Wednesday, 21 December 2011

2011 In Review - Part 6: Best Albums of 2011

I will just get straight into a list of my 20 favorite LPs from this past year.

20. We're New Here - Gil Scott Heron/ Jamie XX

It doesn't always work every single second, but the moments when Jamie XX's productions beautifully coincide with Heron's grizzled voice remind us of both artists' extreme merit. With all the fantastic solo efforts this past year from Jamie XX, it looks like his band's highly anticipated second album will not be a sophomore slump.

19. Sepalcure - Sepalcure

Sometimes you don't need to reinvent the wheel when releasing a full-length. The production duo known as Sepalcure instead approached what they have always done, and chose to do it extremely well. People may complain that they wanted more from Sepalcure, but rather than producing a bloated pop-heavy-cross-over album, they have kept it real and simple. In doing so, they have also established themselves as one of the more consistent acts going right now.

18. Frantically Hopeful - Pursuit Grooves

As close to an electronic-jazz fusion album as you will find in 2011. With beats that are beyond interesting, and live female vocals, Pursuit Grooves have offered a completely unique sound for Pinch's Tectonic label. Frantic is a good word to have in the album title, because that is exactly the emotion that is conveyed through the intricate rhythms and desperate hip-hop/ slam poetry style vocals.

17. Dispel Dances - Anstam

An interesting choice of title for the album, because any dancing that may have been happening prior to hearing this album will be... dispelled. Following the same suit as previous singles and releases, Dispel utilizes gritty percussion and bass tones to create a hopeless, yet grandiose atmosphere of cold and industrial hopelessness. Well Anstam is known for being very a-melodic, the patient ear will be rewarded  with subtle melodies that take their time to develop.

16. Pathway to Tiraquon 6 - Space Dimension Controller

This interesting concept album from UK producer Space Dimension Controller, tells the story of a time traveling space man who has come from the future to find a new home for humans after aliens have taken the earth hostage. It sounds like a cheesy b-movie plot from the 50's, and what's even more interesting about it, is that there aren't words at all. Despite what would be a major shortcoming for most concept albums, SDC delivers an album that truly feels like an 80's E-funk soundtrack to a space opera.

15. Simulat - Cosmin TRG

2011 was a big year for techno. Omar S, Surgeon, Deepchord, Ricardo Villalobos, Deadbeat and Morphosis all put out full-length albums. This is where the caveat of "personal favorite" needs to be restated. I felt that the best techno offering this year, was from Cosmin TRG. Techno has never been a pop oriented endeavor, and rightfully so. However, on Simulat melody is at the forefront, without sacrificing an iota of enticing rhythm. This is probably as close to a pop-techno album that you will find, and shockingly, it works extremely well.

14. Room(s) - Machinedrum

Travis Stewart isn't fooling anyone. As one half of Sepalcure, he has created two master-work albums in one year. But Room(s) sounds a lot like Sepalcure, only sped up and with more urgency. What makes Room(s) so special is the way that the vocals work with the percussion. In less skilled hands, this could come across as a very busy sounding album. There is an abundance of sampled vocals, sped up- Shackleton-esque rhythms and gratuitous synth lines. But each element is kept not only intact, but is allowed to serve the other components to create something wonderful.

13. Invisible Insurrection - Desolate

I'm glad that Burial released Street Halo this year. Not just because it is awesome, but so that people would stop comparing Invisible Insurrection to Burial. No, this is not what Burial wound sound like in 2011. Burial sounds like Burial in 2011. Desolate offers a bass-music take on sprawling and sluggish techno, rather than classic UK garage.

12. Dedication - Zomby

I was shocked when I heard Dedication. I did not think Zomby had an album of this caliber in him. The controversial and enigmatic (his identity is still unknown) producer has offered the world a bleak and progressively darker look at his soul. The title Dedication is fair, since his second album shows exactly that. You really get the feel that he is above all else, a fan of electronic music. He expresses this through his takes on various motifs that exist in dance music today. He then combines them together in an unlikely hodgepodge crystalized gems.

11. Routes - LV

With so many global sounds converging on one another to create entirely new and geographically indiscernible genres of music, it is refreshing to hear something that sounds so unabashedly British. Funky rhythms populate the entirety of Routes, the debut album from LV. The vocals of Josh Idehen add a flair of ethnicity that reflect the streets and styles of proper UK. This album personifies the sound of London in 2011 so well, it will likely serve as an excellent musical time-capsule.

10. Glider - Sight Below

Ghostly International's best offering of the year was certainly Glider. With sparse, reverb-drenched, ambient guitar melodies layered over top even sparser, looping electronics, Sight Below creates a Field-meets-Grouper vibe. The whole album is instrumental, there isn't even a vocal sample to be heard; but the way that the guitars echo and hum, create all the voice that this album needs to convey it's bounty of emotion.

9. Test Dream - Consequence

The best way to describe Consequence's first album, was meandering. On his second album, Test Dream, he displays the same penchant. It is almost drum and bass, but it isn't at the same time. Tempos hint the basic skeletal features, while drum patterns vaguely resemble conventional d n' b. Sometimes beats simply degrade into long stretches of atmospheric melodies. The tracks saunter past your ears, like a lazy river winding it's way through a plateau, mostly lacking urgency. Yet at the same time, the music conveys a great weight of water, as if the listener is at considerable depth. Indeed, water is certainly something that comes to mind when listening to Test Dream, as it is thoroughly imbued with with it's spirit throughout the entire album.

