2011 has been a remarkable year. It has seen volcanic eruptions disrupt global travel, political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, an official end to the US occupation of Iraq, the emergence of a genuine political protest movement in Occupy Wall Street, incredible flooding in South Asia and Southeast Asia, the end of the second Steve Jobs era at Apple, the return of The Muppets and a continuing effort in the US to dismantle due process and replace the “will of the people” with the profit motives of corporations.
It has also been full of interesting musical activity — intriguing new releases practically every week of the year. So much music that it would be impossible to spend the time to give each a fair shake. So here I have gathered my favorite releases of 2011 which had attracted my continued or repeated attention. There are many omissions, to be sure, but that is why I read others’ lists.
Selections in alphabetical order (mostly)
Burial — Street Halo
Burial returned this year with a stellar 12-inch and several choice collaborations. Expanding on his strengths as a producer of atmospheric and emotional sound design, Burial also played with some different tempos on Street Halo.
Burial & Four Tet & Thom Yorke — Ego/Mirror
A collaboration of note combining the inputs of three artists whose electronic output share a skittering rhythmic sensibility and melancholic energy. Greater than the sum of its parts.
Massive Attack vs. Burial — Four Walls/Paradise Circus
Breaking the alphabetical order to group this Burial collaboration with the other Burial releases. Massive Attack is known for dark and heavy production values and bringing the right vocalists into the studio. Here, Burial’s influence further atomizes their already atmospheric sensibility. Inspired pairing.
J:Kenzo — The Roteks
Heavy sub bass. Half step drums. The kind of track that makes Youngsta my favorite dubstep dj.
Jamie xx — Far Nearer
Steel drum rave chords and insistent vocal snippets make an interesting backdrop for syncopated drums and a half-time bass line.
Radiohead — King of Limbs
King of Limbs sees Radiohead continuing to write good songs and finding innovative ways of arranging and recording them.
Radiohead — Supercollider/The Butcher
Pulled from the King of Limbs sessions, this was a Record Store Day release on vinyl. Edging closer, sonically, to Thom Yorke’s solo album The Eraser.
Chris Macro — Macro Dubplates Volume III: Brooklyn vs. Kingston
Remix/mashup project that pairs Brooklyn Hip-Hop MCs with Jamaican dub and dancehall riddims. Available for free.
Stephan Mathieu — A Static Place
Mathieu is a master at creating levitation-inducing drones out of a mix of light and density. “A Static Place” is perfectly named as this is music that transports you while apparently doing nothing. Quiet, but emotionally weighty.
MRR-ADM — Archive
Michael Raymond Russell and Adam Douglas Manella make dirty gritty instrumentals. The drums sound suspiciously like Malcom Catto (with whom they have worked in the past).
Lee Noble — No Becoming
This is a lo-fi bedroom masterpiece. It sounds like a varied stew of lonely realizations and exploratory thoughts. Structurally loose, but somehow still coherent in its drones and ambience. Occasional bursts of vocals and “normal” instruments break through the clouds.
SBTRKT — SBTRKT
SBTRKT’s full-length album release deploys the dancefloor tactics of his single releases but here in the service of songs. The songs never overstay their welcome and the overall effect is very satisfying.
Andy Stott — Passed Me By
Steamy dub techno sounds hiss and clatter while bass alternates between pillow-y and concrete.
Trust — Candy Walls
A gem of a single. Brooding synth pop with two great breakdowns.
Tunnels — The Blackout
Tunnels is the alter ego of Nicholas Bindeman, who plays with Jackie-O Motherfucker. As Tunnels he crafts 80s-style post-punk and synth pop, sometimes cold and often with an undertone of menace.
Zola Jesus — Conatus
Solid set of fringe-y pop songs from Zola Jesus. Sounds kind of like if Stevie Nicks had Bjork’s career.
ASAP Rocky — Peso
I was introduced to this via dj /rupture’s Mudd Up blog. Hypnotic.