Category: 2009: Year in music

Music and the Tucson shootings


Anyone who has been raised under the sway of a spiritual belief system -- Christian or Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or pagan -- knows that when a crisis arises, one thing you do is listen for a sound. A still, small voice. A heavenly choir. A righteous cry unto the Lord.

Sound, especially music, often shapes our emotional responses and guides our thought processes. But since Saturday, when a gunmen identified by police as Jared Lee Loughner aimed his deadly weapon at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her consituency in Tucson, I've been waiting to hear something that might help me comprehend what's going on. And all I hear is static, like the restless turning of a radio dial.

Usually, when an event like the Tucson shootings occurs, a soundtrack quickly emerges. Music tends to play two roles in such situations. It focuses our anger or softens the impact of our grief.

If the disaster has a human cause, like the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 or Bard College at Simon's Rock in Massachusetts in 1992, music often fills the need for a scapegoat. Trying to grasp the motivations of young killers such as Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris at Columbine or Wayne Lo at Simon's Rock, those tasked with interpreting their mayhem looked for signs blasting from boomboxes.

The frenzy surrounding the Columbine shooters' alleged interest in industrial and goth rock eventually subsided; in his important book on the rampage, published a decade later, journalist Dave Cullen thoroughly disproved the link. And Lo himself denied that hard sound motivated him. In a prison letter to the rock critic Chuck Klosterman, he insisted that the T-shirt he wore that day -- emblazoned with the name of the hard-core band Sick of It All -- was an arbitrary choice, and wondered what conclusions observers might have drawn had he pulled one hawking Poison from his drawer.

It's mostly a good thing, I think, that music (or video gaming, another easy target) isn't being blamed for Loughner's alleged actions.

“These details are dug up by journalists in part to give 'color' and personality to the gunmen, often in haste and without much fact-checking,” journalist Beth Winegarner writes in an as-yet unpublished piece inspired by media reactions to Loughner's alleged deed. This time, former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin  and the odious Fred Phelps, founder of Kansas' Westboro Baptist Church, whose members were planning to picket the funerals of shooting victims, have provided all the color pundits need.

Winegarner, who is working on a book about media reaction to teen violence, notes that the media tend to focus on the cultural tastes of teens in such situations, while blaming mental instability when adults are responsible.

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SoundExchange handed out $155 million dollars to artists in 2009, more in 2010

SoundExchange has been writing checks like it's going out of style. Luckily for musicians, money never gets old.

Charged with collecting royalities from digital music streams on Internet, satellite radio and cable television, the Wash., D.C., based non-profit group distributed $155 million to artists in 2009, up 55% from 2008 when it handed out $100 million.

Each time a song is played on Pandora, KCRW's website or XM Satellite Radio, the virtual sound of fractions of pennies are heard dropping into SoundExchange's pocket. Multiply that by billions of songs heard over the Internet each year and, voila, a new income stream for musicians is born.

This year, SoundExchange is expected disburse $252 million, according to unaudited estimates from SoundExchange.

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Sneak preview: Ann Powers on Of Montreal's wild new show

When word got out last spring that the Athens, Ga.-based glam collective Of Montreal would be touring with Atlanta's rising soul goddess Janelle Monae in September, fans of freaky independent culture jumped for joy. Two sets of indie pop's most daring time-space continuum travelers, already known for collaborating on psychedelic funk jams and sharing Christmas dinners, would be pushing each other toward ever greater heights of spectacle, showing clubgoers that you don't have to be Gaga (or, to cite Kevin Barnes' stated current influence, P-Funk) to bring a universe alive onstage.

Performance gives the final breath of life to the musical visions of Barnes, who creates Of Montreal's recordings on his own and then fleshes them out with longtime collaborators. Of Montreal's 10th album, "False Priest," represents a new phase in Barnes' music-making process. He recorded the album on his own, then took it to Los Angeles-based music wizard Jon Brion; the two men worked with ace drummer Matt Chamberlain to give new cyborgian form to Barnes' melodic creations.

The result is music that's body-infectious and mind-ticklingly elaborate: the perfect soundtrack to a disco-punk extravaganza featuring mutant fish people, winged seductresses, caged cavewomen, headless eyeballs and a very large stuffed God.

