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Music 2011: The Year In Review

For me, personally, it was a very good year in music. I listened to a whole lot of new stuff and, in fact, went out of my way to force myself out of my comfort zone. Doing so, I discovered a lot of wonderful stuff and some not so wonderful stuff.
15 Favorites
This is a list of favorites, not a best of list. “Best of” would seem to designate some type of superiority determined by a set of criteria. These are simply the recordings that caught my attention and held it, so I recommend you seek these out and decide for yourself.

Okkervil River: I Am Very FarI love this album. It’s got a lot of Roxy Music influence, very glam – but not in an obvious way.

Girl in A Coma: Exits and All The RestWow. I was so impressed by this. It puts them in the same class as The Pretenders and Concrete Blonde.

Wye Oak: CivilianThis one is like sinking into a nice warm bath.

Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks: Mirror TrafficOkay, so the vocals take a bit getting used to, but you cannot deny the joy and skill that exists within these songs.

Devotchka: 100 LoversAnother album that I just fell in love with. It’s sweeping and romantic – but not in a cliché’ way.

Wilco: The Whole LoveOkay, so this is weird, but I really thought about Pink Floyd throughout this entire gem. This is a very mature work. I like Wilco? Really? Since when? Since they grew up, I guess.

Adele: 21You can’t argue with this one – other than it feels a little too on the nose. I liked it immediately, more due to the songwriting than the rather labored vocals. Where is she going to put all those Grammies?

tUnE-yArDs: w h o k i l lQuirky to a fault, I still found a lot to love.

Destroyer: KaputtYeah, retro 80’s to a fault, but I love the Pet Shop Boys.

Cut Copy: ZonoscopeI’m a sucker for stuff like this.

Peter Bjorn and John: Gimme SomeClever. Clever, clever, clever. Some of the best pop songs I have heard in a long time.

The Joy Formidable: The Big RoarWhat a pleasant surprise. Big rock with some nice tasty pop licks. Can’t wait for more.

St. Vincent: Strange MercyThe album Kate Bush should have made.

The Black Keys: El CaminoA surprise. I thought they would always be stuck in 1972. They have graduated to 1977, bringing the whole retro/early 60’s/new wave vibe to the table.

Joe Henry: ReverieVery cabaret, very theatrical. I enjoyed it, and in many ways, this is the album I wish Tom Waits had made this year.

Favorite Singles
I was thinking this was a bad year for pop music, but it is all relative. While most of the music I heard on the radio annoyed the hell out of me, there were some that I relished every time they aired. And, yes… female voices kept things interesting this year.

Lonely Boy – The Black Keys
Pumped Up Kicks – Foster The People

Rolling In The Deep / Rumor Has It / Someone Like You / Set Fire to The Rain - Adele
Till The World Ends / I Wanna Go – Britney Spears
We Found Love / S&M – Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris
Domino – Jessie J.
E.T. / The One That Got Away / Last Friday Night - Katy Perry
Edge of Glory / Marry The Night / Born This Way/You and I – Lady Gaga
Papi / On The Floor – Jennifer Lopez
Secret Love / For What It’s Worth – Stevie Nicks
What I Heard / Mother – Blondie
Fly / Super Bass / Moment For Life – Nicki Minaj
Novacane – Frank Ocean (Yes, I know it’s just “Blame It (On the Alcohol)” by Jamie Foxx – but I like it)
Motivation – Kelly Rowland
Give Me Everything / International Love – Pitbull
Moves Like Jagger – Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera
Fuckin’ Perfect – P!nk
You Make Me Feel… -Cobra Starship Featuring Sabi
Stereo Love: Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina
In The Dark – Dev
Sure Thing – Miguel

Favorite Song of the Year
I Love You (But I Don’t Know What To Say) – Ryan Adams
Guiltiest Pleasure
Burlesque Soundtrack (Thank you, Xtina and Cher. It was awful… awful wonderful!)

This turned out to be an excellent year for veteran acts. Sure, these entries didn’t spring a whole lot in the way of surprises – but then, they are veterans – and the reason they are still around is because they can deliver the goods consistently. Sure, nostalgia plays a part, but the craft and skill demonstrated speaks louder than the soft spot these artists hold in my heart.

Emmylou Harris: Hard BargainJust lovely. Yeah, a little too safe and polished, but so what.

Robbie Robertson: How to Become ClairvoyantLush and polished.

R.E.M.: Collapse Into NowNot quite the return to form they promised, but solid none the less. They had a great run.

Blondie: Panic of Girls75% perfect pop – I could do without the reggae affectations and the French tickler, but hey, it’s Blondie, so that crap is part of the package.

Stevie Nicks: In Your DreamsThe first two songs on this CD are the reason I keep believing in Stevie. After that, it is hit and miss, but then – hey, it’s Stevie Nicks, so… goes with the territory.

Paul Simon: So Beautiful Or So What
Kate Bush: Director's Cut / 50 Words For Snow
Wanda Jackson: The Party Ain't Over
Lucinda Williams: Blessed
Foo Fighters: Wasting Light
The Cars: Move Like This
Tori Amos: Night of the Hunters

Favorite Dance
Here is where the year got weird. The Best of Dance? It was all over the radio. Sure, the clubs played the remixes, but the radio mixes got major play… on the actual radio! Dance music was everywhere – more mainstream than ever before. So check out my favorite singles and there you will find the best of dance. Okay, so there were a few exceptions to that rule and here they are:

One Hot Pleasure – Erika Jayne
Fade – Kristine W.
You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me – Cher
Call Your Girlfriend – Robyn
I’m Into You – Jennifer Lopez
Arrow Through My Heart - Eddie Amador & Kimberly Cole feat. Garza

Thank You’s
Not the best of anything, in fact, in some cases, the worst of the genre – but they brought joy to my life and a smile to my face. I admire pop craft and always will. No one is really immune to this stuff.

Katy PerryWhat a year. What a collection of pop gems. Yeah, she can’t sing, but that doesn’t seem to matter much these days. Every single from “Teenage Dream” eventually clicked with my ears. Yes, it is formulaic, because IT IS pop music, and what is pop music except a formula? And yes, her voice is shrill and flavorless. Eh. Get over it.

Britney SpearsBritney had almost as good a year as Katy, delivering her best in ages. Yeah, I know, she really doesn’t sing, but when the beats are this good – who cares.

Jessie J. – DominoThis is basically Katy Perry with a British accent and a purer sense of fashion. That said, the world could use a lot more Katy Perry – who doesn’t like to smile?

Kelly ClarksonI love pure pop, so what is not to love about Kelly Clarkson. Yes, her vocals tend to get a little strained on the extended long notes and her attack is rarely subtle (in fact, it’s become downright workmanlike), but I still find myself getting lost in the froth.

Lady GagaShe certainly kept us on her toes. Some of what she did, I had to question (what was with that Thanksgiving Special?), but she and her handlers are a bunch of very smart cookies. The new Madonna? Naw. There will never be another Madge, but Gaga has managed to stretch her 15 minutes quite a bit and in a number of tasty, satisfying ways. Sure, she tries too hard, but, unlike many an established star, at least she puts in some effort.

Nicki MinajSo, initially wrote her off as crass, vulgar, and obnoxious. But the fact is, she has a great talent for creating a lot of drama and licks that serve as ear worms that burrow their way into one’s brain. Very talented and I think she is the heir to Mary J.’s throne.

Jennifer LopezYeah, I know – kind of a spent dime, and as a biscuit – one full of empty calories. That said, she delivered three great cuts this year. And while only one of them really struck a chord with the bulk of listeners, they were all undeniably fun.

12 Also Rans
This is a list of albums that I remember liking, but something about each one of them held my enthusiasm in check. Still, they remain some of the best releases of the year.

Crazy Clown Time - David Lynch

The Decemberists: The King Is Dead
Death Cab For Cutie: Codes and Keys
My Morning Jacket: Circuital
Lykke Li: Wounded Rhymes
Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin'
Givers: In Light
M83: Hurry Up We’re Dreaming
Ceromonials: Florence + The Machine
Wild Flag – Wild Flag
Yuck – Yuck
Ryan Adams: Ashes & Fire
Dum Dum Girls: Only In Dreams

I expected more from these artists and these releases. Is that fair? Either I feel they failed to live up to their full potential (Gaga), are coasting (Scott), are disconnected from themselves (The Strokes), or simply chose to go in a direction they shouldn’t have (Waits and Bjork).

Jill Scott: The Light of the Sun
Lady Gaga: Born This Way
The Strokes: Angles
Tom Waits: Bad As Me
Bjork: Biophillia

Anything Bruno Mars smeared his feces onI cannot wait for this man’s 15 minutes to be over. He has a collection of the worst lyrics ever. His image, along with his music, is cribbed from others who got there first. His voice is annoying (though on occasion it reminds me of Rod Stewart). That said, he has a gift for arranging and melody. Still. I would be happy if I never heard from him again. Suck on some morphine, Bruno.

