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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Top 20 Albums of 2009: 10-9

10. Rihanna - Rated R

This was the album no one knew they wanted from Rihanna. After a string of ridiculously successful mainstream smashes, she goes and does something closer to the Velvet Rope than All For You (to put it in Janet terms, as I tend to). Rated R is nowhere near as good as the Velvet Rope, but it is a huge step in terms of artistic integrity and reinvention. I imagine it hasn’t appealed to everyone. It’s almost relentlessly dark, but it’s also easily her most consistent work yet. And more importantly, it sounds like the work of a human being, not a production team.


9. Alcazar - Disco Defenders

Before 2009, I’d never listened to an Alcazar album. The band seemed too campy for me, too disco, almost (I know, is that even possible?). Their Melodifestivalen entry forced me to sit up and give them my attention, and I’m glad I did. This is one of the year’s best pop albums. The only reason it’s not higher is because there are a few clunkers in the tracklist that only prove my prior assumption of the group. But the highs are very high, and I can now safely count myself a fan. The opening trio of songs is just pop perfection. That album cover is still dire, though.


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Top 50 Singles of 2009: 25-21

25. Erik Hassle - Don’t Bring Flowers

Even better than Hurtful, this straddled the line perfectly between acoustic, electro and pure pop. Puts its American counterparts to shame.

24. Mini Viva - Left My Heart In Tokyo

Xenomania proves their worth yet again with this adrenaline-pumping dance track. A new duo couldn’t ask for a better introduction to the charts.

23. Adam Lambert - For Your Entertainment

Many expected him to go rock, but instead the Idol runner-up released his version of what sounds like a Britney Spears song. The difference is he can sing like nobody’s business.

22. Mika - We Are Golden

The most over-the-top single in a career of over-the-top singles, this annoyed many but delighted me. It’s approaching Freddie Mercury territory.

21. Malena Ernman - La Voix

A perfect melding of opera and dance, this deserved so much better than it received in Eurovision. The chorus is still stirring.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 20 Albums of 2009: 12-11

12. La Roux - La Roux

One of the more exciting debuts of the year, La Roux’s album has a very specific, easily recognizable sound. I would have never thought that icy synthpop would find the success it did this year, though they’ve been unable so far to break America. As evidenced by the handful of hits taken from the album, there’s plenty to love here. The non-singles are just as interesting and memorable as the ones we all know. I’m especially a fan of the ballads. Elly’s voice can at times be a bit much, but when she calms it down it’s very magical.


11. Robbie Williams - Reality Killed The Video Star

This was the perfect album to release at this point in his career. The sound’s still identifiably Robbie, but it’s also more mature and world-weary. In the hands of a lesser performer, this could have been a dreary, forgettable collection of songs, but Robbie uses that indelible charm to make the album something very special. Fusing elements from throughout his career, there’s something for everybody here. The production is lush, filled with dramatic string sections and soaring instrumentation befitting the legend that is Mr. Robbie Williams.


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Top 50 Singles of 2009: 30-26

30. Måns Zelmerlöw - Hope & Glory

The polar opposite of track number 31, this huge, bombastic pop song easily became my Zelmerlow anthem of choice. Very campy.

29. Hot Leg - Cocktails

Who knew that after the Darkness Justin Hawkins could do it again? In fact, the glorious glam rock here trumps a lot of what the Darkness released.

28. Noisettes - Never Forget You

One 60’s throwback I can get behind, this single breathed some life into the genre with great lyrics and an even better hook.

27. Private - Killer On The Dancefloor

How many years in a row have these guys been featured on this list for the same album? Here’s yet another single, and yet another stunner. Now it’s time for a new campaign.

