Best Albums of 2011: 1-5

•December 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

1.

House of Balloons by The Weeknd

From the moment House of Balloon starts, the listener can sense a sinister agenda behind every lyric and every note. The song titles read like a parent’s worst nightmare: “High for This”, “Glass Table Girls”, “The Morning”, and “Wicked Games”, these do little to inspire confidence. The Weeknd, real name Abel Tesfaye, begins his campaign of coercion on “High for This”:

Open your hand, take a glass
Don’t be scared, I’m right here
Even though, you don’t know
Trust me girl, you wanna be high for this

He’s asking an unnamed woman to prepare herself for what is to come, to abandon herself to the whims and desires of the evening and, ultimately, Tesfaye himself. This is essentially what House of Balloons is about: a willing desertion of one’s own agency in the pursuit of a good time. This is an endeavor fraught with peril as suggested by the provocative song titles, the lyrics, and even the music itself. The danger is tangible and yet Tesfaye makes it all seem very alluring. He’s constructed his own Sirenum scopuli except that he lures the young and naïve instead of wayward sailors. But, like any construction that’s based on false pretenses and flimsy material (balloons even?), his creation is fragile and prone to destruction. The good times promised conceal deeper issues that are easily exposed after all is said and done. Tesfaye revels in fun but he also reveals the darker side of our selves when stripped of our inhibitions: the tendency for overindulgence, lust, greed, and ill-advised trust. Conceivably this album is best understood as a warning more than a threat. Because he does so little to hide his maleficent intentions perhaps Tesfaye is warning the more prescient youth against the false promises of tomorrow; those who can’t, or won’t, hear his forewarning are already lost to the night.

2.

Undun by The Roots

“Tales from the streets, life of high crime; / to make it to the bottom, such a high climb” laments Dice Raw, with what may be the best distich in the history of hip-hop, on “One Time”. The Roots have, once again, produced an album that is superlative in every facet. The album follows, in reverse, the narrator through his life as he evolves from an idealistic man with aspirations of a better life to a man who has made several choices in pursuit of that dream that ultimately end in his death. The Roots have always told great stories and Undun is no exception: having allowed themselves to stretch a narrative over an album rather than a single song, they demonstrate their prowess as authors and storytellers. Musically the album is sparse, filled with the sounds of water dropping and minimalist production, often it is only a bare beat and string-section mixed with Black Thought’s ever-sharp lyrics that fill the soundscape; this contributes to the isolationist atmosphere that the album evokes. Most powerfully, the album begins with discordant noise and the sound of a failing heart monitor and ends with a piano-laden exodus that descends into cacophony, these moments represent the subject’s death and birth, respectively. Undun is one of the best albums of the year because it is accessible on a song-to-song basis and it is an album that rewards the patient listener who spends time untangling the tragic narrative produced by The Roots.

3.

Civilian by Wye Oak

Civilian by Wye Oak is an album that tends to stay in the dark, in the sludge, in the blurry grime (that Wye Oak seems to have established) between alternative and folk. As the guitars roar over the explosive drums and Jenn Wasner’s husky voice coos dark mutterings about “baby teeth”, one can’t help but feel that this album finds it source in a dim place. Civilian offers superlative musicianship in addition to its gothic tendencies. Andy Stack, on the drums, keyboard, and back-up vocals, provides a wonderful contrast to Wasner’s driving guitar and throaty voice. The duo has clearly found something special in celebrating the morbid side of life. The dichotomy that exists between the substance of the lyrics and the way they’re presented, that is with such clear glee (as can been seen in their live performances), indicates, perhaps, the deeper message of this album: there is a haunting beauty, even in darkness. With a shining voice and a thunderous percussionist, Wye Oak is perhaps best suited to escort the listener into this darkness, and it never looked, nor sounded, more wonderful.

4.

