Animal Collective — “My Girls”

Hipster boys and girls across America rejoiced when Animal Collective debuted “My Girls,” accomplishing for the indie scene what Asher Roth’s “I Love College” did for frat boys. The psychedelic track served as a call to arms, uniting an entire subculture and quickly becoming one of the most frequently hummed songs of 2009. The irrepressible tribal rhythm is so catchy even the most jaded listeners will find themselves in breaking out embarrassingly awkward dance moves. Who knows — maybe all we really do need is four walls. And adobe slats … whatever those are.

—Jasmine Zhu

Mew — “Introducing Palace Players”

This is a weird one, but it’s also one of the year’s best musical curveballs. The minute-long intro is so rhythmically off-kilter and jarring that the song seems fated to self-destruct. But after those agonizing 60 seconds comes the “ahhhh” moment, when the chaos resolves — with unexpected logic — into a glorious, fist-pumping anthem. While Mew’s unabashed prog tendencies made its 2009 effort No More Stories… a bit theatrical, “Palace Players” more than redeems the band’s many indulgences.

—Jeff Sanford

Passion Pit — “Sleepyhead”

“Sleepyhead” is pretty much everything. It’s fun. It’s sexy. It’s nonsensical. With a dense glimmer of eclectic percussion and a complex yet steady beat, “Sleepyhead” revs up the listener’s mojo for a quick jaunt across campus, a shining moment on the dance floor or an inspired start to the day. A floating, lilting and melodic luster fuses the beat with indiscriminate vocals and takes the harsh edge off the constant pounding. Once you pop, you can’t stop.

—Leah Burgin

Jay-Z (Ft. Alicia Keys) — “Empire State of Mind”

Amid the lackluster effort of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3, one cut stands above the rest. Featuring the gutsy backing vocals of Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” is the feel-good radio anthem of 2009. An ode to the rapper’s home city, Jay-Z gives shout-outs to everything from the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant to decked-out designer cars. However, the true star here is Alicia Keys, whose booming voice gives life to a track that would otherwise be overpowered by Jay-Z’s notorious ego. Together, the two create a bodacious song that appeals even to listeners far removed from the Big Apple.

—Sasha Resende

Neko Case — “People Got A Lotta Nerve”

You don’t need the cover of Neko Case’s latest album Middle Cyclone to be convinced she’s a force of nature. “People Got A Lotta Nerve” is perhaps her most concise and engaging pop song to date, thanks in no small part to a pair of chiming guitars, endearing lyrical imagery and some carefully placed snare rolls. With her commanding voice and nearly untouchable range, Case eschews classical vocal style for a flat tone based on raw power and old country grit. And when she sings about being a “man-man-man-eater,” you better believe it.

—Mike Kuntz

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