Best Albums of (The First Half of) 2009
If 2008 was a golden year for television, 2009 is shaping up to be equally historic for pop music. Sure, the industry itself is floundering, desperately searching for a profitable new business model. But while they (make us) suffer, musical artists are jumping into the breach by doing what they do best...with extraordinary results. Here are my favorites of the year so far...
15. Frankmusik, Complete Me
I'm not as wild about him as the rest of the blogosphere, but "Confusion Girl" is as fine a slice of pop as you could ever want.
14. The Bird and the Bee, Ray Guns Are Not The Future
The endlessly inventive lounge/electro act's sophomore disc lacks some of the wow factor of their debut, but it's still essential listening.
13. Fischerspooner, Entertainment
Solid musicality is evident in ever single track...a quality that unwittingly transforms them from downtown hipsters into elder statesmen of 21st-century electronica.
12. Grace Jones, Hurricane
Almost a year after its first worldwide appearance, Grace's latest opus came out in the States. But I've still got William's Blood in me.
11. Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D.
Reinvention for the world's biggest rap/pop hybrid was probably necessary...but finding inspiration in the sounds of European club music was unexpectedly fertile ground to dig into.
And now, the top ten...
10. Antony and the Johnsons, The Crying Light
Wholly unique, Antony Hegarty is the rarest of popular musicians: an iconoclast whose talent for superb songwriting can't be ignored, even in a world that gives us crap like the Jonas Brothers.
9. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
There are a million reasons to love Phoenix, but for me, it's their subtlety. I get something new every time I listen.
8. Maxwell, BLACK Summers' Night
Yes, this isn't officially out until Tuesday. But as someone who has worn out his advance copy over the last two weeks, I can only say...thank God, thank GOD, he's back.
7. Black Room, Pop Noir
KulPop and XO introduced me to this band (back when they were called Lorraine). Now under the name Black Room, their album got absolutely zero promotion, which is a shame, because it's features some of the finest, shiniest pop symphonies of the year. Do yourself a favor and grab it on iTunes.
6. Empire of the Sun, Walking On A Dream
EOTS is a love-them-or-hate-them kind of band: the repetitive beats, the dramatic costumes, the over-the-top makeup, the weird mythology. Count me among the "love-them" crowd. Especially "We Are The People," my favorite club track of the year.
5. Pet Shop Boys, Yes
Almost 25 years after their debut, the Boys have released one of their most accessible, most energetic albums. Considering that PSB are preternaturally melancholy, that energy is an odd fit, but ultimately a fulfilling one. "Did You See Me Coming" is their best single since 2002's "Home and Dry."
4. Passion Pit, Manners
I'm completely obsessed with this record. Seriously, I play it over and over and over. Something about their orchestrations, the daring of their imagination. It's truly exciting, beyond what you might expect from a college indie phenomenon.
3. Gossip, Music For Men
Beth Ditto is God. You heard it here first. And this record is so hot, it may be responsible for global warming.
2. Napoleon, Bohemians Won The Series and the Little Guy Joined The Band
My favorite find of the year is this Swedish retro-soul act, who mix the satirical melancholy of Morrissey with the effervescence of Marvin Gaye. The perfect summer beach party album. My favorite song of the year: "I Try To Despise The Ugly Ones (But The Beautiful Ones Keep Turning Me Down)".
1. Lily Allen, It's Not Me, It's You
No one is more surprised than me that Lily is at the top of my list...after listening to her 2007 debut, I wrote her off as an Amy Winehouse wannabe. Boy, what a difference a producer makes! Greg Kurstin of The Bird and The Bee gave Lily a new focus and an au currant instrumentation. "The Fear" could well be the song of the post-Bush generation, and "Fuck You" might be the equal rights anthem we've all be searching for.
And now, some other categories...
Best EP: Del Marquis, Character Assassination
Best Show Album (Tie): Original Broadway Cast, Rock of Ages; New Broadway Cast, Hair
Best Retrospective: Annie Lennox, The Annie Lennox Collection
Best Mashups: Bootrospective, Pet Shop Boys
Honorable Mentions (In Alphabetical Order): Alcazar, Disco Defenders; Basia, It's That Girl Again; Depeche Mode, Sounds of the Universe; The Juan McLean, The Future Will Come; Junior Boys, Begone Dull Care; Kelly Clarkson, All I Ever Wanted; Kristine W, The Power of Music; Lady Sovereign, Jigsaw; Morrissey, Years of Refusal; Original Cast Record, Road Show; Royksopp, Junior
And The Rest Of 2009 Looks Good, Too: new albums on the way from Sade, Adam Lambert, Prefab Sprout, Imogen Heap, Lucky Soul, Dragonette, La Roux, Corinne Bailey Rae, Kleerup, Modest Mouse, The Roots, The Avalanches, D'Angelo, and Mika, among others.
The (Few) Disappointments So Far: U2, Noisettes, Daniel Merriweather, Antigone