Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Best Music of the Year - Albums & Compilations

Hopefully you've all had time to digest my tracks of the year, so now I'm listing my favourite albums and compilations. There probably aren't any surprises to those of you who willingly subject themselves to my endless link spamming on Twitter (yeah, why do you do that to yourselves?) but it's nice to put things in order, isn't it? Collecting and sorting the chaos. Makes it seem like 2011 wasn't entirely a waste of everyone's time.

I only did nine albums of the year as I couldn't think of a tenth (nearly all of my fave albums of the year were from at least two years ago unfortunately), and I didn't want to be like nearly everyone else and just look one up from another rundown. I credit you all with a bit more intelligence than that.

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

1. Icicle - Under the Ice - Shogun Audio
The sign of a good album for me is that you don't get sick of it, no matter how many times you rinse it. Under the Ice has been the album of 2011 for me for quite a few reasons - it's been the soundtrack to some rather important life-moments, it's helped me get to work on days where I'd rather have peeled my own skin off, it's encouraged people I know to try music outside of their Hospital Records remit, and it's also just made me happy. Fervent overlistening has meant that now I'm a bit bored of everything pre- track three (Breathing Again), but I still rate it as album of the year. Arrows is a fantastic track, I only wish I hadn't heard it so many times. It's my own fault, I suppose. Yes, I do realise most people only gave it 3/5 in reviews, but music is mainly about personal taste, isn't it? A brilliant piece of work, if you haven't got it, sort that out immediately.

2. Silent Dust - Silent Dust - None 60
A very close contender for album of the year, Silent Dust's self-titled album caught me by surprise. A friend linked me to the mix they did for BigUp and I was immediately taken by the atmospheric beauty of the tracks they had created. I particularly love how the entire album seems to hang in the air like mist; tracks like "Levitation Theme" and "Zero Nine Zero" evoke damp city streets and rain flickering in headlights, clicks belonging to what I can't imagine as anything else but a Geiger counter bring gently falling ash and fallout to mind. Somehow it's all incredibly soothing though. That's what I love about it - the music tells stories, it lets you/me imagine landscapes and scenes, and encourages your mind to wander, in a way that lots of drum and bass simply doesn't. They thought I'd forgotten about them too. Was this enough of an outpouring of love, do you think?

3. Marcus Intalex - 21 - Soul:R
An album that I like to think of as a tin of biscuits - bear with me on this. Although I like all of the biscuits (tracks), there are some I like more than others outright (Regrets ft. Riya - Caramel Digestives), there are others I forget that I like and then eat because there aren't any of my faves left and remember that they are amazing (Make Way ft. DRS - all-butter shortbread; Dusk - pink wafers). None of this matters to you of course, because biscuits are a terrible way to describe music. I should explain then, that each track on this album is as well-produced and thoughtfully pieced together as the next, and that throughout it there are huge claps of lightning-and-thunder brilliance that quite honestly take my breath away. An exercise in how drum and bass can be both provoking and intelligent, and this alone is the reason you should go and buy it.

4. Blu Mar Ten - Love Is The Devil - Blu Mar Ten Records
You should already be aware of just how much I love the purple-tinged music of Blu Mar Ten, but I'll go over it again - every aspect of the music that they make is filled with joy. If this isn't enough to make you want to get to know them, how about I tell you that there isn't a bad track on this album? There just isn't. And yes, you saw right, there are no less than eighteen of them on the MP3 version. Into The Light ft. Airwalker has an effortless feeling of lightness; 5 Summers is a work of fingerpainted, joyful art, and Still The One is as fun to listen to as it is to laugh uncontrollably for twenty minutes. The whole album instills me with happiness, but not every song is simply designed to make fools like me grin. Sweet Little Supernova has the type of bass that gives me chills (and makes me see colours), and Problem Child adds a bit of nastiness which is a bit of a welcome break from the somewhat relentless optimism. An absolute joy.

5. Calibre - Condition - Signature
You don't need me to tell you how good Calibre is. He's an amazingly, ludicrously talented man, whom I seem to gain more respect for with every release. This year was fantastic for him, and Condition was met with justified excitement. Stripped back and yet somehow filled with beauty, each track has it's own story and has clearly been pored over in the early hours until it was perfect. That's what I like about Calibre the most I think (bear in mind, 'the thing I like most about Calibre' changes pretty much every week) - you can hear the perfectionism. The special thing about any Calibre album is the sense of sonic pick-and-mix (if you'll excuse the wankiness of that term). The dub of 'No More' and the heavy deepness of 'Shlager' point towards the beginning and the end of a night out, where the delicate warmth of 'Windows' and the depressive yet catchy 'Closing Doors' (ft. DRS) bring it back to perfect headphone material. I think what I'm trying to say is this album is really, really, really good.

