2009 YEAR-END BALLOT1. “I Gotta Feeling,” Black Eyed Peas: Did this have a lengthier run at #1 than “Boom Boom Pow”? Not sure--but I’m predicting that it’ll be making people happy long after its predecessor’s expert flash is relegated to the sidelines (after first taking a mo- ment to salute its great line about being so 2000-and-eight; I spent a couple of weeks last spring laying that on everybody I spoke to). It’s amazing how far these people have come in such a short time: not more than a couple of years ago, they were more or less a monstrosity. “I Gotta Feeling” exists somewhere inside a November election-eve euphoria that never ended, a moment a world apart from Joe Lieberman, Orly Taitz, Glenn Beck, Sgt. Crowley, Matt Taibbi, Joe Wilson, and the, um, exigencies of governing that have made the past year such a prosaic slog. (I say that as an interested Canadian who be- lieves the President’s doing just fine; Iowa, however, 2009 has not been.) As melodic and graceful as it is propulsively anthemic, “I Gotta Feeling” brings to mind “Holiday” and “Roam” and (of course) the Vengaboys, and I’ll even throw in “1979” in terms of the video. Seeing BEP doing it on one of the award shows after descending from above on giant rocketships was easily my musical high point of the year. Again, these weren’t just any rocketships--they were super-huge giant ones. 2. “Gardeninginginging,” Knight School: After almost 20 years of participating in year- end polls, I’m tempted to cast my first-ever LP vote. I saved five out of The Poor and Needy Need to Party’s 14 songs on my hard-drive, which for me is about as good as it gets. I could also happily go with “Pregnant Again” on my singles list, but this is the one that I’ve included on three or four mix-CDs for friends, and that’s always a reliable tiebreaker. My number-one favourite default admission when explaining why I like what I like applies once more: I haven’t got the faintest idea what it’s about, and the title ain’t helping a whole lot. I think I might be able to teach myself how to play it on the guitar, though--the main riff sounds like a speeded-up “Hand Me Down World”--so if I can recruit some backup in the spring, I’m hoping to turn an army of elementary school kids at Huttonville P.S. into lifelong Knight School fans. 3. “Bad Fog of Loneliness,” Neil Young: I’ll allow this in on the same rationale that landed Dylan’s Royal Albert LP high on album lists a few years back: the Stray Gators studio version buried somewhere towards the end of Archives’ morass is its first-ever commercial release. (It did turn up on the Massey Hall album two years ago, but since I’m bending rules anyway, no point in nitpicking.) It begins exactly the same as “Old Man,” then brings in a steel guitar and gets much better--it would have vied with “A Man Needs a Maid” as Harvest’s greatest song. In a guardedly positive review of Archives I wrote earlier this year, I tried to be clear that guardedly positive was a luxury afford- ed by a review copy; anyone paying for Archives would be getting an unreasonably large amount of music he already had. “Bad Fog of Loneliness” goes some way towards softening that realization. 4. “Never Come Down (The Brownie Song),” Cunninlynguists: Drug songs are keeping pace with the times: dispensing with rabbit holes, rainy day women, and the old within-you- without-you, this guy sits in front of his computer marvelling at Google Earth and “getting his zoom on.” Cypress Hill and Cheech & Chong probably had lines just as good as “Physics don’t apply/Midgets in the sky/Skipping round my head, saying ‘Negro, you so high,’” but if so, I’ve (and they’ve) forgotten what they were. 5. “Summertime Clothes,” Animal Collective: The other two songs I downloaded by this group were icky clump, but after a few ominous seconds of Sting-like crooning near the start, this one bounces along fetchingly. Help me out--this is art-rock, right? In the best sense, I mean: mad synthesizer, bubblegummy ELO, mountains coming out of the sky, ooh-what-a-lucky-man and all the rest. And, in its indie-rock way, as salacious as Fergie or Lady Gaga, albeit more polite about it: “And I want to walk around with you, and I want to walk around with you...” On my 2009 Walking-on-Sunshine meter, I give this at least nine Mazel Tovs. 6. “The Fireside,” Yo La Tengo: Well, you’ve got to be a fan--a big fan. Eleven minutes of ambient noodling, a few whispered fragments three-quarters of the way in, a Mark Rothko painting with slightly more of a plot. I like Mark Rothko, and I like losing my- self in this. Most of the rest of Popular Songs is disappointing. 7. “A Walk in the Former Yugoslavia,” Pan Am Down: A lot of the music I accumulated (a euphemism meant to ease my conscience somewhat) this year came via three websites: Wil- fully Obscure, Jangle Pop Boutique, and I Wish I Was a Flexidisc. The latter two lean heavily British, the first is tilted American; all three are mired in the past (primar- ily the ‘80s), just like me, but occasionally they’ll post something current. And when they do, big surprise, it’s almost always the work of someone mired in the past. “A Walk in the Former Yugoslavia” is very much set in the Husker Du/Dinosaur Jr. mid-‘80s moment, and I might be the last living person who counts that as largely a good thing. 8. “This Is It,” Michael Jackson: Short of, I don’t know, stumping for Nickleback, this is just about the last person I ever expected to be voting for. My feelings had become so negative towards Michael Jackson by the time of his death that, when I tried a number of times to write something for my page--something that I hoped might marginally balance the mass amnesia that seemed to permeate everything I was reading--I eventually gave up after constantly getting bogged down in contradictions, inconsistencies, and dead ends. The short version: highly personal art that emerges from a damaged psyche isn’t inher- ently of value, sometimes it’s just shrill and overwrought, and, as much as I’ve always loved a few Jackson and Jackson 5 songs, the great Thriller moment was hardly a water- shed event in my own life (the alleged “death of monoculture” and such). With that as the backdrop, “This Is It” is everything I never would have guessed it would (or even could) be: modest, old-fashioned, humane, an almost wilful non-event. I’ve no interest in seeing the film; for me, this closes a long and often tiresome story honorably. 9. “Day 'n' Nite,” Kid Cudi: This first caught my ear last year, a few months before it reappeared in the spring riding shotgun up the Top 40 alongside “I’m in Miami, Trick.” The two have a somewhat similar feel; LMFAO are in it for laughs, of course, and when I think about how Beck and Eminem made their entrances with funny novelty records, maybe LMFAO are the next great Rock Critic Project waiting in the wings. For now, I find Kid Cudi’s skronks and whooshes more sonically compelling. 10. “The Wilco Song,” Wilco: I should probably vote for “Poker Face” instead, but a) this is at least as catchy, b) I’ve gradually become something of a fan (“Handshake Drugs” was on my decade-end Top 10, and I liked this year’s concert doc), c) I’ve never cast a vote for Wilco before, and d) only three other things on my list fall into the category of Mid-Tempo Music for Old White People, and I feel it’s important that I add a fourth.