Last week, I was lucky enough to witness a full dress rehearsal of the new Of Montreal show in a rented warehouse in Athens, where the band lives and works. It was the final night before the costumes would be packed up and readied for transport. Scattered throughout the space were fiberglass heads and iridescent bodysuits, making it look like a mythical battleground where all manner of exotic creatures had fought and fallen. Barnes' brother David, who serves as Of Montreal's concept artist (you can see him playing Kevin's final adversary in the crazy caveman epic that's the video for the new single "Coquet Coquette") advised band members and various friends as they worked to perfect these intricate homespun ensembles.

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Overall music sales hit an all-time high in 2009; Taylor Swift's 'Fearless' is the year's top-selling album


Overall U.S. music purchases hit an all-time-high in 2009, as sales of albums, singles, digital tracks and music videos topped 1.5 billion for the second consecutive year, according to year-end data released today from Nielsen SoundScan. Total music sales were up 2.1% over those of 2008, but the figures capture an industry still in transition.

Album sales took another double-digit drop in 2009, down 12.7% to 373.9 million. Meanwhile, digital track sales reached another milestone, up 8.3% from 2008 to more than 1.1 billion in 2009.

What's more, Nielsen SoundScan reports that 89 digital songs exceeded the 1 million sales mark in 2009, compared with 71 songs in 2008, and 2009 marked the first time a song broke the 4 million sales mark in a single year. The latter was achieved by four singles -- "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Got a Feeling" from the Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" and Flo Rida's "Right Round."

More distressing for the industry, however, is the fact that the rate of growth has significantly slowed. 

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U2 tops highest-grossing concert tour list for 2009

The band's 360 Tour was a big hit, with Bruce Springsteen coming in second place for the year


In just 20 beautiful days on the concert trail last year, U2 racked up the highest-grossing North American tour of 2009, pulling in $123 million at the box office in a year in which overall concert business was one of the music industry's remaining bright spots.

The Irish quartet’s bar-raising 360 Tour of sports stadiums, which visited 16 cities, sold more than 1.3 million tickets, translating to a nightly average of just more than 82,000 fans, according to Pollstar, the concert-industry tracking publication.

U2 was the only act to cross the $100-million mark last year, and its nightly average at the box office pummeled the competition, at nearly $7.7 million per show. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which tallied nearly $95 million from 58 shows, follows U2 at No. 2 in Pollstar's ranking. But the hard-charging New Jersey outfit also drew more than 1 million fans to those shows, one of six tours to cross that threshold last year.

Compare that with 2008, when only one act -- country star Kenny Chesney -- topped 1 million in total ticket sales.

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The 42 most memorable pop music moments of 2009: Part VII


Drum roll please for the final installment...

Cline_brothers85Best local jazz, identical twins division: Twin brothers Nels and Alex Cline both released new albums in 2009, recorded over the same time period and issued on the same day. Nels might have earned more attention for his brilliant solo guitar excursion “Coward,” but drummer Alex’s consciousness-raising and equally adventurous ensemble journey, “Continuation,” is also not to be missed. (CB) Photo: Ann Fishbein

Mountains_c Most meditative record to come out of a non-meditative city: Filled with dense, Terry Riley-inspired drones, soothing electronic pulses and guitar filigrees that recalled the acoustic folk of Leo Kottke, the Brooklyn duo Mountains inspired any number of candlelit journeys of internal discovery with the dense, immersive “Choral.” Not advisable while operating heavy machinery. (CB) Photo: Thrill Jockey

David Guetta Most unlikely megastar producer: David Guetta. Long beloved by the “Jersey Shore” cast and its ilk for his Ibiza-killing club hits, Guetta saw blood in the water as soon as rappers started tilting toward the trancey four-on-the-floor beats he practically owns a patent on. He’ll be cashing his paycheck for the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” for the rest of his life, and he sported 2009’s best pickup line on “Sexy Chick,” courtesy of guest vocalist Akon: “I’m trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful.” (AB) Photo: Getty Images

