Favourite Records Of 2011

As another year passes, once more I compile my ten musical highlights of the year…For previous lists, see 2009 and 2010‘s respective selections…

10. SCB – Loss – Aus (2011)

House music is always something I’ve dipped in & out of – certainly in the last couple of years I’ve been back into it as a couple of mates are also really into it. However, it’s a massively over-crowded genre, and finding anything that you can really call fresh is rare…

It often takes an outsider to come in and flip the script, and dubstep’s very own Scuba (under the pseudonym SCB) executes this with precision in his track Loss for the Aus label, who seem to have done the unthinkable, and released dubstep, house & techno all on the same label without alienating anyone – quite a feat in today’s highly segregated electronic music scene.

I think what appeals to me the most about this record, is that it sounds like the kind of thing that would have influenced early drum & bass….The melodies, pads & vocal patterns are straight out of something you would have heard on Good Looking Records in the 90s….

It’s always a great joy to randomly stumble across a piece of music which has the potential to become an all-time-favourite record – for me, Loss ticks all the right boxes; This is without the doubt the best house/techno track I’ve uncovered this year bar none.

Audio: “Loss” by SCB, from the single “Loss/FutureUnknown”

 http://www.juno.co.uk/artists/Scb/ – Buy SCB Records @ Juno Records
http://www.junodownload.com/artists/Scb/releases/ – Buy SCB Downloads @ Juno Download
http://www.residentadvisor.net/dj/scuba – Scuba homepage @ Resident Advisor

9. The Greg Foat Group – Dark Is The Sun –  Jazzman (2011)

Unlike most people I know, I like a bit of jazz, now & again. I especially like a good pianist, and Greg Foat is a good pianist, which, I think, is why I find this album so appealing. It’s a very retro-sounding album – at times it’s like classic Serge Gainsbourg or Air during their Moon Safari hey-day.

I especially like the four-part title-track, which sees essentially the same song being interpreted across a variety of tempos, with a variety of instruments, my favourite take being part three, which uses an accordian and a bit of whisting to great effect. Part four goes for some serious harpsichord, which I don’t think I’ve heard played with such gusto since UFO’s classic collaboration with Dee Dee Bridgewater, “Friends”.

Audio: “Black Is The Sun Part 3 (reprise)” by The Greg Foat Group, from the album “Dark Is The Sun”

http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Greg-Foat-Group/147696498631504 – The Greg Foat Group Facebook Page
http://www.juno.co.uk/artists/The+Greg+Foat+Group/ – Buy Greg Foat music @ Juno Records
http://www.amazon.co.uk/s?_encoding=UTF8&search-alias=music&field-artist=The%20Greg%20Foat%20Group – Buy Greg Foat Music @ Amazon

8. London Elektricity – Yikes! – Hospital Records (2011)

It’s been a patchy year for drum & bass, and I have to say that there’s been very little that I have really connected with…. However, I’m glad I gave the LE album a chance, because it totally exceeded my expectations….

Historically, drum & bass albums have always left me a little cold, because they rarely seem to hang together well as an actual album. Often, they’ll stray into some other genre like deep house or some sort of downtempo thing halfway through – I always find this really grating in a drum & bass album – people who buy these albums want drum & bass – if they wanted deep house they’d buy an album written by someone who writes deep house. If it’s not the genre hopping, then it’s just that the album sounds a collection of singles – not an album.

Thankfully, LE seems to know something about writing an album, and he executes the task with an unprecedented level of skill & precision – working closely with vocalist Elsa Esmerelda, who featured on the excellent Just One Second – they seem to have managed to craft actual songs, something which you rarely hear in drum & bass.

Audio: “Meteorites” by London Elektricity, from the album “Yikes”

http://www.hospitalrecords.com/ – Home of Hospital Records
http://www.juno.co.uk/artists/London+Electricity/ – Buy LE music @ Juno Records
http://www.amazon.co.uk/London-Elektricity/e/B001LHDJP4/ref=ntt_art_dp_pel_1 – Buy LE Music @ Amazon

7. Photek – 101 – Photek Productions (2011)

2011 saw the welcome return of drum & bass legend Photek aka Rupert Parkes, after a 5 year hiatus. It’s been ten years since his breath-taking techno album Solaris was released, and news that he was going to return with new material this year was both exciting and terrifying. Could he ever live up to his previous material, which is pretty much universally loved by the electronic music community?

