LISTOMANIA: Boston Phoenix critics pick their Top 10 songs of 2009


Yay! Happy No More 2009! Wait...that sounds negative.

Happy Another Year Further Away From 2008! There, that's better. Call us crazy, but the future feels a little uncertain; or maybe it's just as uncertain as it's always been, but that uncertainty is now kind of creepy-feeling. I mean: 2010. It just sounds like it's supposed to be major (despite that movie biting so hard). Whether we're perched upon the brink of a revelation or a devolution, we know not; but what us here music snobs at the Phoenix do know is that the following songs of 2009 ruled. And if you don't believe us, you can sit there and listen to them yourself (thank you 8tracks). So...


1. Bibio, "Lovers' Carvings" (from Ambivalence Avenue)
2. Cryptacize, "Mythomania" (from Mythomania)
3. Asobi Seksu, "Glacially" (from Hush)
4. Atlas Sound, "Shelia" (from Logos)
5. Washed Out, "Feel It All Around" (from Life of Leisure)
6. A Place to Bury Strangers, "In Your Heart" (from Exploding Head)
7. Phoenix, "1901" (from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix)
8. A.A. Bondy, "When the Devil's Loose" (from When the Devil's Loose)
9. tUnE-YaRdS, "Sunlight" (from BiRd-BrAiNs)
10. The xx, "Crystalized" (from xx)

After the messy, stressy ulcer-kicking shitshow that was 2008, I really just wanted to climb into a hand-fashioned mylar balloon and drift lazily across the sky until I land in a prairie and am recovered by a team of men who discover that I never even actually existed. Alas, someone else got to live that dream. Plus Michael Jackson died. It was a tough year. As I was making this playlist, E. came out of the bathroom and asked, "Why are you so emo?" The truth is I don't know why I'm so emo, but what I do know is that more often than not, I was simply in search of rescue in my pop music this year -- not big epiphanies, more like little rafts. -- Michael Brodeur



1. Dirty Projectors, “Stillness is the Move” (from Bitte Orca)
2. Animal Collective, “My Girls” (from Merriweather Post Pavillion)
3. Phoenix, “1901” (from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix)
4. Neko Case, “This Tornado Loves you” (from Middle Cyclone)
5. Coverge, “Cruel Bloom” (from Axe to Fall)
6. Grizzly Bear, “While You Wait for the Others” (from Veckatimest)
7. Sunset Rubdown, “Idiot Heart” (from Dragonslayer)
8. Dinosaur Jr., “I Want You to Know” (from Farm)
9. St. Vincent, “Actor Out of Work” (from Actor)
10. The Antlers, “Two” (from Hospice)

Sometimes the choices are obvious for a reason. I know hyperbole has lost all meaning in 2009, but I can’t remember the last time I was as moved by a combination of performer and performance as I was when I watched Amber Coffman knock “Stillness” out of the park with the Dirty Projectors early this past summer. The rest of this list consists of songs that put a big, dumb smile on my face for a variety of reasons, whether it’s the joyful outbursts of Phoenix and Animal Collective or the contented feeling I get hearing Dinosaur Jr. doing what they do best. Special mention to Converge’s Tom Waits-ish “Cruel Bloom,” which proves that no matter what the rest of your album sounds like, if there’s even one song that isn’t hardcore, the non-hardcore fans will take notice.” - Ryan Stewart

1. Jay Reatard, "Rotten Mind" (from Watch Me Fall)
2. Metric, "Satellite Mind" (from Fantasies)
3. AFI, "Too Shy to Scream" (from Crash Love)
4. The Everyday Visuals, "Limb from Limb" (from The Everyday Visuals)
5. Propagandhi, "Dear Coaches Corner" (from Supporting Caste)
6. Soulsavers, "Unbalanced Pieces" (from Broken)
7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Heads Will Roll" (from It's Blitz!)
8. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, "Home" (from Up From Below)
9. Dethklok, "Laser Cannon Deth Sentence" (from Dethalbum II
10. Math the Band, "Why Didn’t You Get a Haircut? (from Don't Worry)

BONUS: Franz Nicolay, "World/Inferno vs the End of Evening" (from Major General)

