14 December 2011
Articles | News

Albums of the Year: 50-11

2011’s greatest hits. In our opinion. Don’t like them? Don’t care. Write a blog about it.

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We both know why we’re here, don’t we? Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the world-engulfing crises to have plagued 2011 from its earliest days, it’s that list features really do make a difference. Here’s a rundown of our 50-11th placed records of the year, with the top ten to come tomorrow. If the tension is getting to be too much to bear, simply pick up a copy of the new issue.

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Stumbling in the door at number [50] with a startled look on its face is TIMES NEW VIKING’s Dancer Equired. The Ohioan band’s suddenly fuzz-deprived lo-fi was not fashionable when it arrived back in April — but who knows, it might even end up making them fashionable again. Either way, this one was a keeper.
Alright, so Australia is a fuck of a long way away and they’ve suddenly become shite at sport (surely the point of the nation?), but why must the rest of the world ignore so much of their music? Melbourne trio MY DISCO’s third album Little Joy [49] is a record of aggressive percussion and beautifully oiled dynamics, satisfying like taking a fresh tank to pick up your girlfriend from school.
All eyes were on Peaking Lights’ 936, but MARIA MINERVA’s Cabaret Cixous [48] was the best record from the Not Not Fun label this year. By turns flirtatious, shy and outrageously sexy, its 11 tracks passed pop, disco and house through a sultry dub filter. Like listening to dance anthems from the bottom of a swimming pool.
Norwich-based CLOAKS turned in one of the year’s best remix collections with Versions Grain [47], which saw the likes of Justin Broadrick, Dead Fader, Devilman and Oyaarss give the sounds of their 2009 album Versus Grain a decidedly evil twist. Given that the original was the sound of drinking battery acid, this not-for-the-faint-hearted selection of scabby noise will make your shrinking violet cousin piss on their Dalston brogues.
Galactic Melt [46] was the lurid imagining of synth geek Seth Haley, aka COM TRUISE, a New Jersey-based graphic designer intent on fusing Zapp-like funk with the sweaty muscularity of an eighties action movie soundtrack. That the guy also looks like a Navy Seal gone slightly to seed helped matters no end.
After getting their third eye in with Primary Colours back in 2009, THE HORRORSSkying [45] was every bit as soaring and lofty as its predecessor was whooshingly dark — a big-league effort, in short, odd moments of pomposity and all.
Yet more psychic fallout from the Warp / Flying Lotus school of atomically-unstable beats, No Pain In Pop signing PATTEN’s GLAQJO XAACSSO [44] (pronounced with a grimace, if at all) showered like sparks from God’s own workshop, and augured very nicely indeed for the London producer’s future.
Inside all of us there is a smaller person who has an afro, a Ford Mustang with heroin, guns and the selected speeches of Eldridge Cleaver and Angela Davis in the trunk plus The Stooges on the stereo. Unleash your radicalised homunculus by listening to the revolutionary rock of THE MEN [Leave Home, 43], and head for the border at 100mph.
THE WAR ON DRUGS frontman Adam Granduciel managed to steal some of former sparring partner Kurt Vile’s thunder with Slave Ambient [42], a second album from the Philadelphia outfit that was equal parts gentle, folksy lilt and motorik roar.
Terrible year for officially-released hip hop, but there were loads of amazing mixtapes floated online. This one, Rubba Band Business 2 [41], by JUICY J & LEX LUGER sees the Triple 6 Mafia legend get together for a second time with rising-star Luger — best known for his amazing production work on the Waka Flocka album last year. Basically, they get high as fuck.

