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El Arte de la Elegancia: The Best Latin Records of 2009, Part 1

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It's been a year of surprises in Latin music. Reggaetón continues fading, albeit slowly, and the industry's mainstays aren't garnering the attention they used to. Case in point: Don Omar's summer release iDon (no relation to your phone), which remained quiet after its first single, "Virtual Diva." Some big names continue to survive and thrive: Daddy Yankee powered through with Talento de Barrio, and Tito el Bambino had a strong year with his everlasting single, "El Amor." But overall, the genre seems to be shifting toward the amorous style from Panama characterized by last year's breakout, Flex. Meanwhile, Latin pop is alive and well, this year thanks to solid efforts from big names like Paulina Rubio, Luis Fonsi and Shakira - even pop diva Nelly Furtado, who navigated a successful crossover. But perhaps the most interesting trend is the apparent rise of indie alternative acts - groups from small labels with huge potential and sounds too varied and diverse to easily classify. We're witnessing the growth of a subgenre once limited to rock en español and populated solely by a few established artists. 10. Aventura The Last (Sony Music Latin) This four-piece bachata group has taken the U.S. by storm, dominating not only the Latin sales charts, but even making it onto Billboard's Top 200 alongside such mainstream acts as Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas. Plus, they habitually sell out Madison Square Garden in their hometown of New York City and arenas across the country, from Miami's Triple A to El Ley's Staples Center. Sure, some people feel that Romeo's voice is more befitting a cat food commercial, but that's not the sentiment here. 9. Wisin y Yandel La Revolucion (Machete Music) Some say reggaetón is dying. And though W y Y may not agree outright with that prognosis, they seem to have (not unwisely) jumped ship. Reggaetón purists be damned, this album has all the elements of a well-put-together hip-hop disc fit for the clubs, right down to a 50 Cent collab. 8. Mexican Institute of Sound Soy Sauce (Nacional) The brainchild of EMI Mexico's president, Camilo Lara, MIS hails from the D.F., with a sound reflecting those Mexican roots. There's fusion here, as well as cumbia, pop and alternative, all posed against an electro playground. The result is arresting and infectious dance music in which Lara veers away from samples toward live instrumentation. Enjoy with sushi or straight up. 7. Los Fabulosos Cadillacs El Arte de la Elegancia de LFC (Nacional) Last year's La Luz del Ritmo came after a seven-year split for the Cadillacs, and, fueled in large part by remakes, some covers and the single "Padre Nuestro," it thrust the legendary Argentine rock group right back into the thick of things. This year, Vicentico, Señor Flavio and company followed it up with El Arte, nine tracks of classic LFC rock-ska B-side goodness, all given fresh new faces. There are also two completely new songs, which prove that, 25 years later, these guys still kick ass. 6. Alejandro Sanz Paraiso Express (WEA International) On his eighth studio record, Sanz continues to approach songwriting with the same poetic conviction that earned him acclaim on records like 1997's Más. In fact, the album's good enough to make you overlook the single, a bilingual duo with Alicia Keys, which, sadly, falls short of what such a celebrity coupling might bring. See our picks for Nos. 5-1 tomorrow.

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