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Lana del Rey's got nothing on those chinky lips
An interesting year that was: notably lacking any clear frontrunner for that coveted “album of the year” title recently occupied by Kanye West (not here, but that’s besides the point) and Animal Collective, it was nevertheless filled to the brim with brilliant music that often dealt with “pop” in some capacity, be it eschewal of its conventions or brazen embracement of its occasionally unsavory tendencies. Merrill Garbus did the former and, in the process, acted on the limitless potential of pop’s universality – a useful technique, considering that w h o k i l l was, more than anything, a record that, in the words of a certain Maya Arulpragasam, “put people on the map that never seen a map”. Gang Gang Dance and Dan Bejar released two of the year’s most critically acclaimed albums by adopting the latter method; both Eye Contact and Kaputt found effortlessly distinctive vocals surrounded by garish sonic touches, presented mostly without irony.

Meanwhile, two twenty-somethings in Minneapolis talked about the Internet as a nigh palpable place, released hyperactive music obviously emerging from what a breathless Tiny Mix Tapes feature called a “chaotic slipstream that has become its own gloriously bizarre anti-aesthetic”, and introduced thousands of white kids who just can’t let their precious indie rock go to the maximalist wonders of K-pop. (“Bubble Pop!” is a reliable favorite.) Montreal’s Claire Boucher, when not crafting the most engrossing pop music since “Heartbeats” first blew up, went out of her way to coin the term “post-Internet”, which I can actually get fully behind, since it means something by way of not concretely meaning anything. While we can argue for days about the so-called originality of work primarily inspired by (and occasionally composed of) the world’s collective cultural debris, such discourse seems to ignore that for Elite Gymnastics and Grimes, “originality” is a malleable concept – that is, if it’s ever even an issue of concern.

And in 2011, the ubiquity of inventive recycling was hardly limited to blog pop – it found acceptance in chart pop, the arena where it has always been most prevalent. But while Top 40’s tendency to regurgitate the same chord progressions and lame song structures over and over again attracted nothing but scorn for the better part of the aughts, many of last year’s biggest pop splashes shamelessly – and genuinely – made old ideas new again. The result was one of the best years for full-on, capital-P Pop in recent memory. Beyoncé basically owned the latter half of it, releasing singles from the slinky, ’90s R&B-inflected 4 seemingly every week, making the most virtuosic video ever, bearing positive vibes from the entire world alongside her baby, and miraculously appearing utterly happy and comfortable through it all. Gaga, of course, made her own decade-specific splash, and while I still stand by that overzealous review I wrote of it back in May, I’ve come around to the vulgar ’80s explosion that is Born This Way. Not because I feel any more moved by the album’s sledgehammer bombast than I did back then, but because I realize that I’m just not supposed to. Strangely, by producing an unsubtle work of anti-art that is often horribly ugly in its blatant artificiality, Gaga created something highly engrossing. Yes, I hated it, but I couldn’t stop returning to it.

And then I fucked with the sequencing a bit, placing “Scheiße” immediately after the blunt instrument that is “Marry The Night”, surrounding the overstuffed “Born This Way” with the equally over-the-top “Judas” and “Hair”, disposing of the limp “Bloody Mary” and offensive pandering of “Bad Kids” – and voilà, I had a genuinely enjoyable model of Gaga’s metal-plated curio. I tried the same trick with Rihanna’s Talk That Talk, which, in its customized incarnation, very nearly made my list of favorite albums. Forget the criticism that Def Jam’s been releasing a new Rihanna full-length every year – if she can keep spitting out singles like “We Found Love” (accompanied by the year’s best video to boot) and “You Da One” (not), both among 2011’s best, girl can release an album every month if she so pleases. And she’s hardly done. Mark my words – “Where Have You Been” will be everywhere in a few months’ time, and it deserves to be. Once again, we have elements blatantly lifted from generations past; Calvin Harris, far too young to have been at all involved with the late-’90s dance scene, nonetheless lifts a bassline straight from acid house, and it’s done with such confidence and finesse that the song is impossible to fault.