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Drew Lustman’s second album was that rare thing — a record that both refined and significantly expanded his musical range. Rather than sticking rigidly to the UK garage-inspired swing of his earlier work, You Stand Uncertain [40] stretched outward in any number of directions — house, soul, old school rave — while still sounding like no one other than FALTYDL.
Zeroes QC [39] by Quebec band SUUNS was released in January, and has stuck with us all year. Anything else you need to know?
Anyone who finds the mystique of DAVID LYNCH’s films the least bit entrancing should own Crazy Clown Time [38]: it’s the moment the surrealist director took the creeping guitar sound of his films and weaved it into a menacing montage of sinister characters and darkened streets, played out to the sound of bastardised blues for the unhinged.
For song-based music with a foot in dubstep, EMIKA shits on Jamie Woon and James Blake, as the sonically-detailed and moody Emika [37] proves in spades.
Arriving seemingly out of nowhere at the ripe old age of 28, ANNA CALVI produced one of the most beguiling debuts of the year in Anna Calvi, [36], having had plenty of time to arrive fully formed. Her seductive, cinematic sound could soundtrack the frozen gothic drama of Wuthering Heights or the uncanny cool of a (that man again) David Lynch movie shot in LA.
No need for us to say much about the brilliance of CLAMS CASINO and his Instrumentals [35] mixtape, except to mention that A$AP Rocky owes him a massive favour (the best tracks on Rocky’s mixtape are Clams jams) and 2012 will be huge for the New Jersey producer.
Icelandic music. Aside from Björk, we know what you’re thinking — terrifyingly good-looking blondes in knitwear farting around with ukuleles over wishy washy whale-piss electronic backing nicked from Sigur Rós. You wouldn’t get that from DEAD SKELETONS, whose Dead Magick leaps off the cooling slab at [34]. Check out their intense story on page 13 of this issue, and tune into their decadent sounds like Aleister Crowley guzzled on salt cod and vodka.
While there’s a lot to be said for hailing Satan from the glowing embers of a freshly incinerated cathedral while wearing jewellery made out of your friend’s skull, one simply has to accept that black metal is now a much broader church than it was 20 years ago. WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM are winning the BM wars by harnessing the genre’s power to an applaudably humanist agenda — well done, Celestial Lineage [33].
No-one slayed quite like TUNE-YARDS on the live circuit in 2011, but w h o k i l l [32] is where it all began, reimagining the Africa-minded pop of debut BiRd-BrAiNs in glorious high fidelity, and asserting Merrill Garbus as one of the most fearlessly original female voices to come along since Björk into the bargain.
FRANK OCEAN began 2011 as a footnote in Odd Future’s fanfare, as the now-infamous LA crew’s resident R&B crooner. Next thing we knew, he was larging it with Kanye, Jay-Z and Beyoncé — and that was down to his hyped mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra [31]. It was a patchy affair, in truth, tending towards Weeknd-wetness in its lesser moments, but on tracks like ‘Lovecrimes’ and the peerless ‘Novacane’ a fresh and lyrically astute character emerged that suggested D’Angelo for the new millennium, but with a broader pop sensibility.

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Conscious that he might be putting out too many albums for fans to keep up with, 24-year-old misfit rock maestro TY SEGALL spent six months polishing his most-celebrated release, Goodbye Bread [30]. The Californian musician has finally graduated from unwieldy bursts of lo-fi pop genius to a cooler, more sophisticated way of pounding out songs about exploding heads.
The English Riviera [29] was the terrific third album from METRONOMY, a low-key indie-pop classic that was as English as boiled sweets in slightly suspect flavours, or, indeed, the coveted stretch of Devon coastline that inspired its making.
Mixing up Hüsker Dü’s Candy Apple Grey; the homegrown indie of The Shop Assistants and some prime Boston-style classic rock to make a concept album about a worker in a Thatcher-era light bulb factory was actually not that weird for Canadian rock band FUCKED UP. David Comes To Life — in at [28] — is the sound of punk getting punk’d.
ZOMBY’s 4AD debut frustrated some with its perversely stunted track lengths, but in Dedication [27] the enigmatic producer still packed an emotional wallop well in excess of his peers, rewiring rave and bass music tropes to produce a uniquely affecting listen.
Check out the new issue of The Stool Pigeon to read all about the massive stink that A$AP ROCKY’s first officially released mixtape, LiveLoveA$AP, [26] caused.
Hands in blood, the sun shines out of their behinds. Forging alchemical gold from the detritus of modern life, ÅRABROT mix the occult, the legendary and the philosophical with a form of punk rock that has become distinctly their own. With the [25]th-ranked Solar Anus, the band didn’t so much probe the rings around Uranus as give them an outer space enema.
There’s a lot of talk of the internet changing the way we receive information, exchanging drip-feed for a perpetual, shifting sense of now. RUSTIE’s Glass Swords [24] expressed that idea perfectly, with its mangled rushes of sub-bass, chipmunk voices and huge synths landing like seven or eight different genres shoehorned into one three-minute space. Exhausting and exhilarating.
Channelling the jangly guitar pop of Felt and The Feelies, the New Jersey high-school friends of REAL ESTATE justified their multi-album record deal with a smoother-sounding second LP, Days [23]. Though once again inspired by a nostalgia for summers in suburbia, the band honed that hazy sound to let their rapport shine through.
Back when the music press was great — before pusillanimous hacks simply pretended to like chillwave, Drake and Skrillex — bands like DESTROYER weren’t an uncommon thing. This kind of pop music about pop music was once done brilliantly by Scritti Politti and ABC — and Kaputt [22] keeps that arch yet beautiful tradition alive.
LITTLE DRAGON’s neophyte pop scaled new heights with Ritual Union [21], a record marrying slick dancefloor ambition with just a touch of sass and hurt to make the heart follow where hips lead.

