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White Noise: 20 Best Albums of 2011

Saturday, 31 December 2011

20 Best Albums of 2011

Best of 2011


With electronic production becoming ever more ubiquitous in mainstream culture and ever more experimental on the fringes of music, it’s no surprise that it dominates my list of 2011’s best albums. My favourites of this year included a good few atmospheric electronic pieces, a few dance-focused LPs and some stranger fare, but the overriding point in common is the exploration of how computers are being used to create ever more evocative and thought-provoking music.

Obviously in choosing only twenty I’m missing so many of the year’s great releases, but when reflecting on a whole musical year the factor that stands out besides innovation and skill is longevity; the year-end list is the unique spot where a reviewer can look back and say ‘Yes, that was great, but am I still listening to it? Will it stay with me beyond this year?’ If the answer to these questions is a fervent ‘yes’, then that album is on this list.

PS - The list is arranged in sets of five as I feel when you get to the very best albums of the year they appeal to different people and fulfil different criteria, so it seems pointless to separate them. Click on the album titles to see my full reviews from earlier in the year.


#20-16


SBTRKT  - SBTRKT



Wildfire

On his debut full-length, the anonymous UK producer achieved the rare feat of marrying Dance and Pop with unerring success, crafting a fun and exuberant selection of accessible tunes.

Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972



The Piano Drop

The always brilliant Ambient / Drone producer released one of his very best works this year in Ravedeath, an evocative and haunting album that twists live organ recordings from an Icelandic church into a beautiful artistic statement with masterful electronic tweaking.




All The Sun That Shines

Husband and wife duo Peaking Lights exceeded expectations with their blissed out LP landing somewhere between western Dub and the more experimental side of rock.

Andy Stott – Passed Me By



New Ground

With Passed Me By, Andy Stott finally broke out to a wider audience who rightly adored his unique take on House; fatigued, innovative, and utterly hypnotic.




Surfer’s Hymn

Noah Lennox somehow met the stratospheric expectations heaped on his new LP before its release, refining his trademark sound of reverb-drenched vocals and hypnotic guitar loops into something fuller and more outward-looking.


#15-11





2 Hearts

Sully didn’t exactly surprise me on his debut LP, delivering dark 2step tracks crafted with the same skill and care as his previous output, but just how much I still listen to these tracks is a surprise. The London feel is embedded deeply into these tunes, and each cut is a self-contained gem of paranoid dance rhythms.

Roman Flugel – Fatty Folders



How To Spread Lies

This carefully-produced LP is a masterclass tour of Techno’s many faces, straddling influences as varied as Dubstep, Kraut-rock, Minimal and Deep House, while always remaining crisp, danceable, and enchanting listen after listen.

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up



An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum

This uncompromising Hip Hop album married unusual flow and polemical subjects with some of the most challenging and innovative production I’ve ever heard on a Hip Hop album, resulting in a stunning piece that sounds like it was sent straight from the future.




Mindkilla

Gang Gang’s staggering musical evolution continued unabated this year, and Eye Contact was business as usual from the Brooklyn band; fusing too many genres to mention to create an album of superb and enjoyable Dance Pop that not only sounds like nothing else, but also represents their most consistent release to date.




Arpeggiated Love

This beautiful set of finely micro-edited loops showed that there’s more than enough life in Axel Willner’s formula to sustain an entire career. These hypnotic tunes are nothing short of staggering, proving yet again that no one does loops like The Field.


#10-6





We Are You In The Future

Martyn’s latest was a true masterclass in Dance production, showing not only a producer bravely leaving his comfort zone (again), but a collection of varied and exciting tunes bursting with energy and atmosphere.


Coastal Brake

A lot of artists over the last year tried to create sun-drenched Electronic tunes that mesmerise through chilled vibes and warm synths, but Tycho’s mature and detailed album Dive put them all to shame. This hypnotic and rewarding LP does its stunning cover art justice, and will stay with you long after the flames of 2011’s more immediate releases have died out.




A Devil Lay Here

Dedication is the most introverted and frustrating (mainly down to track length) release of Zomby’s glittering career, and it says a lot about Zomby as a producer that these facts hardly mattered. The introversion in fact worked to this album’s advantage, and six months on this collection still sounds fresh and brilliant; a moody and varied selection of dance-infused Electronic tunes.




Black Square

Benjamin Thomas achieved quite a feat in releasing not one, but two superb albums in a single year. His second for Rush Hour, Black Square, was my favourite – a lush and innovative selection of beautiful Techno tunes that shift organically through an array of mesmerising sounds.




