I've never done a best-of list for individual songs before, but my posting was mad sporadic this year, so maybe I'm making a last-ditch attempt to make up for that by expanding my year-end lists. This is the first one, and I've got a few more coming before the year officially burns out. I listened to a lot of music this year, but these seem to be the songs that I kept coming back to. Let me know if you think I forgot any. I didn't, because these are my favorites, but I'm always up for arguing.
10. Sloan - "Unkind"
This song struck me as a bit saccharine when I first heard it, but damn if it didn't lodge itself in my head for weeks. Sloan has always sounded more like the Beatles than Cheap Trick, but here they're letting their 70's-rock flag fly, with a hook that is just massive. A great song from a great record from a great band that's twenty years in and still a powerhouse.
09. Future of the Left - "Polymers Are Forever"
The opening song on their EP of the same name, this track's buzzy synths and snide, nasally vocals embody everything that makes this band so damn fun to listen to. A sense of humor is something that's lacking from a lot of rock music these days, and even though I have no idea what this song is about, when Andy "Falco" Falkous sings, he always sounds a bit dickish, like he's pulling one over on you. My kind of dude.
08. Dwarves - "You'll Never Take Us Alive"
The Dwarves have written countless self-aggrandizing tracks that could easily be labeled as theme songs for the attitude/outlook/mythicism of the band, and this one is the latest and greatest. This song's got everything that makes the Dwarves fantastic: a blistering tempo, short running time, hilarious hyperbole ("We transcend time and space"), and multiple reminders that you can try to get rid of them, but they aren't going anywhere. Unless you kill them.
07. Das Racist - "Girl"
This song is flat-out goofy, borderline dumb, and houses one of the dopest beats of the year. The DR dudes' raps are phoned-in on purpose, making the simplicity of the R&B-throwback verses seem even more sincere than they might be. (Are they? I don't think I care.) This is the Das Racist song that your girlfriend likes the most.
06. Big K.R.I.T. - "Dreamin'"
Big K.R.I.T. produces his own beats, writes rhymes about getting off your ass and accomplishing something in life, and boasts one of the smoothest flows this side of Big Boi. When people complain about modern rappers not having any respect or understanding about the roots of hip-hop or lacking a true appreciation for the form, they can't point the finger at this dude. Because he gets it.
05. Radiohead - "Codex"
I was also borderline obsessed with "Give Up the Ghost," the other over-the-top brilliant track from the strangely underrated The King of Limbs, but this is the song that still manages to give me chills. The muffled piano, the blippy percussion, the outer-edged atmospherics: it's all understated and pinpoint accurate. But as usual, it's Thom Yorke's vocals that make it a gut-puncher.
04. Azealia Banks feat. Lazy Jay - "212"
Dear lord. Who is this girl, where did she come from, and how did she lock down one of the most badass beats in recent memory? There's a lot of hype surrounding Ms. Banks right now, but when you listen to this song, you'll probably become a bandwagon-jumper. I have no doubt that she'll get co-opted into some flossy rap camp and lose her edge, but for now we have this brain-crushing track which is like three separate jams in a three-minute span, and they're all awesome.
03. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - "No One Is (As I Are Be)"
Malkmus has long been the master of writing seemingly nonsensical lyrics that still manage to evoke feeling, so it made sense that he would team up with Beck at some point, because Mr. Hansen has been known to pen songs in the same ambiguously effective style. Instead of insisting that the words coalesce into an identifiable theme, both guys seem more concerned with just making sure they fit. Whether Beck's production on this song (and the rest of Mirror Traffic) had a hand in furthering this method is impossible to say, but the awkward title alone seems to almost champion the concept. And even after the words cease, this song goes places that few Malkmus tracks have before. It's left-field and damn cool.
02. TV On the Radio - "You"
TV On the Radio make songs as brilliant as this one seem effortless, and maybe that's why Nine Types of Light didn't get everyone as worked up as Dear Science did a few years back. "You" is a breakup song that comes from a place that doesn't ostensibly feel like sheer hurt, but still clearly wields the power to crush someone if they were the least bit vulnerable. And the Prince-on-a-BMX video? Pure gold.
01. Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire feat. Despot, Das Racist, Danny Brown, and El-P - "The Last Huzzah"
Talk about your monumental posse cuts. eXquire came out of nowhere with not only an awesome debut LP, but this underground who's-who jam that made sure he got noticed. He's running shit on this song, but all the guest spots are deadly as well, with Danny Brown stomping through like a stoned wolverine and El-P delivering a verse that still has people chattering. (Yes, he's counting the bars.) Add some tongue-in-cheek nods to "Flava In Ya Ear," and you've got yourself a head-nodder of a song, a highly (ha) entertaining video, and an unlikely group of dudes who, despite their wildly different styles, sound insanely cohesive. And just plain insane.