don't you tell me how i feel.

2011: The Year in Music by don't you tell me how i feel.

As 2011 draws to a close, us here at Don’t You Tell Me How I Feel are reflecting on a year of music that defies categorization. Between the reign of Adele’s retro-soul stylings, the increasingly aggressive dance-pop on the radio and the fact that Coldplay sort of accidentally put out a hip-hop album, is it me or is mainstream music in kind of a crazy phase? Meanwhile, the indie world continues to unspool into genres and subgenres, with bands becoming more and more specialized until it seems like some of them are making records just for us and our friends. (Not a bad thing.) Above all, one thing was clear: This year, what’s old became new again.

So, how to make sense of all this? Leave it to us.

Top albums: Steele’s picks

1. Adele: 21. This was the record people fell in love with and talked about all year. Furious, romantic and anguished, it’s the sound of raw heartbreak. Mad props to Adele, who is just 23 years old, for making a record that sounds both timeless and modern. As predicted/threatened in “Rolling in the Deep,” she “turned her sorrow into treasured gold.”

2. Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues. With cascading harmonies that evoke Simon and Garfunkel as channeled by Appalachian folk singers, this album sounds like it came from some long-ago time. But it tackles the burdens of the modern world, namely the struggle between who we are and who we wish to be. Lamenting the plight of the child raised to believe that he or she is unique, Robin Pecknold sings, “I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery, serving something beyond me.”

3. The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World. Inspired by Jack Torrence’s hallucinations of a ghostly 1920s party in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, this is the most insane concept album I’ve ever encountered. With sound effects that include even the sound of a record scratching, it plays like the soundtrack for a long-over party where people once danced in fine clothes and drank champagne…but are now dead.

4. PJ Harvey: Let England Shake. Always unpredictable, Polly Jean Harvey gave us some real food for thought with this punk-folk album, digging into the history of her war-torn homeland in a way that felt personal and strangely intimate. One review that I read put it best: “As if she’s crashing the Renaissance Faire to torch the maypole.”

5. R.E.M.: Collapse Into Now. After floundering for much of the last decade, who would have thought R.E.M. would end their 31-year career on such a high note? Collapse Into Now is understated, clearheaded and lovely, somber in some moments and hopeful in others, making it a fitting way for the guys to take a last bow.

Event album of the year: Lady Gaga, Born This Way. Say what you will about Gaga, but she has owned the last three years of the pop scene. And personally, I could care less how much she ripped off “Express Yourself” for “Born This Way” – to me, the fact that she put a gay anthem at the top of the charts (and sold a million copies of the song in five days) is significant and awesome. Incidentally, how funny is it that she could have done anything she wanted, and chose to make an 80s power-pop album?

Nonevent album of the year: Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne. Reviewers seem to love this album, but I’m not feeling it. I felt somehow bored, as if I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I was seeing it performed live.

What Is This, Europe?: Pop music got really, really dance-heavy in 2011, and since she has been setting the tone for years, I’m pretty sure this is Gaga‘s fault. Britney Spears put out a straight club record (which was not half bad, actually!), something called David Guetta started showing up on every song and Rihanna put out two singles that are basically techno. 

LMFAO? MORE LIKE STFU: Anyone remember “Shots,” that amazing jam that used to play during the credits for “Jersey Shore”? To refresh your memory, the chorus was: “SHOTS! SHOTS! SHOTS! SHOTS! SHOTS! SHOTS! EVERYBODYYYY!” Well. LMFAO, the horrifically-named duo who brought us that insta-classic, has now poisoned pop culture with not only “Party Rock Anthem” but “Sexy and I Know It.” Not cool, guys. I’m always ready to party, and this garbage makes me want to refuse a second drink and go home early.

Gift that Keeps Giving: The Lonely Island, Turtleneck & Chain. Not joking, this album kicks legitimate ass. “Jack Sparrow” and “I Just Had Sex” are probably two of the best songs I heard this year.

Person I Still Have Beef With in 2011: Katy Motherfucking Perry. It seems like just yesterday I was putting her on blast in my 2010 roundup. How often I have thought back wistfully to those days, when there were only three singles off her 2010 album to hate. Now, a year and three more singles later, that same goddamn album tortures me still. This must be how people who hated Justin Timberlake felt in late 2007. (Whoever those sick freaks are.)

Worst Song of the Year: Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera, “Moves Like Jagger.” ENOUGH. SAID.


Top albums: V’s picks

Hooray for Earth – True Loves
I played the shit out of this record this year. Though their live show was ultimately disappointing compared to my giant and unrelenting love for True Loves, I remain awed by the sheer pop perfection HFE has blessed us with in 2011.


PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Well, come on. One of the greatest artists of all time puts out a record detailing the horrors of war set to autoharp. What’s not to love?



Austra – Feel it Break
I don’t think there’s a hell of a lot of competition among the indie ranks for best goth/industrial band, but Austra gets the title, hands down. Synths galore, and Katie Stelmanis has a hell of a voice. “Beat and the Pulse” is easily one of the best songs of the year.


Wye Oak – Civilian
Baltimore’s Wye Oak have crafted a slightly twangy, gloriously malcontent guitar-driven record.



Viva Voce – The Future Will Destroy You
My favorite husband-wife duo kick the crap out of their instruments in a delightfully classic rock fashion — organ and all. Like many great albums, it seems eerily familiar on first listen.


Peaking Lights – 936
Slow-building and spare, this duo’s debut just makes you feel like you’re in another universe…and it looks like the inside of a planetarium or something. TRIPPY

For Weirdness: John Maus. Holy Ian Curtis, for reals.

For Supergroupness: Wild Flag. Two-thirds of Sleater Kinney join forces with Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole on WF’s handclappy-but-asskicking debut record.

For Throwbackiness: Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Talk about seriously amazing retro production.

For Sexiness: El Sportivo’s EP is full of slow-burning bluesy numbers capped off with dude’s breathy (not cheesy) vocals.

For Crosby, Stills and Nashness: Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues. What a truly gorgeous, haunting record, as Steele mentioned above.

For Chillwaviness: Toro Y Moi’s Underneath the Pine is the best beer-drinking-and-dancing-in-the-backyard album I’ve heard in some time.


LMFAO’s “I’m Sexy and I Know it.” The Steele-V mindmeld is in full effect on this one. I’m not sure what to say about this, except I’m not surprised that it’s brought to you by the makers of “Shots.” It also ranks among that special (read: idiotic) class of songs that specifically call out gymgoing, most notably Fergie’s “Fergalicious” (“working on my fitness,” y’all). I’m going to stop now.

CHEERS TO 2012. See you in the New Year, and thanks for reading.


steele & v


1 Comment so far
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A fine list ladies! Thanks for a wonderful year of bloggery!

Comment by Lehtola

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