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2009/12/04

Best Music of 2009, As Seen From the Bottom of a Rabbit Hole

So last Friday, I failed to post anything. I’d like to tell you that it was due to the Thanksgiving holiday, but the fact is I’m working my way through something and felt absolutely stymied. I was in the process of writing yet another true sex tale, but my heart was not in it. That’s because my heart and head are preoccupied with a bigger issue, one which I am still working my way through. Yes, I’ve been doing some flip flopping, and not just in bed.

The title of this blog is Wonderland Burlesque. The Wonderland represents the Alice in me, and in my current situation, it succinctly represents what it feels like to fall down the rabbit hole (oh, well, at least it's not a K-Hole). That is the nature of a quandary, and I am grappling with one that keeps morphing every time I sit down to write it all out. Just when I think I have a handle on it, some new fly in the ointment appears. So I’m still in the rabbit hole and I may just stay here a great while longer than I had hoped. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime: I will do what I always do when my passion for one aspect of my life is disrupted; I will focus on another – music.

Here is a run down of some the music that mattered to me in 2009. It’s a list that kind of focuses on the last half of the year, so there’s a bunch of stuff missing. For what it’s worth, here it is. I may add more later. Enjoy.

Best CD of 2009:

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – Phoenix
This French band with its 1980’s new wave style obsessions captured my ears over and over again this year. And now even the good people at Cadillac are in on the scoop, using it in their most recent ad campaign for one of their overpriced dream machines – a Madison Avenue application that is pretty apt, since Phoenix spends most of their time operating like a dream machine on the ten sleek tracks that grace this CD. Roxy Music never ran so smoothly. For me, Fences remains the stand out cut, but there really isn’t a weak one in the bunch. They seemed to have hit the right chord in a year that was filled to the brim with acts mining a similar sound, but for my money – Phoenix takes the prize.

Maybe I was obsessed with 1980’s new wave style acts this year. Vintage synth bleeps and blurps seemed to dominate my play list. Runners Up for best CD (in no particular order):

Ocean Eyes - Owl City
Owatonna, MN has never been so cool. This CD burbles and burps like a super charged can of Fresca time warped from the late 70’s. Fireflies is an absolute delightful wonder and one of the best singles of the year. Flash in the pan? One hit wonder? Possibly. Yes, the CD is syrupy sweet, even bordering on the insipid, but Adam Young is a very clever man and a talented arranger. My advice to him: dig deeper.

The Fame - Lady Gaga
I love punchy pop nonsense. Can’t get enough of it. It’s a guilty pleasure and this CD is so stuffed with it I can’t imagine the number of Hail Mary’s I would have to say in order to be granted forgiveness. But the penance paid is so worth the price of admission. The hits bounced off this thing and landed so soundly on the charts that everyone has been exposed to the lunacy that is Gaga. The Madonna comparisons? I don’t get. Sure, she’s scrappy, clever and danceable, but so far Lady Gaga has yet to establish much of a personality. Image? Yes. Personality? No. All the costumes and marketing savvy can’t hide the chinks in her armor. There is something lacking. Even so, Bad Romance – from her newly released The Fame Monster is playing over and over again in my head. But I am thinking this stuff has a limited shelf life (like a lot of the really fun music from the 1980’s) and when I get over it, I probably won’t be revisiting it.

Manners - Passion Pit
If Adam Young of Owl City needs a push in the right direction, I am thinking this is the CD he should spend some time with. Passion Pit does a great job of balancing the ear candy by coloring it with something a little deeper. Granted, you have to really like falsetto vocals to enjoy this one, but one listen to the pulsing rhythm that powers The Reeling and I think you will succumb to their charms.

The Boy Who Knew Too Much - MIKA
Life in Cartoon Motion was great. The Boy Who Knew Too Much is better. Yes, there’s something very adolescent, goofy and juvenile about the whole affair, but it’s all rather charming. It’s refreshing in its goofiness, taking hold of your senses the same way Dean Friedman did once with Ariel. The hooks abound. There’s enough ear candy here to feed a nation of Willie Wonka golden ticket holders.

Best Singles of 2009
This was the year when 1970’s sunshine and recession infused fun returned to the charts, minus the icky aftertaste of exploitive media drama queens and gimmicky, fake rap violence.

