December 31, 2009

Favorites 2009: All the things you can fit inside a memory

Of all these endless Best Of 2009 lists, this is the important one, my favorite songs of the year. Songs I wait eagerly for each year, convinced they won't come. That the perfect songs have all been written. Given the demise of the CDR, these 21 tracks won't fit on one disc. Whatever! Note that these are not in any order and many were not actually singles.

Thanks to everyone who read my blog throughout the year. I learned about many of these songs from you! Have a safe, happy and healthy 2010.

1 Florence + The Machine Drumming Song UK SONG OF THE YEAR
Like 3 songs in one, there are so many ideas presented in Drumming. The bit that goes "As I move my feet towards your body / I can hear this beat, it fills my head up" is particularly thrilling. video

2 Royksopp Vision One NOR
Royksopp gave Anneli Drecker her finest recorded moment. Together they wrote one of the smartest lyrics in 2009. My favorite part: "Everybody let us say goodbye to all our notions / 'Cause it's not enough to say that we're humane when we're left behind / It's too late to think that we can worship human emotions / 'Cause we've already evolved into machines in our minds." audio

3. The Gossip Pop Goes The World USA
Lightning strikes. The Gossip deserved so much more in 2009 and this song should have taken them there. It is truly the most massive chorus of the year. In my dreamworld, I am brave enough to go to Glastonbury and The Gossip closes the festival down with a blowout version of this song. Note that it's not even 3 minutes long (and how epic the final repeated chorus is). Beth Ditto is such a Star. audio

4. Fibes, Oh Fibes! Love Child SWE
Teenage memories set to a joyous tune. Sounds like it was recorded at a big party, doesn't it? Another win for Sweden. video

5. Dragonette Pick Up The Phone CAN
Martina is really the best not-famous pop icon. She's kicky and hyper and beautiful and stylish, etc etc. And her voice! You really believe the lyrics. Which is just one trademark that separates Dragonette from the dreck: they actually tell stories with their songs. In this case it centers around joyriding, vandalism and this line: "So we went completely wild / We were married in the Vegas style / And our families were scandalized / Now, I'm sorry but I'm not surprised." video

6. Calvin Harris Flashback UK
I spent 2007 bashing Calvin Harris' arrogance and spent 2009 thinking this was one of the best end-f-decade songs I'd ever heard. I think Chartrigger will agree with me, it's one of those tunes that seems like a massive party jam, but there's something much more emotional going on. It's like a tent revival with party drugs and thoughtful eye contact. video

7. Saint Etienne Method of Modern Love UK
Isn't it amazing how the year started with the most silvery piece of electronic pop this very old group has ever created? It was a touchstone for me all year long. Lyrically, it's so optimistic. The version I prefer is the 4-minute+ mix that ends with some amazing choppy vocal edits. The Pet Shop Boys recent live show was built around the idea of "a great Friday night out, complete with tears in the toilet." This song is that in 4 minutes. Absolutely beautiful. audio

8. Frankmusik Vacant Heart UK
This tearjerker debuted in 2008, so it's been in my brain for a long time now and has never worn out. The sample of Malcolm McLaren's Madame Butterfly is evidence of how smart Vince is. What I most love is the relative calm of this song compared to his others and the way his incredible, rich voice is mixed right up front. Proper singing. audio

9. Natalie Imbruglia Want AUS
Oh Natalie. What happened? This is a worldwide number one hit in my world. I don't know anyone who didn't want to play it over and over after hearing it. It owes a huge debt to the chugging rhythm of Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill and a dark tweak from Coldplay's Chris Martin. I most appreciate the sometimes misunderstood chorus: "I hope you get all that you want, 'cause i didn't." video

10. Prefab Sprout Let There Be Music UK
I hemmed and hawed over which Prefab Sprout song to put on this list (Ride was the alternate). This was recorded in 1992 and the house keyboard gives it away. My favorite part is spoken at 2:01: "I am always near you, so don't think I can't hear you... I wear the thin disguise, a lover's sobs and sighs. Don't you know... who I am?" audio

11. Will Young Hopes and Fears UK
Year after year, Will Young nails it, this time with a great sing-along track. His vocals keep getting better even if ours don't! PopJustice was the first to notice one of the great details of this song: the deeper vocal riffing at around 2:50. A new sound from Will; it's these kind of details that make a great pop song. It also had a terrific (and brave) video.

12. Beverley Knight Turned To Stone UK
I had never heard a Beverley Knight song until this album track - it was never a single. It takes me back to the era (early 90s) when r'n'b infused pop was so popular. This could easily be a lost En Vogue track. It also represents one of those uplifting "I can get by on my own" songs everybody needs on a mix. The woahhhhs at the end are the cherry on top.

