OneRepublic - Waking Up (Interscope/MMG)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz(Interscope)
Britney Spears - Circus (Jive)
Common - Universal Mind Control (G.O.O.D. Music/Geffen)
Ciara - Fantasy Ride (LaFace)
P!nk - Funhouse (LaFace)
10. The-Dream Love vs. Money (Def Jam/Radio Killa)
Released: March 10, 2009
Genre: R&B/Hip Hop
Producers: The-Dream, Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, LOS da Mystro
Collaborations: Mariah Carey, Kanye West, Lil' Jon
Summary in 5 words: Baby Prince from the future
His debut garnered three urban hits with minimal public confidence in the project as a whole, but the pen behind "Umbrella" makes sure to write himself off as an unorthodox genius on his follow-up. The-Dream's sophomore project Love vs. Money contributes more homage to the art of love in various forms: long, sexual sessions ("Sweat It Out"), flirtacious fodder ("My Love") or wine-and-dine style ("Fancy"). While the production style from the first set is still present in the second, it's the layering that Dream adds to the simple productions that brings out the best in the soundscapes around him. Listeners can quickly deduce that Dream is no [Justin] Timberlake or [Usher] Raymond, but the man can certain get his point across with a Plan C - 'coo and woo'. While most urban artists are taking the 'alter-ego', give a shot as spittin' a few bars as a rapper, release a collaboration heavy disc route, Dream sticks to what he knows and shines from he crowd with a tribal-inspired, futuristic LP. With the checks the man has been getting from smash hit after smash hit, he certainly follows through with the former of his 'love' for the music rather than using the 'money' to come out with something listeners may want to hear from him.
Recommended Matchups: "Right Side Of My Brain", "Fancy", "Love vs. Money II"
9. Adam Lambert For Your Entertainment (RCA/19)
Released: November 23, 2009
Producers: Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Linda Perry, Lady Gaga, Jeff Bhasker, P!nk, Greg Wells, Ryan Tedder, Rob Cavallo, Howard Benson
Summary in 5 words: Finally! A capable Male vocalist!
We watched his rise to fame in the latest season of American Idol and questioned his sexually with his edgy performances and leaked photos, but the fans and listeners who aren't keen to this 27 year old Cali native were able to look past all that and see the true potential in the supernova that is Adam Lambert. Out of the many Idol debuts, his album sticks out as one of the most cohesive sounding (see Carrie Underwood and Clay Aiken). Perhaps it's because everyone wants a slice of this boy's chops (see producers list). Adam goes in for the music, 'bringing back glam' as he puts it serving up the theatrical number "Soaked" and payback to the game "Music Again". There's the 'obligatory track' (lead single "For Your Entertainment") and the 'obligatory ballad' ("Whattya Want From Me") but it's all good because they serve as chopped patches of grass in the humongous, ripe meadow that is his debut effort. His signature 'screech' can be heard in all the appropriate places and I can assure you, it's been mixed down as not to burst the eardrums. Adam takes us on a ride through the many side of rock and roll without working too hard and I would definitely say it's viable for recognition come award season 2010. Despite his 2009 AMA performance frenzy and it's 1,002 cents from the peanut gallery, listening to this guitar-heavy album is a like refreshing gulp of Zima for the soul, departing from the current electro-pop trend flooding the air waves.
Tracks to roll with: "Sleepwalker", "If I Had You", "Whattya Want From Me"
8. Black Eyed Peas The E.N.D. (Interscope)
Released: June 9. 2009
Genre: Dance-Pop/Hip Hop Producers: will.i.am, David Guetta, Printz Board
Summary in 5 words: Stay off my damn radio!
I'll be honest about two things. One, after Fergie's solo success, I thought she would have chucked the deuces and gave us Round 2 in '09 (damn those contractual obligations!). Two, I didn't think people would receive BEP's newer direction well. The lead single, "Boom Boom Pow" sounded like a flop to me at first, but it's always that 'it-sounds-better-on-the-radio' treatment that gets me. Then there was the party anthem of 2009 "I Gotta Feeling" that started the craziness all over again, 14 weeks of craziness if you saw the charts. I'll be cut and dry with this one: the Peas' are a force to be reckoned with, no doubt about that. They even gave the other two members (apl.de and Taboo - see, I know who they are) mic time to show that they can get hits as a whole instead of just resorting to the Fergie Ferg/will.i.am combo. My problem lies in (petty) the album's obvious potency, had it been released up to track 12 and (important) the watering down of the Peas' subject material. I mean if you think about it, who wants to hear a social punchline when you're trying to finish off what's in your Solo red cup? That's what singles are for. What I do want to hear is some of the early influences that dug deeper into the environment, that made us bob our heads both agreement and vibing out. I feel like more could have been said and done with this new sound instead of just copping out with repetitiveness and weak cliche verses to fill up the time until the hooks (see "Meet Me Halfway" and "Party All The Time"), ya know? No hate Peas, 'in the end.' it got you six grammy nominations, that's gotta show for something, yeah?
