2009: the year that the radio and my personal tastes started to collide. If you’d told me a year ago that I would stumble into my kitchen and hear some of my favourite songs playing on Triple J or Nova I would likely have stroked your hair lovingly before recommending a charming medical professional. But yet. There it was. Radio, it seems (despite the Triple J Hottest 100 shemozzle) begun a slight love affair with intelligent female songwriters and the charts began to follow suit.
As always, my end-of-year ‘best of’ is entirely subjective mix of my own emotional responses to the sound, mixed with a slight hint of critical objectivity. Are they, critically, the best of their respective genres? Perhaps not. But they are, at the end of the day, the sounds that moved me – physically, emotionally – and gave me the soundtrack to live my life to in ’09. Enjoy.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Florence and the Machine – Lungs
More than just a dynamic and powerful vocalist, Florence and the Machine’s debut album was a diverse collection of moody, slightly left of centre (but surprisingly radio friendly) pop songs. With an often thriving percussive beat and an abundance of interesting turns of emotive phrase, this album – at a time where many of her contemporaries were looking to the past for inspiration – never felt anything less than remarkably fresh.
Highlight tracks: Drumming Song, Howl, Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up), Blinding
SONG OF THE YEAR: Sally Seltmann – Harmony To My Heartbeat
Arriving unexpectedly in the later stages of the year, Sally Seltmann – formerly New Buffalo and writer of Feist’s “1 2 3 4” – made an incredibly welcome return with the delightfully upbeat ‘Harmony to my Heartback’. The track is typically Sally Seltmann: jangly, hand-clappy, immediate pop but with enough intelligence, street smarts and unexpected twists to raise it well above your standard radio fare. Bring on the album.
Honourable mention: Bertie Blackman – Heart
Bertie continued to show why she is Australia’s most adventurous singer-songwriter.
GROUP OF THE YEAR: Metric – Fantasies
Canadian indie-pop-rock darlings Metric returned in 2009 with ‘Fantasies’, a shimmering (but never glossy) alt-pop-rock collection. Showing why she is one of the world’s most intriguing frontwomen, Emily Haines wraps herself in this material like a banshee – whispering, wailing and seducing her way through ten-tracks of pop-rock bliss.
Honourable mention: Gossip – Music For Men
Pop-punk trendsetters take a few Donna Summer pills and produce an unexpectedly dancefloor-driven album that works more than well.
SOLO ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Fever Ray
Taking the trademark sound of The Knife and transferring it to a beguiling, atmospheric, Karin Dreijer Andersson’s solo venture (under the moniker Fever Ray) was a lush, sensual and sometimes challenging album. With worldy beats (and a sometimes otherwordly feel) there was no other album quite as distinctive as this in 2009.
Honourable mention: Bat For Lashes – Two Suns
If Cat Power turned into a Brooklyn electro-pop-goddess you’d end up with an album close to Bat For Lashes’ ‘Two Suns’. As exciting and involving as it as listenable.
Honourable mention: Little Boots – Hands
Of all the mainstream, UK synth-influenced pop albums to drop this year Little Boots was bursting to the brim with catchy, well constructed gems.
Token male mention: Paolo Nutini – Sunny Side Up
The Scot with the stunning voice and musical range. Soulful, emotive and occasionally funk-driven.
LIVE PERFORMER OF THE YEAR: Sia
Providing the year’s most enchanting shows (March, Metro Theatre, Sydney) Sia showed herself to be an engaging, chaotic personality – and a stunning, spine-tingling vocalist.
LOOKING AHEAD: ONES TO WATCH FOR 2010
Marina and the Diamonds
After a swathe of great singles already released in the UK, welsh-born Marina and the Diamonds is poised to release a great album in the next year. With traces of Regina Spektor and Florence and the Machine, Marina and the Diamonds is a stylised, glamorous and adventurous indie-pop starlet in the making.
Former lead singer of Australian indie band, Lola Flash, Emma Russack is set to (finally) release her debut solo EP early next year. While an early listen hints at a more jazzy direction than her lo-fo past, she is a strong songwriter with a rich, unique voice.
Hirsute Australian singer-songwriter borrows shades of Jeff Buckley and Damien Rice – with his own superb songwriting and vocals thrown into the mix.
Having wrapped up working with Christina Aguilera, early previews of Sia’s new material show a sprightly, exciting dance-pop side to her repertoire.