Rather than just list the things I liked and why (which I will do, but later), I’m going to try to tackle the ‘discussion’ element of the title. 2011 has, in my view, seen the gradual coalescing of several trends in the world of music; most of which aren’t to my liking, or indeed that beneficial to the very industry that perpetuates them. A paragraph about each? Yeah.
An artist can no longer make a living solely from record sales – the live shows and tours are where the money is. I’ve heard this theory peddled endlessly over the past few years and everyone seems aligned to it now (artists, labels, journos and public alike). I accept that it is largely true – Reni stands to make more cash from the upcoming Stone Roses gigs than he ever did from sales of ‘Second Coming’, for instance – but I don’t think it’s a very healthy state of affairs. I appreciate that recorded music sales have been hammered by illegal downloading, and artists need to make a living, but the subsequent, cynical repositioning of live shows as the pinnacle of musical entertainment (and the attendant jacking of ticket prices (and profits)) really antagonises me. There’s a reason we have producers, engineers and studios – most artists need help and direction to get the best out of them, and the recorded performance can be endlessly re-recorded, edited and polished until it’s perfect. It is the ultimate expression of the artist’s vision (or the producer’s vision, which is equally fine – Kelis with Neptunes shits on Kelis post-Neptunes, for instance). Now, I’m not saying that recorded music has gone down in quality, but the consensus now seems to be that ‘live’ is automatically better, which just isn’t true. Yes, going to gigs and clubs is fun, but it’s the shared experience that you’re buying, the tribal aspect, the validation that other people are into the same thing as you – the sound quality and performance is borderline irrelevant. Put another way, how many live albums do you a) own, and b) listen to regularly? Exactly. (It’s also worth noting that the majority of people going to gigs now are 25+ years old – the youts simply can’t afford the £70 it costs to see Rihanna at the O2, or whatever.)
‘The Club’ / drinking as a lyrical meme. Ugh. Nearly every r&b/pop hit is now concerned entirely with this. I know Dissensus probably doesn’t care, but these are the songs that are on kids’ iPods, and none of them are saying anything other than “Hedonism is good! You have to go out and spend money to have a good time! Conspicuous consumption!”. When everyone from Katy Perry to Roll Deep to the fucking Wanted are turning out variations on the same theme (not to mention towering cunts like Flo Rida and Will I Am), I start to despair, quite frankly. I can’t recall a time that popular music was quite so vacuous and yet uniform in theme. (And yes, I know there are still songs about love and loss, as always, but they seem to be a marked minority.) The art of the lyric writing is in severe decline, which is a shame.
Fey or whimsical cover versions, and the embrace of twee. Aargh. How has this become a ‘thing’? That fucking John Lewis advert with the Smiths cover is only the tip of the iceberg. Advertising is the natural domain of this cuntery, that match.com one with the ‘I like old movies…. Like The Godfather….3?” couple makes me want to trample on the throats of everyone involved, there’s a hideous Matalan one which recasts N-Trance’s ‘Set You Free’ as a simpering dirge, and ugh Ugh UGH. There’s loads of this shit, cover versions or not: Puppini Sisters, Nouvelle Vague, Noah and the Whale, Birdy, Pomplamouse (the absolute nadir of this shit, don’t google them, you will become enraged), Owl City, etc. The cloying infantilism and ‘cute’ aspect to all this (ukeleles, xylophones, half-sung melodies, batted eyelashes, charity-shop clothes, men with beards and too-tight t-shirts) is presumably what sells it to (I have to presume) people who don’t want to engage with music that has any sexual, political or rhythmic qualities. The same fuckers who buy Mumford & Sons records. This is the most depressing musical trend of 2011, easily.
Post-Dubstep. Come on, a man has to know his limits.
Datpiff and the rise of the ‘mixtape’. Ah, a good thing at last. This is the proper way to combat illegal downloading – put your music out for free and circumvent the industry entirely. I don’t know much about Datpiff and its business practices, but an aggregator of all the free rap music on the net was a brilliant idea and 20 million users per month tells you all you need to know. I love that unsigned local-area MCs can rub shoulders with established acts and get equal precedence. I’ve been skint all year and can’t often afford to buy music – Datpiff has been a godsend.
House becomes the dominant ‘underground’ sound again. Oh all right then, so I am going to talk about post-dubstep a bit (at least tangentially). I’m intrigued by the resurgence of house (or at least the 4-to-the-floor beat) as the main focus of non-mainstream dance music. Not only through producers adopting the sound (e.g. Ramadanman becoming Pearson Sound), but also through the embrace of old Strictly Rhythm tracks (‘Deep Inside”, for instance) as present-day anthems at places like Night Slugs. It’s a weird thing, but a good one. I presume it’s partly a reaction to years of syncopated music being the most common sound (2-step, grime, dubstep, b-more – even electroclash never really had the slinkiness that house can offer) so house actually sounds fresh again to younger clubbers, and also the increasing swing of mainstream clubs towards an r&b/euro sound, squeezing out more traditional house music. (Dubstep’s transformation into the new nu-metal is also a factor, natch, as is the cross-pollination with funky.) 2011 is definitely the year house went underground again – or the year it disappeared from the mainstream altogether. (Guetta and Swedish House Mafia and Afrojack don’t count – that’s Euro, innit.)
Ok, so enough ‘discussion’ (it’s cold outside and I had the afternoon free, and I like emptying my thoughts occasionally, so indulge me). Here is a list of music I liked in 2011 and why:
Nguzunguzu – The Perfect Lullaby. My favourite DJ mix of the year by some distance, a twinkling blend of r&b vocals and African drums, and it is indeed quite soporific, as befits the title. Lovely late night musical comfort food.
Laurel Halo – Aquifer. Shimmering lo-fi synth affair which recalls early Black Dog and is endlessly melodic.
Tycho – Hours. This one’s just really pretty. Optimistic and gentle and sunsetty.
Nikkiya – Titanic / Dominique Young Unique – Gangster Whips. Two excellent r&b bangers (yes, I know, but it is the right term), which are stylistically similar and just straight ahead good fun. Recommended.
151 Feva Gang – Kush Groove. Gloriously stupid rap rework of Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You”, the best song about smoking pot in many a year.
Far East Movement – Like A G6. Another stupid record, but the demented glee of the idiot-savant bassline and the none-more-catchy (or nonsensical) chorus are indisputable. Worth a hundred dull post-dubstep or tiresome coke-rap records.
The record I’ve listened to most in 2011, though, is ‘Johnny Come Home’ by the Fine Young Cannibals, which goes to show something, although I’m not sure what.