Fireflies – Owl City
Funhouse – P!nk

Bulletproof - La Roux
Evacuate the Dance Floor – Cascada

Zero - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Love, Etc. - Pet Shop Boys
Wild Young Hearts - Noisettes
Good Girls Go Bad - Cobra Starship
Panic Switch - Silversun Pickups
Already Gone / My Life Would Suck Without You - Kelly Clarkson
Just Dance / Paparazzi / Poker Face / Bad Romance / Telephone – Lady Gaga

Be Alright / Love is the Look - Kristine W.

And one that should have been a huge hit:
Never Gonna Break Up - Ryan Leslie
I remember where I was the first time I heard Hang on to Your Love by Sade. I will always remember where I was the first time I heard this song. Icy and hot with a groove that makes me want to nestle in closer and get real, real comfortable. A deep kiss that lingers long.

Shout Outs:
The Resistance – Muse

Swoon - Silversun Pickups
Day & Age – The Killers (2008)

Transition - Ryan Leslie

Guilty, Guilty Pleasures:
All I Ever Wanted – Kelly Clarkson
Funhouse - P!nk (2008)
Katy Perry – One of the Boys (2008)

The Very Worst CDs:

Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel – Mariah Carey
My favorite musical blow-up sex doll/punching bag got propped up yet again this year in order to fill the coffers of Def Jam. Unfortunately the backdrop features nothing but tired beats, milquetoast production and banal, sophomoric lyrics. Part of the problem, of course, is Mariah herself. No, I’m not referring to her non-existent voice (I bid farewell to her phenomenal vocal chops pre-Butterfly). I am referring to her desire to take control of the musical reins – a really, really bad idea. A large breasted plastic doll needs a lot of bells and whistles to create some excitement and drum up interest in this particular clotted market. A Mariah who is not being handled by someone with a firm vision is a Mariah who bores the fuck out of me.

Whitney Houston – I Look to You
Poor, Whitney. She flew back into the market with all the grace of a one-eyed, one-legged, one winged albatross. It was fascinating to watch. But push aside the embarrassing televised live vocal debacles and the squirm-inducing, ill-advised one-on-one interviews (Oprah! Yes, there is a reason you need to retire, girl!) and what remains is the comeback of the year CD that wasn’t. WTF? Filled with syrupy redemption treacle and mid-tempo, hook-deprived pop/hip-hop-lite sludge, Houston and Clive delivered one of the most colorless, lifeless, and boring CDs to ever see the light of day. This is a new, all-time low for Houston – and that is saying a lot if you remember her third CD, I’m Your Baby Tonight. She needed to comeback all vital and blazing hot, not enter politely and hand the world a Hallmark card. There’s not a drop of humor or genuineness to be found throughout the whole of this bland ordeal, which results in a piece of product so dull it barely registers at all. Whitney had a voice. Period. She was never a personality (unless you count crack-addled Whitney) and she has always been one of the worst performers live, ever (so stiff you’d think she was made of wood). But she used to be able to deliver the occasional sonic gem when properly packaged and handled (I loved almost all of My Love is Your Love). It all makes me yearn for the crack whore of yore. At least we caught a glimpse of a flesh and blood Whitney every time she’d bellow “Bah-Baaaaaaaayyyyy”. She looks to you? If I were you, I would just stare at your feet and hope she goes away.

Biggest Disappointment:

The Power of Music – Kristine W.
I love Kristine W. Buy every damn thing she puts out. Petition dance stations to put her stuff into rotation. Waited a lifetime for this one to come out. After the incredible, awe-inspiring heights reached on Fly Again, Power is something of a let down, to say the least. Sure, the dance floor burners are still in attendance and consistently hitting the top of the dance charts (Never, The Boss, Love Is The Look, Be Alright), but the remainder leaves me cold and reaching for the fast forward button. Nothing encapsulates what is wrong with this CD more than the truly cringe-inducing Not-So Merry-Go-Round – a song so poorly conceived, produced and delivered that had it come out in 1972 (the year of treacle and sap), people would still have gone into diabetic shock. Next single is the title track, featuring a lame rap by Big Daddy Kane and belatedly dedicated to Michael Jackson. Kristine? Honey? I’m sorry. It pains me to say this, but this is where I may need to get off the bus. Love you.

Artists I Will Never Listen To:

Miley Cyrus
Taylor Swift

Sorry. I just don’t care. I don’t get it. Never will. It’s not for me (nor was it ever intended to be for me). And does anybody else find Justin Bieber creepier than fuck?


Until next time...

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