Within and Without by Washed Out

Washed Out is a perfect name for a band that makes music that evokes the comings and goings of a wave. Using slow electronics beats layered on even slower beats and faded out, echoed vocals, Within and Without delivers the perfect soundtrack for traveling in a strange land. In fact, the single “Amor Fati” and its official music video serve as a sort-of hip travelogue for a young man who is living life and enjoying the scenery. And that’s an important facet of this album; it serves to enhance the environment of the listener through its mellow wanderings, it delivers poignancy to otherwise dull landscapes, which is why it has been called, by some, as “chillwave”, for its ability to render unto its listener a feeling of placidity. Another reason for this album’s high place on the list is that nearly every song is flawless in execution and in relation to its place on the album: it begins with slightly more energetic songs like “Eyes Be Closed” and “Amor Fati” and ends with the sullen, almost-moribund “You and I” and “Within and Without”. Much like a dream remembered from sleep just past, it starts vividly but then fades slowly, achingly, into the nothingness of things forgotten.

5.

:LiveLoveA$AP by ASAP Rocky

For a mixtape that came out of nowhere, LiveLoveA$AP by ASAP Rocky has been praised through the roof this year. Through a mix of laid-back New York flow (The ASAP crew is from Harlem after all), extremely competent production featuring some of the best new producers around (see Clams Casino), and the natural charisma of ASAP Rocky himself, LiveLoveA$AP is easily one of the best rap albums this year. For lack of a better word, the ASAP crew is exciting. They have an energy about them that screams “fuck you, we’re here to have a good time and look good doing it.” Some of the best tracks are produced by the always dependable Clams Casino who gives ASAP Rocky the perfect, winding beats to lay his lazy flow over. “Bass” and “Palace” are both stand-outs that revel in the slow burn of ASAP Rocky’s braggart flow. That being said, in-house beat-maker Ty Beats is capable of making equally brilliant beats as demonstrated by “Purple Swag”: a slow moving jam that extols the use of weed and partying hard. As one of the most exciting new rap collectives (sorry OFWGKTA but these guys seem like real people rather than cartoons), the ASAP crew has delivered on their promise and look to dominate the rap soundscape for years to come.

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Best Albums of 2011: 6-10

•December 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

6.

Eye Contact by Gang Gang Dance

Everything one needs to know about Eye Contact by Gang Gang Dance can be inferred on the album’s first track “Glass Jar”; a slow-building epic song filled with electronic clanks and bangs, a rambling voice espousing non-sensical mutterings, and odd, faded out noises that come from the ether that all lead to a rambunctious, ecstatic climax that seems to last for minutes. Given patience, Eye Contact is the most joyful record of the year. Every song has so many elements that it’s hard not to accuse Gang Gang Dance of assaulting the senses of the listener but they use those elements so well that it is only the unhappy, dance-fearing misanthrope who would resent Gang Gang Dance’s mastery of seemingly-discordant sounds. That isn’t to say that sometimes the album doesn’t get bogged down in its search of a common theme from the cacophony, this is true, but when it happens, it is mercifully brief and countered with yet another brilliant hook summoned out of the void. Eye Contact is one of the few albums that this reviewer would give to another person and merely say “just listen to this, please.”

7.

Ritual Union by Little Dragon

No one does funk pop alt-jazz like Little Dragon. Ritual Union is an album that delivers on almost every song. It may not be the first thing you put on at a party (unless it’s some sort of sweet funk pop alt-jazz party) but it is extremely rewarding to listen to whilst alone. Yukimi Nagano’s sweet voice dances over the electronic beats and fuzzy guitars in a way that makes one want to dance. This is music for the smart, cosmopolitan listener who watches “Lost in Translation” at least five times a year. This album is reminiscent of St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy in that it isn’t as immediately accessible as other similar albums but if the effort is put into the album then the reward is bountiful. Ritual Union alternates between fun dance tunes and more serious, dense contemplations on love and relationships. It is an album that plays to the strengths of its singer with great results. The group is famously named after Nagano’s outbursts in the studio and this album proves that when a firey presence is tempered with an extremely competent band, the production can be astounding.

8.

