2011 has been a weird year for me. For unknown reasons – or ones I can’t seem to articulate, at least – I just wasn’t interested in new music. Aside from a few releases, nothing really excited me, and many albums failed to impress me or fell flat of my expectations. For someone whose lifeblood is music, it’s a strange and jarring feeling. My goal in 2012 is to start seeking fresh music anew, stop living in my little box of favourites (and by little, I means thousands of songs), and find new friends.
That said, I am still going to run down some of my favourites, disappointments and my handy last.fm charts. Let the games begin!
Favourite Album of 2011: Lights Of Endangered Species – Matthew Good
Runner Up: People & Things – Jack’s Mannequin
For 2011, it was really no contest for my favourite album. Granted, I withdrew from collecting/listening to new music, but what I did listen to was often touted highly or from artists I generally think highly of. All the same, this was the easiest category to respond to for this posting.
What makes Matthew Good’s Lights of Endangered Species so damn amazing? You mean, aside from it being Matthew freaking Good?
The album, first of all, marks somewhat of a departure for Good stylistically; layered in pianos, horns and strings, heavy on ambiance, Lights is an album best enjoyed late at night in the glow of candles, with a tasty drink of one’s choosing. It’s an album for night owls, for the insomniacs who won’t/can’t sleep until the wee hours: it’s restless, sprawling at times and shortened attention span at others. It peaks and falls off, the album functioning in three distinct movements or waves. It’s absolutely brilliant, and far more of a song cycle than other albums released this year *cough ToriAmos cough*.
Lyrically, the Matthew Good that has endured as a Canadian staple is still here, although he’s still leaning towards the political, as he did on the equally mind-blowing Vancouver album. This, too, makes the album worthy of top honours: it’s timely as always, dealing with issues of environmental destruction (title track; Non Populus), sexism (In A Place of Lesser Men), corruption on Wall Street (Zero Orchestra), and a general sense that none of us are crazy – it’s the world we live in that’s the true problem (What If I Can’t See The Stars, Mildred?). When Matt delves personal, as with folky tune How It Goes or the aforementioned Mildred’s pontification on bipolarity and creativity, he’s reflective as always, and in the case of Mildred, he nails the experience of bipolar disorder on a sonic and lyric level.
I often compare Good to Roger Waters (he of the iconic Pink Floyd): their styles of songwriting, knowledge of politics and ability to write from deeply personal places are uncannily alike (for juxtaposition, spin Pink Floyd’s The Wall and then play Good’s Hospital Music). Here on Lights, Good takes the songwriting to a more abstract form, allowing songs to meander into solos, the words sparse, making my point. He flat out acknowledges that for years, he’s longed to do an album that didn’t fit neatly into the commercial box his label built for him; this is that album, and it’s ethereal, haunting, and expansive. Of all of the albums I heard in 2011, only Matthew Good delivered an album enjoyable from start to finish, with no glaring holes or stumbling blocks.
Kudos, Mr. Good.
Before moving on, I would like to give a nod to Jack’s Mannequin’s third full-length release, People & Things, as a runner up for this category. Although a couple of the songs are average in my books, Andrew McMahon (formerly of Something Corporate) has delivered another gorgeous piano pop album with songs that linger for days after playback. A later release in the year, I expect that it will continue to grow on me as I discover new insights and nuances, but it is already a favourite to spin on repeat. Check it out as well.
Biggest Disappointment of 2011: (tie) Let England Shake – PJ Harvey; Night Of Hunters – Tori Amos
2011 was the year that female artists let me down, particularly artists I tend to think highly of on the whole.
The first letdown, Harvey’s Let England Shake, came to me first as I watched her livestream performance at Coachella (by the way, music festivals of the US: THANK YOU. It’s about freaking time!). As Harvey plucked out new tune after new tune, I found myself… bored. Utterly bored. Even Harvey looked somewhat bored delivering her new material. I was completely caught off guard: what the hell had happened to my beloved PJ, she of the awesome rocking and moody material?