I was all excited to put Mclusky’s “To Hell with Good Intentions” as my top song of ’09, until I remembered that it’s from 2002, and Mclusky’s been broken up for a couple of years. Ah, yeah, 2009 was weird -- capping off an overall weird decade. Last fall, everybody was obsessed with Barack Obama. Now everybody’s obsessed with Lady Gaga. I’m sure that means something profound about the duality of our generation’s cultural identity. In the meantime, here’s some songs from ’09 that were kind of awesome in their own little ways. -Barry Thompson

10. Bonnie Prince Billy, "I Won't Ask Again" (from Beware)
9. Mission of Burma, "1, 2, 3, Party!" (from The Sound, The Speed, The Light)
8. Pissed Jeans - "False Jesii Part 2" (from King of Jeans)
7. Sonic Youth - "Walkin' Blue" (from The Eternal)
6. Future of the Left - "Throwing Bricks at Trains" (from Travels With Myself and Another)
5. Lightning Bolt - "Sound Guardians" (from Earthly Delights)
4. Fool's Gold - "Surprise Hotel" (from Fool's Gold)
3. Neko Case - "This Tornado Loves You" (from Middle Cyclone)
2. Wild Beasts - "All The Kings Men" (from Two Dancers)
1. Bill Callahan - "Too Many Birds" (from Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle)

"Too Many Birds" begins simply enough, with Bill Callahan absently noting passing birds with just a hint of reticence detectable in his dry baritone. Soon he's addressing a bird directly and it's clear that he's wrestling with some dim feeling he just can't quite put into words. The song is anchored by a hesitant conditional that troubles Callahan. He sounds bashful, as if he'd rather do anything express what is bubbling up from within. "If.... If you... If you could... If you could only..." and on and on for what feels like an eternity until finally he reaches the end, unable to shyly choke back the lyrics any longer. The release of tension is unfathomably gratifying and the listener is left to marvel at Callahan's ability to provoke such a tender emotional response with such a small song. "Too Many Birds" epitomizes what's great about Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, an album of depth and patient brilliance. - Michael Patrick Brady


1. Super Furry Animals, "Inaugural Trams" (from Dark Days/Light Years)
2. The Flaming Lips, "Silver Trembling Hands" (from Embryonic)
3. Neko Case, "Fever" (from Middle Cyclone)
4. Charlotte Hatherley, "Alexander" (from New Worlds)
5. Morrissey, "Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed" (from Years of Refusal)
6. Robbie Fulks, "Common-Law Cabin" (from 50-Vc. Doberman)
7. Julian Casablancas, "Out of the Blue" (from Phrazes for the Young)
8. The Black Crowes, "Good Morning Captain" (from Before the Frost)
9. Kurt Vile, "Hunchback" (from Childish Prodigy)
10. PJ Harvey & John Parish, "Black Hearted Love" (from A Woman A Man Walked By)

In 2009, I became a father and moved to the country -- very McCartney circa McCartney -- and so I spent large chunks of the year disconnected from buzz and trends and the world at large. I say this not to excuse the obviousness of my list, which essentially reinforces my own deep-rooted tastes, but to correlate my current pastoral fantasy with the fantasy of Super Furry Animals' "Inaugural Trams," which imagines a town designed in the shape of a face where emissions have been reduced by 75%. This is, if you were wondering, the appropriate ratio of absurdity, utopianism, and naivety that belongs in rock 'n' roll. - Zeth Lundy


10. The Narcicyst, "The Narcicyst" (from The Narcicyst)
9. Homeboy Sandman, "Sand be the Broham" (from the mixtape Summer With the Goons)
8. Esoteric, "Spending the Day Together" (from Saving Seamus Ryan)
7. Fashawn, "Samsonite Man" (from Boy Meets World)
6. Edo G & Masta Ace, "Little Young" (from Arts and Entertainment)
5. Brother Ali, "Palm the Joker" (from Us)
4. Jay-Z, "Death of Auto-tune (D.O.A.)" (from The Blueprint 3)
3. La Coka Nostra (feat. Snoop Dogg), "Bang Bang" (from A Brand You Can Trust)
2. Raekwon (feat. Ghostface Killah), "Gihad" (from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2)
1. Boycott Blues (feat. Insight and Consequence) - "Da Math" (from Irony)

