THE BEST RECORDS RELEASED IN 2011
Every Tom, Dickhead & Harry are producing an end of year list now (my great Aunt’s is a gem - who’d of thought a 75 year old would be big into Trap Them!?) and so i thought it was time i spat mine out for this year. It also includes the runners up of the year and the best tracks of the year.
Nothing beats of a bit of pointless, subjective taste bashing, eh?!
10. BRAIDS - NATIVE SPEAKER KANINE
The only reason why this album is so low (so low, it’s number 10! Many bands would KILL to be no.10 in my list! Right?) is because i only started listening to it 2 months ago and i’d feel bad if it went in higher than Grouper who’s been hanging around in my ears for a good 6 months. It’s actually quite hard to describe why i like this album so much. It’s a sparse, open and bright record with lots of room to move around. It floats in and out of focus, catching on to the start of the bar and then just floating down. The vocals are obviously the stand out feature of Native Speaker, with all of the band dipping in and out. I saw these guys live a couple of weeks ago and i was transfixed for the entire set, just staring at them and hating them for being so damn talented. I’m really excited to see what these guys do next.
FOR FANS OF: Blue Hawaii, Gang Gang Dance
9. GROUPER - A I A SELF RELEASED
Getting hold of a copy of this double album was like trying to find hen’s teeth. I gave up a couple of months ago because i didn’t have £1000 to spend and i don’t really want to lower myself to the level of “Trainspotter” in my addiction to music. Although, by doing this list, am I already at that level? I receive no financial gain from this; no one really benefits in a life-changing way from it. Maybe it’s time i re-thought my strategy…
Anyway. Grouper has been around for a few years now and with her last album Dragging A Dead Dear Up A Hill (which i learned the other day is named after a real life experience she had as a child. She was in some sort of weird commune with her parents and one of the older girls asked her to help drag a dead dear up a hill. The older girl made Liz Grouper Harris do all of the work whilst she just watched) she began to appeal to a broader audience thanks in part to being on the excellent Type label. Since then, she’s collaborated with Roy Montgomery on an awesome split 12 and released a couple of limited 7s. This is her best collection of work to date. The emotion poured into the album is on par with the rest of her catalogue but on A I A it feels really strong. I found myself struggling to hear what she was saying and craning my neck to grab every little detail. An album which makes me do that is an album which is going to stick around in my collection for a while - if i could get a shitting copy.
FOR FANS OF: Roy Montgomery, Rene Hell, the Type record label, people who read The Wire
8. DEAFHEAVEN - ROADS TO JUDAH DEATHWISH
I think this is the first year where a hardcore or even remotely metal album has been included in my top 10 of the year, so this says either one of two things: i’m finally growing to like this “kind of music” or that it’s really bloody good.
It’s pretty unrelenting with it’s ferocity and volume throughout which is a good start. The quieter moments emphasise the louder parts but they’re few and far between meaning that you’re bombarded with a wall of guitars and drums for 40 minutes almost non-stop. The vocals are surprisingly good for this kind of thing (i sound like my dad) and actually emphasise the aggression of the guitars by being quite low in the mix - as if the singer is in a battle with the rest of the band and not just being angry and loud for the sake of it. I guess there’s a time and a place for this album but i don’t want to do it a disservice by saying that. It’s an album which is more than the sum of it’s parts which, or so i’ve found, is rare in the genre these days.
FOR FANS OF: Light Bearer, Wolves In The Throne Room, Oathbreaker.
7. CLAMS CASINO - CLAMS CASINO (MIXTAPE) TYPE
An album of hip hop instrumentals? In the “best records of the year” list? Not on my watch, sonny! What are you doing here, you strange but beautiful beast? What’s that you say? You’re the most refreshingly brilliant collection of electronic beats this side Dre? OK, i’ll give you a listen.
Producing beats for Soulja Boy is never something I encourage but when they’re this brilliant, who cares? Slow, woozy kick drums and reverbed vocal clips bring this collection to the forefront of modern pop production with style. There’s more substance to these tracks then there has been on Warp records for years.
