2011 was ridiculously big on good new music. We live in exciting times, ladies and gentlemen. To those who claim that all great music was produced in the past, I want to say–which planet do you live on? The current state of music is actually one of the few things we 21st-century humans should be proud of. I, for one, am really happy that everyone and their grandma now experiments with their laptops and puts the results online. Through the Internet we have unprecedented access to music scenes from all over the world, be it Angolan kuduro or Burmese rap, and sophisticated music is no longer a province of self-appointed “elites.”
Below is my personal list of 2011’s top music goodies. I decided to not limit myself to albums, because omitting favorite single tracks and mixes would be totally unfair. Also, top 10 is frustratingly little, so there is also a “Best of the Rest” list at the end. And you should check out them all!
Top Ten of 2011
10. DIS MAGAZINE‘S N EGYPT MIX BY DJ RAINSTICK
2011 was not the best year for dictators and tyrants. Was DIS Magazine‘s N EGYPT mix a celebration of the Arab Spring? Looks like it. According to the credo of Cool Places Soundsystem, of which Tony Lowe aka DJ Rainstick is (or was) a part, “Global musical thinking will be part of what saves us as a species.” Rainstick drenched “jams by Egyptian youth” in FX and got the most hypnotic and ecstatic thing I’ve heard this year. Here is a song from the mix; you can download the whole thing here.
9. RELIGIOUS KNIVES, SMOKESCREEN, SACRED BONES
I went to New York last summer, and what I encountered was 100-degree heat and heaps of trash in the streets. Religious Knives‘ Smokescreen is a soundtrack to that trash and that heat, as well as to hangovers, lunatic wanderings, and boring delirium. It is monotonous and raw. You can also dance like crazy to it.
8. BLACK CHOW, “SIGNS,” FROM WONDERLAND EP, JAHTARI
Producer Kevin Martin aka The Bug (who reigns over the Black Chow project with Dokkebi Q’s Kiki Hitomi) has a talent for finding the absolute best vocalists. “Signs” would not be such a monster of a tune without the voice of MC Pupajim, which floats over the riddim like a wraith. This is less “future bass” than “mirage bass.”
7. RAS G’S REMIX OF “COOL OUT” BY KING MIDAS SOUND, WITHOUT YOU, HYPERDUB
Without You, the album of remixes of King Midas Sound songs, is full of lovely tunes, including treatments by Cooly G, Joel Ford, and Green Gartside, which would be all over the radio in a better world. But the best remix is the most radical one. “Cool Out” reworked by Ras G & The Afrikan Space Program is like a war between Song and Crazy Machine, in which the latter almost obliterates the former. Only little slivers of the original are able to get through the electronic mayhem. OH RAS!!! indeed. You can listen to the remix here.
6. SUN ARAW, ANCIENT ROMANS, DRAG CITY/ SUN ARK
Like Ras G, Sun Araw is an auteur. His complex, maximalist psychedelic creations encourage listeners to make up bizarre narratives based on his chosen themes. Like all powerful art, his music is user-unfriendly in the best possible way. It describes a disturbing emotional state, perching itself precariously between nervous agitation and bliss. Sun Araw takes inspiration from many long-established styles (dub, funk, psych rock), but his work stays utterly contemporary.
5. MORPHOSIS, WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED, MOS RECORDINGS/ DELSIN RECORDS/ MORPHINE
Morphosis claims that this slab of glacial avant-garde Techno was composed in only two days. Which is an impressive feat, because the album is not simplistic at all. What Have We Learned is as much body music as it is a sonic labyrinth, in which you should wander in solitude.
4. EGYPTRIXX, BIBLE EYES, NIGHT SLUGS
Probably my most played album of the year. Those high-pitched synth glides just don’t get old, especially when the volume is turned way up and the synth sounds envelop and overwhelm you. The sound of Bible Eyes can easily be described as “futuristic,” and Egyptrixx himself is seriously future-minded, in the sense of “committed to pushing boundaries.” He recently covered the drone metal band Earth, for God’s sake. On Bible Eyes the more dancefloor-ready tracks are neighbored with such curiosities as the droney “Start From the Beginning” and the bass-heavy “Fuji Cub,” which ventures into Goth territory. To use my favorite word ever: gothadelic. Gothadelicious.
3. KODE9 & THE SPACEAPE, BLACK SUN, HYPERDUB
Black Sun is sci-fi bass music which has a dystopian narrative to go with it. Much has been said about the production skills of Kode9, dubstep originator and author of a theoretical book about sonic warfare, but I’d also like to give some love to his sidekick The Spaceape, who is probably my favorite MC ever. His voice and delivery, something between the earthen and the machine-like, give words unique force and weight. That is probably why San Francisco producer Dub Gabriel invited him to lend his voice to a political song.
2. HTRK, WORK (work, work), GHOSTLY INTERNATIONAL
Don’t think that I am being condescending by saying this, but WORK (work, work) is the kind of music I longed to hear when I was a teenager. In this case I mean it as a compliment. HTRK‘s album is dark and foggy pop/rock that has beauty and drama and intelligence, but does not beg to be liked by anyone. And it has insane bass pressure. The best example of the latter is the track “Eat Yr Heart.”
1. WATER BORDERS, HARBORED MANTRAS, TRI ANGLE
Over the past few years there has been a palpable desire on the part of the indie/ experimental scene “to reclaim Goth from Hot Topic.” The duo Water Borders, aficionados of Coil, electronic dance music, and tribal rhythms, show the world how to be Goth and still sound magnificently fresh. Harbored Mantras is one of those rare albums that do not have a single weak track, where every element is exactly where it should be. I’m not sure what I like more: the bleak atmosphere, the inventive production, Amitai Heller’s gorgeous baritone, or the fact that Water Borders’ music inspires manic dancing. I have seen them live twice in 2011, and I want more.
MORE GREAT SOUNDS OF 2011
Pinch & Shackleton, Pinch & Shackleton, Honest Jon’s
Kangding Ray, OR, raster-noton
Cut Hands, Afro Noise I, Very Friendly
The Haxan Cloak, The Haxan Cloak, Aurora Borealis
Colin Stetson, New History Warfare vol. 2: Judges, Constellation
Pictureplane, Thee Physical, Lovepump United
Andy Stott, Passed Me By, Modern Love
Chrissy Murderbot, Women’s Studies, Planet Mu
Falty DL, You Stand Uncertain, Planet Mu
Surgeon, Breaking the Frame, Dynamic Tension
Clams Casino, Instrumentals, self-released/ Type
Shabazz Palaces, Black Up, Sub Pop
Amen Dunes, Through Donkey Jaw, Sacred Bones
Tropic of Cancer, The End of All Things, Downwards
Fabric 57 – Agoria, Fabric Records
Ras G, Down 2 Earth, Ramp Recordings
Take a look at our other Best of 2011 lists:
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