4. Silversun Pickups -- Panic Switch
From the beginning, L.A. indie darlings Silversun Pickups were destined to draw comparisons to Smashing Pumpkins. Their name bore a seemingly not-coincidental similarity to the Pumpkins, both bands had a female bass player, and both featured wispy vocals that floated effortlessly over a non-stop arsenal of eminently catchy hooks and melodies. Well, if Silversun's debut album, Carnavas, felt like it harnessed the most upbeat elements of the Pumpkins' mien, the band's 2009 follow-up, Swoon, dispensed with the niceties and went for the jugular in a way that sounded distinctly un-Pumpkinslike. The result was a truly dark and fierce listening experience, regardless of how offset the band's machine-gun blast of corrosive guitars and overall sonic immediacy seemed to be by frontman Brian Aubert's breathy, ethereal voice. While the best song on Swoon was, hands-down, The Royal We, the first single to hit the airwaves and introduce audiences to the new direction Silversun had chosen to head in deserves plenty of credit for being so damned surprising. It's tough to imagine that anyone expected this kind of fire from a band like Silversun Pickups, and that's what made Panic Switch so thoroughly enjoyable.
3. Phoenix -- 1901
There's nothing like a story of overnight success that's anything but. Case in point: Phoenix. Formed in the late 90s in Versailles, France, Phoenix has spent the past ten-plus years backing up bands like Air while putting their own Strokes-meets-Jamiroquai sound to record. But it wasn't until this past year -- with the release of their fantastic Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix album -- that the little band that always could finally did. Bolstered by the strength of what might be the best true alternative track of the year, 1901, Phoenix was the "It" band of 2009 -- a group that out-Vampire Weekended Vampire Weekend. 1901 was the kind of song that immediately bored its way into your brain; it felt like the best elements of 80s synth-pop repurposed with new purpose -- as opposed to simply being lazily rehashed -- and it didn't just bring audiences crawling on their hands and knees to Phoenix, it also caught the attention of Cadillac, whose ad agency used 1901 in a TV campaign for the carmaker's new crossover vehicle. These days, that's the mark of real success.
Tomorrow: 2 & 1
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 5. Lady GaGa -- Bad Romance; 6. Alice in Chains -- Check My Brain
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 7. Spinnerette -- Baptized by Fire; 8. Deadmau5 & Kaskade -- I Remember
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 9. The Dead Weather -- Treat Me Like Your Mother; 10. My Chemical Romance -- Desolation Row
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 11. Little Boots -- New In Town; 12. Miike Snow -- Silvia
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 13. The Sounds -- No One Sleeps When I'm Awake; 14. Blue October -- Dirt Room
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 15. Jay-Z (w/Alicia Keys) -- Empire State of Mind; 16. Company of Thieves -- Oscar Wilde
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Heads Will Roll; 18. Doves -- Jetstream
The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 19. Mos Def -- Quiet Dog; 20. Florence + the Machine -- Kiss With a Fist