6. Kuedo - Severant - Planet Mu
I didn't discover Kuedo until November of this year, and I'm a bit peeved that none of my so-called-friends alerted me to it, given my previous predilection for Vex'd in former years. Severant reminds me of all my favourite electronica artists, but manages to be almost ridiculously accessible - something I feel that many artists are afraid to be. Perhaps that's unfair of me. Maybe some people just find it harder to express themselves in an uncomplicated way. 'Scissors' is the standout track for me, however much of it is borderline perfect, and I know some people have picked out parts I'd have never singled out in a million years as their favourite few seconds or so. That's the beauty of an album like this, you're not just listening out for your the best song, you're listening out for your favourite skipped beat, or the best sample, or that bit that made you laugh because it sounded like a helicopter ditching into a huge bowl of custard. It's wonderful, and I want everyone to listen to it.

7. Zomby - Dedication - 4AD
I rarely buy albums on the strength of their reviews, but Dedication got so many music journalists into some sort of love-drugged simper-stupor I had to see what the fuss was about. A gorgeous album filled with glittering intrigue and aspects of genius, the only criticism I have of it is that 'A Devil Lay Here' loses me and I never really manage to get back in the zone after it finishes. For the tracks that come before it though, I'm more than happy to have invested. 'Natalia's Song' is the closest thing Dedication has to a chart hit, and for that I'm eternally grateful - I don't want my Zomby to step out into the light.

8. Friendly Fires - Pala - XL
An album the exact colours of a roll of refreshers, it smells like summer and cut grass and fires, and makes me think of clouds. It's one of those hugely alcoholic cocktails served in a whole pineapple with ten thousand little brollies and curly straws and sparklers in, and I love, love, love it. I really do hate the face people pull when I tell them I like Friendly Fires. It's the same one they pull when I say I love Springsteen, or The Animals, or Fleetwood Mac (although if you don't like The Mac, then seriously, just fuck off. You're clearly almost dead.) I'm not going to launch into a rhetoric about how shit listening to music to be cool is, just lighten up and order a pina colada every now and again instead of a Red Stripe. You know what I mean? Imagery. Anyway, I've wasted all this review space having a rant, so go and listen to it to see what it's like for yourself.


9. SBTRKT - SBTRKT - Rough Trade
I wasn't sure about SBTRKT when a mate told me to listen to him. "He's got a wanky stage outfit" I protested. "I won't like him. He's not got any vowels, he sounds like a dick." To my dismay, I was wrong (again). He made his entire album free to stream earlier this year, and I listened to it no less than five times in a row before calling said mate and telling her that if she mentioned my micro-tantrum I'd punch her in the thorax. Luckily she only told everybody we went to see him live with. A fabulous album from start to finish, SBTRKT manages to make soulful, attitude-free electronica derived from dubstep and 2-step, and in tracks like 'Hold On' and 'Something Goes Right' uses pop indie lyrics without a knowing nod towards cheesiness, like so many others would do out of self-consciousness. Sampha's voice lends a beautifully soft texture to most of the tracks, and despite my huge dislike for gigs, seeing him sing live was one of my highlights of the year. You should give it a go even just to imagine the smile on my lickul face as you listen.


COMPILATIONS OF THE YEAR

1. Various - Medschool New Blood 011 - Medschool
Undoubtedly my CD of the year. I've listened to it hundreds of times - if it was a tape, I'd have worn it out. The soundtrack to countless road trips, camping holidays, music festivals (even though I hate them), accidental walks home and train journeys, I can't think of a track from it I don't love. I'll pick a couple of favourites though:

  • Lung - Relapse - A gorgeous combination of textures, a driving bassline, something that sounds like rotary blades and a glittering, shimmery sample in the background that reminds me of City Life by Logistics (one of my all-time favourite songs, actually), this track deserves far more recognition. As does Lung.
  • Eleven8 - Colours of Distance - Stunning. Gorgeous. Wow. And not in a Radio 1 way, I actually mean it. The vocal sample slays me, and when the ludicrously rich bass dives in around the chorus (after "got to let me go..." I can't help but close my eyes every bloody time. I look like a tit, especially on the tube, so cheers for that Edd.
  • Nuage - Missing You - I love Nuage. This track basically explains why. I won't go on, because I could talk about it for years. He's wonderful, he is. I get the feeling I'm going to regret saying that at some point, but for now I'll leave it in.

