Thursday, January 28, 2010

2009's top tunes, part two

My 11 most played artists in 2009, according to

1 Pet Shop Boys // Fueled by Yes, its b-sides and the Christmas EP.

2 Lady GaGa

3 Erasure // I didn't get the anniversary rerelease of The Innocents, but they made it near the top anyway.

4 Alanis Morissette // Producer Guy Sigsworth helps revitalize Morissette on Flavors of Entanglement. It's no doubt his influence that sees some of her denser rock pieces replaced by the toe-tapping likes of "Giggling Again for no Reason."

5 Madonna // She can't buy a hit these days, but "Celebration" and "Revolver" were welcome if not mind-blowing offerings.

6 Lily Allen // Allen didn't take hold the first time around, but second album It's Not Me, It's You is stuffed with the thoughtful ("The Fear") and hilarious ("F*ck You," "It's Not Fair"), all of it deadly catchy.

7 Tori Amos // My interest in some of Tori's newer material has cooled, but Abnormally Attracted to Sin, an impressively cohesive piece considering its 17-song length, provided a welcome thaw.

8 Annie // Had the really good Don't Stop appeared earlier in the year, Annie likely would have made the top three. "Hey Annie" is hypnotic, and the Berlin Breakdown Version of "Anthonio" is a fun throwback to '80s balladry.

9 La Roux // I haven't listened to the album as a whole a great deal, obsessing instead over individual tracks such as the sublime "Fascination."

10 The Bird and the Bee // Their second full-length, Ray Guns Are not Just the Future, which included a couple of previously released strong tracks amongst the new songs, failed to click with me (an ode to David Lee Roth — seriously, TBATB?), but standout songs "Love Letter from Japan" and "My Love" helped TBATB just squeeze into the top 10.

11 Michael Jackson // The list goes to 11 for the sole purpose of a nod to MJ, who fell so sharply off the radar in the late '90s and all of the 'oos that he had become out of sight, out of mind. It's sad that it took his death to get us all to rediscover the magic. The soothing "Human Nature" emerged as the song I listened to most following his death.

Friday, January 22, 2010

2009's top tunes

Courtesy of the statistics compiled by, here's a roundup of my most listened to tracks of 2009 (tried to post this New Year's Eve but had strange Blogger issues … quite a bummer when you've spent an hour formatting it all pretty):

1 Not As We and Not As We (Jack Shaft Radio Edit) – Alanis Morissette // For me, Morissette's Flavors of Entanglement is a triumphant return to form in terms of being listenable beyond a single or two, and this harrowing breakup ballad (she's talking about you, Ryan Reynolds!) is arguably the best song in her catalog. It's also one of only two songs that could improbably top PSB in one of their most fruitful years ever.

2 Paparazzi and its various remixes – Lady GaGa // It's the best of the The Fame singles in my book, although Poker Face was a real grower.

3 This Used to Be the Future – Pet Shop Boys // The Yes era brought one of the most rewarding PSB years ever, and this complex track – ridiculously tucked away on the bonus disc – is my favorite of the new songs. It's thought-provoking, delicious modern electronic music, and it boasts the vocals of the usually mute Chris Lowe, which is always a treat, and The Human League's Phil Oakey.

4 Love Etc. – Pet Shop Boys // Yes' lead single is certainly a grower, but it gradually pulls you in as all those contrasting, mesmerizing song parts, courtesy of producers Xenomania, weave a beautiful sonic tapestry.

5 Zero – Yeah Yeah Yeahs // The singer sounds a lot like Chrissie Hynde to my ears in this relentless stomper.

6 King of Rome – Pet Shop Boys // It's the slow-burn masterpiece from Yes; the "Liberation" of its era.

7 The Way It Used to Be – Pet Shop Boys

8 After the Event РPet Shop Boys // Arguably the cr̬me of the Yes b-sides.

9 Building a Wall – Pet Shop Boys

10 Vulnerable – Pet Shop Boys

11 Torch – Alanis Morissette // More perfectly crafted heartache.

12 Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say) (Pet Shop Boys remix) – Lady GaGa // A masterful example of a remix breathing new life into a song by enhancing — not deconstructing — its strengths.

