A Look Back at the Best Songs of 2009

I have a unique experience with the music of 2009 — I didn’t hear any of it until December 30, 2010. Well, I didn’t hear most of it, at least. How could you not be exposed to “I Gotta Feeling” and “Run This Town” blasting out of various cars and backyards in the summer of ‘09?

I served a two-year Mormon mission that started the last day of 2008 and extended all the way through the last week of 2010. On a mission, you’re only allowed to listen to church-related music, and maybe some classical (as long as it doesn’t get too wild, like “Ride of the Valkyries” or something). Those music restrictions were… incredibly hard, as you can probably imagine. I would cope by periodically meandering over to the magazine rack in Walgreens and thumbing through Rolling Stone and Spin to get a sense of what was happening. It was there that I read album reviews for Bitte Orca and Brothers, learned that Jack White was forming a new band called the Dead Weather, and that Kanye West released a masterpiece called My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

The very first sanctioned “new” song I heard when I got back was “1901” by Phoenix, and my mind was blown. I learned later that most people in America were sick of that song by then, since its appearance in an ever-present Cadillac commercial. But to my fresh ears, it was glorious. Was that a guitar or synth riff at the beginning? Were they singing “Fallin’, fallin’, fallin’, FALLIN’” in the chorus? Or “Ballin’, ballin’, ballin’, BALLIN’”? Who knows, but it sounded incredible.

And that’s how it was with the music of 2009 and 2010. It was like Tom Hanks finally returning home in Cast Away, except instead of learning that your wife married someone else, you get to just experience a whole two-years worth of music as if it were brand new.

Indie art-pop was a big presence in 2009, with Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, and Dirty Projectors carrying the torch. Rap was still coasting a wave of soul samples, popularized by Kanye West in the early to mid-2000s. And Max Martin was just on the precipice of his second wave of pop dominance, with hits from Katy Perry and Kesha soon to come the following year.

I started making year-end best songs lists in 2006, but for reasons outlined here, I never made a list for 2009 and 2010. Now that 2009 is ten years away, it’s time to rectify this glaring hole in my music list inventory. One added bonus is that I guarantee the list I’m making now, with ten years’ worth of hindsight, is much better than whatever I would have made in 2009 itself.

Before we get to the top 50, here are 15 honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions
Drake: “Best I Ever Had”
Grizzly Bear: “Southern Point”
Animal Collective: “Summertime Clothes”
Raekwon ft. Cappadonna and Ghostface Killah: “10 Bricks”
Phoenix: “Fences”
Jay Sean ft. Lil Wayne: “Down”
The Rural Alberta Advantage: “The Deadroads”
Bon Iver: “Blood Bank”
Japandroids: “Crazy/Forever”
Dirty Projectors: “No Intention”
The Thermals: “Now We Can See”
Mayer Hawthorne: “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out”
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: “Inspiration Information”
Basement Jaxx: “Raindrops”
Animal Collective: “Brother Sport”

Let’s get to it.

50
Regina Spektor
“Dance Anthem of the 80’s”

Built on a simple one-note-at-a-time piano riff, “Dance Anthem of the 80’s” is whimsical in a way that comes natural to Regina Spektor, the Russian-born indie pop master. Spektor has deeper, more well known tracks to her name, including “Eet” from the same album, but the effortless blend of playfulness and poignance in “Dance Anthem of the 80’s” has always charmed me most.

 

49
Atlas Sound ft. Noah Lennox
“Walkabout”

“Walkabout” is a meeting of the minds from two of indie’s most celebrated artists — Bradford Cox of the band Deerhunter, who made music on his own as Atlas Sound, and Noah Lennox of Aninal Collective, who also goes by Panda Bear. Got it straight? “Walkabout” is based on a sample of the Dovers’ 1965 single “What Am I Going to Do?” — Cox and Lennox turn it into a psychedelic dreamscape.

 

48
Rihanna
“Rude Boy”

I’ve had multiple debates with people over who has the best discography, Beyoncé or Rihanna? My stance is Beyoncé has the best albums (not to mention an unimpeachable voice, work ethic, and cultural impact), but Rihanna has the best singles. I like “Rude Boy” a lot (obviously enough to put on this list), but I see it as a waystation between the dazzling singles from Good Girl Gone Bad, like “Umbrella” and “Don’t Stop the Music,” and the unstoppable slew of show-stopping singles soon to come, like “Only Girl (In the World),” “What’s My Name,” and “We Found Love.”

 

47
Cage the Elephant
“Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”

Alternative rock radio mainstays Cage the Elephant scored their first hit with “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” It’s one of those songs that immediately sounds like a decades-old classic, especially with the chorus’s catchy, chanting mantra — “Ain’t no rest for the wicked, mooooney don’t grow on trees!”

