The biggest thing for me this year was rediscovering the joys of listening to the radio. Living in Los Angeles like I do now involves being in the car a lot. So there’s much flicking back and forth between stations in chase of the next thrill (or in flight from something repugnant or just overplayed-and-stale). Because, shamefully, I’ve not learned to drive yet, I’m free to listen immersively, without distraction (apart from the rolling cityscape of LA through the passenger seat window) and to hear new things in old familiar tunes I’ve heard many times before.
In our car we tend to flit back and forth between the absolute Now (the Top 40 stations) and a jumbled out-of-sequence Then (classic rock stations, Eighties-formatted stations, Shuffle-mode oriented stations like Jack FM which span Seventies, Eighties and Nineties). If we’re feeling in the mood for something improving and horizon-expanding there is also KCRW, the publicly funded station in LA that pioneered the influential ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’ template and whose taste profile is what you could call ‘mature hip’ (i.e. alternative/experimental but always well produced and easy on the ear). But I find that after a half-hour of music that’s precisely oriented to my demographic niche, I’m usually craving a harder, coarser hit of thrill-power, which means heading quickly back to either the imperishable riffs of classic rock or the hooks and banging beats of modern pop, most of which sounds like Nineties club music from Europe with rapping and R&B-ish singing added.
My favourite tracks of the year are almost all from US Top Forty radio: Dev’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’, whose slinky vocal and parping digi-sax makes me flash on UK garage circa 1997; Ke$ha’s ‘We R Who We R’, a classic youth-cutting-loose anthem on a par with ‘School’s Out’; the rolling thunder of Rihanna’s ‘Cheers’; the Roland 303-powered Right Said Fred-ism of ‘Sexy and I Know It‘ by LMFAO, not forgetting their irrepressible ‘Party Rock Anthem’; and many others including Nicki Minaj’s ‘Superbass’, Britney Spears’s ‘Till the End of the World’, New Boyz featuring The Cataracts & Dev’s ‘Backseat Driver’, Afrojack featuring Eva Simons’s ‘Take Over Control’. Martin Solveig & Dragoneette’s ‘Hello’, Etta James featuring Flo Rida’s ‘Good Feeling’, Big Sean’s ‘Dance:…‘
My favorite albums come from another world entirely, a left-field, blog-driven zone of electronic music that’s hardly ever danceable and guitar music that doesn’t exactly rock: Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica, James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual, KWJAZ’s self-titled tape, Woebot’s Chunks, Ekoplekz’s Intrusive Incidentalz Vol 1, Rangers’s Pan Am Stories, Moon Wiring Club’s Clutch It Like A Gonk, Kuedo’s Severant.
Among my faves the only convergence zone between clubby nowpop and ethereal underground electronica was Rustie’s Glass Swords, a monsterpiece of digital maximalism, and the woozy lo-fi house of Maria Minerva’s two LPs (Tallinn at Dawn and Cabaret Cixous) and two EPs (Noble Savage and Sacred and Profane Love) this year.
Finally, there was Metronomy’s The English Riviera: nothing to do with either tendency (too tuneful and Mercury-‘middlebrow’ for undergroundists, too English and out-of-time for chart action) but the record from 2011 I played more than any other.