11. Damien Jurado - Arkansas
iTunes says I listened to this song more than any other this year. That's probably because I'm always in the mood to hear it. The line "I never feel magic unless I am with you" is always stuck in my head.
12. Kanye West featuring Pusha T - Runaway
I think this could have been the best song of the year if Pusha T's rap was not included. I hate to say that because I am a huge Clipse fan, but Pusha T just totally doesn't fit here. Kanye's portion is a mediation, a push-and-pull list of everything he has ever done wrong (it's the one justified mention of his dick on this whole album). Run away from me, he says, then later admits he isn't sure what he'd do if the "you" in this song actually did run away. His part of the song is so complex. He's regretful. He's proud. He doesn't know why he's an asshole, why he's addicted to hood rats. Pusha T's verse is so simple and stupid. I have no idea why it's included. The rhymes are juvenile. The subject matter is even worse (Let's drink mai thais? an ode to his watch? Seriously?) Thankfully Pusha T only lasts a minute or so of this nine-minute wonder, so I can spend the rest of the time just listening. The music in this song is amazing. That lone, repeating plaintive piano plunk. That eerie sample coming in with the rest of the electronic buzz and the Pete Rock drum beat. It is a song to remember.
13. The Walkmen - Angela Surf City
This song builds from a pretty simple drum and clangy guitar into something very furious. I like pretty much every Walkmen song ever written, but "The Rat" (from 2004's Bows + Arrows) is easily their best song. They don't usually sound as energetic as they do in "The Rat," but this song comes fairly close.
14. Stephanie Finch - Count the Days (1-2-3-4-5-6-7)
Finch sang back-up in the Red House Painters, and this song illustrates so well why she should be front-and-center. It's a cover of an old soul song by Inez and Charlie Fox. Their version is more doo-wop-boppy, and Finch slims it down to something more mournful. She has a kind of Aimee Mann-sounding voice on the album's slower songs, but here, she sounds totally soulful.
15. The National - Lemonworld
I love those first few guitar strums. I love Matt Berninger's deep, understated voice. I love the lyrics ("try to find something on this thing that means nothing enough" is my favorite). I love the doo doo doo doo. It's such a nihilistic, depressed song, which is a good soundtrack when you're in those places.
16. Kanye West featuring a whole bunch of people - All of the Lights
Hands-down, for me, the best beat of the year. It is so frenetic, so eerie yet celebratory. I love when he uses horns in his production. Kanye -- in a rare turn of not talking about his dick -- sounds great, too, talking about the ghetto, about wanting custody of some fictional daughter, but "her mother, brother, grandmother hate me in that order." This song reminds me of the things I used to love so much about Kanye. I can't hear half of the guest singers (Elton John? Elly Jackson from La Roux? I mostly hear Rihanna and old nasty Fergie), but there is definitely some polyphonic greatness happening in this song.
17. Drake and The-Dream - Shut It Down
As you can tell by the rest of this list, I have plenty of Drake love. But for me, this good old fashioned take your clothes off song is so good because of The-Dream. He has the absolute prettiest voice in R&B right now, and he can write his ass off (He wrote Beyonce's "Single Ladies" and Rihanna's "Umbrella," for instance). When he comes back in with full force at the 4:30 minute mark, my heart always jump a bit.
18. Taylor Swift - Speak Now
My second favorite mainstream pop song of the year. The first time I heard it, I listened to it on repeat for more than an hour. It's clever, cute, catchy. I've read that her voice doesn't hold up in concert, but whatever magic her producers have done on that instrument her, it works. She sounds great. Swift is such a great writer. I love that she tells stories. I love how realistic they seem, even in a song like this about busting up some boy's wedding day. I haven't seen a video, but I don't need to. She paints the scene so clearly. This song is just so imminently likeable.
19. Beach House - Zebra
I'm surprised I like a song with so many horse metaphors (are they metaphors?), but this song is so pretty, it leaves me helpless. I love everything about the album "Teen Dream," and Zebra is the perfect opening mood-setter. Her voice is so good and so unique.
20. Tyree Harris - Memory Lane
Again, from Tyree's album REALmatic. "Memory Lane" is the name of a song on "Illmatic," but it's nothing like Tyree's version, which samples Earth Wind & Fire. It's just such an infectious, smart song about "super bad nostalgia." He raps of being grounded half his life: "How'd I learn to write? Being grounded, drowned in thoughts and etching shit all night." This kid is for real, one of the best up-and-coming rappers. I've heard something from his next project, and you do not want to miss it.