Saturday, December 24, 2011

The 100 (and a bit) Best Albums of 2011 Part 3: 60-41

60) Julia Holter - Tragedy (Leaving Records)
This is a fantastic, beautiful record, but one that is very difficult to pin down. Free from restrictions, it appears to veer over a very wide terrain, incorporating fuzzy found sounds, moments of operatic grandeur, folk ballads, and Angelo Badalamenti/Julee Cruise cinematic eeriness. In spite of this open-minded spirit of enquiry, this album still sounds emotionally overwhelmed and somehow isolated and self contained. It’s a strange and remarkable achievement.

59) Avishai Cohen - Seven Seas (Blue Note)
Few musicians operating in jazz and improvised music have quite as advanced a sense of melody as Avishai Cohen. Everything he does is supremely lyrical - with a singing, resonant quality underlying it. Added to that is the powerful but lightly executed rhythmic drive of his band. Seven Seas is once again a memorable, touching album that melds the language of jazz with the traditions of various forms of folk music.

58) Machinedrum - Room(s) (Planet Mu)
For me, this was one of 2011’s most unsettling and disturbing albums, although it came wrapped up in the guise of energising club music. Still, there’s little denying its oppressive and murky textures (ingeniously constructed), or the restless and disorientating nature of its underlying rhythms. Like much of the post dubstep/footwork landscape, it makes superb use of the sound of the human voice - fragmented and manipulated in imaginative ways - but it also has a character and approach that is entirely distinctive.

57) Vijay Iyer with Prasanna & Nitin Mitta - Tirtha (ACT)
Although this is perhaps the most explicit investigation of Vijay Iyer’s roots in Indian traditional music, it is also a refined and empathetic collaboration between three musicians with shared concerns and musical vocabulary. It is a brilliantly relaxed and exploratory venture - full of both innovation and heritage and effortlessly flowing. It sounds completely unforced - much more a natural meeting of minds.

56) Destroyer - Kaputt (Dead Oceans)
Vancouver’s Dan Bejar, also a non-touring member of Canadian supergroup New Pornographers, has been recording strange, dense and allusive music under the Destroyer name for some time now, although Kaputt is probably the first of his albums to gain significant attention in the UK. His lyrics remain surreal and verbose, whilst the music here seems like an homage to the lusher, more detailed end of 80s pop (Roxy Music, Scritti Politti, early Talk Talk). If it initially sounds dated, repeated plays reveal a deft and clever creation, with Bejar expending time and a great deal of care on every small detail.

55) Keith Jarrett - Rio (ECM)

Perhaps this should be higher up the list - there are places where it hits the dizzy heights of Jarrett’s most inspirational solo performance work. Yet there is also the lingering sense that recorded examples of Jarrett’s solo concerts are now so plentiful as to have made them seem somehow less special. Then there’s the infuriating issue of ECM’s exorbitant CD prices (£19 - £22 for this double set in most stores and no download available). Still, there’s no escaping the spiritual thrill of his rolling, urgent vamps or some of his wilder flourishes. Rio also has its moments of calm and considered reflection - almost as if Jarrett is pondering an entire career spent in the riskiest performance environment of all.

54)Bill Callahan - Apocalypse (Drag City)
Apocalypse intitially sounded like one of Bill Callahan’s more otiose and obtuse works, but an utterly spellbinding performance at London’s Barbican Centre, in which the creative, improvising drummer Neal Morgan played as significant a role as Callahan himself, brought these songs into sharper relief. It’s a brilliant, tumbling, expressive work - one of Callahan’s most musically and narratively bold.

53) Micachu & The Shapes with London Sinfonietta - Chopped & Screwed (Rough Trade)
This live concert recording of Mica Levi’s collaboration with the wonderful London Sinfonietta (one of this country’s greatest musical assets) is every bit as weird, dislocated, dissonant and invigorating as one might expect. Even the most wayward and fuzzy ideas are somehow carefully calculated and the unconventional ensemble sounds carefully integrated, although often markedly disorientating in sound and effect.

