Two decades from now, how do you think 2011 will be remembered? As the year we lost Amy Winehouse? How about the year three of music’s most iconic outfits — The White Stripes, R.E.M., and LCD Soundsystem — all decided to call it quits? Maybe Lana Del Rey will prove a sustainable force and then we can all tell our children about the great collagen debate of 2011. Or try to explain to them how two rock and roll hall of famers came together to create the worst piece of music imaginable.
Yeah, 2011 was a fucking weird year. Like, a total mindfuck. We lost some great ones, both literally and figuratively, and we wrote or read about them in between stories about Wayne Coyne’s gummy fetus and Nick Oliveri’s standoff with a S.W.A.T. team. Along the way, we were presented with a legal way to listen to a jazilion songs for free, watched that dude from Nine Inch Nails win an Oscar, and witnessed the return of not just Kate Bush and Tom Waits, but Jeff Mangum as well. Yet, at the end of the day, Lana Del Rey’s collagen lips and Odd Future’s misogynistic tendencies won the award for stories with the longest shelf life on my Twitter feed.
Then again, four weeks from now it’ll be 2012’s turn and who knows what that year has in store. Maybe some scientist will be able to revive Jim Morrison’s frozen head so that we can have a true collaboration between The Doors and Skrillex. Whatever the case may be, Consequence of Sound will be here, 24/7/365, ready to bring you all the major headlines. Until then, though, we remember the last 12 months, categorized by themes, in the pages that follow. And, as always, thanks for reading.
— Alex Young
R.I.P.: The Ones We Lost in 2011
Amy Winehouse (1983-2011): The soulful, sultry songstress was the first British female to win five Grammy awards. Unfortunately, she also became a member of the infamous “27 Club” when police found her dead in her London home on July 23rd. An autopsy later confirmed her death as the result of accidental alcohol poisoning.
Clarence Clemons (1942-2011): Founding member and saxophonist of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Clemons was a larger-than-life figure, and he’ll forever be remembered for his solos on “Jungleland” and “Born to Run”. Clemons died on June 18th from complications caused by a stroke. He was 69.
Bert Jansch (1943-2011): Acclaimed Scottish folk singer who was both a celebrated solo musician and member of the band Pentangle. Jansch died on October 5th following a lengthy battle with lung cancer. He was 67.
Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011): A celebrated musician, poet, and author who was largely credited as one of the leading influences of hip-hop and neo soul. Scott-Heron died on May 27th. He was 62.
Heavy D (1967-2011): The founding member and leader of Heavy D & the Boyz helped bridge the worlds of hip-hop and R&B in the ’90s before transitioning to a career in film. Heavy D (born Dwight Arrington Myers) died on November 8th reportedly from complications of pneumonia. He was 44.
Nate Dogg (1969-2011): West coast crooner collaborated with Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Snoop Dogg. Nate Dogg (born Nathaniel Hale) died from complications of multiple strokes on March 15th. He was 41.
Poly Styrene (1957-2011): The former singer of X-Ray Spek was described as the “archetype for the modern-day feminist punk.” Styrene died on April 25th following a battle with breast cancer. She was 53.
Trish Keenan (1968-2011): Founding member and singer of British electronic band Broadcast. Keenan died from complications with pneumonia on January 14th. She was 42.
Hubert Sumlin (1931-2011): Legendary guitarist and longtime collaborator of blues icon Howlin’ Wolf is ranked at number forty-three in the Rolling Stone list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Sumlin died on December 4th. He was 80.
Cory Smoot: (1977-2011): Guitarist for the shock rock band GWAR was the longest-serving member to play the character Flattus Maximus. Smoot was found dead on the band’s tour bus on November 3rd; as of December 5th, his cause of death is still unknown. He was 34.
DJ Mehdi (1977-2011): French hip-hop and electro producer was a member of Ed Banger Records and collaborated with Chromeo, Cassius, and Carte Blanche. DJ Mehdi (born Mehdi Favéris-Essadi) died on September 13th when the roof of his Paris home collapsed during a friend’s birthday party. He was 34.
Michael “WÃ¼rzel” Burston (1949-2011): The former Army corporal served as guitarist for MotÃ¶rhead from 1984-1995. WÃ¼rzel died from complications of heart disease on July 9th. He was 61.