 

46
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
“Young Adult Friction”

Some bands have a cohesive, killer sound but lackluster songs. Other bands have good songs but nothing interesting to do with them. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart had both sound and songs fully developed on their debut album. “Young Adult Friction” is all jangly guitars, bouncy drums, and dream pop melodies conjuring the nostalgia of ’80s and ’90s college rock.

 

45
Silversun Pickups
“Panic Switch”

I was never quite sure if Silversun Pickups were an “indie” rock band for the hipsters or an “alternative” rock band for the radio listeners. Maybe that’s part of what made them so good. “Panic Switch” (which, according to the band, is supposed to sound like a nervous breakdown) wouldn’t sound out of place on an indie kid’s iPod at the time, but it also hit #1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart. Best of both worlds.

 

44
Phantogram
“When I’m Small”

Phantogram, and “When I’m Small” in particular, embody a certain “millennial cool,” which is probably why the song was heavily used in a Gillette razor commercial. It’s dark and sinewy but in a palatable, broadly appealing way, with just the right touches of synths and breakbeats.

 

43
The Dead Weather
“Treat Me Like Your Mother”

As the White Stripes slowed to a halt, Jack White let out his creative energy through side projects like the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather. While I found the Dead Weather’s songwriting to be a bit lackluster, White’s team-up with the Kills’ Allison Mosshart resulted in slices of hard-rocking magic, like “Treat Me Like Your Mother.”

 

42
Drake ft. Lykke Li
“Little Bit”

Drake has dominated the culture for a decade now. But before the ubiquity, before the non-stop parade of hits and features, he was an up-and-comer, improbably making a credible crossover from soap opera acting to sing-songy rapping, which was beginning to rise in the wake of Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak. The Lykke Li-sampling “Little Bit” was a preview to Drake’s moody R&B ruminations that would stand side-by-side with his rap songs.

 

41
Miike Snow
“Silvia”

I said in my intro that “1901” by Phoenix was the first new song I was exposed to after I got back. “Silvia” was the second one, thanks to my cousin, who told me to look it up on YouTube. It’s an electro-pop song with tons of swirling sound effects, but my favorite aspect of it is its analog backbone — those stark, pulsating piano chords.

 

40
Dirty Projectors
“Cannibal Resource”

Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca is what a modern art exhibit would sound like if music oozed out of its walls. “Cannibal Resource” is Bitte Orca’s clarion call, the appetizer to Dave Longstreth’s abstract reveries, where odd time signatures and jagged instrumental interpolations mingle with moments of harmonic beauty.

 

39
Grizzly Bear
“Two Weeks”

It can be argued that the apex of popularity for 2000s-style indie music was when Jay-Z and Beyoncé showed up at a Grizzly Bear concert in ’09, and thereby christening the movement. Grizzly Bear’s breakthrough into popular consciousness was largely on the back of their stuttery, deliberate, baroque, harmony-laden single, “Two Weeks.”

 

38
The Very Best ft. Ezra Koenig
“Warm Heart of Africa”

Vampire Weekend was still a brand new entity in 2009, but Ezra Koenig already had his mind on side projects and other diversions. He lent his voice to the lighthearted and extremely fun “Warm Heart of Africa” by The Very Best, a duo comprising a DJ from London and a singer from Malawi.

 

37
Lady Gaga ft. Beyoncé
“Telephone”

My time away from music exactly coincided with the meteoric rise of Lady Gaga. I remember seeing her on magazine covers at the grocery store, but not having any idea who she was (besides the fact that, based on those covers, she was clearly a fashion icon). I’m a big fan of “Just Dance” and “Poker Face,” but those were released at the end of 2008 and thus didn’t qualify for this list, but “Telephone” is right up there with those hits. The delirious production and Beyoncé feature send the song into the stratosphere.

 

36
Gucci Mane
“Lemonade”

I can’t help but crack a smile every time I hear “Lemonade” from Atlanta’s trap statesman, Gucci Mane — a bouncy, piano-heavy track where Gucci extols the many yellow-colored luxuries he owns, including a yacht, Corvette, jewelry, polo shirt, and lemon pepper wings.

 

35
Kurt Vile
“Blackberry Song”

Kurt Vile has really come into his own this past decade as everyone’s favorite super chill uncle with the good vibes, good grooves, and probably the good record collection. “Blackberry Song” is a beautiful, abstract painting. Vile has never been in a hurry to get where he’s going, and “Blackberry Song” is no different. He’s content just inviting you to join him in his perpetually pleasant, guitar strumming hypnosis.

