2011 has been a interesting year, to say the least. I graduated college and, deciding I hadn’t had enough pain and suffering, came back for grad school. There’s been a good deal of turmoil in my personal life, which I’m not going to get into here, but overall 2011 was a pretty up-and-down year, mostly down. At least there was some good music to cheer me up. Unlike last year.
In the spirit of retrospective, and in clinging to tradition, I’ll close this post with a look back at technology, music, movies, and games that came out in 2011.
Best service I started using in 2011: Rdio.
Rdio is something like Netflix for music; those of you that got caught up in the hype of Spotify will be familiar with the idea. You pay a flat monthy rate and get access to streaming on demand of over 10 million songs (probably more, now); iOS and Android apps provide access on the go as well as the ability to sync music to your device so you don’t have to eat into your data cap1 to stream music on the go. I found Rdio to be superior to Spotify, personally, and I’ve by and large abandoned having a massive music collection in lieu of services like Rdio and Pandora radio, with iTunes Match filling in the gaps where certain bands or albums are unavailable on either service.
Best new iPhone app: Tweetbot
Best way to use Twitter, bar none. A well written, well designed app with all sorts of little touches that make it wonderful to use, even if you’re like me and rarely do much on twitter besides stalk people.
Best “new” Mac app: Alfred
Alfred’s been around since before 20112, but it hit 1.0 not too long ago and it’s certainly come a long way. A versitle application launcher for Mac OSX, in the vein of QuickSilver or Launchbar, it brings a sort of old-school command line feel to OSX, which makes the Unix nerd in me happy. l use it daily to launch applications, do internet searches, or do some quick math; it’s a great little app that makes my life a little bit less painful.
Best gadget I got in 2011: iPhone 4
This was actually a toss-up between my iPhone and my Kindle, but in the end I use the iPhone more. It’s not my first smartphone, as I had a Droid Incredible before this, but it’s certainly my first good smartphone. As much as I did like the Incredible at one time, I wasn’t sad to get rid of it in the end. It had stopped working reliably some time ago. As it managed to brick itself sitting in a drawer for 4 months I suspect there was bad hardware involved there, but nonetheless I was glad to be rid of it.
Biggest technology disappointment: Google.
Oh boy, I’m going to catch some flak for this. Google’s actions this year have really disappointed me. Perhaps the biggest example is their premature and underwhelming launch of their social network, Google+. Although it launched with a unique and easy to understand approach to privacy controls3, it lacks crucial features and opened up too much too quickly; while Google is of course known for launching beta products to the masses, Google+ felt more like an alpha. It attracted people at first, but given the glacial rate at which it receives features it’s unsuprising most of the people in my circles all but abandoned it. And it’s still feature sparse. There’s no public API for, for example, uploading pictures or posts, so apps like Instagram and the like can’t share directly to G+ like they can Twitter and Facebook. And this is exmplary of how Google has been operating lately: push out an incomplete, alpha-quality product, not update it, and then a few years later kill it off. See Google Health, or Google Wave. They’ve certainly invested too much into G+ to kill it off, but it’s floundering and more or less DOA. I used to trust Google, to a degree, to provide a quality service. Now I don’t even do that. For the first time since 2004, my primary email account isn’t through Gmail anymore. Were it not for Google Reader and a handful of other services there’s no real alternative for, I’d probably abandon my Google account altogether.
Google’s starting to run out of steam, I think. And as much as people want to talk about Google’s next big thing (Google X, for example), it’s always “in a few months.” I don’t have hope that there is a next big thing for Google. They seem too short-sighed to really come up with something good. It’s a shame.
Let’s get the ball rolling with a few dubious “awards”.
Most over-the-top vinyl packaging
- Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Most Colorful Vinyl
Making a return from 2010’s awards, this year it goes to another Temporary Residence release:
- Maserati - Inventions For the New Season rerelease
2011’s Guilty Pleasures
I’m going to warn you now, if you somehow have managed to have anything resembling respect for me you won’t after reading this list. These songs aren’t necessarily released in 2011, I just listened to them far more than is healthy4 in 2011. I’m not going to expand on any of these choices lest I dig myself into a deeper pit, but here they are: The most embarrassing songs on my playlists in 2011.