Well, the moody remained; however, it seems Harvey has fallen victim to what a friend and I call “Tori Amos Concept Album Syndrome”. While the notions behind Shake should have produced a vicious, piercing album, the execution is drab, dull and mutes out the lyrics with its sameness. It’s not memorable; I wouldn’t be able to recognize any of the new material on the radio at all by name. It essentially feels like a retreading of White Chalk, which was a far more interesting concept.
Speaking of that syndrome, it continues to plague Tori Amos, leaving me in the awkward space of having only genuinely loved one of her last four albums, and somewhat liking another. Every album the woman has put out since 2001 has been a concept album, and while her earlier works also held loose concepts that bound the material, her latter catalogue suffers from a sense of “rammed on” songs, filler, and songs written to somehow ‘fit’ the concept, instead of an organic emergence of a unifying theme. Scarlet’s Walk remains her best executed concept album – almost a decade ago. While I personally loved 2007’s American Doll Posse, it has it flaws, and certain people will never be able to embrace its true concept beneath the wig-adorned veneer of the Dolls. The rest of her works since Scarlet – The Beekeeper, Abnormally Attracted To Sin, Midwinter Graces and this year’s Night Of Hunters – are watered-down versions of what Amos is capable of, and suggest someone struggling to churn out material on a schedule, as opposed to taking a hiatus and letting the Muse come and go as she pleases.
On paper, Night Of Hunters sounded so promising: any Tori fan worth his/her salt is aware of the strings peppering her catalogue, and how beautiful the arrangements sound alongside Amos’ classically trained prodigy playing. Even the veering into classical music territory didn’t bother me; one of the best albums of the last decade, in my opinion, is Max Richter’s The Blue Notebooks. Where the whole idea goes wrong, frankly, is the inclusion (again!) of Amos’ daughter, Natashya, and the cheesy musical feel of the exchanges between mother and daughter. I blame Amos’ work on The Light Princess for her decision to script the Amos Family Musical over gorgeous re-imaginings of classical pieces: the lyrics are simplistic at times, pretentiously puzzling at others. Tash sounds like a child trying to imitate an adult (Emiliana Torrini or Bjork), and the effect is grating on my ears. The only standout tracks are opener Shattering Sea and the title track, featuring Tori’s uber-talented niece.
It was a very disheartening year for my female contingent… I really wish both women would just stop with concept albums, go away for a few extra years, and return with something more honest and perhaps personal. Amos, having already mentioned a 2013 album to fans, sadly won’t ever listen. I wonder how many guest spots Tash will have on that one. Maybe her dad can join in the fun, too?
2011’s Summer Jam: I Wanna Go – Britney Spears
Let’s bring it back from the downer of the last category to something silly and fun: my summer jam.
Every year, one song or another – usually something fairly pop-ish – becomes my summertime obsession. Often, I obsess for the whole year, but it still comes to mind as “summer” when reviewing the year. Past examples include Cobra Starship’s Snakes On A Plane (Bring It), M.I.A.’s Paper Planes, fun’s All The Pretty Girls or the Hayley Williams-B.O.B. duet, Airplanes. Notice an obsession with planes? I just did… which is funny, since I’m scared of flying.
This year, however, Britney Spears slipped into my ears with her latest album, and while it fell flat next to the surprising awesome of previous outing Circus, single I Wanna Go fast became an addiction. It’s just such a fun, bouncy song to sing, a head-bobbing, whistling delight. Even better, the video is tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating, which I always appreciate from an artist. It’s a sign of humility and maturity.
Even now, I’m singing this in my head as I shake my body with sass. “I-I-I wanna go-go-go!”
Song That Sums Up The Vibe Of 2011: Dog Days Are Over – Florence + The Machine
Anyone who’s close to me knows that my life has been pretty rocky. The last 7 years or so have been a strange and bleak world of defeat and watching my twenties slip by with no sense of accomplishment or purpose. Getting laid off in 2010 was just the final proverbial straw. It really seemed that my one big positive was finding my fiance.
