Monday, December 26, 2011

Rolling in the Deep: A Look Back at the Music of 2011

In almost every field, outside of cinema, I am hopeless at chronicling what my favorite pop culture items of the year are. It's not that I am out of the loop when it comes to television, or books, or tonight's subject, music, quite the contrary; I tracked the rise and fall of many of the new shows on TV, like the Mad Men rip off that was The Playboy Club, to the titanic abortion that was Kardashian wedding (which I glimpsed through the corner of an eye while catching up on this season of Breaking Bad). I read five books that came out this year, not because I only read five books this entire year, but because many of the novels I chose were longtime members of my bloated Must Read List (but I'd be lying if I didn't say that Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, The Marriage Plot was on that list the minute I heard he was writing a new novel). So as you can expect, I did not keep track of the Music of 2011 as much as other people did. I was there when Skrillex transformed into one of the most popular acts of the year, launching the term 'dubstep' into the public conscious. I've never listened to Odd Future, despite the fact that for a month they were the only group that anyone talked about in Boston (I'll get to Tyler the Creator in just a bit). And yes, I know that 'Pumped Up Kicks' is about killing hipsters, and will happily tell you that I was at the Foster the People concert, and don't care if you hate them.

So, the question remains, what did I listen to this year? To be honest, as I scroll through my Spotify, I'll have to answer "the same old shit I listened to in 2010". Well, that's not exactly fair, because it discredits the artists that I did discover through their work in 2011, some that compelled me to look at their older music, or if I was already a fan, it was enough to hook me for life. This is not a Top 10 of the year, because it would be both short and really unfair to compare everything I listened to, so I'm going to give the things that I really liked (or in some cases, didn't like) their own category. It's a different list than most, so I felt like making it extra special. Enjoy.

Album of the Year: Wild Flag (Self-Titled)

I am going to be honest and say that this album is a sentimental pick, but in the months since listening to the en tire album and seeing Wild Flag in concert (!), not only does it get me sentimental, but it's a fucking terrific album. Most of my friends know that I am a die hard Sleater-Kinney fan, and their break-up in 2006 was both devastating and unforeseen. Since announcing their indefinite hiatus, I've been waiting for a sign, digging deeper into the S-K archive, and building my love for the band as a result. So to hear that not one, but two members of Sleater-Kinney were forming a new band, the reaction was one of bliss and enthusiasm. And to be honest, it could have been an average vanity project and I would have still gotten excited and paid to see them in concert. If you listen to any of the tracks, from the incredibly catchy single, 'Romance' to the album's crowning achievement 'Racehorse', it's as if S-K never died, they just took a bathroom break. The album is fun to listen to, but even better when heard live, and I will forever remember Carrie Brownstein sticking her guitar in my face. I believe it deserves the distinction of Album of the Year 110%.

Favorite Under the Radar Album: Feist-'Metals'

I use the term 'under the radar' to describe the new Feist album because I've heard nothing about it since
it's release. Nothing. No mentions on end of the year lists, or at least, nothing significant. It's as if all of the love and
adulation that Feist received for '1234' vanished, and peopl
e forgot she existed after the iPod commercial. And frankly, I'm okay with that, because this album is not '1234'
material. It's much better. 'Metals' has Feist doing what she does best, crafting gorgeous, folksy, sleepy indie music that is both romantic and haunting. She's not going to land an iPhone commercial this year, which is just fine. I'm glad that it's
under the radar, because it means I can enjoy it all of myself, but I wish more people could recognize it's beauty. It's different, but different in the best way possible.

Favorite Song of the Year: M83-'Midnight City'

I'd listened to a few songs off of M83's 2008 album, Saturdays=Youth a while back and liked the John
Hughes vibe I got while listening to them. I knew that they had a new album out, but did not give it a listen to, and instead, found myself drawn to Saturdays again, this time more intensely. So, how I discovered this song is simple, but magical: I heard it at a party and fell in love, long before finding out that it was, indeed, M83. 'Midnight City' is beautiful in such a unique, triumphant, and nostalgic place in my heart. It's a song I can listen to four times a day and not get tired of it. It hits every note spot on; listening to it feels like the end to a really great movie from, you guessed it, the 80's, only it's even better than that, because the listener themselves, is allowed to create the memories and images. Anthony Gonzalez, the lead member of M83, calls this song his '1979', and I feel like it is more
than worthy of the title.

Film with the Best Soundtrack: Drive

I fucking loved Drive. I saw it twice, and the second time, it held up perfectly. It's the rare film that could have been made in almost any decade of Hollywood, and still be an amazing film. Part of what made Drive so fantastic was the soundtrack, particularly Kavinsky's song 'Nightcall' which plays during the opening credits and College's 'A Real Hero', which appears twice, and closes out the film. Both songs feel, like the entry above, as if they were taken out of a really cool film from the 80's. 'Nightcall' establishes the slick, sexy, dangerous world that Ryan Gosling's character has plunged himself into, or is about to, while 'Hero' feels both glorious and ironic, considering the protagonist and his emotional detachment with most everything else in the film. I went to many college parties this semester, and I'd be lying if I did not say that almost every one of them had
one or both of these songs on the playlist.

