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2011 According to… Joe Brown

Read the rest of our end of the year coverage as well:

I have always been someone who is unabashedly and irreconcilably susceptible to emotion. Overwrought, cheesy, saccharine emotion endlessly fascinate me. It is a significant part of why I will give almost any romantic comedy a chance. It has nothing to do with whether I do or do not believe in those grand gestures. It fascinates me because of the people who do believe in those things and believe in telling those stories to other people. Along with the sap, and possibly even more, I am a sucker for dark, scary confessionals and experiencing the desperation that coincides with entertainment of that type. The dichotomy of those two things often explains the wild variation in the music I listen to and ultimately see influencing my listening habits. If a song or an album can create a distinct atmosphere, it is almost certain that I will fall head over heels in love with it for at least a week. Beyond that week, the music that continues to resonate and find its way back into my mind is the music that touches on something deeper emotionally, with both me as a listener and the artist who is willing to explore those ideas. Granted, not every album to which I listen or find joy does this (I am a sucker for cheese after all). But, the music that hit me this year more often than not did mange to touch a distinct emotional nerve.

Looking back on what the year in music was for me in 2011, I  see distinct emotional attachments to the music I enjoyed most thoroughly. I realize that for the majority of people, emotion plays more than a passing role in identifying with the most important music in their lives. For me, the emotional attachment almost always means the place that music transports me to get away from the neuroses that plague reality. Fears, failures and unease run rampant in my mind and the music that hits me finds a way to knock me out and lift me into a place of respite and tranquility.

The proliferation of PBR&B/tumblr&b/chillwave music grew into a musical force and struck me with more ferocity than I could have ever anticipated. How to Dress Well and James Blake opened many musical doors for me on that front, which expanded into The Weeknd, Washed Out and Active Child dominating large swaths of time in the airspace of my car speakers and headphones. The unbridled emotion coupled with the intimate nature of the lyrics drew people into a style of music that had typically been reserved for bedrooms and late-night confessionals. The technical proficiency and talent of Pat Grossi (Active Child), Ernest Greene (Washed Out) and Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd) have all but ensured the genre will be able to maintain itself for a while instead of flaming out as quickly as it proliferated.

Frank Ocean, Drake and SBTRKT fall under the same general umbrella. Each of these artists’ albums aimed for, and succeeding in, creating a specific artistic vision and mood. All three of these albums explore darker tendencies with the soundscapes and look for the lining that make clear that the darkness is not the ultimate endgame. Frank Ocean’s album has stuck with me most thoroughly (the throwback interludes with old Sega Genesis cartridges being removed and replaced do not hurt) and most unexpectedly. Experiencing the work of an artist seemingly forsaken and shelved by a major record label is intoxicating and exciting and also a reminder of how important the internet has become to experiencing music we likely would never have experienced any other way.

Contrasting the quieter moments of the chillwave movement, The Dangerous Summer and The Wonder Years shared an alternating position in my stereo throughout the summer. Both of those albums shared in a sense of growth and moving on from their predecessors, the albums that have previously defined the sound of each band. The Dangerous Summer refined their sound and took an incredibly personal tone in the lyrics to War Paint to craft an album that was the bleeding heart of lead singer A.J. Perdomo and shared in the struggles of spending a year hoping for the best when all that happens are setbacks and roadblocks. War Paint somehow manages to continue to find hope when giving up may have made more sense. The Wonder Years expanded upon their sound by reacting to a year of success and growing by looking at the pains that go along with those emotions. It is an album that moves quickly and works as a sequel to The Upsides. Both albums are wrought with callbacks and in-jokes that throwing knowing winks to the listeners who have cared about both bands and expands the bond built between the bands and their fans.

