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.
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 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.
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.