December 6, 2011

AwkwardSound Presents: The Best and Worst of Everything Else in 2011

Suitable praise has officially been declared for the year's top albums, songs, videos and breakthroughs here on AwkwardSound, and so now it's time to address everything else that made the music world go round in 2011. Aside from the occasional bad review, AwkwardSound does a darn good job at ignoring what it doesn't particularly care for or refusing to buy into some of the baffling hype streamrolled by the press. This however is AS' one moment of light-hearted cynicism to get a few things of its chest as well as offer a few pats on the back to the artists who did the art of music proud. For better or for worse, here's to everything else in 2011...

Most Overrated Album: Bon Iver's Bon Iver

"Music for guys who pee sitting down" reached a new pinnacle of over-acclaim this year with this inoffensive light pop rock effort by Bon Iver. In the '80s and '90s, indie rock was a form of music that had been birthed out of the piss, vomit, sweat and beer-stained punk and hardcore scenes, and to see that the genre has been polished to a point where it's associated with music like this goes to show you that saying an artist is "indie" today means absolutely nothing. With its adult-contemporary saxophones and spineless, snoozy and snooty sonics, Bon Iver is in fact just a very accessible pop album that would have found good company sandwiched between your aunt's Richard Marx and Kenny G collections 20 years ago (It also is up for a few "prestigious" Grammy awards, which Justin Vernon seems to be excited about for some reason even though he once stated otherwise and recently spit vitriol all over the MTV VMAs for catering to the same watered-down music crowd.) Vernon's huge success in 2011 is also fueled by his appearance last year on pop culture kingpin Kanye West's My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy. In the past, other weepy-voiced males such as Maroon 5's Adam Levine, Chris Martin and John Mayer have sat in on a Kanye track, but unlike those three, Bon Iver is the only one to receive a head-scratching 9.5 for perfecting mediocrity.

Most Overhyped New Artist: Lana Del Rey

Catapulted into befuddling notoriety based on one half-decent song, Lana Del Rey has pulled the rug over the blogosphere's eyes in 2011 using a front of mystery, easy-on-the-eyes looks and a throwback Nancy Sinatra-meets-gangsterland sound that would compliment any high brow hipster's loft party in Williamsburg. While most tastemaking sites were too enamored by Ms. Del Rey's pouty lips to question her back story, it was Hipster Runoff of all pseudo-journalists to break the news that "Lana Del Rey" is actually just the stage name of wannabe singer-songwriter Lizzy Grant. And that's just the start of it! Despite claims that she was "not" bankrolled by her dad's success as a domain investor (*wink*), Grant has already released a debut album produced by David Kahne (Paul McCartney, The Strokes) that has since been deleted off iTunes in an attempt to erase any trace of her failed past career. The kicker? Lana Del Rey was never actually an emerging "indie" artist, but rather has been signed to a major label worldwide all along: Her debut full-length, Born to Die will be released on Interscope Records to Vampire Weekend hype-like proportions in early 2012. From there, her sultry, contrived self will likely put a black eye on the upcoming festival season with her lackluster live show. Ladies and gentleman, major label music marketing work at it's finest, and I can assure you that this will be the first and last time you ever read about Lana Del Rey here on AwkwardSound.

Best Live Act: Touché Amoré
On top of delivering the second best album of 2011 and being named one of the year's Best Breakthrough Artists, Touché Amoré can add the year's ultimate DIY road warriors to their list of accolades. For starters, the Los Angeles hardcore band has lived their lives out of a tour van with a smile since who knows how long (and that's probably not an understatement, either.) Spanning the globe month in and month out, Touché Amoré is always primed to play any venue you throw their way: Festivals, your local club, your student union, your house -- even twice in one day! -- and they put their everything into each show without the help of flashy lights or gigantic banners strung out across the stage. Above all, the quartet has managed to do something that's been lacking as of late, and that's create a genuine connection with their audience that gives you the feeling that you're part of something -- a community, a scene and just being alive.

