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I don’t know why I’m writing this.

I mean, I kind of do. This should be my year-end feature, where I put the albums I liked in an arbitrary list so you can understand how I experienced the past twelve months. But how could I write that when I have no fucking idea what happened the past twelve months? So instead I’m writing this: an attempt to make sense of the most bizarre year– of music, of life, of culture– that I’ve ever experienced. I don’t think I’m going to succeed. What’s to follow is a self-indulgent rant on phenomenal music I didn’t really get, my bewilderment over the critical reception to Bon Iver, and a Channing-esque query as to what music even means to me anymore. But I have to do this. Even if I don’t know why.

I don’t think I’m alone. The entire year, I got the sense that nobody really knew what was happening in 2011 but just sort of ran with it. Reading the various year end write-ups across the internet, I’m comforted to see at least a couple other publications acknowledge of how weird this year was. SPIN, for example, is all about it. They seem excited about where this directionless quagmire is going to take us in the future. I’m fucking terrified of it.

It’s an old argument, but even as an internet writer, I have to admit the internet is over-saturating culture. To paraphrase Milan Kundera, we no longer live in a time where important cultural events are the framework for how we order our everyday lives. Now, our everyday lives go largely unchanged as culture happens around us. Remember the Odd Future shitstorm? That was a big fucking deal. I remember being genuinely excited about them. And then they were everywhere; everyone started talking about them and then everyone’s opinion on Odd Future had to be qualified and explained and the dialogue totally collapsed on itself. Now, they don’t fucking matter anymore. The internet killed Odd Future as quickly as it gave it life. The same thing is happening to Lana Del Rey, and she hasn’t even released her album yet. We’ve entered a time where the internet commenter’s taste for pastiche, irony, and base intelligence has become the norm, which makes it nearly impossible to have an original thought about anything.

Musically, this culminated in a bunch of things that were pretty good and nothing life-changing. I felt as if I knew the conceit of nearly every supposedly “important” album that came out in 2011 before I even listened to it. Not that I mind post-modern reappropriations on principle, but it’s getting a little transparent. So many records from 2011 boiled down to a readily identified, extratextual “point,” and once that “point” was established, there was an obligation to form an opinion on that point, and then we moved on to something else because that’s how smart people listen to music. Take James Blake for example. I struggled with James Blake all year because he should have been someone I loved. Here was a man blending the future with the past in an interesting, oftentimes beautiful way. And yet I could never muster much more than a “yeah, that’s pretty cool” towards him because once I’d identified his “thing”—soul and dubstep—it felt like there was little else to discover. It’s smart music, and it deserves its accolades, but I still don’t feel much towards it, because I “figured it out,” as if the album was a puzzle whose solution was fairly obvious. It did everything I knew I loved and yet I didn’t love it.

James Blake wasn’t the only album I pretty much liked—hell, I put it #5 on my list—that I felt conflicted about. The Fleet Foxes, Girls, and Panda Bear (yes, even the infallible Panda Bear) albums all fell into this category where I basically understood what was happening, appreciated how it sounded, yet felt mildly distant towards it. And, fittingly enough, the website I write for picked my most egregious example of this for its album of the year. In 2008, we thought that there were five albums better than For Emma, Forever Ago, but we couldn’t agree on one being better than Bon Iver’s boringly pretty, twice-eponymous second record? Shenanigans. And yet the choice is in character with the splayed out chaos of the year; I’ll posit that we picked Bon Iver, Bon Iver not because enough people thought it was the best thing all year, but because there was so little consensus among staffers that the thing we agreed on most strongly is the inoffensive prettiness of Justin Vernon. I don’t blame us for this choice, really. It’s just that there were simply no defining commonalities that held us together. Comparatively, 2010 had 10 albums that could’ve been agreeable choices for album of the year. The zeitgeist-less 2011 had none.