 

34
Japandroids
“Rockers East Vancouver”

Sometimes a song will have a specific two to five second moment that really hits the spot for inexplicable reasons. The example I always think of first is in “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, there are four repeated guitar strums between “I don’t ever want to feel” and “like I did that day.” Check it out when you get a chance. In “Rockers East Vancouver,” it’s even more subtle. It’s that recurring pattern in the middle of the song (at about 2:08) of two quick guitar/drum stabs, at the end of each time he sings “WHAT YOU WANTED” or “WHAT YOU NEEDED.” It’s just so energizing. It also gives me a headache from the requisite headbanging.

 

33
Dan Auerbach
“Goin’ Home”

“Goin’ Home” is a low-key, poignant, twinkling solo tune from the Black Keys’ frontman, released just before the Keys made it big with “Tighten Up” the next year.

 

32
Beirut
“The Concubine”

This was when Zach Condon of Beirut began to subtly shift his sound. “The Concubine” is still like a classic European song of old, as is his forte, but it has a more propulsive beat carrying you forward.

 

31
Matt and Kim
“Daylight”

No one does “unadulterated joy” better than Matt & Kim. There’s a preciousness about “Daylight” and the childish taunt of its main piano lick that I would maybe chafe at if it came out today, but I fully embraced it years ago and still love it for the memories it evokes of a more carefree time in my life.

 

30
The Rural Alberta Advantage
“Don’t Haunt This Place”

When I went back to school, my friends introduced me to the Rural Alberta Advantage (a.k.a. the RAA), and I went to see them at a tiny venue in San Francisco — my first concert since coming back from the mission. I was absolutely floored by their drummer. The speed of his drum fills is astonishing. (Random fact: Lord Huron opened for them at that minuscule show, and they’re getting high billing at festivals now.) The RAA play a brand of earnest, twee indie rock that is no longer in vogue, which is a shame. They’re extremely talented and adept at eliciting strong emotions.

 

29
Mayer Hawthorne
“Maybe So, Maybe No”

Where did this white guy come from with such a keen ear for ’60s and ’70s soul? Mayer Hawthorne signed with the independent label Stones Throw Records, home of enigmatic rappers and producers like Madlib and J Dilla, with the intent of putting together some soulful tracks for other rappers to sample if they so chose. But he was convinced to sing over the tracks and release them as his own album, despite not having any vocal training. The end result was pretty immaculate.

 

28
Wilco
“You and I”

My favorite flavor of Wilco is the more experimental essence the band displayed on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but Jeff Tweedy and crew are highly capable of more straightforward fare too. “You and I,” centered around a duet between Tweedy and featured guest Feist, is an eminently charming, acoustic love song that gives off major Beatles vibes (or at the very least, has the potential for a Beatles-esque mass appeal).

 

27
Passion Pit
“Sleepyhead”

Anyone remember Cactus Cooler, that orange-pineapple soda? I used to down those in high school. They were sweet and fizzy and addicting. I tried Cactus Cooler again recently for the first time in years and it just wasn’t the same. I still liked it, but it had become a bit too sweet to my taste. “Sleepyhead” is the Cactus Cooler of indie pop — a psychedelic sugar rush that I loved at the time, and still enjoy and appreciate, but sometimes it’s just a little too sweet for me. When I’m in the right mood though, it’s really a wondrous song.

 

26
Japandroids
“Sovereignty”

“Sovereignty” is the most wistful song on Post-Nothing, and there’s nothing I love more than a good, wistful song. “I’ll sing the Beatles, and you’ll sing them better, forget all our friends back home” is my favorite Japandroids lyric, for obvious reasons, but I also just love the catharsis of the chorus — “It’s raining in Vancouver, but I don’t give a f***, because I’m far from home tonight.”

 

25
Big Boi ft. Gucci Mane
“Shine Blockas”

When the spigot of creative output from OutKast slowed to a halt, everyone expected André 3000 to be the one we cared about most in a post-OutKast world, but Big Boi surprised everyone by being the more prolific, more vital solo star. “Shine Blockas” was the song that officially kickstarted his solo career. The opulent beat is very much of its time, influenced by the soulful stylings of 2000s Kanye West.

 

24
Girls
“Lust for Life”

Girls differed from the other indie art-pop darlings dominating 2009. They had more of a manic edge. “Lust for Life” is extremely raw — I don’t even know if that jangling guitar is in tune — but it harnessed this unbridled energy.

 

23
Aventura
“Por un Segundo”

Of all the 50 songs on this list, “Por un Segundo” is the only one I knew very well and listened to quite a bit right when it came out, in the year 2009 itself. I was serving in a community that primarily spoke Spanish, and was spending time learning the language everyday, and the people I would come in contact with would rave about the Latin American genre of bachata, and Aventura specifically. I was immediately taken with a number of Aventura tracks, “Por un Segundo” chief among them, with its beguiling rhythm. “Por un Segundo” certainly doesn’t fit under the definition of “church-appropriate” music, which I was supposed to be listening to exclusively at that point. But with very limited knowledge of Spanish, the lyrics never really penetrated me in the way an English song would, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

 

22
Raphael Saadiq
“100 Yard Dash”

It’s a crime that this song is only a hair over two minutes. I could groove to that bass line until the end of time. Saadiq conjures the spirit of Motown with “100 Yard Dash” and imbues it with all the easygoing warmth and swagger it deserves.