Camp by Childish Gambino

Oh man. This is probably the most controversial choice on the list as it is easily the most divisive album of the year. Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover (Of 30 Rock and Community fame), has cultivated a reverent fan base and produced an album that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve. Would this album would have been possible without The College Dropout? Probably not. Gambino is clearly a huge fan of Kanye West, specifically the production on his earlier albums. For example, the fantastic song “Firefly” would not have been out of place on The College Dropout or Late Registration. Camp has great production throughout and Gambino’s clever lyrics betray his history as an Emmy award-winning writer. That being said, the album suffers from a lack of perspective. As brought to a razor-sharp point in the now-infamous Pitchfork review, Childish Gambino often laments the dichotomy of “real rap” and the type of rap music that he makes. But it’s been true, for a while now, that the “thug-life” era of rap, while not dead, isn’t the gold standard anymore. Gambino only needs to look at his hero Kanye West, not to mention Drake, Kid Cudi, or a host of others to see that he’s created a straw man. It’s acceptable in this day and age to be a rapper and someone who indulges in their insecurities. There are several valid criticisms of Camp but the album is consistent in that it does what it does very well and thus it is one of the better albums of the year.

9.

Instrumentals by Clams Casino

Many albums lack consistency. Instrumentals by Clams Casino is not one of those albums. It is a clinic in very good, moody instrumental music. Almost every song has a particular hook or angle that makes it immediately recognizable and engaging. From the dreamy “All I Need” and “What You Doin’” to the bass-heavy bangers “Brainwash By London” or “Illest Alive”, Clams Casino delights in the abstract and esoteric. This lends an otherworldly quality to his productions, a trait that has resulted in his explosion in indie rap world; working with artists like ASAP Rocky, Lil’ B, and Mac Miller (not really indie anymore but the point still stands). If Clams Casino continues on this path, he will take over the role as standard-bearer for excellent, dark instrumental music from CFCF, and that isn’t a bad thing at all.

10.

Strange Mercy by St. Vincent

Strange Mercy directly addresses forces that are often more indirectly felt than directly perceived. The dark menace (in the form of the lyrics and back beat) that hovers over the album juxtaposes with the often pop-esque melodies of the songs. That isn’t to say that this is a pop album given depth only through provocative diction, quite the opposite: the album may be inaccessible to the first time listener. It is a frenetic and wild in its unpredictability. However it is an album that grows over time through repeated listens. Annie Clark’s sweet voice is capable of reaching lower pitches which she uses in a masterful fashion to add an almost-growl in the album’s more intense moments. These instances are further reinforced by the buzzed out guitars that accompany several of the songs – including the stand-out “Cheerleader” and “Surgeon”. The highlight of the album though blatantly eschews this juxtaposition in favor of a more traditional slow pop song; “Strange Mercy” slowly rises from a sweet, tender address to a climax that is at once threatening and beautiful. Although it might be a difficult album to “get into”, St. Vincent has delivered a fantastic album that is easily one of the best of the year.

Lady Gaga or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Praise God(ga)

•April 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Few pop stars are as divisive and polarizing as Stefani Germanotta, or more familiarly to the average fan, Lady Gaga. Much of her success is derived from her indulgent, and often grotesque, interpretation of the Pop music icon. So why does anyone care about Lady Gaga or her own unique brand of Pop music? Aside from the vast amount of money she has (and will continue to) make, her success indicates a sea-change in Pop music for reasons that will be explored below.

I think it’s important, and in the interest of full-disclosure, to relate the evolution of my appreciation of Lady Gaga. Like many, my initial exposure to Lady Gaga was her first single, “Just Dance”, which I had written it off as nothing more than your standard Pop schlock. I may have said something regarding the diminishing state of Pop music but I moved on and appropriately (I thought) ignored her. I had similar thoughts when she released “Poker Face”. Then she released the single and music video “Paparazzi”. It was at this point that I started taking a more vested interest in her music. But it wasn’t until I saw the video of her performing as Stefani Germanotta as a singer-songwriter that I truly became entranced with her. She wasn’t just a product, there was substance behind her charade. So how did this:


turn into this:

It’s a question that, I feel, completely misses the point of Lady Gaga.

The truth is that, as she herself admits, Lady Gaga has always existed in some form or another in Ms. Germanotta’s mind. If you listen to her performance above, she sings a song (Electric Kiss?) that expounds on the nature of fame and the relationship between the public and the icon. Thus Lady Gaga isn’t the result of a fit of inspiration, but a thought-out, deliberate creation that has been fused with the singing talents of Stefani Germanotta.