I spent too much of last year looking for one. For the longest while, I didn’t know why I felt lost, but with the year’s unsatisfying end, I’ve come to think that it’s because I tried too hard to be “smart” with the music I heard. I wanted to find the thing that would ignite my soul like The Monitor and Public Strain did last year. As a result, I forgot how to hear something and genuinely, intuitively love it. Maybe I even lost touch with myself; I spent so much time looking for records that conformed to what I thought I liked and ended up with few I loved. Today, the ones I love are the records I can throw on and not think about, shit like Vacation and Leave Home and Go Tell Fire to the Mountain. These are records that I grew familiar with over time (including WU LYF, because once the initial shock wore off, I had to learn to love it again). They came to me instead of vice versa, which made all the difference.

So I guess the lesson to walk into 2012 with is “listen,” which is the most obvious thing ever, but I’ve learned it’s pretty easy to forget. There’s such an appeal to hearing something, coming up with a snap judgment, and moving to the next thing, all the while amassing an impressive library of music and opinions. Shit, being an amateur critic practically encourages the practice. And yet, 2011 wasn’t really satisfying, despite having billions of things to listen to, and I don’t think this is the music’s fault. It’s mine. I took dozens of lovers and loved none of them. I need to step back, tune out all the bullshit, shy away from the internet’s control to the best of my ability, and remember how to listen to music, especially if I want to keep writing about it. And, trite as the optimism is, I’m looking forward to it.

-Adam Downer





Yazz_Flute
01.17.12
Well this was a downer hur hur

Electric City
01.17.12
tl;dr

giant block of text

Yazz_Flute
01.17.12
That's an old as shit comment for sure.

This was an interesting read though.

thebhoy
01.17.12
I know what you mean. Tom Waits, M83 and Destroyer were the only things that felt complete to me. That and Colin Stetson, the more I listen to it, the more I realize it's number 4 way ahead of everything else. Though I did really like Fleet Foxes too

Xenophanes
01.17.12
My computer won't show who actually wrote this. It only says "by [blank]"



Yazz_Flute
01.17.12
Read the very first comment there's a hint...

thebhoy
01.17.12
oh wait, puns.

Irving
01.17.12
This was me. So much.

MisterTornado
01.17.12
Third Eye Blind

deathofasalesman
01.17.12
Great read! I feel you man. I felt like I was looking forward to last year so much but felt underwhelmed by things I already knew I'd enjoy.

Vacation is my number one though.

cb123
01.17.12
agreed, i found i was just ripping through album after album without taking any time for the music to sink in or have any effect which is why i'm trying to make a conscious effort to fully absorb an album rather than give it a listen and decide if its a keeper or not

Chrisjon89
01.17.12
I guess I can relate. For me it was a year of LOTS of 4s and very few 4.5s. Unlike last year, nothing was really breaking through to next level.

Also kind of disappointing to see PJ Harvey's album miss out on the top 50.

goop
01.17.12
I agree completely with this. As cb123 said, "i found i was just ripping through album after album without taking any time for the music to sink in or have any effect"
I think it may be the rate at which I'm discovering bands I'd never listened to before now.

cb123
01.17.12
yeah same here i've got a huge playlist of new things to listen to but trying to restrain myself a go through it slowly and methodically rather than smash through it as quick as i can without really getting to know any of it

Tupik
01.17.12
Very interesting read, and I agree with it a lot, this was a weird year, a lot of great albums, but none that really stood out

Athom
01.17.12
There wasn't a lot that really grabbed me this year which gave me a lot of time to let the stuff that made an impression really sink in


theacademy
01.17.12
who wrote this it just says "by Tuesday January 17, 2012"

Electric City
01.17.12
i did. maybe its a browser thing? working in chrome for me

taylormemer
01.17.12
Not working in Chrome for me.

theacademy
01.17.12
na its still the same... i figured it out when i got to "the infallible Panda Bear"

2011 wasn't that weird, dawg

2009 megadeth
2010 deftones
2011 limp bizkit


theacademy
01.17.12
i dont think odd future is dead i just think the days of it being 'this cool thing i talk about on the internet' are dead. and "born to die" is the itunes free song of the week btw

Electric City
01.17.12
once her album drops and isn't earth shattering, i think she'll go the same route. plus there's so much crap written about her and she only has like 3 songs out.

theacademy
01.17.12
are you saying it's going to have a Goblin-esque release? because goblin was way more successful than i thought it would be... and I have to admit i didnt really love goblin at first but it grew on me.

