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A Crossover Genre Deeply Resistant to Crossing OverThe Internet’s insatiable hunger for content and unlimited space in which to post it has lead to bureau chiefs planted in every unwelcoming cave of the underground, reporting back to the mothership. No genre this year got more of a bump in ink than black metal, a bombastic ("ecstatic" to devotees) strain of music allergic to outsider influence and deeply suspicious of mainstream affection. Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, lead singer of its closest thing to a true crossover act, Liturgy, took plenty of guff from the bleak back-bleachers, not for sonically bending towards the mainstream as such, but merely for appearing within it, for trying to articulate it for newbies.
While uncommercial outsider genres need love too, we still cling to the old-fashioned notion that there's something vital in providing that morsel of pop approachability that leads to new fans, to broadening what "mainstream" can mean. For black metal, that act has yet to really emerge, and within its community there seems to be deep suspicion about even attempting such a thing. By gaining ground without giving an inch, black metal’s newfound prominence in the conversation feels a bit like editorial colonialism, rather than a reflection of horizons truly expanding.
Bad Albums With Good SongsCut Copy’s 2011 album Zonoscope peaks high with the universally praised New Order-surge of “Need You Now.” Unfortunately, it’s the record’s first track. The Strokes managed to squeeze a few good songs into their latest release. Panda Bear’s highly anticipated Tomboy hangs its hat on just a handful of synth-pop meanderings that won’t coerce you into sleep. And while there will be plenty of people denying it, summer anthem “Pumped Up Kicks” is not a bad song—it’s maybe even really good—sitting at the front of an album otherwise full of wannabe club hits. While we take solace in the fact that we were able to highlight 25 records on the previous pages where front-to-back listening is the preferred method, 2011 seemed to be a year that singles shone.
Granted, people grumbling about the deteriorating quality of albums as singular pieces of art is nothing new, but as the industry takes what may be its final swings at saving itself, creating records that are holistically good means more now than ever before.
Indie Rock Goes to Extremes
As the months ticked by, it became apparent that the bands at the center of so many conversations belonged to one of two very distinct categories. The fierce, white-knuckled Fucked Up, Iceage, Trash Talk and Liturgy violently thrashing on one end; the painstakingly pretty, fragile-voiced Bon Iver, James Blake, Kate Bush, Youth Lagoon types tiptoeing at the other. Migrating to such polarizing extremes seemed like an attempt to reclaim this thing we call “indie rock” away from the masses—no Grammy for Arcade Fire this year!—and return it to the fringes.
On one hand, seeing so many artists fully commit to a sound, whether it be quiet or loud, seems like a winning situation. But on the other, it was hearing how Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Strange Mercy masterfully straddles the light and the dark—how at the blink of an eye their pleasing charm effortlessly deviates into ugliness—that made us name them the top two albums for the year.