Saturday, December 24, 2011

The 100 (and a bit) Best Albums of 2011 Part 2: 80-61

80) Andy Stott - Passed Me By/We Stay Together (Modern Love)
These two EPs/mini albums were repackaged together as one long album towards the end of the year. Bass heavy and influenced by dub, but in an altogether distinctive space of its own, Passed Me By is singularly detached and agitated, filtering soul, reggae and r&b through all manner of abstract textural intrusions.

79) Peaking Lights - 936 (Not Not Fun)

The hazy dub of Peaking Lights proved to be one of 2011’s more straightforward pleasures, and one that did a great deal to enhance the reputation of the Not Not Fun label. The cascading, incandescent sound of much of 936 is immersive. Whilst the duo tend to eschew verse-chorus song structure, there were plenty of imaginative vocal hooks here too.

78) Sidi Toure - Sahel Folk (Thrill Jockey)
Sahel Folk was the first internationally distributed album in sixteen years from the artist hailed by Bassekou Kouyate as a ‘worthy successor to Ali Farka Toure’. Sahel Folk is a series of duos with a variety of collaborators, and this setting seems to suit Sidi remarkably well. The music is relaxed, sensitive, unshowy and unobtrusive but also quietly authoritative.

77) Six Organs Of Admittance - Asleep On The Floodplain (Drag City)
This may have been overlooked simply by being one of Ben Chasny’s most inviting and least foreboding albums under the Six Organs moniker. It’s mostly an album of soft drones and calm reveries that have a cumulatively hypnotic effect. Chasny may be at his least provocative here, but he is also at his most musically eloquent and articulate.

76) Twelves - The Adding Machine (Babel)
A great example of where freedom and flexibility meet discipline and control, Twelves’ second album is both supple and fascinating. With new guitarist Rob Updegraff adding a gritty, incisive undertow to the ensemble sound, The Adding Machine further develops the group’s inspired balance of knotty compositions, melodic development and turbulent free improvisation. A strong sense of narrative is apparent throughout.

75) Deerhoof - Deerhoof Vs. Evil (ATP)

Having already achieved so much, there seems to be little that Deerhoof can do now save for repeating themselves, although each release now seems to veer further towards what might be described as accessible pop territory. There’s still plenty of infectious quirkiness here though, and the band are as innovative as always with rhythm. With every release, their sound gets crisper and more dynamic.

74) Kode 9 & The Spaceape - Black Sun (Hyperdub)
Spaceape is less of a rapper and more of a surrealist storyteller. When paired with the claustrophobic soundscapes of Kode9, his words assume an even greater potency. Black Sun is another album to veer beyond the conventions of UK bass music and microgenre classifications, often emphasising texture more than the lower end frequencies. Over on musicOMH, I described the effect of Black Sun as being a kind of ‘disaster idealism’ - a dystopian urban vision tinged with the hope that something better and more sustainable will emerge.

73) Kairos 4tet - Statement Of Intent (Edition)
Remarkably now winners of the MOBO award for best jazz act, Kairos 4tet have had a busy, impressive year. That all this has been achieved as a result of an album considerably subtler and more refined than its urgent, memorable predecessor is all the more satisfying. Now with Ivo Neame’s graceful, considered touch on the piano, and still benefiting hugely from the experienced, empathetic rhythm section of Jasper Hoiby and Jon Scott, Adam Waldmann’s compositions have taken elegiac and unpredictable turns here.

72) Singing Adams - Everybody Friends Now (Records Records Records)
Steven Adams has managed to weather the quiet storm of the Broken Family Band split with consummate ease, forming a new band and simply getting on with business as usual. Singing Adams (initially a solo side project but now a band of the same name) inevitably share some qualities with BFB - Adams’ barbed humour and his deft hand with a tune being one. Some of the shuffly or chuggy rhythmic urgency remains too. But there’s also a sense that Everybody Friends Now is a less forthright, more reflective affair - perhaps the start of Adams’ maturity as a singer-songwriter. He certainly deserves more attention.

71) Outhouse & Hilmar Jenssen - Straw, Sticks & Bricks (Babel)
The Loop Collective’s flagship band continue their brilliant explorations of groove, texture and communication here, this time working in collaboration with Icelandic guitarist Hilmar Jenssen. Jenssen adds an air of menace and threat, whilst the band sound increasingly confident and controlled. The album is often brooding and mysterious but also fleet-footed and intuitive.

70) Rustie - Glass Swords (Warp)
Of all the wild electronic music released in 2011, Rustie’s long awaited debut album came brimming with the most fun. This is a sly, insanely over the top stew of retro synthesisers and modern awkwardness that is unashamedly entertaining. As the year draws to a close, it seems, perhaps surprisingly, to have moved outside genre circles to be picked up by major publications such as The Guardian.