 

21
Kid Cudi
“Day ‘N’ Nite”

Even though Kid Cudi’s breakthrough hit “Day ‘N’ Nite” came out when I was already in college, my thoughts veer over to the stoners I knew in high school whenever I hear it. Most of them were listening to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath at the time, but I think they would have found comfort in the subtle trippiness of “Day ‘N’ Nite.”

 

20
Generationals
“When They Fight, They Fight”

If this song came out in 1966, it’d be a hit. Instead, it came out in 2009 from a little-known New Orleans indie duo. It’s classic ‘60s pop at its best — handclaps, trumpet accents, repeating piano chords, a fun Motown style bass line, and those perfect “ooohs” in the background.

 

19
Miley Cyrus
“Party in the U.S.A.”

What kind of millennial wedding would it be without “Party in the USA” dropping in on the dance floor? It wasn’t until I came back in 2011 that I came to appreciate good pop music. Even then, “Party in the USA” would have been classified as a “guilty pleasure” — but no more. There’s no guilt involved now. I just put my hands up, they’re playing my song (sorry, I had to).

 

18
Grizzly Bear
“While You Wait for the Others”

Music critic Ian Cohen recently wrote, “Used to be there was an unwritten rule in music criticism: Only employ ‘Beatles-esque’ as a last resort.” Well, consider this a last resort. Grizzly Bear’s aptitude for tastefully artful production and harmonies recall the 1966-68-era Beatles, which is on full display on “While You Wait for the Others.” The harmonies in the chorus, in tandem with the brilliant jabs of guitar, are what make this song.

 

17
Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys
“Empire State of Mind”

“Empire State of Mind” was made well past Jay-Z’s creative peak. His nonsensical lyrics are proof of that. But the song still achieved transcendence, primarily due to two factors: (1) the triumphant, piano-heavy beat and (2) Alicia Keys’s exultant chorus and bridge. As a wide-eyed non-New Yorker, I’m still beguiled by the city’s charm, and Keys taps into that charm tremendously.

 

16
Taylor Swift
“You Belong With Me”

“You’re on the phone with your girlfriend, she’s upset.” And so starts the biggest hit to that point for an up-and-coming star named Taylor Swift, breaking into the mainstream with her unique brand of country pop. From the beginning, Taylor Swift has had a knack for lyrics that were relatable to a regular teenager — she’s the most popular woman on the planet, but somehow she made the geeky t-shirt-wearing, bleacher-sitting girls feel like she was one of them.

 

15
Dirty Projectors
“Stillness is the Move”

Not many songs lie in the middle of the Venn diagram between “catchy” and “freaking weird.” “Stillness is the Move” is one of the few that straddles that line. There are a million little elements whilrling around over that, dare I say it, danceable beat, but the driving force is Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman’s beautifully odd vocals. Apparently some people are able to hear color — I’m no expert, but I imagine “Stillness is the Move” must look amazing to those people.

 

14
Japandroids
“Heart Sweats”

By now, you can probably tell that I love Japandroids and their debut album, Post-Nothing. They tapped it into an angst inside me that didn’t come out often, as a largely even-keeled individual, but it still needed release. “Heart Sweats” was as good a song as any to help with that release, especially given its relentless undercurrent of drums (perfect for air-drumming), and of course, the centerpiece refrain, to be yelled from the rooftops: “Some hearts bleed, my heart sweats!”

 

13
The xx
“Crystalised”

Nowadays, there are plenty of artists with whispery vocals and drum machines. But in 2009, no one sounded like The xx. “Crystalised” is as elemental as a song can be — every individual instrument is, well, “crystal” clear. And yet, somehow, despite its minimalism, “Crystalised” also has an incredibly rich atmosphere. The vocal chemistry between Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft is off the charts, and they sing with a world weariness that sounds so natural, despite barely being 20 years old at the time.

 

12
Florence + The Machine
“Dog Days Are Over”

“Dog Days Are Over” has a special place in my family. It was the song my wife played on loop right after racing to finish her last paper as an undergrad. It’s also the subject of one of our favorite YouTube videos, giving us dreams of a son or daughter who likes music as much as this kid. “Dog Days Are Over” crackles with life, harnessing the energy and elation you feel after finally turning in that irritating term paper and being rid of it forever.

 

11
Bibio
“lovers’ carvings”

“lovers’ carvings” has been a trusty soundtrack piece for me during many a slideshow or wedding processional. It’s the kind of serene, vibrant, heartwarming song that causes you to take joy and find peace in your surroundings. The lilting waltz in the first half gives way to a 4/4, woodblock-infused celebration. It’s a wholesome, inspiring romp.

