I’m not going to make a best-of 2009 list (thought I did post one other best of 2009 list). I have about 2/3 of the year covered well but the rest of the year’s releases I haven’t covered as well. I still listen to music obsessively, though and so I can make this list without fear of inadequate preparation. As always with song obsessions, I don’t really choose the songs, they choose me. I wish I always knew why a song sticks in my head, but it doesn’t happen that way.
I know that this is much later than many year-end lists, but as a semi-retired music blogger, I have the luxury of setting my own schedule. It’s pretty nice.
- the Tallest Man on Earth – the Gardener (mp3) (buy)
Nearly every track on Shallow Grave was among my top listened songs according to last.fm, but this one stood out a bit more than the rest. It has that incessant, but interesting strumming, and beautifully melodic and poignant vocals.
- Adele – Hometown Glory (mp3) (buy)
I initially wrote Adele off. I thought she was just another manufactured British retro-soul artist. Then I saw her perform “Chasing Pavements” on a few late night shows and my opinion started to turn. But it was when I saw her perform this song on Conan’s show (I can’t find a video, but here’s a similar performance of the song on Letterman) that I realize she was for real. This really is a stunning song. She’s got a great voice and the simple and subdued orchestration works well.
- David Ruffin – Anything You Ask For (mp3) (buy)
Definitely not a 2009 song but one that I was obsessed with during the year. From the stutter-start drums to the funky guitar to the lush strings to Ruffin’s gravely-but-sweat voice, there’s nothing about this song I don’t like.
- the Gaslight Anthem – the ’59 Sound (mp3) (buy)
Another band that I initially wrote off but I came around on. I actually like this whole album, but this song is definitely a stand-out. It’s just so catchy and sincere.
- Shirley Ann Lee – There’s a Light (mp3) (buy)
This is the song that made me want to get yet another of Numero Group’s fantastic releases, Downriver Revival (which I did get and later reviewed). It’s so simple: straight forward guitar work and absolutely burning vocals. One couldn’t ask for more from a soul gospel number.
- Henry Lumpkin – Don’t Leave Me (mp3) (buy)
I got a lot of Motown in a hurry so some of it slipped by the wayside. In particularly the early stuff didn’t get a full listen. With this year being the 50th anniversary of Motown’s founding, I went back to listen to some of it and found some true gems, like this anguished soul number from someone I’d never heard of. It quickly went into heavy rotation.
- Tallest Man on Earth – I Want You (mp3) (free at Daytrotter)
If the beginning if the year was dominated by songs from Tallest Man’s Shallow Grave, the latter bit was dominated by this song, a Dylan cover, and others from the Daytrotter session. I’m a sucker for good banjo work and this song is nothing if not a display of great banjo work–it’s also a lovely tune.
- Dawes – When My Time Comes (mp3) (free at daytrotter, buy original)
This is a good tune with a great and very endearing chorus. It’s that simple. It’s also noteworthy that this is essentially a live-to-tape track—I don’t think there are any overdubs on Daytrotter sessions—so it’s impressive that they just nail the harmonies throughout without any dubs.
- Alberta Cross – Low Man (mp3) (buy)
Hearya and others have been talking about Alberta Cross for a while so when his new album came out I decided to check out a few tracks. This one played on repeat for much of my time in rural South Africa and later when I was getting settled again in Cape Town.
- Jonsi + Alex – Happiness (mp3) (buy)
This is another situation where I was really obsessed with an entire album and this song just has a slight lead over the others. Even before I knew this was Sigur Ros-related—it was released on the Dark was the Night comp as a Riceboy Sleeps track—I loved it. Ambiant, long, moving, gorgeous, and slowly developing, it reminds me both of what I like best about Sigur Ros and modern, melody-driven composers like Aaron Copland.
- Mayer Hawthorne – Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’ (mp3) (buy)
Retro-soul like any genre has its hits and its misses and I really think Hawthorne’s A Strange Arrangement is a hit. Great production, interesting songs, good beats. This is one of the first songs I heard from it and I really enjoyed its breezy oldies vibe enough that it kept me coming back.
- J. Tillman – When I light Your Darkened Door (mp3) (buy)
Sometimes I have a problem where if I decide [x] is my favorite album by an artist, I’ll listen to that to the exclusion of their other albums. Trying to fix that (my favorite Tillman album is Minor Works), I went back to some of his other work and this song really struck me. Crushingly beautiful is one way to put it.
- Jay Z and Santogold – Brooklyn Go Hard (mp3) (buy)
I’m not from Brooklyn and I’m not a big fan of either Jay Z or Santogold, but something about this song had me coming back for it again and again. I think it may be how incessant and intriguing the phrase “we go hard” is to me.
- Kid Cudi – Alive (mp3) (buy)
It’s pretty easy to pinpoint what had me hooked to this song: the weird swooping synth sounds in the verses. I also like the flow of Common’s verses a lot; they fit the beat well.
- John Vanderslice – Too Much Time (demo) (mp3) (buy original)
I was obsessed with at least three different versions of this song this year, including the beautiful version with the Magik*Magik orchestra which I first heard at the Tiny Telephone 10th Anniversary Show and later in the linked video above. It’s a good song with a great chorus. I love the demo’s subdued collection of synth sounds under JV’s plaintive vocals.
- Fanfarlo – I’m a Pilot (mp3) (buy)
I’ve long been a Fanfarlo fan and so when the first hints of their new album came out, I was listening with keen interest. With keen interest over and over and over.
- the Welcome Wagon – But for You Who Fear My Name (mp3) (buy)
It’s funny that I have two stomp-clap songs in a row. I like this rousing Sufjan-produced campfire song.
- Passion Pit – Sleepyhead (the One AM Radio remix) (mp3) (from tour only b-sides compilation)
My most recent obsession on the list. It’s an obsession entirely because it’s so ridiculous. And that it’s on the makes-me-smile side of the ridiculous line.
- The Swinging Tigers – Snake Walk, Part 1 (mp3) (buy)
If you’ve paid attention to my mixes or when I used to do soul sets on my radio show, you know I’m a sucker for hard swinging soul instrumentals. I found this one listening back to some early Motown stuff early on in the year. Every time I heard this one, I want to do an anachronistic and over-the-top dance to it.
- the National – Wasp Nest (mp3) (buy)
I don’t know who or what pointed me this song midway through the year, but I quickly got the rest of the Cherry Tree EP and found myself wondering why didn’t anyone tell me this EP was so good?. I really like the interplay between the vocals and the shimmery instrumentation on this one.
 But not my last obsession of 2009. That would be “Prarie Night (Card Game at Night” from Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid