My Favorite Releases of 2011

Two thousand and eleven was a killer year for new music. In general, I think I discovered more new albums in twenty-ten, but for some reason I was more excited about my favorites this year. As I hear new things, I drop them into an ongoing list in Evernote which reached about 180 albums since January. Rather than generate a massive list of everything again, I’m keeping the list shorter this year which gives me some room for a few personal thoughts about each release.

It was really hard to pick an overwhelming favorite this year. But, if pressed, I’d have to go with The Caretaker followed by a surprising close second: Rrose X Bob Ostertag.

My Top 20 of 2011 (in alphabetical order):

  • Andy Stott – Passed Me By / We Stay Together – Not much else sounded like Andy Stott’s EPs this year. Techno that’s drugged and zombified; absolutely crushing.
  • Applehead – Crepaxian Interligne Mixtape – I slept on the beautiful limited clamshell cassette, but it was then released as a free download shortly thereafter. Most of the source material isn’t from this year, yet I’m including it on the list. 80s Spanish and Italian horror classics. Best mix of 2011.
  • Bvdub – I Remember (Translations Of Mørketid) – Brock Van Wey continued to be a busy, busy man this year cranking out a ton of new releases. This one floated to the top. Among his very best in his dub techno, ambient canon.
  • The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World – James Kirby, another busy fellow, returned with an astounding album under his Caretaker moniker. This didn’t leave my turntable very often this year. Haunted 78s melted on blue wax. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.
  • Container – LP – A standout among an already stellar label, Spectrum Spools. I really liked the reviews calling it “squashed” techno. Lots of artists are creating music along these lines right now. But this one is unquestionably unparalleled.
  • Deadbeat – Drawn and Quartered – Deadbeat returned with a killer dub LP this year. One of those releases that I knew would make my year end list from the second I heard it. He continues to amaze with his deep sound productions. Cavernous.
  • Ekoplekz – Memowrekz – This album’s a trip. Analogue equipment with a mind of its own. Unpredictable noise experiments that sputter, flicker and drone for over 110 minutes. Might be my third favorite of the year if I had to rank ’em.
  • Elzhi – Elmatic – I heard a lot of great new hip-hop this year. But I have to give a special nod to Elzhi’s powerful tribute to Illmatic by Nas because it was my soundtrack to our move to Detroit.
  • The Field – Looping State Of Mind – On his 3rd release, Axel Willner perfects his delirious loops of beats and arpeggiated samples. You really need all three of his albums to space out to. Perfect ambient techno.
  • Grouper – A I A : Alien Observer / A I A : Dream Loss – The title track off of Alien Observer might sit atop my favorite songs of the year. Liz Harris returns with two simultaneously released LPs. In a Wire article, she explains the relationship of the two as “not a double album per se, but two separate objects that were meant to go together. I was trying to talk about the third space that wasn’t there – the space between them.”
  • Iceage – New Brigade – It seems this is my only rock record on the list. The post-punk genre can be tiring with few recent albums worthy to be put alongside some of the greats. This is an exception. 24 minutes of extraordinary punk from a group of Danish teenagers. ROCK!
  • Jürgen Müller – Science of the Sea – The backstory explains that this long-lost labor of love was originally released in 1982. I’m going out on a limb to say that its mysterious sounds documenting the magic of oceangraphy are a bit too spot-on among the similar resurgence in synthesizer music lately to be from the early 80s. But I don’t care, this LP is a thing of aquatic beauty.
  • Motion Sickness Of Time Travel – Seeping Through The Veil Of The Unconscious – If you dig the music of Grouper and liked the A I A albums I mentioned above, you will love the music of Rachel Evans. I know this originally came out in 2010, but the vinyl was released this year and I loved it so much I had to include it. Gauzy washes of synth and other ephemera. Easily in the top 5 among this list.
  • Peaking Lights – 936 – I think this was on everyone’s list this year. So I won’t say much about it, other than it’s a remarkably solid effort from start to finish. Was “All The Sun That Shines” the anthem of 2011?
  • Pinch & Shackleton – Pinch & Shackleton – A late entry into this year’s list. Two leaders in the dubstep community, although you can easily argue how often these two guys break the rules of the genre. More than a simple collaboration, these gents take their sounds to the next level. Strikingly good. A new bar has been set.
  • Ricardo Donoso – Progress Chance – Someone reviewed this as Goa trance without the beats. Along with The Caretaker LP, this album was also on heavy rotation in our home. Any fan of electronic music needs this in their collection. A special, special record.
  • Roly Porter – Aftertime – Another one I slept on until near the end of the year. It took me a bit to warm up to it but now I love its rich and moody textures. Repeated listens uncover layers of innovative sound. Stark, compelling and it might be the most rewarding album on this year’s list.
  • Rrose X Bob Ostertag – Motormouth Variations – This release blew me away. One of my favorite things to have come out on the Sandwell District label. Ostertag, an improv musician who has collaborated with John Zorn and Fred Frith, provides the modular synth sounds while the mysterious Rrose sits in the producer’s seat. The bass on this thing is incredible. Absolutely monstrous.
  • Surgeon – Breaking The Frame – Best techno record of the year? After a brief high pitched intro, this album never lets up. Brilliantly produced. Deep and dark, this LP is an inspiring take on techno by Mr. Anthony Child.
  • talkingmakesnosense – Corscates – The genre of drone can be classified in many ways. I don’t know if Dominic Dixon minds the label “drone” but this is my favorite drone release of the year. It’s beautifully packaged too in a wax sealed translucent envelope with handmade paper print inserts. Limited to 100, you need to grab this before it’s gone.

Hope you dig this list. I enjoyed many, many releases this year, but I found these to be the best of the best. The ones I kept returning to. No doubt they’ll continue to be favorites of mine for years to come. Happy Holidays!

EDIT: Clearly I was hasty in posting my list this year. There are quite a few stellar releases I missed. So, better late than never, here are another ten:

  • Nicholas Szczepanik – Please Stop Loving Me
  • Devin Underwood & Marcus Fischer – Correspond
  • Clams Casino – Instrumentals
  • Moon Wiring Club – Clutch It Like A Gonk
  • The Advisory Circle – As The Crow Flies
  • Rene Hell – The Terminal Symphony
  • Ezekiel Honig – Folding In On Itself
  • Perc – Wicker & Steel
  • Emuul – The Drawing Of The Line
  • Aquarelle – Sung In Broken Symmetry

OK. Now I’m done. Cheers!

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