Got Plans? Washington Post music writers David Malitz and Chris Richards discuss the top artists, albums and concerts of 2011, and what they're looking forward to in 2012.

Dec 29, 2011

Washington Post music writers David Malitz and Chris Richards discuss the top artists, albums and concerts of 2011, and what they're looking forward to in 2012.

Welcome, chatters, to our music-themed edition of Got Plans? We're joined by Post pop music critic Chris Richards and writer David Malitz to talk about the best music of 2011, the music we look forward to most in 2012, and of course, everything New Year's related. Let's get started.

Without a doubt, the best concert I saw in 2011 was Mumford & Sons. They had a breakout year but I was really impressed with how great they sounded live.

Let's start this chat off on a contentious note! I thought this concert was the second most irritating I saw this year. Here's my review.

Mumford & Sons are the epitome of what David has called "fake into it" -- when you get the impression that a performer's physical reaction to his or her own music is overblown and insincere. And don't get me wrong. I love, love, love a sweaty, phsyical performance (See: Jackson, Janet. DAR in March). But does excessive banjo noodling call for all that hip-thrusting? Dubious.

Last note: I am hopeful that the next Mumford & Sons album won't be dreck after reading that the band has welcomed Black Sabbath into their life.

Any garage/punk favorites this year? I really liked the Mikal Cronin album (and Flamin' Groovies cover at Comet), Thee Oh Sees - Carrion Crawler/The Dream EP, Night Birds - The Other Side of Darkness LP, and the Shirks latest 7 inch. Anything to look forward to in 2012 in addition to a new Fresh and Onlys album and more Davis/Richards collaborations?

I actually have a list of my 10 favorite noisy/scuzzy/garagey faves coming on Click Track tomorrow, so look out for that. I like the ones you listed. Mikal Cronin is someone we'll be hearing about in 2012, I think. Thee Oh Sees' fall tourmates, Total Control, released one of my favorite albums of the year. It's called "Henge Beat," definitely recommended. And without spoiling tomorrow's list too much -- Sic Alps and K-Holes released killer albums.

My little faith in the Grammies took another hit when one of the best albums of the year; So Beautiful or So What by Paul Simon, was not selected in any category. At least Rolling Stone magazine and others had this CD on "best of the year" lists.

The Grammys seem to be making a move -- a smart one, I think -- to recognize artists currently in full bloom, instead of handing the big trophies to legends on their victory laps. Last year, when Arcade Fire took home Album of the Year, it felt like a response to all of those recent Grammys that went to the likes of Steely Dan and Herbie Hancock.

Unfortunately, Rhymin' Simon gets the short end of the stick, here. His new album was pretty great, and a vast improvement over 2006's [bad] "Surprise." [zing.]

Here's a related question to throw out there: Have any of you chatters been disappointed to see your favorite album of 2011 left out on year-end lists?

Was able to go to two music festivals this year and both were GREAT. FloydFest in Floyd, Va and The Festy in C'ville, Va. Great performers and great weather. Can't wait to go back again.

Glad to hear it! Festival-mania seems to be sweeping across this great land. This year, we wrote about Identity, Sweetlife, FreeFest and plenty of others. And we ranked some of those performances right here.

What were the best festivals to grace the greater DMV, people?

A lot of good stuff coming from places other than the U.S. + UK were left off the list...aka Buraka Son Sistema's new LP and the Los Rakas EP were both excellent and largely ignored.

Truth! But we didn't ignore Los Rakas. Read my keystrokes about them right here.

Are you going to see Buraka Som Sistema at U Street Music Hall next month? Should be a good one.

I have a dear friend who is flying into town from Chicago to visit a week after her birthday and I want to treat her to a meal. She is a vegetarian who occasionally eats fish and my budget would be around $15 for the main courses. We're both (!) pregnant. Any suggestions? Northern Virginia is preferred over DC. Fairfax, Alexandria, or Arlington would all be good. In the past Indian was a hit.

Okay, a few options and a few different cuisines:  How about The Counter for great veggie burgers in a cool, stylish place? I like it because the toppings are so varied, and they're really sensitive to the needs of vegetarians and vegans. For Thai, I'd have to say Duangrat's in Falls Church, which always comes through, thanks to the vegetarian menu it offers (which means way more options than you'll get elsewhere). And for Ethiopian, Dama Restaurant in Arlington is a good option; they actually do faux-meat versions of standards such as tibs. You could do well at Pizzeria Orso, which has quite a few veggie offerings.  And finally,  I am not a big fan of the all-veg places in Virginia (Sunflower's food feels dated and overrated to me), but I'll throw out the newish Loving Hut. It's being renovated, but they're open for business.

