Monday, November 30, 2009

2009 in Music, part 1

Well, folks... it's that time once again. My annual roundup of all things music from my own selfish perspective. You might want to refresh your memory on last year to see if this holds up at all over time.

Anyhow, we'll get to the 10 best albums soon. For now, partially because rankings in and of themselves do not sum up a year in music - and partially because I need more time to write the albums blog - let's just get to some of the musical housekeeping for the year that was:

Creed of the Year
I'm going to take some pain for this one, because Creed is probably not the best parallel, but... Kings of Leon. I say this because I have their most recent album. It has some good songs. They are all overplayed. They are far overrated as a band. They have vague religious righteousness about them. Maybe Creed is a good parallel. That said, if Creed could write a song as good as "Sex on Fire" the world would be a better place.

Band I'm Glad I Got Into This Year
Hands down Modest Mouse. What the hell took me so long to get on this train? And it was the classic see-band-live-and-love-them-forever thing. Seriously, some great musicians. They can thrash, too. But Isaac Brock is a pretty talented songwriter and knows him some melody, too. I'm late to the game, but happy to be in nonetheless.

Concert Moment of the Year
So, I could pick a lot of things from the Coldplay show, where I saw one of the best mainstream bands of the decade look incredibly comfortable and engage the crowd and all that. But the moment was before they come on stage. Bands usually get to pick their pre-show music. So, it wasn't a shock to hear the normal background set-change music segue into Jay-Z, a Coldplay collaborator. What was more of a surprise was how Coldplay elected to have U2's "Magnificent" blare at full concert volume prior just prior to taking the stage. To me, that was the band saying, "Well, since someone's going to compare, you just go ahead and hear it and then we'll show you what we've got." Point taken. Ballsy move that Coldplay backed up with a killer show.

Creepiest Video Ever of the Year
This isn't even a contest. Good luck sleeping after this, kids:

Pop Song That Can Die, Preferably Quickly
"Single Ladies." I don't like it. I will not put a ring on it. I will change the station. And please stop putting it into TV shows. And I don't care about the baby dancing o YouTube either.

Trend of the Year
The continued rise (and toleration) of free. It's occurring to more and more bands/labels/rational people that there is little need to charge for music itself. There's, simply put, too much money to be made on concert tickets, merchandise, fan club fees, deluxe super versions of albums and more to worry about the cost of a 128kbps mp3 out there. Even as iTunes raised its prices, more and more we're seeing bands use simple economics to reap decent returns. Certainly sustainable returns. Think about it... you could sell 500,000 albums and get $4 for each sold. Or, you could sell 20,000 $120 super-deluxe album packages and get just about the same money. Anyone want to dispute it's easier to get 20,000 people to buy something than 500,000? Seriously... give your music away and put out awesome stuff that hardcore fans will pony up for.

Alarming Trend
Taylor Swift. All of it. Make it stop. I swear, every three years there some new country tart-let out there who gets shoved down our throats. And she is this year's winner. Make. It. Stop. Or please stop trying to make me care.

Biggest Disappointments
Ok, really, this year was a big letdown after last year. I suppose we were due for an off year... the past few have been pretty good music years. This year, just... geez. First off, a lot of bands should have put out EPs instead of albums. The Big Pink debut album has a lot of promise, but only up until about song 6.

But still, a few albums just tanked if you ask me:

  • Our Lady Peace - Burn Burn - Whither OLP? This album just made me sad. You have to consider that this is a band that, by most critical accounts, was easily one of the more creative heavy rock bands of its time as recently as 2001. Then... my lord has this band gone downhill. The worst part? Last song of this disc, "Paper Moon," harkens back to the sound of old and, honestly, I would rather listen to that song (half of it anyway) on a 30-minute loop than this album in its entirety. Fail.
  • Silversun Pickups - Swoon - We got wound up excited for this? Also, the Smashing Pumpkins comparison is lazy. The Smashing Pumpkins, like them or not, never made this bland an album.
  • Third Eye Blind - Ursa Major - This one is more about my own wishes and desires. I want 3EB to be good. Years ago Kevin Cadogan, guitarist, left the band. Apparently, he was a big part of the band, too, because their materials since has been meh.
Top 10 Songs of the Year
There were some awesome songs this year. As always. Let's count them down, shall we?

10) Green Day - "21st Century Breakdown"
On an album that didn't quite reach the heights of its classic predecessor, this song is an easy standout and captures the energy of Green Day at its best.

9) The Airborne Toxic Event - "Sometime Around Midnight"
Not sure what to make of this band, but this song was outstanding (especially in a year with no Arcade Fire to compete with since ATE seems to want to emulate that band).

8) Big Pink - "Dominos"
The best song from a new British band that might just turn into something. Plus, I like the swagger of this song, even if it means these guys are a bunch of bar-room louts. You can do that when you're a rock star.

7) Phoenix - "1901"
Some people are going to rave about this album, but this song was really the standout. And it easily wins the award for indie song to reap the most licensing royalties this year.

6) Lady Gaga - "Poker Face"
Don't even try to argue this point. If anything, I have ranked it too low.

5) Metric - "Help I'm Alive"
They were joking on Sirius/XM that this band and Shiny Toy Guns are basically interchangeable I'm not so sure. Metric has a better track record overall album-wise and, hey, we like Canadians. Plus, this song is better than any on the last Shiny Toy Guns disc.

4) Kelly Clarkson - "My Life Would Suck Without You"
Sarah is making obscene gestures at me for this (especially given the song two spots up, which she feels is more deserving). I dunno. I'm just a sucker. This song sounds like flipping fun dip tastes.

3) Radiohead - "These Are My Twisted Words"
I want to broker a deal with Radiohead: every month, they put out a new song. After 12 months, you've got a 12-track album that you burn and write the name of the year on it. Then you start over.

2) U2 - "Fez (Being Born)"
It had been more than 10 years since U2 put out a song like this and it was too damned long. Far too complex for radio and probably too complex for many of its "fans," too. It's a song like this that makes me step back and understand just why this band was so great. Each band member plays his role, they experiment with the sounds in their heads and, instead of another U2 song with "that sound," you get a creative burst of... I dunno what. But holy flipping lord can I pay this band to just make songs/albums like this again? It's everything the promise of Zooropa and Pop showed... finally in a neat package.

1) Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Zero"
I cannot stop listening to this song. From the first moment I heard it this year, to right now this very minute. I listened to it in the gym tonight (and thank god for that or I never would have gotten my workout started). I fantasize about making remixes of this song. This song makes me want to jump on the roof of my car and dance in rush hour traffic. AND... all from a band that I used to put on the jukebox in low-down shady bars in lower Manhattan when I was feeling sinister back in the day. The band is clearly comfortable trying new things and doing crazy crazy stuff in the process. And what's even crazier is I couldn't decide between this song and "Heads Will Roll" from the same album for a couple of weeks. I like options.

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