Deviant.
01.17.12
It's strange because where I can see where you're coming from, I had a fan-fucking=tastic year. This isn't a slight at all, but maybe it's about time you started searching more outside of your comfort zone

Electric City
01.17.12
its certainly moving in that direction: a controversial but awesome single, notorious live performances, numerous think pieces and ridiculous hype are all things LDR shares with Tyler

ShadowRemains
01.17.12
looooooosing aaaaaa whooole yeeeeeeeear

thediamondcanopy
01.17.12
great read, you summed up exactly what i was feeling a year ago perfectly. for me, it helped to lose an ipod and start working to listen to music.

Transient
01.17.12
ugh, i totally get what you mean dude. NOTHING really hit me this year, to the point where i had absolutely no idea what albums would end up in the top 10 of the staff list. last year and the few before that i've been able to pick what the top 5 would roughly be but there's just been nothing this year that's been particularly mind-blowing, just stuff that's been good to great. wil wagner and the smith street band put out my favourite album of the year purely because i didn't get any analysis or hype on it and i didn't feel obliged to either like it or not. it was just there and i loved it. weird year.

AlexTM510
01.17.12
solid read-a little allover the place but still solid.

but yea the internet and the ever increasing number of artists makes it difficult to sit down with a lot of records. were loving the hell out of something only for it to be outed by the next wave/hit. Of course this isn't always true. And yea ultimately it doesn't matter if it's smart or not it just comes down to if it sounds good/enjoyable/or meaningful to the individual.

That being said i finally got around the florence and the machine and m83 at the beginning of this year and those are two albums that could have easily hit my top albums of 2011. but again, whatever. i just follow my ears, i will say that this website for myself personally has somewhat documented my tastes and how somewhat dramatically they've shifted in the past few years. and they probably will continue to shift has i get older and as the internet and music scene becomes more clusterf*cked hah

natey
01.17.12
fuck yeah awesome writeup, i totally feel ya. this year early on i was struggling and then stressing "listening" as opposed to maybe being "smart" with music and that made it a kickass year for me.

with music your attitude is huge on really connecting with music in your heart as opposed to say your head.

Minus The Flair
01.17.12
this was an interesting read for me, mainly because i can sympathize with both it and its other extreme. 2010 was like this for me: an over-saturation. then in 2011 i became broke(r), destroyed my ipod, and had to use a shitty 2gb stick for music for the year. finding/changing music became too much effort so i would stick with the same albums far longer than i normally would. kinda like back when i was 13 and i'd listen to the same album over and over on my bright green cd player because pocket money only gets you so far. but i loved those albums.

anyway, the talk of 'figuring out' albums, like a puzzle, is something that really resonates. again, 2010, this was me. work it out and move on - end up favoring the albums that are easy to listen to and not think too much about. in 2011, i did this but didn't move on because i was too lazy. that forced me to take a step back from the albums like james blake, and, instead of moving on once i'd 'figured it out', i had the time to appreciate how the puzzle looked when completed. in fact, with the amount of time i had, i came to see that i had only completed the puzzle enough to be be able to work out the picture. there were still many things that had gone unnoticed and unappreciated.

this may be a stream-of-consciousness ramble, and i'm not proud of it, but kudos adam for bringing out the longest comment on sputnik i've probably ever written.

DuMont
01.17.12
I agree with everything you said about 2011, was struggling for stuff I had really enjoyed this year especially compared to 2010.

Captain North
01.17.12
Good read and interesting for me since it's what I see spending half my time on a music critic site but never experience since I don't write any myself, nor do I actually understand the technicalities of music. So all I ever experience is the purity of it.

