After years of reading respectable music magazines (PASTE, SPIN, Rolling Stone) and online sites (Pitchfork) and their year-end, so-called "best of" lists, I've realized that they never truly reflect more than 40-50% – if that – of the music I dug in a given year. It's become an almost completely useless exercise for me.
Now if you're talking about someone's list of "favorite" songs/records of the year, they are more valuable, not to mention less arguable than "best of" lists, for the authors usually give a more personal and passionate explanation as to what a certain song or album meant to them. Such write-ups may convince you to check out such music yourself to see if you get that same reaction.
Therefore, when you read a list such as the one below, it only reflects my personal taste, not my "music critic" side, though some of these songs were ones I did indeed discover as a reviewer. With audio/video links and descriptions accompanying many of these choices, I hope you find this list at least somewhat useful since you are taking some time out of your busy life to read it.
Without further ado, here are my top 40 favorite tracks of 2009.
40. Appleseed Cast “Raise The Sails”
A dreamy, shoegaze tune that (top music blog) Stereogum is directly responsible for me hearing. Thanks!
39. N.A.S.A. "Spacious Thoughts (f/Tom Waits & Kool Keith)"
Whoever came up with the idea of pairing up a crazy cool veteran underground rap star in Kool Keith with this legendary New Jersey elder statesman of rock deserves to be paid handsomely.
38. The New Up "Bitch"
A young San Francisco band with a female lead singer (ES Pitcher) that’s being compared to Chrissy Hynde and Emily Haines definitely got my attention this year. This track is the clear highlight from the group’s Better Off EP.
37. Jack’s Mannequin "Swim"
This is one heck of an inspirational and hope-filled song written by Andrew McMahon, a cancer (leukemia) survivor.
36. Julian Lennon "Lucy"
Speaking of inspiration, the last song I added to my top 40 list is a tribute to the late Lucy Vodden, who as a young girl inspired a drawing by Julian Lennon, which his dad John Lennon saw and wrote into a song with his fellow Beatles you may have heard of, "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds."
35. Let Me Run “Like A Fish”
Love the punk spirit here.
34. Rocketboys “All The Western Winds”
Discovered via PASTE magazine late in the year, these guys deliver slightly ethereal alt-rock in the vein of the best aspects of Coldplay.
33. Amazing Baby “Headdress”
The twin guitar work here impresses me every time.
32. Dead Weather “New Pony”
Jack White holds his own on the skins while the band rocks out '70s garage hard rock style.
31. Wild Light “California On My Mind”
The lyrics might be angry/negative but this is a carefree, fun, guitar pop tune with some happy harmonica parts to boot.
30. Washed Out “Feel It All Around”
Listening to this track, I picture a slightly cloudy, summery day circa 1986. It's retro chill music indeed, from South Carolina.
29. Prince "Ol’ Skool Company"
If you wanted to order a tune with a fresh mix of soul, rock, and funk this past year, this hot (and slightly political) track was it.
28. Serena Ryder “Little Bit of Red”
She could be the next Melissa Etheridge with more tunes like this.
27. Cut Off Your Hands “Happy As Can Be”
It’s like Echo & The Bunnymen, but less dark — for New Zealand.
26. Street Sweeper Social Club “Promenade”
This bouncy rap rocker features some of Tom Morello's finest soloing in years.
25. Kentucky Nightmare “Caroline & I”
A little Americana never hurt anyone.
24. Phoenix “1901”
2009 was a breakout year for these guys, and this is arguably their best song yet.
23. Favours For Sailors “I Dreamt That You Dreamt You Loved
Me In Your Dreams”
This infectious powerpop rocker will have you wondering when they will get their big break. They'd be a perfect opening act for Weezer (hint, hint).
22. Future of the Left “You Need Satan More Than He Needs You”
It’s loud, ridiculous, and most importantly, fu***** rocks your socks off.
21. Annie “Anthonio”
The Norwegian electro-pop singer/DJ always has a sweet or downright hot voice to match her music, and this track is no different.
20. Kiss “Modern Day Delilah”
Simply the best song they've written in more than a couple decades.
19. Yeah Yeah Yeahs ”Heads Will Roll”
A great workout/dance song that also rocks from Karen O and the boys.
18. U2 “Magnificent”
They've made more elite albums than No Line On The Horizon, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have great material. This one made the list for its memorable chorus alone, the end of which slightly recalls the chorus of Achtung Baby favorite “Even Better Than The Real Thing.” And that’s a good thing, of course.
17. Silversun Pickups “Substitution”
I'm so glad they released this as a single as it is one of the most dynamic tracks on 2009 CD Swoon.
16. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse “Revenge (w/Wayne Coyne)"
A late night track perfect to relax to after a long day.
15. Metric “Blindness”
Definitely the most emotion-filled track on the Fantasies disc, one that sees Emily Haines presumably empowering herself to overcome drug addiction.
14. Clutch “Struck Down”
Yet another ace track from the veteran Maryland stoner rockers, this tune proudly wears its current blues rock influence on its collective sleeves.
13. Jay-Z “Run This Town (w/Rihanna/Kanye West)”
You couldn't avoid liking this tune if you tried, mostly because of Rihanna's stadium-sized vocals.
12. Jay-Z w/Alicia Keys “Empire State Of Mind”
As anthemic and cool as this version is, Keys' own piano-based version turns it into a beautiful number that's just as great, if not better.
11. Neko Case “People Got A Lotta Nerve”
A short, jangly, hooky pop song from one of the best female indie rock artists of the 2000s.
10. Imogen Heap “First Train Home”
The genius of electronic pop hits a home run again with this one.
9. Third Eye Blind “Non Dairy Creamer”
The subject matter may be political, but it's also humorous. And the music (pop rock) is undeniable ear candy.
8. Royksopp “Silver Cruiser”
Phenomenal production, out-of-this-world soothing sounds. Electronic music doesn't get cooler than this.
7. Pearl Jam “Got Some”
It's their most urgent and energy-packed loud rocker they've released since "Go" came out in 1993.
6. Bat For Lashes ”Sleep Alone”
A hot beat behind retro electronic drums and synths, and The Cure-ish atmospherics equals an A+ track to these ears.
5. Passion Pit “The Reeling”
These Boston boys came out of nowhere to score a hit with the most swirly, hypnotic, synth-pop tune I've heard in years.
4. Low Red Land “Dog’s Hymn”
Discovered via SPIN magazine, this San Fran group's best song evokes Minus The Bear (one of my favorite bands of the 2000s). Thus, it easily became one of my favorite songs of the year.
3. Bat For Lashes “Daniel”
This darkly romantic, '80's-style synth rocker ruled my world this year — not to mention my MP3 player.
2. Bright Eyes w/Gillian Welch “Lua”
First released in 2005 solo acoustic, this beautiful re-recording is the most improved version of any song I've ever heard, period.
1. Company Of Thieves “Oscar Wilde”
It's got a funky bass line, emotive guitar work, a fine vocalist with powerful pipes and a message that serves as an indictment of humanity: "We are all our own devil/And we make this world our hell." It's my song of the year and thanks goes to Carson Daly for introducing the Chicago band to the world in 2009.