By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
"There should never be guilt in pleasure," John Mayer wrote this year to his nearly 2.8 million Twitter followers, in reference to a Miley Cyrus song. The 32-year-old singer, songwriter, and bluesy guitarist has also taken aim at jaded souls who acknowledge liking a popular song by saying they "actually" like it—the implication being, I guess, that you wouldn't have expected such a tasteful person to like that song, and thus that it's still, on some level, a guilty pleasure. To me, "Who Says"—the first single from Mayer's fourth major-label studio album, Battle Studies, which entered the charts at #1 to mixed reviews (or, among the circle of critics I'm friends with, no reviews at all)—isn't "just" a song about getting high. It's the anti-guilty pleasure. And yes, I "actually" like it.
Des Moines, IA
It's really difficult to write about Susan Boyle without sounding like a Hallmark card. After many attempts to clarify why I love this oddball, here is the least trite explanation I can offer: Like Barack Obama's victory, Boyle's performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" made the human spirit palpable. Her heart triumphantly beat its way into our chests. I doubt Boyle's success taught the masses not to judge a book by its cover. But enough about Them. I hope dowdy oddballs all over the world believe that they are entitled to live out loud. It's a lie that the meek will inherit the earth. The brave and brassy always get more out of life.
When my apartment burned down, taking much of what I held dear with it, the CD that I had left in my car—and, hence, survived, and, hence, accompanied me during the five weeks that the rest of my collection sat in waterlogged cases in a warehouse somewhere—was the Thermals' Now We Can See. Its garage-rock visions of the apocalypse fit fighting memories of the wall of flame and the terrible things it wrought, while trying to keep my shit together long enough to buy a new mattress. "It kept me alive/Kept me defined/Kept me safe/When I was afraid." Thanks, guys. I needed that.
Lissa Townsend Rodgers
Las Vegas, NV
"Welcome to the Future" epitomized Brad Paisley's greatness: matter-of-factly modern country that, just as it veers into corn, sucker-punches with poignancy, and squeezes in shit-hot guitar solos to boot. There's plenty to say about its Obama-era politics (check the video). But as Paisley prefers storytelling details to dogma, suffice to say that every generation gets the country hero it deserves—he's ours.
New Paltz, NY
The consensus take on Brad Paisley's "American Saturday Night" was that it was a celebration of the nation's immigrant melting pot, but that wasn't true. Intentions aside, the song was in reality an ode to the global market and its attendant commodity culture. That is, the lyrics go on about the many cool imports we can buy—German beer, Italian ice, Chinese food, Mexican beer—but neglect to mention any actual immigrants from Germany, Italy, China, or Mexico. You know, Americans.
Kansas City, MO
The Antlers' Hospice sounds like something that should be playing at the end of the world. Or maybe the beginning.
Everyone who voted for Dear Science last year and then failed to check out Darcy James Argue's Secret Society in 2009 was living wrong. Yes, it's jazz. Get over it. Infernal Machines swings with a density that most Brooklyn bands can't match, even when they stick to 4/4. Also: In a year where politics was nowhere to be found in indie rock, Argue titled one of his tunes "Habeus Corpus" and dedicated it to Maher Arar. Punk as fuck.
Seth Colter Walls
New York, NY
The Mountain Goats, The Life of the World to Come: I spent the year doing theology work, though I have a problematic and deeply ambiguous relationship with Christ/God. All of my feelings—of loneliness and desire, of home-seeking, of scapegoating, of living with the texts, of wanting to destroy the texts—are here. Most important theological work of the last decade. We should play it over the loudspeakers at the next Lambreth, and John Darnielle should get a private audience with the Pope.
Toronto, ON, Canada
I almost ranked Nirvana's Live at Reading number one on my list, but I just couldn't do it, 'cause then I'd just feel old. A receding hairline is bad enough.
Vancouver, BC, Canada
In so many ways, seeing the video for Demi Lovato's "Remember December" damn near ruins the song. For me, the track evokes late-'80s female-fronted hair-metal at its best. So rather than be reminded of the fact that this catchy girl-done-wrong rocker was performed by a Disney darling, I instead prefer to think of it as a lost Femme Fatale B-side.
New York, NY
The two most successful shows I attended around New York City in 2009 were Sunn O))), Earth, Pelican, and Eagle Twin at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple and Baroness, Earthless, and U.S. Christmas at the Bowery Ballroom. Both of these shows were packed to the brim, one even a full-blown sell-out. Let's face it—metal fans are the most loyal and often the most pleasurable to be around in a concert atmosphere. They come for the music, not to be seen and talk through an entire set. Hell, at the Sunn O))) show, talking or seeing within the fog-filled temple was physically impossible.