half minutes from a very good album. "Another City, Another Sorry" also shows the band's acquisition of an actual drummer (early on it relied on a drum machine) paying huge dividends -- it's the sort of track that swings and bashes along in a way that only a live drummer can pull off. The manner in which the accompaniment drops off and spaces out during the last pre-chorus launches the anthem into a final driving salvo that defies you not to sing along. If The Answering Machine did nothing more than release this track in 2009 they could still call the year a huge success.
9. Morrissey -- "Something Is Squeezing My Skull" -- Years Of Refusal
There is actually something very heartening about a misfit misanthrope that continues to persevere into middle age. It suggests that one need not capitulate to the square world, that one can live life on one's own terms for as long as they choose to. And so when Morrissey sings "I know by now you think I should have straightened myself out,thank you, drop dead," it just feels good. Thanks Moz. Sure, the latter half of the track is a litany of drugs and problems, but hey, we didn't say the guy was *thriving*, we said he was giving life what for. Years Of Refusal may be the most straightforwardly rocking set Morrissey has ever released (although fear not, it still has many interesting dimensions), and this lead track is its best calling card.
10. George Washington Brown -- "End Of The..." -- Searching For The Now 6
Download MP3 (courtesy of Slumberland)
Eighty-eight seconds of fuzzed-out glory with brilliant lo-fi production. Despite the entire proceedings being rendered as a tinny mess, this song is brilliantly realized. We love the slap-back on the voice, the crazy space key-chain noises, the Boyracer-esque vocals. A masterpiece, and perhaps the best track Slumberland issued in 2009, which is saying something, since the label is kicking several different kinds of ass lately.