Nine Reasons to Love 2009
Why This Year is Going to Rock

You know what sucks? Not running for three weeks, and then running again. It’s so tempting to just say the hell with it, but I persevere.

But absence has only made the heart grow fonder when it comes to writing this column. Hey, everyone, I’m back! Did you miss me? (Say yes, or my fragile ego will implode. Go on, say it. I’m waiting. SAY YOU MISSED ME!) I took my longest paid vacation ever this year – three solid weeks, which I spent mostly on the east coast. I saw people I hadn’t seen in a while, and a couple people I hadn’t seen in almost a decade. I ate all the time, and gained about six pounds. Hence, the running.

While I enjoyed the rest and relaxation, part of my brain has just been itching to get back into it. This column kicks off year nine of my online experiment. Hard to believe I was 26 when I started this thing, but here I am, staring over the precipice at 35, still cranking it out. Why do I do it? Well, to be honest, I’d probably be writing my thoughts on new music down every week anyway, so I may as well put them out there for everyone to see.

Of course, it goes deeper than that for me. I love music – it makes life that much more worth living to me. Part of being an obsessive music fan for me is the constant anticipation. Every month (and often every week), there’s something new I can’t wait to experience. I’m already ticking down the seconds of 2009 – even the first few months are chock full of promise. In keeping with my standard giddy optimism when it comes to all things musical, here are Nine Reasons to Love 2009:

1. Next week.

Usually, it takes a couple of months for a new year to really kick into gear, but 2009’s off to a sprinting start. January 20 sees a whole bunch of stuff. Here’s Carl “I call myself A.C. on my solo records” Newman of the New Pornographers, dropping another dozen pop gems on us. He’s titled his second solo album Get Guilty, and it includes my current pick for song title of the year: “All My Days and All My Days Off.”

Here’s Animal Collective, that loose assemblage of noise-loving experimenters, back with their umpteenth record Merriweather Post Pavilion. This one already has the hipper critics salivating, and although I wasn’t too thrilled with Strawberry Jam, I’m interested to hear it. And here’s Robert Pollard, back with his 9382nd album, The Crawling Distance. Here also is Fiction Family, a collaboration between Jon Foreman of Switchfoot and Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek. I know what you’re thinking, but the single is a swell pop song. Here, listen.

Here is Jason Schwartzman, the erstwhile Max Fischer himself (and former drummer for Phantom Planet), back for a second round under his Coconut Records guise. If you think Schwartzman’s old band has gotten a bit too raw and loud lately, you want this album. It’s called Davy, and the single is called “Microphone.” Check it out here.

But with all that, the disc I’m most interested in is a four-song EP called Blood Bank, by Bon Iver. I was late to this particular party – I only heard the fragile, gorgeous For Emma, Forever Ago in November of last year. I’m hooked now, and it’s partly because of the story behind it – Justin Vernon got dumped, moved into a cabin in the woods, and poured out his pain and loneliness into this sparse, haunting album. Like everyone else, I’m wondering whether Vernon can stand on his own and make compelling music without a film-script backstory to help. Blood Bank should give us some idea.

Yes, that’s all next week. Pretty good start, huh?

2. The week after that.

That’s right, January 27 is just as good – in some ways, even better. Start with Franz Ferdinand, back for a third round of their Morrissey-does-disco guitar-pop. Their new one has the faux-arrogant title Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, and while I’m not thrilled by “Ulysses,” the leadoff track, I am looking forward to this. I’m also anticipating A-Lex, the new Sepultura – it’s a concept album based on A Clockwork Orange, which sounds like it should be shit, but I hold out hope.

Ah, but from there, it just takes off. We get the new Loney, Dear, which you might remember from 2007’s great Loney, Noir – it’s the stage name of Swedish musician Emil Svanangen, and he’s amazing. Expect more ornate midnight-folk-pop, delivered in the highest male voice you could imagine. Of Montreal returns as well with The Jon Brion Remix EP, and hopefully a master like Brion can improve on the sleaze-funk of Skeletal Lamping.

And then there’s Duncan Sheik, one of the most underrated songwriters working right now. Most remember him for “Barely Breathing,” and if you’ve heard of him recently, it’s for his Tony-winning score to Spring Awakening. But I think of him as the man behind Phantom Moon, and Daylight, and the underappreciated White Limousine. His new one, Whisper House, is made up of songs from another theatrical project, all performed by Sheik himself. Expect the prettiest thing you’ve ever heard.

To wrap things up, you can buy Brian Wilson’s That Lucky Old Sun DVD, and watch the man and his incredible band run through a modern pop masterpiece.

