Saturday, December 31, 2011

Music of the year, 2011

My music consumption this year was dominated by two big, random albums.  Last winter I bought Diddy-Dirty Money's "Last Train to Paris," a completely synthetic piece of music that nonetheless captured my interest for much of the year.  For this album Sean "Diddy" Combs gathered two girl singers by his side and attempted to replicate the magic of his old duet with Keyshia Cole, "Last Night."  The result was a solid and shockingly consistent album of R&B/electronic/dance music.  My two favorite tracks were the classily named "A** on the Floor" and the epic "Shades."  Although the videos for this album were uniformly grim and lifeless, like some kind of dank urban vampire film, the music was compulsively danceable and great for running.  There were a good 6-8 songs I really loved here, which is rare.  This was an amazing album for me.

The second big album this year was Foster the People's "Torches," a relentlessly peppy and energetic jumble of indie rock with deep undercurrents of R&B and hip hop (at least as I found it).  The rock elements were balanced by some good electronic arrangements and some definite swag.  This album reminds me of training for the marathon in Central Park and it revs me up.  There were a lot of great songs on here:  "Helena Beat," "Life on the Nickel," "Miss You," among others.

Inspired by "Torches," I followed Foster the People down the rabbit hole of Pandora to discover myself really enjoying some twee white people music performed by dirty hippies.  Two songs really wormed their way into my consciousness and conjured great feelings about life and family: The Middle East's "Blood" and "Home" by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.  (I'm a couple years late on the latter, but whatever.)  I found myself enjoying a lot of other songs of similar ilk, although I couldn't help thinking that this is music for racists who don't want any trace of black culture in their music.  I don't know if this is true or not. 

There were some other great songs this year too.  I enjoyed the unabashed dance music of David Guetta's "Where Them Girls At," featuring Flo Rida and Nicki Minaj, and Usher's "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love."   The-Dream released an EP online under his given name, Terius Nash, that was mostly forgettable except for the aggressive and rhythmic "Ghetto," featuring a great verse by Big Sean.  Kelly Rowland's song "Motivation," featuring Lil Wayne, was an odd little confection.  I'm still not sure what the song is actually about, but it always engaged me with its mysterious structure and lilting chorus.  The remix with Trey Songz was great too.  And Kelly's former bandmate Beyonce had some interesting songs on her latest album, particularly "Countdown," featuring a bizarre use of a Boyz II Men video and a music video that was irresistible and jubilant.

One other album hit it big for me this year, like it did for everybody: Adele's "21."  At this point she has reached a peak of cultural saturation, and the recent SNL sketch mocking the emotional depth of "Someone Like You" both proved the point and laughed at the power of the song.  But "Rolling in the Deep" remains a profoundly amazing song, and other songs carried a similar power and honesty, especially "Turning Tables" and her cover of "Lovesong."

Overall this didn't feel like a great year of music.  There were albums I meant to get, like the new Coldplay and the new Drake, but I just didn't.  I feel like I'm aging out of pop music and hip hop, and a lot of R&B feels musty and repetitive.  Where do I go now?  Into the flannel-clad arms of all these bearded white people? I refuse to let that happen.  In the meantime I'll keep listening to find something new, something to keep me moving.

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