Note: This column was originally published in December 2009.
If you don’t want to go through the commentary you can scroll down to the list of tracks)
40b) The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa
The naughties will not be remembered for any significant musical revolutions (Guitar rock was revived in 2001, UK magazines tried to invent something called “Nu Rave”, “Nu Metal” turned out to be a joke). This decade in music will mostly be remembered for the marketing and consuming revolutions it bared. Having said that, the last two years brought an interesting wave of African-sounding beats and strumming embedded within indie guitar tracks and in the following years we will find out whether this is a fad or a true modern musical genre forming right in front of our very ears. In this track, the lead singer of the band who started it all, Vampire Weekend, lends his voice to a sweet African tune with an amusing video clip (I couldn’t find out whether or not the dancer in the clip is Israeli).
40a) The Cribs – Cheat on me
The Cribs have been a pillar of good British rock music since the middle of the decade, never changing their style and direct approach to music making for hype points. The addition of my personal guitar hero, Johnny Marr, to the lineup in time for their fourth album “Ignore the Ignorant” only solidified their status as a naughties British rock institution. Marr’s guitar work on other tracks may be more elaborate and Smiths-like, but this was their most complete and engaging track this year.
39) K-Os – I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman
One of the best hip-hop tracks in a very poor hip-hop year (decade?). The only thing preventing it from receiving a higher position is my love for originality. The thing I like most about this track is its melody, which is shamelessly ripped off from Phantom Planet’s “California”.
38) Arctic Monkeys – Crying Lightening
I love the minimalistic drama of the first single from the lad’s third album. Are the Arctic Monkeys the decade’s best or most important band? Probably not, unlike some UK publications would have you believe. But they are still great musicians with real talent and something to say to us about our lives, and Matt Helders is the best drummer of his generation.
37) Lily Allen – The Fear
The chances of a UK number 1 single appearing on my annual top tracks list have become slimmer and slimmer during the course of this decade. However, this smash hit is actually a fine piece of music and is addictive as audible cocaine.
36) Kasabian – Underdog
Speaking of third albums… Kasabian got back in top form this year. I like it when they experiment with their psychedelic side, and this single is a great example. More about them later.
35) PJ Harvey and John Parish – Black Hearted Love
Dear old 90s indie icon Polly Jean Harvey is still alive and kicking, thank you very much. This track is just what you’d imagine hearing its title: A painful, dark love ballad with a guitar riff to die for.
34) Ian Brown – Stellify
I have always loved King Monkey, but ever since seeing him live he has achieved untouchable status as far as I’m concerned. I admit that he is probably no longer an innovative indie trail blazer, but every one of his albums has 2-3 moments of pure excellence that make you not care about this fact. Brown is still one of indie’s top acts and this track is exhibit A.
33) Reverend and The Makers – Silence is talking
This track actually sounds like something Ian Brown’s former band, the Stone Roses, would have recorded had it been around today. 20 years on, the Madchester era has been celebrated this year (not enough, unfortunately) and this track was a cool reminder of how fun and liberating music was back then in the Summer of Love. An even better example will be mentioned later…
32) Little Comets – Adultery
Another band that is heavily influenced by African beats and Paul-Simon’s-Graceland style guitars. In this fine track, the Little Comets rely more heavily on the indie side of things and try to create a more typical indie song. It works quite nice. You actually almost forget about the song’s disturbing topic…
31) frYars – Olive Eyes
A common first reaction to frYar’s music is: “Is this guy for real”?
His unstable baritone voice combined with what can sometimes sound like a thick accent makes for a very unique New-Wave-like listening experience. Some love it, some despise it, but the track itself is a slice of good new wave music, and that’s the bottom line, isn’t it?
30) Speech Debelle – Go Then Bye
Mercury Prize voters loved her (She won the 2009 award), YouTube masses hated her (I have never seen any artist being killed in YouTube comments like that, and, as you may have guessed, I am no stranger to YouTube clips and their comments).