It's a tie - My Morning Jacket and Neko Case at Merriweather or Dawes/Blitzen Trapper at the Black Cat.

There have been a couple of mentions for My Morning Jacket's Merriweather show in August. I wasn't at that one but I've seen them many, many times dating back to 2001 or so and they've always been excellent. I have to say I was unimpressed with Dawes when they opened for Bright Eyes at Wolf Trap.

Is Rock Music officially dead? So few rock bands break out anymore. Did any rock bands emerge in 2011? Was Cold Play the last official rock break out (which happened years ago)? There are good bands out there, but Glee, AI alum, teen girl singers and rap dominate.

With the slow-motion death of the record industry, this kind of thinking seems to be spreading across all genres right now -- but I see why rock fans in particular are in a panic. There are very few mainstream avenues for the genre these days. Most rock radio stations are still pretending it's nineteen-ninety-something and pop radio isn't playing Smith Westerns.

But hey, Smith Westerns are a great new rock band that began to surface this year. Other rock bands/artists I loved in 2011: Real Estate, Bon Iver, Powder Mill, Kurt Vile, Britta Persson, Wild Flag, Ty Segall, Fresh & Onlys, Jessica Lea Mayfield and that band The Strokes.

I'd say the best concert of the year I went to in the DC area was either The Dismemberment Plan reunion show or the F----- Up show at The Black Cat.

Which D-Plan show? They did a few here in Washington. Did anyone catch them at the festival gigs they did? Pitchfork? Roots Picnic? I wonder how they did on the Big Stages.

I want to hit a happy hour tonight, where should a 40-something woman who doesn't look or feel it go to possibly meet people? I was thinking happy hour because I am off work and don't usually get to go, but if there is something else you think is better, that is fine. I am more comfortable in a casual place than a fancy place. DC or Arlington best.

I like Brasserie Beck for this. Besides the great deals on beers that would otherwise be pricey, it's such a mix of people, and the bartenders are great. Get there a little early to score a seat at the bar. Some other good options: Vinoteca and the bar at Lincoln. Yes, all of these aren't quite "casual" but they're not velvet-rope places, either. But they do attract crowds that are a little more sophisticated than the taco-happy-hour crowds, and yet still conducive for meeting people.

Justin Vernon garnered-slash-courted a ton of press this year. Do you feel there has been Bon Iver backlash as a result? Wasn't the album good enough to warrant the buzz?

If this isn't Hipster Runoff pranking us... (And if you want to gaze deep into your indie navel, Google Hipster Runoff)... I think there's been nothing but forward-lash for Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.

The guys is nominated for some huge Grammys, he's singing hooks on Kanye West records and he's making some truly wonderful 21st century soft rock.

Sorry to ask a question thats off the music topic, but any ideas for two youthful 50 year old women who would like to go out dancing on NYE? Any places to dance (other than Glen Echo -- which is lovely but we're not looking for swing or latin, just shake yer booty) where we would not feel too out of place age-wise? thanks! I don't want to stay home and clean the fridge on NYE! Lynn

What's your budget like? Just because a lot of the free or inexpensive parties will probably draw younger crowds. Also, does location matter? I might try the party at the National Harbor's Gaylord Resort, which promises to draw people of all ages.

What was your favorite record this year that was totally off-the-radar? AKA wasn't covered by Pfork or the like.

I would give that prize to Jhene Aiko's "Sailing Soul(s)."

I did my best to get it on the radar -- I wrote about it in the summer and again this week in our Lost Tracks feature, which showcases the exact kind of albums you're looking for. Check Tuesday's paper for a fresh round of Lost Tracks reviews.

But yeah, Jhene Aiko! Drake talks a lot about Aaliyah's influence on today's pop music, but you can really hear it in this woman's work. (I also hear a little shoulda-been-famous Cassie. Remember her?) And she might be on everyone's radar soon. Word is that she recently signed to Def Jam.

I hate concerts. Maybe it's the crowds, the post-show deafness, the disappointing sound of live singing, or the amount of money I pay to experience all of those things. I know, I am a fuddy duddy. Thanks for the confessional.