Final Four: "Boom Boom Pow", "Imma Be", "I Gotta Feeling", "Party All The Time"
7. Chrisette Michele Epiphany (Def Jam)
Released May 5, 2009
Producers: Chuck Harmony, Ne-Yo, Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, Claude Kelly
Summary in 5 words: Classy vocals meets contemporary delight
Coming off a Grammy win for the will.i.am produced tune "Be OK", Chrisette strays away from her jazz routes , trading them in for a perfect HAC serving. Minimizing production efforts by sticking with labelmate Ne-Yo's in-house producer Chuck Harmony serves potent in Epiphany. Chrisette comes off as a girl just trying to get out her most inner feelings of love on audio with the high school-esque confessional "Notebook" and it's maturer sister track "All I Ever Think About". While Chrisette channels some the borderline mainstream sounds of Tamia, Deborah Cox, and Toni Braxton on her sophomore set, it's her uniquely tuned voicebox that sprinkles flavor over every track like the rabbit-quick melismas in reminiscent "Playin' My Song" and "Irreplaceable" clone of 2009 "Another One" and breathtaking moments of conviction in the album closer "I'm Okay" and let bygones be bygones treat "Blame It On Me". Perhaps it's being on a label that caters to pop crossover monsters Rihanna, Ne-Yo and Mariah Carey that left this gem ignored for the Grammy 2010 nominations (despite hitting number one on the BB200), or the secret agenda of the music illuminati to only recognize artists in the top 40, but Epiphany is one of the most solid R&B contributions of 2009, hands down.
Songs for the moment: "Another One", "Blame It On Me", "Fragile"
6. KiD CuDi Man On The Moon: End of the Day (G.O.O.D. Music/Universal Motown)
Released: September 15, 2009
Genre: Hip Hop/Alternative
Collaborations: Kanye West, Common, Ratatat, MGMT, Billy Cravens
Producers: MGMT, Ratatat, Kanye West, Jeff Bhasker, Dot da Genius, Emile, Plain Pat, Free School, Crada
Summary in 5 words: Tales of an Emo Negro
Damn you KiD CuDi for making me think you were gonna disappear shamelessly into the two for 5 bin at Best Buy. Who else thought that after hearing the stoner's epiphany "Day 'n' Nite"? I'm surprised that song did so well (I preferred the more lively Crookers remix, personally). I heard the man worked with 'Ye on his 808s and Heartbreaks LP, so I expected him to get the leftovers from those sessions, but boy was I wrong. Here's the bottom line: KiD CuDi has ISSUES, big time. The bad news: for a leaning-urban artist, don't nobody wanna hear about that shit the way he be spittin' it (insert Dis Gon Be Guud.gif). The good news: CuDi doesn't give a damn, as he so frankly puts it in "Soundtrack 2 My Life". At first listen, you'd think this was a demo from the barebones approach at production most prominent in the oddly-versed self empowerment track "Heart of a Lion" and even more so on the intro "In My Dreams". Don't do like I did at first listen; write it off from the first few tracks. The album gets better and more lovable deeper in the tracklisting. This album serves up some wonderful mood music for even the most pristine teen. I say it's best served late night, and only after listening then can you enjoy the indie-hop goodness of "Alive", hero music "CuDi Zone" and blaze 'em up track "Hyyerr". If the people of Earth don't want him, us crazy folks up in space will gladly take him.
