AMBIENT GETS MORE POPULAR, SEEPS INTO OTHER GENRES 2009 was a banner year for ambient music, and some of its best output, like Mountains' Choral (Thrill Jockey), suggests that the genre is one well-placed commercial soundtrack away from getting its due. Before that happens, dreamy loops and tape clicks will keep worming themselves into great dance music, like last year's titanic Burial/Four Tet split 12-inch, Moth/Wolf Cub (Text), an effort conceptually (who made which song?) and sonically slippery enough that the dancefloor felt more like a wormhole. In this realm, look for Pantha Du Prince's upcoming release, Black Noise (Rough Trade), to be all the rage.

CULTURAL FLASHPOINTS GET LAMER/FEMALE R&B SINGERS BECOME UBIQUITOUS A couple years ago, everyone from the Arcade Fire to the Hold Steady were grasping toward Springsteen. In 2010, things will be even cheesier, and sexier. The early frontrunner for 2010 AOTY is Beach House's Teen Dream (Sub Pop), where Victoria Legrand's vocals escape their imperious, melodramatic guitar and keyboard chamber and find a new, sleeker deity: Annie Lennox. Along from that strong female statement, it's a safe bet that more indie girls will behave like R&B singers, if the success of Amber Coffman's spot on the Dirty Projectors' "Stillness is the Move" is any indication. Already, the late-2009 album by the xx (self-titled on XL), grows in stature by the day, with its boy/girl love songs made impossibly sleek by a fantastic use of negative space (and some Chris Isaak guitar stylings and male vocals). Perhaps the most exciting duo to embrace the power of the vocal diva are New York City's Sleigh Bells, who sound just like their makeup: an ex-hardcore guitarist (Derek Miller) and a girl who used to sing for a pre-fabricated girl group (Alexis Krauss). On stage, an incredibly basic pre-recorded synth beat blares, Miller's guitar is fuzzed out into oblivion, and Krauss does her best Britney/Beyoncé. The results, four songs into the duo's career, are blissful, art-damaged party jams.

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