Snarky, jaded types may grumble that no real quality new music came out in 2009, or that this decade's musical output could never compare to that of the '90s, '80s, '70s, and beyond. But those cynics are wrong: 2009 was actually the fantastic finale to a sonically rich decade (although much of this year's retro music sounded like it was recorded in '79 or '89, not '09), thanks to many stunning newcomers joining the late-Noughties party.
And so, to silence all doubters, here are the year's alphabetically assembled brightest breakouts...
Chester French - Endorsed by Kanye West (don't hold that against them), Lady Gaga, Pharrell Williams, DJ Clinton Sparks, and basically anyone with good taste in quirky indie-pop, this duo of multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist Harvard grads released one of the year's most underrated debuts, the aptly titled, very fresh-sounding Love The Future. With its wry odes to Jimmy Choos and '70s groupies, and its clever, subtle hip-hop influences, the album was a perfect example of intelligent, modern crossover pop, and such a fitting way to end this diverse decade.
Empire Of The Sun - The superfantastical side duo of Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore (from Australian cult bands the Sleepy Jackson and Pnau, respectively), EOTS drew the attention of Jay-Z (who enlisted Steele to sing on the first track of The Blueprint 3, "What We Talkin' About"), Justin Timberlake (who in an InStyle interview cited the band's Walking On A Dream as one of his favorite new albums), and the producers of Entourage (who featured Empire's tracks "Standing On The Shore" and "We Are The People" this season). There was good reason for this: Bringing to mind a sort of more ethereal (and even more melodic) MGMT, Empire's album was one of the year's most stunning releases, and they made some eye-popping, Sigfried & Roy-esque music videos to complement it.
Glasvegas - Sounding like Jesus & Mary Chain covering the Phil Spector songbook, these brooding, swooning Scots crafted one of the year's lushest and most gush-worthy opuses with their self-titled debut. They became one of Britain's biggest breakout stars due to their nostalgically dreamy goth-pop and charismatically leatherclad Joe Strummer-doppelganger frontman, James Allan...but considering that so many of their songs conjured bittersweet memories of prom scenes in '80s John Hughes flicks, it's surprising that they didn't launch a more successful, full-scale British invasion on U.S. shores.
Kid Sister - It took two years for this Chi-Town hip-hop diva's debut album, Ultraviolet, to finally come out (it was originally supposed to be released in 2008 under the title Dream Date, but the rapper, whose real name is Melissa Young, asked the label to hold off so she could tweak it). But she'd already made a name for herself with the Kanye collabo (don't hold it against her) "Pro-Nails"--aka, the single that made Kid Sister to nail lacquer as Lil' Mama is to lipgloss, and the song that should've landed her a lucrative a spokesmodel deal with OPI. "Pro-Nails" was just a taste of things to come, however, and judging by excellence of the Kid's new full-length, she is set to claw her way to the top very soon.
Ladyhawke - A former bandmate (in Teenager) of Empire Of The Sun's Nick Littlemore, New Zealand diva Phillipa "Pip" Brown, aka the awesomely monikered Ladyhawke, broke out on her own in '09 with the delicious disco-dolly anthem "Paris Is Burning." She subsequently won multiple ARIA (Australian Grammy) Awards for Album Of The Year, Best Dance/Electronica Album, Single Of The Year, International Achievement, Best Female Solo Artist, and Breakthrough Artist. But she still remains relatively unknown in this upper hemisphere...for now.
Adam Lambert - Love him or hate him, the Glambert always triggered strong opinions in 2009, and such reactions are of course always the sign of a fascinating artist. Never before had American Idol viewers seen the likes of this guylinered glam wonder, and chances are they never will again. Even anti-Idol music lovers had to grudgingly give Adam credit for introducing Goldfrapp, Peaches, Muse, and relatively obscure Bowie covers to the mainstream Idol audience who used to think Bo Bice was "edgy."
La Roux - With her icy '80s synthpop sound, theatrically shrill vocals, and asymmetrically moussed flaming coif, 21-year-old androgyne Elly Jackson (along with her collaborator, Ben Langmaid) was one of the most interesting new superstars to come out of Britain this year. Sounding as blatantly and unapologetically retro as an '80s cover band (comparisons to Yaz, the Eurythmics, and Altered Images have abounded) yet somehow still incredibly, future-shockingly modern, La Roux's high-BPM singles will surely be inspiring many electropop fans to hit the dance floor all night long this New Year's Eve.
Late Of The Pier - 2007 "nu-ravers" the Klaxons sadly shelved their long-awaited sophomore album in 2009, but luckily these hipster Londoners were right there to pick up the Klaxons' day-glo torch with their debut synth-pop album, Fantasy Black Channel. This was the ideal dance-party soundtrack for the skinny-jeans set, and in LOTP frontman Sam Eastgate, British indie found a pleasingly androgynous new heartthrob.
Little Boots - 2009 was stupendous year for electropop princesses, with Lady Gaga (whose album came out in 2008) rising to superstardom and acts like the aforementioned Ladyhawke and La Roux busting out internationally. And then there was the indie scene's answer to Kylie Minogue, Little Boots (aka Victoria Hesketh). A former reality talent show contestant with a mysterious ice-queen exterior and penchant for Flock Of Seagulls-style fabulous flammable fashions, Miss Boots bridged the indie and pure-pop worlds seamlessly with her supercool music, and she is poised for Stateside stardom in 2010.
Mr Hudson - This blonde British singer-songwriter (full name: Ben Gunther Hudson) found an unlikely ally in Kanye West (again, don't hold that against him) in 2009. Hudson had already issued one generally ignored album the U.K. before Kanye bizarrely took notice of him, signed him to his label, and vowed to turn him into an American star with the duets "Paranoid" (a Kanye single) and "Supernova" (Hudson's U.S. introduction). That didn't exactly happen...which is too bad, as Hudson's first U.S. album, Straight No Chaser, is a fine collection of beat-heavy Britpop. We're still hoping that the chilling track "Anyone But Him"--a vengeful lament over an unrequited crush hooking up with an unworthy jerk, instead of with the far more worthy Hudson himself--finally gets a shot at radio. Kanye himself has said it's a song he wishes he'd written.
Passion Pit - One of the buzziest buzz bands of '09, these quirky synth-rock Bostonians provided the lost link between 2008 buzz bands Vampire Weekend and MGMT with their (rightfully) hyped debut album, Manners. And with multiple coveted song placements in everything from Gossip Girl and Rockville episodes to a high-rotation Palm Pixi commercial--plus their rambunctious live show that's even connected with the Bonnaroo audience--their buzz is likely to only grow buzzier in 2010.
The Whip - These post-punk Mancunians whipped up one of the year's best (and lamentably most overlooked) albums with X Marks The Destination, a vicious and visceral slab of hard-hitting electrorock made that much cooler by the live beat-keeping of the raddest, baddest chick drummer this side of Sheila E. Do yourself a favor and seek this band's music out, before 2009 is over. And make it your new year's resolution to follow them in 2010.
White Lies - This doomy London trio was the first British band to chart a number one album in the U.K. in 2009, and that was definitely an omen, as their moody-blue debut, To Lose My Life, was an early frontrunning favorite for top album of the year, even back in January. Their sonic similarities to dark '80s influences (notice a pattern on this list?) like Joy Division and Echo & The Bunnymen put them in the same new-wave-is-new-again category as the Editors, Interpol, and the above-mentioned Glasvegas, but White Lies still stood out from the pack, especially when they brilliantly covered Kanye West's "Love Lockdown." But again, don't hold that against them...
- Kanye West