Scissors

Jamie Teasdale’s first solo release on leaving aggressive Dubstep duo Vex’d was an unexpected move, and all the better for it. Severant is an utterly unique LP presenting atmospheric and futuristic Electronic tunes, and by a long way one of the most engaging and innovative releases of the year.


#5-1





Places

The LA-based Beats scene slowed down quite dramatically in 2011, but from the hush emerged its brightest star, in the form of young producer Henry Laufer. Exceeding the promise of his early EPs, on Bad Vibes Laufer created the ultimate chill-out album; lush and beautiful organic instrumentation combined fluidly with electronic clicks and beats. Bad Vibes achieves that rare combination of being both an easy choice for relaxation and an incredibly rewarding close listen due to the quality of these compositions, and for these reasons it’s probably my most played LP of the year.




Now U Know Tha Deal 4 Real

Room(s) is an incredible achievement for dance veteran Travis Stewart; it somehow manages to combine almost every dance genre into an utterly brilliant full-length, traversing moods and styles with a rare ease while always maintaining the innovative details and tight production skills that keep the listener coming back for more.




I Got A Woman

Brilliant new producer Nic Jaar pulled out all the stops on his gorgeous debut album, appropriating vague influences from a huge variety of genres to create a sound entirely his own. These spacious and atmospheric compositions still sound exciting and unique almost a year after its release, and his future looks very bright.




Hover Traps

Rustie’s phenomenal debut album was surprising in so many ways; it was very distant from the producer first productions, it sounded like absolutely nothing else, but the biggest surprise was that he aimed so high on Glass Swords and track after track pulled it off with style. These tunes fuse every unfashionable genre in the book with style, creating a collection of unabashed joy, all underpinned by a display of masterful composition at its incandescent beating heart.




Apart

The young Alec Koone’s debut album is by no means the most accessible or exuberant album on this list, but for me it is easily the most beautiful. Here is an album of deeply emotive and expertly composed tracks that exists almost outside of genre; the tracks progressing like waves between enchanting synth highs and dark dubby lows, all held together by ethereal vocals to magnificent effect. The tunes on Wander / Wonder are quiet and unassuming, but given time they reveal themselves to be one of the most atmospheric and rewarding collections I’ve heard in years.

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I'm off to see Scuba and Joy O tonight, I hope everyone has a great New Year's and look forward to much more from White Noise in 2012.

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9 Comments:

At 1 January 2012 at 00:48 , OpenID Aaron Fancey said...

A lot of great records represented here. I'll need to check out Sully, Roman Flugel and the Balam Acab LP.

For whatever reason Zomby's "Dedication" is the electronic record of the year that I CAN NOT APPRECIATE. His stuff is too brief and seemingly unfinished for me to ever lose myself in, but otherwise this is a great summation of electronic musics in 2011.

 
At 1 January 2012 at 01:43 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually Zomby IS a genius ignore my previous utterance lol.
Aaron

 
At 1 January 2012 at 14:41 , Blogger Tom Faber said...

Ah thanks a lot man, it was hard to choose from all the great stuff that was released in 2011.

I think Dedication is maybe not the easiest first listen, but it's pretty amazing how he can make tracks that aren't even finished, put them on an album, and they still sound better than most of the rest of stuff out there. Then if you look at his really varied back-catalogue, from Where Were U in '92 to the Digital Flora / Fauna EP, I think it's really cool how he's always trying something different.

 
At 2 January 2012 at 02:08 , Blogger Shadow33 said...

This is a great list, i'll have to listen to balam acab's album, it sounds good so far

 
At 8 January 2012 at 06:11 , Blogger Evan said...

I really digged the Africa Hitech release also.

I'm a huge fan of this list and lamenting that I didn't even listen to Machinedrum before now. That album is fantastic.

 
At 9 January 2012 at 00:03 , Blogger Michael Zanette said...

Fantastic list man. I just ordered Shlohmo's Bad Vibes. The guy is going places and fast!

Take care,

mike

 
At 9 January 2012 at 00:35 , Blogger Tom Faber said...

Thanks to everyone for commenting, it's great to know people are reading. Big tip for Shlohmo for the future, he and Balam Acab really came out of nowhere last year.

 
At 11 January 2012 at 16:10 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great list. A mix of loved albums with unknown albums which I'm sure they'll be loved in a near future...

 
At 14 January 2012 at 15:18 , Blogger galnegus said...

Nicely written, discovered 5 albums I somehow missed last year.

 

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