At long last, a good two months after everyone else stopped caring about this kind of thing, I have finished my End Of 2011 list. A lot of people complained about a lack of truly great albums in 2011, with all the most hyped and discussed records falling into solid "good, not great" respectability. One thing I did notice is that 2011 seemed an especially strong year for EP releases, with many EPs this year feeling more essential than albums. What does seem certain is that the compilation, particularly the mixed compilation, is dying out. With the profusion of radio shows, podcasts and promo mixes, paying for a DJ mix that is limited to 80 minutes and licensed material now feels like a game for fools.
Anyway, here is the list. As usual, I discovered almost half of these albums on other people’s end of year lists. I hope you discover something new from reading mine.
01. Sundial Aeon - Mimesis [Impact Studio]
How do you do something fresh with the trance genre? Slow it down to 110bpm. Yes, really. Sundial Aeon added teeth to their fluid psychill sound to create a slow-motion odyssey that unfolds majestically. Original, hypnotic and ultra-deep, this pushes all of my buttons like a frenzied data entry clerk wired on Poundshop energy drinks. God, I'm so poetic.
02. Kronos Quartet With Kimmo Pohjonen & Samuli Kosminen - Uniko [Ondine]
It might feel incongruous and strange to include a modern classical album on a list of electronic music when I clearly don't listen to much classical music, but it's no different to blogosphere wankers including the one dubstep album theyreviewed all year in their Top 100. Perhaps a thousand identical modern classical albums came out in 2011, but this is the only one I heard, and it's incredible.
03. Lm1 - Redshift [Offworld]
This is the incredibly satisfying and all-too-rare sound of one of your favourite producers releasing a debut album and it being exactly as brilliant and well-weighted as you imagined. Melodic, spacey and brilliant produced, this is drum 'n bass for people who never realised they liked drum 'n bass.
04. Cosmithex - Visions Of Sound [J00F V2]
Just an all round magnificent bastard of a trance album. Cosmithex's debut showcases a unique blend of old-school acid squiggles, psy-trance heaviness and proggy deepness. These tracks sound great on your headphones and absolutely massive on the dancefloor.
05. Actraiser - Art Of Balance [Cold Busted]
Actraiser's first artist album could have sounded like a thousand different things, but he chose to take a smooth, jazzy direction that was thankfully closer to LTJ Bukem than a Spinal Tap jazz odyssey. Mmmmm, nice.
06. Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica [Mexican Summer]
Ohonetrix goes maximalist, the results are very pretty and weird indeed. Yes, this is one of the very few albums on this list that you'll actually have expected to be here.
07. ASC - The Light That Burns Twice As Bright [Silent Season]
An album that was originally blighted by recording errors from the record label, ASC's first ambient opus has thankfully now been reissued with the mistakes corrected, and we can appreciate its brilliantly rusty and grimey soundscapes in full.
08. Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972 [Kranky]
I've got a joke for you. What doesn't sound like rave, and isn't from 1972? Tim Hecker's album Ravedeath, 1972. Ah-hahaha! But no, seriously, the album's great.
09. The Black Dog - Liber Dogma [Soma]
We've all heard the old phrase: you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but you can put it in the studio and it will deliver a brilliant old school techno album that puts the younger pups to shame. Haven't we?
10. Dominik Eulberg - Diorama [Traum Schallplatten]
This beautiful melodic offering from Dominik Eulberg is compelling evidence, should it be needed, that techno is both the most versatile genre of electronic dance music and capable of being every bit as touchy-feely as other styles.
11. Blue Daisy - The Sunday Gift [Black Acre]
Finally, a trip-hop album that lives up to the legacy of Massive Attack and doesn't sound like incredibly dreary music for middle class suburbanites to play when it starts raining. If this album came out in 1995 it would already be an all-time classic.
12. Swarms - Old Rave's End [Lo Dubs]
If you're one of those people who think dubstep mean music that sounds like a giant robot taking a particularly nasty dump, Old Rave's End is the album for you. Its delicately wrought melancholic soundscapes are light years removed from idiot-step like Skrillex, and show there is some life left in the genre yet.
13. Artifact303 - Back To Space [Suntrip]
If you asked me what style of music Artifact303 is best defined as, I wouldn't say "nu-school melodic goa trance", which would be the right answer, I'd say "balls to the wall psychedelic shit, motherfucker". This album is a force of nature, a riotous scrawl of flourescent melody and effervescent acid madness. You need it in your life.