2. Various - Ingredients Presents Recipe Book Vol. 1 - Ingredients Records
A brilliant and more-or-less flawless account of where deep, minimal and intelligent (although I do hate calling it that, even though it's pretty much true) drum and bass is at in 2011. As the year went on, more and more of the originally obscure artists came to the forefront of the scene, which is just how Ingredients seem to play it. They get there first. Best tracks:

  • Jubei - The Path (Skeptical rmx) - This reminds me of every good night I've had this year. Dropped correctly, this can destroy an entire dancefloor. Also works well on headphones, however you may want to keep a check on your facial expression while you're out in public.
  • Krakota - Be Myself - I already wrote all about this in my tracks of the year post! It's there for a reason, you know!
  • Mute & Mako - Rorschach - Have you heard the bass on this? It's fucking INSANE. It's still got depth and focus behind it though, it draws you in. Pretty much sums up Ingredients for me, really.


3. Various - IM:Ltd Etched In Stone 2 Years Anniversary Edition - IM:Ltd
I dunno if you've heard, right, but IM:Ltd are fucking INCREDIBLE. The amount I go on about them you'd think they were paying me - they aren't (although you'd think I'd get a free t-shirt or something, eh? ;) ). Anyway, I'd have hoped by now that you all know I'd tell the truth even if they WERE paying me. I'm a blunt northern lass. It's pretty much impossible for me to be complimentary on demand. A fantastic portfolio of what sort of thing they like releasing, I genuinely like every track.

  • Fade & Mono - Obelisk - An absolute monster. Dark, creepy, deep and a hurter of a bassline, it's basically made out of all my most favourite things. Plus dancing to it is really fun.
  • Mad Rabbit - Deceiver - A really interesting track from a guy also known as Foreign Concept - you may have heard of him. Bone disintegrating bass as IM:Ltd standard, it's pretty addictive, and those clicks make it really work. That might just be my severe affinity for clicks and claps, however.
  • Kantyze - Eneis Lobby - Deep and heavy shoulder shrugging bizniz, it makes me come over all street and start saying things like "bizniz".

4. Various - Shogun Audio Presents Way of the Warrior - Shogun Audio
Couldn't really miss it out, could I? Such a huge tracklist, and so many big artists and producers namechecked, it'd just be rude. A great mixture of interesting, ostentatious and accessible drum and bass, the whole compilation manages to do what it sets out to do - satisfy the nerdier fans while introducing newcomers to another non-chart level of DnB.
  • Foreign Concept & Bringa - Cemetery - I spent all year waiting for this to come out after hearing Kasra play it on a RA mix months and months ago (what a mix by the way, I'll have to post it up some time), it was actually the reason I bought this compilation in the end. Even if it was the only track on it I liked, I still wouldn't have been disappointed.
  • Commix & Icicle - Ultra Clean - That bass! So much fun to hear this drop on a night out, everybody loves it and it's really fun to dance to. That sounds like a shit reason to like a song, but I beg to differ, I think making tracks for the floor is admirable, especially in these barren days of uber-production and frowny faces.
  • Rockwell - 4U - Some folks loved it to an extreme level, and some folks absolutely hated it. It sort-of reminds me of Nineh Cherry. I really hope that's not an insult. Anyway, I love it, so that's at least one person.

5. Various - Sun & Bass Selection 2011
I didn't go to Sun and Bass this year, and I've regretted it ever since the tickets sold out. Buying this CD was a small way to feel part of the overseas drum and bass phenomena that is the European dance music festival, but it didn't quite transport me there as all the tracks are meant to bring Sardinia in the wintertime to mind. I liked that about it - there's a calm air of melancholy about it all. Festival compilations are generally a bit ropey, but this one is a gem.
  • ArpXP - Winter in Sardinia - I bloody love ArpXP. Click, click, click, click, gorgeous echoing piano,  I often think if I could make music, I'd want to make it like him. That wasn't a poem by the way, I'm just getting tired and forgetting how sentences work. He's from Sardinia, don't you know, so if anybody knows what winter is like there, it's him. By the sounds of it, it's pretty peaceful with lovely sunsets. I might casually emigrate.
  • Lenzman - Diamonds - There's one word that springs to mind whenever I hear anything by Lenzman and that's "washes". It's like having huge crashing waves of cymbals fall all over you - only the sound waves mind, actual cymbals would hurt, and it'd be pretty inconvenient. Fits in with the rest of the compilation beautifully, which shows how good a compilation it is because generally the aceness of a Lenzman tune stands out a mile and a half.
  • Triad - Persistance (ft. Elina Monova) - Deep, relaxing and generally beautiful, I could definitely imagine myself listening to this on a beach at night with a mojito. If you've not heard much from Triad, I'd definitely recommend you checking out more of their stuff, as they aren't confined to drum and bass alone. Start with Vice.
And that's that. The third and final installment of what is now becoming an ALBATROSS AROUND MY NECK will be my EPs of the year, and the artists who I reckon/hope will be huge in 2012. Again, look forward to that. If you don't read it, I'll be so mad.

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