And then, something happened: I found a way to turn the recent lemons into lemonade.
I got to take a year off work, courtesy of EI. I’ve been working since I was 14, and given all the stress/medical issues/etc. I’ve dealt with, I desperately needed that time off. But, more importantly, I qualified for a program to go to college and upgrade my useless Bachelor’s with a social service worker diploma, complete with the elusive experience that kept getting me rejected for jobs in my twenties.
I’m back in school, and being a nerd to end all nerds, I am giddy. But more importantly, I am finally doing what I’ve wanted to do for over a decade. I’m also supported by a loving fiance who works overtime to supplement my income, cheers me on to my straight A’s, and is paying for our impending nuptials.
My life has been a rollercoaster of happiness and being stabbed in the back by trusted people, but in 2011, the clouds finally began to really lift. The dog days are over – now, it’s time to press on, and keep soaring.
During my angsty teens, a staple disc I spun was the self-titled debut of Third Eye Blind. Oh, the hours I could spend, singing along with every word! But then, I kinda forgot about them after their second album – which isn’t to say that I stopped spinning that first disc. I just never bothered to see if they were still around.
Well, when I got wind of a concert – free! – in my city this summer, I dug around, discovered a whole discography I’d been oblivious to, and listened merrily, giddy to finally have a shot at seeing them live. And damn! So much goodness abounded in their albums! I kicked myself for depriving my ears of years of listening time. I saw their show and lost my mind in joy. And Third Eye Blind successfully moved back into my sights.
The 90s did it better, folks. I’m just sayin’.
Album From 2010 That I’m Still Obsessed With: (tie) The Suburbs – Arcade Fire; Wasted In Jackson – Lauren Pritchard
I’m currently spinning Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs as I draft out this second stretch of the post, which says it all, doesn’t it? After my mixed feelings about Neon Bible, the Montreal bad-asses came back at me with an album filled with hooks and earworms. Had I done this post last year (I gave it a pass for unknown reasons), these two albums actually would have been on top of my list.
I’m not going to rave on about The Suburbs; it’s had plenty of airplay and critical acclaim (fuck yeah, Grammys!). I will say that, since we’ve spoken plenty of concept albums in this round-up, that Arcade Fire does it right. If you have yet, for some reason, to hear this album, spin it three times and come back and let me know what you think. It is a bit of a grower album, but it does endear itself and linger in the mind and heart for days. Love love love.
Tied with Arcade Fire is the debut album from one Lauren Pritchard, Wasted In Jackson. First known to me as an original Broadway cast member of Spring Awakening, I had the privilege of seeing Lauren perform in 2008, and was blown away by her bluesy-confessional songs. Wasted In Jackson is a stellar debut, meandering a little stylistically, but lyrically, it’s insightful, sometimes scathing, but always honest and relatable. I can’t even imagine my life without standouts When The Night Kills The Day and Painkillers – I am dead serious. I wish I had done a full review of this album on its arrival, because it deserves a serious promotional shove. Instead, I’ll just point out that it’s one of a scant few albums I paid for in 2010, what with the unemployment and all, and I regret not a single cent. Now, if only she’d come play Toronto…
By the way: Lauren has a second album in the works. I am excited as fuck, and crossing limbs that Somebody Won’t makes the cut this time.
Best Live Show: (tie) Third Eye Blind @ Echo Beach; Matthew Good @ QET (night one)
As I’ve already raved about both of these artists in this blog, I’ll keep this brief.
Why Third Eye Blind? An awesome set spanning their catalogue and favouring my beloved self-titled. God of Wine. Stephan confessing that he’d had a motorcycle accident recently, was performing with cracked ribs and on no painkillers (they make him too stoned to function), and still KILLING IT. Plus,I got into a fist fight at this show, which was a first in over 200 live shows. Ra!
