Best Music of 2011

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.

SBTRKTSBTRKT

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.

Honorable Mention:

ASAP Rocky — Peso

I was intro­duced to this via dj /rupture’s Mudd Up blog. Hyp­not­ic.

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