My album and artist of the year
I will remember 2011 muscially as the the year that dubstep went mainstream and “post-dubstep/future garage/UK bass” took a step forward to be the defining sound of my headphones, car and laptop. 2010 & 2009 were pretty good years for music, but this development in the dubstep sound to take in house, hip hop, d&b and crucially intelligent pop/soul music, made 2011 a bit of a vintage one.
I was excited about SBTRKT & Sampha since their “Break Off / Evening Glow” single on Ramp last year.
I listened intently to GP‘s show on Radio 1 when they did a live session in January and by the summer when the album came out I was a major fanboy. Their stuff reminded me of everything I’ve enjoyed about credible poppy dance music since the late 80s. And listening to some of Aaron’s mixes on Rinse FM and elsewhere made me realise he was probably also a big fan on Mantronix’s “Got To Have Your Love“. For me, that tune defines everything that is good about credible crossover dance music. Plus it reminds me of being 16. Never a bad thing.
Probably my fave track on the SBTRKT album is Hold On, shown here in live form at Reading this summer. The SBTRKT live shows ROCKED as well. Find their performance at the iTunes Festival if you can. Hoping to catch them at the Worldwide Awards next month.
Machinedrum / Room(s)
Fantastically well produced juke/IDM/dubstep hybrid on Mike Paradinas’ Planet Mu label. Top tune: U Don’t Survive Soulful breakbeat shuffle with an uplifting vocal *spine tingles*
Honorable mention – Machinedrum also released an album with Praveen Sharma under the nom de plume of Sepalcure. If you like Machinedrum then you’ll also like this.
Zomby / Dedication
A sort of dubstep Blue Lines, Zomby stepped out of the rave and into bleepy melancholic territory carving a desolate and isolated soundscape for long walks in dark and rainy cities. An intense and personal listen even though most of the tracks are less than 3mins in length. Top tune: Alothea.
Africa HiTech / 93 Million Miles
Mark Pritchard – aka IDM god and once one half of Global Communication – plus Steve Spacek teamed up for a meeting of minds that showed Pritchard’s chameleon-like talent for crafting sounds that somehow meld the latest riddims to a studious knowledge of music both past and future. Top tune: (actually not on the album) Out in the Streets VIP. An Amen-fisted jungle monster that would tear apart any dance.
From the left side
This year I got into a whole load of drone artists; an area which is ripe for personal musical exploration. It’s a love that’s hard to share due to the slightly dark and introspective nature of the music. Nevertheless the one guy who caught my ears this year was Tim Hecker.
Tim Hecker / Ravedeath 1972
Hecker’s Ravedeath 1972 album (as well as having the best album title EVER) is a headphone listener’s dream. Dropping you into wave after wave of glorious isolationist feedback, Hecker’s sound feels like the afterburn of city lights, or drowning yourself in drowsy yoghurt-filled pillows. Plus there is the out-takes album “Dropped Pianos” – which sounds exactly like the title suggests. Once in a lifetime stuff.
A Winged Victory For The Sullen / self titled
Possibly my fave drone artist (sorry Robin 🙂 for the past few years has been Stars of the Lid – their ‘And The Refinement of the Decline’ is a classic in my eyes. So I was excited to hear that one of the clan was doing a solo album. It’s hard to put this stuff into words, but keeping it simple, it’s slow, orchestral, and beautiful. Mournful, yes, but I can deal with that. Top tune: We Played Some Open Chords and Rejoiced, for the Earth Had Circled the Sun Yet Another Year
Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer / Re: ECM
In which, the Chilean mnml-meister and some bloke from Berlin re-imagine high-art jazz label ECM’s back catalogue. A little bit hit and miss this one, and I know this is probably my most “knowing” selection this year, but some of this stuff just blows your mind. Top tune: Reannounce
I’m always checking for musical education from albums that people have sampled or that Gilles plays on Radio 1. It’s either that or people who are mixing up the old with the new. This year I discovered the following…
I’m not the biggest Jay Dilla-head that you could ever meet but I have always admired “Stakes Is High” by De La Soul. When Swahililand kicked in, I was in paroxysyms. Essential. Top tune: Swahililand
Brandt Brauer Frick / You Make Me Real
BBF are like the playmorejazz version of Jaga Jazzist. They’ve got a a Berliner-style Terry Riley minimalism vibe instead of the Chick Corea/post rock fusion thing that JJ subscribe to. Really engrossing listen. Probably would be fab to see live. Top tune (that I wish I had weaved into a DJ set this year): Bop
Wesseltoft / Schwarz / Duo
I’m a big fan of baldy-headed Scandinavian Bugge Wesseltoft, and to find out he was teaming up with deep house god Henrisk Schwarz was almost too good to be true. They gently craft a mix of keys and electronica vibes that would grace any ex-raver middle class dinner party with an insouciance only known to those with a taste for fine music. And fine wine. Top tune: Kammermusik
REAL hip hop
I may be one of the most unlikely hip hop “headz” you’ll ever meet, nevertheless most of the time when you see me at work in meetings I’ll be reciting some Rakim lyric or other in my head. (“Remember me? / The one you got your idea from?”) Sad but true. This year these were the jams that connected.
