My best affairs of 2009 have been with women. Now, of course, this means aural relations with pop powerhouses, dance-floor fiends and sweet-ass singer-songwriters. Relentlessly, they’ve penetrated my hearing holes, becoming more than casual hook-ups. Or even friends with benefits. Meet them:
10. Peaches, “I Feel Cream”
“Raw meat,” “the holy land” and “sauce galore” – this Berlin-based bisexual never met an X-rated pun she didn’t like. All these horny transfixions are met with wham-bam beats that throb with towering synthetic noise, which is why it’s a shocker when she pulls off “Lose You,” a vulnerably bereft riff that’s celestial in tone, but a musical relative to the rest. “Why don’t you talk to me?” she probes. Because listening is so much better.
9. Tegan and Sara, “Sainthood”
Resonant wordplay works overtime on the indie-rock twosome’s electro evolution. And, boy, do they suffocate our noggins with their head-saturating sound bits that relentlessly bait us with huge hooks, like in the nostalgic power-punk of “The Ocean” and “Northshore.” Priceless harmonies? Check. Sing-along lyrics about life antidotes, unrequited love and hell? You betcha. They also rock more – in every possible way.
8. Miranda Lambert, “Revolution”
Country’s “crazy ex-girlfriend” – and most refreshing act in years – largely sticks to her guns. But, with her third CD, she’s packing more than a pistol: her underrated voice, indelible songs and some killer charisma. She mounts her artistic growth with mature meditations on life, not just love – self-actualization, inner strength and freedom. All are skillfully interpreted like the woman she’s become, not the girl she was.
7. Florence + the Machine, “Lungs”
Some voices are like natural disasters, sweeping through and making their mark. Rank Florence Welch, Britain’s big deal with world-wrecking lungs and a stateside alt-pop import, among them. She sounds positively saintly on the soaring coda, but has no trouble conjuring a wronged woman ready for some serious ass kicking. Thanks to that tsunami of a voice, this debut does a lot of its own.
6. Kelly Clarkson, “All I Ever Wanted”
We lost our infectious “Idol” queen to 2007’s drab “My December.” But she didn’t leave us in the cold for long, reviving that irresistible factor that helped lasso her longevity in the first place with a fab follow-up: a sung-like-mad mix of Godzilla-sized torch songs (the belty bestie “Already Gone”) and aggressive faux-rock romps like “My Life Would Suck Without You.” Without this fantastic pop force, it really would.
5. Brad Paisley, “American Saturday Night”
The only thing hotter than this multi-endowed country gent is his wisely written, wonderfully produced seventh album, a sweet pop-leaned mix that pushes his average-guy persona. Love ballads charm. A sensitive song about grandpa wrings the waterworks. He’s a forward-thinker, a drunkard, a dad. And that silly side? Still here, with all the yuks, surprises and brains of a country quintessential.
4. Rihanna, “Rated R”
Amazing is the metamorphosis from dance-causing damsel to rare risk-taker as the Caribbean queen tweaked her trademark sound for brazen, rock-out reality on this opus. Intimate and chilling, Rihanna sucks you into her weary world, one filled with pop-defying grimness – first single: “Russian Roulette” – and equivocally outre love songs that sit long after they’re over. Bold moves from a girl gone gutsy.
3. Holly Williams, “Here With Me”
Forget that she’s Hank Williams Jr.’s daughter. She doesn’t need that crutch on her supreme seconds, a moving, self-reflective ensemble of raw, minimalistic ditties that aim straight for the heart with their muses: mom, Jesus and lost love. Even a fling with a hot Frenchman. With a frank fervidness that gets the heart pumping and the tears flowing, Williams establishes herself apart from the family’s legendary lineage.
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “It’s Blitz!”
Before synth-sloshed sound hijacked their ear wormy alt-rock run, Karen O’s band was more sing along than dance along. On this dynamic electro-dance disc, they’re both. “Zero” is a zingy piece of disco ball shimmer, and so is “Heads Will Roll” – a heavenly burst of bump-and-grind bliss. For as fake as the beats are, O impeccably showers realism and intimacy over them. “Little Shadow” will hug you. Let it.
1. Brandi Carlile, “Give Up the Ghost”
This guttural folk-rock goddess’s voice is so remarkable it feels too good for everyone who listens to it. And with a solid run so far, her third album – with rowdy rockers, folksy heartbreakers and a painful piano-pushed lament (the gloriously beefed-up “Before it Breaks”) – ranks as her best. It’s sensitive, sweet and stirring. Through it all, Carlile channels an old soul. And sings better than most new ones.
Chris Azzopardi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.