Wow. That's sad. But I think plenty of people feel this way. May I also confess?  I hate  big mega-show concerts. For all the reasons you listed, and the fact that I have to sit in row 765, plus the fact that I can't see past all the people taking iPhone videos the entire show  and barely bothering to actually watch.

Lotus vegetarian in Chantilly is a better version than the Sunflower. There is also Amma's Indian Kitchen in Vienna that is all-veg and ridiculously cheap!

Thanks for the Lotus reminder! As for Amma's, I'm South Indian, grew up on dosas (I am waiting for someone to open the dosa food truck), and I really want to like Amma's. But I think it's so disappointing.  This does remind me, though, that there's Saravana Palace in Virginia; it's all vegetarian.

If Mumford/Sons was second most annoying, what was the first? Agreed with the review that the hip-thrusting was excessive but the review seems a little fussy and you can't deny Marcus Mumford's talent. Is it too easy to just pick Adele as top artist, album and concert of 2011?

Bottom honors go to Mac Miller at the Fillmore.

And yes, I agree that Marcus Mumford appears to be a promising songwriter, but I'm hoping he can get his sons to work in service of his songs and not be so distracting. We'll see. I'm always hoping to be surprised.

Did you see the Adele show at 9:30 Club? In hindsight, it seems VERY INSANE that an artist at her level played the 9:30 Club in 2011, right?


Since vodka is made from potatoes, and vermouth is made from grapes, how many vodka martinis do I have to drink to get my daily serving of fruits and vegetables?

Probably, like, six, but if you really want to get in some greens, I'd throw in at least one Cynar cocktail. It's made from artichokes (I love the stuff, so bitter). Imagine the health benefits. 

We're so fortunate to have Baltimore so close. It has has a wealth of concerts and festivals, especially for EDM lovers. I've been thrilled to FINALLY see electronic coverage in the Post this year (albeit a little late in the game...) so I'm wondering why we don't see more?

We did our darndest to cover the EDM explosion that rippled across the U.S. this year. I linked my review of the Identity Festival above, I reviewed the Fall Massive at RFK and I profiled Skrillex, too. We plan to keep following this stuff as it continues to grow.

My question for you: What EDM/dance/you-pick-the-genre-tag artists are coming to Baltimore and skipping D.C.? It seems like between Fur, the D.C. Armory and U Street Music Hall, we're getting plenty. Am I wrong?

I don't think rock can be dead when Black Keys are suddenly huge and playing Verizon Center. How did that happen? Oh, and nice shout out for Smith Westerns.

Let me ask another question: Are the Black Keys going to fill every seat in the Verizon Center? That booking seems very ambitious to me and I'm curious to see how it shakes out.

I loved their show at Merriwether this summer. Also, tUNeYards at Black Cat. (I don't think I capitalized that correctly...)

iT's OkAy.

That Animal Collective show as something special, for sure.

Hey, I never said Amma's was good ;) Bombay Bistro in Fairfax isn't vegetarian, but has a lot of veggie options.

Love Bombay Bistro.  We're friends again.

Some of my favorite concerts this year: Beach House (9:30), Ellie Goulding (R&R), Cut Copy (9:30 and VFest).. all missing from your list!

 I'm sorry I missed all three of those gigs, especially Beach House. Love them.

Thing is,  I only have one human body that I can bring to venues on a given night. But once technology allows us to astral-project and/or holograph into nightclubs, this problem will be solved.

That said, what's the gig that you chatters most regret missing? about not talking while the performers are, you know, performing. The chatter level on the Wolf Trap Lawn is ridonkulous anymore... Signed, Prententious Listener

Is there an "amen" button I can hit 4,000 times?

What is the word on the new Paul McCartney album? It was reported it would include old classics, but not Beatles classics, but classics Paul listened to as a child. I wonder how that will go over in today's market?

Sir Paul has a built-in audience for life, so I am guessing he'll do just fine with whatever he choses to release.

I'd also like to take the opportunity to say that the only thing more underrated than this Christmas song is its trippy music video!

As the indie scene continues to be nurture its love of folk-pop (bands such as Fleet Foxes, Head and the Heart, and Civil Wars), and electronic (bands like Miike Snow, M83, most of Pitchfork's best of lists), are there any bands on the horizon that are successfully combining the two styles?

I would argue that Bon Iver is doing this right now and as his/their stature continues to grow, we're going to see a lot of groups trying to replicate it.

Bon Iver Dawes - Nothing is Wrong The Head and the Heart (everything Mumford should be) My Morning Jacket - Circuital And the two that I had low expectations for: Wilco - The Whole Love Decemberists - The King is Dead

One reader's best-of list.