Mike Starr (1966-2011): The founding member and bassist of Alice in Chains contributed to two studio albums — including the 1992 classic Dirt — before departing in 1993. Starr was found dead on March 8th, with an autopsy later finding traces of drugs in his system. He was 44.
Suze Rotolo (1943-2011): The former girlfriend of Bob Dylan inspired many of the songwriter’s early love songs and appeared on the iconic cover of his 1963 classic, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Rotolo died of lung cancer on February 25th. She was 67.
Gerard Smith (1974-2011): The TV on the Radio bassist appeared on the band’s celebrated albums Return to Cookie Mountain, Dear Science, and Nine Types of Light. Smith died from lung cancer on April 20th. He was 36.
John Barry (1933-2011): The Academy Award-winning composer soundtracked 12 James Bond films between 1962 and 1987 in addition to Born Free, The Lion in Winter, and Out of Africa. Barry died of a heart attack on January 30th. He was 77.
Mikey Welsh (1971-2011): The former Weezer bassist appeared on the band’s 2001 The Green Album. Welsh was found dead on October 8th. He was 40.
Welcome Back: 2011’s Reunions
Photo by Colin Athens
While 2011 was a particularly harsh year for band breakups (see the next slide), at least Pulp came back. Long a dream on festival message boards, the legendary UK outfit finally reunited in the summer of 2011 for their first live performances in nine years. Our own Frank Mojica was at the band’s comeback show at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound and declared it “an explosive set that cemented Pulp’s status as the essential festival band of 2011 and will be remembered as fondly and regarded as definitive as their Glastonbury 1995 performance.”
However, Pulp wasn’t the only celebrated outfit to return in 2011. Buffalo Springfield — the folk rock supergroup comprised of Richie Furay, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young — reunited after 43 years for a brief West coast tour and headlining performance at Bonnaroo. Wrote our own Carson O’Shoney of their Bonnaroo appearance: “Even those who weren’t familiar with the band’s work were surely impressed. Seeing Neil Young wail on guitar is simply one of the better things in all of music. But the final three knockout punches of ‘Broken Arrow’, ‘For What It’s Worth’, and ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ were what really solidified it as one of the best sets of the weekend.”
Other 2011 reunions:
After inciting a riot during their first live performance in five years at South by Southwest, hard-hitting Canadian outfit Death From Above 1979 played any and every summer festival, including Coachella, Sasquatch!, Quebec City Summer Fest, Lollapalooza, FYF Fest, ACL, and Treasure Island.
Post-punk icons New Order reunited after five years with a pair of benefit shows in Europe.
Mazzy Star unleashed a two-song single, their first pieces of new music in 15 years.
Ben Folds reunited Ben Folds Five for their first new material in a decade.
UK glam rock outfit The Darkness reunited for their first live performance since 2006 at UK’s Download Festival.
In celebration of their 45th anniversary, The Monkees hit the road for their first live performances since 1997. Unfortunately, the final eight dates of their trek were canceled “due to internal group issues and conflicts.”
Chicago’s own Hum delivered their first performance in a decade.
San Diego-based post-hardcore outfit Hot Snakes reunited at ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas in December.
Austin, TX, noise rock pioneers Scratch Acid toured extensively for the first time in over two decades.
NYC punk band D-Generation hit the road in the fall for their first performances since 1999. A new album is also in the works.
Mexico City rock band Caifanes reunited after 15 years for a performance at Coachella.
The End of An Era: 2011’s Breakups
Bands, like trends, come and go. Some last for decades with deep catalogs, and others only survive a couple years with an album or two. Their presence has a lasting impact on our lives and ears, and thus their disbandment has the same. To the greats we lost this year: Thanks for the tunes. –Ben Kaye
R.E.M. (1981-2011): Seminal, legendary, and unequaled, Georgia’s alternative rock icons ended their career after three decades. From their 1983 debut, Murmur, to their 2011 finale, Collapse Into Now, to the world’s first GIF album cover, the band exemplified how to be successful, innovative, and cool while remaining uncompromising. Their legacy will be felt for decades more to come.
The White Stripes (1997-2011): One of the greatest bands of the era, this garage blues-rock duo left an indelible mark on music with six albums. Jack White will continue on in his myriad of forms, but The White Stripes will be remembered as the band that started it all and his most widely celebrated triumph.
LCD Soundsystem (2001-2011): These modern dance-punk virtuosos left us with three full-lengths and a year-long swan song, culminating in a finale at Madison Square Garden. And we still wish we were getting more.
