December 31, 2011

Top 50 Albums of 2011: 10 - 1

James Blake “James Blake”

There'll be some groans at this being #1 but no other album this year got as much rotation. For those familiar with his EPs, such as the Kelis-sampling CMYK, Blake's debut album was something of a shock. The wonk and bass pushed back revealing a new Blake as a singer-songwriter.


Tim Hecker "Ravedeath, 1972"

Ravedeath is an intense suite of unsettling ambient drone that consists of layers of dissonant electronics and washes of static intertwined with the deep, resonant sound of an antique church organ in an ever-shifting push-pull interplay. Powerful, enigmatic and haunting, without a doubt among Hecker's most accomplished work to date.


Craft Spells "Idle Labor"

Craft Spells play up-tempo indie pop with a sweet tinge of melancholia. Their sound is informed by early eighties British synth-pop and New Zealand's Flying Nun. Also audible on Idle Labor are echoes of Radio Dept. and New Order (paid homage to via the cover art). A near-perfect summer album.

(Captured Tracks)

Tin Man “Perfume”

Weird, twisted and brilliant, Tin Man's off-kilter piano melodies and unexpected time signatures have a warping effect on the mind and the disembodied, creepy vocals will make your skin crawl. This house music isn't made for dancing, but more for sitting alone in the small hours, deliberately weirding yourself out.


Emptyset “Demiurge”

Demiurge sees the Bristol-based duo push their insanely bass-heavy industrial glitch further into the abyss. Like Byetone but made more visceral due to the dominating sub-bass throb that could only come from urban Britain in the wake of grime and dubstep. Starkly minimal, hugely absorbing and, at times almost threatening.


Shabazz Palaces "Black Up"

This summer's Ishmael-less Digable Planets fiasco just proved who the real genius was in the band. Butler, known as Butterfly in the Digable days, has been involved with some great projects since then (e.g. Camp Lo and Cherrywine) but Black Up is by far the most inspired album he's made.

(Sub Pop)

Murcof “La Sangre Illuminada”

La Sangre Illuminada, Murcof's sixth album, originally only released locally, was composed as a soundtrack for the film of the same name by Mexican director Iván Ávila Dueñas. It is an intense, immersive album constructed of layers of sombre cello, sparse piano and glitchy electronics, resulting in a tense ambience.


Kangding Ray “Or”

Or is the third, and most accomplished, album by Kangding Ray (aka French producer David Letellier). Starkly minimal with superbly crisp production, this is Bass music Raster-Noton style. Not an ounce of fat on the whole record, Hype Williams must have cried into their cornflakes when they heard this record.


Robag Wruhme “Thora Vukk”

Robag Wruhme (aka German producer Gabor Schablitzki) delivered his second solo album, hot on the heels of his critically acclaimed Wuppdeckmischmampflow mix on Kompakt earlier in the year. Warm, emotive and atmospheric, Thora Vukk is a truly beautiful album of cosy yet compelling organic 'house'. Perfect for a wintry day.


J. Cole “Cole World: The Sideline Story”

Backed by none less than Jay-Z and following several great mixtapes over the course of almost five years, rapper and producer J. Cole finally gave us his debut album. Cole World debuted on the Billboard chart at #1 but it should've garnered a bit more critical attention than it did.

(Roc Nation)

December 30, 2011

Top 50 Albums of 2011: 20 - 11

Tape “Revelationes”

Hailing from Stockholm, Tape are now on their eighth album and have been around over a decade. Garnering some deserved attention in 2008 with the superb Luminarium, Revelationes slipped a little under the radar. A short and truly beautiful album of post-rock with jazzy drums and a heap of melancholy.


Timber Timbre “Creep On Creepin' On”

Featuring some subtle guest appearances from saxophonist Colin Stetson, Timber Timbre's fourth album was also nominated for the Polaris in 2011. The creepy old-timey melodic sensibility of singer-songwriter Taylor Kirk was stronger than ever on this appropriately named album. Without a doubt this was Timber Timbre's strongest work to date.

(Arts & Crafts)

Amon Tobin “Isam”

Known for his jazz-sampling work in the nineties, Tobin has eschewed the vinyl in favour of field recordings. More angular and disjointed, yet also more melodic, Isam a more introverted work, in terms of process and sound. Coupled with an extroverted and technically impressive live show, Tobin impressed us all.