So hotly tipped art imitates art imitating art; Grimes’s Visions is one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2012, and unless this year’s got a lot to offer, it’s among the best. Its references to other sounds are, unlike Beyoncé’s and Gaga’s, suspended in time, their only connective tissue Boucher’s deft touch and silvery voice. At one point on first single “Oblivion”, she sings, “I need someone to look into my eyes and tell me –” only to interrupt herself with a series of soaring high notes. The rejection of conscious intent and clear tenor seems a fitting end to a whirlwind year. Garbus’s melding of social awareness with giddy rhythms, Lizzie Bougatsos’s mewling amidst chaotic karaoke-ready synthesizers, Dan Lopatin’s reinterpretation of commercialization as resolutely abstract art, Lana del Rey’s indie-Britney shtick neatly and knowingly embodying every preposterous conception of Americana to ever exist, Gaga’s clumsy mixing of metaphors and hot smoke-and-mirrors messes, SSION’s brilliantly cracked shallowness – they’re all delectable ingredients in the same vividly colored melting pot. Here’s hoping that in 2012, we can eat half as well.

Conrad’s Top 40 Albums of 2011

1 :: tUnE-yArDs :: w h o k i l l
2 :: Gang Gang Dance :: Eye Contact
3 :: Deerhoof :: Deerhoof vs. Evil
4 :: Los Campesinos! :: Hello Sadness
5 :: Björk :: Biophilia
6 :: The Weeknd :: House of Balloons
7 :: Demdike Stare :: Tryptych
8 :: Beth Ditto :: EP
9 :: SebastiAn :: Total
10 :: Twin Sister :: In Heaven
11 :: FaltyDL :: You Stand Uncertain
12 :: Kate Bush :: 50 Words For Snow
13 :: Panda Bear :: Tomboy
14 :: Bell :: Diamonite
15 :: James Blake :: James Blake
16 :: Sepalcure :: Sepalcure
17 :: Telebossa :: Telebossa
18 :: Rustie :: Glass Swords
19 :: SSION :: Bent
20 :: Beyoncé :: 4
21 :: PJ Harvey :: Let England Shake
22 :: Big K.R.I.T. :: Return of 4Eva
23 :: DJ Diamond :: Flight Muzik
24 :: PePePiano :: King
25 :: Azari & III :: Azari & III
26 :: Dominique Young Unique :: Stupid Pretty Mixtape
27 :: EMA :: Past Life Martyred Saints
28 :: Korallreven :: An Album By Korallreven
29 :: Destroyer :: Kaputt
30 :: Lykke Li :: Wounded Rhymes
31 :: Oneohtrix Point Never :: Replica
32 :: Nguzunguzu :: Timesup EP
33 :: MEN :: Talk About Body
34 :: M.I.A. :: Vicki Leekx
35 :: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart :: Belong
36 :: Patrick Wolf :: Lupercalia
37 :: SBTRKT :: SBTRKT
38 :: Sun Glitters :: Everything Could Be Fine
39 :: Ford & Lopatin :: Channel Pressure
40 :: Elite Gymnastics :: Ruin 1 & 2

Conrad’s Top 20 Singles of 2011

1 :: Purity Ring :: “Lofticries
2 :: Azealia Banks :: “212
3 :: Nicki Minaj :: “Super Bass
4 :: Beyoncé :: “Countdown
5 :: Neon Indian :: “Polish Girl
6 :: Rihanna :: “We Found Love (feat. Calvin Harris)
7 :: Big K.R.I.T. :: “Country Shit (Remix) (feat. Ludacris & Bun B)
8 :: Charli XCX :: “Nuclear Seasons
9 :: Beth Ditto :: “I Wrote The Book
10 :: Grimes :: “Oblivion
11 :: tUnE-yArDs :: “Bizness
12 :: Gang Gang Dance :: “Mindkilla
13 :: Elite Gymnastics :: “Here, In Heaven 2
14 :: Los Campesinos! :: “By Your Hand
15 :: Glass Candy :: “Warm In The Winter
16 :: Panda Bear :: “Surfer’s Hymn
17 :: Friends :: “I’m His Girl
18 :: Balam Acab :: “Oh, Why
19 :: Lana del Rey :: “Born To Die
20 :: Major Lazer :: “Original Don

Conrad’s Top 20 Music Videos of 2011

1 :: Rihanna :: “We Found Love (feat. Calvin Harris)”

2 :: Beyoncé :: “Countdown”

3 :: Major Lazer :: “Original Don”

4 :: Lady Gaga :: “Born This Way”

5 :: St. Vincent :: “Cruel”

6 :: Memory Tapes :: “Yes I Know”

7 :: Lykke Li :: “Sadness Is a Blessing”

8 :: Antony and the Johnsons :: “Christina’s Farm”

9 :: Battles :: “Ice Cream”

10 :: Robyn :: “Call Your Girlfriend”

11 :: Twin Sister :: “Kimmi in a Rice Field”

12 :: Purity Ring :: “Lofticries”

13 :: tUnE-yArDs :: “Bizness”

14 :: Azealia Banks :: “212″

15 :: Big Sean :: “Dance (A$$) Remix feat. Nicki Minaj”

16 :: Ford & Lopatin :: “World of Regret”

17 :: EMA :: “California”

18 :: Gotye :: “Somebody That I Used To Know”

19 :: Grimes :: “Vanessa”

20 :: Youth Lagoon :: “Montana”





conradtao
01.07.12
My attempt.