 

10
Washed Out
“Feel it All Around”

“Feel it All Around” was not just the iconic theme song for Portlandia, but also has the distinction of being the best chillwave song of all time. Chillwave, the soft and fuzzy genre of choice for wannabe bedroom indie auteurs during the turn of the decade, is a bit of a punchline now. At its worst, chillwave was derivative and toothless, but at its peak, the best chillwave songs could achieve transcendence. The synthetic drums, deep bass line, and foggy vocal harmonies on Washed Out’s “Feel it All Around” act as an immediate transportation device to a hazy, hypnotic dreamworld.

 

9
Free Energy
“Free Energy”

If you inserted a Free Energy song from 2009 into a late-’70s or early-’80s high school movie, you wouldn’t even blink. But the boys of Free Energy are not trying to be pioneers. They’re not here to give you sounds you’ve never heard before. They just want to make good-time, familiar, pop-flavored rock and roll, and boy do they succeed. Their self-titled song “Free Energy” is a riff-heavy, cowbell-infused hook machine. If you’re looking for a song to kickstart a highly-anticipated road trip, might I suggest “Free Energy.”

 

8
Jay Electronica
“Exhibit C”

“Exhibit C” is one of the greatest rap songs of all time, full-stop. I had no access to the world wide web when this song came out, but I’ve heard tell that the rap internet was “shut down” like never before. It makes sense. The beat, which samples Billy Stewart and was produced by Just Blaze, is epic on its own. Tell me five beats in the history of rap that are better than this one. You can’t. And then on top of that, Jay Electronica brings the heat in both his flow and his lyrics. His storytelling is captivating, progressing from “When I was sleepin’ on the train, sleepin’ on Meserole Ave out in the rain, without even a single slice of pizza to my name, too proud to beg for change, mastering the pain” to a hopeful ending: “My light is brilliant.”

 

7
Phoenix
“1901”

If “1901” is the second-best song on your album, you’re in pretty good shape. That’s where Phoenix found themselves when they released Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix — the band’s first album to really permeate the mainstream, over a decade into their career. “1901” is just a perfect pop song. If you don’t like it, then I seriously doubt your judgment. It’s ear candy.

 

6
Animal Collective
“My Girls”

Animal Collective specialize in brilliantly esoteric, experimental soundscapes, but those soundscapes were never as accessible as on Merriweather Post Pavilion, the band’s landmark 2009 album that had the indie zeitgeist wrapped around its finger. “My Girls” is deeply weird, but through its weirdness lies otherwordly aural beauty and a sweet sentiment. Noah Lennox, otherwise known as the artist Panda Bear, wrote “My Girls” from a deeply personal perspective — one that is highly relatable for me in my present stage of life. “There isn’t much that I feel I need, a silent soul and the blood I bleed. But with a little girl, and by my spouse, I only want a proper house.” Tell me about it. And then, that glorious chorus: “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things, like a social status. I just want four walls and adobe slats for my girls.” I’m ashamed to admit that I want a little bit more than adobe slats for my girls, but hey, you have to start somewhere.

 

5
The xx
“Islands”

“Islands” is both understated and powerful. Tones are hushed, but the feelings expressed are strong. The singers are pledging commitment to each other — “I am yours now, so now I don’t ever have to leave. I’ve been found now, so now I’ll never explore” — but the musical atmosphere is dark and seductive, with a touch of foreboding. It is a song best heard in the quiet shadows of midnight.

 

4
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
“Heads Will Roll (A-Trak Remix)”

Any dance party should have a well-placed barn burner — one song that serves as the climax for the whole night, usually played about 75% of the way through the allotted dancing time, when the dance floor is bumping and the collective mood is at its apex. If your dance party is Halloween themed, might I suggest A-Trak’s remix of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll” as your climax? The razor-sharp synths, Karen O’s piercing vocals, and the fast, no-thought-of-tomorrow beat will be a guaranteed hit. Very few songs make me feel more alive than this one.

 

3
Japandroids
“Wet Hair”

“Wet Hair, expertly captures the angst and optimism of youth. When I was in the height of my Japandroids fandom at the beginning of the decade, I wrote that “Wet Hair” “sounds like an adrenaline rush. It sounds like a Friday night with endless possibilities. It sounds like graduation and finally escaping your prison-like high school. It sounds like getting over the girl (or guy) that dumped you last week. It sounds like a party on a hot summer’s night. It sounds like messing around with your friends in the parking lot behind the movie theater and deciding what the night still holds in store.” As someone approaching my 30s, I don’t get those same visceral feelings that I did then. But “Wet Hair” takes me back to that time, and it sounds just as thrilling.

