Anyone making predictions about the year in music will have to deal with the very real possibility that music — or the music business, anyway — will basically cease to exist this year. The record industry was going through its own financial apocalypse long before the current credit crunch made everyone broke. If your average asshole on the street only bought six albums last year, he’s probably only buying two this year. That means that record labels major and indie will release fewer albums. Bands will spend less time touring and more time making sure they don’t get laid off from their day jobs. So if you make your living off of music in any capacity, it may be time to start thinking about getting into teaching or something.
More immediately, don’t expect another summer of insane free shows in New York. Last year was great, but somebody has to pay for all those things, and corporations are probably not going to be lining up to sponsor another free Black Lips show. If someone wants to pony up the cash for a 99-drummers Boredoms extravaganza on September 9, great, but I don’t see it happening.
In fact, it seems like the one thriving corner of the music business is ad placement. The only people making any money are the artists landing their songs in TV commercials and the royalties that come along with that, so the most successful bands this year will be the ones whose songs are most conducive to selling shit. Which means that Santogold is your Artist of the Year for 2009. Once the shampoo companies find out about ‘I’m a Lady’, forget about it. It’s a wrap.
One of the very few success stories of 2008 was Lil Wayne, who sold an absolute assload of albums despite, or maybe because of, the inarguable reality that he’s a drug-munching sexed-up fiend perfectly willing to let shiny objects distract him mid-verse. The success of Lil Wayne could spell the end of rap professionalism, which can only be a good thing. For years, the prevailing wisdom has been that rappers need to cater to every conceivable demographic, which has meant that albums have been sounding like rote exercises in niche marketing for the better part of a decade. But seasoned professionals flopped in 2008. Guys like Nelly and Snoop Dogg bricked hard, and even 50 Cent saw his next album’s release pushed back into infinity. The absurd sales of Tha Carter III amount to a thrown gauntlet.
By now, every rapper who isn’t utterly weird and impulsive comes across as being hopelessly behind the times. We’ve already seen the first high-profile response to the Wayne challenge: Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, wherein one of the most successful rappers alive almost completely forgoes rapping, going full-on electro-emo and basically suffers a nervous breakdown in front of everyone. Like Tha Carter III, it’s a great album, and it’ll be fun to see who else takes the plunge into self-conscious insanity. (Wayne, meanwhile, probably does not have another great album in him, thanks to his debilitating cough syrup habit. He’s looking more and more fried every day, and he should probably place just a few spots below Amy Winehouse on your celebrity death-watch list.)
As Wayne and Kanye spectacularly lost their minds, Young Jeezy quietly made the best rap album of 2008 by eliminating everything superfluous and delivering a solid hour of apocalyptic bangers. Veterans like Scarface, the Roots and Assholes by Nature also made great stripped-down long-players, conceding nothing to the radio stations who never would’ve played them anyway. As rap’s underground expands to include everyone who wasn’t on ‘Swagga Like Us’, more people will hopefully feel free to pursue their own styles rather than chasing crossover hits that’ll never come.
Over in the indie-rock ghetto, things are looking considerably more bleak. We haven’t yet begun to feel the reverberations of the all-consuming success of Fleet Foxes, who somehow conquered 2008 while coming across like overly earnest camp counselors leading rounds of ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’. Meanwhile, My Morning Jacket managed to hold onto their festival-mainstay status despite dropping a total horse-turd of an album. So I’m guessing the hackey-sackization of indie-rock will continue unabated, and we’ll get more and more groups of delicately earnest young men with patchwork jeans and too-big beards delicately cooing lullabies over unthreatening acoustic choogles. If we get another great Band of Horses album out of the deal, maybe I’ll even stop bitching about it.
Meanwhile, Animal Collective is releasing another record at the top of the year, and we’ll probably be hearing about it all through 2009. Those who have already heard it say it’s amazing, which is what people say about every Animal Collective album, but whatever. Supposedly this is the moment when the band goes nuts with the blissed-out dance-music influences they’ve been talking up in interviews for years, an impression their raved-up 2008 live shows certainly reinforce. If that means that Merriweather Post Pavilion ends up sounding like the endlessly spacey Pantha Du Prince remix of ‘Peacebone’, I’m on board. For better or worse, Animal Collective have already emerged as one of the underground’s most influential bands this decade, and you can’t throw a rock in Williamsburg without hitting someone ripping them off. If an Animal Collective dance album means all these bands will start playing around with house-music thump, it could be a fun year.
Also, expect a whole lot more nominally punk bands like Deerhunter and No Age to make gauzy effects-pedal miasmas with loud drums, and then play those gauzy effects-pedal miasmas in Bushwick loft spaces that smell like spilled beer and cat piss. This dream-punk trend reached critical mass in 2008, but there’s no reason to expect it to end anytime soon. I’m pretty ok with this.
The end of 2008 also saw a few surprising signs of life in the long, long-comatose mainstream-rock universe: a massive out-of-nowhere AC/DC comeback, goofily fun remix albums from jokers like Good Charlotte and Maroon 5, Mutt Lange returning from the abyss to produce a shockingly listenable Nickelback album. Also, the new Timbaland-produced Chris Cornell solo disc will probably be terrible, but at least it’ll be terrible in interesting ways. If all these small triumphs are any indication, corporate rock may finally be shaking off its post-post-grunge hangover and returning to its divine calling of cranking out awesome hooky strip-club jamz. We can hope, anyway.
Also: Fugazi and Sleater-Kinney reunions? Please? Maybe if we beg real hard? •