52)Dean McPhee - Son of the Black Peace (Blast First Petite)
This is an exquisite collection of solo electric guitar pieces, drenched in enough reverb to make it sound as it if were recorded in a grand cathedral. It is one of those solo albums that genuinely does sound isolated and individual - mostly tranquil, but also sometimes imbued with a fragile, brittle tension. McPhee eschews unnecessary displays of virtuosity, instead always aiming for mood and feeling.

51) Nils Frahm - Felt (Erased Tapes)
Nils Frahm and Anne Muller - 7fingers (Erased Tapes)
The German musician and composer Nils Frahm has been involved in not just one, but two wonderful albums in 2011. Felt is probably the most significant - a brilliantly touching and intimate album of calm and considered reveries, on which Frahm mutes the strings of his piano with thick felt. It is subtle and demanding, but also hugely rewarding. 7fingers, a collaboration with the cellist Anne Muller, is a superb, highly creative balancing act between the modern and the traditional. It has been unfairly neglected in the light of Frahm’s achievement with Felt.

50) Sully - Carrier (Keysound)
So much has been made of the post-dubstep landscape that this wonderful album surprised by reaffirming the classic sample and bass-heavy dubstep sound, with plenty of references back to UK garage too. In the album’s second half, he does show awareness of the prevailing trend for Chicago ‘juke’ or footwork rhythms, but in this case it is more successfully subsumed into a distinctively British sound. Carrier is a crisp, clean, focused and consistent set.

49) Bill Frisell and 858 Quartet - Sign of Life (SLG)
Frisell’s first recording with this group, inspired by a series of Gerhard Richter paintings, was one of the great guitarist’s more abrasive ventures. It gave little notice of the deceptive simplicity and staggering beauty of Sign of Life. The sense emerging here is that the 858 Quartet, with violin, cello, bass and Frisell on electric guitar, is essentially a contemporary chamber ensemble. The music traverses the great American musical landscape, from Reich, Copland, Adams and Ives to The Impressions by way of the Delta Blues singers. With its delicate themes recurring in the form of echoes and embellishments, Sign of Life feels like a coherent suite of music.

48) Bon Iver - Bon Iver (4AD)
This widescreen, meticulously arranged piece of rock composition inevitably divided opinion this year. Moving so far beyond the intimate, highly charged personal confessions of For Emma would always be controversial - but how much more exciting this is than any kind of forced attempt to repeat the unrepeatable. Arguably a little too much attention was given to the Peter Cetera of Phil Collins-esque closing track Beth, Rest. Much of the rest of this music is haunting and beautiful as well as epic, although there is the lingering sense that any kind of spontaneity and excitement has been forced out through Vernon’s almost obsessive sense of organisation. It will be interesting to see where he goes next - Bon Iver is so brilliantly crafted as to leave a suspicion that it would be difficult to take this compositional approach any further.

47) Khyam Allami - Resonance/Dissonance (Nawa Recordings)
Initially a drummer, but now justly regarded as a great exponent of the oud, Khyam Allami made one of the year’s great solo instrumental albums (and there have been many of those this year - see also Taborn, Simcock, Mehldau, Hallock Hill, Dean McPhee etc). His music is graceful and sounds effortless, but is also prone to rapid and intense flurries of activity. With a beautiful balance of composition and improvisation, this is a work proudly displaying traditional Middle Eastern influences, but also utterly unconcerned with genre restrictions.

46) Kit Downes Trio - Quiet Tiger (Basho)
When is a trio not a trio? Emboldened by the presence of various guest musicians, not least the inspired, adventurous reedsman James Allsopp (who also plays with Downes in the fiery Golden Age of Steam project), much of Quiet Tiger is at the very least a Quartet project. It’s a refreshing and satisfying departure from the reflective tone of Downes’ Mercury-nominated debut, demonstrating that he is a consummate musician with the ideas to match his phenomenal technique. Quiet Tiger is an album where the listener would be right to expect the unexpected.