 

2
Julian Casablancas
“11th Dimension”

Julian Casablancas is not always dialed in. So it goes when you’re the coolest guy in the world, but your coolness relies on a certain nonchalance. But when the on-and-off-again Strokes singer is dialed in, there are few better than him at what he does. After the members of the Strokes had had it with each other, they all broke off and did their own thing for a while. Clearly, Casablancas must have felt stifled if he was able to bestow us with “11th Dimension” when he went solo. The track is immensely satisfying — a function of those resolving chord changes in the form of hyperactive synths, as well as Casablancas’s melody (I especially love the way he sings “And don’t be shy, oh no!”).

 

1
Phoenix

“Lisztomania”

Somehow, Phoenix topped “1901.” “Lisztomania” is the bounciest, fizziest, most jubilant song I’ve ever heard. The booming drums, the wall of synths, the impeccable guitar licks, the double-tracked melody, the loud juxtaposed against the soft — it’s all simply perfect. The lyrics are nonsensical, but hey, the band is French. I’ll give them a pass. Granted, I don’t give an iota about lyrics if the music is spectacular, so it doesn’t really matter anyway.

“Lisztomania” is one of the best party songs of all time. It’s just brimming with ebullience and joy. The only reason I don’t play it at every gathering is because I don’t want my friends to get sick of it. In that spirit, I truly hope that “Lisztomania” can stay fresh forever.

Best Songs of 2009 Spotify Playlist:

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Summer Mix 2019

A new year means a new summer mix. Eighteen songs, clocking in at just a hair over an hour, made for any sun-dappled gatherings or drives during the next few balmy months. Enjoy the journey through triumphant R&B (Beyoncé, Amber Mark, Lizzo), driving rock (The Black Keys, Charly Bliss), catchy indie (Vampire Weekend, Generationals, Sufjan Stevens), soul (Anderson Paak & Smokey Robinson, Durand Jones, Marvin Gaye), chill palette cleansers (Jessica Pratt, Aldous Harding, Andrew Bird) and of course, the gigantic, unstoppable force of “Old Town Road.”

1. Beyoncé: “Before I Let Go”
2. Amber Mark: “Mixer”
3. Stella Donnelly: “Tricks”
4. Vampire Weekend: “This Life”
5. Jessica Pratt: “Poly Blue”
6. Generationals ft. Sarah Quintana: “In Green”
7. Lizzo: “Juice”
8. The Black Keys: “Go”
9. Aldous Harding: “Fixture Picture” *
10. Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray Cyrus: “Old Town Road”
11. Tuxedo: “The Tuxedo Way”
12. Charly Bliss: “Hard to Believe”
13. Rosalía: “Malamente”
14. Anderson Paak ft. Smokey Robinson: “Make it Better”
15. Durand Jones & the Indications: “Listen to Your Heart”
16. Andrew Bird: “Manifest”
17. Marvin Gaye: “Try It, You’ll Like It”
18. Sufjan Stevens: “Love Yourself”

* Aldous Harding’s “Fixture Picture” is a current obsession of mine. I can’t stop listening.

Introducing the Current Jams Playlist

If you follow the D-Brad Music Instagram page, you’re already well aware of the Current Jams playlist I update every two weeks. I realized I didn’t ever officially introduce it on the site, so here it is.

D-Brad Music’s Current Jams is a rotating 1-hour-ish Spotify playlist of current favorite tracks (usually new, sometimes old). Every two weeks, I give the playlist a complete refresh, so you’ll always have new songs to hear. For best results, just listen from the top to the bottom — no shuffle.

 
Click here to open the Current Jams playlist.

And if you’re interested in listening to previous Current Jams playlists from this year collected in one place, check it out here.

The Golden State Warriors are the Beatles, in More Ways Than You Know

It’s not just the dominance and consistency. There are more similarities than you might think, especially as the Warriors approach a possible crossroads.

It all started with this tweet from a Warriors fan account during this year’s NBA playoffs:

It’s true. The Houston Rockets are clicking right now, largely due a dominant, record-setting run by James Harden. And they look like they all know their role and love playing with each other.

The Golden State Warriors used to look like that. They rapped to a Big Sean song on the team plane. Their bench celebrations were top-notch. Dancing abounded. They brought out the best in each other.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes they still recapture that magic. They still have moments of pure joy — but not quite as often as they did a few years ago, when the novelty of dominance was still exciting.

And then I realized: The Golden State Warriors are the Beatles. And more specifically, the 2019 Warriors are the 1969 Beatles, on the precipice of a possible breakup after years of excellence. And it’s happening exactly 50 years later.

Here are all the similarities.