FOR FANS OF: Lil B, Tri-Angle records.
6. GANG GANG DANCE - EYE CONTACT 4AD
I listened to Saint Dymphna a lot. It was just the right side of “experimental” compared to their previous efforts - a more refined and toned affair all in all. Eye Contact isn’t as good as SD but it betters it in different ways. For a start, their “masterpiece” is on this album in the form of the 11 minute Glass Jar. A perfectly paced, sprawling opus of synths and toms. The rest of the album doesn’t quite live up to the promises made on the premier track unfortunately but that’s like comparing a good blow job to a not so good blow job - it’s a blow job all the same and by definition: “ace.” Am I comparing this album to a blow job?
FOR FANS OF: Black Dice, Animal Collective.
5. WOODEN SHJIPS - WEST THRILL JOCKEY
I’ve been big into the Shjips for a couple of years now and I still think Vol.1 is the best guitar album of the last 5 years (big claim, but have you heard that thing? Holy shit.) Saying that, I only REALLY understood the intricacies of them when i saw them at the Scala back in September this year. I was 2 beers in and i stayed 2 beers in because i didn’t need another beer. I was hypnotised for 70 minutes, swaying in time, nodding to the kick and letting the psych waves wash me under and carry me over to 60’s San Fran. I think this record best encapsulates Wooden Shjips. It’s certainly their most accessible record (no 8 minute guitar wank-outs on here, see SHRINKING MOON FOR YOU) and by that i mean - you can hear everything. Ripley’s vocals are clear and distinctive, the bass rattles the groove-floor, the drums shake your ass and the wonky keyboard…wonks.
FOR FANS OF: White Hills, Eternal Tapestry, Loop, Les Ralliszes Denudes.
4. PEAKING LIGHTS - 936 NOT NOT FUN
Seemingly created out of the back-end of a bunch of broken synths from the early 80s and thrown together in a dub-hole in deepest, darkest Berlin, 936 is the best record released on probably the best record label in the world (this year). It smacks of innocence and i hate the two members for being so cool and happy with themselves. But once i get over that, this record RULES. I think it came out about March this year and i’ve still listened to it at least once a month since which is good news eh? Scruffy and loose at the edges (a bit like me) it’s like a scrap book collage of sounds thrown together with love and compassion but can easily transfer to the dancehall if needs be. Whack this slab on a decent stereo, turn the bass up and GET DEEP!
FOR FANS OF: Sun Araw, Gypsy Treasures, High Places.
3. JULIANNA BARWICK - THE MAGIC PLACE ASTHMATIC KITTY
An almost purely a-capella album of such beauty that it makes you want to give up listening to anything that isn’t made completely by the female voice. There’s not much you can compare the feeling of getting lost in the atmosphere of this record to, but it does bring about images of cathedral choirs and lonely walks through misty meadows. That was a particularly ponsey and horrible comment to make but unfortunately it’s the truth. I’ve just re-read it back to myself. It still stands true. Beauty.
FOR FANS OF: Grouper, Cocteau Twins, Julia Holter.
2. BELONG - COMMON ERA KRANKY
I’ve never believed the argument that for an album be “brilliant” it must therefore be diverse and dynamic. The main argument against this point being Common Era. My dear mother would proclaim that it “all sounds the same” but then her favourite record is “The Essential Alison Moyet” (which is actually quite good) so she doesn’t really have a leg to stand on. Sure, the “sound” of the album is pretty monochromic but who cares when the sound is fucking insanely awesome? Essentially, Common Era is a modern shoe gaze record in it’s purest form; a focused, well produced, emotive album with enough substance and texture to keep me coming back to it over and over again. Walking to work on a cold, grey, miserable London morning is perfectly soundtracked when this is on your mp3 player, but this album is best enjoyed in a smoky room with the lights off and comfy sofa. I’m not an emo.