Verticalascent Best future soundtrack for a smoky robot lounge: Composed of four long “Patterns” created by electronic producers Moritz von Oswald, Vladislav Delay and Max Loderbauer, the Moritz von Oswald Trio’s “Vertical Ascent” discovered a new metallic world through live percussion, swirling keyboards and tangled, echoing polyrhythms. This is the sound of machines pumping real blood. (CB) Photo: Honest Jon's

Neilyoung Best cantankerous song on the economic meltdown and government’s efforts to remedy it: “Fork in the Road,” the title track from Neil Young’s latest studio album. “There’s a bailout coming,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer sings knowingly, “but it’s not for you.” (RL) Photo: Randi Lynn Beach

PRINCE_GETTY85 Best personal moment: Prince hugged me! Now I can die happy. (AP) Photo: Getty Images

Contributors: Chris Barton, August Brown, Chris Lee, Randy Lewis, Todd Martens, Gina McIntyre, Ann Powers, Margaret Wappler


The 42 most memorable pop music moments of 2009: Part VI

The 42 most memorable pop music moments of 2009: Part V

The 42 most memorable pop music moments of 2009: Part IV

The 42 most memorable pop music moments of 2009: Part III

The 42 most memorable pop music moments of 2009: Part II

The 42 most memorable pop music moments of 2009: Part I

Pop music notes on the decade: Authenticity takes a holiday

Rosanne Cash, Justin Townes Earle, Miranda Lambert and the rest of 2009's most notable country releases

Ann Powers: Best of 2009

Vijay Iyer, Allen Toussaint, Joe Lovano and the rest of 2009's most notable jazz releases

The 42 most memorable pop music moments of 2009: Part VI


Our penultimate installment... prepare for tomorrow's stunning conclusion!

Thom_yorke_lat85Best reason for the Chili Peppers to go on indefinite hiatus: All due respect to L.A.’s long-running band of Californicators, but for all the records they’ve sold in the last decade, Flea has never sounded better than he did providing a rump-shaking, robo-funk backbone to Thom Yorke’s as-yet-unnamed live band. Don’t worry about where that leaves Anthony and the others, surely there’s a Chickenfoot out there for everybody. (Chris Barton) Photo credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu  / Los Angeles Times

Themcrookedvultures85 Best John Bonham impression: Dave Grohl with Them Crooked Vultures at the Wiltern. The songs might not have always been there for this high-wattage power trio with John Paul Jones and Josh Homme, but if this puts Grohl one step closer to getting the call if/when that long-rumored Led Zeppelin reunion comes together then it’s done its job and then some (sorry, Jason Bonham). (CB) Photo credit: Dustin Rabin

The_necks Best long-form improv not found in the UCB Theater: The Necks at REDCAT. Using piano, bass, drums and a whole lot of concentration, this category-defying trio from Australia delivered a spellbinding, all-improvised set early in 2009, somehow making two ever-evolving, 45-minute creations glide by in what felt like minutes. Come back soon, please. (CB) Photo: Holimage

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The 42 most memorable pop music moments of 2009: Part V


And we're back from the holidays with more pop moments, to be concluded before 2010...

Public_enemy95Best dad rock trend: Did fans at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival really want to hear Public Enemy perform tracks from its largely forgotten 1994 album “Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age”? Nope. They were demanding cuts from the rap collective’s 1988 opus “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” – and that is precisely what the fans got. But P.E. was hardly the only pop act creeping into middle age to cash in on nostalgia for its back catalog as a means of generating fan goodwill. Bruce Springsteen ran through 1975’s “Born to Run” at Giants Stadium in New York and United Center in Chicago in September. The Pixies reunited for a tour performing its pop-punk classic “Doolittle.” And Devo rocked London’s Forum with a set comprising its 1978 album “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” (CL) Photo: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Flaming_lips Music video trend of the year: Wanton nudity. What do psych-rock titans Flaming Lips, arty San Francisco rockers Girls and Wu-Tang Clan veteran Raekwon have in common? Very little, except that they each made videos for well-received singles in 2009 that you probably can’t watch on your work computer, due to their unapologetic deployment of naked people. Girls took it a step further with their clip for “Lust For Life,” making one edit that was very not safe for work, and a second gay-porn-themed version that might require some vigorous browser-history-scrubbing even at home. (AB) Photo: Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips. Credit: Getty Images

