We spent the morning like every other this week: lounging by the pool. The sun on my face, the smell of fresh cut grass in my nose, I revisited 2009 in music through my iPod, blissfully relaxed, the ones I love nearby.
Much like last year's list, this one covers a lot of ground: from the quietest independent music to the most bombastic pop.
At the absolute top of the list is Antony and the Johnsons' The Crying Light. Dark and dramatic have become his calling cards, but this one has a lightness and range not seen in previous work. It's not often that an entire album, start to finish, rocks my world. "Aeon" instantly became one of my all-time favourite songs and his cover of Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" took his live show over the top. If you haven't discovered it yet, no better time than winter to get onboard.
Really, it's difficult to put any one artist on top. The moment I put Antony there, my mind flashed to Neko Case, Bat for Lashes, Gentleman Reg, Tegan and Sara, Lady Gaga --- It's been a good year.
Ms. Case took her 2006 beauty, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and raised the stakes, releasing more brooding and luscious alt-country, her voice bigger than ever, her spookiness too, on this year's Middle Cyclone. Telling stories like no one else in her generation, she channels old school country singers as if she's the lovechild of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline.
Bat for Lashes is the musical moniker of Natasha Khan, a young genius out of the UK. I've written about her at length over on (the neglected) These Roving Ears, so won't belabor it here: suffice it to say, she's fantastic.
Gentleman Reg gave us his first major label release this year, Jet Black. After a few listens, you feel like you've actually gotten to know somebody. It covers a lot of terrain, from punchy pop melodies to introspective ditties. I love him.
Tegan and Sara's follow-up to their incredible 2007 album The Con didn't quite live up to my hopes, but they are still light years ahead of most music. Leaning away from their singer-songwriter style, they produced a band album, rocky and jagged and rough. Start with So Jealous or The Con before diving into this one, it's not for beginner-fans.
Straight-ahead pop music had a good year too, with the rise of Lady Gaga and the re-release of her album The Fame, with 8 track add-on The Fame Monster, an EP that is far-and-away better than the original release. It's dark and moody and organic, while dancey. "Bad Romance" brought us one of the greatest music videos in quite some time, and a song to match. Instant pop classic.
Metric, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Dragonette each released an album this year. Like triplet sisters separated at birth, they each play a slightly different side of the same coin. Poppy and hiccupy and electronic. All good.
Kelly Clarkson hit us with a few more power ballads this year. Ain't nothin' wrong with that. I wouldn't go as far as saying it would suck without her, but she's a welcome addition.
One of my favourite songs of the year came from Joss Stone, "Could Have Been You" from her newest album, Colour Me Free. She rarely puts out a flawless album, but they're always great.
Similarly hit-and-miss, Alicia Keys just released The Element of Freedom. While far from perfect, there are a few great tracks ("Love is my Disease" and "Unthinkable"), while the rest are just sorta . . . boring and predictable. She is to R&B what Norah Jones is to Adult Contemporary.
Back to the quiet side: Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) released his first solo album, Keep It Hid; it's a stompy, sexy, Jack Daniels-soaked Ohio-blues masterpiece. Brandi Carlile covered the softer, gentler (though no less raw) side of that, with her third album Give Up the Ghost. She's been a favourite for years, flying under the popular music radar while she should be a huge star.
Diane Birch is a folksy, wide-eyed lady who writes pretty songs. Bible Belt is her first major release, and includes "Magic View" - a song so lovely it hurts. If you need a reference, she could be Rachael Yamagata's younger sister.
2009 Notables: Patrick Watson's Wooden Arms, Todor Kobakov's Pop Music, Music for Men by Gossip, Melanie Fiona's debut The Bridge. And Florence and the Machine and Mumford and Sons should be making England proud.
New for 2010: Couldn't be more excited for a new music from Rufus Wainwright, Sia, Sade, and Marina and the Diamonds. Hot Chip, The Watson Twins, and Amy Winehouse. And apparently Beyoncé is slated to release another. Fine by me. But I do have one question: Where are you, Justin Timberlake?