3. Lost Season Five.

While wading through the oceans of great music coming this month, take some time out to catch television’s best show as it makes its triumphant return January 21. Season Four was this show’s finest hour so far, rushing headlong into new directions while tying up loose ends – I am more certain than ever that the Lost crew knows exactly where their labyrinthine story is going. This has been a thrilling ride so far, and the second-to-last season looks to be a corker.

I’m trying not to spoil anything for those of you who aren’t hooked yet, but trust me on this – you need to start from the beginning. Rent the first season, block out some time, and prepare to be sucked in.

4. Lumpy Money.

I know, I know. I promised a Frank Zappa buyer’s guide years ago, and I still haven’t gotten around to writing it. But the Zappa family has kept on pumping out the posthumous releases, and most of them are fantastic, worthy of the legacy Frank left behind. I’ve just pre-ordered the latest, Lumpy Money – a three-CD audio documentary chronicling the making of 1968’s We’re Only In It for The Money and Lumpy Gravy, two of Zappa’s finest. Unreleased Zappa is always welcome in my house, and this set sounds like the motherlode. Go here.

5. Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Catnip Dynamite.

I’ve been a Roger Manning fan since his time with Jellyfish, and he’s never let me down. His new record, Catnip Dynamite, came out in Japan last year, but it gets its stateside release on February 3. What I’ve heard has been nothing short of amazing – pure pop goodness, fabulous melodies, and production to die for. Manning is one of my heroes – he makes pop records that sound the way I want all pop records to sound. Cannot wait for this.

6. The Lonely Island, Incredibad.

Yes, I’m really looking forward to this. The Lonely Island is Andy Samberg’s comedy team – they do the digital shorts on Saturday Night Live. The album includes the best of these – “Lazy Sunday,” “Dick in a Box,” and the jaw-dropping “Jizz in My Pants.” (Look here, but not at work…) You also get a DVD of the digital shorts, so you won’t need to pick through the SNL DVDs to get them. The funniest album of 2009? We shall see.

7. Watchmen.

Whether this adaptation of one of the best graphic novels ever turns out to be good or godawful, I’m still looking forward to it. I first read Watchmen in college, more than 10 years ago, and it’s captivated me ever since – I just re-read it over Christmas, and saw new things I hadn’t noticed before. It’s an amazingly sophisticated story, one that uses the language of comics like few books before or since. Which makes it nearly impossible to faithfully adapt to the screen.

But I’m encouraged by a lot of what I’ve seen from Zack Snyder’s film. The look is exactly right, the cast of (mostly) unknowns certainly looks the part, and Snyder has managed to get dozens of little details down. The movie runs more than two and a half hours, which is encouraging, and though I’ve heard that the ending has been changed, it sounds like Snyder understands the point behind that ending. The mechanics are not as important as the message, and if that remains, I will be okay with this Watchmen movie.

Of course, I don’t want to just be okay with it, I want to love it. We’ll see on March 6 (hopefully, if Fox and Warner Brothers come to some kind of legal settlement in time).

8. The Decemberists, Hazards of Love.

Okay, I wasn’t that fond of The Crane Wife, the Decemberists’ major label debut. But I’m still breathlessly awaiting this new one, a 17-song rock opera about… well, I don’t know yet. I’m more than willing to go along for the ride – I don’t know another band quite like Colin Meloy’s merry men, equally steeped as they are in centuries-old folk music and indie-pop. I’m always on board for an ambitious, album-length statement, and this one, out March 24, sounds fantastic.

9. U2, No Line on the Horizon.

And finally, the biggest band in the world. Do I really need to tell you this is coming out? (March 3, in case you’re living under a rock.) Many critics disliked the last couple of U2 albums, dismissing them as radio-ready affairs, but to me, they represent both a return to form for this band, and a summation of lessons learned. Two discs of tight, yearning pop songs is probably enough, though – we’re ready for U2’s next step, and this promises to deliver. And even if it doesn’t, the thrill is in the anticipation, isn’t it?

There’s more, of course, including new ones from Neko Case, M. Ward, The Bad Plus, Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys), Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree), the Indigo Girls, PJ Harvey and Ace Enders (of The Early November). And there’s a four-CD, five-DVD box set from Coheed and Cambria aptly titled Neverender, which I will buy despite still (still!) not making it all the way through the multi-disc sets I bought last year.

The aforementioned Frank Zappa was absolutely right, though. Music is the best. Year nine! Here we go.

See you in line Tuesday morning.