Funny, though, how my favorite album of the year offered no comfort at all. On Travels With Myself and Another, Future of the Left spumes abrasive, contorted ugly-punk that's equally anthemic and unsettling, spastic and controlled — and funny as all hell. When all that rock classicism started to feel a little too familiar, "Throwing Bricks At Trains" and "You Need Satan More Than He Needs You" reminded me that time is still moving forward.
— Jason Toon

Sincerely, L. Cohen
If 2009 had an overarching thread, stylistic zeitgeist or defining moment, I must have missed it. You'll have to forgive me: I spent most of the year with a gray, wizened 75-year-old poet from Canada. Leonard Cohen certainly had the comeback of the year, spending much of 2009 on his first tour in fifteen years, including a momentous appearance at the Fox Theatre in November. With the well-tempered moves of a stage actor and the bottomless baritone voice that has aged to perfection, Cohen and his ace backing band spent three hours poring through his peerless songbook. The tour could have been merely a career-closing curtain call; instead, it showed how vital the skipping, grinning Cohen remains at this late stage in his life and how deep his immaculately crafted lyrics have sunk into the psyches of his fans.

If you missed Cohen in concert (or if you saw it and need to relive some of the magic), pick up the two-disc set Live in London. Much like the tour, this set from July 2008 gave Cohen a chance to not only revisit his 40-year career but to salvage some of his best songs from the mid-'80s, many of which suffer from cold, overly synthesized studio production. In concert, however, songs such as "Democracy," "Dance Me to the End of Love" and "Closing Time" take on organic warmth, thanks to ten onstage musicians. Their talents help turn many of these recordings into definitive versions. Think of Live as an alternate greatest-hits package from a singer who was always more interested in opening hearts than he was moving units.
— Christian Schaeffer

Survivalist Blues
Jazz and blues survived last century's Great Depression handily enough, and here in St. Louis both genres seem to be weathering the Great Recession of Aught-Nine reasonably well.

Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon performs at Live on the Levee.
Annie Zaleski
Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon performs at Live on the Levee.
"Taylor, I'm gonna let you finish, but I had the best meme of 2009."
Gary Hershorn/Reuters
"Taylor, I'm gonna let you finish, but I had the best meme of 2009."

Our not-for-profit jazz presenters, such as Jazz St. Louis, the Sheldon and the Touhill Performing Arts Center, have done some belt-tightening but so far have managed to avoid major programming cutbacks. As a result, in 2009 local audiences heard top jazz acts ranging from the Dave Holland Quintet and the Blue Note 7 to saxophonist Sonny Rollins, bassist Christian McBride's new band Inside Straight and singer Kurt Elling.

The year also saw the launch of two new jazz clubs. The St. Louis Jazz Café downtown got off to a promising start in March but closed just four months later amid rumors of undercapitalization and a lease dispute. Meanwhile, Dorothy and Robert Edwards opened Robbie's House of Jazz in the Webster Groves space formerly occupied by Cookie's. It presented a mix of local musicians, St. Louis area expats such as Ronald Carter, Kelvyn Bell and Ronnie Burrage, and visitors including Bobby Watson and Kahil El'Zabar. Pianist Peter Martin also announced that he'll curate and perform in a new jazz series at the Sheldon, starting in February with a concert featuring singer Dianne Reeves.

On the blues scene, the clubs in the "South Broadway triangle" — BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups, Beale on Broadway and the Broadway Oyster Bar — continued to do good business by presenting local and touring blues talent. Kevin Belford's book, Devil at the Confluence, prompted fans, critics and historians to reassess St. Louis' place in the history of blues music, while Ruby Sain, widow of saxophonist, producer and songwriter Oliver Sain, launched a not-for-profit effort to convert her late husband's Archway Studios into a blues and soul museum, music school and performance venue.
— Dean C. Minderman

Pop Is Dead
Michael Jackson's passing was tragically symbolic. From his Motown childhood through his disco adolescence, all the way to his animal-morphing adulthood, Jackson's life constantly represented American popular music. As worldwide record sales dwindled on this side of the millennium, so did Jackson's health. Then, on June 25, pop music's heart stopped beating.

Now, this isn't to say that catchy hooks, solid beats and moonwalks have disappeared from human existence. But nobody represented the balance of monumental success and artistic viability like MJ did. Hannah Montana will never sell 104 million copies of a record (much less release one as stellar as Thriller). Even Radiohead won't ever write anything as universal as "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough."

With the King of Pop unseated, pop music seems almost anarchistic. In fact, it's unrecognizable from how it was one decade ago — to anyone who picked a favorite Backstreet Boy or to those who dug through crates to find Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Most of the world's songs are stolen. Bloggers have as much say in trends as major label executives. Every collegiate garage band and Fruity Looping bedroom artist has as much of a chance for a spot on a movie or television soundtrack as the sure-fire hit paraders of yesteryear. Postmodernism has become a reality rather than a concept. Disney launches rock stars as easily as they build amusement parks. Wilco licensed an entire album to Volkswagen. Animal Collective wrote a hip-hop record. Dirty Projectors debuted a new song on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon after a David Duchovny interview. In the wake of a new decade, we are unaware of what highs or lows lay ahead of us. But the playing field has never been this level.
— Ryan Wasoba

Correction published 12/18/09: In the original version of this story, we erroneously stated that rapper Method Man's album 4:21...The Day After came out this year. In fact, the album was released in 2006. The above version reflects the corrected text.

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