Saturday, February 18, 2012

Top 20 Tracks of 2011

I'm a tad late with this, so I've had the benefit of trawling through the end of year lists produced by The Wire, Pitchfork, Bleep, XLR8R, FACT, etc. And what a bizarre decision by The Wire to give James Ferraro their album of the year! Good grist for the blogging mill I guess...

I've put the tracks together as something of a listenable playlist, rather than in any particular ranking. I'll write a little something below each track to give some context too. Enjoy!

The somewhat atypical opening track of Hecker's Ravedeath, 1972 album has been mesmerising me all year long. Sheer transcendent beauty! See also his Dropped Pianos EP and, for techno trainspotters, his early work under the Jetone alias on Force Inc and others.

For those unfamiliar with rapper Lil B (and I'll own up to that), Clams Casino seemed to come out of nowhere with a fully-formed, blissed-out downtempo hip-hop sound. 'Numb' is the standout cut on his Instrumental Mixtape, followed later in the year by the rather disappointing Rainforest EP.

With just one EP and a few singles to his name, Holy Other still managed to make the Sonar bill and top several end of year lists. While decidedly easy on the ears, his sound has just enough melancholy and sonic depth to invite repeat listens. A little over-hyped but undourbtedly perfect for the morning after a big night.

One half of UK dubstep duo Vex'd, Kuedo was another artist who seemed over-acclaimed in 2011. His album Severant is as a patchy listen, but when he does nail the vintage synth with modern beats sound, he really takes you there. 'Salt Lake Cuts' is a perfect slice of sunshiney euphoria for the edge of the dancefloor.

A friend of a friend of a friend who witnessed Matthewdavid performing live in his native Los Angeles reported "making love to the speaker all night". There's a lot of low end, a lot of high end, and it's all swirling together in a glorious kaleidoscope of sound. 'Like You Mean It' comes off his Outmind EP, put out on Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder, and for mine it beats any of FlyLo's recent output hands down. See also Matthewdavid's amazing XLR8R podcast of November 2010.

Looking back, why was everyone so surprised that trance and hip-hop made such sweet love together? 'AT2' was the first Araab track I heard, on Laurel Halo's FACT mix, and although the album Electronic Dream didn't quite live up to my high expectations (especially the terrible production quality) it remains on high rotation. See also 'Golden Touch', in which he samples Jam and Spoons 'Right in the Night' to great effect. Touring Australia this February.

Not much from Burial lately, but everything about 'Street Halo' is pretty much perfect: the vocals, the crackle, the drop and even the unexpected coda. One night I was inexplicably holding down the pavement outside some footballer bar in Richmond when the DJ inside dropped this; I ran inside to show my respect, only for the bartender to cut the music and turn on the house lights just as I made ecstatic contact with my new favourite DJ.

A new Modeselektor album is a real event, and although Monkeytown is even patchier than usual - there's a track for every DJ on there, and a lot of cheese - 'This' is a superbly tense and haunting piece of electronica with all their trademark polish and bass weight.

Not only the best of the TKOL remixes, but better than any originals Radiohead or Caribou have put out for some time. When I played this off the Bose Sound Dock at Rainbow Serpent, a hush fell over our little teepee; at the end, Ned remarked that he wanted to hear it again the next day so he could remember it. (I hope you're reading, Ned.) So graceful, yet so propulsive - and with an unexpected euphoric payoff to boot.

Byetone is Olaf Bender of German label Raster Noton, known for the intellectually rigorous and often demanding electronica of the likes of co-founder Carsten Nicolai AKA Alva Noto. So it was a pleasant surprise to find his Symeta album featuring some very danceable, crunchy industrial beats. Bleep obviously thought so too, naming it their album of the year.

Having produced some huge, synth-driven dubstep beats over the last few years (see especially 'Quantum Leap'), it was a nice surprise to hear Slugabed drop something close to a four-to-the-floor beat - although still with a monstrous wobble. The Moonbeam Rider EP was full of ecstatic melodies and strange twists and turns, and rather unfairly lost in the flood of UK beats. Expect big things in the future from this guy.

I hear he's a great DJ, but I can't really imagine going off on the dancefloor to Martyn's music: on the whole it's just too polished, too housey and too minimal for my taste. But this last track off his Ghost People LP is pure rave joy from start to finish, unloading one catchy synth line after another over a breakbeat that's perfectly in the pocket. A whole album like this please, Mr Martyn!

You know what to expect from Surgeon: serious, uncompromising techno. Breaking the Frame, Anthony Child's first album in over a decade, delivers this in spades - but incorporates more broken rhythms (even dubstep) that lend the work a real freshness. And 'Radiance' is so mind-bendingly immense, it makes me long for a warehouse big enough to do it justice.

One half of US post-garage outfit Sepalcure, Travis Stewart aka Machinedrum is an electronic chameleon who lately has latched onto Chicago juke with interesting results. While much of his hyped Room(s) LP veered dangerously close to the background (a bemusing result for such frenetic rhythms), 'Flycatcha' takes the sound back to the dancefloor with a vengeance. Touring Australia in April.

Now living in Sydney, Mark Pritchard is probably the closest Australia has to electronic music royalty on a global scale. As Global Communication (with Tom Middleton), Reload, and more recently Harmonic313 and now Africa Hitech (with Steve Spacek) he just keeps on releasing great tunes in an amazing array of styles. The 93 Million Miles was a sometimes difficult blend of juke, dubstep, acid house and free jazz, but this jungly remix of monster hit 'Out In the Streets' cannot be denied. Playing a three hour show at Miss Libertines in early March.

Carrier was an interesting album on Dusk and Blackdown's Keysound Recording, half 'purple garage' (to coin a stillborn term), and half juke-infused, wistful electronica. 'Trust' falls decidedly into the latter category, and was easily my most listened-to track of the year.

It took a while for Blue Daisy's modern take on trip-hop to hit home - and the first half of The Sunday Gift still leaves me a little cold. 'Shadow Assassins' straddles an unusual space between a fist-pumping dancefloor and the couch at the back of the room. You may wish to blaze, but there's really no need.

Wander/Wonder is, aptly enough, a meandering and beautiful album of warm bass, treated vocals and artful sound collage - and 'Await' is its emotional highpoint. Balam Acab is touring in February, although the live show is apparently terrible. He sings. Why does everyone want to be a rock star?

2011 was Nicolas Jaar's year, and the title track off his debut album shows why. The rhythm section is a perfect low-slung swagger, and up above the vocals reverberate endlessly like a dream that might just become a nightmare. The whole album is amazing, although if you want something more upbeat try his EPs and remixes. They're mostly amazing too. Oh yeah, and he just turned 22.

Apparently GusGus are a veteran Icelandic group of musicians/artists who once counted Emiliana Torrini as a member. Their latest work is being released on Kompakt, the ageing Cologne colossus of minimal techno, and although much of it is too vocal-led and cheesy for my taste, there are moments of beauty and beautifully sparkly production. Hopefully 'Benched', the last and slowest track on Arabian Horse, hints at their future direction.


Thanks for listening, and reading. Comments welcome!

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