This was a ball-draining year for hip-hop everywhere, but Boston artists especially boosted the genre, and subsequently crowded my best singles round-up. In addition to remarkable releases from scene heavyweights like Slaine, Edo G, and Esoteric, a new talent crop surfaced in 2009, with Roxbury MC Boycott Blues leading the pack. Dude brings the ideal blend of soul and hardcore, and of enlightenment and ignorance. "Da Math" equals up to all that, earning it my top spot for Boston or anyplace else. - Chris Faraone


1. The Horrors, "Scarlet Fields" (from Primary Colours)
2. Lady Gaga, "Dance In The Dark" (from The Fame Monster)
3. Julian Casablancas, "Glass" (from Phrazes of the Young)
4. Crippled Black Phoenix, "Rise Up and Fight" (from 200 Tons of Bad Luck)
5. Fuck Buttons, "The Lisbon Maru" (from Tarot Sport)
6. Municipal Waste, "Wolves Of Chernobyl" (from Massive Aggressive)
7. Pissed Jeans, "False Jesii Part 2" (from King Of Jeans)
8. Lightning Bolt, "Sound Guardians" (from Earthly Delights)
9. Shakira, "Loba" (from She Wolf)
10. Spinnerette, "All Babes Are Wolves" (from Spinnerette)

2009 was a year that saw so many musical areas blossoming like never before, after years of retrenchment. This year, the metal was metal-y-er, the pop was poppier, the noise-duos were noise-duo-y-er, and the shoegaze/mope-goth was more shoegaze/mope-goth-y. "See yourself/your image in the eyes of someone else" goes the pre-chorus of The Horrors' "Scarlet Fields". I'm guessing that the band took their own advice, as their new long-player Primary Colours found them remaking themselves from 3rd-tier splatter-garage into an actual second coming of MBV. As we all spent 2009 attempting to sort out the real from the imaginary and idealized in our culture's looking glass, our music continued to replicate the sound of the shards of the mirror hitting the floor. - Daniel Brockman


1. Robert Pollard, “Johnny Optimist” (from Elephant Jokes)
2. Charles Spearin, “Mrs. Morris” (from The Happiness Project)
3. A.C. Newman - “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer” (from Get Guilty)
4. Art Brut - “The Replacements” (from Art Brut vs. Satan)
5. Bat for Lashes - “Daniel” (from Two Suns)
6. Chain and the Gang - “Interview with the Chain Gang” (from Down With Liberty... Up With Chains!)
7. Future of the Left - “Arming Eritrea” (from Travels With Myself and Another)
8. JEFF the Brotherhood - “Bone Jam” (from Heavy Days)
9. Neko Case - “This Tornado Loves You” (from Middle Cyclone)
10. Yo La Tengo - “Here to Fall” (from Popular Songs)

It was tough year be optimistic. Financial collapse, soaring unemployment, and crazy people infesting the news made it hard to be happy or hopeful about much. But music helped. With both the visceral bombast of the Boston Spaceships and his own recent solo album, the ever-prolix Robert Pollard has shown a level of vigor and consistency not seen since GBV’s mid-‘90s heyday. So he’s got reason to be optimistic. And so does Charles Spearin, his innovative Happiness Project inspiring sanguinity via Mrs. Morris’s plainspoken joie de vivre overlaid with syncopated saxophone squawks. The rest — from JEFF the Brotherhood’s euphoric, cooing fuzz pop to Future of the Left’s wild-eyed wrath — are just great songs. - Mike Miliard

10. Anjulie - Some Dumb Girl
9. The XX - Night Time
8. St. Vincent - The Strangers
7. Morrissey - I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris
6. Ghostface Killah w/ Raheem DeVaughn - Baby
5. Girls Aloud - The Loving Kind
4. Atlas Sound w/ Laetita Sadier - Quick Canal
3. Neko Case - This Tornado Loves You
2. Luka Bloom - There Was A Time
1. Plush - Getaway

With so much music being recorded in home studios on low budgets by bands who engage in so much branding that they become synonymous with their logos, it seems impractical for someone like Liam Hayes (Plush) to be still operating in near anonymity his analog perfectionist manner. Finally releasing his third album in a 10-year period, Hayes delivered fully on the promise of his sumptuous retro-pop early work with 2009's Bright Penny. With so much emphasis placed on "new sounds," it's easy to forget the importance of writing a good song, and "Getaway" is a perfect example of balance, proportion, and feeling. - Jonathan Donaldson

Check out Boston Phoenix editors picks for 2009's best film, music, theater, and more at

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