13. Dame Shirley Bassey After The Rain UK
I would never have guessed that Shirley Bassey would sing the saddest song of 2009, written by the great Richard Hawley. Watch this clip (thanks Phil!) and you can see the moment when Bassey first hears the final mix of this and tears up. It's like she's finally hearing herself as others do and she tears up. Everyone involved in this song deserves a fucking Grammy. Now. audio

14 Just Jack Embers UK
From early in 2009, this song is probably Jack's most artistic statement. The lyrical hook exactly reflects what was happening in the world when this song was released (Obama's inauguration): We are all embers of the same fire
. As goes life, Jack's album sort of flopped and Obama's had a very hard year during which the magic melted. audio on myspace

15 Marina And The Diamonds Obsessions UK
The first time I heard this, I pressed repeat like 10 times. This song sounds like it's from an artist who has spent years honing her craft and learning who she is. Great lyrics about a fucked-up relationship, they veer between funny and insightful. I love the line "One minute I'm a little sweetheart you and the next minute you are an absolute creep." Has a great car singing moment at 1:53 with the bah bah bahs. video

16. Ellie Goulding Under The Sheets UK
There's a complex story inside this song, which is laden with dark images like "We're under the sheets and you're killing me" or "You left a hand-print on the door like all the boys before." Vocally, it's like an indie folk artist stumbled into a pop song. The track also announces the arrival of Starsmith as a producer to watch. Listen to the details like the really high end chimes that your cats can hear better than you, or the great group vocals in the final third. audio at myspace

17. Miike Snow Silvia USA/SWE
The emotional core of a perfect debut album. The lyrics are quite enigmatic, so what really draws you in are the voice and incredible arrangement. Like Royksopp's Vision One, Silvia is the sound of NOW, using both traditional instrumentation and new electronic sounds to create an emotional piece of music. It's loaded with amazing vocals edits and tricks that really make the song without ever distracting. video

18. Erik Hassle Hurtful SWE
What we have here is an old-school mega hit. Everything is right, especially the amazing chorus. Hassle has a fantastic voice and I hope gets the credit he is due in 2010. Let's face it, pop music is loaded with utter shit and sometimes the good ones slip by. If Hassle makes it, ginger will be IN again. video #2 of 3

19. Paloma Faith Stargazer UK
This song is a personal choice. A close friend died suddenly in March and, for about 48 hours, I could not listen to any music, which surprised me. It just didn't help. But later it did and this song was a touchstone. Which is so sappy to say, but let me tell you, if you think your heart cannot be broken, it can. audio

2o Roots Union Rough Diamonds UK
I don't think this ever got properly released, but an album is due in 201o. This is a folk song, but it's accessible to pop music lovers. Incredible melody and story in the lyric: "What you wanna be your older?" the old man in the song asks and the singer says, "Maybe I'll be a dustbin man and ride these streets in a big blue van... but really I'd like to be a singerrrrrr." FREE download here

21 Rihanna Cold Case Love US
What separates Rihanna from her contemporaries? She is giving as much thought to what she wants to say as how she says it. Cold Case Love, a song written for her by Justin Timberlake, is the Big Artistic Leap she needed to make on Rated R. It's the culmination of all the darkness on the album, when her story is finally explained. It also has one of the most epic moments in pop this year, when the song goes from very good too CLASSIC at 3:45 and stretches out for two more minutes. Amazing. audio

Some songs that made it to this list and were cut and added and cut at various times: Daniel Merriweather's Red, The Gadsden's The Sailor Song (which was on last year's list, but just got released), Pet Shop Boys Love etc and The Way It Used To Be, Florence + The Machine's Swimming, Maxwell's Help Somebody and Pretty Wings.

December 29, 2009

Favorites 2009: The good, the bad and the glam

Top Ten Plus One Musical Moments of The Year:

10 Shirley Bassey singing Almost There live on BBC/s Electric Proms.
WOW. (Watch it now)

9 Fred Falke's Heavy Cross remix for The Gossip may very well be the Greatest Remix of Modern Times. Can you recall where you were when you first heard it? (Play it now)

8 The Lourdes Leon backflip
in her mother's Celebration video

7 The very existence of the Neon Gold label and their superb MP3 blog

6 The 2:57 moment in LaRoux's I'm Not Your Toy video where Elly shimmies in her fan chair and smiles. (Watch it now)

5 In the 9-min club mix of Sophie Ellis Bextor's Heartbreak Make Me A Dancer, the ascending middle eight (or whatever it can be called) that brings the song to a fever pitch (from 6:23 to about 7:03). The most exciting 40 seconds in music in 2009.