AsoTamaki
01.07.12
YES. Where Have You Been is so much better than anything else on that album. I can't really see it being that big of a single though. Not like the other songs. Needs a huge video to have a chance.

Butkuiss
01.07.12
No Defeater 1/5

Butkuiss
01.07.12
That said, great column, agree on Born This Way. So much.

joshuatree
01.07.12
elite gymnastics reference is a plus

conradtao
01.07.12
Updated with a smattering of lists

Kiran
01.07.12
great write up conrad. did grimes leak?

Omaha
01.07.12
Nice to see some Panda Bear love!

conradtao
01.07.12
No, Visions hasn't leaked yet. I've been listening to a promo copy obsessively..

Tyrael
01.07.12
2011, the year where our dear friend conrad tao suffered from a massive head trauma which caused him to believe that Beyoncé could actually release something that wasn't utter CRAP

R.I.P.

conradtao
01.07.12
FALSE SO FALSE

conradtao
01.07.12
How can anybody call an album as good as B'Day crap it's just so UNFATHOMABLE!!

NigelH
01.07.12
For such a pop-centric list, the exclusion of M83 is almost banal.

conradtao
01.07.12
Yeah, it's too bad Hurry Up, We're Dreaming wasn't any good

Jash
01.08.12
great list, and your two top singles of 2011 are two of my favorite tracks as well, i can't wait for LP's from both of them

Irving
01.08.12
I am left in speechless awe at the length and breadth of this post. Tbh, I only understood about half of what you wrote Conrad (too many big words and abstract extrapolations), but I'm sure it was good. My brain feels like how it usually does after I read a P4k editorial piece on the state of modern music. OMG I'm never going to get really good at this music reviewing business, am I?

pizzamachine
01.08.12
Hey now, you're a plenty good reviewer Ving.

robertsona
01.08.12
"Yeah, it's too bad Hurry Up, We're Dreaming wasn't any good"

Nooooo....noooooooo

conradtao
01.08.12
Don't worry, Irving; I'm writing heavily embellished nonsense most of the time. Your ideas are always more concisely and effectively stated than mine. I like purple prose too much, which is a problem since I'm not particularly deft with it.

SORRY ALEX THOSE SONGS ARE JUST SO LIMP

Deviant.
01.08.12
So many links....

Have you heard Demdike's new stuff yet Conrad?

Apollo
01.08.12
hipster list

fuck this shit

Lakes.
01.08.12
lololololololololol beyonce lolololololololololol

Tyrael
01.08.12
'How can anybody call an album as good as B'Day crap it's just so UNFATHOMABLE!!'

B'Day was okay I'll give you that. But Run The World (Girls) is by far the worst thing I've heard all year and the rest of 4 wasn't a whole lot better either.

Apart from that this was obviously still very well written as we have come to expect from you mr Tao.

jefflebowski
01.08.12
can't tell if that big sean track is awesome or the worst thing i've ever heard/seen

Aids
01.08.12
good stuff man. I havent watched too many music videos from 2011 but Montana is number 2 behind Simple Math for me. Our tastes differ but I enjoyed your list and write-up nonetheless. I may have to check out some of the albums from your list that I've overlooked.

Douglas
01.08.12
Sick, Gotye mention.

Calculate
01.09.12
That Big Sean joint is awesome mate

conradtao
01.09.12
Yep, I've got the new Demdike stuff. It's good, operating in the vein of Forest of Evil for the most part..

AggravatedYeti
01.09.12
excellent Conrad.

Irving
01.09.12
But Conrad purple prose is like, fifteen bazillion times more interesting to read than just stating the facts. After all, reviewing isn't just about being able to convey opinions - it's also about conveying observations. And at this point in time my writing still has got a long way to go to achieve that.

Out of curiosity, what kind of other music sites do you peruse to, y'know, broaden your linguistic and auditory palette and stuff?

conradtao
01.09.12
The Quietus, CMG, Sasha Frere-Jones, and Nitsuh Abebe.

fish.
01.15.12
I am pleased that Born To Die is here over Video Games

HBFS
01.15.12
^ that. born to die > video games

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