(Ninja Tune)

Battles “Gloss Drop”

In 2010, vocalist Tyondai Braxton quit Battles halfway through recording their second album. One member down, they decided to continue as a three-piece adding several guest vocalists including Gary Numan and Kazu of Blonde Redhead. Gloss Drop is a fun, original record pushing their inimitable maximalist, loop-driven sound further forward.


Nicolas Jaar “Space Is Only Noise”

Inhabiting the space between James Blake and Matthew Dear, but more subtle than either, Nicolas Jaar blends samples, dubstep and deep house together to create a truly unique downtempo experience. From the Godard-laden “Être” to the latin-laced “Keep Me There”, Jaar has made a unique and long-lasting record.

(Clown & Sunset)

Jacaszek “Glimmer”

On Glimmer the Polish composer focuses on harpsichord and the deep resonance of clarinet. The static fuzz of drone and electronics provide a backdrop to huge gothic arches of sound, soliciting comparisons to Tim Hecker or Murcof. Expansive and melancholic, its potency's revealed by its ability to fill any space.

(Ghostly International)


Known for his remixes and 2020 EP, the identity of SBTRKT remained unknown for most of 2011. Eventually the man behind the mask was outed as British DJ and producer Aaron Jerome. Hugely catchy, SBTRKT successfully blends dubstep, R&B and pop, sounding something like a much updated Nightmares On Wax.

(Young Turks)

The Weeknd “House Of Balloons”

Discovered by Toronto superstar Drake, The Weeknd (aka Abel Tesfaye) has released a trilogy of mixtapes (mini-albums really) to download for free from his website. With a meld of R&B, dubstep, hip-hop, samples from surprising sources and Tesfaye's pained stories of drugs and sex, the end result is enthralling.


Bon Iver “Bon Iver, Bon Iver”

Bon Iver's Justin Vernon is another man who had the unenviable task of following-up a critically acclaimed, organically successful debut. Affecting a much more eighties sound than before, the album is a work of emotive beauty and a highly listenable one at that. The cheesy final track “Beth/Rest” aside.


Radiohead “The King of Limbs”

Released suddenly without announcement or promo, the album isn't Radiohead's best by any stretch of the imagination, but neither is it the half-baked release that it appeared to be on first listen. “Bloom” opens with a clear dubstep influence but the ballads, especially “Codex”, are the highlights here.

(TBD Records)

December 29, 2011

Top 50 Albums of 2011: 30 - 21

Emanuele Errante “Time Elapsing Handheld"

Time Elapsing Handheld is Italian ambient composer Emanuele Errante's third full-length release. Subtle use of guitar, harp and piano are layered under tasteful washes of warm and fuzzy electronics. This makes for some seriously gorgeous headphone listening and, like Ezekiel Honig, at times so subtle you could almost miss it.

(Karaoke Kalk)
tUnE-yArDs “w h o k i l l”

Oakland, California-based Merrill Garbus blends indie, punk, funk and more besides with a heavy African inspiration that comes across more genuine and informed than a million Vampire Weekends. Wielding lo-fi ukelele, plenty of tasteful sax, proud feminist lyrics and hella powerful tonsils, tUnE-yArDs is bold, playful, highly-percussive and mind-bogglingly unique.


Ricardo Donoso “Progress Chance”

Ricardo Donoso is a composer and percussionist from Brazil currently residing in Boston. This is (officially) his debut album as a solo, and electronic, musician. The layers of arpeggiated synths and voice samples are reminiscent of a cleaner, stripped-down Emeralds crossed with Cliff Martinez. Progress Chance is a superb release.


Roll The Dice “In Dust”

Hot on the heels of 2010's debut, In Dust is a stunning, cinematic slice of kosmische from a duo of Swedish composers, Peder Mannerfelt and Malcolm Pardon. The Stockholm-based electro-acoustic outfit have created a beautifully understated yet cinematic work that is at times brooding and in other moments outright menacing.

(The Leaf Label)

Africa Hitech “93 Million Miles”

Africa Hitech comprises two talented British ex-pats now living in Australia, Mark Pritchard (Global Communication, Harmonic 313) and Steve Spacek (formerly of Spacek). A dizzyingly polyrhythmic yet dancefloor-ready album of Bass loaded with influences from techno, dub, reggae and UK Garage to name a few. Heavy, unique and bloody good.