I found a fair but to love this year, though, like usual, I don't get half the staff picks and popular choices.

SeaAnemone
01.17.12
So it could just be me, but I found this piece really tedious and annoying to read (most, at least). Reading about listening to music is one thing, but reading about reading about listening to music is a whole 'nother level of tedium. It seems like for most of this post you seem to use your opinions on the music as mere reference points to compare to other music publications, past consensuses, or general opinion, whatever. It just feels so distant and dismal.
Then again, that's probably your (obvious) point and I'm (stupidly) missing it-- that this year you felt distant and didn't 'listen' enough to music.
... but I still don't get this sentiment besides the last 2 paragraphs, which are much more enjoyable. It just seems like you HAVE opinions, but then feel the need to validate them or invalidate them based on their effect or non-effect on others.
And then there's the whole question of a trend.
I have no idea why a year has to (or tends to, in your eyes?) have some sort of trend. I get that a year is the marking-point for comparing albums to each other-- that makes sense. But why should there be any sort of trend throughout this time?... I have no idea why there would be one or why people would look for one.
Taking the Goblin example... were you under-impressed by its effect because at the "year's" end it didn't end up having a huge footprint?... I just feel like that's such an arbitrary marker. Either way, I really wish you would've wrote more about your reaction to WU LYF and The Men (which I'm ecstatic you enjoyed) and similar records instead of this.

Anyway, sorry, but I could not decide whether I found this idea both interesting and annoying, couldn't decide which then, and decided to match your rambling with some of my own haha.

fish.
01.17.12
"I spent so much time looking for records that conformed to what I thought I liked and ended up with few I loved."
I can understand this

SeaAnemone
01.17.12
And for me, 2011 was pretty handily ahead of any other year I can recall-- with albums by ASAP Rocky's, The Men, and Grouper that all would have been Top 5 material any other year dropping in like the low teens, and a good 5 or 6 albums that easily could have been 1 at one point or another.

Tyrael
01.17.12
great read

good point about Bon Iver being the top album of the year too

Electric City
01.17.12
i'm glad this has yielded some really thoughtful responses

couple things in Sea's post I wanna address:

1) I can't deny that this is my brain vomit and I don't expect everyone will have had the same kind of year I did. For whatever reason, at previous years' end, I've been able to look back, identify some sort of cultural "feeling"-- a "zeitgeist," though I think the term is overused-- that I've understood. I could've and, were this a more professional piece, probably should've expanded on the whole idea of irony becoming the cultural norm and the internet's accelerating culture, two phenomena which, in my view, have led to nothing culturally having real meaning for very long. Perhaps the same applies to music. Which leads me to:

2) Goblin struck me as a particularly good example of this. Like, the Odd Future hype was EVERYWHERE and then suddenly it stopped. OF are still touring and generally successful, but all those things they made us "think" about quickly ceased to matter in the wake of new shit, and now appear barely relevant. I guess this is how flash in the pan acts work, but it seems like this happened so many times this year. OF, Lana Del Rey, Rebecca Black are the three examples I can think of right now.

wabbit
01.17.12
Eric moves to Italy for a week




Already a giant prick

pizzamachine
01.17.12
I'm glad this didn't happen to me, 2011 ruled!

MO
01.17.12
that 3rd paragraph is excellent, great write up, the internet is fucking over everything

fish.
01.17.12
2011 was pretty crappy in terms of music, for me

Adabelle
01.17.12
Really enjoyable read, especially good seeing as you managed to hold my attention for the entirety. I guess I sort of agree, nothing really blew my mind in 2011, there were lots of new things that I explored but most things I expected to love wore off pretty quickly.

FromDaHood
01.17.12
It took me two paragraphs to realize this was downer's list, then I stopped reading it to look at the inevitable criticism from sea or chan.
Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed.

