Matt Slaybaugh

Music is splintered. Not just the industry, also the way we listen to it. Playlists cobbled together from our massive iTunes libraries, an mp3 here, an illegal download there. “Crap, was that song on my laptop or my iPod or both? No, it’s on my gym iPod.” Genres get tinier and tinier. Thanks to the internet, it’s now possible to sequester yourself in an aural world of nothing but post-laprock-folkie-technoise and never run out of new artists and albums to explore. And while it’s easier to get some attention, artists find it harder and harder to build a following substantial enough to make a living.

Maybe to be contrary (the list below is not even in order), but also to be counteractive to the splintering of the culture, I’ve lumped all my lists in one. This amalgamation of superlatives is everything I’ll remember most fondly about music in 2009.

Top 20 of the Year

“Young Hearts Spark Fire”
from Post-Nothing

This was my song of the year, an irresistible ode to staying up all night and living without dead time. And kinda sad, too. “We used to dream, now we worry about dying.”

Antony and the Johnsons
The Crying Light
Secretly Canadian

The first record I reviewed this year remains my favorite. As I said at the time, "Artful, passionate, and pained," it’s by far the most crafted and beguiling record I’ve heard in the past 365 days.

The Jesus Lizard
Pitchfork Music Festival

David Yow didn’t even need to rip his clothes off to outperform every single fucking band at this year’s Pitchfork Festival. Wreckless and ferocious from the first note, the Jesus Lizard was a reminder of why you used to love rock shows so damn much.

Various Artists
Dark Was the Night

April is the cruelest month, but February is the most depressing. Somehow the Red Hot organization and 4AD managed to capture all the month’s beautiful melancholy with this incredible collection. It features one of my top-three songs of the year (Yeasayer’s “Tightrope”), almost every indie superstar you can think of, and more unbelievable collaborations thank you can shake a stick at. Seriously, go look it up.

Crack the Skye

Mastodon will fuck you up. You’re banging your head and suddenly the groove completely switches up. Or you’re totally into the mid-tempo grind and suddenly they’re pounding away at a light-speed guitar solo. And then you try to decipher the lyrics—holy crap! And have you seen these guys? Ugly isn’t the word for it, they’re more like horifying. But gloriously so.

St. Vincent
Southern Theatre

It’s great to see a much buzzed about band completely outpace expectations. St. Vincent were a phenomenon in the Southern’s intimate setting. They made hundreds of new fans and blew Andrew Bird off the stage in the process. Not a bad night at all, actually.

Sunset Rubdown
“Idiot Heart”
from Dragonslayer

Heh, Spencer Krug wrote a song about dancing. This sounds like an awkward thing, and it is. But he pulls out all the stops on this one, halfway through dropping back to just guitar and vocals before the bass and keyboards return for the disco-crashing chorus. It’s six minutes long, though. Good ol’ Spencer.

Flight of the Conchords
“Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor” video

Season two, episode five—find it on YouTube. Michel Gondry sat in to direct this episode, yielding two unforgettable sequences. The first, the positively daft (punk) “Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor” video, was genius enough to convince me to watch the rest of the mediocre season.

Mos Def
The Ecstatic

From my Agit Reader review: “This is Dante Smith as a bandleader, not a rapper. And this isn’t a record, it’s a caravan.” Mos has been everywhere lately, teaming up with old friends (Kweli) and new (Jay Electronica), touring his ass off and dropping in on Jimmy Fallon and MF Doom (not at the same time, though). This was the year Mos Def remembered that hip-hop still needs him, thank goodness.

The Eccentric Soul Revue
Lincoln Theatre

These folks were doing it for the love of it, and it really, truly showed. A lot of people in the crowd didn’t get it, but Renadlo Domingo, Syl Johnson, et al. played for the ones who did. A once-in-a-lifetime (at least until the encore tour) evening.

The Thermals
“Now We Can See”
Kill Rock Stars

Everybody now: "Oh way oh oh whoa-oh! Oh way oh oh whoa-oh! Oh way oh oh whoa-oh!” I know the only reason I missed the massive success of this song is that I don'’t watch TV or listen to the radio, right? There’s no way anyone wrote a better sing-along smash this year.

Kid Cudi
Man on the Moon: The End of Day

Cudi left ’09’s young hip-hop also-rans in the dust when his first full-length was finally released. Heads said Slug was making emo-rap a few years ago, but his shit wasn’t nearly as emotional as Cudi gets on “Soundtrack 2 My Life,” singing, “I’ve got some issues that nobody can see, and all of these emotions are pourin’ outta me,” and that’s just the beginning. Hip-hop didn’t have a good year, and there are a lot of people who’d claim this isn’t even rap music. But it sure was nice for someone to put some effort into something honest, wasn’t it?

The Believer
Issue 64: The Music Issue

A highlight of every year, but especially great this time around. David Ulin looks at the Beatles three, great, post–Abbey Road records; Michelle Tea follows the Gossip around Paris; Phil Elverum talks about his own music; and Joe Hagan writes about Benji Hughes’ unheard masterpiece. Oh yeah, and there’s a CD of new songs from the English Beat, the Clean, Young Marble Giants, Japan, and more.

Girl Talk
Newport Music Hall

Holy shit, pop music really is all about sex! If you could bottle whatever it is that a Girl Talk show does to people, you would be a billionaire. I have absolutely never seen anything like the crowd reaction at this show. The parents and priests who hated Elvis Presley must have known this was coming.

“Cookin’ Up”
from Crime Pays

Best ridiculous braggadocio since LL crushed you like a jelly beam: “Silencers on calibers, but do it louder bro. Sledgehammers smash his melon. I’m the black Gallagher.” Killer Cam almost made being Gallagher a good thing. Amazing.

The Roots
on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Backing everyone from Black Star (with the Dirty Projectors) to Elvis Costello to Paul Simon, ?uesto and crew always turned it out. Hell, they even made 50 look damnnear classy. Mandatory Hulu-viewing, five days a week.

Mos Def (featuring Slick Rick and the Ruler)
from The Ecstatic

From my review: “‘Auditorium’ features Mos and the creamy voice of Slick Rick over the sitar-tinged ‘Movie Finale’ from Madlib’s Beat Konducta 3&4: In India. Perhaps it’s because the beat is less frenetic, maybe it’s because he knows Slick Rick has a good chance of showing him up on his own album, but Mos is finally able to chill-out and fall deeply into the groove, throwing down two solid minutes of tight, complex verses before the Ruler, sounding like a natural in this environment, turns out an unforgettable story.” Real rap music for once, thank you gentlemen.

Ghostface vs. Beirut
“Save Me Concubine”
The Hood Internet

Mash-ups got better this year, didn’t they? The Hood Internet (dot com) was my go-to spot for indie rock–crack rap mangling and mingling. As in this case, when these tracks are really magic, the disparate elements seem like they were made for each other. Beirut never sounded so hard. Ghostface never sounded more nerdy.

Neko Case
Middle Cyclone

Songwriter of the decade? It’s hard to say which track from this album is the most emotionally devastating... maybe “Vengeance is Sleeping?” All I know is that every time I hear a sad song now, I immediately think, “This would be so much better if Neko Case was singing it.”

Kid Cudi
“Pursuit of Happiness”

I don’t know that his collaboration with MGMT and Ratatat is the weirdest thing Cudi did this year (he also went apeshit on some dude who threw money at him), but it’s gotta be on the list. The Cleveland kid’s got two songs in one here: one’s an ironic ode to living like you like, the other’s a defiant plea for empathy. Hip-hop’s never seen someone living large quite like this.