Favorite album of the year was Wye Oak, but haven't seen much love for it on many best of lists. Also a surprising lack of attention for the most recent Radiohead album. Are expectations just so high now that even a "great" Radiohead album is just not that noteworthy?

We love us some Wye Oak, and they are only going to get better and bigger and we're excited about that. And their album, "Civilian," was #1 according to the Onion's A/V Club, so that's a pretty big list to be at the top of.

"King of Limbs" definitely did not keep people's attention in 2011. And honestly, I was fine to have a year off from Radiohead fawning.

Gaslight Anthem moved to a major label (Mercury) this year, and have an album planned for next year. Will 2012 be a chance for them to break out (without the Springsteen boost)?

Good question! It's really tough to say whether the Boss's shadow has been a blessing or a curse for these guys. I'm ready for them to turn a stylistic corner next year. The Americana-punk thing isn't enough to keep me onboard, so I hope they bring The Songs.

Also: I tell everyone who's into this group to check out The (Young) Pioneers' 1998 album "Free the (Young) Pioneers Now!" album on Lookout Records.

I'm most looking forward to another (last?) Springsteen tour and new album in 2012. Any guesses on how Springsteen handles the loss of Clarence Clemons on stage and in the album?

I don't think the Big Man can, will or should be replaced.

I'm also not sure about Springsteen's touring plans. But we know how much our readers adore this man, so we'll do our very best to keep you posted on our blog.

My favorite by far was the Trombone Shorty concert at 9:30. I had never heard anything about him before the concert so I was blown away! The album is current my favorite too. Hitting Jazz Fest in 2012 and bonus - found out Trombone Shorty is playing the weekend I'm going. Whoo Hooo!

I have yet to hear a human being say, "That Trombone Shorty show wasn't much fun."

I am not a big concert person either (don't like to sit in place while there is nice music, and don't like huge crowd of teenagers pushing against the crowd with drinks) and generally go to concerts alone because most my friends are married with babies to take care of. Anyway, I loooove the new Filmore, nice and somewhat sophisticated crowd depending on the artist and fun to be so close to the scene. One thing I don't like is the expensive drinks though!

Some pros and cons on the Fillmore. What do the rest of you think of the area's big-new music venue?

Didn't actually get to many "festivals" this year, just FreeFest, and I thought that was pretty great this year As for show of the year it's a toss up between U2 in balmer, the Foo's bachnallia at the VCenter or Rush back in April. Yeah, I like the mega-show when I know the performer's are driving the show. *shrugs*

I missed U2 in Baltimore, but that Foo Fighters gig definitely made rock-n-roll feel very alive in 2011.

The War on Drugs with Caveman in September and Double Dagger's farewell show.

I missed those shows, too.

I missed the Foals when the came to 9:30. I even had tickets! Still bitter

Ah, the unused ticket. Bummer. 

Bright Eyes at Wolf Trap. Can Conor please just go back to acoustic guitar and leave it at that?

This didn't make my top 40 but it was nowhere near the worst show I saw this year, either. I do kind of miss acoustic Conor from the "Fevers & Mirrors" days, but you gotta keep moving forward, right?


I'll use this space to list the three worst gigs I saw in 2011: John Maus at the Black Cat, Salem at Rock & Roll Hotel and the Pretty Reckless (featuring Taylor Momsen) at Jammin' Java. All of those were aggressively stupid.

I had tickets for Jim Jones Revue at the Black Cat and had to miss the show because of a family funeral :( maybe they'll come back through in 2012.

Sorry to hear that.

But that's the one upside of this sputtering music biz economy -- artists are on the road constantly.

My stepson is visiting and I am desperate to get him away from playing video games all day long, and show him what a cool city we have. Any ideas? And would the Olde City Sideshow be appropriate? Or is there too much sexual content? Thanks for you help!

Ahh, he's a little young for that burlesque/sword swallower/sideshow act -- that show is listed as 21 and older. But that is SO awesome that you want to take him to that. Okay, so how about, in the same cool sort of vein, Comet Ping Pong, where you can grab pizza in a mildly edgier environment, and then head to the back and play ping pong? Another option: Bowling. There's the classy Bowlmor in Bethesda, but a bunch of us here are fans of the very "Big Lebowski"-esque Bowl America in Falls Church. And rock climbing in Rockville. And indoor, black light mini golf in Jessup at Monster Mini Golf. No, it's not dancers in pasties, but you can save that stuff for later.

