a look all the way back to 2011
by Allan Wigney
Oh, I could list the best albums of 2011, but it's been done. Odd, really, as it's Jan. 1, 2012, and chronologically speaking it is not possible for one to accurately sum up 2011 before this day. But media have no time for such inconveniences when there are deadlines to meet. And if it's all a bit like reporting the final score of a game 15 minutes into the third period, so be it.
So no, no list of 2011's best. That's living in the past. I can, however, tell you 2012's best discs will almost certainly include upcoming efforts by 2013 Juno winner Kathleen Edwards as well as local rockers The Bruitals and, fingers crossed, Fiftymen. And indications are locals The PepTides, whose acclaimed 2010 album offered more style than substance, are poised to deliver an album worthy of the hype. That is only a good thing.
Still, it seems only fair to take at least a quick glance back ‑ now that 2011 is complete and all ‑ especially here at The Wig, a well-meaning website tripped up at the knee some six months ago but (attention: potential investors) still determined to have its say. So let's call that setback one of the year's low points, locally. Another was the Bluesfest stage collapse massacree; though, the festival did manage to provide a few high points, the highest being a mesmerizing set by Congolese soulman Baloji. And far from collapsing, the festival that 11 years ago gave us the ill-fated Fresh Fest and subsequently failed to spread its empire to other cities, took a significant step toward properly ruling Ottawa's summer season by taking over the Ottawa Folk Festival. Onward and upward.
But rather than focus on individual triumphs, this retrospective look at a still-fresh year will look at a bigger picture. Like the oft-reported boom in vinyl record sales. A gushing endorsement of music's one true format in Forbes magazine recently enthused that vinyl records now account for a whopping one per cent of music sales. Contrast that with a decade ago when vinyl sales were, well, less than one per cent. Small wonder media also loudly declared CDs, which now account for barely 70 times that number, dead. (And here you thought audiophiles and hipsters formed more than one per cent of the listening audience. Now you know better.)
Twenty eleven also saw positive change at stodgy institutions such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which by welcoming Guns N' Roses into its ranks gave hope to one-hit wonders everywhere. Does one home run of an album, a career make? If it's Appetite for Destruction, the answer is yes. Besides, the bloated Use Your Illusion albums (just try to listen to all four discs) did harbour a few classic singles, even if nothing ‑ nothing ‑ the band has released since 1991 has warranted more than a cursory listen. So take note Deee-Lite, Hanson, OMC and Chumbawamba: the Hall of Fame may be calling you next. (At the very least, Vancouver's short-lived Slow, the greatest rock and roll band of all time, deserves a nod.) Well done, Izzy, wherever you are.
And speaking of 1991, the greatest triumph of 2011 (apart from that whole Arab Spring thing and JR's Dancing with the Stars conquest) may prove to be the long overdue death of "alternative" music. Not the music: the category. In a year that saw Pearl Jam attempt to generate excitement over the 20th anniversary of Ten and Nirvana alumni similarly celebrating 20 years of Nevermind, a genre that was never clearly defined either musically or commercially, finally met its end at the hands of Canada's own Arcade Fire.
It was a curious tag anyway, somehow encompassing everything from death metal to contemporary classical, via rootsy country. Moreover, a so-called "alternative" release could be a home-recording available only to family and friends, or a chart-topping major-label release. Alternative? To borrow a phrase from jazzman Eddie Condon, we called it music.
It was time, then, for "alternative" music to go. And it took the Grammy Awards to kill it, by giving the Album of the Year award, that most mainstream of mainstream accolades, to a band that in the same evening had been nominated for Best Alternative Album. (Ironically, it lost.) The Junos followed suit. Arcade Fire, meanwhile, remained proudly independent and failed to displace the Katy Perrys and Lady Gagas of the biz atop music charts. No matter. By winning the hearts of the establishment the band single-handedly made an arbitrary category well and truly redundant, 20 years after critics desperate to explain music that didn't sound like The Eagles shortsightedly created it. Surely, neither Grammy nor Juno can turn back now. Right?
Alternative music is dead. Long live alternative music. And as for a positive message for 2012, take solace in the fact that we are still 100 years away from having to endure an excess of a certain Rush album, and that 50 years ago today The Beatles failed the audition. So there's still hope. At least, until 2112.
Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet uses video projection design to send its dancers down the rabbit hole.
Local photographer Joy Kardish preserves, and reveals, all-but-forgotten spaces.
The 2011 visual and media arts laureates speak for themselves at the National Gallery group exhibition.
The renowned Japanese percussion ensemble, celebrating its 30th year, comes to the NAC March 7.