And with Lady Gaga there is a lot to take in: the blatant advertising, the grotesque, brazen sexuality, the mystifying symbolism, and, of course, the music. It is tempting to try and find a cohesive hypothesis that could explain the sum of all these parts. But, I would postulate that the point of Lady Gaga isn’t the details of her representation, rather, it is that temptation to analyze it. Lady Gaga forces the listener (or rather the viewer, she is as much a visual artist as auditory) to actually say to him or herself “What the hell am I watching (hearing)?” as opposed to just blandly accepting it. This is the true strength of Lady Gaga. She is, at heart, a surrealist; any attempt at forming a definitive argument regarding her media is, I feel, an exercise in futility.

Her music isn’t anything extraordinary. I’ve spent more than my fair share of time with the esoterica of music. Her eastern-European techno influences may appear strange within a pop music framework but she is fairly conventional outside of that very dogmatic framework. The fact that she is as successful as she is means that the average Top-40 fan is, at the very least, open to different genres of music that aren’t R&B, Rap, Country-Pop, or Pop. Lady Gaga, in effect, is exposing people to music they otherwise wouldn’t have known about. I am personally excited to see what other genres of music artists will incorporate into Pop music. While you don’t have to enjoy her (admittedly standard) music, you can’t deny that her influence on Pop music as a whole is one that will ultimately improve its state as a whole.

As I’ve commented on another pop star (Hannah Montana), the transition between normal person and pop icon is one of severe gravity. Pop icons are everything that normal people are not: glamorous, ever beautiful, and graceful. The difference between Hannah Montana and Lady Gaga is that while Hannah Montana emphasizes the schism between a normal person (Miley) and the pop star (Hannah), Lady Gaga is the physical embodiment of commitment to the bit. While Lady Gaga exists, Stefani Germanotta does not. There is never a point when Lady Gaga is not Lady Gaga. She is living performance art. She is the ironic jester, laughing at us while putting on a sly smirk; we’re all eating out of the palm of her hand and she knows it too. Perhaps she should go by a different moniker: “Lady Gaga or The Marionette who Seized the Strings”.

Best Albums of 2009: 1-5

•December 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

1.

xx by the xx

I am forced to admit that xx by the xx was a dark horse when I was contemplating this list. Although relatively new to music compared to many of the artists on this list, I was pleasantly surprised when xx became the most obvious choice for Best Album of 2009 during my musings. Featuring a cohesive sound far more mature than it had any right to be, xx is a tour de force in down-tempo rhythm and blues. The album plays out more as a discussion between lovers than a sampling of songs. The song “Intro”, which, appropriately enough, begins the album, is a brilliant primer for the rest of xx. It begins with a sample of the Mac start-up sound, immediately associating the listener with a feeling of something new and alive. This feeling is appropriate given the nature of the album. xx sees romance as something exciting, a process of give and take and equilibrium, and a feeling to be explored. Dependency is something that isn’t to be ashamed of, instead, it is embraced. These themes are the main focus of a majority of the songs, and yet, remarkably, the songs never feel stale or trite. There are one or two clunkers in the mix (“VCR” and “Basic Space”) but these are easily overlooked on the basis of the quality of literally every other song on the album. The instrumentals play a large part in this. The album could lack lyrics and still come across as one of the better instrumental albums in recent memory. Soft and soothing, and often driven by a powerful back beat, the instrumentals easily carry the (mostly clever) lyrics along in a way that is deeply affecting and poignant. Simply put, xx is an album that deserves one, two, or 100 listens, preferably with that special someone.

2.