Why Matthew Good? I saw three shows this tour and loved them all. I point out the second show I saw because the set was strongest and I took my dad to it for his birthday gift, but all three shows rocked. Plus, I finally got to meet Matt courtesy of VIP packages, and he was so sweet to me. Piano! At last! My only whining complaint is they only did Running For Home (one of my absolute fave songs) in Vancouver.
Late To The Party Award: Florence + The Machine
This always happens to me: no matter how eagerly I seek out new music, and no matter how many friends recommend awesome stuff to me, I always end up being late to the party with one artist or another.
So, um, yeah: I only heard Lungs this year, when the deluxe edition came out. After all of the hype and seeing Flo belt out Aretha tunes alongside my girl Christina Aguilera, I got off my ass and checked her out. Um, holy shit! Lungs is pure genius. LOVE. I can’t even begin to describe its influence on this year for me. And while Ceremonials is not quite as bad-ass to my ears (which isn’t to say it’s bad – just not as good as Lungs), I am still madly in love with Florence + The Machine, and grateful that at least ONE redhead hasn’t let me down this year.
Dropped Off My Radar: Tori Amos; Lady Gaga; Music In General
Straight up: I’m writing this at 2am and running out of steam. Let’s keep this brief-ish.
Lady Gaga: I’ve never called myself a fan of Gaga, but prior to this year, I had a respect for her in that she supported LGBTQ rights, seemed to love her fans genuinely, and had a few catchy songs I enjoyed (Bad Romance is MY SONG). However, this year, Gaga pissed me right off and I officially dropped her from my radar. Her tune Born This Way bites and does not, in any way, speak of my experiences of bisexuality; further, the video is a pretentious, masturbatory self-worship piece. You are not a Goddess or a Mother to the world, honey; just stop. Thankfully, Weird Al owned that bitch with the epic Perform This Way.
Oh yeah: let’s not forget the blatant Madonna rip-off in that song that goes with the Ace of Base rip-off in Alejandro… Gaga’s made-up email of approval from Madonna story… Her general “I am amazing and epic and no one else matters anymore” bad attitude… Her rip-offs of Lifehouse and Rent in Edge of Glory’s lyrics and video… UGH. Enough, bitch. Sit the fuck down.
Tori Amos: After Night of Hunters underwhelmed me, and having realized how little of her recent output I’ve enjoyed, I’ve been in a state of fandom crisis with Tori. I will always love her older music, but I’m feeling like my time of following her tours is done – and so’s her reign as my number one artist. It makes me sad… deeply sad.
Music In General: Like I said in opening, I epic failed at checking out new music this year, and didn’t really… miss it. I kind of wanted to remain in my old favourites. I’m not sure why, precisely, but I’m told that it happens… Guess I’ll have a lot of catching up to do in 2012!
Guilty Pleasures: Several tracks off Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale
Although nowhere near as solid as Circus, Femme Fatale delivered a few catchy-as-fuck songs to keep me company. I Wanna Go, Hold It Against Me (complete with AWESOME video) and Till The World Ends all earned repeated spins this year. Sometimes, I just want mindless tunes.
Most Surprising Musical Awesomeness: Linkin Park’s Cover Of Adele’s Rolling In The Deep
C’mon, be honest: did you expect Chester to pull off the biggest goddamn single of the year from a young powerhouse o’ pipes? I never would have guessed, but holy crap, LP delivers. In fact… *shh* I ONLY like Linkin Park’s version. I’m not fussy on Adele’s version at all. But LP? I will listen to that shit over and over. In fact, the cover going viral reminded me that I’ve slacked on keeping up with their material a la Third Eye Blind… Whoops!