Kreidler “Tank”

Rhythmic and pulsating, a gorgeous slice of contemporary Krautrock. Here Kreidler sound more organic than ever. Tank is a fantastic album of tight seven-minute jams. Somewhat of a surprise comeback and probably their best release since Weekend, back in the mid-nineties. It'll be interesting to see what they do next.

(Bureau B)

Machinedrum “Room(s)”

While Machinedrum's early work was akin to the cut'n'paste hip-hop of Prefuse 73, this latest release has more in common with the manic, post-modern production styles of Wagon Christ or Bibio. Rhythm-heavy, yet soulful and accessible, Room(s) is built upon a base of organic-sounding drum samples and a killer kick-drum.

(Planet Mu)

Austra “Feel It Break”

Toronto's Katie Stelmanis, Maya Postepski and Dorian Wolf were justifiably on this year's Polaris short list. Austra come across as a more electronic Zola Jesus or a poppier Fever Ray. Perfect for those days when you want to listen to The Knife but don't want to enter the dark place!

(Paper Bag)

Ezekiel Honig “Folding In On Itself”

Ezekiel Honig's sixth release and his debut for experimental label Type. Brooding ambience interlaced with field samples and minimal techno beats as rumbling dubby bass weaves in and out of the intricate soundscape. A delicate, unrelentingly melancholic work and perfect headphone listening for a grey, rainy day in the city.


The Psychic Paramount “II”

Six years had passed since The Psychic Paramount's debut and with II, they waste no time getting back on the rails. Making an inordinately large racket for their size and even more expansive than their debut, the end result is forty minutes of high-octane post-rock bliss that'll leave you feeling breathless.

(No Quarter)

December 28, 2011

Top 50 Albums of 2011: 40 - 31

Lake “Giving and Receiving”

One of the most underrated and under-appreciated albums of the year, Lake's fourth album, released on Olympia's K Records, is a superb slice of clean, crisp, sixties-tinged indie-pop. Standout track is the properly catchy “Roger Miller” but the album contains some of the best indie-pop songs of the year.


Wugazi “13 Chambers”

Wugazi does exactly what it says on the tin. Wu-Tang Clan acapellas expertly mashed-up with Fugazi instrumentals. Obviously it could never be more than sum of its already excellent parts but as a fan of both artists it doesn't fail to excite and amuse in equal parts. Pure inspired genius.

(Doomtree Records)

Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto “Summvs”

The fifth, and purportedly final, album of collaboration between German minimal glitch artist Alva Noto and Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Summvs is dominated by sparse, emotive piano residing under glitchy sine wave manipulation, punctuated by pockets of pulsating bass. It includes two instrumental re-workings of Brian Eno's "By This River."


Deaf Center “Owl Splinters”

Deaf Center's long awaited second album is like a soundtrack for the most terrifying movie never made, or a yet unseen Herzog documentary. Evoking the ceaseless movement of glaciers underfoot – the sound of natural forces far bigger than us. Gloomy, sinister and unsettling, the end result is somehow soothing.


The Field "Looping State Of Mind"

The third album from The Field (aka Sweden's Alex Willner) is another sumptuous soundscape of deliciously minimal loops layered to hypnotic perfection. Released on Kompakt and coming from the realm of laptops and minimal techno, Looping State Of Mind also has some great live instrumentation, especially the bass guitar grooves.


Cults “Cults"

Cults quickly grabbed attention with the singles “Go Outside” and “Abducted”, which although certainly the stand-outs, the rest of the album isn't far behind. A great pop sensibility heavily reminiscent of Motown and Phil Spector, despite the dark subject matter the melodies and Madeline Follin's vocals are uplifting.

(Columbia / In The Name Of)

Hauschka “Salon Des Amateurs”

Hauschka (pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann) uses acoustic instruments to make dance music somewhat along the lines of Brandt Brauer Frick. The album takes its name from a piano festival in Düsseldorf, Bertelmann's hometown. Centred around Bertelmann's prepared piano, it also contributions from Múm drummer Samuli Kosminen and members of Calexico.


The Roots “Undun”

On 2010's How I Got Over, The Roots overtly sampled harpist Joanna Newsom. This time they rely on a track from another darling of the indie scene, Sufjan Stevens. A concept album about a character called Redford Stevens, Undun is The Roots' most accessible album and a fine one too.