26. Dragonette - Pick Up The Phone

A mature, beautiful pop song from these guys, and a deserved hit in their native Canada. I’m not sure they’ve ever recorded a better track.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 20 Albums of 2009: 14-13

14. Velvet - The Queen

After so many months waiting for this, the album’s more a greatest hits than a normal studio release. Velvet joins September as Sweden’s leading export of female dance pop. This is miles ahead of her debut, and one of the better club albums of the past few years. Despite being the product of production and songwriting teams, it coheres remarkably well as an album. I think the main reason is that there aren’t really any low points. All songs follow similar territory, but never seem dull because of it. There’s a lot of spirit here, in the vocals as well as the bombastic drama-filled music.


13. Moneybrother - Real Control

Moneybrother’s an artist I’ve always loved, but never quite fell in love with his albums. They were always on the cusp of greatness for me, but never memorable enough to chart very high on my countdown. He’s had some epic singles, for sure, but this was his first full-length that really connected with me. Funny, because he’s been at it awhile. Perhaps it’s because I’m generally more of a fan of the uptempo and this was easily his most uptempo record yet. Everything clicked, and although it doesn’t have a single as jaw-droopingly amazing as They’re Building Walls Around Us on it, it’s still my favorite overall album of his.


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Top 50 Singles of 2009: 35-31

35. Black Eyed Peas - I Gotta Feeling

Ubiquitous this year, and more maddening each time it was played, it’s easy to forget that when this first came out it was instantly the group’s high point. I just don’t want to hear it again for awhile.

34. Aqua - Back To The 80’s

A shamelessly nostalgic dance track composed of little more than a list of 80’s high points. It should have been horrible, but the melody keeps it in epic territory.

33. Erik Hassle - Hurtful

The only song on this list that I think still has a chance of crossing over big in the States. Not usually my type of thing, but the sum is greater than its parts in this case.

32. Gossip - Heavy Cross

Primarily a showcase for Beth Ditto’s howling vocals, this muscular funk track surprised me this year. There’s something almost primal about it.

31. Caroline af Ugglas - Snälla snälla

Usually the type of song I hate to see in Melodifestivalen, this 70’s-styled ballad took the competition by storm and won a place in my heart. Very endearing.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Top 20 Albums of 2009: 16-15

16. Dragonette - Fixin‘ To Thrill

These guys returned with a more mature, sophisticated release and surprised everyone (well, surprised me) by scoring a massive radio hit in Canada. They’re becoming more interesting by the moment, willing to push pop music in different directions and play around with their style. Martina, in particular, has blossomed into quite the frontwoman, someone who I can see rivaling Lady Gaga in avant garde wardrobe and image. This is one of the more consistent albums on the countdown, and hopefully the gateway to even more radio success. There are certainly plenty of potential singles to choose from.


15. Shakira - She-Wolf

The first Shakira album to appear on my year end countdowns since I started doing this, it’s also her shortest work yet. Brevity as its rewards, though, as this is the strongest collection of songs she’s come up with in awhile. In fact, when I reviewed this a few months ago, I don’t think I really gave the album enough credit. It’s grown on me immensely, and become something I’ve played quite a lot this Fall. I loved Shakira the rock chick, but who knew she could do straight up pop music so awesomely? Another album with no shortness of single choices.


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Top 50 Singles of 2009: 40-36

40. La Roux - In For The Kill

Icy and dramatic, this proved to be the introduction to one of the more interesting looking popstars of the year. Too shrill at first, but after a few months resistance was futile.

39. Muse - Uprising

The furthest the band has ever ventured into straight-up glam rock, this had a beat to die for. Couple that with a slyly memorable hook and some football chants, and you’ve got yourself an anthem.

38. Jesse McCartney - How Do You Sleep

A surprise addition to the list, this kitschy pop/hip-hop single was inescapable this spring, and the chorus was one of the best of McCartney’s career.

37. Robbie Williams - Bodies

The big comeback single that didn’t seem to be so big at first. Like all the best songs, it became more and more impressive as the weeks went on.

36. Taylor Swift - You Belong With Me

She’s verging on the point of over saturation, but before that, this simple, lovelorn pop song hearkened back to the simple radio hits of the late nineties.

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