4 Adam Lambert's gaytastic album cover. A great wink wink nudge nudge from an artist who may have overestimated American openness a wee bit.

3 Unexpectedly, the Take That book Take Two. Beautifully crafted fan book and I am not even that much of a fan.

2 Rihanna's whole Rated R project is a study in how to take pop stardom to the next level.

1 (SPOILER!) The moment when Pet Shop Boys set collapses at the end of the first segment of their Pandemonium show. (Watch it now, 1:30)

and the Plus One goes to...

Roisin Murphy's
cheeky appearance at a Viktor and Rolf fashion show in a very perilous dress on a perilous platform at 8 mos preggers with her "babby" (who was in gestation for - what? - 2 years?) Watch it now.

Singing Voice(s) Of The Year: Florence Welch, Vincent Frank (Frankmusik), Shirley Bassey (for the quite moments on her CD) and Jody Gadsden of The Gadsdens

Best Artist-released Indie Single: Tie. The Gadsdens, Sailor Song and Del Marquis, Remember Me Young

Most Surprisingly Out Of Nowhere Instant Brilliance: Miike Snow (note they sold their record on iTunes Us for 6.99, a WISE move)

Strange 2009 Trend:
Solo artists using band names when there is no defined band - Marina And The Diamonds ("I am Marina and you are the diamonds") and
Florence Welch ("Hello, I'm Florence + The Machine")

Lyricist of the Year: Robbie Williams for his brilliant Reality Killed The Video Star. His lyrics aren't just wry or quippy ("It’s insulting / To be mislead / By the hairdo / Of the godhead") they're intelligent and self-aware, especially Blasphemy. cheers to Vinny Vero for bonding on that one!

Live Show Of The Year: Stadium: U2's 360 Tour was like going to a revival, Hall Show: Pet Shop Boys amazing Pandemonium Tour, and Club Show: I missed so many this year, and cannot recall what I did see! The show I missed most: Kylie's American tour.

Top Remixes Of The
Little Boots New In Town (Fred Falke Mix), The Gossip Heavy Cross (Fred Falke Mix), Marina And The Diamonds Mowgli's Road (Russ Chimes Mix), Marina And The Diamonds I Am Not A Robot (String version), Freemasons feat Sophie Ellis Bextor Heartbreak Make Me A Dancer (Full Length Club Mix) Jennifer Hudson If This Ain’t Love (Fraser T Smith Mix) Will Young Grace (Fred Falke Radio Edit) Saint Etienne Method Of Modern Love (Richard X Mix) Florence + The Machine You've Got The Love (Fraser T Smith Mix) Annie Anthonio (Fred Falke Mix) Calvin Harris Flashback (Eric Prydz Mix) Empire Of The Sun Walking On A Dream (Treasure Fingers Mix) Erik Hassle Hurtful (Penguin Prison Mix) HURTS Wonderful Life (Arthur Baker Remix) Ladyhawke Magic (Classicx Mix) Lady Gaga Paparazzi (Stuart Price Mix) Madonna Celebration (Oakenfeld Extended Mix) Mini Viva I Wish (Cahill Remix) Natalie Imbruglia Want (Shapeshifters Mix) Pet Shop Boys Beautiful People (Vinny Vero Mix) Pet Shop Boys Did You See Me Coming (Unicorn Kid Mix) Steve Appleton City Won't Seep (Moto Blanco Mix) Wolf Gang The King And All His Men (Joe Goddard Mix) U2 I'll Go Crazy (Redanka's Mix) Patrick Wolf Who Will (Buffetlibre Mix) Robbie Williams Bodies (Body Double Mix).

Most Welcome Return To Music:
who I thought had permanently left music (a 9 year sabbatical). Also loved Prefab Sprout and all the press Paddy did, as well as the epic Shirley Bassey album, which can be credited to the very smart David Arnold.

Stylish Sexpots Of 2009: Tie. Rihanna and Martina from Dragonette

Artist Whose Self-Entitlement Overtook His Musical Prowess
Patrick Wolf, whose questionable behavior on-stage and off finally killed it for me. Incredibly talented, wrote a big heartfelt record that I just did not want to play. Have NOT written him off.

Worst Video: Again Patrick Wolf, whose Vultures video was even more embarrassing than all of Mariah's videos. And that's saying something. Sometimes an artist needs someone to say NO.