Irving
01.17.12
I think the amount of thoughtful responses to this post might just have topped the ones you got that one time you wrote about teenage sex, Downer.

klap
01.17.12
I agree with this. I feel less obsessed with my #1 this year than I have in years. And what Wolfe said about really loving things that you listen to over and over again is so true - my favorite albums are still the ones I listened to on CD over and over again 9th-10th grades. MP3s really fucked that over for me

FromDaHood
01.17.12
I burned my favorite things to cd just so I wouldn't be tempted by other stuff on my iPod.

clercqie
01.17.12
Interesting read, man.

I think I get what you're saying, and I'll agree to a large degree, but I also believe the really good stuff can pierce through all the internet/hype BS and actually resonate on a personal level and stay interesting for weeks, months and even years. At least that's what happens with me.

Knott-
01.17.12
I totally understand the angle you're coming from with regards to trying to stumble across The Monitor again, because it's what I spent a lot of 2011 doing as well; that, and Romance Is Boring, summed up the absolutely mind-blowing year that was 2010 (in my life, as well as in musical discovery) that I so wanted to find another accidental masterpiece. I think to a certain extent it's true that you 'never find it until you stop looking for it', because what most things I listened to last year didn't do was surprise me.

I get this way sometimes, and though I don't think the mindset you're talking about dominated my 2011 like it did yours, I go through phases where I definitely feel this way. The best way I know of fixing it is actually to go to my RSS, and download 5 or 6 albums by people I've never heard of before. It usually reminds me to stop having such tedious, predictable discourses with the music I listen to, purely by knocking me off balance.

This was a great read.

BigHans
01.17.12
if you wouldve listened to Steel Panther your year would have been much better.

Masochist
01.17.12
See, I feel the same way. I don't think there's an actual, solid #1 here in 2011...but I'm okay with that. The way I work and listen to music, I won't be able to pick a Best of 2011 until about 2013, which is perfectly fine with me, because it takes off the pressure that there even has to BE a best-of 2011.

I realize it's different for you, a staff member who writes for a website that's taken as professional, but sometimes I feel that the pressure to find an album that you enjoy the most before the year ends is unfair, because usually that pressure is the very thing that blocks you from fully enjoying every album (because it gives you a time limit for each album--"I've got 30 potential best-albums-of-the-year, that gives me a week-and-a-half per album").

If you really want to know my opinion (and you don't, but if you wanted to), I think the fact that you mention the lack of a true pop-cultural trend/"best" album of the year in the same article that you mention not being able to personally grasp on to any one album as the best of the year says a lot. It seems as though without that one album that hits the heights, that "Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" or something similar that can either stand-in as your album of the year or be the benchmark for which you judge all the rest of the albums of that year, you become lost and drowned in the music, frantically searching for that album and not finding it, and therefore labeling everything you listen to, like you said in your article, only "good" as opposed to "the best." And this would be perfectly fine if it weren't for the implication that your enjoyment of music is swayed by pop-culture/the internet/(heaven-forbid) the opinions of Sputnik, because again, I feel the same way, but I'm perfectly okay with feeling like that for now, whereas you seem really, really bothered by it.

I don't know. I'm just rambling at this point. I bet if 'El Camino' or 'Hurry Up, We're Dreaming' had been released in July, they'd be the albums you were looking for.

Masochist
01.17.12
Also:

UP THE (pop) PUNX 2012

WeepingBanana
01.17.12
yeah 2011 gave me no 5's

i mean Knife Man and Sit Resist are close but...

ConsiderPhlebas
01.17.12
A depressing read. I missed every scrap of internet hype in the last six months of last year, and listening to music became a lot more fun. Cultural events, in any form, are only one thread of life - change the way you engage with them and their weakened status doesn't matter a jot. Hype was always ephemeral, the internet has just sped up the life-cycle.