Some moon rocks: "Up Up & Away", "Heart of a Lion", "CuDi Zone", "Alive"
5. Rihanna Rated R (Def Jam)
Released: November 23, 2009
Collaborations: Jeezy, Slash, and will.i.am Production: The-Dream, Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, Chase & Status, Stargate, The Y's, will.i.am, Brian Kennedy, Ne-Yo, Chuck and Harmony, James Fauntleroy, Ester Dean
Summary in 5 words: Rihanna, haters are gon' hate
Backstory: Young girl in high profile relationship falls victim to domestic violence and is reborn into this big ball of aggression, fueled by public speculation and inner self image concerns. The result: A nice concept born prematurely, overshadowed by previous success and greatly heightened expectations. Case and point: lead single "Russian Roulette" stands to be placed as a highlight in Rihanna's catalogue, but contrarily racked up a horrible run on the charts due to it's 'rub you the wrong way' presentation of darker subject matter ('OMG, she's suicidal!' was the reaction of the majority if I remember correctly). Her voice is certainly strong, that's for sure (we got previews from her spot on big brother Jay-Z's single "Run This Town"). Overall, the album doesn't really stick consistently with the bad ass persona she starts the exudes in the beginning tracks "Wait Your Turn" and Jeezy assisted "Hard" (as not to turn off listeners completely). She dashes things up a bit with a radio friendly Stargate contribution "Stupid In Love" and A Girl Like Me era sounding "Rude Boy", but they don't stray away from Rihanna's attempt to repair herself both image wise and emotionally. Though tired, the cut done with [Justin] Timberlake ("Cold Case Love") serves oxymoronically as a mindfuck and complete insight as to what really may or may not have happened in the car on that fateful night. Where as the other side of the story (Brown's Graffiti) serves as a 'woe is me, I'm nothing without you" 'work of art' (but I digress). Rated R is certainly not as instantaneous as the single-heavy, international monster Good Girl Gone Bad. But what it SHOULD be seen as, is a step left field that serves to break the current formulae of sound and mood (dance dance dance, party party party). Listening to this CD is like being a parent trying to accept your child hearing your son/daughter come out of the closet: you heard the rumors, but you don't want believe it's true. They finally directly tell you and you're angry/disappointed with yourself/scared/etc.. After some time of awkwardness, you decide to stick by their side, you begin to accept them for what they are and you love them and yourself more and more everyday because of it. Sonically, it may not be the way we want her to convey her story, but if you're vested in the situation and/or are a fan, listening will be the only way to understand/come to terms with it.
Tracks to be advised: "Firebomb", "Cold Case Love", "Russian Roulette", "Te Amo"
4. Jay-Z The Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation/Atlantic)
Released: September 8, 2009
Genre: Hip Hop
Collaborations: Luke Steele (Empire of the Sun), Kanye West, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Jeezy, Swizz Beatz, Drake, KiD CuDi, J. Cole, Pharrell, Mr. Hudson
Production: Kanye West, Al Shux, Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, The Inkredibles, No I.D., Jeff Bhasker, The Neptunes
Summary in 5 words: Every rapper's '3rd's a charm
Indeed I said it. 'Ye's 3rd installment, Graduation, proves it. Lil' Wayne's Tha Carter 3 proves it. Jay's The Blueprint 3 will prove it over the next year and I'm sure Jeezy's Thug Motivation 1.03 will do the same in 2010. Jay-Z opts to follow trend of a collaboration heavy release but he does something a bit different - he doesn't allow his guest to overshadow who we really downloaded/bought the disc to hear. After the sound of his last effort, American Gangster, I can only imagine what the Jay fans were thinking when they hear the opening to the synth heavy "What We Talkin' About". Probably the same thing I thought: wait for the verses. "I don't run rap no more/I run the map" - okay, that's what he's getting at, I have to accept this listening to this CD. The album is amazingly well put (I'm a prickler for tracklisting order), as Jay let's little brother Kanye West take over the majority of the production on the album. 'Ye taps into his various stages of productions with 'Dropout' ("Thank You" and "Already Home") to 'Graduation' ("Hate") post-808s ("Run This Town") to give Hova some of the crispest production he's had since The Black Album. Hova utilizes the key definition of the word 'blueprint' in that he's setting a precedent in hip hop music by taking advantage of alternative sounds to production, showcasing fresher flows and lyrics, advocating the value of taking care of one's community, oneself and looking towards the future, and of course making viable timeless records (see the infectious ode to his hometown "Empire State of Mind"). Some concerns that follow are those contributions by superproducer Timbaland. While Drake-assisted "Off That" serves as a wonderful segway of Hova on a more current style of production, the other two Timbaland tracks ("Reminder" and "Venus vs. Mars") weigh down the album a tadbit; it's something I can't put my finger on - perhaps the styles clash some, or perhaps it's Timbaland's recent declaration of giving up on hip hop that has persuaded me to think so. This album serves as a tiny light in today's sea of mind-numbing hip hop 'songs', in that Hova uses not only wit, but his own experience and 'I'mma do me' mentality to get his point across. Progress is a good thing.
Schematic tracks to review: "On To The Next One", "Off That", "Empire State of Mind", "A Star is Born"
3. Calvin Harris Ready For The Weekend (Fly Eye/Columbia/Sony)
Released: August 17. 2009 (UK), October 6, 2009 (US)
Collaborations: Dizzee Rascal
Summary in 5 words: Fucking dance party over here!
