I call music like this “open wound”. The heaviness and emotion are so dense and hard, yet it’s melodic and exquisitely beautiful. Imagine densely powerful alternative pop bands like The Cure or Interpol, but with Billy Bragg, or someone else with a thick Scottish brogue, as the lead singer. Two components that don’t seem like they should go together, yet they do and it makes for something new and special. Proof that something can be both dark and beautiful. Hopefully, you already knew that.
Best Track: "I Became a Prostitute"
This one is a lot of fun. First bonus, it’s only nine tracks long so it’s over before it wears out its welcome. Second bonus, each song has a heavy influence of world music as if he traveled the world and brought back these knick-knacks. Third bonus, it’s all set to some excellent beats. I’ve heard several people compare him to Lily Allen, but I don’t see that. Maybe they both write pop music with a wider world-view, but she’s totally pop. Jack appears to be an artist. Maybe if he was a hot, drugged out girl that’s always running around naked, the comparison would be more obvious.
Best Track: "Everything Is New"
Definitely the most hyped band of the year and the latest in that ongoing assembly line of bands getting enormous in the UK and then attempting to keep the momentum going in the States. It’s a couple of young ‘uns, a boy and a girl, with only a guitar, bass, and a drum machine, but the sounds they create are intense. It sounds like the hushed, minimal guitar strums of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” with some chilled out, bubbling beats. The voices are sly and sexy, but seemingly by accident, like they’re too shy to really belt it out, yet that’s what makes it magical. So simple, but so incredible. Believe the hype!
Best Track: "Infinity"
Probably the safest bet of the year. It’s the best album for the most amount of people because it has multi-quadrant appeal. In other words, they sound the most like Coldplay. I mean all of these things as complements. It’s rare that rock music is done right, AND presents something slightly on the edge. It’s comfortable in a way that the best music should be. I predict big things from them.
Best Track: "Sweet Disposition"
Another example of the domination of excellent synth pop in 2009. Passion Pit started out as one guy who made some songs for his girlfriend and then posted them on MySpace which led to a record deal. Isn’t that basically the success story template of the new millennium? The beauty of Passion Pit is the sense of soul at the heart of the electronics. That’s difficult to pull off without working really hard at it and it appears to come naturally to them. Plus, his voice hints at some boiling chaos just beneath the surface, which is exciting and keeps you wondering if/when he’s going to blow.
Best Track: "Little Secrets"
I’m leery whenever I read that a band is really a single artist on a creative binge, because it’s usually some indulgent nonsense that only sounds good to him (or maybe I’m still scarred by Primitive Radio Gods). In this case, it’s some guy I’ve never heard of named Kristian Leontiou. That being said, this is some rich, full pop music that goes down really easy. It’s largely acoustic with some nice beats percolating under the surface and one of those vibrant blue-eyed soul voices.
Best Track: "Kandi"
I lucked out on this one, as it’s technically a reissue. Originally released in 2007, these French dance club maestros showed a ton of promise with their version of what LCD Soundsystem do so well. In other words, dance music with instruments. In 2009, the single “Kiss Of Life” completely knocked me out with its martial African drums and yell along chorus. It made a splash, which lead to the album being rereleased with the song attached (it isn’t included on the original). The rest of the album is just as good.
Best Track: "Kiss Of Life"
Probably the most challenging and least conventional album on the list. These guys create a beautiful racket that sounds strangely like the Beach Boys mixed with Wilco wrapped in a heavy gauze that’s been stained by the sun. When it works, as it does on about 8 of these 12 tracks, it’s intensely powerful and mightily expansive. When it doesn’t, it can make for some forgettable white noise. Luckily, the highs don’t just transcend you, they transcend what you understood music could be and sound like. It’ll stretch your mind and you’ll like it.
Best Track: "Two Weeks"
Another reissue. What often happens is come January, record companies will throw marketing dollars at the smaller artists on their roster that weren’t priorities during the high traffic shopping seasons. This is what happened to Glasvegas, so their debut also got a rerelease with a bonus track or two. They deserve the attention because it’s gorgeous. Maybe it does sound sort of trendy, the whole early U2/Interpol/Big Country thing with the ringing guitars and melodies to fight a war to. Who cares? Just add them to your list of favorite things that make your life better. That list can never be long enough.
Best Track: "Geraldine"
1. Owl City – Ocean Eyes
Most people hate this guy. Well, not most people, he did have one of the biggest hits of the year from out of nowhere. But, purists will tell you that he sounds too much like the Postal Service and, since Ben Gibbard and all he produces is sacred ground, Owl City is to be sentenced to death by firing squad. I don’t get this. The best true “pop” music is all about improving on a template. Postal Service is great, but they always left me a little cold. Owl City has much more heart and the tunes sound fuller and warmer.
This was a rough year for a lot of people, me included. We all just want to feel better. As a music lover, I can appreciate being challenged (hence Grizzly Bear), but not right now. Not during these times. I just want my outlook brightened and my heart lightened. Owl City provided that for me. I am choosing not to be negative about him. There’s enough of that filling up the rest of my day.
Best Track: "Fireflies"