Two Suns by Bat for Lashes

Natasha Khan is amazing. She is beyond incredible in terms of voice, vision, and execution. Two Suns is the superlative product of these traits. It is a difficult album to explain to the layman as it is just so… odd. But odd in a way that piques the audience’s interest. Khan has the voice of an angel and an ear for melody. Two Suns is about Khan exploring her separate psyches, each one a luminous being in her own way. But just as it is difficult to nail down her influences (electro, pop, classical, alternative rock, a bit of metal?), her schizophrenic nature is as elusive. Who is Khan and who is Pearl? Instead of peeling them apart, it should be inferred that they are inseparable from one another. Two Suns ultimately succeeds on the merits of the melodies and the vocals in each song. “Glass” is, in this reviewer’s opinion, probably the best intro song ever recorded. Exemplary in nearly every description, it forces the listener to acknowledge that, despite the oddness of Khan’s vague construction, the ensuing will be a piece of meticulous art, thought out and planned by Khan herself. And although the message may be lost in translation, the beauty of the album itself is not. Two Suns is a view of a world that should be experienced by everyone.

3.

Manners by Passion Pit

Music, while it has a base in intellectual and mathematical theories, is a device that is deliberate in its attempts to connect with a more primal part of the mind. There are few albums that do this better than Manners by Passion Pit. It is less concerned with technical merit than it is with striking a chord with the listener. It aims for little more than an infectious chorus with a danceable backbeat. And ultimately, this is a noble, if misunderstood, ambition. Manners makes no attempt to take itself seriously, and, in that way, it is a refreshing change from so many albums of any genre. The inherent problem with an album with this attitude is that it depends entirely on the skill and talent of the artist. Thankfully, Passion Pit is more than able to produce songs that are so infectious, I dare any listener to give the album a spin and not have a song stuck in his head by the end. Manners doesn’t seem to have a cohesive narrative and it doesn’t need one. Every song on the album is just as infectious as the last. It should be noted that Manners is not a fluff piece. Passion Pit has developed some very quality music that demands to be listened to in the company of others.

4.

Hospice by The Antlers

Occasionally an album will come along that redefines one’s expectations of a genre… and maybe the entirety of music as well. Hospice is an album of such aching poignancy that it almost breaks the heart to listen to more than once. But it cannot be helped as the quality of the music alone makes it worth at least another listen, if not a permanent spot on one’s playlist. The Antlers combine shoe-gaze and folk to deliver an album of incredible tenderness that affects not only the ears but the heart as well. Hospice is told as a singular narrative that follows a man as he loses a loved one to cancer. Peter Silberman’s voice is perfect: it is sweet yet morose tone to it, almost as if he were telling a tragic lullaby, and there is such an agony to his voice that it is almost painful to listen to. But one should, again and again. Hospice is the equivalent of watching Oedipus Rex for the first time: one can’t help but observe the tragedy before him but is rewarded with the ultimate catharsis. Without a doubt one of the best albums of the year.

5.

The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs by Freddie Gibbs

A late addition to the list, The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs is the rare combination of wit and bravado that also manages to paint a striking picture of life on the street. Freddie Gibbs is an able rapper and one that isn’t afraid to call it like it is. He uses his candor in combination with his lyrical prowess to establish a game that is fearsome indeed. Although occasionally bogged down by the conventions of popular rap music of the day, he is a creative soul with a bent towards clever word play and epic beats. The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs is a panorama of street life that reveals the paradoxical elements of a quotidian existence in relentless poverty and boundless aspirations. Chasing skirts and wealth, Freddie Gibbs both extols and condemns the life he leads. He admits that the price of being successful in “the hood” is a high one indeed. And although he is quick to point out the atrocities of living the way he does, he is just as mercurial in defending it. The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs is an album that takes all the best of elements of old school hip hop and popular rap today and combines them into a new form that rewards the listener with multiple listens. Hopefully Freddie Gibbs doesn’t disappear like an artist with a similarly nigh-eponymous album. Pitchfork claimed that it is rappers like Freddie Gibbs that are saving rap, a claim that is difficult to refute after one listens to The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs.

Best Albums of 2009: 6-10

•December 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

6.