Fact: I never thought that Calvin of all people would be on my list after listening to the annoying blips and bloops on his first album. I do remember him 'faking damage to his PC' earlier in the year and that gave him time to work on his music a bit more, so perhaps that's how this pays off. I'm not sure what got him into this new sound of music, but I like it. I like it a lot. This album is a lot less abrasive than the first (I Created Disco) in that many of the tracks provide infectious melodies combined with Calvin's placement of sound appropriate lyrics, not to mention the guy's not really a vocalist, but he gets by. With Ready For The Weekend, he combines his previous style revamped with "Blue" and head bobbing track "Stars Come Out", then goes head on with his new sound, tapping into the Euro-dance scene with aurally pleasing tones in lead single "I'm Not Alone", inducer of past romance nostalgic "You Used To Hold Me", and brink-of-blackout tune "Flashback". Comparing to the Black Eyed Peas, Calvin ventures outside of the box of mainstream, vividly and creatively expressing his feelings without the overuse of repetition in verses or exhausting the 'party til' you drop' theme over his dance productions. Dance songs are usually regarded as musical pieces with little or no staying power due to their nature to distract the mind from the message of the song. Calvin gets your head and your feet in the groove as he injects some introspect of reality into this LP. He analyzes himself with things we only think internally, as shown in "I'm Not Alone", in which he questions his lamenting mind of inevitable aging and the decision whether one should one begin to do as directed by society when you get older; becoming a homebody and stop frequenting clubs/bars. As you submerge into the album, you're left with some sort of solace and a heightened curiosity in understanding Calvin's message.
Weekend playlist: "I'm Not Alone", "Flashback", "Worst Day", "You Used To Hold Me"
Runner-Up: Utada - This Is The One (Island Def Jam)
Release: May 12, 2009
Production: Stargate, Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, Kuk Harrell
Summary in 5 words: She's allowed to be sexual.
If you've noticed a trend in my year-end lists, this artist always ends up on it somewhere, this year the highest she's ever been. With Exodus (her first English album), Utada experimented with sounds that pleased the fans but failed to make an impact anywhere else. With this new album, This Is The One, Utada maintains the quirks of her Japanese writing style with a more current and sound production, even adding the 'sex sells' flare that America loves so much. Utada's English career much is like literally like juggling two relationships; She wants to commit so badly to keep up appearances, but with the way Japanese record schedules work (artists literally releasing something every year) she can't focus on her marriage to American label Island Def Jam. This album could have been so much more successful had she used some of her influence for placement in the media and live performances. She did find the time to promote the apologetic first single "Come Back To Me", even getting placement on the Rhythmic charts and a MySpace karaoke contest to boot. With this record, though 10 songs, Utada stated that she wanted something short and sweet, as well as control of the majority of the record's direction, which lead to her solely writing and choices of producers. Tricky and Stargate, in my opinion are producers that are only as strong as the artist they work with, whether that be lyrics or vocals. Hearing the lineup, I was excited, but skeptical. The outcome is a cohesive album that combines Utada's Japanese (cute) appeal with an American sound pattern. She breezes like a pro on the top down jam "On and On", where she coyly urges her gays to "burn it up like a gay parade", samples Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto's "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" on the meet you after-hours reminder "FYI", and, speculatively, delves into her true feelings of her divorce in the title track "This One (Crying Like A Child)". While hardcore fans are lukewarm to a more sexual, carnal Utada, claiming it's 'out of her character' and 'she's caving into US label demands', I ask since when is it inhuman to want to flirt and express one's dirty mind? In Japan, a place where vending machines have more uses than dispensing cola and chips, the rules are a bit different in entertainment, as Utada has built up a reputation of being dependable to bring music with catchy tunes, clean performances and light introspect. In the states, she utilizes her freedoms a bit more and shows that she's not just the cute little girl we fell in love with from her younger days. "I'm an independent woman" she declares on "This One", and as we know, independent women think and decide for themselves, my fellow adoring, yet blind-sighted Utada fans. Utada declares that this is the one she wants to be introduced with, this is the one she wants to speak for her character.