- Cee-Lo Green - Fuck You
- Usher - DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love
- Eminem - Not Afraid
- The Black Eyed Peas - I Gotta Feeling
- Hinder - Hey Ho
- Maroon 5 - Moves Like Jagger5
- Lady Gaga - Born This Way
- Kanye West - All Of The Lights
- 3 Doors Down - When You’re Young
- Theory of a Deadman - Lowlife.
There’s more, but I’m going to stop there and move on.
Biggest Disappointments of 2011
Before we get to the good stuff, let’s take a moment to reflect on the albums that made me a little sad inside. These are albums I went into with high hopes. Maybe the teaser track or lead single was good, or maybe I just expected good things out of the band, but in the end I just walked away from the album feeling disappointed and in some cases saddened that bands I once loved had fallen so low.
3. Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto
Maybe this belongs on a different list, since I didn’t have high hopes or a particular love of Coldplay; they’re ok, and some of their tracks are pretty amazing, but by and large they’re pretty mediocre and that’s what I expected from this album. Lead singles “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” and “Paradise”, especially the latter which is now one of my favorite Coldplay songs, raised my hopes slightly, but the rest of the album was pretty crap. It’s pretty sad that I went in expecting mediocraty with one or two gems and I still walked out disappointed.
2. Lady Gaga - Born This Way
What? I like Lady Gaga. Don’t judge me. I’ll cut you.
This album is bad. It’s just generic over-produced pop music with a layer of “edginess” smeared on top. I’m not going to lie, I really like The Fame Monster. Every single track is pretty good. Guilty pleasure music to an extreme, yes, but it’s probably one of my favorite albums. This album, though… ugh. The lead single “Born This Way” is… ok. There’s one or two more tracks that are listenable. The rest is garbage. As a pop album on it’s own, I suppose it’s par for the course. As a follow-up to The Fame Monster, it’s atrocious.
1. Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn of Events.
Trolling aside, I really had higher hopes for this album, especially after hearing On The Backs of Angels on YouTube in the summer. But the album is just… more of the same. None of these tracks would sound out of place on their earlier stuff– which admittedly is much better than the albums they’ve released recently, but at least they were trying something different. This album feels too safe; almost like they were afraid fans would lynch new drummer Mike Mangini if there was anything too experimental that didn’t sit well. The album has grown on me a bit after listening to it a few times, but overall it’s just more prog metal sameyness without any hint of something new and exciting.
With that out of the way, it’s time for the big one. My personal list of the best albums of 2011.
Top albums of 2011
8. Daft Punk - TRON Legacy Reconfigured
Hey, I’ve got more than 6 albums this year. This remix CD of the TRON Legacy soundtrack6 comes in at #8; by no means is it a bad album, and on some days it might get bumped up a few spots, but it’s certaintly a bit weaker than the rest of the albums on this list. Despite that, it’s still fun to listen to, especially when driving; a solid start to this year’s list.
7. Grails - Deep Politics
Surprisingly the only post-rock album on this list, Grails’ newest full length continues the sounds of their earlier albums with bass-heavy post-rock overlayed by Eastern-inspiried strings. There weren’t too many good post-rock releases this year, unfortuantely, and Deep Politics was by far the best of the bunch.
6. Rise Against - Endgame
A very interesting and melodic album, with lyrics laced with political and social commentary inspiried by events of the past decade, as well as the almost obligiatory “end of the world” title track. It’s a well executed album, if not a bit over the top at times. The first half of the album is a bit more well done than the second half, though the closing title track is one of the strongest on the album. Overall, Endgame is a great follow-up to Appeal to Reason and one of the stronger albums of the year.