Flop Of The Year. There was much worse, but given the $ spent and the plummet in profile, Mika wins. He is very talented, but that album is unlistenable and the I'm-still-singing-about-when-I-grew-pubes themes are creepy.

Guilty Pleasure: Wild Horses by the atrociously overrated SuBo. My mother got that CD from my Dad for Christmas and I screeched "wiilllllllld horses" (just that bit) all day long.

The LaRoux vs Little Boots Battle: LaRoux comes out ahead for style, quirkiness and videos, while Little Boots wins for a more consistently listenable album. Victoria Boots is much more of a musician, which bodes well in the long-term.

The Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood Award Little Boots and Vince Frank of Frankmusik. Both artists promotion was fiddled with by their labels and both are actually better than their press. Maybe.

Lost Marketing Opportunity Of The Year: The Twilight New Moon people not securing Florence + The Machine's Howl for the soundtrack. Or vice versa. This fan got it right.

Award For Cougar Moment To Good To Dream Up: Madonna taking a 22 yr old named Jesus away from a photo shoot and making him her lover. Pay attention though, as it appears Jesus has been shipped back to Brazil in a Louis Vuitton shoulder bag.

The What Is Happening There? Award (Easy Target #1): To Madonna for her ever changing face. She needs to lay off the filler for a bit.

Artist Most In Need of a Makeover (Easy Target #2): Mariah Carey. Need I say more? She is the Most Betrayed By Her Glam Squad, this poor thundering, thonged creature.

Artist Most In Need Of A Vacay: Lady Gaga, for obvious reasons, and Beyonce because she has been so incessant for so long. When someone that talented seems tiresome, it's time for a breather on a yacht off Santorini.

Shockingly Shit Music That Seems To Be Taking Off: Ke$ha, some of the worst crap I have heard on radio in many years. And thank God Pixie Lott fizzled.

Worst Trend: The very existence of Ryan Tedder. This year he made a crap mid-tempo ballad for virtually every major label pop album. I know some will disagree, but I think he is a hack. He does have a talent for melody, but he should be kept away from the production side. In a very short time his songs will sound incredibly dated. Mark my words (and Chartrigger's), Jordin Sparks is his victim. Leona will escape his clutches.

Artist Whose Music Vastly Improved Jack Penate, who went from lo-fi ska to 80's inspired melodic granduer and... Lady Gaga, whose Monster has better songs than any on her debut.

Best Song Loaded With Masturbation References Lady Gaga's So Happy I Could Die, in which she manages to diddle at least 4 times ("and I touch myself").

RIP Sugababes. A case study in how not to behave, personally or professionally...

Quote of the Week: Sia

Say what you want about Twitter, but sometimes it's just brilliant.

December 27, 2009

Favorites 2009: The Best Albums

It's not a secret that I hated 2009 as much as 2008. It was deep layers of misery on so many levels (we're talking unexpected death, etc) and even the final days have been madness. Like everyone is jinxed. As these things always go, I thought it was one of the best years in music in AGES.
Just one amazing song after another to carry me though. I had intended this list to be my Top Ten Plus One, but I had too many favorite albums. A luxury problem, as I say. And I am sure I forgot something? What was your favorite?

Album Of The Year

Florence And The Machine Lungs
Virgin sacrifice, storing human eyeballs until they dry up, crows, carrion, coffins and burning beds. So many images and so much sound. Lungs could not handle the weight of so many showstoppers, so Florence relegated one of the best songs, Swimming, to a deluxe version. I bought the album as a gorgeous 2-disc deluxe package and then in December as a 4 disc boxset. I have not been so excited by an album since Rufus Wainwright released Want One in 2003. Florence Welch is a MAJOR new voice in music.

Standout tracks: All were great, but I'll choose Rabbit Heart, Cosmic Love, Drumming Song (my single of the year), Swimming and Blinding.
...and 15 more fantastic albums:

Miike Snow Miike SnowThis one hit me hard and fast. It's a perfect marriage of indie electronics with strong pop melodies (two thirds of the group are Bloodshy & Avant). For me, Miike (Meekay) Snow is the sound of a major city. Totally buzzing. Full review here.

Standout tracks: Silvia, Songs For No One, Black And Blue, Sans Soleil

Jack Penate Everything Is NewPenate reinvented his sound with this surprising album. The sound was massive and airy, with lots of reverb on the vocals, chanting and lush melodies. Sure, he sounds like Robert Smith of The Cure, but it's been twenty years since Smith had songs this solid. And the word is he's a total Boy Dancer live, which makes me like him even more.

