More Explorations of 2009

“It’s an uphill battle for rock bands,’ says [Kings of Leon] co-manager Andy Mendelsohn.”

-David Browne, “The Year in Sales, From Pop to Rock- By the numbers: Kings of Leon and Beatles score as rock struggles,” Rolling Stone, February 4, 2010, page 15

According to the current issue of Rolling Stone, “news wasn’t…good” in 2009 for “rock acts” sans the Kings of Leon.  The above quoted “industry” article by David Browne notes the Kings were “the only band fans got behind in a big way in 2009,” the only to crack the year’s top 10 albums, and goes on to explain U2 and Green Day “struggled to move records” while Taylor Swift and Susan Boyle sold more albums than anyone in the past two years. 

Sure, “pop” has mass commercial appeal “rock” doesn’t, but the view of characterizing the status of the latter by comparing the sales of “its” biggest selling albums (courtesy of Kings of Leon, Nickleback, U2, Dave Matthews Band, Green Day) to the overall bigger sellers (Taylor Swift, Susan Boyle, Beyonce, the Twilight and Hanna Montana soundtracks, Britney, Kanye, Gaga, Em…) is absurdly out of step with the current climate.  Likewise, the “Adult Top 40” (topped by The Fray’s “You Found Me”) or even (especially?!) the “alternative” songs chart (where Kings of Leon shadow Anberlin, Shinedown and Linkin Park) doesn’t imply much about the pulse of rock . 

If we’re going to talk charts, consider the range of artist on The Billboard 200 in 2009: Dinosaur Jr, Karen O and the Kids, and Phoenix had top 40 albums; Animal Collective, Phish, Modest Mouse (with an E.P.!), Monsters of Folk, Sonic Youth and Steve Earle top 20 (while Tegan and Sara and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs came very close); and -best of all- Grizzly Bear, The Flaming Lips, Wilco, Neko Case, the Silversun Pickups, Franz Ferdinand and Regina Spektor all hit the top ten.  Most of these were career highs, usually by a long shot (and typically the older and more legendary the band – Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth- the more jarring the disparity in their current and past ranks).  Similarly, lower charting albums by others mark career highs (such as Built to Spill’s #50 placing).  Though most of these artists peaked and then sank on the chart (MGMT’s 2007 Oracular Spectacular being an exception, peaking at #38 in 2008 and continuing to sell relatively strong throughout last year) and none came remotely close to selling as much as the expected mega-hits that weren’t (U2, Green Day, Bruce Springsteen) or even past years’ most marketable rock releases (Kid Rock’s 2007 Rock and Roll Jesus, 2008’s Black Ice and Chinese Democracy), the seemingly out-of-place chartings of so many artists says something that net sales stats can’t: it’s not just American Idols, American idiots, American sweethearts and the All American Rejects that sell music, and industry figures do not reflect the culture of rock n’ roll any more.  

Not good news year for rock?  More like, bad year-end report on rock.  2009 was a banner year for eccentric or otherwise limited-market music, rock and beyond.  So people didn’t rush to buy Working on a Dream… so what?  Even the Bruuuce faithful have to admit opener “Outlaw Pete” alone was horrendous enough to cancel out any sales boost Springsteen’s strategic Super Bowl appearance might have given that album.  And just because Green Day fans realize 21st Century Breakdown isn’t a decent album by the band’s own standards (or like it anyway, but not enough to pay for it) doesn’t mark a larger significance on the state of anything besides Green Day and/or their fans’ buying tendencies.  Who wouldn’t choose Lady Gaga over their shallow complaining or the Boss’ failed Dream if under the impression that those were the only choices?

Thankfully those are far from the only choices, and that’s what Psych Explorations of 2009 PsychExFutureHeart’s playlist from the last three days of the 12 Days of Martian Christmas at the Zoo Countdown that ended last year- was all about.  That playlist came with commentary on the flood of “year-end best” lists and how passé they’ve seemed in recent years.  That may still be the case, but those lists are looking mighty spectacular compared to the nominations for the Grammy ceremony tonight (except the “Best New Artist” category: will the Zac Brown Band upset MGMT?). 

Cue to the as-promised sequel to that playlist.  In fact, there was so much intriguing music from 2009 left out of the first playlist that there are two sequels: one has already been posted, another will come later this week along with the next blog entry listing all the clips from both of these new playlists in one easy-to-read (and link) place. 

The premise last time was simple:

  • sounds and sights,
  • in the mind and heart,
  • for better or worse,
  • from 2009.

A month later, the aim is still music without boundaries from 2009 for the heart and head, but instead of the look back at live performances and music videos of that playlist, the focus for this playlist is on taking another listen.  If the last one could be watched like a movie, than consider these new playlists like a radio station (if you could dial in all sorts of music not actually played on the radio and dial out commercials).  Listen at home, listen at work (your boss doesn’t have to know), just listen.  We’re digging for deep cuts (album tracks, songs that went mostly unnoticed, one-offs etc) but not so much that there’s not room for the Black Eye Peas (hey, one track won’t hurt- and it’s funny to read the lyrics as they rap).  As with last time, the order is based not on some rating or ranking system, but on the themes and flow of the music itself.  Hear for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/user/psychexfutureheart (or here for direct link) and check out some bonus clips that would have been in Psych Explorations of 2009  if there wasn’t a 200 clip limitation splattered throughout this post:

Psych Explorations of the Future Heart is an interactive, multi-media publication and detailed discussion about life, rock n’ roll, pop culture and The Flaming Lips.  Find out more at http://www.myspace.com/psychexfutureheart.  E-mail the subject “Yes Yes Yes” to futureheart@ymail.com to be added to the PsychExFutureHeart mailing list and keep updated on the forthcoming publication.

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