robertsona
01.17.12
good writeup

only two albums really hugely connected with me this year: An Empty Bliss From Beyond This World and Take Care

natey
01.17.12
"If you really want to know my opinion (and you don't, but if you wanted to), I think the fact that you mention the lack of a true pop-cultural trend/"best" album of the year in the same article that you mention not being able to personally grasp on to any one album as the best of the year says a lot. It seems as though without that one album that hits the heights, that "Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" or something similar that can either stand-in as your album of the year or be the benchmark for which you judge all the rest of the albums of that year, you become lost and drowned in the music, frantically searching for that album and not finding it, and therefore labeling everything you listen to, like you said in your article, only "good" as opposed to "the best." And this would be perfectly fine if it weren't for the implication that your enjoyment of music is swayed by pop-culture/the internet/(heaven-forbid) the opinions of Sputnik, because again, I feel the same way, but I'm perfectly okay with feeling like that for now, whereas you seem really, really bothered by it."

mega-insightful masochist. I would be bothered by it though cause it sucks, because it's listening to music for your ego. There's the real part of music where you shut up and listen and it moves you as you let it. you connect with the art. then there's the shitty fake part where people use their egos to critique and leech off artists, making trends and hype and all sorts of mindless things that make us feel cool and the envy of our circles.

the neat thing is when you focus on the music it puts you a step ahead

natey
01.17.12
it's more fun and real an stuff

DinoX
01.17.12
anyone figure out who wrote this yet?

Electric City
01.17.12
yes

sniper
01.18.12
i think i agree with this thing, especially about how easy it is to get stuck trying to hear as many things as possible, and forgetting to actually listen to any of them. i actually realized i was doing this about halfway through 2011 and i hear way fewer albums per week than i used to. but at least i listen to all of them now.

Acanthus
01.18.12
"...despite having billions of things to listen to, and I don’t think this is the music’s fault. It’s mine. I took dozens of lovers and loved none of them."

Great summation, good read.

natey
01.20.12
"If a man approaches a work of art with any desire to exercise authority over it and the artist, he approaches it in such a spirit that he cannot receive any artistic impression from it at all. The work of art is to dominate the spectator: the spectator is not to dominate the work of art. The spectator is to be receptive. He is to be the violin on which the master is to play. And the more completely he can suppress his own silly views, his own foolish prejudices, his own absurd ideas of what Art should be, or should not be, the more likely he is to understand and appreciate the work of art in question. "
-Oscar Wilde

AtomicWaste
01.20.12
I listened to way more EPs from starting artists in 2011 than I did albums by established ones or by ones given positive criticism. I think WU LYF was maybe the one real exception as far as positive criticism went, and I think it was the way to go.

Other than that, I think part of what made me love a lot of EPs in 2011 was that I dug around and found them, and when they had a special sound, it felt unique to me. So I'd write a review and try to share that experience with everyone else. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but I still had my connection to that music.

It could also be that I still have newer ears at the moment (my music collection is only up to 56 gigs), but I hope that that ability doesn't go away.

Eko
01.22.12
yes I agree with this so much downer

loooooooosing aaaaaaaaa whole yeaar

br3ad_man
01.22.12
Dude, I feel EXACTLY the same.

robin
01.23.12
i completely forgot to respond to this at all beyond using random words like amazing but yeah.

i tend to be really over-enthusiastic about the music i like and then find a reason to validate why. hence i 4.5 and 5 things frequently and then assign some review-aspect to them often out of need to assure myself. i feel like 2011 was pretty similar in that regard- i loved things but didn't really know why. this is prob why my two favourite albums of 2010 and 2011 have been public strain and diaper island, since neither of them really "meant" anything and i didn't have to look around and do the whole puzzle thing. i was just kinda fascinated.

i hope this year i'm able to actually think about things as i'm listening but i mean, if i'm not, who cares. i'll just end up being like, "i love this 1000 last.fm plays" as in every miserable year.

robin
01.23.12
p.s. to me it feels like you're only really losing a year through lists and words. at the end of the day you still have WU LYF and that's what will stick

Denzer2525
01.26.12
Does the song "Gravity", by Man on Fire, cure this problem for anyone? Not their album necessarily but that song?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIJHBHM3Sy4

Watch for the change ( 6 min mark ) and try to keep up.

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