Standout tracks: Be The One, Body Down, Pull My Heart Away, So Near

Paloma Faith Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?
A magnificent underrated classic. Big sounds and equally grandiose visuals, from the covers to the videos. I misjudged her early on as a Winehouse rip and how wrong I was. Paloma's high moments on this album are as emotionally giving as any pop artist's can be. Beautiful music.
Standout tracks: New York, Play On, the melancholy Stargazer, Smoke And Mirrors

Shirley Bassey The Performance
Never in a million years did I expect a Welsh 72 year old to move me so thoroughly. The concept behind this album (today's songwriter's writing for DSB) is great, but the execution is FLAWLESS. Richard Hawley's contribution, After The Rain, is on my Top Songs of the year list. Heartbreaking.

Standout tracks: After The Rain, The Performance Of My Life, Almost There, The Girl From Tiger Bay, This Time

Prefab Sprout Let's Change The World With Music
A fantasy made real: One of the greatest bands of the 80s and 90s releases a brilliant album that was recorded and shelved during their heyday. The world is a greater place with these new vocals from Paddy McAloon, who is quite possibly the most emotive male voice of the past 25 years.

Standout tracks: Ride, Let There Be Music, Music Is A Princess

Frankmusik Complete Me
A bit too long, but laden with sublime pop song marked by frenetic arrangements countered Vince Frank's rich voice. That it didn't make much of a chart dent in the UK is tantamount to treason. Notable on this list as the most DIY album - though Stuart Price helped him polish the songs, Complete Me is almost a one man show.

Standout tracks: Vacant Heart, Three Little Words, Wonder Woman, Run Away From Trouble

Antigone Antigoneland
Antigone is the Lost Great Diva. In some ethereal realm, there are exotic characters shimmying in stilettos to her disco tracks. Full review here.

Standout tracks: More Man Than Man, Promiscuity, Mirror, Life Without You

Lily Allen It's Not Me, It's You
The first great album of 2009. How can a perceived train wreck like Lily Allen make a second LP that's potentially better than the first? It's about brains. She is a whipsmart lyricist and uncanny at choosing the right collaborators, in this case Greg Kurstin. This album veers from country slapstick to sweet sadness. Brilliant. Full review here.

Standout tracks: Back To The Start, The Fear, Everyone's At It, I Could Say, Not Fair

Little Boots Hands
Whatever her identity is or isn't, there's no denying this album was well-constructed electropop. A U.S. version is out this Spring, likely adding the perfect Not Now.

Standout tracks: Symmetry, Stuck On Repeat, New In Town, No Brakes

Black Room: Pop Noir
ormerly Lorraine, this Norwegian band's debut album is a deluxe set of post-Pet Shops Boys confections. Released so quietly most original fans never even knew, Pop Noir is notable for chiming, shimmery pop songs with superb vocals. In fact, Tell It All is one of the most anthemic tracks to be released in years. Take note that the band has rerecorded and neutered the song for potential re-release in 2010. Whatever! The definitive version is on iTunes now.

Standout tracks: I Feel It, Tell It All, Saved

Pet Shop Boys Yes
Is this a second imperial run for Pet Shop Boys? I truly believe this album will be more appreciated in years to come. Songs that did not stick the first time around (Love Etc anyone?) suddenly hit you at random moments and you say - ready? - Yes. I have such love for these guys. They have consistently raised the bar in pop music.

Standout tracks: Love Etc, Did You See Me Coming?, Pandemonium, More Than A Dream, The Way It Used To Be

Mumfor And Sons: Sigh No More
Britpop is a faded art right now. This London quartet is worthy of predecessors like Waterboys and Idlewild. A carefully crafted merging of rock, folk and pop, Sigh No More reminds me how long it's been since a banjo raged against the machine.

Standout tracks: Dust Bowl Dance, White Blank Page, Awake My Soul

LaRoux LaRoux
I like only about half the album, but what's good is sublime, especially the non-singles that mined a sweet 80's balladry. Bulletproof was a total kick ass jam. My favorite track has remained Colourless Colour with the sly chorus "Early 90's decor, it was the day for / We wanted to play, but we had nothing left to play for/ Colourless colour / Once in fashion, soon to be seen."

Standout tracks: As If By Magic, Bulletproof, Colourless Colour, Cover My Eyes, I'm Not Your Toy

Annie Don't StopA long time coming, this album. Paul Epworth sprinkled some new fairy dust. The special 2-disc edition makes it pretty close to perfect. And yes, I LOVE The Breakfast Song.
Standout tracks: Songs Remind Me Of You, Bad Times, I Don't Like Your Band

Röyksopp Junior
For me, this album marked the return of the amazing Norwegian singer Anneli Drecker, but it also contain vocals by Robyn and the slightly scary Fever Ray chick. It's Drecker's tracks that are my favorites. Everything about Junior is completely in the now, so exhilarating. The intelligent Vision One is on my top songs of 2009 and probably Drecker's finest moment on record.