69) Clams Casino - Instrumentals (Type)
2011 seems to have been the year of the ‘mixtape’ (even as I write this, singer-songwriter Marques Toliver has just unleashed his own rather splendid series of mash-ups), compilations of material released online, usually for free. Perhaps this format is where we’re headed in this new technological age - ‘albums’ becoming less important, but ‘selections’ of material both old and new becoming increasingly prevalent. This was a selection of beats that Mike Volpe sent to various rappers - but it’s pretty much like nothing in hip hop right now - and completely far from being generic. Although it’s termed a set of instrumentals - one of those instruments is certainly the sampled human voice, of which Volpe makes highly creative use. Much of this music is bold, intense and brilliantly arranged.

68) Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy - Wolfroy Goes To Town (Domino)
Will Oldham’s music seems to assume greater subtlety as he enters his mature period. After the red herring of the direct and bold opener No Match, much of Wolfroy Goes To Town is so subdued as to almost be vaporous. Whilst it’s one of his least immediate recordings to date, it does yield significant rewards. The highlight for me is the wonderful, quietly evocative New Whaling, a song largely unlike anything else he has recorded so far. Overall, this may be the best result of his experiments with female vocalists so far, the balance of the voices being remarkably complementary.

67) Moritz Von Oswald - Horizontal Structures (Honest Jon’s)
Horizontal Structures made for a marked contrast with Oswald’s previous trio release, the more propulsive Vertical Ascent. If the music here was more challenging and less immediate, it proved equally successful on its own terms. Horizontal Structures mostly eschews rhythm in favour of stark textures and rumbling undertones. These sound collages mix found sound, live instrumentation, improvisation and programming to brilliant effect.

66) Hiss Golden Messenger - Poor Moon/From Country Hai East Cotton (Black Maps/Paradise of Bachelors)
Although clearly informed by the American folk tradition, there’s something extra - something more intuitive and mysterious - about MC Taylor’s work as Hiss Golden Messenger, much of which finally saw the light of day here in the UK in 2011. From Country Hai East Cotton was a delicate and vulnerable affair, patiently unfolding and admirably understated in its execution, but with some lush string arrangements and a soulful vibe. Much has been written about Taylor’s understanding of bluegrass and folk - but less seems to have been written about the soulful side of his music, which echoes writers such as Dan Penn and Tony Joe White. His language is rich and evocative and his delivery soft and almost conversational. These two albums are an absolute delight.

65) Isolee - Well Spent Youth (Pampa)
Given the impact wearemonster had a few years ago, it’s bewildering just how ignored this latest, supposedly long-awaited Isolee album has been. Perhaps it’s too straightforward and lacks cultural currency in an electronic world that has been dominated by bass music trends in the period between Isolee albums. On the other hand, it really ought to be invigorating to hear an electronic album with rather different concerns. Well Spent Youth strikes me as being thoroughly enjoyable, and rich in melody and a careful ear for sound. It’s depressing when albums this strong are dismissed by those demanding an instant classic.

64) Egyptrixx - Bible Eyes (Night Slugs)
This austere but thrilling album from Toronto’s David Psutka felt like an artist challenging himself and rising even above his already lofty reputation (at least within bass music circles). In fact, Bible Eyes is largely free from dubstep cliche - instead reaching into other areas of minimal electronic music. It’s a confident, refreshingly consistent album.

63) The Decemberists - The King Is Dead (Rough Trade)
This is the sort of unassuming, straightforwardly decent album that is all too easy to neglect when making these round-up lists, especially as it was released very early in the year. Still, it’s worth noting that this is a rare case of a ‘reaction’ album actually working very well - it’s a definite retrenchment after the theatrical excesses of The Hazards of Love. It’s a real reminder of Colin Meloy’s narrative and melodic gifts as a songwriter, and the playing is frequently marvellous, including a guest appearance from Peter Buck.

62) St. Vincent - Strange Mercy (4AD)
It’s immensely satisfying that Annie Clark’s odd, angular take on pop music seems to have reached a surprisingly wide audience this year. For all of Strange Mercy’s tricksiness, it also comes armed with some superb hooks and melodies, even if Clark often tries to hide this by dressing them in very elaborate, unpredictable arrangements. Clark is adept at using the studio to its full potential.

61) Mara Carlyle - Floreat (Ancient and Modern)
The long-awaited Floreat (first shelved by EMI as far back as 2008) makes me wish I had taken more notice of Mara Carlyle much earlier. She is an idiosyncratic and bold singer-songwriter, keen to explore a wide variety of musical spaces. There are hints of early jazz and show tune stylings - but also a decidedly modern touch and approach. Carlyle has a bite and a sense of humour that brilliantly undercuts her more florid, theatrical moments.

No comments: