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Up to ’11: The Year in Music

written by: on December 31, 2011

2011 must hate 2010. Musically speaking, 2010 might go down as one of the ultimate years in recent music. It presented classics like Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me, Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor and, obviously, Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to the world. Adding in the best girl-pop song in five years (Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own”), and 2011 had every reason to coast on the glories of a former year.

But no! The eleventh year of this increasingly tweeted millennium came through as a worthy successor to 2010, and if you don’t believe us, here are some reasons.

 

11. Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

To create a successful show in the shadow of the critical darling Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon did away with some traditional late-night staples (the over-reliance on interviews, the odd removal from the musical act), and reinvented late-night as a frolicking, über-positive romp, with all the fantastic music trappings that come with it. From the emergence of The Roots as the best house band in America, to non-sensically brilliant cameos (Bruce Springsteen singing “Whip My Hair” anyone), to Fallon’s friendship with pop kingpin Justin Timberlake, to finally the actual, frequently transcendent performances. If two of the best music TV moments happen on a show (Odd Future’s TV premiere, Justin Vernon covering Bonnie Raitt), then Jimmy has earned his place.

 

10. The Life-Affirming Beauty of the Song of the Year, “Holocene”

Ideally that’s all I could say about a song as affecting, warm and gorgeous as Justin Vernon’s best song to date. For a brief five and a half minutes, there is nothing else—a pure musical moment of emotional resonance. What Vernon and his band created (as well as the almost equally affecting video for the song) is at once meditative, lonely and communal, the kind of song that is a meeting between the mind of a brilliant folk artist and his enraptured listener.

 

9. The Saxophone Ain’t Kenny G’s Instrument No More

First, Kenny G appears in a Super Bowl commercial, and it seemed the death knell for the oft-forgotten horn. But then we got Bon Iver, tUnE-yArDs and Iron & Wine prominently using the sax, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry featured sax solos on two of their bigger summer hits of the year, and Destroyer’s Kaputt was basically a sax album. Then, in a cruel bit of irony turned marker of cultural infinity, Clarence Clemons left the world having finally seen his glorious sound return to the mainstream. And while we still miss the Big Man, and always will, we rest easy knowing his influence is just beginning to flex its muscles.

 

8. We Didn’t Get a Huge Ke$ha Single This Year

Yeah. Let’s just leave it at that, since we all know she’s coming back huge in 2012. Enjoy it while it lasts.

 

7. Honesty Is the Best Policy

While we did get one of the sadly obtuse records in recent memory this year (James Blake’s debut), the emotional honesty of bands like Girls, EMA, and the kid-like joy of M83 make this a banner year for bands expressing exactly what they want to without worrying about seeming tried, cloying or emo. Lana Del Ray may be on the horizon, which does nothing for an emotionally honest revolution, but for now we can appreciate that, for once, the people speaking their true feelings won the year.

 

6. The. Rock. Opera.

Maybe we underrated Green Day’s American Idiot. How else to describe the album that birthed the inspiration for Toronto super-punk’s Fucked Up and their best album yet, the sprawling, gigantic masterpiece David Comes to Life? From the opening salvos of guitar to Damien Abraham’s last guttural growl, David is an achievement of modern punk.

 

5. Iceland

Maybe not unique to 2011, but Iceland is quickly becoming the coolest place on Earth. Bjork’s ultra-ambitious Biophilia album, Sigur Ros’ typically epic and pensive Inni live album, and the emergence of Arcade Fire-by-way-of-Mumford & Sons ultra-indie band Of Monsters and Men is just another ever strengthening resume for the identity of Iceland as a indie music powerhouse.

 

4. We Can Take Jeff Mangum Off the Missing Persons List

Whatever happened this year that made the notoriously cagey Mangum reappear this year and begin scheduling shows, not to mention appearing at random events (most notably Occupy Wall Street), but whatever it was, God bless it. It’s too much to ask for another Neutral Milk Hotel album, but the reemergence of the greatest indie-folk hero of the last decade of the 20th century has been a long time coming.

 

3. Merrill Garbus and Adele: The Heart and The Soul

While tUnE-yArDs and Adele have little to nothing in common aesthetically, Merrill and Adele represent the pinnacle of the soul that indie and pop can represent. Merrill is the rabid indie perfection of a show done exactly right, while Adele is the world-dominating feeling that we’ve all been heartbroken at one point in our lives. Their respective second albums were both almost uniformly excellent (although one in particular was a favorite of ours), and what they’re doing for emotionally expressive pop cannot be understated.

 

2. Billy Corgan

No. Not actually Billy Corgan. Instead, Corgan’s influence was seen in some of the more big guitar rock fests of the year. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart’s second album Belong, turned the band from twee-scratchers to full blown ’90s Smashing Pumpkins borrowers, all to excellent effect. Then they were one-upped by the best debut of the year, The Joy Formidable’s The Big Roar, a massive blast of ’90s grunge rock that reminded everyone that, while he may be a douche, Corgan was pretty great with an axe once upon a time.

 

1. Pop ‘stache Has Been Around for One Year

Fine, yes, toot toot. That’s our own horn, by the way. But really, as you dear reader are (hopefully) acutely aware, we’ve been around all this year. Before we head off to the unknown potential of 2012, let me just give a hearty thank you to everyone reading this right now. We put our heart and soul into this business, and I hope that you’ll stick around to see what amazing things we can come up with next year.

Goodbye 2011!