It’s Not Me, It’s You by Lily Allen

In all likelihood Lily Allen does not like you. A keen observer of human character, she doesn’t suffer liars, cheats, or fools gladly. Lily Allen is quick to lampoon pop culture while she carves out a nifty (and lucrative) little niche for herself. The irony isn’t lost on her, and she uses that to her advantage to churn out wonderful albums like this year’s It’s Not Me, It’s You. The album plays out as a sort-of polemic against all of the idiocy that is glaringly apparent to a whip-smart, mid-20s woman with a rapier wit. She targets (in no particular order): consumer culture, self-medication, the inadequacy of men in bed, the unfair pressures of society, herself, men in general, and ignorant political views. Allen has a chip on her shoulder and she isn’t afraid to call a spade a shovel. A lot of the delight derived from the album comes from the willful commiseration between Allen and the listener. It’s this brand of “you go grrrl” empathy that invigorates the album and allows Allen to come across as a willful conspirator as opposed to (as I’m sure some have said) a heinous bitch. The songs themselves could serve as the definitive epitome in catchy electro-pop songs. It’s Not Me, It’s You is one of the best albums of the year and one would be remiss if he (or, more likely, she) let this one slip by.

7.

Panesian Nights by CFCF

Panesian Nights is one of those rare albums that transcends the world of audition and seeps into the visual dimension. The music has a visual quality to it that is hard to describe but enthralling when experienced first-hand. CFCF is making a name for himself by creating music that is both cinematic and unique. It is the blend of the drama of the cinema and the technical expertise of a solicitous producer that results in an album as fantastic as Panesian Nights. CFCF could be described as instrumental electro but really, he is in a category of his own. It isn’t often that every single song on an album is brilliant but Panesian Nights achieves this infrequent feat.

8.

Fantasies by Metric

Ah Metric. There is something inspiring about the level of consistency with which Metric operates on every album. Not much has changed: Emily Haines still provides a breathy-yet-lithe voice to alternative/electro music as they perform songs about fucking pretty girls and all of that sort of thing. But why fix something that isn’t broken? The songs are invariably catchy and one can’t help but feel a sense of perverted satisfaction every time Haines says “fuck”. The formula is all but stale and Fantasies is a move into another direction for Metric. It isn’t a big move, more like a slight veer, but the change is noticeable. On this album, Metric has abandoned some of their trademark oddness for more stadium-friendly rock music. It’s a shame really, much of the novelty of Metric originated from their frenetic weirdness. Regardless, Fantasies remains one of the better albums of 2009 and a much appreciated dose of familiarity to alternative/electro fans out there.

9.

Still Night, Still Light by Au Revoir Simone

Who knew that Au Revoir Simone had it in them? After two albums of light, sparse indie electro pop, the three girls decided to reveal a darker subtext in their newest album Still Night, Still Light. This is not an unwelcome change, in fact, quite the opposite. Au Revoir Simone demonstrates that there is some depth to this brand of rarefied synth pop. Although the subject matter has shifted slightly, the lovely melodies and harmonies still exist in a way that is catchy and frequently entertaining. The most delightful part of this album is the substance that is added to the lithe beats and synth riffs. Au Revoir Simone isn’t afraid to slow things down for Still Night, Still Light and the album is all the better for it. Although not an album to bust out at that party, Still Night, Still Light provides a considerably entertaining experience for the solitary listener.

10.

It’s Blitz! by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are a divisive group, both internally and between music listeners. The band has had well documented struggles with cohesion and most people either hate them or love them; there seems to be no middle ground. That being said, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs make some pretty decent music. It’s Blitz! breaks no new ground but it isn’t an embarrassment either. The songs are as divided in quality as the critics and fans of the band itself. There are some real winners (“Soft Shock”, “Dull Life”, “Heads Will Roll”) and some that are a bit exhausting to listen to (“Shame and Fortune” and “Hysteric”). The end result is an album that is just slightly better than it is worse. The biggest issue with this album is that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs sacrifice originality for radio/popular appeal. This is always a disheartening change in an artist and hopefully, with a group as talented as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it is a temporary setback.

Best Songs of 2009: 1-5

•December 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

1.

“Cold Dust Girl” by Hey Champ

After all is said and done, what really determines a song’s greatness is its intrinsic ability to be listened to repeatedly with no fatigue on the part of the listener. “Cold Dust Girl” by Hey Champ is one of those rare songs. It is invigorating and amusing with every listen. The beat is infectious and (most importantly) encourages dancing. Ultimately, it is a song about being young, living in the moment, and making ill-advised choices; in a year when there are so many things to be depressed by, “Cold Dust Girl” is just the distraction everyone needs.