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SHABAZZ PALACES’s Black Up [20] was a super-concentrated, DMT trip of a record that served as the strongest indication yet of former Digable Planets MC Ishmael Butler’s obvious brilliance, and proof that hip hop can still provide thought-provoking works of art that are also heavy as holy hell.
JOHN MAUS does not dabble, as some suspect, in mere synth-pop revivalism or Joy Division karaoke drowned in reverb. According to Maus, a PhD student in political philosophy with a degree in music composition, it’s a sound built on centuries-old harmonic relationships. Either way, the exceptional hooks on We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves [19] establish Maus as an intense pop powerhouse.
Wack-job JAMES PANTS doesn’t sound like anybody else, nor does he have a signature sound, if that makes any sense. Worshipped by the likes of Tyler, The Creator, who amusingly once said, “He’s awesome, he’s white, he makes real-ass nigga music,” James Pants [18] distorts the sounds of the fifties with this excellent, more song-based album. But it doesn’t sound like the fifties or like anything else anybody else has ever made — if that makes any sense.
Teenager SPACEGHOSTPURRP is from Florida but he worships early Memphis crunk (particularly Triple 6 Mafia) and the kind of horror rap that seriously underground figures like Tommy Wright III never stopped making. As such, his debut mixtape, Blvcklvnd Rvdix 66.6 (1991) [17] is lo-fi to the point of obnoxiousness, suicidally anti-commercial and so much more inventive, fucked-up and plain creepy than anything the A$AP massive, with whom Purrp collaborates, or Odd Future managed in 2011. Whoopee!
When Biophilia [16] by BJÖRK was released, critics were quick to brush off the wider project and concentrate on the music itself, which was very critic-like of them. But you can’t separate the music from the iPhones apps, live show and so on, because together they make a political and economic statement about how Iceland could be run post-economic collapse, for fuck’s sake.
The best pop record of the year bar none, KATY B’s On A Mission [15] was enough to make even the most stoically unimpressed music hack want to sit around brushing the South London girl’s lovely red hair, talking about boys and stuff.
From the streets of Haringey comes one of this year’s finest dance producers, Ali Wells, aka PERC. As well as running the excellent Perc Trax imprint and working on remixes for the likes of Walls and The Black Dog, Perc has turned in a late entry to our list at [14] in Wicker & Steel, a formidable record of very English techno.
ST VINCENT’s Annie Clark has never been short of acclaim, and Strange Mercy [13] ensured more superlatives were rained down on the Tulsa, Oklahoma born singer-songwriter. The record cleverly took the idea of the All-American girl and turned it on its head, while Annie Clark picked up further plaudits for her astonishing fretwork.
The odds were against it: a stoner Courtney Love-style fuck-up with an obsession for hip-hop? Spare us. Except EMA’s Erika M. Anderson turned her debut album, Past Life Martyred Saints [12], into one the most cohesive of 2011: a tender but brittle set of goth grunge that glides through vulnerability, self-righteousness, inner demons, regret and overpowering optimism.
Shedding yet another layer of the arty excess that marked out their early work, Smother [11] was WILD BEASTS’ straight-up lushest album to date; a tender, regret-filled meditation on intimacy in all its strange and stifling forms.

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Reviews by Jeremy Allen, Alex Denney, John Doran, Rory Gibb, Phil Hebblethwaite, Cyrus Shahrad, Cian Traynor, Luke Turner

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