The truth is that Debelle is very raw, very real and this truth is probably what sold the voters on her. Her heart-felt rap on top of an emotive soundtrack, have reminded me of the first time I heard “Unfinished Sympathy” by Massive Attack. Loved that track, love this one.
29) Brakes – Hey Hey
What is there to write about a good, classic, distortion-heavy rock song? Perhaps that this kind of song is not easy to come by these days, is harder to create than some might realize and that it brings a sympathetic band into my annual top 30.
28) Trip – Who’s That
Call me a clueless Anglophile (I heard that!) but I believe that the most innovative and interesting hip-hop music this past decade came from the UK and not from the US. That goes to you, Mr. Kanye West and Mr. Lil’ Wayne (that sounds funny).
Trip is a young thin pale Brit rapper and this track by him puts a wide smile on my face every single time. He should really become big sometime soon.
27) Hot Melts – Red Lips
It’s like Metro Station’s “Shake It” (Which almost made the list. Oh, shut up) but with more brains and less appeal to 12 year old female consumers.
Nice, uplifting rock anthem that makes you want to thrash a hotel room.
26) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero
This is a much lower position for this track than in most major publications/sites/blogs, but that’s nothing compared to tracks like Phoenix’s “1901” or Animal Collective’s “My Girls” which dominated the end-of-year lists and would not even crack my top 200 (although I usually like Phoenix).
This is a clever tune, a nice riff, Karen O’s voice is slightly annoying on it sometimes, good rhythm… Bottom line: 26th best track of 2009.
25) Jamie T – Sticks n’ Stones
I used to think of Jamie T as a pale Mike Skinner impersonator. With Skinner’s recent decline in form and Jamie’s tour de force of a second album, I feel a need to apologize to him for that comparison. Perhaps a top 25 nod for what to me is his best track ever would do the trick. Jamie’s record company describes his music as indie first, hip-hop second. Sticks n’ Stones is a great example of this philosophy.
24) Little Comets – One Night in October
We’re back to the Little Comets and back to Graceland-influenced African vibe tracks. This one is a great example, as its opening borrows heavily from one of Paul Simon’s Graceland track’s coda. To me, the rhythm, melodic complexity and sheer joy of this track put the Comets on the same level as the founders of this scene, Vampire Weekend (Who seem to be suffering from *cough* sophomore jinx *cough*).
23) The Ruling Class – Sleeping Beauty
What a shame. An unknown band comes up with a gem of a track, a perfect Madchester era throwback, complete with beautiful strumming, dreamy vocals and psychedelic rhythm, and it stashes it deep in an obscure EP, without a proper video clip or any PR whatsoever, as if they were the Smiths and they could afford to “waste” top tunes on esoteric B-sides. I really hope that this track is re-issued as a single at some point, as it is a real musical treasure more people deserve to hear.
22) The Cheek – Hung Up
The Guardian claims that the Cheek (formerly unknown as “Cheeky Cheeky and the Nosebleeds” which is a terrible name, apart from the fact that “The Nosebleeds” were Morrissey’s first band) sound like late-Britpop era wannabes Menswear, only not as good. I understand that this is meant as an insult, and I can see where it’s coming from, but Hung Up is actually an ace new wave tune and “Daydreamer” by Menswear was actually a good one, too.
21) Two Door Cinema Club – I Can Talk
Good track, good band, great record company. This decade offered several labels that were worth following, despite the rough times record labels are going through and their questionable relevance in the iTunes/YouTube era. Domino was one of them, followed by high quality labels such as Memphis Industries and Moshi Moshi, to name a few.
The end of the naughties, however, belongs, as crazy as it may sound, to a French-based indie label called Kitsunè Music. And I am not only saying this because I relocated to a French-speaking town recently. Kitsunè have a great ear for talent and we will be hearing a lot from them and their ever expanding stable of artists in the future and even later in this chart…
20) Kasabian – Fire
Kasabian have managed to create a perfect classic rock song, without compormizing their uniqueness. “Fire” is a piece of timeless rock that is just as good as anything Kings of Leon (or, ahem, Wolfmother) could come up with. However, I think Serge Pizzorno is a genius and I don’t think his musical peak has arrived yet. I sure hope it does during the new decade.
