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2012/01/27 / monteurhulot

2011 Favorites

Like the Village Voice Pazz & Jop list, here at O(h)rtlos our favorite albums of the year doesn’t come out until the following January…and is also considered one of the most complete and authoritative of such exercises.

Before I get into my own meaninglessly long list of musical releases from 2011 that I enjoyed in that same year, organized into untenable categories, I have some incoherent musings on a few aspects of the musical landscape as I experienced it.

Many publications treated James Blake and his eponymous full-length debut as definitional. That album is a decent affair that comes as a slight disappointment after his much more interesting EP’s, and certainly isn’t terribly innovative. Its adoring critical reception is therefore a bit mystifying. My intuitive sense says that this confusing phenomenon is actually related to another: King of Limbs and the muted impact of the first Radiohead album since 1997 that didn’t seem like a big deal. KOL is not a misstep by any means; it contains a number of strong additions to the band’s oeuvre. Part of why it seems insubstantial is surely its stunted track list. Ten to fourteen tracks is what one gets from a Radiohead album; here, eight. It’s hard to say if King of Limbs would feel more canonical with the addition of the songs from the high-quality “Supercollider / The Butcher” single and “The Daily Mail / Staircase”. Yet ultimately I don’t think that a longer King of Limbs would seem much more of an important Radiohead entry; it’s not just the short length that dims the impact of a new Radiohead album, and to begin to see why, one should take a look at the other Radiohead-related material surrounding KOL. There’s the the 8-part (and counting?) remix series in which all sorts of currently important producers ply their craft with the basic materials available. Jamie xx, to my ears a much better exemplar of a now-sound than Blake, takes the exercise to a sort of ritualistic extreme with this 3-part meditation on “Bloom.” Then there’s Thom Yorke’s work with Burial and Four Tet on “Ego / Mirror,” both songs much more vital than anything on the (remember, still excellent) new Radiohead album proper. Much of the praise surrounding James Blake has involved marking him as the poster-boy of a supposed post-dubstep aesthetic. That sound, however, may not represent an evolution of dubstep and its strange commercial explosion of the last few years as much as it signals the final victory of Kid A, which eleven years ago set the template for so much of the forward-looking pop music to come after it. “Post-Dubstep,” to the extent such a thing actually exists, does indeed inherit a 2-step groove, but Kid A is everywhere else in its DNA. The same reason lies behind the false identification of a standard-bearer for post-dubstep (Blake) and the curiously diminished impact of King of Limbs. Pop music has now fully absorbed “Everything in Its Right Place,” “The National Anthem,” “Motion Picture Soundtrack” and “Idioteque;” a new Radiohead album is not the same because at this moment, more than perhaps any other, Radiohead is all around. Some commentators may, in the resulting confusion, identify James Blake as the face of post-dubstep. Yet, as boring as this may be, it’s our old friend Thom.

A running concern of mine throughout the year has been the slate of excellent releases that could be labeled ‘conjectural’ or ‘imaginary world music,’ epitomized by Zun Zun Egui‘s Katang, YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN, and Gang Gang Dance‘s Eye Contact. 2011 also saw an unprecedented number of commercial releases from Tuareg artists, including Bombino, Group Doueh, Terakaft, Toumastin, and the now well-established Tinariwen. Strange coincidence that this outpouring should come in a year that saw the death of Muammar Gaddafi, that peculiar and terrible post-modernist who played such a large role in the Tuareg’s fate. The Tuareg’s desert rock may also be seen as a conjectural world music; if the most dire prediction of the prophets of global warming come to pass, the coming century will see the Sahara leap across the Mediterranean and bring its frightful desiccation as far north as Berlin, and so the syncretistic music of the Tuareg would come to be an appropriate indigenous music for Europe. All of these albums, from the Global North and the Global South, speak in their way of possible futures.

If one were to ignore trends and flights of fancy, however, and focus merely on who it was that brought to our ears the greatest amount of wonderful music, that distinction would clearly go to Peter Broderick, the expatriate Oregonian who had his hand in a dazzling range of works, including his collaboration with Nils Frahm as Oliveray, work with Rauelson, Machinefabriek and the devastatingly lovely Lentemusiek with Laura Arkana, as well as his own Music for Confluence and Music for Grace and Mercy.

