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2009: The Year in Music

by Tim McMahan

Death of a Salesman


There has never been more music recorded in the history of the business. Never.

Everyone says it's the end of the decade, so why does it seem like the end of the world?

It began with the rise of George W. Bush and a new phrase in our vocabulary -- nine-eleven. It ends with two wars still in progress, near record unemployment and an economy flickering like a 40-watt bulb. And I haven't even gotten to the part about the music industry's degeneration from a healthy young stud with a twinkle in his eye to a bent and broken patient tethered to life support waiting for some gracious soul to take pity and pull the plug.
As we close out the first and hopefully worst decade of the century, there has become a universal recognition that the best days for those who make a living making music are very likely behind them. Young musicians that used to have dreams of quitting their day jobs and living off the bounty of their album sales have become an army of professional traveling salesmen, a nation of Willy Lomans sloughing from town to town night after night trying to scratch together enough cash from merch and the door to fill their gas tanks, hoping/praying that the van holds together long enough to get them back home to their bartending gigs.



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Lazy-i: Dec. 30, 2009


Maybe the most dire sign of the industry apocalypse was when the once mighty Homer's Records Stores saw its worldwide chain of six locations dwindle to just two this past summer with the closing of stores in Lincoln and on Saddle Creek Road.  The reason -- fewer and fewer people are buying music. It's that simple. And when the shiny pennies of this next generation do buy music -- a generation that has never known life without a computer -- it's buying it online (if it hasn't already stolen it from a downloading source). As one member of that next generation recently put it: "Record stores are for old people." My, my...
And yet...
There has never been more music recorded in the history of the business. Never. Think about that. In the face of obvious futility, more musicians are making more music than ever before. And their primary motivation: Simply to express themselves and their inner voice, not with hopes of striking it rich, but merely because they want to have to.
At the end of every year, clueless music critics scratch their heads and try to define the central trend in music. But other than the obvious pop-rap-fashion-tragedy-talent-show fodder that dominates the charts thanks to prime-time do-ya-can-ya-wanna-dance reality idiot factories, there is no one specific trend to point to. We've got the best of everything, the full spectrum from garage to electronic to singer-songwriter to alt country to Americana to punk to post-punk to experimental to noise. It's all happening now. And it's all pretty damn good.
So, there is hope.


Best of 2009

Win a copy of the Lazy-i Best of 2009 Compilation CD! All you have to do is e-mail me ( with your name and mailing address and you'll be entered in the drawing. Hurry! Deadline's Jan. 17! Check out the track listing.


In keeping with these changing times, the most memorable thing about the past year wasn't the CDs as much as the local performances. So first, in no specific order and with little fanfare, my 10 favorite albums of '09:

  • Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies, self-titled (self released)
Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies
  •  Yo La Tengo, Popular Songs (Matador)
Yo La Tegno, Popular Songs
  • The xx, xx (Young Turks/XL)
The xx
  • Cursive, Mama, I'm Swollen (Saddle Creek)
Cursive, Mama, I'm Swollen
  • Box Elders, Alice & Friends (Goner)
Box Elders, Alice & Friends
  • Elvis Perkins in Dearland, self titled (XL)
Elvis Perkins in Dearland
  • Micachu & The Shapes, Jewellery (Rough Trade)
Micachu and the Shapes, Jewellry
  • The Avett Brothers, I and Love and You (American)
Avett Brothers, I and Love and You
  • Ladyfinger, Dusk (Saddle Creek).
Ladyfinger, Dusk
  • Simon Joyner, Out Into the Snow (Team Love)
Simon Joyner, Out Into the Snow
Mogwai live at Slowdown Mogwai at Slowdown, May 11.
St. Vincent at Slowdown Jr., June 3, 2009 St. Vincent at Slowdown Jr., June 3, 2009 .
Azure Ray at The Slowdown parking lot Azure Ray at The Slowdown parking lot, July 24 .
Bear Country at The Waiting Room, June 14 Bear Country at The Waiting Room June 14.
Yo La Tengo at The Slowdown, Oct. 11, 2009 Yo La Tengo at Slowdown, Oct. 11 .
Simon Joyner at Slowdown Jr., Nov. 15, 2009 Simon Joyner at Slowdown Jr., Nov. 15.

Surprisingly, almost all of the best live shows I saw last year took place at The Slowdown, which underscores the venue's dominance. Watch the Waiting Room give it a real run for its money in '10 when it reopens Jan. 22 completely remodeled and somehow, bigger.
Anyway, here's the list of the best of what I saw in '09.

  • M83 at Slowdown, Jan 18 -- There was a tension and drama that makes the Mogwai/Sigur/Kevin Shields comparisons easy; there's also a knack for Eno-esque repeated phrasings that build to glittering, crashing crescendos. The best-sounding show I've ever heard on Slowdown's big stage.

  • Cursive at Slowdown, Jan. 24 -- Despite Tim Kasher's voice nearly giving out halfway through the set, Cursive majestically unveiled songs off Mama, I'm Swollen, including "What Have I Done," their most soulful song since Domestica.

  • Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band at Slowdown, April 9 -- Conor and crew picked Omaha to kick off their national tour for Outer South, and to unveil a band that rocked like this generation's version of The Eagles.

  • Mogwai at The Slowdown, May 11 -- During the encore, a woman nearby cringed and covered her eyes, cowering against the STROBES and the NOISE, waiting for it all to end. First she would have to endure 10 minutes of pain created by Mogwai's arsenal of effects pedals, "played" while the band kneeled on stage, covered in a shower of lightning.

  • St. Vincent at Slowdown Jr., June 3 -- Backed by violin, bass, drums and a guy on woodwinds (flute, saxophone, clarinet), St. Vincent's Annie Clark created dreamy, theatric, rocking sounds like the second coming of Kate Bush.

  • Bear Country at The Waiting Room, June 14 -- A band that I'd written off as boring transformed on stage to become one of my local favorites.

  • Lincoln Invasion in Benson, June 19-20 -- The best of the half-dozen or so local festivals held in '09, it featured all Lincoln bands in all-Benson venues. Look for a reinvasion this summer.

  • It's True at The Waiting Room, July 4 -- With this performance, Adam Hawkins and a solid, huge-sounding ensemble pushed its way to the top of the list of Omaha's best unsigned bands.

  • Azure Ray at The Slowdown parking lot, July 24 -- As part of the Mutual of Omaha's 150th birthday party, Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink reunited, making us all wonder why they ever split up in the first place.

  • Yo La Tengo at The Slowdown, Oct. 11 -- Like beauty and the beast, guitarist Ira Kaplan's wall of painful noise and distortion counteracted the pretty melodies of bass player James McNew and drummer Georgia Hubley. Exquisite.

  • Simon Joyner at Slowdown Jr., Nov. 15 -- During the opening song, "The Drunken Boat," sideman Alex McManus put down his bass and picked up a violin to create an effect as brutal and cutting as any powerchord from any Strat, Tele or SG -- a crushing avalanche of sound.

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Published in The Omaha Reader Dec. 30, 2009. Copyright 2009 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Watch the Waiting Room give it a real run for its money in '10 when it reopens Jan. 22 completely remodeled and somehow, bigger.