I think Boss has been a blessing for the band -- their album sales jumped when he played with them the first time and comparison is inevitable for any Jersey band. It's just funny because only Brian Fallon actually likes Springsteen's music. The other band members didn't listen to it, and the guitar player is annoyed by all the questions.

Pro-Boss's shadow.

I don't know when it happened, but the lawn is now full of people who are not there to listen to the music and don't even seem to know who is on stage. Wouldn't it be cheaper for them to get some bottles of wine and a blanket and go to a park somewhere?

Some more thoughts on the Trap.

What are your picks for best and worst places to see shows in DC? Personally, I love the 9:30 and despise the atmosphere at DAR.

David Malitz: This is a question that gets tossed around a lot and those answers are fairly standard. The 9:30 Club absolutely deserves its reputation as one of the best venues in the country. One of the funniest blog posts we did on Click Track this year (I think) was digging up a 1967 Donovan concert review written by Carl Bernstein where he spends 80% of the review complaining about DAR. Some things never change...

U Street Music Hall has quickly established itself as a truly special club. And the Black Cat will always feel like a second home for me.

Chris Richards: A quick tour... The soundsystem at U Street Music Hall is beyond excellent. Red Palace is my favorite room to see music on H Street. The 9:30 and Black Cat are always reliable. I'm still feeling out the new Fillmore. Merriweather felt really comfortable this year, even in lousy weather. And there are so many good shows happening at restaurants on U Street, 18th, 14th, 9th...  And I'm so happy that the D.C. Armory is hosting concerts again. What a great, old room to hear loud, new music.

Corporate. Very very corporate so far. The night I was there it was cold at first and thankfulyl heated up a bit as the crowd came in a bit more. One would think they wouldn't have the doors from the street open directly into the show floor. Expensive drinks and a lousy beer selection. When you only have 3 taps something is wrong. Show space was decent. Looks like they want a lot of EDM shows as they have a huge permanent lighting instalation. Hopefully it will gain a bit more soul as it ages in and gets roughed up at the edges in a good way. The 9:30 Club it certainly aint so far...

More Fillmore reactions.

Since Cap City closed I'm at a loss (yes, I know, I'm a little behind the curve), where's a good place to take some relatives that have a layover at union station that is reasonably priced and is wheelchair accessible? THANKS!

I just called B. Smith and they said they are wheelchair accessible. As for reasonably priced, you can be the judge; here's the menu. There are some more casual restaurants; Im thinking Pizzeria Uno is not easily accessible, but it's worth a call; Chipotle and Chopt are new offerings on the ground level. Just one word of warning: There's a lot of renovation going on at the station, so look out for that. 

The Get Up Kids, Frank Turner at Red Palace, Titus Andronicus at Black Cat, and seeing Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks in Bmore. Worst...maybe Yo La Tengo spinning the wheel and landing on Sounds of Science. Brought my gf to that shows and it was the worst introduction to a band I've ever made.

Love love love YLT but have to admit I was bummed when Sounds of Science came up. Based on the chatter in the club, I think a lot of people felt the same way.

What bands do we have to look forward to in 2012? Who do you think will be dominating? Who are you most excited to see bloom in 2012?

Every January, you see these perfunctory "who's gonna be big in the new year" round- ups. Sometimes, they're tough to trust.

But this year, the freshman popstar hopefuls seem really strong. I'm excited to see what happens with ASAP Rocky, Azealia Banks, King Krule, Gary Clark Jr. and a cast of others.

David and I will be writing about them incessantly on -- and you can follow us on Twitter, too.

@Chris _ _ Richards (mind the double underscore!)


This has been really fun, everybody. Thanks for the excellent questions, thanks for reading our work and feel free to hit us up anytime... richardsc @ washpost dot com and david.malitz @ washingtonpost dot com.


Thanks for joining us! Next Thursday at 1 p.m., on the heels of tomorrow's Weekend cover story featuring D.C.'s 40 most essential eats, we're bringing in Eater DC writer Amy McKeever for one big foodie potluck. We'll be talking about  where you should be eating now, what we might see in early 2012, and of course, her take on the best dishes list.

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The Going Out Gurus
The Going Out Gurus are the experts behind The Washington Post's Going Out Guide. They write about restaurants, bars, movies, the arts, special events and visitor attractions, and they're out every night to keep you on top of the D.C. entertainment scene.
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