8. Severant - Kuedo

Despite a massively hyped billing for Severant, Kuedo overcome the odds and actually surprised people for the better. One of the best things about his debut solo album is how unexpected it sounds. The beats are pushed rather far back on the priority-chart, and most of the tracks have no vocals at all, so that leaves the carefully constructed melodies a chance to shine. The album is an 80's synth/ electro flashback at it's core, but it has been thrust forward through time to 2011. The prolonged exposure to light-speed velocities have not only delivered the material to the present, but left the resulting music twisted and disfigured... for the better.

7. Metronomical Boy - Mint

Sometimes we listen to music for musicianship or technical skill. Sometimes we listen for profound depth behind the lyrics. Sometimes we listen for a carefully constructed atmosphere that is painstakingly created and delivered through careful attention to detail. Sometimes we just listen because we like the way it sounds. Metronomial Boy is a brilliant take on innocence and youth. There are no words to distract from the pure jubilation, exuberance, and also melancholy that is created through it's melodies. There are a few motifs present which exist in electronic music, but at it's best, it is devoid of preconceived idiosyncrasies.    

6. Bad Vibes - Shlohmo

Shlohmo will not be able to escape the fact that he sounds a lot like many producers from California. The mutated, hip-hop, faux glitch-hop beats that he produces are strikingly similar to the label Brainfeeder. The only difference being that Henry Laufer (aka Shlohmo) is a songwriter at heart. Many songs from Bad Vibes sound like they could have been indie-folk songs in another life. This serves the album well across it's generous length of 58 minutes, as it never feels like a bloated, and overly lengthy beat-scene LP, where anyone doing the same thing wouldn't even dream of attempting an album of that length. The fact that Shlohmo has been able to create a solid album that is almost double the length of many of his contemporaries, shows how the 21-year-old is on another level.

5. Pinch & Shackleton - Pinch & Shackleton

Two legendary producers team up to create a legendary album. At first it seems like an unlikely meeting, but the two both approach production from an r n' b stance: rhythm n' bass. Percussion is both exotic and intense as the two work their tracks over until suspense is abundant. Enjoyed on a good sound system, it also reveals the foreboding and suspense-centric nature of the bass, which is very, very prominent. With no moments to remind the listener which reality they are currently residing in, P&S can be a very hypnotic album to descent into.

4. Wander/ Wonder - Balam Acab

Wander/ Wonder is difficult to pin down. Is it blissful or depressing? There are vocals present, and melody is very pronounced throughout the entire album, but they could be seen as being both hopelessly optimistic, and soaringly miserable at the same time. Big hip-hop beats have been slowed to a crawl and layered with sappy strings and harps, while distorted and pitched up vocals provide the words to this indiscernible story. In the end, it leaves the listener to decide which emotion to take from the experience.    

3. Blanck Mass - Blanck Mass

Crescendos are a beautiful thing. Patience is a rewarding thing. The moments that occur on Blanck Mass are so wonderful and so rare that they remind us why it is that we listen to music in the first place. Simply put, this is one of the most original, best executed and special albums I have heard ever. There isn't a need to put a lot of words to it, listen to the track "Sundowner" and you will have experienced what words could never hope to convey.

2. Until We Meet The Sky - Solar Fields

There is a part on Pelican's 12 minute epic "March to the Sea" where the chaotic atmosphere and frantic playing that had occupied the first 7 minutes, gives way completely. It is as if the ground breaks beneath your feet, and you are left dangling by a spindly melody that is painfully, yet perfectly, juxtaposed to a beefy drum beat. A moment of perfection is achieved, and lasts for about three and a half minutes or so as the song rebuilds itself off the same fragile melody until the whole track has been consumed by it.. A similar moment of perfection is achieved on Until We Meet the Sky. On the track "Night Traffic City", a 10 minute epic in its own rite, there is a point in which everything that had been established until then gives way to a melody. That melodies builds and builds, until it too consumes consumes it's respective track. The point I guess I was making, is that sometimes an artist is so skilled at creating, that the canvas simply cannot be limited by size.

1. Sunday Gift - Blue Daisy

Rather than write something new, I think I will quote myself from Resident Advisor's message boards. This was after what I would consider a pretty large bitch-slap of a review. Also, I had some support after my post.

"3.5? This is a serious contender for album of the year! I absolutely love how 90's it sounds. I guess when you get to be a certain age, you start to long for the sounds that you grew up on. I love new music, but for me, electronic music was in it's prime in the 90's. Underworld, Chemical Brothers, Tricky, Massive Attack, Fat Boy Slim, 90's house and techno, jungle, early Warp stuff... Hip-hop was at it's best, and rock would never be as good again.

To me, this album symbolizes all of that. It is vast, it is expansive, it has depth that requires multiple listens and above all it takes it's cues from an era that often gets overlooked by anyone who didn't come into musical age in that one brief synapse in time when everything came together perfectly.
The Sunday Gift is Big Beat. It is Hip-hop. It is Trip-Hop. It is Grunge. It is Stoner Metal. It is Psych Rock. It is House. It is blissful electronics that come together in a beautiful soundscape. In short, it is close to perfection."

According to this post I am in my late 20's early 30's, (real age 24) and am completely jaded when it comes to music. I guess upon reflecting after the great year that was 2011, I can honestly say that I have never been more excited for the music that is yet to come.           

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