1. Both were/are world-dominating and consistently excellent for extended periods of time.

The Beatles took over the world in their heyday. No musical artist before or since has been so consistent in their creative output and has so thoroughly permeated popular culture. The same goes for the Warriors — their grip over the entire NBA, winning three of the last four championships with a stacked lineup and launching their best players to increased stardom, has been unbreakable.
 
 
2. The four best Warriors players each have a Beatles alter ego.

Kevin Durant = John Lennon

KD and John are both remarkably talented and innately gifted. Their natural abilities are unparalleled. They know how to have fun and enjoy their surroundings, but they’re also both prone to mood swings, can get in their own heads to the detriment of those around them, and both looked checked out at times in the later years.
 
 

Steph Curry = Paul McCartney

Both Steph and Paul are virtuosos in their respective crafts. They’re naturally fun-loving and usually in good spirits, sometimes to the point of corniness. And they’re good at toeing the company line, gravitating toward doing what is best for the brand. They’re not going to go out and say something outlandish that makes waves, unlike Durant (lashing out at reporters, refusing to answer questions about free agency) or Lennon (“We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.”)
 
 
Durant/Curry Combo = Lennon/McCartney Combo

Together, the combinations of Durant/Curry and Lennon/McCartney are historically exceptional. All four of those individuals are great on their own, but they have the potential to be even greater with each other. Nothing can beat a KD/Steph pick and roll (when Steve Kerr deigns to unleash it), just like nothing can beat a Lennon/McCartney composition. They’ve also had some really good times together, and often enjoy each other’s company.

Golden State Warriors Dancing GIF by NBA - Find & Share on GIPHY

But while each one can flourish with their partner, it’s not a seamless marriage for either pair. For them to collaborate well, it takes some effort — they are not necessarily natural fits together. KD and John have completely different personalities than Steph and Paul.

To sum it up, this is probably how John looked at Paul when Paul was trying to record “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”


 
 

Klay Thompson = George Harrison

Klay and George are the stoic, reserved ones. They both possess quiet senses of humor. And they both have the ability to completely take over and own the moment, shining brighter than any of their more accomplished group members (Klay’s 37-point quarter or 60 points on 11 dribbles; George’s “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun,” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”). But Klay and George are still clearly the third-most prolific members of their groups.
 
 

Draymond Green = Ringo Starr

Admittedly, their personalities are pretty different. Ringo is not a hothead like Draymond. However, their roles in their respective groups, and how those roles are perceived, are strikingly similar.

Both Draymond and Ringo possess skills that undoubtedly improve the group’s performance, but those skills often go wildly underrated due to their other limitations. Draymond is not a great scorer, but his passing, defense, energy, and high basketball IQ grease the Warriors’ wheels. Ringo is not the most technically proficient drummer, but his reliability, rhythm, and his understated style brought the best out of the other Beatles.

While much of the criticism they receive can be unfair, or go too far, there are some real questions about whether they would be as good and impactful in other groups. They certainly benefit the most from their “systems,” be it Steph, KD, and Klay’s phenomenal scoring ability, or John, Paul, and George’s outstanding songwriting.
 
 
3. If rumors come to fruition, a breakup is imminent.

There have been rumblings all year that Kevin Durant is possibly on his way out once this season finishes. The New York Knicks, with their cap space and big city lights, are said to be the main threat to plucking him from the Warriors. The reason these rumors persist is because KD hasn’t really done anything to quell them. He has seemed distant throughout the 2018-19 season. This is, of course, purely based on speculation, but it has often looked like he’s not happy as a member of the Warriors and needs a change of scenery. That’s absolutely how John felt in 1968-1969 as well. Even though the Beatles were at the top of their game still, it was all getting old. John was still participating, showing up to the Let it Be sessions in early 1969, but he wasn’t fully there. A lot of that had to do with Yoko Ono entering his life, which begs the question: are the New York Knicks the Warriors’ Yoko Ono?

Anyway, for both the 2019 Warriors and the 1969 Beatles, everything was starting to feel stale. Which brings me to how I thought of this comparison in the first place.
 
 
4. Each Warriors championship corresponds with a post-Sgt. Pepper’s Beatles album.

Time to make this extended metaphor even more ridiculous and fun — comparing NBA championships to Beatles albums (and a Beach Boys album). And, to make the metaphor even more perfect, each championship comes exactly 50 years after its counterpart.

2015 Warriors Championship = Rubber Soul
(2016 Cavaliers Championship = Pet Sounds)

First off, the Warriors’ 2015 championship was their Rubber Soul. After their quick rise to stardom and some solid, promising performances, both the Warriors and the Beatles reached the mountaintop for the first time. It was the Warriors’ first championship in 40 years, and the Beatles’ first transcendently great album.

By extension, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ championship the following year is the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. When LeBron James and the Cavs unexpectedly won it all in 2016 and took the crown from the Warriors, it was akin to Brian Wilson hearing Rubber Soul, being blown away, and responding by striving to top it, which resulted in the glorious Pet Sounds. Both the 2016 championship and Pet Sounds are LeBron and Wilson’s respective crowning achievements.