The ones to listen to: "Apples and Cinnamon", "Dirty Desire", "Come Back To Me", "On and On"
Runner-Up: Daniel Merriweather Love & War (Allido/J Records)
Released: June 1, 2009 (UK)
Collaborations: Adele, Wale
Production: Mark Ronson, Cathy Dennis, Amanda Ghost, Francis White, Andrew Wyatt
Summary in 5 words: He deserves more Adele-Amy-Duffy-Estelle-like hype
I'm a sucker for a raspy voices, so after hearing his alluring set of pipes on Mark Ronson's 2007 remake of "Stop Me", I decided to keep a look out for his solo effort. While there aren't many prominent contemporary male pop vocalists on the scene, Love & War definitely stands to be acknowledged in a year of a musical recession. As mentioned before, snubs were issued this year, and this album was one of them. Filled with productions channeling the Beatles, Elton John and Stevie Wonder, Daniel tries to put his spin on retro music, boasting some of the best blue-eyed soul since Jon B. Though many of the songs seem contrived with cliches, "Could you be my sunshine/on a cloudy day" ("Could You") and "Giving my love to you/Is like giving my love to a chainsaw" ("Chainsaw"), it's his delivery that helps overshadow how 8th grade diary the lyrics can be. Besides those few bumps, Daniel takes us through the anticipation, contemplation and pains of being in love. "Red" so eloquently conveys the feeling of a love lost to one-sided blame, the build is key to the listening experience. Even deeper, "The Children" addressing the innocence in our youth and the examples we as adults set in our sometimes selfish actions. Elsewhere, Mark Ronson passes on Version-inspired "Not Giving Up", filled with signature horns and harmonies in staccato. The 'love' of the album is addressed from Daniel's struggles with not only his own personal relationship with lovers, but with the love as humans for one another and his own views of how love should play out - as a textbook romance. Instead he's met with the neglect or lack there of and constant evolution, or de-evolution, of the idea of love from the masses, in turn creating the 'war'. It's almost as if Daniel is an optimist swimming in an ocean of pessimists, though the me against the world theme never plays out in the TV shows or movies, on this album, one can sympathize the man's efforts in bring forth his side of the story.
Choices for the battlefield: "Giving Everything Away For Free", "Red", "The Children", "For Your Money"
1. Lady Gaga The Fame Monster (Deluxe Edition) (Interscope/Cherrytree/Streamline/Kon Live)
Released: November 23, 2009
Collaborations: Flo Rida, Colby O'Donis, Beyonce, Space Cowboy
Production: RedOne, Martin Kierszenbaum, Rob Fusari, Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, Ron Fair, Teddy Riley, Fernando Garibay
Summary in 5 words: I'm a free bitch, baby!
2009 has proven to be a very lucrative year for Miss Stefani Germanotta BKA Lady Gaga, Gagalupe, Godga, or what other pet names you monsters have come up for her. 7x platinum worldwide (as of December 2009) for a debut regarded as 'mindless dance drivel', highly publicized performances, including that at the Canada Much Music awards, the Queen's Variety Show, the MTV Video Music Awards and , unique choice in style, multiple number ones for her breakout international single "Poker Face", and interviews that leave you wondering, "what is this b!tch thinking". Yeah, that's 2009's undisputed breakout act Lady Gaga. She offered the first piece of The Fame in 2008, but decided to enhance the vision of the concept with eight new songs which has placed this album at the head of the pack for this year. There hasn't been an artist this exciting and vocal since the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna. Lady Gaga boasts about her ability to bag a boy while thinking about her girl in the dance smash "Poker Face", channels her Italian roots in the 80s synth track "Eh Eh", warns her lover that she will not give into his obsessive behavior on Beyonce assisted "Telephone", and takes genuine cheese and slaps some crackers on it and serves it to us in the insatiable "Bad Romance". Gaga has a thing in her writing for repetitive, yet catchy hooks that even the most elitist of music lovers can fall for (yeah I'm looking at you Pitchfork). Gaga takes the trend of electro and dance pop to the highest, and though many of the sexually charged lyrics can jade the average listener, once you're pulled into the idea of Gaga, you won't want to only hear her music, you'll want to see her performances, view her paparazzi shots, and before you know it, you're enveloped in her whole process; she really is a monster! She even takes some an approach to the performance rock sound in ballads "Speechless" and "Brown Eyes". The Fame [Monster]'s true purpose is to draw the listener away from daily on-goings by escaping to a world where you can flirt to your hearts content, drink like a fish, recite babble and not feel like the spectacle, and dance the night away, if only for 88 minutes. While channeling earlier music 'freaks' Bjork, David Bowie and Grace Jones, Gaga's authenticity as a pop artist (literally) comes from her dedication to what she serves to the public. Rarely caught in public in 'civilian wear', Gaga portrays the image of an entertainer at all times - as outrageous as it may seem - and it draws even the most hating of haters to question whether they should consider taking this person(a?) serious or not.
Monster tracks: "Poker Face", "Bad Romance", "Dance In The Dark", "Speechless", "Paparazzi", "Just Dance"