5. Jay-Z/Kanye West - Watch the Throne
Yeah, a rap album. I’m as surprised as you are. I actually listened to it because my Rdio app was being slow and all I could load was the most popular albums list, and I figured it had to be better than silence. Boy was I right. I’m not a big rap fan, but something about this album clicked. It’s got great production, it’s catchy as hell, and it manages to not take itself very seriously while at the same time taking itself very seriously. I doubt this is the beginning of a newfound enjoyment of rap for myself, but it’s certainly proven that it’s not all bad.
4. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
I didn’t have high expectations for this. After Echoes, Silence, Paitence & Grace and the horrible single “Wheels” I figured the band was going down a hole they couldn’t climb back out of. Wasting Light proved me wrong. Every track on the album is good7, it’s catchy without being too pop-y, and while it still lacks a certain something from their older works, it’s still a marked improvement over some of their more recent output.
3. The Black Keys - El Camino
This album only came out a few weeks ago, so it hasn’t had as much time to resonate with me as the other ones have. And yet here it sits at #3. It’s also been one of the only things playing in my car for the past few weeks. An incredibly catchy and well-produced album.
2. Bon Iver - Bon Iver
I discovered this around the same time as my #1 pick below, and it was a little difficult to pick between the two for which was the best of the year. Ultimately Bon Iver comes in at #2. While it’s a great album, it’s not something I can listen to any time I want. I sort of have to be in the right mood to listen to it and enjoy it, whereas my #1 pick is listenable at any time. Regardless, it’s a solid album and, when I’m in the mood for it anyway, amazingly enjoyable if not a bit melancholy and mournful.
1. Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys
Y’know, before about May of this year I would have silently mocked someone who admitted to liking Death Cab for Cutie. Having only really been exposed to them from their single “I Will Possess Your Heart”, which got airplay on 102.1 back when I first started driving and didn’t have any options for in-car entertainment besides FM radio, I wasn’t particularly impressed8. However, having heard good things about their new album from a friend of mine whose musical tastes were, I realized, more and more in line with my own9, I gave it a listen and it just sort of clicked for me. This, along with #2 on my list here, formed the soundtrack for most of my summer as I sat around scanning in 6,000 pictures; even today I can listen to it on repeat without getting tired of any of it. For the fact that I like every single track alone, which is a rarity for me, much less that it’s just a really good album, it wins the coveted “Gar’s album of the year” award.
It’s not that these albums weren’t good; they just weren’t great or exceedingly memorable. They’re still worth a listen though. In no particular order:
- Mutemath - Odd Soul
- Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
- 3 Doors Down - Time of my Life
- Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
- Foster the People - Torches
- Switchfoot - Vice Verses
- Weird Al - Alpocalypse
I, uh, haven’t seen any movies that came out in 2011. Not one. Although, looking over a list of movies that came out this year I don’t think I missed much. Maybe I’ll see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo while it’s still in theaters, but that’s unlikely.
I’d do a “Best movies I saw in 2011” feature but I didn’t really watch any movies worthy of that this year. Or many movies at all for that matter.
I’m not going to bullshit around with lists or funny awards here. I only played two games that came out this year10: Portal 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revoltion, and that last one I haven’t actually played more than two hours of yet. So, best game of 2011: Portal 2.
I suppose that about wraps things up. Enjoy your annual blog post that’s not stupid pictures from Instagram! I’ll be back next year for another round; here’s to another good year for music. And to not dying in a nuclear fireball next December.
If you’re a sucker without an unlimited data plan, anyway ↩︎
I bought it in September 2010 ↩︎
Which Facebook promptly stole ↩︎
i.e, at all. ↩︎
Goddammit Erica ↩︎
Which would have made last years awards if I had listened to it before the end of the year ↩︎
Barring the god-awful deadmau5 remix of “Rope” on the deluxe edition ↩︎
It’s now one of my favorite songs by them. Oh, how I’ve changed in 4 years. ↩︎
Thanks, Andrew. ↩︎
And all the Fallout: New Vegas DLC ↩︎