Standout tracks: Vision One, True To Life, You Don't Have A Clue, The Girl And The Robot, Silver Cruiser

Other great 2009 albums:
Robbie Williams'
smooth, mature Reality Killed The Video Star
second release Fixin' To Thrill
Patrick Wolf's The Bachelor
ten years overdue BlackSummersNightSpandau Ballet's reworked hits record called Once More
Dan Black's unexpectedly indiepop Un (soon to be released in America)

Give London a kiss for me: I'll be right there.

December 26, 2009

2010: Somebody sweep me off my feet, PLEASE

This poster was on my wall throughout college. Where is it now?!

New Artists

Marina And The Diamonds
Family Jewels. The tracks we know (Mowgli's Road, Obsessions, I'm Not a Robot, Shampain Sleeper) are superb. We've not yet heard the re-recordings, but this is a girl who really wants to be a STAR. She's quirkier than the mainstream of pop, but I doubt the album will disappoint.

Ellie Goulding I expect her record to be a mix of electronic pop and traditional folk-pop. She straddles the line with grace. I hope The Waiter makes it onto the CD, as well as Starry Eyed and Guns & Horses. The UK gets a preview now.

Bright Light Bright Light aka Rod Thomas. Merges, again, folky songcraft with modern pop, including the tinkly Good Times. And he's Welsh!

Erik Hassle Pieces is his debut album. I've already heard the Swedish release and it's a gem (my fave being the doo-woppy Make It In Time). He relaunches in the winter with Hurtful, his should-be-#-1 single.

Erland And The Carnival Ex Verve man Simon Tong recovers from that band's crappish reunion album to make something softer. Superb vocals. Album due end of January.

HURTS. Everyone is freaking over the hard-to-Google HURTS (yes, all caps) based on one song, the retro gorge Wonderful Life. No matter what the music, it's clear the visuals will be sublime.

I Blame Coco the debut from Coco Sumner. A mash-up of pop/punk/rock and indie disco. Fierce vocals and the cleverest lyrics this side of Courtney Love.

Wolf Gang I can't say much yet, but I like the first song The King And All Of His Men

Penguin Prison NYC guy who sounds like Midge Ure doing pop with an edge. Highlights include Fair Warning (amazing) and A Funny Thing.

Broken Bells is James Mercer from the Shins and Danger Mouse.

The Gadsdens have to follow up a perfect debut single, Sailor Song. I've heard much of the album in demo form and the songs are consistently solid. How they'll merge all their sides remains to be heard, but I'm chuffed (as one says).

Starsmith, Ellie Goulding's producer and an artist in his own right.

Catherine A.D. She's arty, knows her way around a piano and has a lovely voice.

Returning Artists

Tracey Thorn's back with a new folkpop album (Love And Its Opposite) in May; no dance jams on this record.

Lucky Soul's second disc, A Coming Of Age, sounds like it might actually equal or surpass their 2007 debut.

Jónsi Birgisson (of Sigur Rós) has a major solo album coming out in March called Go. I get the sense this is going to be massive. Expect lots of strings, woodwind, brass and lovely "distortion." Here is a big scoop on Go

Robyn. This will be epic. She is on the rise.

Delays return with Star Tiger Star Ariel sometime this year.

Sade's Soldier Of Love should be, as Maxwell said, monolithic. Will it be more of her classic sound or introduce something new? There are new twists mixed into the new single.

The Teddybears next album featuring, among others, Coco Sumner.

Marc Almond returns in June with Variety.

Crystal Castles
have done something with the best producer of 2009, Paul Epworth, though he is not actually producing it. Could be special.

Cyndi Lauper. If it were up to me, she'd follow the template of her 2008 album and continue working with young, smart producers. No indication of who she is working with this time, but it will be worth our attention. She's still a gem.

Maxwell will release the next installment of his BlackSummersNight series, this one called Black. Should be out in summer.

Travis singer/songwriter Fran Healy has a solo record coming, called Wreckorder and pronounced Recorder, with major guests including Paul McCartney and Neko Case.

Roisin Murphy, Label-less as of now and probably self releasing. To my ears Momma's Place is blindingly brilliant, while Orally Fixated is melodically mundane, if a fun "jam."

Sophie Ellis Bextor's still doing the "record 100 songs to get 13" technique. Let's hope she has not over-thought it or spread herself around too much.

