As yet another year stumbles drunkenly to a close in a similar fashion to one of Lady Gaga's weird death dances, it's time to take a look back at some of the highest highs and lowest lows from the world of music in 2009.
Most Obviously Self-Sabotaging Band Name:King Kong Ding Dong
A surprisingly hotly-contested category this year, with the willfully obnoxious F*@# Buttons putting up a brave fight to claim top honors. But, while the FBs backup their R-rated name with some suitably demanding tunes, post-rockers King Kong Ding Dong pipped them at the post because their well-hung moniker bears little obvious relation to their music. Do they sound weird, offbeat, and arty? Yes. Do they sound like a very large monkey penis? Well, no. But both bands, despite their obvious weaknesses in the branding department, produced some excellent work in '09: KKDD's album Youth Culture Index is available for free download, and you can hear tracks from the F*@# Buttons' blistering Tarot Sport on their MySpace page.
Killjoys of the Year:California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control
Yes, these over-bureaucratic penpushers have been discussed here before, but their irrational campaign to close down some of San Francisco's finest music venues ain't over yet. Find out more at Stop the War on Fun.
Best Album that Should Have Sucked but Didn't:Karen O and the Kids, Where the Wild Things Are Motion Picture Soundtrack
The soundtrack to Where the Wild Things Are could so easily have been a disaster. It did, after all, break one of the Fundamental Rules of Rock: no singing kids. Sure, there are a few noteworthy tunes in pop history featuring children's choirs, but these are the exceptions. More often the introduction of cherubic voices is a cue to pass the sick bucket. This album, however, pulls off the enviable trick of being both childlike and charming, rather like the movie it accompanies.
Special "The Music Industry Is Killing Music" Award for Encouraging the Illegal Downloading of Music:EMI
It was all set to be one of the best albums of the year: a collaboration between Sparklehorse, Danger Mouse, and David Lynch called Dark Night of the Soul featuring more ubercool guest musicians than the Antarctic Symphony Orchestra's entire winter season. But then EMI saddled up its stroppy horse and rode into town to block the release, muttering darkly about an old contract it claimed to have with Danger Mouse (a dispute that, of course, has absolutely nothing at all to do with DM's past run-in with the label over the use of Beatles samples on the Grey Album). The result? The album was released anyway, but with a blank CD-R where the music should be, and a few more music fans were taught how easy it is to illegally download music for free. Good job, EMI. Listen to the album via an NPR stream, or find out how to get hold of the MP3s.
Biggest, Silliest, Deluxest, Specialest, Most Limited Box Set:Pixies, Minotaur
This is turning into a more bloated category every holiday season as more ageing acts try to wring extra Christmas cash from their back catalog. But the reformed Pixies Inc. beat all comers in 2009 with their Minotaur odyssey of excess. This $175 "deluxe" package contains all of the band's albums on gold-plated CDs and combination DVD/Blu-Ray discs, plus a bunch of videos and a luxurious book. But wait! The even more lavish "limited edition" version adds vinyl copies of the albums, a bigger book, artwork, an endangered animal or two, and at least one severed body part from a member of the band, creating a container two feet tall and 25lbs in weight, all for the bargain price of $495. Rumors that the band's seminal album Doolittle has also been renamed Doolarge in honor of the new release remain unconfirmed.
Hat of the Year:Aretha Franklin
Our memories of inauguration day may be fading a little now that the political realities of Obama's presidency occupy our attention, but we shouldn't forget what happened that cold day back in January. History was made, and Aretha's passionate, stirring rendition of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" was one of the ceremony's highlights. Her appearance was also a timely reminder that, even though anyone can become President, it takes true royalty to carry off glittering headwear.
What were your most memorable musical moments of 2009? Join the discussion in the comments section below.