19) Boy Crisis – Dressed to Digress
One of the feel-good tracks of the year… I think it is hilarious. And it’s fun. And the girl in the original video (I have no idea why they made two videos for a track that was eventually never officially released) isn’t really a minor, so everything is OK. Her name is Genevieve Angelson and she actually has a very interesting story. But I (dress to) digress. Victor Vazquez is one of the funniest unlikely pop stars you’ll ever see and “Let me love you like you’re the shit, girl” is the romantic pop lyric of the year. Pitchfork crowning them as the worst band in the world right now only makes me like them so much more.
18) Looner – I Love my Tamagotchee
This totally random track by a bizarre California husband & wife combo was actually a contender for my track of the year at some point. Mainly because it reminded me a bit of my 2008 track of the year “Black Magic” by the Magic Wands. I still think that it is a pop diamond and has fun, trashy qualities to it, but the more I listen to it the harder it gets to ignore its faults (Hailing a phenomenon that was briefly cool a decade ago notwithstanding). It will make you shake your arse, though.
17) Muchuu – Somebody Tell Me
We are officially at the part of the chart where it pained me to leave these tracks “behind” as they all deserve top 10 status. Alas, math didn’t cooperate with my wish to have 18 top-10 tracks on this list.
Muchuu fall short since this is a new track, and I am taking into account that my enamoring with it may wane in time. It is still, however, sweet and cheerful and colors your whole day in bright manga fluorescent colors.
16) Tiny Masters of Today – Pop Chart
Whatever you think of TMoT, please keep one thing in mind: They are NOT Hanson!
It seems very important to them that you acknowledge that, and rightfully so. These teenage indie phenoms actually really know their stuff and they posses considerable talent. Ada looks like a young Justine Frischmann and Pop Chart’s lyrics and music both urge you to do what I am doing: Take these kids seriously.
15) Delphic – This Momentary
Delphic’s music sometimes seems “too clean” or “too perfect”. In this specific track, though, they manage to harness this type of impeccable melody to a meditative track, excellent for reflecting and diving into a pool of pure sound.
14) Operahouse – Genius Child
Operahouse were doomed from the start. They were a bit over-hyped, a bit overly pretentious, not always very original (“Change in Nature”, for one, was quite Depeche Mode-esque). Like many other indie bands before them (Test Icicles, anyone?) they split up before gaining real success.
They did, however, leave us with this track, their final single, which is an emotional ballad that reminds me of the better moments of Elbow. Ah, what might have been…
13) Detachments – Circles
There are two options. You can listen to this track and wonder who Detachments resemble more: Joy Division, Gang of Four, Wire? Or you could just sit back and enjoy this fresh track that sounds like vintage post punk industrial cold synth-pop and wonder if this band will continue to be this good in the future or is this a one off thing.
I, personally, alternate between these two options.
11) Official Secrets Act – The Girl from the BBC
Official Secrets Act (great name) manage to make a love story sound dark and mysterious. It is possible that the specific girl the song was written about actually worked for a different radio network, but the group were hesitant to call their single “The Virgin Girl”. He likes her, she likes him, I like the tune, on to the top 10.
10) Bombay Bicycle Club – Always Like This
I remember waking up to the sound of this song, hearing it for the first time when my ex girlfriend and I just started dating. It will always be a sweet reminder of those happy early days and it was a song of the year candidate for this reason. It is also a good song, of course. However, BBC, much like the Maccabees, suffer from a shortcoming known in musical medicine as “Annoyum Vocalis” in which the lead singer has a whiney, annoying singing voice which takes away some of the band’s (otherwise excellent) tracks’ listenability.