The Courteneers may make a leap into the bigtime if You Overdid It Doll is any indication. Their 2nd album, Falcon, is out in late February.

Duran Duran's album with Mark Ronson on production.

Keane's new 8- song EP Night Train, in May.

The Pipettes. I know. I will believe it when I see it. Early track Stop The Music indicates the magic is not gone. It's sublime.

Darren Hayes promises highly emotional pop. Collaborators include Justin Shave, Walter Afanisefiff, Kleerup (!) and Swedish writer Carl Fuchs.

Groove Armada featuring Bryan Ferry, one of the dudes from Empire Of The Sun/PNAU and Will Young on a song called History.

Rufus Wainwright's All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, a piano based album. No money for stings this time, baby's got to make a living!

Goldfrapp's Head First in March. The pressure is on isn't it, after three near perfect albums, including one shockingly brilliant left turn. Rocket's next. Rumour has it the album is like Fleetwood Mac in a disco.

Scissor Sisters new album was recorded with Stuart Price and features a bit more of the brilliant Del Marquis. Let's hope it also marks the return of Ana Matronic, who was strangely quiet on their second album.

Other records to look out for Patrick Wolf's "love" album ironically titled the Conqueror, MPHO's long delayed debut Pop Art. The Feeling are at a crossroads that will either make or break them. If they do more 70's pastiche, it's all over. If they take a chance, it may be fine. Christina Aguilera: everybody thinks the same thing - what the hell will it sound like and how will she pull together all the disparate producers she has been working with?

Also: Babybird, David Bowie, Toni Braxton, Findlay Brown produced by in-demand Bernard Butler, David Byrne's huge album featuring every diva alive (almost), Lloyd Cole (in fall '10) D'Angelo (back from the jailhouse!), Peter Gabriel's Scratch My Back, Kelis's Fleshtones, Amy MacDonald, Massive Attack, Natalie Merchant, Daniel Merriweather finally getting released in the US, Kylie Minogue, Kate Nash, No Doubt, Corinne Bailey Rae, REM, She & Him Volume 2, Ultra Nate, Paul Weller's Wake Up The Nation and maybe even ol' Amy Winehouse.

Remasters announced thus far from Arcadia, Duran Duran, Whitney Houston (the debut), and Maxwell (the debut).

Finally... Come back to the five and dime Shirley Manson, Shirley Manson.

December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to all!

My tree. Up close it's a game of spot of the iconic English references

Andhappy whatever you might be celebrating! It's been one hell of a year and I thank everybody who reads this blog. Much love. Be back in a day or so...

December 22, 2009

2009: Disappointment, Thy Name Is...

The fact is this: For something to be a disappointment, you had to have high expectations in the first pace. This is not the same thing as Worst Music Of The Year. I mean, on some level, did anyone expect the hot bikini-bound mess that is Mariah to really turn out a corker? No. The albums below were disappointments for me because I love the artists so much.

Imogen Heap Ellipse
Imogen cleverly built the excitement for Ellipse to a fever pitch via a year's worth of video blogs - vlogs! - and fairly constant Twittering. The resulting album was, for me, such a let down. Very little advancement and a distinct lack of fire (ironic given the track called Fire). The album had a run of weak tracks early on (Little Bird to Swoon) It's not all a wash, certainly, but some of the best moments, such as the final minute of Tidal, are similar to ideas on Speak For Yourself.

I put this down to Imogen trying to do too much on her own. She remodeled a house, built a studio and recorded an album that is almost a one-woman show. She has a high level of integrity and is, if you pay attention, incredibly process oriented. She loves to create. But sometimes you just want to yell through youtube (or tweet!) "Just take the easy road!"

As such, the followup promotion of Ellipse has been just sort of non existent. After one semi-bungled video - she took a wise chance on the brilliant director Es Devlin - but was publicly unhappy with the results, there have been no singles, no b-sides or vlogs. She is on tour and I've heard the shows have been solid. In DC, she played a small (900 people), but pretty venue, which she sold out, so I hope she takes it to the next level in 2010 with bigger shows and a new single.

There are some very good songs on Ellipse. If you don't have it, a solid half of the album is worthy, if not mind-bending: First Train Home, Wait It Out, Tidal, Bad Body Double, Half Life and Between Sheets.

Charlotte Gainsbourg IRM
Oh how I wanted this album to be a masterpiece. And in some quarters, it is. It's a polarizing record: many pop fans who loved 5:55 just hear a Beck record clattering out of their earbuds, while indie types are in ecstasy over an album that sounds to me like it used Joni Mitchell's The Jungle Line as its template (hear it on lala). There are indeed some wicked moments (Time Of The Assassins, La Collectioneuse), but I won't be buying the beautiful deluxe version of IRM.