(Def Jam Recordings)

Wagon Christ “Toomorrow”

Wagon Christ is Luke Vibert's moniker for making weird and wonky hip-hop albums. Brought back into play after a seven year break, Toomorrow has the beats, squiggly synths and comedy that you would expect. There's not really anything new going on here but it's far too much fun to ignore.

(Ninja Tune)

Colin Stetson "New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges”

Surprisingly, and deservedly, short-listed for the Polaris prize, 2011 was a good year for saxophonist Colin Stetson. Until now Stetson has primarily been known as a session musician, playing with artists including Arcade Fire, Tom Waits, Angelique Kidjo and Timber Timbre but Judges, his second solo album, is quite something.


December 27, 2011

Top 50 Albums of 2011: 50 - 41

Jóhann Jóhannsson “The Miners' Hymns"

The Icelandic composer's first album for the British label FatCat, The Miners' Hymns is a soundtrack to Bill Morrison's film of the same name. Appropriately for a soundtrack to a film about Northumberland coalminers, there is heavy reliance on brass. Minimal, haunting and emotive, this is one of Jóhannsson's best.


The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble “Mr. Machine"

Much like label-mate Herbert, Mr. Machine is a work of jazzy, piano-led, left-field (albeit analogue) 'house' that stays clear of lounge. Built around the trio of Brandt Brauer Frick, here the Ensemble swell to a ten-piece. Organic, angular yet never jagged, the catchy piano riffs contrast with lushly layered percussion.


Sandro Perri “Impossible Spaces”

The most immediately striking aspect of Impossible Spaces is the warmth of the recording. Perri's vocals bring to mind Andrew Bird or Broken Social Scene but the playing is way more freeform and intuitively led. Jazzy percussion, flutes and synths recalling more psychedelic references. A slow, gorgeous and soothing work.


No Gold “No Gold"

In 2010, it seemed like every indie band in North America was looking towards African music as a source of inspiration, led by Vampire Weekend and Animal Collective. This debut from Vancouver's No Gold proves there's still room for African-infused indie, especially blended with great pop hooks and Krautrock grooves.

(Unfamiliar Records)

Widowspeak “Widowspeak"

Widowspeak is the eponymous debut album from the NYC-based trio on Brooklyn's Captured Tracks. The exquisitely sensual, breathy vocals are counterpointed beautifully with jangly slide guitar. A gorgeously slow-paced, Americana-laced album evokes Elysian Fields, blues-based femme fatales such as Mazzy Star and Cat Power and a hint of PJ Harvey.

(Captured Tracks)

Spank Rock “Everything Is Boring & Everyone's A Fucking Liar"

Another act that had little chance of living up to expectations was Baltimore's Spank Rock. After the departure of two members and years of legal wrangling, MC Spank Rock (aka Naeem Juwan) and XXXChange (aka Alex Epton) finally followed up the superb YoYoYoYoYo, helped along by German producer Boys Noize.

(Boysnoize Records)

Panda Bear “Tomboy"

It was unlikely that Noah Lennox would be able to repeat the success of Person Pitch. Not wishing to damn with faint praise, Tomboy is an enjoyable album even if it doesn't live up to the expectations set by its predecessor and the suspense created by its infuriatingly slow release.

(Paw Tracks)

Roots Manuva “4everevolution”

Roots Manuva (aka Rodney Smith) has been off his game for a few years now but the unfortunately named 4everevolution is his best album proper in at least half a decade. Apparently mostly songs planned for other artists, it's understandably diverse yet retains the unique sound the British rapper pioneered.

(Big Dada)

Cliff Martinez & Various Artists “Drive (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)"

The first twenty minutes of Drive was one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema I'd seen of late. Shame then that the flow and aesthetics were marred by a tedious plot involving a goofy mafia duo. The speechless scenes of Gosling driving around to Cliff Martinez's score were stunning.

(Lakeshore Recordings)

Dustin O'Halloran “Vorleben”

Vorleben is a live performance of some of O'Halloran's best works, recorded in Berlin in the summer of 2009. Mostly pieces from his acclaimed albums Piano Solos and Piano Solos Vol. 2. What at first appears as unassumingly delicate eventually reveals itself to be an arresting and heavily melancholic work.