9) Maps – Let Go of the Fear
I didn’t think I’d rank this track so high at first, as it is not a “proper” indie track. I made that same mistake last year with the Whip’s excellent “Trash” and ranked it too low. This time Maps gets his fair due. This is by far, bar none, no competition in sight THE best dance track of 2009, and it went completely under the radar. Just pure rhythmic delight from start to finish filled with sonic goodies to make you praise God for giving you ears and legs. This really deserves a re-release and a UK top 20 recognition.
8) Fever Ray – When I Grow Up
Even the NME and Pitchfork get it right sometimes. Fever Ray, usually half of The Knife, is probably the most unique and interesting thing that happened in music in 2009. Her music is delightful on so many levels and listening to it enriches one’s life. This is by far my favorite track by her, and another track recommended as a soundtrack for meditation, reflection, long walks on icy sidewalks and tantric sex.
7) Gary Go – Wonderful
Another song of the year candidate. Perhaps it came short because I consider it to be a bit too mainstream for my usual liking, but mainstream or not, it is a wonderful (no pun etc.) song that grew to be deeply meaningful to me in the last year or so. I think that Gary Go is a British indie artist someone is trying to turn into an American mainstream money machine. Tracks like this make me wish he’d break free and just do what he does best. Write songs that connect us with our deepest emotions.
6) Metronomy – A Thing for Me
Not only did I totally miss out on this track when it first came out last year, I also thought I didn’t like Metronomy and couldn’t understand why my Swedish bride-to-be (I wish) Lykke Li chose them to open for her last year.
Thank God for second chances, however, as this ingenious track has been re-released this year and I found myself totally addicted to its gypsy-like electro-beat joyfulness. Everything about this track is perfect. The vocal intro, the falsetto bridge, the Gogol Bordello-style harmonica… All just finger-lickin’ good.
5) Ou Est Le Swimming Pool – Dance The Way I Feel
As you will be able to tell soon, I developed a weakness for bands with French names (Which are not necessarily from France). This track was supposed to be somewhere in the teens, but it really grew on me the past few days and what was a good electro-indie track became a real gem by the 20th listen.
I think what really elevated my evaluation of this track was the live FlyTV version.
2) Le Corps Mince de Françoise – Something Golden
A Very new track that managed to gain steam very quickly and wasn’t far from being my track of the year. Is the new “it” place for new indie talent in Scandinavia not Iceland or Sweden but Finland?
This is another example of the brilliance of Kitsunè Music, and this Finnish trio’s sweet addictive track is one of these tracks you wait the whole year long to stumble upon. One to take with you for life and burn on every new iPod or car CD.
Every time I hear this song and those girl’s sweet angelic voices it reminds me of my dear friend, Katja Nieminen from Finland, who was taken from us way too early ten years ago. I didn’t get to see her a lot, but I still find myself missing her. May she rest in peace.
1) Everything Everything – Photoshop Handsome
So we come to the moment of truth. I expect great things of Everything Everything. They are original and crafty. I disobeyed two of my cardinal rules for them this year: Thou shalt never reveal you song of the year too early (I mentioned this song as my “song of the year so far” as early as April) and Thou shalt not crown a song championed by Zane Lowe.
I like Zane, it is only that he comes across as a bit… Overzealous at times, doesn’t he?
Anyway, this track took the Graceland African beat influence and the best of the indie attitude, added beautiful vocal harmony and a lot of brilliant original musical shifts unique to Everything Everything and concocted a track that possesses an amount of quality that is very rarely matched. It is a sonic capsule of pure pleasure, taking you on a speedy tour straight to the core of happiness with every listen. This still happens to me, and I have listened to this song over 100 times by now.
Give yourself the gift of music this Christmas. Listen to Everything Everything and be reminded that music doesn’t have to be cliché and formulaic and that it can really mean something.
Hoping for a new decade full of exciting music just before I get too old to enjoy it (some would say that it is a bit too late for that…),
The full list:
18) Looner – I Love my Tamagotchee
29) Brakes – Hey Hey