So yes, LeBron James is Brian Wilson. And, because the universe loves us, that means Kevin Love of the Cavs… is Mike Love of the Beach Boys, his literal uncle. I’m not joking — NBA star Kevin Love’s uncle was literally in the Beach Boys. You can’t make this up. The only slight issue with this narrative is Kyrie Irving is really the true Mike Love counterpart: each the second-most famous members of their groups, and both lacking requisite respect and appreciation for LeBron James/Brian Wilson, the ones who made the Cavaliers/Beach Boys as good as they were in the first place.

2017 Warriors Championship = Sgt. Pepper’s

The Warriors responded in 2017 by signing Kevin Durant and going on a dominant playoff run to win the championship — their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They went 16-1 in the playoffs, reaching their maximum potential with everyone firing on all cylinders. The pinnacle they achieved is very similar to the non-stop creative breakthroughs and cultural takeover the Beatles achieved with Sgt. Pepper’s, which is often considered the greatest album of all time.

And to earn that 2017 championship, the team had to conquer LeBron James and the Cavaliers. The oneupmanship had continued, just as it did when Paul McCartney heard Pet Sounds and responded with Sgt. Pepper’s. Reports say that Paul played “A Day in the Life” for Brian Wilson before its release, and its gravity demoralized him. It wasn’t the sole cause of Wilson’s descent from his musical peak thereafter, but it was a factor. Similarly, LeBron hasn’t won a title since 2016, his Pet Sounds championship.

2018 Warriors Championship = The White Album

The Warriors’ 2018 championship was their White Album. The Warriors and Beatles were both not quite as cohesive as in years previous. There was a splintering among them that knocked the team chemistry out of whack just a bit, but through sheer talent, they both still created a classic.

2018-19 Warriors Regular Season = Let it Be Sessions

Then this season came. The Warriors are still good, but it’s getting a bit harder to keep it together. Kevin Durant and Draymond Green got in a public and heated disagreement early in the season that has arguably cast a pall over the season and messed with team chemistry even more. The crack in the armor was never larger than when the Warriors blew a 31-point lead to the Clippers in Game 2 of their first round series. They looked dead out there. Their hearts were not in it.

This makes the 2018-19 regular season and first round of the playoffs their Let it Be sessions. I already mentioned that John was distant during the recording sessions, but those times were also famously fraught with disdainful sniping and contempt, in addition to some creative stagnancy.

2019 Warriors Playoff Run = Abbey Road?

The Warriors are still immensely talented, and are favored to win it all if they kick it into high gear. So, despite the staleness and the reduced team chemistry, can the Warriors overcome it all and make a final masterpiece, a.k.a. win one final championship together, a.k.a. make their Abbey Road before Kevin Durant leaves the group? We shall see.

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P.S. As I alluded to before, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the Beach Boys, LeBron James is Brian Wilson, and the New York Knicks are Yoko Ono. If you want to extend the metaphor even further:

Steve Kerr is George Martin.
Harrison Barnes is Pete Best. (These two were suggested by a fellow Twitter user.)
Bob Myers is Brian Epstein.
DeMarcus Cousins is Billy Preston.
Monta Ellis is Stuart Sutcliffe.
The Houston Rockets are the Rolling Stones.

You can surmise the reasons behind all of these comparisons for yourselves.
 
 
Read more: The Similarities Between Kanye West and Kobe Bryant

2018 Music Awards and Superlatives

Including the top 10 albums of the year, best music video, biggest pleasant surprise, best pop album, best EP, most disappointing albums, and more.

The last time I doled out awards in lieu of a strict “best albums” list was 2014. 2018 reminded me of 2014 in a way — both years didn’t have a clear hierarchy of albums. I feel strongly about my top 10, which we’ll get to first, but I couldn’t have extended the list beyond that with any conclusivity. So instead, we’ll flesh this out with some superlatives — most overrated, most underrated, biggest surprise, biggest disappointments, best music video, and more.

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The 15 Best Live Performance Videos of 2018


It’s time for the third annual installment of the best live performance clips of year. When you get a chance, feel free to check out the 2017 and 2016 live performance lists as well. And also, if you haven’t already perused the 50 best songs of the year, don’t miss it! And come back soon for the best albums of 2018.

Alright, let’s get to it.

15. Lorde covering Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me” (Live at Ally Coalition Talent Show)
At the Ally Coalition Talent Show in New York City on a January night, Lorde was joined by her producer Jack Antonoff on piano for a cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s pop gem “Run Away With Me.” It shouldn’t be a surprise, but Lorde just kills it, imbuing the song with feeling and E•MO•TION.

 
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