Monday, November 9, 2009

Best new artists of 2009

So what if there's still a month and a half left of this year?  I'm going to go ahead and list my top ten new artists of the year.  Well, actually, I checked my music purchases for the year, and it turns out that I bought exactly nine CDs year-to-date that are first albums by new (or technically new) artists.  And, unless I go on a new music spree, the list isn't likely to change between now and the end of the year.

Starting with last place:

9.  The Invisible "The Invisible" (eponymous album) - Their first album, but not their first release (they've released some singles in the last couple of years).  I hate to say it, but something here just simply is not falling into place for me.  Nothing on this album really grabs me.  I've still got it in rotation, just in case I start to notice something I've been missing, but for now, it's my least favorite new album by a new artist for this year.

8. Friendly Fires "Friendly Fires" (eponymous album) - Technically, it's a late 2008 release, but I didn't hear about it or buy it until 2009, so that counts as 2009 for me.  Similarly, something's not quite in the right place here.  This sounds kind of like Talking Heads crossed with an electropop dance band.  I would place a fairly large bet that when the lead singer was a small child, he was frightened by David Byrne (and that really just is not a bad thing).

7. The Dead Weather "Horehound" - Jack White's latest band, so this is kind of an extension of White Stripes or The Raconteurs.  But different.  One of the biggest differences is Alison Mosshart (of The Kills), who sings most of the leads.  She's got a voice to contend with (kind of Siouxsie Sioux, but with better pitch control).  To be honest, I didn't like this album a lot on first listen, but it has grown on me considerably, and that's largely because of Alison Mosshart's singing.  This one is still in relatively heavy rotation on my iPod and on iTunes at my desk.

6. Speech Debelle "Speech Therapy" - The winner of this year's Mercury Prize.  Okay, rap is very under-represented in my music collection.  And British rap is less likely to be represented well amongst my CDs (though I did buy Audio Bullys a few years ago, based on Tom Robinson's fondness for that group).  There is something about this young woman's voice that draws you in.  Again, not an automatic "loved it," but a slower "it grew on me."

5. Megan Lynch "Songs the Brothers Warner Taught Me" - Full disclosure:  Megan is in the Cosmique Krewe of Colour (as am I), and Megan has performed with Dixieland Dykes +3 a few times in the past.  Personal connections aside, you still have to love a collection of songs that (if you're at all like me) are forever burned into your memory because of Looney Tunes.  "Hello Ma Baby," "I Love to Sing(-a)," "Someone's Rocking My Dreamboat," plus nine others.  Too much fun for one CD.  Now if I can just convince her to do the sequel -- "Songs That the Castaways Taught Me" ("I Wanna Be Loved By You" and several arias from "Carmen," for example)......

4. Little Boots "Hands" - For some reason, 2009 has turned into the year of the irresistible 1980s electropop revival.  Victoria Christina Hesketh managed to get the male lead singer of The Human League to duet with her.  Her blog bears a photo of her with Gary Numan (rehearsing for an as-yet-unannounced project).  On YouTube, she has posted a video of herself singing "Running Up That Hill" (see below).  Several catchy tunes on this album ("New In Town," "Remedy," "Meddle," "Symmetry," to name a few).  This is not music that I would expect to be attracted to.  This is music that I would expect to make fun of.  So what has she done to win me over?  I dunno.  But something worked right.

3. Florence + The Machine "Lungs" - Strong voice.  Adam Ant's percussion section.  Legs.  Lots and lots of legs.  Apparently, her management finally noticed that she is very "leggy."  Her first videos were these quirky things like "Dog Days" or the Bacchanalian feast and pagan ritual of "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)," but in the videos for her more recent singles, like "Drumming Song" and "You've Got the Love," someone seems to have deliberately decided to sell Florence with sex and lots o' legs.  But, then, no one's forcing me to watch the videos, so I can stick to listening on the iPod.  I really look forward to her next album.  She has a bit of a tendency for the one-note melody, but we can hope that she grows out of that as her songwriting matures.

And now I'm going to wimp out on you.  I'm going to end in a tie.

I'm sorry, but these two albums are just so very different from each other, so very apples and oranges, that it's impossible to compare them at all.  I like them both for such vastly different reasons that it is not fair to say that I like one better than I like the other:

1. (Tie) La Roux "La Roux" (eponymous album) and Lisa Hannigan "Sea Sew"

In this corner, at 21 years of age, we have Elly Jackson, who caused Ken Tucker to speak only in superlatives during his review of La Roux on last Thursday's Fresh Air.  This is another 1980s electropop revival.  Catchy hooks, confident vocals, and a very Vince Clarke/Gary Numan approach to music.  The video for "Bulletproof" even gives a visual nod to Gary Numan's video for "Cars."  Again, this is music that would expect to be making fun of, but I find myself really enjoying it.

In the other corner, at 28 years of age, Lisa Hannigan, an Irish performer who put out her first solo album this year after six years of performing with Damien Rice.  This is not traditional Irish music (no more than U2 or Glen Hansard is "traditional Irish music"), and I wouldn't go so far as to categorize her as "Folk," either.  Chip and I have noticed a lot of unusual instruments popping up recently -- Common Rotation (who opened for Indigo Girls at the Fillmore in July), Blind Pilot (who opened for Gomez at the Fillmore in July) and Lisa Hannigan all used harmoniums, for example.  Her lyrics are upbeat (which is rare these days), and her voice is charming.  I look forward to her future efforts, and I can't wait until she has enough material to headline instead of being an opening act.

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