Rilo Kiley (1998-2011): Fourteen years of indie rock ended rather unceremoniously. Regardless, their sophomore full-length, The Execution of All Things, will go down as one of the best albums of the last decade.
The Stills (2000-2011): These Canadian indie rockers released three albums over 10 years. They will likely be best remembered for 2008’s Juno Award-winning Oceans Will Rise.
The Academy Is… (2003-2011): These Warped Tour regulars dispersed while in the process of recording album #4. At least they got to tour with KISS before it ended.
Dear and the Headlights (2005-2011): Two full-lengths and extensive touring proved too much for this Arizona indie pop rock band. Scared by all the lights.
The Felix Culpa (2003-2011): Unsung heroes of the Midwest post-hardcore scene. Despite the success of last year’s self-released sophomore effort, Sever Your Roots, there will be no more happy mistakes.
Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon (1984-2011): Founding members of Sonic Youth and godparents of indie rock. What the power couple’s separation means for their iconic band is yet to be seen, though side projects abound.
Ben Gibbard and Zooey Deschanel (2009-2011): This pair of indie darlings split after only two years of marriage amidst heavy work schedules for each. While separations are always sad, we can’t help but swoon over the idea that Deschanel is technically available…
On July 14, 2011, millions of music fans sighed in relief: Spotify hit U.S. shores, and the end of the war on music drew closer to its end. Now, that’s not entirely true – the labels still aren’t too happy, neither are the artists – but the idea that “music is free” has never been more agreed upon until now. Thanks to Spotify, users can legally check out a variety of new releases in addition to a fully digestible catalog that spans everyone from ABBA to John Zorn, at any time — even on their phones, though that option will cost them. But it’s a price that many will pay, simply because it’s the way of the future.
It’s the death of the mp3 and the dawn of the truly, strictly digital age, where music listeners can immerse themselves in digital clouds of music. This year, Apple, Amazon, and Google Music all introduced similar formats, asking users to upload their collections into digital lockers, where they’ll always have access. Anywhere. Anytime. Where else can you go from there?
How about interactivity? Online forums evolved this year, too. “You should check this band out” is so passe. Instead, online users are opting for more media savvy formats, where they can turn their textual suggestions into aural delights. Through a service like Turntable.fm, which surfaced earlier this year, users now create rooms, throwing online soirees, where they DJ their own stations. All of this comes at little to no price and with zero trouble (although, there are always exceptions). So, it’s been a pretty transitive year in the music industry. A game changer, if you will. -Michael Roffman
An Odd Future, Indeed.
There’s that wonderful exchange at the end of Batman Begins, when Lt. Gordon digresses on The Caped Crusader’s influence over Gotham City, calling attention to like-minded criminals with a “taste for the theatrical,” stating plainly, “You really started something.” So true of the internet. Most of the time, you’ll find a chunky, melting pot of deep-seeded opinions, but sometimes, just sometimes, they all come together to agree on something. That’s when true change is had. And it can happen overnight.
Case in point: Odd Future and Lana Del Rey.
Controversy played a big role in the successes of these two – the former because of obscenities, the latter because of collagen – but, really, it only fueled it. The real credit, however, goes to the blogosphere. It’s the classic “she tells her friends” routine – only to an ungodly nth degree. One blog hypes a track, one site swears by another, and all of a sudden you’re trending on social networks nationwide, then worldwide, then… yeah, it sort of stops there. It’s nothing new. That’s the true nature of a fad (see: Trapper Keepers, Pogs, LA Gear). But, it’s never seen extremes such as this.
And as polarizing as these acts may be – “Aren’t they being misogynistic?”; “She’s not real! Her real name’s Lizzy Grant! OMFG, hate her!!1!” – it’s the way they came to fruition that’s far more interesting. It reveals a true power within the internet, one that may or may not be good. Regardless of its moral worth, though, it’s here to stay. As the Joker, essentially a by-product of Batman, ominously declared in the film’s follow-up, “There’s no going back. You’ve changed things… forever.” Yep. Deal with it, folks. -Michael Roffman
The Return of R&B
Some guy somewhere jokingly called it “PBR&B” and that gained traction for a little while — R&B for “hipsters.” If we take one thing away from this, let it be this: The resurgence and strength of R&B in 2011 had nothing to do with “hipsters,” a word I apologetically use here (and if I had two wishes for Christmas this year, it would be that I never hear that word again). The strength of The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, The-Dream, How To Dress Well, Active Child, and tangentially Drake this year was born from little else than a defibrillator to a dormant art form using a bit of indie sentiment.
