The year in music was full of modest pleasures but short on innovation. The year's brightest artists -- from T.I. (King) and Ghostface Killah (Fishscale) to Joanna Newsom (Ys), Bob Dylan (Modern Times) and Tom Waits (Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards) -- offered sounds that confirmed their already-established talents without expanding upon them.
Mosi Reeves' Top 10 Local Music Albums (in no particular order)
Drive-By Truckers, A Blessing and a Curse (New West)
The Partisan, The Gothic and the Gospel (Reason Y Records)
Cinemechanica, The Martial Arts (Hello Sir)
T.I., King (Atlantic)
The Wood Brothers, Ways Not to Lose (Blue Note)
Elf Power, Back to the Web (Rykodisc)
Snowden, Anti Anti (Jade Tree)
Mastodon, Blood Mountain (Warner Bros.)
OutKast, Idlewild (Sony BMG)
The New Sound of Numbers, Liberty Seeds (Cloud Recordings)
Mosi Reeves' Top 10 National Music Albums (in no particular order)
Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (Island Def Jam)
Dabrye, Two/Three (Ghostly International)
Cut Chemist, The Audience's Listening (Warner Bros.)
Dudley Perkins, Expressions (2012 a.u.) (Stones Throw)
The Roots, Game Theory (Island Def Jam)
The Knife, Silent Shout (Mute)
Joanna Newsom, Ys (Drag City)
Daedelus, Daedelus Denies the Day's Demise (Mush)
Nobody and Mystic Chords of Memory, Tree Colored See (Mush)
Ammoncontact, With Voices (Ninja Tune)
Local Singles of the Year
What were my favorite ATL singles of the year? I've got to include Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," of course. Some of the post-snap music tracks -- such as DG Yola's "Ain't Gon' Let Up," Yung Joc's "I Know You See It" and DJ UNK's "Walk It Out" -- were pretty great. (Others, such as Yung Joc's "It's Goin' Down" and Cherish's "Do It To It," grew annoying.) I don't really mess with R&B, but I thought Ciara's "Promise" and Lloyd's "Y-O-U" were nice. (Does Justin Timberlake and T.I.'s "My Love" count?) Shoulda-been hits include the Drive-By Truckers' "February 14" and OutKast's "Morris Brown."
CDs? What CDs?
CD sales have been in decline since 2001, the year when illegal trading of MP3 music files reached a tipping point and truly began to adversely impact the record industry. Still, it seems like this was the year when everyone finally began to notice exactly how bad the crisis was.
After a few years of exponential growth, sales at digital music stores such as iTunes -- once hailed as the industry's savior -- began to taper off. A string of high-profile releases by stars such as Christina Aguilera (Back to Basics), Beyoncé (B'Day), Jay-Z (Kingdom Come) and Justin Timberlake (FutureSex/LoveSounds) sold in respectable numbers but far below what they had achieved before. Alarmingly, no one seemed able to score a monster-selling hit.
Though final tallies were unavailable at press time, the biggest albums of the year seem to be Rascal Flatts' Me and My Gang and the soundtrack to High School Musical. The first was a country album that appealed to older folks relatively untutored in the art of illegal file sharing. The latter was a tie-in to a Disney Channel TV movie; it found favor with children who, taught by their parents to do the right thing, went and bought legitimate copies instead of scouring around the Internet for a bootleg. There's no hope for Generation X, it seems. Children and baby boomers are the record industry's future.
Quirk Is King!
In the intellectually stimulating, slightly pretentious world of rock, clubby dance-punk of the sort made by the Killers and Franz Ferdinand was out. That shit was for the Johnny-come-lately who liked Panic! At the Disco. (But genre-mashing DJs such as Diplo, Girl Talk, the Rub, Optimo and MSTRKRFT were still OK.)
The new hotness was music that was grand and quirky and packed obscure references to philosophical/political movements and rare '70s folk records. Violently psychedelic freak-outs made by Liars (Drum's Not Dead) and Subtle (For Hero: For Fool) were tops. And, of course, Montreal-based "pop geniuses" Islands still held court.
Most of all, these kids (don't call them indie-rockers -- that term is played out) liked to hear stories. One of the year's best-reviewed albums was Joanna Newsom's Ys. She played a harp, sung in an unsettlingly freakish lilt and collaborated with the Beach Boys maestro Van Dyke Parks on 10-minute songs that turned her life's experiences into knotty, turn-of-the-century panoramas. It was the perfect soundtrack while reading Daniel Quinn's Ishmael.
Soul, the Other Black Music
In Atlanta, everyone knows about India.Arie. But around the country, the thriving soul scene to which she belongs remains a well-kept secret.
Sure, when Grammy time comes around, the RIAA likes to recognize its flagship artists (see the Roots, elder stateswoman Mary J. Blige, etc.). When it comes to actual financial support, however, record labels give them little to no help. Radio stations are even worse, opting to play the latest Aaliyah wannabe instead of a true soul princess such as Goapele.
But true soul artists managed to survive. The Roots (Game Theory) and Anthony Hamilton made up for their label's promotional shortcomings with never-ending tours. India.Arie's diehard fans helped her go platinum with Testimony: Vol. 1, Life and Relationship. Thanks to strong word-of-mouth buzz, British singer Corinne Bailey Rae was one of the year's biggest surprises and went platinum with her self-titled debut.
What if record companies actually forced radio stations to play these records, or leaned on radio conglomerate Cox Communications to make soul a priority just like it's doing with Latin music and reggaeton? With that kind of backing, maybe these artists would get the platform they deserve. Until then, soul music will remain a thriving underground full of potential stars (from Atlanta's own Anthony David to Van Hunt) that the music industry mostly ignores.