Oh, 2011, it’s been swell. You’ve brought us one miserable New Haven winter (complete with some weird weather phenomenon we New Mexicans can only describe as raining ice), an Arab Spring, Tot Mom summer, and an #Autumn of #Occupation. Between raiding compounds in Abbottabad, managing to get the country to take seriously your pizza-themed campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, and getting everything ready for your unreasonably high-profile marriage to a British prince, you were one busy, busy year.
I’m sure you were overwhelmed in an absurdist sea of CNN ticker-tape, unmoored to any trappings of culture into which you could escape. What even was music in 2k11? You might have wondered, but certainly you couldn’t take enough of a break to find an answer. Sure, you might have had time to hear Bruno Mars croon about various ways he could demonstrate his love via mangling his own hands (catching a grenade, grabbing a blade), and maybe you could recite the Official 2011 Color Pair of the Year (black, yellow). Eek! You could use some quality year-end music. Here are a few wonderful feel-good releases of the past year. You’d be forgiven for having missed these, but hopefully they’ll help you forgive the onslaught of yet another crazy year.
It has been a year of bittersweet endings, from the War on Terror as we know it to the marriage of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Kelly Crisp and Ivan Howard, the two members of the indie rock/pop duo used to be quite feverishly in love — to the point of naming their first album “The Rosebuds Make Out.” The next eight years brought several albums worth of elegant and often danceable songs celebrating love, and their divorce this year didn’t stop them from creating yet another. This is an album of slow-boiling cleansing, the sutures of healing. There is nothing angry here — resigned, maybe, but not bitter. The two slip gracefully between styles, from folksy singer-songwriter confessional (“Worthwhile”) to heartbreakingly laid back, lounge-ready plea (“Come Visit Me”) to cathartic, blast-the-speakers guitar rock (“Woods”). For a world in transition, perhaps nothing is more inspiringly apt than the ex-couples’ commitment to create something beautiful out of pain.
On the topic of catharsis, maybe nothing feels quite as good as jumping around carelessly. Cloud Nothings have perfected the art of tossing off the snotty two and a half minute noise pop gem on this late-night basement show of an album. As concise as it is messy, the album contains all the fuzz, distortion and whining these little punks can muster. But at the same time, the guitar riffs and vocal lines are immediately arresting, worming their way deep into your body’s own rhythm. For me, these songs were the epitome of the willful amnesia of escaping on a summer road trip, but will sound just as good in the equally biting winter air. “I feel better/nothing’s wrong!” frontman Dylan Baldi cries over and over again on the surprisingly titled “Nothing’s Wrong.” Even when everything is wrong, it’s all okay if the guitars are jangly enough and you yell real loud.
As the lion’s share of the indie music-consuming demographic sinks deeper into their twenties, this seems to have been a year for nostalgia. By this time, listening to that 400th self-produced EP of bedroom pop is becoming a tedious exercise in spot-the-culturally-irrelevant-sample (I see you, Teena Marie!). San Francisco’s one-man band, Part Time, self identifies as owing “a debt to 80s movie scores,” but man, he does it just right on this understated but infectious cut from his 2011 album “What Would You Say?” The drum machine is as lithe as the cute goggles-wearing boy in that outdated chemistry VHS from middle school, and the giggly synth is the Brat Pack kid smirking in the corner. “The sunset’s falling down/we’re picking it up with our hands,” he exclaims just before a super-sultry guitar solo, and after all that you’ve got no choice but to join in how good it feels.
So in the coming weeks, as 2011 ends in a flurry, try to set some time out to listen; just maybe, instead of feeling like you’re under a pile of the past year, you’ll find a way to dig a little deeper in the direction of the bright new year ahead.