Benji B was the man to put us out of our misery when he revealed 101, Photek’s first foray into electronic music in some time, and thankfully it didn’t dissapoint.

The quality of the new material was confirmed a week later, when This City, an experimental reverse-vocal led deep house track confirmed everything we had hoped – that Photek was alive & well, and still making the most cutting edge electronic music imaginable.

Audio: “101” by Photek, from the single “Avalanche”
http://photek.fm/ – Official Photek Homepage
http://www.juno.co.uk/artists/Photek/ – Buy Photek Music @ Juno Records
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Photek/e/B000AQ6VWA/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1322483479&sr=1-1 – Buy Photek Music @ Amazon 

6. Bon Iver- Bon Iver – 4AD (2011)

As someone who historically has listened to a lot of electronic music, anything as musically rich as Bon Iver is always going to be a mind blowing revelation.These ten tracks, all seemingly named after places such as PerthMinnesota, and Lisbon, are rich in melody and texture.The additional horns & sax are a subtle part of the music, without turning into cheesy Baker Street style solos.

This is the kind of album that makes you question why you write music, which I think is always a sign of a very high quality product.

Audio: “Michicant” by Bon Iver, from the album “Bon Iver”
http://boniver.org/ – Official Homepage of Bon Iver
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bon-Iver/dp/B004ZAXYOU/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1322483549&sr=1-1 – Buy Bon Iver Music @ Amazon

5. Sbtrkt – SBTRKT – Young Turks (2011)

I don’t think if you told me two years ago, that a dubstep album would be appearing in my 2011 best of list, I would have believed you….However, here we are, and here it is.

The debut album by Sbtrkt moves dubstep into another level; He’s made the smart move, in employing some truly talented vocalists; this elevates the album’s appeal far beyond your average dubstep album, without sounding tacky or compromised….Hold On is probably my favourite track of the year, with it’s excellent XX-esque xylophone melody and soulful vocals courtesy of Sampha.

This album is yet another example of how artists who are making really interesting music are very unfortunately being labelled as dubstep, alongside all those wobble-fest Ministry Of Sound sawtooth bassline dubstep compilations that essentially no-one likes….this is so much better than that – it’s soulful, it’s poppy in places, and most importantly, it hangs together well as an album, undoubtedly helped by the inclusion of some excellent vocal contributions from the aforementioned Sampha, Jessie Ware, and the rapidly growing Swedish group Little Dragon.

The track Pharoahs is pretty much a pop hit that never was, with all the elements of a classic late-90s 2-step garage track, and excellent vocals from guest vocalist Roses Gabor.

Audio: “Pharoahs” by SBTRKT, from the album “SBTRKT”
http://www.juno.co.uk/artists/Sbtrkt/ – Buy SBTRKT music @ Juno
http://www.amazon.co.uk/SBTRKT/e/B00464YEEE/ref=ntt_art_dp_pel_1 – Buy SBTRKT music @ Amazon

4. Foster The People – Torches – Sony Music (2011)

It’s fair to say that, musically speaking, it’s not often that I back a winning horse, so it’s been delightful to hear a song that I genuinely liked,  Pumped Up Kicks, get a serious amount of airplay on both television & radio.

Torches is a pretty safe, feel good indie-pop album with some great singles. It’s also not often that I listen to music that isn’t dreadfully dreary and miserable, so Torches really has been a revelation for me, as it’s totally the opposite to what I would normally listen to. It’s really very cheerful AND I don’t hate it – an interesting combination.