14. DeepChord - Hash Bar Loops [Soma]
Okay, it wasn't as good as Rod Modell's work as part of Echospace (hence its relatively low placing on this list), but Hash Bar Loops is yet another absorbing and addictive slice of ultra-deep heavily textured dub techno ambience from the maestro.
15. Blue Motion - Stay Forever [Influenza]
I'm still surprised by just how ambient and off-beat this album is. Remaining on the outer fringes of drum 'n bass, Stay Forever is a moody and engrossing excursion into rhythmic mood music.
16. Onra - Chinoiseries Part 2 [All City]
Okay, it's basically a repeat of the first Chinoiseries, which is to say J Dilla's Donuts remade with samples sourced entirely from obscure Vietnamese vinyl, but stop me when this starts sounding like a bad idea. Worth hearing just to hear some Asian girl inadvertantly crooning "raw shit". You read that right.
17. Cybernetika - Colossus [Ektoplazm]
Not suitable for pregnant women, young children or anyone over the age of 60. Colossus is a savage album. This is dark and twisted psychedelic drum 'n bass that takes absolutely no prisoners. If you can listen to the whole thing and survive you will feel like a complete badass.
18. 01-N - Zero [Icarus Creations]
An all out, good-times blast of a psy trance record that manages not to have one remotely shit track on it from start to finish. Any psy trance album that manages that can come over to my house and fuck my sister, and my sister is a man.
19. Gagarin - Biophilia [GEO]
IDM with feelings. Biophilia is experimental and strange enough to satisfy even the most ardent IDM listener, but contains just enough widescreen melodic moments to appeal to listeners who are frankly bored of all this weirdness.
20. Carbon Based Lifeforms - Twentythree [Ultimae]
This is the best of a slightly underwhelming Class of 2011 from Ultimae. Carbon Based Lifeforms are in fine form here, and while Twentythree doesn't break any new boundaries it's still one of the best ambient albums of the year.
As I mentioned earlier, this section probably contains an even more quality music than the albums list. Think of this as the more underground second room in the glitzy superclub that is my blog: the music is slightly lower profile and the decor isn't as fancy (lit: I can't be bothered to upload more images) but overall standard is better.
01. DJ Rum - Mountains [2nd Drop]
A frankly remarkable techno/dubstep/UK garage hybrid from the terribly named DJ Rum. An effortless hybrid of styles that sounds astonishingly fresh yet has the timeless air of an instant classic, this was possibly the most exciting musical release of 2011.
02. Laurel Halo - Hour Logic [Hippos In Tanks]
Genuinely existing outside of any known genre categories, yet still somehow echoing dance music history, Laurel Halo's EP was championed by The Wire magazine and strikes the right balance between experimentation and accessibility.
03. ASC & Bvdub - Symbol #2 [Auxiliary]
Two of the most prolific men in modern electronic music team up, and the results are four varied and equally brilliant pieces of ambient that explore different ideas with consistent excellence.
04. Burial - Street Halo [Hyperdub]
Burial turns his immortal sound to housier rhythms. Everyone goes apeshit in appreciation.
05. Nebula - Astral Soul [Subtle Audio]
A deliberately retro sounding throwback to the halcyon days of atmospheric jungle, this is all about languid pads, shuddering subs and chopped up breaks.
06. Actraiser - Odyssey To The West [Pangea]
Actraiser blurs the boundaries between techno, dubstep and even progressive house on yet another amazing release.
07. Vince Watson - Atom [Tresor]
Trance by any other name, Vince Watson's space age post-Detroit techno has enough sparkling melodies and rapturous crescendoes to get this reformed trance refugee rushing all over again.
08. Sam KDC - Symbol #3 [Auxiliary]
Another fantastic entry into the Symbol series, this time from Sam KDC.
09. Relaunch - Art Of Ambiance [Mistiquemusic]
The quality control continues to look lax over at Mistique, but when they get it right the label still offers the best atmospheric progressive house around.
10. Andy Stott - We Stay Together [Modern Love]
Andy Stott's subterranean techno experiment deserves inclusion for both its intensity of mood and ingenuity of approach.