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No Important Albums

Posted on 22 December 2011

“The year of No Important Albums (and many Good Records)” by Steve Hyden →

The Onion A.V. writer summarizes what I’ve been thinking about 2011 in music for a couple months now:

“I think there’s another reason for the lack of consensus in 2011, and it goes beyond changes in technology.

There weren’t any Important Albums.

What’s an Important Album? It’s an album that is perceived to be a momentous work of ambition, invention, and high artistic credibility before it is released, and then proves to actually be so, planting itself in a highly visible place in the culture and acting as a signifier for the year in retrospect. It’s the one album you can’t avoid hearing about at the end of the year to an almost annoying degree; “Important” in this context can be taken to mean “legitimately great” or “incredibly gas-baggy.” But either way, an Important Album stands apart from the pack as a year-defining work.”

As Hyden says, last year’s Important Album was hands-down Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Even if you didn’t like it, you knew it was a statement that was resonating with a lot of critics and would top year-end lists. And even if that hadn’t been released there was LCD Soundsystem’s This is Happening and Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, both genuine events in themselves.

This year was much more low key. Even artists who were on lists last year who released albums this year (Kanye West, the Black Keys) seem to have put in solid, placeholding efforts, but nothing groundbreaking– not for their own career, and not for music as a whole. I’m sussing out my favourites, and while there’s plenty worthy of top ten (Adele, Destroyer, Fucked Up, Dan Managan, and Smith Westerns are probably my most listened albums), none of them lend themselves immediately to number one.

Like Kanye’s and the Key’s efforts, these are mostly solid- better than solid, even- albums that fail to be year-defining, or even career defining. Only Adele’s record, I think, really did anything for her career or legacy, and that was mostly making her a household name whose music is played at hockey games, rather than any amount of critical acclaim.

In late 2010, West’s release of Dark Twisted Fantasy solidified his place as a Great Artist of the age. 808’s and Heartbreaks had some people wondering if his was a career worth watching anymore. Fantasy shot him right back into the upward trajectory that leads you to believe his next album (after Watch the Throne) will be an Event Worth Hearing. I don’t think anyone else did that. Fucked Up and Destroyer are definitely the contenders for my Album of the Year, but neither of them really redefined their artistic legacy. They refined what each of these artists have done well, adding some new colours to their musical palette, but I don’t think they opened up any new doors, critically or commercially. Which is to say, I don’t think they opened them up to any new audiences. Fans they won over with previous efforts will be satisfied, but it’s not the White Stripes and Elephant which suddenly wins over whole swaths of new fans– critical and commercial.

Then again, who knows? As non-groundbreaking as 2011 may seen now, legacies are a long game. There could be some hidden gem out there that I haven’t heard yet– maybe even underground critics barely noticed. After all, I haven’t mentioned my FAVOURITE album of the year, the one that easily got the most spins and still makes me want to hear it again. It’s the Asteroids Galaxy Tour’s Fruit. It came out in 2009.

(More music mentioned in this article after the jump)

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