Guinea Worms
“I Know Where Will Foster Lives”
Columbus Discount

The A-side is either a nod to Columbus, Ohio’s most infamous groupie, or another instance of lead-Worm Will Foster self-mythologizing. In either case, the band nails this complex staccato stunt with balls. “CHUD” (the flipside), on the other hand, is the Guinea Worms’ best recorded example of “Worm Rock”: a chunky rhythm assaulted by multiple guitars, rock boiled down to a delicious stock. So dumb it’s smart. DE

Taylor Swift
“You Belong With Me”
Big Machine

If you haven’t been keeping up with Taylor Swift’s gargantuan crossover from new country to the pop charts, then you’ve likely been completely removed from civilization. For a moment, shed all reservations about studio-glazed bubblegum—it’s all about the quality of the song. “You Belong With Me” has hooks for miles, wrapping it up in the innocence of an ephemeral teenage experience and hurling it out to the widest audience possible. And for that purpose, it’s a work of genius. KJE

Animal Collective
“My Girls”

I think it was about 12:31 a.m. on January 1st when “My Girls” was declared the 2009 song of the year by an unusually unified coalition of bloggers, hipsters, and Bonaroozers. It was an affront to my cynical side that the song really was good enough to set the tone for the year. It’s loopy, joyous, sincere, and incredibly original—and even my dog loves it. MS

Jay-Z with Alicia Keys
“Empire State of Mind”
Roc Nation/Atlantic

The greatest rapper alive pays homage to the greatest city on Earth, with the help of vocal/piano powerhouse Alicia Keys. Jay-Z declares himself the “new Sinatra,” a self-assured nod to his hip-hop/R&B anthem as the modern equivalent to “New York, New York.” Over hitmaking beats and a sample of the Moments’ “Love On a Two-Way Street,” he rhymes about his beloved hometown, building to a chorus of Keys’ soaring vocals: “There’s nothing you can’t do, now you’re in New York. These streets will make you feel brand new. Let’s hear it for New York.” JR

The XX
Young Turks

The XX hopped into the spotlight by avoiding it, at least musically. They may be an archetypical case of aesthetic before substance—in this instance, it’s apathetic youngsters making underwhelming beauty—but as a singles bands, they conquered both coasts with a sublime mixture of the Young Marble Giants’ brand of whispered jangle and Violator-era Depeche Mode atmospherics. “Crystalised” bristles with a kind of asexual tension too stiff to be ignored. KJE

Neon Indian
“Deadbeat Summer”

This year brought us a multitude of songs that transport the listener to the laziest, hottest days of the years. But none were more effective at combating seasonal defective disorder than Neon Indian’s “Deadbeat Summer.” Sounding as if played through a boom box submerged in a kiddie pool, “Deadbeat Summer” offers hazy recollections of summers past as a warm anodyne to winter’s frigid vise-grip. DH

Julian Casablancas
“11th Dimension”

Though the initial rush that came with Julian Casablancas’ first solo foray has died down quite significantly, there’s no denying the Hooked-on-Strokes disco-balled glean of “11th Dimension”—so grand because he didn’t over think it. It is not a single of genius in bloom; it’s purely fun, privileged perma-grin, sugary as fuck, and still slurred-out with the same casual cool as before, only now fortified with the glow of a million neon signs at a Tokyo intersection. KJE

Major Lazer
“Pon de Floor”
Downtown/Mad Decent

Too many times to count a supergroup is a major letdown. At worst, it’s a compromised dilution of the traits that make each artist great. Or it just can never live up to the hype in your head. So it’s with no minor relief that Diplo and Switch have delivered with “Pon De Floor,” a glitchy electro/dancehall track with Baltimore club undertones. Not so much a call to the dancefloor as it is a demand to totally lose your gotdang mind, tossing self-control to the wind. If you’re not dancing when this song comes on, you may be a zombie vampire, in which case, the good Major would like to speak to you. DSH

“She Wolf”

Unfortunately for us, Latin-loving Anglos, Shakira has perpetually remained on the fringes of the cultural zeitgeist. Truth-telling hips or not, she’s never quite been able to crack the pop charts like her peers. “She Wolf” (a.k.a. “Loba”) thankfully does not kowtow to the radio. In fact, it’s the singer’s wildest yet, with enough distorted spizzle and eight-bit clicks to make Diplo blush. Plus, I think it’s the first song in existence to use the term “lycanthropy.” Ahhhwooooo! KJE

The Mantles
“Don’t Lie”
Mt. St. Mtn.

