This year's 2011 "best of" lists are interesting to read simply for the lack of uniformity.
Arbitrary and debatable though they can be, making such lists is one of the fun parts of collecting and listening to music.
It's with that in mind that I've crafted For Those About to Rock's 2011 music superlatives. Disagreement is strongly encouraged.
Best concert I saw:
Outside Lands Music Festival, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Aug. 12-14
Attendees of this year's Outside Lands installment spoke in the days afterward of "awesome music festival withdrawal," lamenting having to return to work and our daily lives. From the headliners to the supporting acts, festival goers wished they could copy themselves so they could watch multiple stages at once. The people, the culture and the music made this annual fest the musical event of the year.
Best album cover:
Most stores only display the top panel of the latest platter from this San Francisco prog metal group, but this six-part digipak design by Alice Duke unfolds vertically into a surreal medieval battle scene. Check out the full design here.
Best debut album:
James Blake, James Blake
Likely to be remembered as the record that helped dubstep join mainstream consciousness, there's a beauty in its simplicity. Although its strongest tracks are a Feist cover and a reinterpretation of a song by his father, James Litherland, tracks such as "I Never Learnt to Share" and "To Care (Like You)" show promise for Blake in his own right.
Most disappointing album:
Radiohead, The King of Limbs
After a 15-year hot streak, when Radiohead finally released a mediocre record (left), it was bound to wind up in this space. Unfocused and middling, the British quintet's eighth long player feels purposefully designed to alienate listeners. It's a shame that the best song from these sessions, "Supercollider," was buried on an exclusive Record Store Day single.
Album that sounded terrible on paper and was:
KoRn, The Path of Totality
Nu-metal pioneers attempt dubstep crossover. You know you've slipped into insignificance when you're grasping at whatever sound is hot right now in an attempt to stay relevant.
Album that sounded terrible on paper and wasn't:
Colin Stetson, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
One man uses circular breathing to create all the sounds on this noisy accomplishment of an album. At times beautiful and others abrasive, one is nonetheless awed by his ability to do it almost alone.
Most divisive song:
Bon Iver, "Beth/Rest"
While '80s throwbacks are hot, "Beth/Rest" splits audiences by mining the decade's cheese horns, synths, drum machines and an almost complete lack of bass make it sound like a track John Hughes might've picked to roll over the end credits of one of his teen comedies. It also doesn't fit with any of the tracks that preceded it on Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Those who derided it had to eat some measure of crow months later when the band's singer played a cheese-free, piano-only version for NPR.
Song I Know I Shouldn't Like But I Do:
Kreayshawn, "Gucci Gucci"
Pretty simple rhymes from a 22-year-old Oakland emcee, but a spooky hook and a defiant rejection of materialism ("Gucci, Gucci, Louis, Louis, Fendi, Fendi, Prada / Basic b------ wear that s---, so I don't even bother") make me hide my head in shame because I know the words.
Worst album opener:
Bright Eyes, "Firewall"
If The People's Key does wind up being the final Bright Eyes album, it went out with a 2-minute, 30-second rant from the kind of conspiracy theorist nut job you would expect to hear on Alex Jones' shows.
Best album opener:
Adele, "Rolling in the Deep"
Hell hath no fury. The 23-year-old British songstress weaves her heartbreak into danceable blues and turns in one of the hottest singles (left) and strongest vocal performances of the year, especially the siren wail that reminded her ex they could've had it all. After millions sold, "turn my sorrow into treasured gold" sounds like a boast to do Kid Rock ("I'm goin' platinum!") proud.
Worst album closer:
Bon Iver, "Beth/Rest"
I fall in the group which thinks this song is terrible. This track alone forced me to keep Bon Iver, Bon Iver out of my top 10 albums of the year.
Best album closer:
Wilco, "One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)"
Dylanesque in its sprawling lyrical complexity, but also in its running time as an album closer, calling to mind the likes of "Desolation Row" or "Highlands."
My Morning Jacket, "Circuital"
While the album isn't of the caliber of Jacket's earlier material, it's title track is a seven-minute slice of goodness that rolls a number of the band's best qualities into one, with a quiet, countrified introduction to the song before the meaty riffage reminiscent of their magnum opus, "Z," kicks in.
KoRn, The Path of Totality
KoRn's biggest asset used to be its ability to tap into teenage angst. At age 40, Jonathan Davis' lyrics sound even more like he's trying to win a misogyny contest ("Gonna take you / Gonna break you / Gonna rape you").
Laura Marling, A Creature I Don't Know
See the 2011 albums of the year post.