2.

“Glass” by Bat for Lashes

The only sufficient adjective for this song is “epic”. From the moment the drums kick in, the listener is made very aware that this is a song of power and ultimate grace. Natasha Khan’s voice incants the haunting lyrics until she reaches a mighty crescendo in the form of the chorus. What makes this song so fabulous is its ability to convey the stark, entrancing beauty of Khan’s world. Fewer albums have had a better start.

3.

“Sometimes” by Miami Horror

The very best songs are experiences in and of themselves. “Sometimes” by Miami Horror is one of the most enjoyable songs of the year. Combining addictive synths with a voice that vacillates between yearning and instruction provides the listener with an image of a simpler time, of getting lost and enjoying life. Simply one of the best songs of the year.

4.

“Night Time” by the xx

“Night Time” takes the best attributes of xx and distills them into one song. A slow beat coupled with ambient bass playing connotes the confessional nature of the song. While it has fairly sparse instrumentals, the voices of the singers keep the listener engaged and interested. The xx is unparalleled in their ability to contrast male and female voices to produce a poignant effect. “Night Time” is one of the best songs by one of the best bands of the year, making it an obvious choice for this list.

5.

“Queen” by Freddie Gibbs

One of the best songs by the best rapper you aren’t listening to, “Queen” by Freddie Gibbs is an incredible story that is told through the voice of an impassioned lover who is ultimately wronged. It is a song about being a relationship with the idea of a woman and the subsequent let down when said woman turns out to be inevitably, tragically, human. Easily one of the best rap songs of the year.

Best Songs of 2009: 6-10

•December 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

6.

“The Reeling” by Passion Pit

“The Reeling” is a song that inspires ebullience in the listener. One can’t help but be tempted to dance when listening to this song. With a perfect beat and viciously addictive synths, this song is a tour de force in indie synth pop. There is something fundamentally vital about this song that harkens to the essence of life itself as if Dionysus himself crafted it.

7.

“Sweet Dreams” by Beyonce

It would be easy to pass Beyonce off as just another pop diva… if she didn’t demand one’s attention with songs like “Sweet Dreams”. Slate made the argument that Beyonce was the closest thing to Michael Jackson in this day and age; a claim that was, understandably, met with incredulity, that is until “Sweet Dreams” came along. It is a song that is frenetic yet driven, airy yet powerful, and more than a little intimidating. If she keeps crafting gems like this one, Beyonce may very well end up as iconic as Michael Jackson.

8.

“Back to the Start” by Lily Allen

Lily Allen has been making some of the catchiest and wittiest songs for a while now. “Back to the Start” is just one of many in a series of excellent songs about relationships. The song is an apologetic request for renewal to a (harshly) rejected wooer. All of Allen’s trademark strengths are on display here as she crafts a delightfully witty gem of electro pop. She finds herself begging for clemency after she has ruthlessly berated a courter for what she had deemed (at the time) as an unforgiveable offense: he was less intelligent than she. “Back to the Start” is a song that makes the entire endeavor of music appreciation worthwhile.

9.

“Ride With Me (Nelly Cover)” by I Call Shotgun

The indie cover of the popular rap song is a tired trope. But, improbably, I Call Shotgun manages to breathe new life into Nelly’s excellent single “Ride With Me”. All of the charm of the original is maintained as I Call Shotgun demonstrates a new side to the song. Rather than an unapologetic postulation, this version of “Ride with Me” is almost mournful in its contemplation of the fast lifestyle espoused in the song. As revelatory as this version is, it is still just as fun as the original. “Ride With Me” is proof that an old dog can learn new tricks.

10.

“Kettering” by The Antlers

Sometimes a song is so poignant and affecting that one can’t help but feel awestruck. “Kettering” by The Antlers is one of those songs. Mixing a slow build with a voice that aches with sorrow, the song hits the nerve center of sentimentality. It’s a depressing song to be sure, but one that rewards the listener with an uncompromising portrayal of pain and heartbreak.