The band who had the largest influence on an emotional level and knocked me on my ass time and again was Wye Oak and their album Civilian. The loud/soft dynamic mixed with the often droning nature of the music associates the band, sonically, with The National. Though Wye Oak’s music is more personal and more specific, both bands find a way to do more with less in order to emphasize the big moments and the cathartic nature of our lives in a way that most bands can only dream of achieving. Being a simple civilian and never feeling as though there is anything particularly special or desirable about oneself if fucking hard. It is important to have big dreams and to share big moments with other people and to feel like we really are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Civilian most often encouraged me in a way that reinforced that I am not alone and there are people struggling in the same way I am (first world problems, I know). Regardless of the despair or despondency in the music or the lyrics at times, lead singer Jenn Wasner always seems to believe that there is something in the build and release. In my mind, I always find ways to build, but never to release. Having Civilian this year encouraged me to sing along, get lost and find the cathartic release that makes some days so unbearably difficult.

Having Civilian going forward will function as a reminder that life is for living, both mentally and physically. I have not had an album haunt me as it has in years and it reminded me of what it felt like to be so wrapped in music that I could not escape its influence even if I wanted to try. Throughout 2011 I have felt numbness more than any other emotion. Failing to react to positive moments that should have had me filled with joy or not knowing how to react at the passing of my father have baffled me. I have felt further disconnected from the world and its trappings with every passing moment. The world continues to confuse me and finding my position in the world is ever elusive, but music this year felt as alive as it has been in several years on a personal level. The only time I felt real this year was when the music of my choosing played in the background of what I was doing or when I was quietly immersed in new music or revisiting albums that meant something. Feeling blood rush into my brain and chills run down my back were reminders of life and the feeling of bonding with an old friend and encouraged me to integrate myself back into the world and the lives of others. That is what music has always meant for me and this year was a thorough reminder of what it has meant in the past and what it should continue to be. The hope in knowing I am not alone coinciding with the beauty and resonance prevalent in my favorite music of the year have helped make 2011 into a year of optimism when it should have been unrelentingly bleak and Wye Oak’s Civilian will forever be the crux of that turn.

EPS of the Year

  1. Dikembe Chicago Bowls
  2. Jens LekmanAn Argument With Myself
  3. The Republic of WolvesThe Cartographer
  4. Childish GambinoEP
  5. Sleeping At LastYearbook: July EP

Songs of the Year

  1. Active Child - “Hanging On”
  2. A$AP Rocky - “Peso”
  3. Battles - “Futura”
  4. Bon Iver - “Holocene”
  5. The Cave Singers - “Swim Club”
  6. Childish Gambino - “Freaks and Geeks”
  7. City & Colour - “Weightless”
  8. The Dangerous Summer - “Everyone Left”
  9. David Bazan - “Wolves at the Door”
  10. Doomtree - “Bangarang”
  11. Frank Ocean - “Swim Good”
  12. James Blake - “The Wilhelm Scream”
  13. The Joy Formidable - “Whirring”
  14. Lia Ices - “Daphne”
  15. M83 - “Intro”
  16. Maritime - “Air Arizona”
  17. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - “Heart In Your Heartbreak”
  18. Rachael Yamagata - “Starlight”
  19. SBTRKT - “Wildfire”
  20. St. Vincent - “Surgeon”
  21. The Weeknd - “The Birds (Parts 1 & 2)”
  22. Wye Oak - “Fish”
  23. YAWN - “Never Knew”
  24. Young Galaxy - “Shapeshifting”
  25. Zola Jesus - “Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake”

Hear (almost) all of these songs on Joe’s Spotify playlist. [link]

20. Moving Mountains - Waves

19. Little Comets - In Search of Elusive Little Comets

18. Cave Singers - No Witch

17. Beirut - The Rip Tide


15. Balance & Composure - Separation

14. James Blake - James Blake

13. Washed Out - Within and Without

12. The Wonder Years - Suburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing

11. Owen - Ghost Town

10. Frank Ocean - Nostalgia/Ultra

9. Mansions - Dig Up the Dead

8. Lydia - Paint It Golden

7. Childish Gambino - Camp

6. Active Child - You Are All I See

5. Drake - Take Care

4. The Weeknd - House of Balloons

3. The Dangerous Summer - War Paint

2. Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver

1. Wye Oak - Civilian

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