(feat. track – “History Of Modern (Part I)” [spotify])

It’s a little strange, but in a year where I listened to an absurd (at least by my standards) 250 new releases, I’ll remember 2011 more than anything else as the year I got obsessive over a band that formed shortly before I was born and hit the peak of their popularity two decades ago.  I had been a casual fan of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark for a while now (1981’s Architecture & Morality has been a personal favorite for maybe four years), but this was the year I really fell down the rabbit hole.

Largely it was in part to finally seeing OMD live; their spectacular March show, their first in NYC since 1988, absolutely knocked me on my ass, and opened me up to the true breadth and depth of their catalog, and the two subsequent shows they played here in September only further solidified their greatness in my mind.  I spent most of my summer and fall in full-on obsession, tearing through their back catalog, watching old music videos and documentaries on Youtube, ordering live DVD’s (including this absolutely spectacular performance from the band’s first-phase synthpunk prime packaged in with a european reissue of A&M) and figuring out how to rip the audio from them to carry around on my iPod.  My last.fm charts are slightly wonky due to a nearly six month period last year where scrobbling was out of commission on my computer, but they were far and away my most listened to band in 2011.  The year was, to my mind, The Year Of OMD.

And so in many ways this pick is a symbolic one, a placeholder for OMD’s entire catalog and the way it entered my life in 2011.  And yet, History Of Modern would be deserving even without all that other stuff.  From “New Holy Ground”’s haunting sensitivity to “Sometimes”’s downbeat Moby-isms to “The Right Side”’s motorik chug to “History Of Modern (Part I)“’s bright apocalypse, History Of Modern finds OMD touching on virtually every style and mood they’ve played with in the past, and evidences their continued mastery of each. History Of Modern is not just a welcome return from one of the great, unfairly unheralded bands of the synthpop revolution, but a shockingly strong album from a band at a phase in their careers that generally finds artists engaging in a lot of laurel-resting and goodwill-coasting.

If there’s any fudging on my part going on here, it’s in that I probably didn’t listen to History Of Modern quite as much as the other choices that made my list this year, primarily because I spent so much of my year (and particularly late summer / early fall) listening to the whole vast rest of OMD’s catalog, or at least large chunks of it.  (I still haven’t spent much time digging into the post-Paul Humphries era, aside from the singles from that time; I should probably give at least Sugar Tax its proper due, judging from the reviews.)  That wasn’t because of any real shortcomings on History Of Modern’s part, it was just a factor of a) time and b) the exceptional nature of OMD’s earlier work. History of Modern’s high points stand up to anything else in OMD’s catalog, and its consistency rivals that of anything they’ve done excepting Architecture & Morality.  It’s a worthy album of their artistic legacy, and at this late stage in OMD’s career, that’s saying something.

[I’m quasi-violating one of my cardinal rules here: History Of Modern was, by all accounts I can find, released in late 2010.  From what I remember earlier in the year, there was either a delayed American release or an American re-release or some such similar jiggery-pokery in early 2011, but even if I’m wrong on that account, this album (and all the attendent other stuff that comes with it) was too essential, too integral to my 2011 to be left off.  Hobgoblins of small minds and such.]