2011 is now history and we’re taking a quick look at its letdowns couple positive surprises. A major letdown of a year for debut-follow ups, but a surprising year where hip hop went further in breaking free of its own cultural box.
2011 started out with James Blake’s long awaited debut album. Maybe the most important album this year. The self-titled debut turned out to be a great commercial success combining dub-step, soul, good lyrics and goose-bumpy vocals. He simply created a trend where vocals were put back in the centre of the music. A natural step forward considering todays options in the studio. A wave of auto-tune, melodyne and talk-box has whirled over the music scene since the mid 2000′s but hasn’t reached its full potential until this year. James Blake is an artist in tune with time because he made the trend. One of the bravest debut albums in a long time, and a surprising twist considering his previous string of dubstep-esque EPs and 12″.
Another interesting newcomer in 2011 is Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd. The young canadian started his career as a mysterious blog phenomenon in late 2010. In march he came out of nowhere and released his critically acclaimed free mixtape House Of Balloons. The album was filled with his slick modern rnb vocals. A beauty of which many of us never seem to understand because the genre has been poisoned by overwhelming quantities of commercial and braindead garbage for such a long time. Many of the MTV based rnb singers have great voices, not to mention entertainment skills, but come across as cynical and shallow people, surrounded by dull beats and bad ideas. The Weeknd happily borrows ideas and ways of expression from them, but somehow manages to shine a positive light on modern rnb and hiphop.
Following up hit debut albums seems to be harder than ever nowadays. 2011 saw mid-2000′s SpankRock and Justice follow up their hyped debuts. Both of them were extremley right at the time. Today they sound outdated and insecure with these new releases. Justice tried to be brave and aimed for a new 70′s prog sound. Posing as cocky studio geeks in their new video comes off as desperate, weird and unreal. When they released The Cross back in 2007 they seemed to have a whole different idea about music. They made their first album using garageband. The ideology was simply based on good ideas and execution-excellence. Now they seem to base themselves on how professional and expensive your studio is. Five guitars playing the same yacht-rock hook might be complicated but not necessarily interesting.
SpankRock’s debut Yoyoyoyoyo was a huge highligh the year it came out – A humorous and funky hiphop trip. Their second effort Everything Is Boring & Everyone Is A Fucking Liar (2011) felt like the same joke told over again. A struggle for reinvention is shown by using Boys Noize as producer. Definitely shows a different side to Spank Rock and could be considered as brave, but doesn’t seem as sincere with its recycling of washed-out ideas. This does not mean it’s been a weak year for hiphop though. Kanye & Jay-Z’s Watch The Throne album was a splendid ego-fest doomed to succeed both critically and commercially. A$AP Rocky’s debut was a fresh old-school/new-school thrill filled with up and coming guest producers. Drake’s incredible Take Care touched a little bit of the newer indie by using Jamie XX as producer. Tyler The Creator was in the studio with Toro Y Moi. Hiphop is definitely moving further away from its roots and seems to be adapting more genres than ever. Collaborating with not only hiphop producers but people from the electronic field or the indie field. This might be a sign of good health, right?
The biggest phenomenon of 2011 might be the disappointing follow up album. Wave-based artists such as Neon Indian, James Pants and the two earlier mentioned artists stuggle to keep up the pace. With new waves coming and going faster than ever we experience a frustrated and insecure scene.
Toro Y Moi is one out of few who has delivered a great second album this year. Bundick released Underneath The Pine in springtime. A natural step forward and a big move away from the so-called chillwave genre. He ditched a lot of his programing in favor of a more organic sound. Highly influenced by sixties psychedelia and “early” chill-out such as Air. He also seriously developed his song writing skills for the better.
Also, this year we’ve seen a much higher productivity amongst artists, which started last year with Robyn’s three-albums-in-one-year stunt. Almost every label seem to be cooking while the heat is still on, churning out as many releases as they can. A natural move if you, for example, think about Justice who released one album and then kind of burned out. The marketing idea today seem to be the more material the better. Before you get out there and start promoting you should at least have material for maybe two EP teasers and one full length album. For James Blake this was a good way to gain success. First he released a couple 12″s, then The Bell’s Sketch, CMYK and Klavierwerke EPs followed by his full-length debut. And our very own (norwegian) youngster and sampling wizard Proviant Audio released two albums through BBE and Paper Recordings this year. Both of those off the hook.
All in all 2011 does not stand out as a very good year but not a very bad year either. Of course we always have the good stuff as well as the bad stuff. Nothing unexpected has happened. Lady Gaga is still “shocking” people with her eggs and meat dresses. Hopefully we’ll get less of that next year.