Depeche Mode Sounds Of The Universe
The amazing $80 fan box was truly an exhilarating fan geek moment. As I sat on my bed and "unpacked" that box in a state of semi-rapture, I kept telling myself the album was a grower, that I'd eventually come to like it. The problem was, I didn't want to play it. To my ears, the songs are lacking in strong melodies. A few solid tunes added to the canon include Wrong, Peace and In Sympathy.

Tori Amos Abnormally Attracted To Sin
Enough said. Great album title and promising first single in Welcome To England, but this has become a semi annual event. A few good tunes does not an album make. The "visuallettes" that accompanied the album are the most tedious, pretentious work of her career: endless rotations of Tori traipsing around the world dolled up in complex outfits and heavy amounts of botox, with literally no expression her face. A couture fembot. Ironically, she redeemed herself late in the year with a decent non-Christmas album. Regardless, the decline of Tori Amos is worrying: with each commercial failure, her buying power decreases. We'll see if she can regain that next year with her musical The Light Princess.

Just Jack All Night Cinema
An epically gorgeous, emotional first single, Embers, lead one to believe a masterpiece was imminent. "We are all embers of the same fire" is one of the best chorus hooks of 2009. But followup single Doctor Doctor was a weak step backward and killed momentum. The album just did not connect. It seemed a bit halfhearted and was, in the end, rolled over by the large amount of strong new music this year.

Other disappointments: The horrific Paolo Nutini album that turned a 22 yr old into a bleeding gums 70-yr-old blues man, U2's strangely disconnected 2009 album (a record I played like twice and abandoned), Moz's latest not-so-great and -not that I expected better - Prince. I also didn't bother much with the latest Kings Of Convenience album - it just kind of lay there. Same with David Gray.

And some sad awards...

Biggest Pop Injustice is the fact that reedy, big-haired Cheryl Cole released a crap album (maybe three good singles on it, but that's it) and Nicola Roberts did not set foot in a recording studio. If there is a Goddess, She will see to it that Nicola makes a great pop record with some elegant writers producers worthy of her unique style.

Lost Opportunity Award goes to Columbia Records for their mishandling of The Gossip record in the United States, particularly the bizarre staggered release dates. In America, the CD was released 4 months after the rest of the world. So while the album cracked the Top 20 outside the States, it peaked at a lousy 164 here. The band was a pet project of Rick Rubin and seems to have been dropped through the cracks as his power there has waned. As of this writing, the album's most thrilling pop moment, the epic Pop Goes The World, has not been released as a single and there has been virtually no promotion in the US. There has also been some criticism that the sound quality suffered from a "loud" mastering, but I think the idea that The Gossip was ever going to be the next U2 was a bit far-fetched. They're just too subversive for that. The album artwork is sublime, but I wonder if it confused people? The major press is done by Beth Ditto and, for a band looking to take it to the next level, her image probably needed to be on the cover.

Worst Launch was the mishandling of Little Boots with the offensively crap New In Town video, with its dancing homeless people and writhing LA orgies. That video did nothing to introduce Victoria's visual style or persona; it just screamed, "The label thinks fans are stupid." It's like she wandered into a Ciara video! Anyway, they quickly regrouped, but I feel the end message of this story is this: Do not take a clever DIY artist and shoehorn her into a pop chart recipe. It won't work. [Note: I am now aware the Hesketh (LB) has some disdain for bloggers who second guess her choices, but I don't really care. I was a hardcore music fan before she was a zygote and I did put her album on my best-of list!]

Most Bizarro Album Flameout is sadly, Frankmusik. After a promising start with a few solid videos and a clever Live And Lost tour, another label mishandle. They killed the artist's momentum by releasing the album too late, after many leaks. The artist himself occasionally worked against his own success, but the fact is that he writes great hooks and has an amazing voice. A new album is due in 2010, but Complete Me and its spin-offs, Re-Complete Me and Completely Me, are a success in my book.

It's Not Too Late for MPHO! The leaked Pop Art album needs some work, in my opinion, but she's an artist has multiple layers. The brilliant 2009 single Box N Locks only hints at her capabilities. The great reaction to her cover of Running Up That Hill - her gold is in her singing! - should serve as a wake-up call. A little retool and this album needs to be released in 2010.

That's the end of my negativity. I suspect some of you will disagree in the comments field! Again, all of the artists above are worthy and talented. Shit happens.