Anything Chris Brown smeared his feces onYeah, he’s talented. (Beautiful People was awesome!) Yeah, he can dance, has a voice, and a knack for pop that makes your ears prick up. But he’s a total douche. And an unrepentant woman beater. Fuck you, Chris. (Oh – it sounds like a certain rapper already did!) Thank you, Martyn!

Eminem CollaborationsThis trend take a (Bruno Mars/Skylar/Rhianna/Kesha/Lily Allen/Whoever) chorus and wrap a couple of lame raps/verses around it (whether they have anything to do with the chorus or not) sucks. Eminem just happens to be at the heart of two of the worst offenders. “Lighters” is awful. Dr. Dre’s “I Need a Doctor”, barely tolerable. What distinguishes these from the other dreck (5 O’Clock in the Morning, etc.) are the totally annoying angry-white-boy whiney raps perpetrated by Eminem. I mean, c’mon. Nobody with that much money is that pissed off all the fucking time. It seems he could have developed more of a range by now. He’s become Johnny-two-note, vacillating between being pissed off and comatose.

Radiohead: The King of LimbsThis has a lot to do with their appearance on SNL. Pretentious. Laughable. Embarrassing. Oh, and regarding the CD? Unlistenable.

Coldplay, Mylo XylotoThis has something to do with their appearance on SNL. Pretentious. Laughable. Embarrassing. Cringe-inducing. Nauseating. Tiring. The CD is okay, it’s just so… pompous, overdone, strident, bombastic, over-produced, and shallow. If I wanted that, I’d listen to U2.

Drake: Take CareStop it, already. My ears are tired. When the man steps away from the machine I will start listening again.

Tyler, The Creator: GoblinUnmitigated nonsense. Absolute trash.

T-Pain: rEVOLVErEvolution takes guts and a need for growth. Desperation to remain relevant and land another hit? Not so much. Auto-tune has always been annoying. T-Pain takes it to the extreme. He actually had four singles released that failed to catch fire, so they didn’t make the cut for this CD. Best Love Song? Worst song.

Jay-Z and Kanye West: Watch The ThroneTwo of the dullest talents in rap get together and… umm. WTF? Percy Sledge is turning in his grave. What could have been a wonderful homage is rendered embarrassing. Undercooked and lazy to the max. I am amazed these two could tear themselves away long enough from their mirrors and empires to even bother dropping these rhymes. Production-wise their ‘throw in everything, including the kitchen sink’ approach doesn’t help. Paris? What does it mean? It doesn’t mean anything. That makes it annoying – not exciting.

Beyonce: 4A Shrill Drill. B-Bouncy delivered the most unlistenable album of the year. Goats singing the phone book sound better than this. The woman doesn’t sing, she bleats. Her inability to deliver the most basic lyric with any sense of meaning continues to baffle and amuse me. Some of the worst musical ideas ever committed to a CD.

Wiz Khalifa: Rolling PapersDuhhhhhhhhh

Don’t Get It
So there may well be something to be said for each of the following albums – it’s just not what I would say. These are the favorites of many critics, but CDs that left me in the lurch. The blame may be all mine to bear, but I failed to connect in any way to the following:

Bon Iver: Bon Iver – Boring, Somber, Dank, Lifeless
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues – Derivative to the point of redundancy
James Blake: James Blake – See “Bon Iver” If I want to feel this way, I will take valium
Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi: Rome – Cliché, Overblown, Silly, Embarassing
YACHT: Shangri-La – It’s like the just got their first Casio tone keyboard and want to impress us
Panda Bear: Tomboy – Ummm. Huh?
Fucked Up: David Comes to Life – Like a scrambled radio signal you can’t tune in no matter how much time you spend doing so
Low: C'mon – Boring, Derivative
Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts – Just awful. What was he thinking.
PJ Harvey: Let England Shake – That voice. Oh, God… that voice.
Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring for My Halo – See “Fucked Up”, oh, and boring as hell
Beirut: The Rip Tide - It was okay, but too subdued for my taste
Das Racist: Relax - A real shame, a wasted opportunity, failing to deliver the goods as promised

Favorite sites to listen to stuff first:
Seek these out.

NPR Listen First
We Are Pop Slags
Muso’s Guide
Paste Magazine

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