Will Sessions / Real Sessions feat. Guilty Simpson, Phat Kat (free download)
Someone at work (who knows who they are) hooked me up with this which is essentially an 8-piece band playing Dilla and Madlib joints live with the vocal talents of Guilty (who sounds fantastic) and Phat Kat. 313 represent! Top tune: Get Riches Bob ya head to this!
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson & Timeless / Suite for Ma Dukes
Live strings-and-vocals versions of Dilla classics performed live as a tribute to the great producer with his mum (“Ma Dukes”) present. Posdnuous & Kweli crop up on Stakes Is High. Truly timeless. LIsten and unwind. Top tune: Stakes is High. Love… vibration… *goosebumps*
Jay Z & Kanye West / Watch the Throne
As commercial and high-falutin’ as this collaboration sounds, in my view both Hove & Yeezy produce some great stuff and with the clout they can wield wth producers and collaborators, it’s really a case of an embarrassment of riches. The fact that they pull off what is a pretty musical effort on the whole is a tribute to their focus, even though lyrically you can expect better elsewhere. Top tune (obvious selection): Otis – fantastic version by Chuck D setting a few things straight…
Mix of the year
Generally I’m not big on DJ mixes. Don’t know why, I like making them myself but not listening to other people’s. But one certainly hit the spot this year, even challenging Coldcut’s 70 Minutes of Madness as BEST DJ MIX EVER.
Dixon / Live At Robert Johnson’s Vol 8
This mix feels like listening to tectonic plates move, it’s that masterful. Taking you from blissed out electronics through to 120 bpm deep house, the first kick drum doesn’t come in until track 6. By that stage if you’re listening on headphones you feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven, it’s that good. Dance music rarely gets as spiritual as this. Top tune: Snooze 4 Love by Todd Terje.
Of course, music isn’t just about albums, but I’ve always been an albums person despite being into dance music and all the 12″ fetishism that that brings. It would probably be wrong of me to let 2011 pass by without mentioning people like James Blake – I loved The Wilhelm Scream but his album disappointed me – or Blawan – who in the latter half of the year started to turn his funky garage sound into a funky techno onslaught.
I liked Cosmin TRG’s album “Simulat” but felt it was under-produced and sounded ploddy in my car.
Occam’s “My Rorschach” was an interestingly tense and mellow proposition with it’s deep Portishead style vocals but I felt it was a bit too mainstream in the final analysis. One to watch.
Martyn released an awesome single in “Masks / Viper” but I’ve yet to hear the album.
I absolutely loved the French Fries remix of Greenmoney’s “Into You“.
I liked Kuedo’s album “Severant” with it’s old skool synth/juke stylings – but was a bit perturbed to find out that Scissors basically ripped off Carly Simon. This is not the future *I* signed up for…
Bassfort released a wicked single called “Moon Light / Moon Shadow” on Local Talk – big tunes for house heads.
I liked a few tracks off Xhin’s “Sword” LP.
The illest tune of the year definitely goes to Tyler’s “Yonkers“. Check the video. Ugh. But pretty close was Thundercat’s acid-neon bass/fusion stylings on
his album “The Golden Age of Apocalypse”. When I heard “Daylight” for the first my stomach turned it was so good.
On a more guitar related note, probably Metronomy’s “The English Riviera” was my fave indie pop release this year. PJ Harvey won the Mercury Award and although I liked the album and bought it, I didn’t play it much. She is too cool though.
My guilty pleasure – Christmas music
Every year when things get busy at work and I’m off to a million parties rinsing myself out till stupid a.m., I like to dig deep to find another festive album for the collection.
I’m up to about 30 CDs so far, with the pick of late being Sufjan Stevens’ box set. But this year has been a bit of a bumper one as far as “Holiday” vibes go. Possibly my fave is Kate Rusby’s “While Mortals Sleep“: a folky traditionalist collection officially endorsed by the (gasp!) Daily Telegraph.
Meanwhile others turned me on to Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Mr Hankeys Christmas Classics (“Hey there Mr Muslim, merry f***ing Christmas” etc) and the unsurpassably funky Christmas Groove on Strut. Sublime to the ridiculous and back there.
There’s a bunch of stuff I’ve either mistakenly omitted or forgotten about but if you get your grubby mitts on all or some of the above I can virtually guarantee you a funky Christmas and a groove-filled New Year. 2011 is almost a wrap, a really good year for music and despite GP’s exit from R1 coming in March, I still reckon things are set for even better in 2012.
Have a good one y’all.