So begins at last my list of the finest songs of 2011. Last year I was all upset about the whole idea that one could even begin to honestly determine the very best songs put out in a year. Not because tastes differ too greatly, but because there’s just too much good music.
This year I realized I could have thrown together a list in late December, which is what everyone wants. No one gives a damn about 2011 in February, right? But for some reason I couldn’t stop myself from pouring through everything I’d played on my radio stream, in search of something I’d missed. Some time in January, I realized that I don’t do this for you (sorry, readers). I do it for me, so I can be sure nothing gets lost in the music world’s relentless drive toward newer-better-bolder. So these songs of 2011 may be five minutes ago, but they’re worth looking over twice.
The Best Indie Rock of 2011 PART I
There’s just too much goodness to fit in one post. In no particular order…
At last, the best electro of 2011. I’m not ranking these, they’re in alphabetical order. Forthcoming is the second half of this list, as well as the Best Indie Rock and the best Dance and the Best Chill Music. It’s about time, eh?
The first strings have been strummed and the singer has claimed the mic. The shovers are staking their claim in the pit. There is a rush to the stage, a general movement: the show is starting. The young and foolish punk will rush forward so they can be closer to the sweat and angst flying off the stage. It seems rational. But if you’ve taken the time to push to the front-and-center position, standing in front of the fresh mosh pit is the worst way to claim that sweet spot. Not so much because the pit is unmanageable but because the task of managing it is in the opposite direction of the band. So you can turn your back on the show and push the pit kids. Or you can watch the show and get elbowed in the face. Thus what seems initially like the center of the action turns out to be a major distraction. Just when you think you can maybe take some time to actually watch the show you paid to see, you remember the crowd surfers. They like to remind you by kicking you in the head.
If this all still seems like a great plan, then you probably have a fierce abundance of ass-kicking energy. In that case, dive into the actual pit instead of turning your back to it. Now that’s a nice view.
The music bloggers are all excited about hippity-hopper Childish Gambino and the general consensus seems to be that he just “came out of nowhere.” Strange to me, because he is a well known actor on the hit NBC comedy Community. Sure, he goes by the name Donald Glover, but it’s not like this is all a secret. In his lyrics he talks about having a TV show and writing for 30 Rock when he was under 25. And Donald Glover is not a bit player on the show, he’s consistently the most charming and funny reason to watch Community.So what, he’s a rapper now. But here’s the thing: his rhymes are tight! Those same mad skills he uses writing and acting for NBC come out in the lyrics. It’s unapologetically middle class,with subjects like sex, race and hipster girls making frequent appearances. I’m not wild about his vocal style–it’s very fast, with a nervous energy. But the pop culture references keep me coming back. I was hooked first on the Jamie XX remix of Adele, where his “Freaks and Geeks is sampled, and he says, “Fuck Macaulay Culkin, I’m never going home alone.” All his songs have lines like that, ones that will jump out at you and make you smile for their clever turn of phrase.
The production on his mixtape isn’t top notch but you can certainly hear the promise. My favorite track from the mixtape has little to do with the lyrics and all to do with his choice to rap over Sleigh Bells. The gent has taste I tell you. Just the same it still has choice lyrics like “Only time I’m worried is when I’m the no-fly zone, ‘Cause I’m so fly…”
Because of the low production values on his mixtape and the fact that he raps over low BPM indie rock half the time, I prefer remixes. Like I said, it’s about the rhymes not the beats anyway. Here’s two preferred remixes of “Let Me Dope You.” I especially like the first because that Body Language song (“You Can”) is another of my recent obsessions. The stand-out lyric for me is “I don’t fit in like–my penis in these tiny girls.” Tight indeed.
Janet said she wanted to go the Missouri Lounge to make fun of all the hipsters. Everyone agreed that The Missouri Lounge was just crawling with the little buggers.
I was surprised. Not about the Missouri Lounge—though I’d always thought the shack looked like more of a redneck dive—but that Janet wasn’t herself a hipster. She had the chunky, short-cropped hair and the thick black plastic glasses. But no. She was a hipster hater. How could I get them confused?