Train Wreck of the Year: Odd Future
AwkwardSound may be guilty of fueling the hype around this meme-based hip-hop collective, but saying that they're this year's train wreck would likely be taken as a compliment rather than a diss unlike last year's honoree. No matter where you turned this year, Tyler, The Creator and the rest of the Odd Future crew were working extra hard to raise eyebrows with their antics inside and outside the studio. Sure, these Internet sensations put out countless acclaimed releases under the OFWGKTA banner, but it was often the reaction to it that grabbed headlines. For starters, they kicked things off with a small "riot" at a Newbury Comics in Boston coinciding with the release of Tyler's XL Records debut, Goblin. The overnight success was enough to garner some strong opinions in a now-infamous war of words between Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara who took to the duo's website to voice her displeasure over Tyler's lyrics (Tyler responded in a less than "eloquent" way.) GLAAD then jumped on Quin's side and mounted their own attack on the de facto Odd Future frontman, and despite the slew of hot water surrounding the young hip-hoppers' music, Tyler still walked away with the MTV VMA for Best New Artist (Queue yet another outcry from GLAAD's blog pages.) A shiny new moonman wouldn't help boost Odd Future's image, unfortunately. A few months later, OFWGKA member Left Brain was accused of hitting a female photographer in the face during the group's set at the Voodoo Experience and soon after, the collective was fired from one stop on Australia's Big Day Out traveling festival due to the growing controversy surrounding their lyrics. There's probably a few other firestorm anecdotes AS is missing here, but at this point in the game, AwkwardSound is with Steve Albini and Kathleen Hanna when it comes to these kids.

Reunion of the Year: Archers of Loaf, Braid, Death From Above 1979, The Dismemberment Plan, Hot Snakes and Kid Dynamite (tie)
The reunion has become something of an annual event in the music world, but with many big names from the alt rock arena already having cashed in on their comebacks, the well is drying. Luckily, it's the smaller club scene acts who never quite reached the same level of success as their peers (but we've missed just as much) that pulled their weight in 2011 to give us a reunion fix. It'd be unjust to pick one band's return over the other, but just as many younger acts are carrying the torch lit by grunge-era or hardcore luminaries, it made for great timing for the scene's originals to head back into the spotlight. Despite a messy split, noise-punk duo Death from Above 1979 were this year's surprising get at Coachella and every other festival thereafter. Fans of '90s indie rock saw three of the decade's most influential sounds back in check when Braid, The Dismemberment Plan and Archers of Loaf all mounted some cozy club tours. And last but not least, post-hardcore stalwarts Hot Snakes and Kid Dynamite made for two of the most memorable appearances at this year's FYF Fest, The Fest 10 and Fun Fun Fun Fest. That said, anyone else's ears still ringing?

Best New Artist: Yuck
Yuck is undoubtedly the most rewarding act out of any new band to find its way onto AwkwardSound's stereo this year. Not only is the London quartet deserving of the Best New Artist honors thanks to a third place finish on AS' 25 Best Albums of 2011, but the '90s revivalists were also brilliant at keeping listeners attention well beyond the early January release date of their self-titled debut. There's the slew of eye-popping visuals Yuck produced alongside a steady stream of singles that included B-sides just as good as the A-sides. This in turn kept the anticipation fresh as the year wore on, without disregard being paid to frontman Daniel Blumberg's side-project, Oupa offering up a change of pace for whenever the fuzzy guitars needed a break. Consistency can often be a key element to success, and in this particular case, Yuck has put it in a stronghold with an active pursuit in showcasing their revived brand of grunge nostalgia to the world.

Artist of the Year: Fucked Up
As David Comes to Life tops AwkwardSound's 25 Best Albums of 2011, Fucked Up are undoubtedly 2011's best reminder of what it is to be a DIY rock 'n roll band. From their humble days as a basement band to a major player on the Matador roster, each subsequent release by the Toronto sextet has opened new doors for a reemerging punk scene, ambitiously bringing it to places it's never been before. Damian Abraham and company have also done their fair share of shining the spotlight on their up-and-coming peers (Touring this year included bringing along Best Breakthrough Artists Iceage, JEFF the Brotherhood and Trash Talk) while paying respect to those who came before them (They opened for OFF! and Dinosaur Jr. on their recent Bug tour.) Looking around at what critics and mainstream press are putting ut the top of their year-end lists, you can't help but think some of them are still playing it safe. The reality is that Fucked Up has given music it's edge back, and AwkwardSound couldn't be any happier.

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