Merle_haggard Most inspiring song about a president the singer didn’t vote for: Merle Haggard’s “Hopes Are High.” Even though the venerated singer and songwriter acknowledged that he didn’t cast his vote in the last presidential race for Barack Obama, he nevertheless was moved by the historical significance of the election to write and record a sweetly upbeat ode to the dawning of a new era in American politics. (RL) Photo: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
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The 42 most memorable pop music moments of 2009: Part IV



Best collaboration by anthropomorphic studio whizzes embargoed from release by record-label mumbo jumbo: When Danger Mouse (producer/multi-instrumentalist Brian Burton of Gnarls Barkley) reached out to Sparklehorse (the reclusive musical soundscape-ist Mark Linkous) about laying down some new tracks, the result was “Dark Night of the Soul,” an album full of lo-fi ballads of Gothic sweep and apocalyptic churn, chockablock with fuzzed-out hip-hop beats and contributions by a who’s who of invited singers – including Suzanne Vega and Julian Casablancas. Art house auteur David Lynch even stepped in to shoot an accompanying photo book. But when it came time to release the music, Burton’s label, EMI, got litigious about commercially distributing the work in conjunction with the coffee table book. Endgame: “DNOTS” is out there, widely available for free online, but never reached iTunes. (Chris Lee) Photo: Downtown Records

Neonindian Music genre with the most absolutely impenetrable subgenres: Indie rock. Underground rock music has long been about subdividing and pegging names to ever-more-obscure offshoots. But really, can you describe exactly what constitutes “chillwave” or “glo-fi?” What about the unprintable name of an especially nasty strain of shoegaze? 2009 was the year indie rock officially ate its tail and became one massive in-joke for the two dozen people who for whom Neon Indian represents a watershed in production styles. (AB) Photo: Lefse Records

Batforlashes Best year for mystic lady rock: In a secret ceremony in a northern wood, Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks got together and let out a siren call, audible only to other mystic ladies-in-training. Not only did we have Bat for Lashes’ “Two Suns,” a lunar romance partially birthed at Joshua Tree, but Bat for Lashes bandmate Caroline Weeks came out with the gorgeously fragile “Songs for Edna.” Closer to home, Warpaint is readying their mysterious psychedelia for a debut album in 2010 from Rough Trade Records. (MW) Photo: Bat for Lashes. Credit: Brooke Nipar

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The 42 most memorable pop music moments of 2009: Part III


Best reference to Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, and proof that pretension can rock: The Parisian rock band Phoenix turns to its schoolbooks for the opening song on “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” which references the hysteria that greeted Liszt in the 1800s. But you needn’t have paid attention in college to enjoy the upbeat, synth-rock rush of the tune. “From the mess to the masses,” Thomas Mars sings in “Lisztomania,” as cheerful electronic and organic sounds deftly split the difference between art and arena rock. (TM) Photo: Getty Images

Spock85 Best celebrity fannishness: Everyone knows that U2 runs with the rich and famous (as well as the Nobel-winning and the house-arrested), so the many Hollywood types in the crowd at the band’s triumphant Rose Bowl show in October were not a surprise. I was, however, slightly startled to see Zachary Quinto, stocking cap pulled down but booty fully shaking, dancing for the entire opening set by the Black Eyed Peas. He even pumped his fist. Spock, you are so 3008! (AP) Photo: Paramount Pictures

Stvincent85 Best example that early exposure to Disney classics is a good thing: Annie Clark, who records as St. Vincent, is a merciless guitarist, splitting, slicing and deconstructing brief bursts of guitar noise throughout her sophomore effort, “Actor.” But she’s not interested in rocking out. Her early 2009 release is a collection of mini-symphonies, an expansive array of digitally constructed orchestra sounds. Fantastic strings, backward guitars and dizzying harmonies can be found each of the 11 cuts on “Actor.” If it weren’t for the sometimes brutal lyrics, one might think Clark was composing for a sequel to “Sleeping Beauty.” (TM) Photo: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

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