Hmm, lots of women, a few old dudes, and some African banjo (not to be confused with Steve Martin's Hollywood banjo). Wonder how that happened? Here are the top 10 pop disc of '09. Hang on, improv fans — the jazz list will be part of next week's fun.
ST. VINCENT | ACTOR | 4AD
Say hello to the kind of experimentation that helps redefine pop psychedelia, and applaud the young Brooklynite for creating an amalgam of tunes that soar, crackle, and confuse while still remaining inviting. How does such elaboration make a dent? Maybe it's her breathy vocals, which usually enhance some arcane lyrics; probably it's her grand arrangements. which always storm the castle, even when in stealth mode.
VARIOUS ARTISTS | DARK WAS THE NIGHT | 4AD
The two-disc Red Hot comp is where I found all the hip youngsters — Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, Yeasayer, Beirut — to be the most palatable. I guess that's because it's a one-track-apiece scrapbook; maybe it's because the collabos (Projectors and David Byrne, Feist and Ben Gibbard) make it a bit more novel. It just might be due to the fact that its dreamy atmosphere dominated a good portion of my late-night hours.
LILY ALLEN | IT'S NOT ME, IT'S YOU | CAPITOL
Willing to indict her dreamboats, happy to chastise thoughtless consumerism, and able to consistently place her ideas in a string of instantly catchy melodies, the Brit wiseacre dropped a disc that was a tad too cheeky by half. I actually like that math. It may be little more than a series of nifty quips, but Allen's barbs ping around your brain for weeks.
NEKO CASE | MIDDLE CYCLONE | -ANTI
I try not to use the term "siren" too often, but Case's voice is a bewitching instrument, the one element of her music — sorry, oddball songcraft; sorry, hazy lyric poesy — most likely to initially woo and ultimately convince listeners of her very fetching art. From the heartbroken tornado at the start, to the frogs and crickets at the end, it's a vivid song-cycle.
NELLIE McKAY | NORMAL AS BLUEBERRY PIE: A TRIBUTE TO DORIS DAY | VERVE
You could see it coming; she's been name-checking the '50s film star in interviews and covering her tunes on stage for awhile now. But who'da thunk that McKay's big smooch would tickle so consistently? Humor helps. Nellie's a pro-whimsy performer and the program's many jazzy elements ("Crazy Rhythm") mesh nicely with the scad of sentimental moments.
IDA MARIA | FORTRESS 'ROUND MY HEART | MERCURY
Here she is, ladies and gents, the Kelly Clarkson for Pretenders fans. The Norwegian rocker DOES hook up, and from "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" to her guitarist thinking he's a drummer while kerranging his strings, this blast of pop-punk is a genuine thrill, able to explode all sorts of small moments.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL | EASY COME, EASY GO | DECCA
Hal Willner's song curation is more insightful than usual on this memorable covers affair, giving the ravaged thrush great emotions to invest in. From Dolly to the Decemberists, Faithfull slips inside the drama, nodding to melody, trusting the atmosphere, and leading us along rather than daring us to follow. Bessie Smith jazzmatazz, Billie Holiday ennui, and Keith Richards's guitar twang help make the whole thing flow.