YEAR IN MUSIC 2011: It's a retromaniac's world, but lookin' back ain't so bad. Plus: the top 10 live shows of 2011
There were also the bands that just felt retro, or at least, stood with one foot in rock's not-so-distant past. But the good ones were more reverent than carbon vintage copy, acts like Dum Dum Girls and Cults, played on romantic ideals of '60s garage and slipped in some doo-wop and girl group-esque vocals, but neither directly mimics a particular era. In its debut follow-up, Only In Dreams (Sub Pop), Dum Dum Girls also referenced a distinct '90s Mazzy Star vibe. Meanwhile, Canadian chanteuse Austra looped back to the '80s with prominent synth and operatic love songs, and the Beets happily alluded to its own '60s garage-meets-Ramones influences on fourth album Let The Poison Out (Hardly Art), like something out of a Nuggets boxset; a modern, bilingual Seeds.
Locally, longtime Ty Segall band member Mikal Cronin finally made the move to San Francisco in 2011. Raised on surf and garage rock down south, he brought with him a distinctive nostalgic sound; his solo self-titled record — released this year on Trouble in Mind — was one of the most intriguing of the year. Like many now living and playing in SF, he's drawn to vintage rock'n'roll and garage, but his style stands out above the pack.
This year he released a multifarious record of crusted garage-punk and swirling psych-pop, glamorized with the hazy, sand-swept beach days pictured in vintage Polaroids. Opening track "Is It Alright" could be plucked from a psychedelic Beach Boys LP, laid thicker with grime. And Cronin, when pressed, reveals a long history of influences — along with current bands such as Thee Oh Sees and Strange Boys — mentioning longtime favorites "Emitt Rhodes, Del Shannon, the Beatles, the Beach Boys," adding "I've been trying to relisten to the classics" And yes, the remaining Beach Boys were said to be planning yet another reunion for next year, a thrill for likely a few young fans (though the same can not be said for Brian Wilson's 2011 Disney covers album).
Here's another spot where Reynolds and I tend to split: I'm an unabashed rearview mirror fan. And while I agree that the "re-s" in our sonic world are sometimes overwhelmingly dull, the opportunity to see live bands that broke up before I was cognizant has just too strong a pull on my psyche. Even Reynolds seems to consent to that last bit, stating in Retromania, "The exceptions to my 'no reunions' policy are a few bands that I loved as a youth but never managed to see live." So wouldn't that be the case for someone in every audience? The giant pink headphones-wearing toddler I saw at the Iggy Pop show undoubtedly missed the punk singer's first 40 odd years of shows. Now, will somebody please reunite Operation Ivy, Minor Threat, and Neutral Milk Hotel for complete album tours, or is that too sacrilegious for your precious memories? It'd just be for my own comfort, obviously. *
EMILY SAVAGE'S TOP 10 SHOWS OF 2011
Feb. 26: No Age, Grass Widow, and Rank/Xerox at Rickshaw Stop
April 27: Steve Ignorant plays Crass songs at Slim's
June 1: Gayngs at Independent
July 13: King Khan & Gris-Gris, Shannon & the Clams, King Lollipop/1-2-3-4 Go! Records Showcase at Oakland Metro Opera House
Sept. 22: Hightower, Black Cobra, and Walken at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Oct. 6: CSS at Fillmore
Oct. 13: Gardens & Villa at Bottom of the Hill
Nov. 5: Wild Flag at Great American Music Hall
Dec. 4: Iggy Pop at Warfield
Dec. 10: Tycho at Independent