We ordered drinks and Janet picked out the most egregious violators and made fun of their outfits and drink selections. We did not stay long. Janet made a request from the DJ and there was some misunderstanding, or altercation. So we left.
That incident got me thinking. Did those people deserve to be made fun of? What made them worse people than Janet? What the hell was a hipster, anyway?
Since that day many moons ago, if I hear someone use the word I always ask them what it means. Two things quickly became apparent: 1) no two people seem to have the same definition 2) never have I ever heard the word used in a positive context.
For my money, a hipster is a person with an overly-developed sense of irony. But by that definition, the guy I know who is most likely to be a hipster is a 35-year-old Indian metalhead. He’s also the biggest hipster-hater I know. The “H-word” also seems to be associated with indie rock, though no one seems to know what the fuck that is either.
Here is what some of my research has come up with:
“Hipsters are trust fund babies who go to expensive private art programs.”
“Hipsters are people who wear mismatched, ill-fitting clothes and think they are hot.”
“Hipsters are the shallow types who live in the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn.”
“Hipsters drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and ride fixie-bikes and make fun of normal people.”
Oh well then, that’s clear. If I am in Williamsburg and I meet someone in an art program I can assume they are shallow and living off daddy’s money. Additionally, if I meet a girl on a fixed-gear bike in Goodwill frocks I can assume she is a snotty bitch who can’t wait to talk about me behind my back. It would do the world a good deed to run off with her inexpensive union-made brew, taunting and laughing.
Much like the yuppies in The Last Days of Disco, “hipster” seems to describe a group of people whom everyone seems to agree is omnipresent and easily identifiable yet no one can find one among their circle of friends.
In case you can’t tell, this whole thing pisses me off. Being cruel to someone based on the way they dress, the music they listen to, their neighborhood or school of choice is discrimination. It may not be based on a thousand years of oppression like the prejudice we all like to think we’re too good for, but it is certainly the opposite of the moral high-ground the hipster-haters think they have.
The American College Dictionary defines Bohemian as “a person with artistic or intellectual tendencies, who lives and acts with no regard for conventional rules of behavior.”
I see very little to distinguish the hipster-hating of today from those who hated the punks and before that the hippies and before that the beatniks and on and on. No one can deny the fact that the hipster is the new bohemian, except the bohemians themselves, who’ve been tricked into thinking that the hipsters are the fake bohemians.
Thus we have an odd scenario where sews-her-own-clothes girl (e.g. hipster) and shops-at-the-Gap girl (eg the anti-hipster) can both commiserate on how much they hate the shops-at-Urban-Outfitters girl (“fake” hipster). SewsHerOwnClothes thinks she is immune because she is more authentic than those people who shop at Urban Outfitters. But you can bet your best pair of Pumas that Gap girl and the Urban Outfitters “fake” hipster would be just as quick to make fun of the freak girl with the weird clothes she she probably made on her grandma’s sewing machine (as if that’s a bad thing).
The whole anti-bohemian attitude strikes me as a backlash against a group of people who feel slighted by those who have a different set of moral standards. An example would serve better than an explanation…
Someone who thinks that they are being “special” and “unique” for liking some underground bullshit no one else cares about. And they pointlessly look down on people who don’t know anything about indie culture, because that’s the only thing they know anything about. They’re quick to call the rest of the world conformists when in reality, they are the ones conforming by partaking in a “too cool for mainstream so i am going to reject it by looking and acting like a grungy asshole” way of life only to seem uber-fashionable. They just end up looking like idiots.
Hipster: I won’t drink at starbucks, it’s too corporate.
Non-Hipster: I want a Louis Vitton purse because they are cool
Hipster: You’re such a conformist, haveing [sic] a Louis Vitton purse is so unoriginal. I like my purse I found in the gutter for $4 dollars.
Non-hipster: but it’s fugly
Hipster: yah, but no one else has it. It’s completely unique.
Non-hipster: that bum over there has something pretty similar though.
Hipster: You’re ignorant because you can’t see the real beauty in life.
I don’t have time for this, I’m gonna go to my cave of an apartment and listen to some indie rock you’ve probably never heard of….
Non hipster: You need to see a therapist
Hipster: I am my own therapist.
So the sad fashion whore who wrote that definition feels as though she is being judged because she doesn’t care where her clothes are made or how her consumption choices affect the local economy. And she’s right! I think the person who wrote the definition above is shallow and ignorant! I expect to be hated and unkindly labeled by anyone who thinks avoiding Starbucks is an example of “some underground bullshit.” That’s totally fine. Fuck that girl, and the guy who runs http://www.latfh.com, we were never meant to be friends!
But when I see the anarchists, punks, queers, ravers and other manner of adorable bohemians bitching about the “H” word, it’s too much. When someone seeks to say cruel things about a nonconformist, hipster is the first word they turn to, even if the nonconformists themselves think a hipster is something entirely different.
The focus on the hipster’s inauthenticity as an outsider, art appreciator, or moral consumer is a defense mechanism based on the labeler’s own insecurities in those same areas. The Louis Vitton-lover in the example above is an extreme example because s/he can’t even conceive that anyone would care about the journey of their designer purse from sweatshop to landfill. Your average anti-bohemian likes to think they appreciate art and philosophy as much or more than any weirdos with their weird music and their weird hair and their weird clothes. The assumption is that any reasons for being different are not better or coming from any set of values, merely contrivances. In this way, anti-hipsterism becomes another extension of the big-city-elitist versus corn-fed-anti-intellectual debate that is the hallmark of the American class system.
When the freaks, geeks, queers and quacks take aim at hipsters they are supporting conformity, regardless of what they think it means when they are around other bohemian-types.
Let us celebrate the hipster. Let us drink inexpensive beer and wear used clothes. Let’s listen to obscure music. Let’s have debates about crap surrealist literature and condone veganism. La vie Boheme, under any name: embrace it.
I have a long-standing debate with my sweetie (one of thousands) about the word, “indie rock.” We all know bands that are clearly indie rock, I’m not even going to bother to list them. The question is, does it refer to a genre, or does it refer to the way the music is produced? If it is a genre, then bands like the Killers and Interpol, both on major labels, are indie. If it simply separates small-label stars from the bigguns’, then bands like the White Stripes, or before that R.E.M. or even before that, Lou Reed, are former Indie rockers, though musically dissimilar. Really, I’m not so sure what the electropop sounds of I Am the World Trade Center have in common with the rough vocals of Modest Mouse, other than independent label status.
Before you answer, let me take you back ten years, to 1996. Blockbuster Music (this is where you shopped in the suburbs if you were 16, because your mom didn’t know about Sound Exchange) has a new section of music called, “Alternative.” For about ten minutes I was excited about this exciting new genre that included all of the cool new bands: Nirvana, Bush, Radiohead, the Eels, Cake, Poe, Bjork.
That’s when it became clear that the only difference between “Alternative,” and “rock,” was that it was the music that appealed to people in my age group (make that, market segment). The actual musical styles had little in common. Perhaps there is nothing sinister in this. Blockbuster wanted my shopping experience to be as convenient as possible.
But it is a little bit like naming art movements, “Modernism,” or “Contemporary,” suggesting all that they have in common is that this is what people like right now. Well, (as I would have said at sixteen) duh. Is that the best description you can give?
I understand that many want to identify themselves as “indie-rockers.” That is the best music out there and anyone who listens to anything else is inferior (What? That is exactly what the indie-rocker is thinking). And an indie-rocker listens to what? Indie-rock music, of course.
But the way I see it, this can only go two ways:
1. Indie-rock is a genre consisting of any music that is on the verge of breaking big circa turn of the millineum (like “alternative” before it, which means jack shit now).
2. A band on an independent label is fantastic and mind-blowing until they get a record contract at which point they are not indie-cool anymore and they are sell-out snot-munchers.
Both of these are to be avoided! Please! I love indie-rock music! But let us not genrify.