45) The Weather Station - All Of It Was Mine (You’ve Changed)
Operating in a similar space to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings or The Be Good Tanyas, The Weather Station produce a more modest take on traditional American folk. This is a minimal but richly empathetic album, utterly unforced and delivered without any extraneous elements.

44) Aquarium - Aquarium (Babel)
This first album from the gifted pianist and Royal Academy of Music graduate Sam Leak proved to be one of the year’s most stylistically varied and exciting British jazz releases. Leak is a sophisticated composer with a clear ability with melody and harmony. Yet he’s also clearly inspired by the wilder possibilities of improvisation and rhythm. With Aquarium he has formed a superb ensemble that is deep in expression and nuance.

43) Joe Lovano - Bird Songs (Blue Note)
Joe Lovano imbues everything he does not just with his peerless articulacy but also his highly individual, bold and vibrant sound. Now joining Django Bates in a growing group of contemporary jazz musicians suddenly keen to revisit the legacy of Charlie Parker, Lovano has taken the spirit of Bird but brilliantly adapted it for his excellent current ensemble Us Five. The results are fluent and exciting, a reminder of how important the history of this music is for its contemporary practitioners, but also a living, breathing and fresh document in its own right.

42) Dalglish - Benacah Drann Deachd (Highpoint Lowlife)
An album I’ve very quickly regretted not purchasing immediately on release as it appears to have all but disappeared, at least in its digital form. Still, this must be Dalglish’s finest work so far, a deft combination of lingering atmospherics and high frequency sonic attack. It is some of the year’s most unsettling and nervy music.

41) John Taylor - Requiem For A Dreamer (CamJazz)
Still one of the most sophisticated and innovative composers in British jazz, John Taylor has here unveiled a mature and deeply felt set of music dedicated to the late, great American writer Kurt Vonnegut. A brilliant example of how other art forms such as literature can serve as extra-musical inspiration, Requiem For A Dreamer is richly melodic and characteristically subtle. Taylor’s trio with Palle Daniellson and Martin France is communicative and light of touch, whilst the presence of Julian Arguelles on saxophones adds weight, attack and melodic potency. Splendid.

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.

The 100 (and a bit) Best Albums of 2011 Part 1: 100-81

100) Feist - Metals (Polydor)
Metals didn’t quite have the same personal impact on me that The Reminder had (save for The Bad In Each Other, a truly remarkable song placed first that rather overshadows the rest of the album). That said, it was still a remarkably refined and controlled offering full of exceptional songwriting. Occasionally, it veered out into rawer, less polished territory, with intriguing results.

99) Cornershop - And The Double-O Groove Of (Ample Play)
These days, Cornershop seem entirely comfortable with their status as more-or-less one hit wonders. Brimful of Asha hardly seems to be an albatross around their necks. Rather, it has freed them to veer off in more artistically fruitful directions. In fact, this collaboration with Bubbley Kaur may be the highlight of their career. The fusion of traditional Indian sounds with funky grooves is surprisingly successful.

98) Fatoumata Diawara - Fatou (World Circuit)

Although born in the Ivory Coast and of Malian heritage, Fatoumata Diawara now resides in Paris and this may explain the refreshingly diverse, cosmopolitan and summery sound she achieves on this delightful album. It’s one of the most accessible albums to have emerged from the World Circuit staple in recent years - immediate, light and catchy - but this is by no means a criticism. Diawara seems brilliantly assured and her vibrant songs deserve a wide audience.

97) The Field - Looping State of Mind (Kompakt)

Axel Willner here continued his persistent explorations of repetition and cumulative intensity. Yet with every release as The Field, he continues to give the sound a slight new twist. Looping State of Mind has ratcheted up the intensity and energy levels to offer something yet more muscular and insistent.