The Mantles’ blend of ’60s pop-jangle and woozy, Flying Nun wit made for some of the year’s best rock songs, “Don’t Lie” (a.ka. “Trust”) being the very finest of the bunch. Singer-guitarist Michael O. pulls off the romantic slacker vibe better than anyone in years, with lines like “Of all the stars above you, which one puts a heel in your eye?” Still smart enough to make any grad student swoon, the band dig into too steady a groove to be tossed in the indie-rock graveyard. DE

Joker and Ginz
“Purple City”

Apologies for only recognizing that Bristol was in the midst of an uprising when Burial showed up: the entire dubstep genre was already in a hangover by the time it reached these shores. Besides, as much those introspectively dark rhythms can hypnotize, they’re also a moody bitch. “Purple City,” on the other hand, has found the perfect intoxicant to add to the punch, namely fisticuffs of itchy synth melodies and big swaths of g-funk. I’m patiently waiting for Joker to become the “it” producer of the future, but as of right now, it sounds like he’s content resuscitating hip-hop sans the emcee. KJE

Real Estate
“Fake Blues”

Real Estate’s Atlantic surf sound has enough reverb to warrant the effect a composer credit. It was a cozy single to listen to this summer: cool and lazy, weird muffled drums, far-off guitar, wistful lyrics I couldn’t make out (they’re about the fake blues, duh), and syrupy amounts of reverb. Returning to it in the first wicked cold of winter, the reverbs lend a pining for summer, probably because I listened to it 400 times in the hot sun. It definitely kept its luster, and it will sound just as good next summer I’m sure. MPO

Washed Out
“Feel It All Around”
Pure Groove

Of all the chillwave/glo-fi progenitors, Washed Out sounded like the only one who took those prefixes to heart. Instead of piling on the master-system histrionics and kooky ’80s signifiers, “Feel It All Around” simply floats on the horizon like a slow-motion sunset. It’s the summation of that moment right before you fall asleep, when the most extreme rushes of nostalgia collide with a hyper-functioning imagination. I see dazzle ships and bean-bag chairs the size of Hondas, orange foam synthesizers and ghetto blasters made of powdered sugar. KJE

The Big Pink

Given the homogeny of American radio, the hype following London-born the Big Pink hasn’t translated on this side of the pond. But listening to “Dominos,” there’s no reason to think the band couldn’t spark the nth British invasion. Marked by a certain verve, the song is saturated with cracking snares and a crescendoing chorus, just the sort of thing of which pop symphonies are made. SS

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Never predictable, the first single from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ third studio album finds the trio changing locales, from the garage to the dance floor. Like Blondie before them, this is dance music with a punk attitude, as the music builds into an irresistible frenzy on the urging of Karen O’s energetic Chrissie Hynde–meets–Siouxie Sioux vocals. She seduces, coos and commands listeners to “get your leather, leather, leather, on, on, on, on.” JR

The Gossip
“Heavy Cross”

After the surprise success of “Standing In the Way of Control,” people began to look at the Gossip a little differently. In the place of bluesy punk rock were sleek dancefloor jams belted out with authority. But what would they do for a follow-up? The answer is “Heavy Cross,” a tightly wound, tense, slow-building track that explodes into a hard soul shout custom made for unapologetically strutting and singing into a hairbrush. DSH

Bat For Lashes

Sounding like the bastard child of the Cure’s “A Forest” and Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” “Daniel” manages to evoke the best mopey ’80s modern rock without sounding like one of the many current tired new-wave revivalists. It’s the perfect song for an autumn late-night drive. This is the sort of gorgeous melancholy that bands like the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Psychedelic Furs perfected, but we rarely hear anymore. TB

Dirty Projectors
“Stillness Is the Move”

Who would’ve thought that 10-octave Mariah Carey vocals, a backbeat so spare that it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Neptunes production, and a jittery off-time guitar lick played ad nauseum would combine to create one of the year’s finest achievements? Apparently the Dirty Projectors did. The song’s best moment arrives about three minutes deep, when a dramatic string melody that would sound maudlin or over-the-top in any other context cuts through the repetitive groove and adds a warm heart to the track’s too-cool-for-school minimalism. DH


Forget the ox; 2009 was the year of Phoenix. Much like the past 12 months, “1901” is wistful, yet haunting. It casts an addictive shoulder-popping ripple amidst turbulent uncertainty. Ferociously sweet pop ditties like this fill us with enough hope to keep hoping. If only Thomas Mars could yell last call at all of the world’s bars. AK

Times New Viking
“Move to California”

As much as Times New Viking has been portrayed as lo-fi saviors, the trio is really just a bunch of youngsters raised on Ohio misfit rock, but who have a love of pop in their collective heart. Blushes of this penchant aren’t uncommon in the band’s gleeful melees, but within the two and a half minutes of “Move to California,” TNV indulges their crush like never before, perfectly melding rhetoric to a golden hook. SS