FOR FANS OF: early 90’s shoe gaze, Tim Hecker, Implodes.
1. PURE X - PLEASURE ACEPHALE
Conjures up, in equal parts, desperation and beauty, “Pleasure” is definitely the best record i’ve heard this year.
I first heard it back in June, during a period of one’s life which is never very enviable - moving house, thus meaning that most of my possessions (records) were in boxes by about this time of the year. I distinctly remember putting this on (albeit thru-laptop-hifi) and sinking into a brand new, undiscovered world of hazed beauty. It hit me right away. It wasn’t an album which grew on me particularly, but neither has it lose it’s initial impact 6 months later. I’d never heard an album like this. Pushing the distortion and lo-fi sound that’s been oh so fucking hip the last couple of years to the absolute point of no return turned out to be a gamble worth taking. What makes this record different to all of the other albums released this year, last year or any other year, is that it is, for me, a unique slice in time - a snapshot of where i was and where i want to be. It was the limbo record. Due to my age, i don’t really have another record which had such an effect on me during a significant moment of change in my life. I’ll always remember this record.
FOR FANS OF: The Verve - A Storm In Heaven era, SleepOver.
Shabazz Palaces - Black Up SUB POP
Mbera featuring hip hop album. I could leave it at that and it would suffice. The most intelligent and interesting hip hop album for years.
Psychic Ills - Hazed Dream SACRED BONES
It does what it says on the tin, it’s hazy psychedelica with classic hooks and slack bass. Smoke one to this.
Big Troubles - Romantic Comedy SLUMBERLAND
A straight up pop record. Harks back to the popier bands on Creation in the mid-90s.
John Maus - We Must Become… UPSET THE RHYTHM
Lo-fi home-produced intelli-pop (copyright me 2011) from a guy who sweats a lot.
The Field - Looping State of Mind KOMPAKT
This would be no.11 if i had to choose. Looping looping looping, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
A Hawk & A Hacksaw - Cervantine LM
Ex-NMH guy’s band which sound like a really good Beirut, i guess. This will stick in your head.
Kyle Bobby Dunn - Ways Meaning
Ambient drone took a hit this year (Oneohtrix Point Never’s album - so shit) but this record brought it all home.
Death Grips - Ex Military SELF RELEASED
Ferocious, Pet Shop Boys-sampling aggressive hip hop released for free online. Zach Hill on drums if that’s the kinda thing that floats ya boat. My boat is thoroughly floated.
TRACKS OF THE YEAR
Factory Floor - Two Different Ways DFA
A stunning slice of throbbing electronic krautrock-esque, 125bpm, hardcore synth orgy.
Real Estate - It’s Real DOMINO
Summer in a song.
Ayshay - Warn U TRI-ANGLE
Unsettling and uplifting at the same time. Watch dis space.
Big Troubles - Misery SLUMBERLAND
I want to be 14 again. The best guitar track this year.
Tyler, The Creator - Yonkers XL
OK, so everyone’s realised he’s a bit of a knob but this track is motherfucking bitch-slapping cunt puntingly great.
Moon Duo - Run Around (Cave) SOUTERRAIN TRANSMISSIONS
More psych jams from Moon Duo but made even better by Cave. Heavy organ.
Light Asylum - A Certain Person MEXICAN SUMMER
It sounds like it’s come straight from 1984 on a DAT signed “Grace Jones.”
John Maus - Quantum Leap UPSET THE RHYTHM
A gem of a track sounds like it could have been made 20 years ago but in a good way.
Ngunni Lovers Lovers - Beth Kathnini UKNOWN
Pure summer-pop gem. Guitar lick Fed Exe-d from heaven.
DyE - Fantasy UNKNOWN
Unknown producer with an Italo disco cut which could have been on the Drive OST and thus 1 MILLION TIMES MORE POPULAR ON TUMBLR.
The 10 worst records released in 2011. This time next week!
Thanks for reading.