Totally swoon-worthy, Chester et al. *fans self*
Shit I Am Looking Forward To In 2012:
Live Shows: Roger Waters and Jack’s Mannequin
New releases by: GARBAGE (fuck yes!!!), Lauren Pritchard, Fiona Apple, Muse, How To Destroy Angels, Trent going back to NIN
2012 is shaping up to be an orgasmic year for music! I’m already set to see The Wall tour again in primo seats, Jack’s Mannequin (commence fangirling), and will likely see another show or two. PLUS! Garbage has REUNITED and OMFG I need new Shirley Manson NOW. Did I mention how awesome she is? She answers fans on FB. She talked to ME on FB: for the record, she finds Medication as soothing a song as I do. ❤
There’s also new Muse in the pipeline, How To Destroy Angels’ debut, Fiona Apple (won’t hold my breath yet), Lauren Pritchard AND Trent is also talking new NIN music. I am dead.
Song/Album Of 2011 That Future Generations Will Be Talking About:
I’m predicting that the person who asked me this is expecting me to either say Tori Amos’ Night Of Hunters or Adele’s 21. My best answer for this question is to offer up what I predict will endure, and what I feel should endure.
Predicted: 21– Adele
The bitch has been everywhere, covered by everyone and their mother, and has a throwback sound that is similar to other timeless bluesy/soulful artists. It’s a given. Probable second option: Florence + The Machine
Should Endure: Lights Of Endangered Species – Matthew Good
Nothing against Adele, but I find her only a little more than average. She just doesn’t do it for me. Maybe it’s because I feel like it’s 1994 and Jagged Little Pill 2.0 is happening, and I’m like, why re-do a good thing? That said, Matthew’s album deserves to endure more for its artistic merit. But hey, what do I know? I just listen to music all the damn time and have done so since before I could walk.
And last, the general charts, courtesy of Last.fm! Fair warning: I write to soundtracks that I create for whatever story I’m working with. As a result, songs go on repeat if they are crucial to the scene I’m constructing… So if anything strikes you as odd, blame my writing style! If you’re really bored, compare notes with my 2008 charts.
Top Twenty Four Songs Spun In 2011:
Dog Days Are Over – Florence + The Machine
Jar Of Hearts – Christina Perri
When The Night Kills The Day – Lauren Pritchard
Howl – Florence + The Machine
All The Pretty Girls – fun.
Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) – Florence + The Machine
Dead Disco – Metric
Raise Your Glass – P!nk
Life Is A Highway – Tom Cochrane
Airplanes – B.O.B. ft Hayley Williams
Snakes On A Plane (Bring It) – Cobra Starship
We Used To Wait – Arcade Fire
You Get What You Give – New Radicals
Money City Maniacs – Sloan
Dark Blue – Jack’s Mannequin
Gimme Sympathy – Metric
A Silent Army In The Trees – Matthew Good
What If I Can’t See The Stars, Mildred? – Matthew Good
Safety Dance – Glee cast version
Gel – Collective Soul
Keep The Car Running – Arcade Fire
The Vancouver National Anthem – Matthew Good
Painkillers – Lauren Pritchard
Ready To Start – Arcade Fire
Top Fourteen Artists (Last.fm Plays) Of 2011:
Matthew Good (Band) *Matt solo was #1; MGB was #4*
Florence + The Machine
Third Eye Blind
Nine Inch Nails
Top Twenty Albums I’ve Spun In 2011 (Most Plays Of Tracks From Album):
Lights Of Endangered Species – Matthew Good
Lungs – Florence + The Machine
Greatest Hits… So Far! – P!nk
Everything In Transit – Jack’s Mannequin
Vancouver – Matthew Good
The Glass Passenger – Jack’s Mannequin
The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
People & Things – Jack’s Mannequin
Wasted In Jackson – Lauren Pritchard
Beautiful Midnight – Matthew Good Band
The Audio Of Being – Matthew Good Band
American Doll Posse – Tori Amos
Hospital Music – Matthew Good
White Light Rock & Roll Review – Matthew Good
Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind
Opheliac – Emilie Autumn
How To Save A Life – The Fray
Funeral – Arcade Fire
Spring Awakening Cast Recording
Avalanche – Matthew Good
And that’s a wrap! If you made it this far, I send you virtual sexytimes in appreciation. Tune in next year, wherein I promise to return to more regular blogging and blathering about my oxygen: music.