Words: J.R. Cumming
1. Holy Other – With U EP
No question for me here. Though only five tracks and 22 minutes, I spent more time with this EP than any other release this year, and don’t imagine tiring of it any time soon. Mournful, ethereal, yet textural and incredibly mysterious, nothing had me more excited about new music in 2011 than With U.
2. Main Attrakionz – 808s & Dark Grapes II
Squadda B and Mondre M.A.N, two of the most prolific and talented in the game, finally followed through on a steady stream of great mixtapes with 808s and Dark Grapes II, their most consistent effort thus far. Aided by beat making whiz kids Friendzone, Clams Casino, Silky Johnson, Squadda himself and others, the record found the two taking their “cloud rap” to a whole new level, and even caused some of the mainstream to take notice.
3. Kuedo – Severant
The future? The 1980s’ idea of the future? Does it matter? Taking cues equally from “New Visions” style synths and contemporary UK dance music, Severant, the solo debut from Jamie Teasdale of Vex’d, was one of the freshest sounding releases of 2011. Incredibly ambitious but rarely missing a step, Teasdale moves with confidence from lightning fast UK Garage to cinematic and sorrowful synth interludes. The sound of streetlights reflecting on wet streets.
4. A$AP Rocky – Live.Love.A$AP
As Main Attrakionz’ east coast partner in crime, it’s incredible to think that 12 months ago no one had heard of A$AP Rocky, though his rapid ascension to critical/popular acclaim has been more than justified. Great, effortless rhymes on top of beats from Clams Casino (again) and personal favourite DJ Burn One, among others, Live.Love.A$AP was a huge improvement on the excellent Deep Purple EP, released only a few months before, and one of the best hip-hop releases of the year. Here’s hoping he keeps up the same level of quality into 2012.
5. Laurel Halo – Hour Logic
Not unlike fellow Brooklynites Blondes, Laurel Halo seems to make music too forward thinking for her own good. Seemingly too techno for most indie music crowds, while also too experimental and ambient for the electronic music crowds, Hour Logic sadly slipped through a lot of cracks. Part Steve Reich, part Oneohtrix Point Never, part Basic Channel and part Derrick May, the album may not yet be the crystallization of Halo’s unique sound, but remains a fascinating development nonetheless.
6. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
After the unfortunate misstep that was Director’s Cut, 50 Words For Snow came as a heartwarming relief to Kate Bush fans. More focused and intimate than 2005’s Aerial, the record might even be Bush’s finest effort since The Sensual World. Built primarily around her delicate piano playing, accompanied by strings and percussion, the result is seemingly quaint and straightforward, but remains as dense and complex as anything we could expect from everyone’s favourite pixie.
7. Beaumont – Blush Response EP
Blush Response, the debut release from Glasgow’s Beaumont, definitely worked as 2011’s warmer compliment to CFCF, Kuedo or Babe Rainbow’s night bus vibes. With a more pronounced Italo and R&B feel, tracks like “Midnight” still come off like the soundtrack to a late night trip, though perhaps this time the passenger doesn’t ride alone…
8. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan – YT // ST
I can’t help but feel embarrassed for sleeping on this one. Perhaps most accurately described as prog, YT // ST is one of the most ambitious and impressive rock records I’ve heard in ages. Everything from the album itself to the matching, Akira-inspired visual aesthetic is so well realized and cohesive it’s tough to believe it’s the group’s debut LP. I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
9. Tropic of Cancer – The End of All Things
Like fellow west coasters The Soft Moon, the Tropic of Cancer managed to borrow strongly from their forebearers (ie. Danse Society, Joy Division, no wave) but move beyond pastiche to create one of the best minimal ’80s records since… the ’80s. Like most of the albums on this list, The End of All Things exists in its own world, creating a tremendous atmosphere that is cold, metallic, and frigid in all the best ways.
10. Omar-S – It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do It
The boss. By this point in the game it’s almost unnecessary to give it up for Omar-S, who long ago staked his claim as the king of the techno/house underground. Though he hasn’t dropped in either quality or quantity of output in recent times, It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do It was the man’s first LP in six years and stands as some of his finest work as well as a testament to his talent.
Special mention: NGUZUNGUZU – The Perfect Lullaby mixtape
I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have survived the Montreal 2011 heatwave without this and banana popsicles.