96) Tyshawn Sorey - Oblique 1 (Pi)
Sorey is one of New York’s most astonishing, visionary drummers, having concocted the sort of rhythmic support that seems so proficient as to be near-physically impossible for the likes of Steve Lehman, Fieldwork, and Steve Coleman. This is his first album as bandleader (his solo work Koan is an entirely different beast altogether), and the work shows him to be an intelligent composer as well as a gifted musician. Sorey studied with Anthony Braxton at Wesleyan University, and Oblique 1 demonstrates a contemporary approach to composition, perhaps inspired by musicians such as Henry Threadgill, in which cells and intervals are the founding blocks for development rather than melodic lines. By Sorey’s own description, many of these pieces are ‘strategies for improvisation’, and the resulting performances are turbulent and inspired.

95) Wild Flag - Wild Flag (Wichita)
This collaboration between Janet Weiss and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater Kinney and Mary Timony ended up being much greater than simply a Sleater Kinney album minus Corin Tucker. Anything powered by Janet Weiss’ irresistible snare drum thwack is always going to be an enjoyable listen - but Wild Flag distinguished themselves by adopting a poppier approach. Many of these songs are blisteringly exciting but also memorable and enduring.

94) Kuedo - Severant (Planet Mu)
Former Vex’d member Jamie Teasdale’s first album as Kuedo shares with Zomby’s Dedication a rather fuzzy sensibility - a series of auditory hallucinations perhaps, or vivid dreams, although it is not as boldly fragmentory as the Zomby album. Throughout, there’s a nostalgia for sci-fi visions of the future that never quite arrived, and Vangelis’ work, particularly for Blade Runner, appears to have been a major source of inspiration.

93) SBTRKT - SBTRKT (Young Turks)
Of all the albums to emerge from the post-dubstep landscape, this is actually one of the most conventional. This, however, turns out to be its refreshing virtue. Working with a range of guest vocalists, SBTRKT works as something close to a pop producer here, and the resulting work shows a great deal of respect for the song, as well as a drive for sonic experimentation. There is a clear sense of intention throughout and the results are immediate and soulful but not overly dazzling.

92) Meg Baird - Seasons On Earth (Wichita)
I had rather casually and unfairly dismissed Meg Baird and Espers because of their association with Devendra Banhart, a musician I’m afraid I’ve never been able to take entirely seriously. This has been a big mistake, for Seasons on Earth is one of the most honest and affecting folk albums in recent memory, one that continues to grow with every listen. Baird’s voice is understated but perfect for this style, and her songs are delicate but beautiful. She is also versatile here, moving from lightness to emphatic authority with apparent ease.

91) CANT - Dreams Come True (Warp)
This side project from Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor may lack the meticulous compositional design and rich harmonies of his parent band, but it more than compensates for that with other examples of musical invention. By simplifying the writing, Taylor is freer to experiment with sound design, instrumentation and texture, the results of which take him some way from Grizzly Bear’s modern folk-tinged psychedelia.

90) Africa Hitech - 93 Million MIles (Warp)
Why has this one slipped through unnoticed? This collaboration between Mark Pritchard and Steve Spacek takes slices of post-dubstep and footwork and reworks them through the prism of sleek soul. There’s a really great spirit of exploration here - finding the connections between various examples of human rhythmic experience and electronic production techniques.

89) Cass McCombs - Wit’s End/Humor Risk (Domino)
Cass McCombs has been remarkably prolific and I’d rather lost touch with his output after A, a debut I felt showed some unrealised potential. His music has become considerably less ragged since then. Indeed, County Line from Wit’s End is essentially a soft rock ballad (but an utterly brilliant one) and the production on Humor Risk is crisp and clear. McCombs is still a minimalist at heart - his songs often have little in the way of structure, preferring to repeat phrases and lines until they become very well ingrained in the memory. These two albums together do feel like his strongest burst of creativity yet but, like Ryan Adams, he may need an editor.

88) Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica
Ford & Lopatin - Channel Pressure (Software)

Increasingly one of the most discussed and influential musicians at work today, Daniel Lopatin’s journey towards the critical and perhaps even commercial mainstream has been somewhat remarkable. Replica and Channel Pressure saw him journey yet further from the Tangerine Dream-esque dronescapes that made his name, incorporating sound effects, TV advertisement samples and rhythmic trickery, all in the service of his ingenious play on reconstruction, memory and recall. The retro stylings of Channel Pressure ought by rights to be horrifying - yet they are somehow completely irresistible. Any album with a song title like Too Much MIDI (Please Forgive Me) must revel in its own irony and gleeful subversion and Channel Pressure does exactly that.