The Weeknd’s sudden and (not so) mysterious arrival drew the highest peak in the EKG chart with the hedonistic, dripping-wet jams of his House of Balloons mixtape, sampling Beach House and Siouxsie and the Banshees, which of course reached across the aisle to white tumblrites more ostensibly than Aaliyah and R. Kelly ever did in the 90’s. From there, Frank Ocean bowed out of producing pop hits for Biebs and made known his association with OFWGKTA for his Nostalgia Ultra mixtape, a damp and druggy confessional. Kanye took a liking to him, as well.
The cross-cultural movement was just as strong for Active Child’s choir-boy jams and How To Dress Well’s shrouded pangs, both of whom collaborated with each other on the song “Playing House”. There are many more artists working with these tools: production rooted in current trends, voices like butter, beats like woah. Perhaps the response to the hidden vocals of last year’s genre de l’année Chillwave is that these artists are putting the spotlight back on the soul of the human voice. -Jeremy D. Larson
The Return of the Legacy Act
It’s been seven years since Tom Waits released his 23rd album, six years since Kate Bush released her 9th, and 13 years since Jeff Mangum (as Neutral Milk Hotel) released his second. Not all acts that resurface have to have page-long catalogs, and like Mangum, not all comebacks have to include new material, but these three artists made the biggest impact in 2011 after some time away from the spotlight.
Not even just away from the spotlight, but in some cases purposefully reclusive. Before this year, Jeff Mangum appearances were becoming lore, like seeing the face of Mother Mary in a Crunchwrap Supreme. Mangum only did some one-off shows in barns or was seen looming backstage at some gig. But last January, he announced his reemergence for ATP New Jersey at the “I’ll Be Your Mirror” event — a festival! He went from barns to a major festival in like a year! He then went on a small U.S. tour and released a career-spanning Neutral Milk Hotel box set, and there are no signs of him stopping with tour dates already stretching into 2012.
For Kate Bush, pace is the trick. With 10 albums in over 30 years, we’re running on her press cycle — releasing her babies into the world only when they’re ready to leave the nest. With a flurry (ahem), she dropped two albums in 2011 — her self-explanatory Director’s Cut and her acclaimed new studio album, 50 Words for Snow. With no tour or late-night performances, Bush is still staying out of the limelight for now. But it’s not like she needs the press.
And then there’s the categorical Tom Waits, doing his thing for the 24th time with not a hint of phoning it in. Bad As Me is another trophy for his buckling shelf and his most commercially successful album to date, peaking at #6 on the U.S. Billboard charts. Twenty-four albums in 37 years with rarely a misstep or an eye roll, soundtracking movies, musicals, German surrealist plays, and with his release this year, he’s only further cementing himself as an American cultural icon. We await for “Waitsian” to be added to dictionaries. –Jeremy D. Larson
The Return of Radiohead
Photo by Nate Slevin
It’s a predicament: A member of Radiohead posts something online (e.g. new track, obscure art, a haiku-like blog entry, et al.), and you’re a.) out at lunch, b.) four hours into a deep sleep, or c.) at your own wedding. Whatever the situation, you’re finding the closest computer and fast. That sort of conundrum plagues every blogger’s life annually, but especially in 2011. As of today, Consequence of Sound has 10 pages of Radiohead-related news for this year alone. Quite a lot. To think, it all started in the eye-tweaking, early morning hours of February 14th, 2011. That’s when the group announced the release of their eighth LP, The King of Limbs, set to deliver only four days later. Naturally, the ‘net exploded soon after; in fact, as one reader put it that morning, “I just pooped my pants.”
That reaction turned sour (or just downright polarizing) when the LP eventually surfaced. Some complained about its length (a copious 37 minutes), speculating on a second part (which never materialized), while others wondered where the band went, calling it a Yorke-centric effort. A week after it was announced, Consequence of Sound awarded the album four stars, hailing it as “one of their most absorbing efforts to date.” (Currently, the album has a Metacritic score of 80.) Despite the general acclaim, critics everywhere levied their slight disappointment between their words.
But that hardly stalled the group. Since 2007’s event release of In Rainbows, the UK collective has stayed ahead of the curve, and this year was no different. Things just got weird. They issued a free newspaper, their “Lotus Flower” video sent dance enthusiasts on edge, and Yorke started hitting the DJ scene hard. But, on the other hand, they struck all the right nerves by releasing an exclusive Record Store Day 7″, “surprising” festivalgoers at Glastonbury, endorsing an album of remixes, and media blitzing NYC for a week (which included stops at Fallon, SNL, The Colbert Report, and two sold-out nights at The Roseland Ballroom). It doesn’t look like it’ll end for 2012, either, what with another LP and a proper tour on the way. That’s okay, though. Our stomachs, sleep schedules, and loved ones won’t appreciate it, but hey, more Radiohead, right? As the old adage with this group goes, “Stay tuned.” –Michael Roffman
The Day Trent Reznor Won An Oscar
When first approached by director David Fincher to score his film about the founding of Facebook, Trent Reznor had just wrapped up Nine Inch Nails’ lengthy farewell tour and was planning to take time off. However, as Reznor later explained, “When I actually read the script and realized what he was up to, I said goodbye to that free time I had planned.” Undoubtedly attracted by the film’s sentiments on isolation, greed, and entitlement (all familiar issues to the Nine Inch Nails frontman), Reznor graciously accepted his new role as film composer.
Teaming with longtime collaborator Atticus Ross, the duo would go on to create a masterpiece of “alternative-rock infused ambient electronic music” that as our Drew Litowitz writes, “mimics the anxious ambivalence that Sorkin’s script and Fincher’s direction convey so similarly.” The score amplified the angst and turmoil that accompanied the success of Mark Zuckerberg. For a movie with no ostensible “action” sequences, the score built tension to great heights alongside Aaron Sorkin’s signature verbose script. One question remained: Would movie critics give praise to an outside artist who once sang, “God is dead and no one cares/ if there’s a hell, I’ll see you there”?
With 15 nominations for Best Original Score, it seemed Reznor and Ross had created a score that struck an international cord. Even after winning the Golden Globe, skeptics wondered if The Academy would give Reznor and Ross the Oscar over perennial favorites Hans Zimmer and Alexandre Desplat. All doubt dissipated when Nicole Kidman and the all-too-pleased Hugh Jackman called the duo up to accept each one’s first Academy Award. “Wow, is this really happening?” Reznor asked during his acceptance speech.
Reznor’s now working on the score for the Fincher-directed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Will he need to make more room on his trophy shelf? Plus, with an alt-rock artist taking home the coveted award, might Reznor’s win, combined with the efforts of Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers, be incentive for more contemporary artists to try their hand at composing film scores? We’d like to hope so. –Derek Staples
Who is Arcade Fire??!!?
Sunday, February 13, 2011. Talk about a tumultuous 24-hour news cycle: Hours before Radiohead resurfaced to wreak havoc on the ‘net with The King of Limbs (see page nine), Arcade Fire walked home with a Grammy for Album of the Year for their 2010 album, The Suburbs. As Win Butler & Co. cooked up an impromptu cut of “Ready to Start” over the ceremony’s closing credits, fingers raced across keyboards, mouses clicked, and emotions ran wild. Some praised the news – Kanye West tweeted, “#Arcade fire!!!!!!!!!! There is hope!!! I feel like we all won when something like this happens! FUCKING AWESOME!” – while others, many others, updated their Facebook and Twitter accounts in utter confusion. Thus, one of 2011’s most popular internet memes came to fruition: Who Is Arcade Fire??!!?
For days following the Grammys, the widely celebrated Tumblr account reposted countless social media updates from users everywhere, all of whom had no clue who these Canadian indie rockers were. Some were angry, some were frustrated, and some felt victimized – as if the Grammys robbed Lady Antebellum, Eminem, Lady Gaga, or Katy Perry of a truer win. Naturally, as with anything this insubstantial to normal, everyday life, the wake calmed and most of the anger turned to curiosity. This partly speaks for the thousands upon thousands of fans that arrived in droves to catch them headline festivals, or take over their nearby venues. Creation through chaos, so to speak.
So, while recent Grammy-nominee Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) might think otherwise, the Grammys proved that they do still hold some weight, turning an indie rock icon into a household name. Admittedly, you might not appreciate your mother keeping The Suburbs on rotation with Taylor Swift, but hey, it’s an improvement, right? Yep, Jimbo: “Strange days have found us.” -Michael Roffman