Guiltiest Pleasure (TIE): Kreayshawn "Gucci Gucci" and Rebecca Black

As humans, it is in our nature to derive pleasure from things that are, for lack of a better term, 'so bad, that they're good'. It's why The Room is such a successful midnight movie, or why the Golden Raspberry Awards exists. We all know the power of Youtube, especially among teenagers and tech savvy adults, so when our schadenfreude joins forces with the internet, we turn songs like 'Gucci Gucci' and 'Friday' into mega hits. Sure, we all hate these songs, and are more than will and Facebook, espec
ing to denigrate Rebecca Black for sounding like a nasal robot, or for Kreayshawn's rapping skills, but we were never
asked to listen to either of these songs. We only listened to them because someone said how bad the song was, and then, in many cases, we were compelled to share it with other people, who shared it with others, and so forth. And both songs had a strong impact on pop culture. Numerous people covered 'Friday' on Youtube, and people blasted it on radio stations, all the while trashing it. And I heard my fair share of friends at college, myself included, singing basic bitches who wear 'Gucci Gucci, Louis Louis, Fendi Fendi, Prada'. Sure, both songs are mindless and obnoxious, but I love them. Deep down.

Best New Artist: Washed Out "Within and Without"

I was disappointed that Washed Out did not get very popular by the end of 2011. Listening to "Within" and
their EP "Life of Leisure", I was pulled in by their relaxed, romantic sound, which incorporated plenty of synthesizers and hipster cred. "Within and Without" is a solid debut, and has a number of stand out tracks, my favorite being "Amor Fati" which is one of the happiest and most blissfully romantic songs of the year. "Leisure" is also fantastic, and marks the sign of a talented and interesting artist. It's a short album, but it demands to be played more than once.

The 'Hot New Artist' That I Hate: Tyler The Creator

Tyler The Creator is one of the few artists who, after I listen to them, I feel like I need to take a long, hot shower. His music is just so unpleasant, so unrelentingly hateful and just gruesome without bearing any actual substance. Rap is a genre I have never personally connected to. Being a queer feminist, why would I want to listen to a type of music that is notorious for bashing both gays and women? Needless to say, not all rap is the same, and there are some artists, like Childish Gambino, whose raps are intelligent and witty, or Kanye West, who last year took the genre and turned out an epic in a Grand Guignol fashion. Tyler's music, to me, feels like shock value without enough intelligence to come across as interesting or unique. It's homophobic, it's misogynistic, and not all that new. I'm not going to be sorry the day that asshat and his cohorts stop being relevant, and the public stops honoring them.

The "What Is This I Don't Even" Award: Lady "Twerk"

I cannot for the life of me tell you where this song came from,
or who thought it would be a good idea, or why Lady herself does not "twerk" in her own video. For those of you who do not know how to "twerk", or what I am even talking about, just watch the video on Youtube, and see for yourself. Nothing I say or talk about can really prepare you for the video, it's is just an actual thing. Is it sexy? No. Does it make sense? No. Am I in love with it? No comment.

Best Break Up Album of 2011: Adele "21"

Admit it, you sang 'Rolling in the Deep' into your hairbrush at least once this past year. You played 'Someone Like You' on a loop and wept at some point. Whether you like her or not, Adele is an artist who exploded this year, and I am more than happy for her. She is like a saner Amy Winehouse, her voice is terrific, her heart is laid bare, and she will knock you flat. And her album, 21, is terrific at conjuring the deepest and most melancholy, most vicious, most empowering emotions that arise from a break up. And with her words, Adele is lending the listener a piece of her heart, and a shoulder to cry one. While 'Deep' got very overplayed this summer, I still think it is a great song, and one that will play in my head. It has started a fire in my heart, so to speak.

Favorite Artist of...2012: Lana Del Rey

After generating popularity with her singles 'Video Games' and 'Born to Die', Lana Del Rey represents a classier, sexier side of modern pop music. Her sound is a mixture of old Hollywood and contemporary hip hop, and Del Rey has been labeled a 'Gangsta Nancy Sinatra'. Whatever label she is given, Del Rey is still incredibly talented, and has a voice that will send chills down your spine, while her music will swallow you up in a sea of sexiness and sadness. A lot of hipster blogs are complaining about Del Rey and say that she is not at all indie, that she's a sell out with too much plastic surgery who reinvented herself to make money. I disagree, and hope that this backlash vanishes the more popular she gets, and as the year progresses. I look forward to hearing her debut album, Born to Die, when it comes out in January, and expect great things from her.

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