Top music of 2011: Sweet singles, cool concerts
The Head and the Heart
(At the Commodore Ballroom on October 20)
The name “the Head and the Heart” is too ickily earnest for words, and it doesn’t help that a good half of the band’s members look like they should be playing hacky sack outside the Circling Dawn food co-op. Even with those two big strikes against it, Seattle’s finest folk-pop act not named Fleet Foxes took about 32 seconds to make an electrifying connection with a ramped-up Vancouver crowd. By the end of the night, it was hard to tell who was more hoarse from singing along: the Main Street beardos, Yaletown condo princesses, or charter members of the North Shore prep club.
(At the Orpheum Theatre on January 27)
Okay, so Interpol’s stage presence isn’t quite as undeniably cool as it used to be, thanks to the departure of bassist Carlos Dengler. The band can still play like a snappily attired riot, and the Orpheum crowd’s response was rapturous enough to inspire more than one ear-to-ear grin from Interpol’s usually dour frontman Paul Banks.
Jay-Z and Kanye West
(At Rogers Arena on December 17)
The only thing that would have made this opulent night of world-class hip-hop better is if (after playing “Niggas in Paris” for the fourth time in a row) Jay-Z and Kanye admitted that they are, in fact, incarnations of Jesus and God, and that heaven is really just one big, glamorous music video. Oh, and we’re all invited (except for the bigots).
(At the Rickshaw Theatre on March 19)
More than 40 years into their career, the Residents show up at the Rickshaw and prove that their genius for conjuring a shared waking nightmare is as powerful and unique as ever. Meanwhile, Pearl Jam has been boring us shitless with the same fucking song for less than half that time, and they get a feature film and a packed Rogers Arena. Where’s the justice?
(At the Biltmore Cabaret on September 2)
After decades of struggle, soul singer Charles Bradley’s rise to acclaim in 2011 was the feel-good story of the year, but there were still some less-than-dry-eyed moments at his Biltmore premiere. Fun and funky numbers like “I Believe in Your Love” had the Screaming Eagle of Soul cracking wise and cutting a rug, but “Heartaches and Pain” found him overcome with emotion and tearfully delivering his lines. When he walked out into the crowd mid-show, there was no shortage of patrons doling out hugs to their new favourite frontman.
Top pleasant surprises
If Chickenfoot and Velvet Revolver have reinforced anything over the past couple of years, it’s that supergroups tend to stink worse than the Lou Reed–Metallica abortion known as Lulu. Mad props, then, to Wild Flag’s guitar-powered, self-titled debut, which brought together veteran alt-rock renegades from Helium, Sleater-Kinney, and the Minders. Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, Rebecca Cole, and Janet Weiss kicked so much ass, it was almost enough to make you forgive God for creating Super Heavy.
So Beautiful or So What
A few years ago, Simon showed up on some Lorne Michaels tribute looking and sounding like the kind of man who sits on a park bench in a mottled fleece housecoat arguing with his invisible friend. Fear not: the multicultural gumbo of So Beautiful or So What reveals a talent as sharp as it’s ever been, with Simon pondering Jay-Z, MLK, and everything in between on a record that’s exquisitely sad, resigned, and weary of our collapsing present, yet uplifting in the way these things are when they’re done by a master.
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
No doubt to Stephen Malkmus’s chagrin, the last decade has seen critics consistently comparing his solo career with his work in beloved ’90s indie outfit Pavement. That said, between the lazy, canyon-country approach of “Tigers” and “Stick Figures in Love”, the Deadhead-ish “No One Is (As I Are Be)”, and the balls-out rocker “Tune Grief”, Mirror Traffic is easily the best record the crown prince of slacker rock has laid down since Brighten the Corners.
You Are All I See
Who would have thought that a dude who plays the harp and sings in a choirboy falsetto would make one of the most genuinely soulful records of the year?
After being kicked out of other people’s projects (including Hunx and His Punx), Oakland’s Hether Fortune said “Fuck it” to second-string status and started her own band, Wax Idols. Her debut release, No Future, is shockingly fresh, catchy, candid, raw pop with just enough grit. Fortune’s style of songwriting is reminiscent of a young Chrissie Hynde, with smart, blunt melodies that hum through your head for days.