87) A Winged Victory For The Sullen - A Winged Victory For The Sullen (Erased Tapes)

This collaboration between the Californian pianist Dustin O’Halloran and Stars of the Lid’s Adam Wiltzie has a rather European flavour to it, as well as an overriding sense of melancholy reflection. It’s a sensitive, patient beast - and one of the most haunting and beautiful releases to have emerged from the wonderful ‘post-classical’ staple on Erased Tapes.

86) John Escreet - Exception To The Rule (Criss Cross)

John Escreet is a musician I’ve only approached very recently (having seen his bizarre and compelling opening piano set at the Henry Threadgill show at this year’s London Jazz Festival). I need to spend a great deal more time with Exception to the Rule before I’m in any real position to assess it properly - but on first few experiences, it seems that Escreet is as unconventional a composer as he is a player, juxtaposing extremes for strange and disorientating effect. His touchstones must surely be the great avant-garde piano players (Cecil Taylor and perhaps Paul Bley) but he also seems to an intellectual, considered approach with his contemporary Craig Taborn. The ensemble here includes the great David Binney and the incredibly musical drummer Nasheet Waits - these two musicians alone are prime ingredients for an inspired session, There’s a subtle element of electronic sound here too which is fresh and exciting.

85) Battles - Gloss Drop (Warp)

‘Battles without Tyondai Braxton is like cereal without milk’, so I proudly declared on Twitter when learning of the departure of the group’s nominal frontman. Too often, Braxton has been desribed as the group’s former vocalist, when in fact his musical contributions were equally significant, not least his compositional flair. Without him, the remaining power trio is surprisingly effective. Much of this music is Battles stripped down to its fundamentals, powerful, attacking and imposing. It still grooves righteously, and some of the guest vocalists prove inspired choices (even Gary Numan).

84) Roly Porter - Aftertime (Subtext)
Listen to this next to Kuedo’s Severant and it is hard to believe that the two artists were once both part of Vex’d. Whereas Jamie has gone down the Vangelis-inspired cinematic synth route with Kuedo, Roly Porter has here produced something altogether more uncompromising and decidedly uncommercial. To call this album downbeat would be misleading, as that at least implies some sort of rhythmic impetus. Instead, it is mournful, perhaps even dark - characterised by drones and sustained sounds and often confidently confrontational.

83) Ambrose Akinmusire - When The Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note)
Still only 28 years old, Ambrose Akinmusire (who played with Steve Coleman from the age of 19) emerges as a fully formed mature talent on this debut album as a bandleader. There is an immense outpouring of energy, passion and soul on this collection, as well as a fearsome technical proficiency. The set neatly juxtaposes fiery exposition with moments of resonant beauty. With the talents of Walter Smith III, Gerald Clayton, Justin Brown and Harish Raghavan also involved (and with the great pianist Jason Moran producing), this is something of a dream team from this new generation of American jazz pioneers.

82) Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light Vol.1 (Southern Lord)
More of the beautiful same from Dylan Carlson - slow, patient, epic doom rock and windswept desert blues. As with other recent Earth releases, there is a delicious tension underpinning these five long pieces. Some subtle differences occur due to the sweeping presence of cellist Lori Goldston. Carlson remains a brilliantly selective musician, making the space as important as the limited number of notes. Volume 2 is coming early in 2012.

81) Phil Robson - The Immeasurable Code (Whirlwind Recordings)
This impressive Anglo-American ensemble features the superb, mellifluous saxophonist Mark Turner, virtuosic flautist Gareth Lockrane, bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Ernesto Simpson. The result, recorded live, is a combination of imperious groove from a crackling rhythm section and fluent, lengthy improvised lines from Robson, Turner and Lockrane. A tremendous, highly underrated ensemble gem.