2011: The Most Boring Year in Music.

Happy New Year, all. 2012 is going to be a real mystery.

A bunch of British guys playing American folk was the most exciting thing happening in music this year.

It doesn’t feel like 2011 was worth reviewing as a whole. Coming out and saying that immediately, without any kind of pretense or introduction, feels quite good. 2011 was a boring year for music, even the stuff I usually like. I’m not alone in this, and, on one hand, it feels good to be vindicated by other critics out there; on the other, it lends itself to a notion of desperation that something spectacular will happen in the coming year. It’s an easy criticism (any year, but this year especially) when criticizing mainstream rock and roll, which still attempts to replicate either the bigness of 80’s rock, or the intimate rebellion of 90’s alternative. But it’s another when it is prevalent among independent artists as well. For example, in today’s New York Times, music critic Jon Caramanica laments that it’s not relevant to declare rock as a genre dead, but to realize that both labels are wholly uninterested in investing in something revelatory, and that the genre is merely ‘spinning its wheels.’

But what I wonder is that while the preferred safety for labels to invest in bands that have marketable sounds and songs is obvious, what of the bands out there who intend on making such noise?

An even more boring year to come? More after the jump.

In his essay, Caramanica says that rock and roll still has interesting bands who have yet to see massive success, but the mainstream acts (beyond those who are still active and have achieved legendary status — your Springsteens, your U2s, and REMs (well, not so much them, but bands of their ilk, to be sure)) have become stagnant and repetitive. Rather than creating anything exciting in terms of sound or emotions, bands like Nickleback, Blink-182, and Coldplay, all choose for the attractive balladry, big emotive songs that play as great soundtrack fillers for a cheap movie trailer, much like how more product ads mine indie albums for the mood of their cars or vodka.  While that’s a matter for the old sell-out argument that has been done to death again and again, it’s about time someone discusses it as a motivation for bands to create the music that they do. But that’s a digression into this point: what does it say that some of the most exciting things to happen to music in 2011, on both sides of the label divide, include a band who’s big claim to fame is that they sound like Dinosaur Jr.? that the band with one of last year’s big breakthrough albums released a shorter version of the same album? or that, an album that was supposed to be released in 1967 was finally released, despite a great majority of the music on the album has been released elsewhere, and according to its own creator, its not even the finished product that it’s supposed to be?

It’s been a dull year to be sure. But what are we going to expect in the year to come, with so much promise yet so little to build from? Chances are, it will only get better, that hopefully, yes, even mainstream rock will snap it’s own spell and become something more vital and exciting, and discover a new sound or a new slew of groups that led to the garage revival of 2000/2001 (not that it was the absolute best of the last great trends, but I am hardpressed to ask when was the last time you heard a riff you remember in a classic way, a la “Satisfaction?” If you’re like me, the last great riff was written in 2003.).

Let’s just call 2011: “The Year Punk took a Break.” Some of the best albums in the past year flew relatively under the radar, appreciated by the critics, but out of favor with even their small but dedicated audience. Then again, even some punk-leaning bands, who were once considered to be hot shot ‘next great hope’ bands released some pretty damn dull music that made me regret plunking down the dough at their own amazing live show. Perhaps it’s an indication that trends are not meant to be tracked and followed immediately in hopes of controlling our sense of time — how else to characterize an entire year’s worth of music, when all music in the postmodern era refuses to align to single ideas and genres? Or maybe, fans and artists alike are so overwhelmed with trying something new, that the demands of creating at the speed of relevance just results in shit-quality work? As a critic, I’d say both, but as a fan, I’m going to put money on the latter.

There is potentially only one trend I am willing to put money on for the year to come. And I will not make it with any particular certainly, but I have a strong feeling that one band to come to prominence in the year to come will be one that is heavily Christian based — a new Creed or Evanesance, or Switchfoot. I say it as a matter of time, but also of the national zeitgeist, that something with a little more hope and less angst, is waiting in the wings to become something big in the next year.

And I just call it a gut feeling. It’s certainly not an anecdote to all the boring music that came out in 2011, but it seems like an obvious product. It’s a wonder that music in 2011 was so beige, when the beginning of the year was heralded as the ‘return of the 90’s,’ a decade marked by bands who made exciting music about being bored in the suburbs, a similar theme throughout 2008-2010, or so.

My only hope (a resolution for bands preparing new albums, if you will) in terms of what will change is that bands that overutilize their reverb and echo pedals will stop being seen as ‘neo-psychedelic.’ Music that is trippy, druggy, ethereal, etc., should be more than incorporating loops and sounds to make them indistinguishable to rave music. It might be exciting for more bands to begin incorporating jazz compositional ideas into their music, maybe spurring a return to traditional prog rock, and stepping away from the metal-infused monster it is today.

The other is that Cults should break up, and go away, and never come back.


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