Also of special note was the even more prolific Ranvir Bassi, who I may dare say emerged as one of the most idiosyncratic and demanding electronic artists of the year, and threatens to continue in the same manner in the twelve months ahead.

Now here are my favorite twenty albums released in 2011, as near as I can reckon, followed by a long and utterly meaningless list of many worthy others, alternatively in and not in any particular order. My apologies to everyone and everything.


Top 20

20. Trails & WaysTemporal + Territorrial

Pitchfork Media has told us that the single greatest song of 2011 was M83’s “Midnight City.” Even if we don’t accept this to be true, it says much of the sharp talent possessed by Trails & Ways that they turned around in almost no time at all with a cover of that same song which far surpassed the original. Less shocking a feat if one had also heard their debut EP, where they were similarly triumphant in handling Miike Snow’s “Animal.” More impressive is how well their originals stand up to their organic re-imaginings of others’ works; both of these brief offerings lead with some of the more wonderfully poetic songs that I, who gives not much emphasis to the lyrical, have heard in some years, while “Chills” ranks as the best song written so far about global warming.

19. Lo-Fi-FnkThe Last Summer

Like attending a rave hosted by an ice hotel made of sugar water.

18. LAKEGiving and Receiving

All hail the Evergreen state. K Recs forever.

17. JontiTwirligig

A trifle it may seem, but it’s the closest to an original recreation of The Avalanches’ Since I Left You yet attempted.

16. Flash Bang Grenada10 Haters

Busdriver’s “Least Favorite Rapper,” the Jhelli Beam track on which Nocando alit, consumed me for much of 2009. Looks like those two were also fans, as they decided to make an album of it. As much as I effused over Das Racist last year, it must be admitted that these gut-busting, neck-breaking cats have been up in that stratosphere for a minute now.

15. HoquetsBelgotronics

The simplicity of the (self-built) instrumentation kept me from placing this album any higher up the list, but really I’m kidding myself. Likely I’ll remember this long after any of the others, such a wonderful quirky little gift to the world it is. An album dedicated to Belgium we shall never need again.

14. Gang Gang DanceEye Contact

The sound of the house band at Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel in Johnny Mnemonic.

13. Clap Your Hands Say YeahHysterical

My least favorite aspect of this album is that it has regularly been labeled ‘a return to form.’ With four years since a CYHSY LP (although that period has also seen an Alec Ounsworth album and one from Flashy Python) it might be considered a return, but as one of the (seemingly) few people who considered Some Loud Thunder to be a brilliant album (with perhaps the best production sound not from Brian Eno since Paris 1919) I’m offended by the idea that Clap Your Hands… succeeded here because they ‘returned to their roots’ or some such nonsense. So don’t call it a comeback, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is one of the best indie rock groups of the last decade, and if you’d like quick proof that they haven’t made a single misstep not invented in the minds of a sophmore-slump hungry online music press, skip directly to “The Witness’s Dull Surprise.”

12. BattlesGloss Drop

11. Plaidscintilli

10. 13 & GodOwn Your Ghost

9. Laura Arkana met Peter BroderickLentemusiek

Many commentators seem to have decided upon The Magic Place from Juliana Barwick as the most purely beautiful album of the year. They, of course, are wrong. It’s this one.

8. Colin StetsonNew History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges

An album that makes the definitive case for both the saxophone and electric amplification.

7. French QuarterDesert Wasn’t Welcome

6. St. VincentStrange Mercy

5. Zun Zun EguiKatang

4. Eleanor FriedbergerLast Summer

I’ve never been a fan of the Fiery Furnaces, a group that never seemed to hold on to a single music idea long enough to extract anything satisfying from it. The exceedingly coherent Last Summer stands in stark contrast; the ten tracks feel like they are two moments. The first half a single, breathless take on all emotional power contained within all details and differences in the mundane, the second half a single, dizzied reflection on time.

3. Shabazz PalacesBlack Up

2. tUnE-yArDsw h o k i l l

1. SkeletonsPEOPLE

People always come around.

If, for some reason, you’d like to read a much longer list with many more releases I enjoyed this year, you can do so by clicking here.



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