The Music Club
Dear Jody, Jonah and Ann,
To my shame, with all these heady issues raised, I keep thinking about Jody's quip that the solution to the long-standing dilemma of decade nomenclature is "the Beyoncés." There certainly have been worse responses, namely all of them, such as one Ryan Guerra's obsessive campaign to officialize "the Unies" because all the years have one (uni-) digit. Suiting the navel-gazing nature of his self-promoting quest (and of overemphasizing decades in the first place), "unies" sounds squickily like a classification for belly buttons.
Still, Jody's joke made me think of "Single Ladies" (a 2008 release that Kanye made sure we'd remember this year), which led to "single digits," which prompts this contra-Guerra proposal, especially for the decade in music: Call it the Singles. Portable-computing-based listening has re-established the sovereignty of single songs. Mind you, the "end of the album" has been proclaimed frequently and prematurely. Albums will persist, but their diminished role hit home this year, as I began absurdly feeling that CDs had become a hassle: Take it off a shelf and out of the case and put it in the slot? I don't have that kind of time!
But it's kinda true. Pardon the confessional digression, but besides the way my habits have adapted to the download environment, the recession and the print-media crisis have rearranged my life. The Toronto paper where I'm an editor went through layoffs and other staff changes that left us survivors more harried day-to-day; as well, venues such as Blender magazine, where I contributed record reviews, went under. So, unlike you three, I was writing far fewer reviews and found myself behaving much more like a "civilian"—content to pick up random songs, whether on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or at live shows, and then shuffle off.
The number of albums-qua-albums I spent time with shrank dramatically. The few exceptions tended to be records by longtime favorites that also had strong uniting themes: e.g., the Mountain Goats' The Life of the World To Come, where every song is loosely based on and titled after a biblical verse (despite its maker's agnosticism); Neko Case's Middle Cyclone, which features lots of songs about nature and animals; concept album The Happiness Project by Charles Spearin (of my hometown's Do Make Say Think and Broken Social Scene); or Lil Wayne's No Ceilings, just out of nostalgia for the days when Wayne mixes fell like rain.
Otherwise, a couple of songs was usually enough. So here in the downspout of the Singles, I'm going to skip the albums list and name individual tracks that stood out, culturally or just for me. So that readers and fellow Music Clubbers don't feel deprived, I'll list a lot, a whole top 40—no, for the sake of the "Singles" conceit, let's say 45. (Note to nonanachronistic younger readers: 45 rpm was the speed at which ye olde vinyl single rotated on a turntable.)
As an aside, it might be even more apt to call the decade the Digits, given the way digital technology changed the production and consumption of music (and everything else). Or how about the Autos, in honor of Auto-Tune?
And one remark on the centrality of the female voice (I endorse the consensus there): Even in the indie holdout zone, a bunch of boy-heavy bands oddly have been adopting feminine monikers lately. There's the all-male Women, from Calgary; the two-guy Girls, from San Francisco (who make my list); Portland's three-quarters-male Parenthetical Girls; and another dude duo, San Diego's the Ladies (who are the fellas from Pinback and Hella). It seems that out West the beardy-bro' crowd has at least a paratactic sense of where the action is, hidden beneath their Freudian slips.
On hip-hop's vital signs and the next timekeeper of popular music's heartbeat, I'll wait to diagnose another day. Which is to say, I hope Ann knows.
45 heavy rotations of 2009
Amerie, "Why R U"
Art Brut, "Slap Dash for No Cash"
Blackout Beach, "Nineteen, One God, One Dull Star"
Buffy Sainte-Marie, "No No Keshagesh"
Busy Signal, "Dah Style Deh"
Neko Case, "People Gotta Lotta Nerve"
Chain & the Gang, "Deathbed Confession"
Elvis Costello, "Sulphur to Sugarcane"
Miley Cyrus, "Party in the USA"
Destroyer, "Bay of Pigs"
Dirty Projectors, "No Intention"
Julie Doiron, "Consolation Prize"
The-Dream, "Kelly's 12 Play"
DJ Quik & Kurupt, "Hey Playa (Moroccan Blues)"
Fever Ray, "When I Grow Up"
Fiery Furnaces, "The End Is Near"
Girls, "Hellhole Ratrace"
Gregory Brothers, "Auto-Tune the News #9"
Grizzly Bear, "Two Weeks"
Heartless Bastards, "Hold Your Head High"
Hich-Kas, "Bunch of Soldiers" (officially 2008; more on that later)
Hidden Cameras, "Underage"
Veda Hille, "Do You Want What I Have Got: A Craigslist Cantata"
Vijay Iyer Trio, "Galang (Trio Riot Version)"
Jadakiss feat. Barrington Levy, "Hard Times"
R Kelly, "Echo"
K'naan, "Wavin' Flag"
Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance"
Miranda Lambert, "Dead Flowers"
Lil Wayne, "Run This Town"
Charlie McAlister, "We Should Go Out to Eat"
Micachu & the Shapes, "Lips"
The Mountain Goats, "Philippians 3:20-21" (that's the play-it-yourself version, so here's a link to another song from that album, the gorgeous, Rian Johnson-directed video for "Ezekial 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace.")
Brad Paisley, "Then"
Pet Shop Boys, "King of Rome"
Reigning Sound, "The Bells"
Alasdair Roberts, "You Muses Assist"
Rye Rye feat. MIA, "Bang"
Shakira, "She Wolf"
Solange, "Stillness Is the Move" (cover of Dirty Projectors)
Charles Spearin, "Mrs. Morris"
Sunset Rubdown, "Black Swan"
The Very Best ft. Ezra Koenig, "Warm Heart of Africa"
Vybz Kartel feat. Spice, "Ramping Shop"
Analysis to come,
Carl Wilson is a writer and editor at the Globe and Mail in Toronto and part of the group culture blog Backtotheworld.net.