Audio: “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People, from the album “Torches”
http://www.fosterthepeople.com/uk/home – official Homepage of Foster The People
http://www.juno.co.uk/artists/Foster+The+People/ – Buy Foster The People music @ Juno
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Foster-the-People/e/B004XWADUS/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1322483700&sr=1-1 – Buy Foster The People music @ Amazon

3. Metronomy – The English Riviera – Because Music (2011)

The English Riviera is the third album from this Devon-based band. Sometimes in a band, you don’t really notice the bass player particularly, but with this band, you do, because he (Gbenga Adelekan) appears to be immensely talented, and his basslines really stand out in the tracks, particularly in the very funky single The Bay.

The album is broad and covers a range of styles; I also like the fact that vocal duties on the track Everything Goes My Way are shared between Joseph Mount & a guest vocalist Roxanne Clifford. 

I can imagine that the album’s mix of pretty wacky 80s synths and funky basslines has probably divided critics, but I welcome this kind of album because it stands out in a sea of ultra-bland guitar bands that churn out dull landfill year-after-year.

Audio: “The Bay” by Metronomy, from the album “The English Riviera”
http://www.metronomy.co.uk/ – Official homepage of Metronomy
http://www.juno.co.uk/artists/Metronomy/ – Buy Metronomy music @ Juno Records
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Metronomy/e/B001LHVSKM/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1322483771&sr=1-1 – Buy Metronomy Music @ Amazon 

2. Darkstar – North – Hyperdub (2010)

When I first listened to this album in full, on a train, coming back from London, I remember thinking that the audio file was corrupt, and that, as a result, it was unlistenable.

After a repeat playing, it dawned on me that the stuttering vocals, performed by the band’s newest member, James Buttery, were in fact processed to sound that way.

Once you’ve adjusted to this technique, it’s the broad range of styles on display here that make this album so fascinating, from the electro-pop of the first single Aidy’s Girl’s a Computer, to the more sombre Cure-esque Deadness, right through to the title track North, which has a hint of Portishead’s excellent Machine Gun track.

Audio: “Gold” by Darkstar, from the album “North”
http://darkstarmusic.tumblr.com/ – Official Homepage / Blog
http://www.juno.co.uk/artists/Darkstar/ – Buy Darkstar music @ Juno Records
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Darkstar/e/B001LHH84W/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1322483854&sr=1-1– Buy Darkstar music @ Amazon 

1. Bibio – Mind Bokeh – Warp (2011)

A couple of years ago, I was indecisive about buying the third Bibio album Vignetting The Compost, a collection of acoustic guitar instrumentals which sound like they’ve been recorded from a cassette that’s been found buried under the compost in someone’s back garden (I did eventually track down this album and it’s brilliant).

Since this time, he’s made three more albums, and this is the latest – and his third for Warp Records – It’s clear that his sound has vastly developed since I last checked him out.

Mind Bokeh has an incredible dream-like quality about it, it’s colourful, dusty, dirty and magical in the way that it sounds. The opening track, Excuses has a sombre, vocoded vocal over a bossa nova rhythm, and the most sombre guitar melodies ever committed to a sound recording. It’s an absolutely dazzling opener to what emerges to be a mind-bogglingly incredible album.

Light Seep falls somewhere between the funkiest prince track you’ve never heard, and Badly Drawn Boy‘s finest wah-wah guitar playing.

Take Off Your Shirt totally flips the script, turning into some kind of 80s rock anthem, with a cowbell rhythm that is reminicent of classic Free material.

K is For Kelson sounds like a piece written specifically for an animated Sesame Street sequence (and I mean this as a compliment) – it’s incredibly upbeat, and has an excellent Stevie Wonder-esque Synth workout.

Even skipping through the tracks now has reminded me just how many times this year I’ve put this on and listened to it from start to finish. It’s a very entertaining and musically-rich album that I think I will be revisiting for many years to come

Audio: “Mind Bokeh” by Bibio, from the album “Mind Bokeh”
http://warp.net/records/bibio – Bibio page @ Warp Records
http://www.juno.co.uk/artists/Bibio/ – Buy Bibio music @ Juno Records
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bibio/e/B001LHT4P8/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1322483963&sr=1-2-ent – Buy Bibio Music @ Amazon

About bobbykins

Tea-drinking, olive-munching electronic music enthusiast from the United Kingdom.
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