Originally published January 15, 2009 – Red Pulse Magazine

Each new year is brimming with musical possibilities. The most anticipated major releases won’t start dropping for a few months and while it feels like a time of waiting, the gears and levers of the evolving music scene are continuing to move and change.

When you’re a true audiophile, every new album is like getting a Christmas present—a fresh batch of new tunes that have yet to grace the ears. The big question is, what will 2009 sound like? Will it continue to grow off the successful sounds of last year’s acts or will we be hearing something new altogether? We’ve seen some successful experimentation and departures (Kanye West) and some not-so-successful ones (Panic! at the Disco). What can we learn from 2008 and what can we hope to hear more of in 2009?

The first thing we can learn from 2008 is that the only person who can use Auto-Tune and not sound like a whiny douche bag is the genius himself, Kanye West. 808s and Heartbreaks was arguably one of the freshest and most welcome additions to the music scene. With all due respect to the talent of Lil Wayne and T.I., it’s been awhile since someone from the rap scene has pulled off a genre-bending musical experiment with as much style and success as Kanye did.

Unfortunately, as great as that album was, it inevitably means that more artists will be picking up Auto-Tune in the hopes of crafting the next hit. Prepare for your radio to be bombarded with dull, generic lyrics enhanced with the annoying electronic pitch changes that come with using the software. T-Pain, eat your heart out.

Rap as a whole could go one of two ways this year. If the fact that “Soulja Boy” continues to sell records is any indication of what to expect, then prepare for the worst. Has the American attention span dwindled so low that we can’t pay attention to any chorus that is longer than four or five words? On the other hand, the new Dr. Dre album has yet to drop and Eminem’s latest work should be coming out sometime this year. With a solid effort on their part, hopefully their influence will push rap toward a return to wit and solid lyricism.

On the rock and indie side of things, 2008 gave us strong showings from established groups such as Kings of Leon, TV on the Radio and of Montreal and at the same time brought talented new artists like Vampire Weekend and Blitzen Trapper onto the scene.

Vampire Weekend likely made the biggest splash on the music scene last year, busting out with jumpy, fun afrobeats styled with a kind of lyrical intellectualism we rarely see. Who else sings about the merits of classical punctuation or lack thereof? Vampire Weekend was the Weezer of 2008, but with a lot more style and substance. Whether or not that kind of songwriting catches on, everyone should look forward to seeing what it has to offer this year.

One thing hopefully everyone learns from 2008 is that Kings of Leon is hands down one of the best bands in the industry today. Because of the Times is the most overlooked album of the year, with its epic ballads and delicately crafted rock artistry sanded and roughed up with southern rock. Kings of Leon is huge in Europe, constantly selling out packed arenas, though it is still relegated to the club scene here. Hopefully, listeners in the United States will wake up and smell the Followill brothers because Kings of Leon is the most solid rock sound that the music scene has to offer.

These guys dress normally, the cameraman just happened to be on a lot of acid

These guys dress normally, the cameraman just happened to be on a lot of acid

Still, a lot of groups made heads and ears turn by taking elements of older music and infusing them with their own style to create a fresh sound. The past year saw a lot of groups drawing from blues, folk, funk and classic rock. Of Montreal is a perfect example—it took its own brand of flamboyant indie and added fat doses of Sly and the Family Stone-style funk to create one of the most danceable rock albums of the year.

What doesn’t work is trying to take something that used to fly and make it your own sound, unchanged. Maybe this is a personal vendetta, but I’m specifically talking about Panic! at the Disco. It is a bunch of punk-ass emo kids who got big off a gimmicky, and already used, sound and then somehow got hold of a Beatles album and decided to reinvent themselves. What happened next was ugly and shameful. The bands of 2009 should look to the past for ways to add to their repertoire, stay away from electronica (which will continue to dwell in the realm of spacey e-tards) and not even dare to copycat sacrosanct musical movements.

Of course, no one really knows what this year has to offer yet. Unfortunately, the music scene is closer to the fashion industry than it is to science. Instead of continuing to grow, styles get old quick and get replaced by new ones that aren’t really progressive, just different. A few budding plants are likely to spring through the cracks, so rest assured Red Pulse will be here to tell you all about them. Welcome back to school and enjoy your new year of music.