2011

If it's not too late for Typographica to post their "favorite typefaces [that's 'fonts' to normal people] of 2011," then it can't be too late for me to put up my favorite new music of last year.

There are two ways to define "new music." One is "music released this year," and the other is "music I 'discovered' [like Columbus 'discovered' America] this year." I think the latter is more important, since I'm often "discovering" music that I should've known about awhile ago. Usually through a car commercial or movie trailer.

And don't you sit there judging me, pretending you knew who Nick Drake was before 2000.

There are also two ways of identifying "favorites." I could go by the numbers: create a smart playlist of everything I added in 2011, and sort it by play count. This way is honest and true, because it reflects how many times I actually listened to an album or song, but it scares me. Before I even look, I know that I'm going to be embarassed by the number of times I listened to Ke$ha. Any number >1 is probably unacceptable in polite society, but I'm OK with the fact that I like her songs. I'm just afraid to find out how much I like them. The other way to define favorites is by feel: spend 15 minutes in silence, meditating on the music I heard last year, and see which albums and songs percolate into my consciousness. There are three reasons this approach would fail, though:
  1. I'm terrible at coming up with lists off the top of my head.
So, this list is going to be a hybrid: music that was released, or that I came across for the first time, in 2011 sorted by a combination of play count and my sense that X years from now it's going to stand out as memorable or important. So, without further ado or excuse-making, here was My Favorite New Music of 2011:
  1. Phantom PlanetRaise the Dead (2008). Using Shazam, I identified a chunk of "Do the Panic" that played during the 50/50 trailer, and I wound up listening to this album over 30 times last year. As an unapologetic lover of The O.C., and a fan especially of the opening credits and Jason Schwartzman, I don't know how I went so long without giving Phantom Planet some attention. This oversight was corrected in 2011.
  2. Best CoastCrazy for You (2010). Beautiful, ethereal, salt-water drenched pop music. Lo-fi melodies and catchy riffs. This video! What's not to love?
  3. St. VincentStrange Mercy (2011). I spent almost as much time listening to this record as I did looking forward to its release. A fantastic third effort from Annie Clarke, the best artist-as-a-band working today. See her live while she's still playing clubs, before she goes all Pop Mart on the stadium circuit. Also: best album cover of the year. Also also: best Fallon musical guest of the year. Can anyone downshift from guitar-shredding badass to half-surprised, mildly self-satisfied ingénue faster than Annie does at the end of the song?
  4. Bon IverBon Iver (2011). Speaking of artists-as-a-band, Justin Vernon's sophomore release was second on my most-anticipated list, and very high on my most-listened-to list. I think it's all I played for the two weeks after it came out. A perfect, almost seamless, companion to Vernon's debut album For Emma, Forever Ago, which would've made my list in 2010 (two years after its release) if I'd had one then.
  5. She & Him - A Very She & Him Christmas (2011). Exactly what I hoped it would be, although "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was a letdown.
  6. Vanessa CarltonRabbits on the Run (2011). Say, kids - do you like the innocuous pop music sung by women with pretty voices?* I do, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Well, maybe a little.
  7. Cold War KidsMine is Yours (2011). If you enjoy rock and/or roll, you will love this record. More polished than their first two releases, which are frankly hard to match, but very enjoyable still.
  8. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic ZerosEdward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (2009). Saw them on Conan last year, and was hooked. The fact that they we still promoting a 2-year-old album makes me feel a little better about being behind the curve on finding them out.
  9. Parker, Stone, et. al.The Book of Mormon (2011). What can I say that I haven't already said? This will certainly be among the most enduring favorites of 2011.
  10. They Might Be Giants - Join Us (2011). I'm slightly surprised at how little I listened to this record. Still a great album from my one of my all-time favorite bands.
  11. WaterdeepNo Doubt of Sunshine (2011). A reliably good husband/wife band puts out another excellent record.
  12. Ke$ha - Animal (2010). I am not going to disclose a play count here, and by that metric it would be much higher on this list, but I will admit that I listened to "Your Love is My Drug" more than any non-Phantom Planet song in 2011.
Bonus List: four albums released in 2011 that I listened to much less than I would've expected, but will definitely still be listening to five years from now:
  1. WilcoThe Whole Love
  2. Beastie BoysHot Sauce Committee Part Two
  3. Jonathan CoultonArtificial Heart
  4. David BazanStrange Negotiations
For what it's worth, I added 892 songs to my library last year. That number is inflated a little because it includes a couple of those amazon.com 99 Essential… collections that often go on sale for $4. And I realize that it's already passé to think of a music library in terms of a collection of files on a particular computer, but on the other hand - what would you have said 20 years ago if someone predicted you'd be able to buy 100 Christmas classics for $4 and have them delivered to your ears within minutes of purchase?

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*While we're making Letterman references, I've been meaning to ask: are we watching the slow, public derangement of this once-king of late night? Or am I the only one still watching? He became an unapologetic Dirty Old Man years ago. He's recently embraced an absolutely bizarre and wholly un-funny relationship with Twitter. On the rare occasion that I see him interview a guest, I realize that he's become a horrible, horrible interviewer.