13 We're All Criminals Now – Pet Shop Boys

14 Legacy – Pet Shop Boys

15 More Than Words Can Say – Carol Hitchcock // A b-side to a non-hit from the somewhat obscure batch of late '80s Stock Aitken Waterman productions that hit iTunes this year, and I couldn't stop listening to it. It's the b-side to a fine tune called "Get Ready." If you've seen Hitchcock's photos — she was a personal trainer or some such — you can imagine men might be frightened when she sings, "Get ready, 'cause here I come."

16 All Over the World – Pet Shop Boys

17 The Fear – Lily Allen

18 Summerboy – Lady GaGa

19 Did You See Me Coming? – Pet Shop Boys

20 Quicksand – La Roux // Striking and irresistible, this was my introduction to the Yaz-indebted newcomer.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More free Erik Hassle

I'm expecting Erik Hassle to be one of the big breakouts on my playlist in 2010 when his album Pieces is finally released in the US on Feb. 22. He's already buzz-worthy on my charts thanks to a free download of the AMAZING "Don't Bring Flowers" and the lovely acoustic cover of Robyn's "Be Mine" with Ellie Goulding. Now, a free download of the Prison Penguin Remix of single "Hurtful" is available free for the tweeting.

Going Ga Ga (The Fame Monster)

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

Ga Ga struck me as little more than a passing curiosity when "Just Dance" crashed onto the radio early in 2009, setting up an incredible run that probably no one at the time would have believed was to come. Then the song perched at number one — a rare achievement for unapologetic dance music — piquing my curiosity as to whether she could parlay that success into something more. At first glance, "Poker Face" just sounded like a retread of the previous hit, and it took a while for it to win me over. I found those menacing male voices — "mwah mwah mwah mwah" — an odd reminder of the Eurodance styles of Ace of Base and Real McCoy. Around the time "Poker Face" was topping the Hot 100, Amazon was pimping the The Fame CD for five bucks, and I thought, "What the hey."

Turns out The Fame is a magnificent piece of work, bottomless with potential hits, and I enjoyed getting to know it while Ga Ga emerged as one of the more creative and engaging forces in pop in quite some time. Songs like "Paparazzi," "Summerboy" and "Poker Face" display an impressive knack for pop songcraft, and I can overlook the occasional uncanny similarity in sound (particularly on "Summerboy") to Gwen Stefani. Around the time I got the album, the stunningly good Pet Shop Boys remix of ballad "Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)" appeared, and I was hooked. Another pivotal moment was the SNL appearance with its intimate piano performance that clearly demonstrated the spark and gravitas of something more than a manufactured pop star.

I think it's premature to declare Ga Ga the new Madonna, but the early appearance of a strong second album when probably a couple of more hits could have been milked from its predecessor does nothing to counter that notion. She gets bonus points, as well, for making The Fame Monster a proper album rather than making it one of those lame re-releases with a couple of calculated singles tacked on.

Lead single "Bad Romance" encapsulates everything that clicked so well for her first string of hits while setting the stage for another impressive run of singles, and it's tough to predict which those will be, given that it's all radio-ready.

Seventies-tinged balled "Speechless" would be an adventurous single choice that could bolster her credibility among those eager to dismiss her as a disposable dance pop diva. It's hard to imagine the unshakable "He ate my heart" chant of "Monster" not making it to radio, and "Dance in the Dark" is emerging as the irresistible "Paparazzi" of The Fame Monster. Word is she'll release a third album late in 2010, and I can't wait to see where her Abba-esque knack for melody and Madonna-esque knack for style and production will take this superstar in the making.