This week, we’ll be rounding up FACT’s 50 best albums of 2011, continuing today with entries #20-#11.
We’ve already selected our 50 best reissues and 10 best labels of 2011, and we’ll be following albums with our 50 best tracks next week. And yes, we know it’s a little early, but as they say in Peep Show, why wait ’til everyone else has had their fun with the olives?
50: XANDER HARRIS
(NOT NOT FUN)
‘I Want More Than Just Blood’
Synth records referencing 70s and early 80s horror scores – Goblin, John Carpenter, Fabio Frizzi et al – are ten a penny these days, but this offering from the US’s Xander Harris really hit the mark, perfectly balancing tenebrous atmospherics with moments of high italo camp.
49: AFRICA HITECH
93 MILLION MILES
‘Out in the Streets’
Africa Hitech have been accused of being too clever for their good, and although 93 Million Miles does contain moments of that (thankfully, the leaden – and offensively pointless – grime retread of ‘Caveman Style’ didn’t make the album cut), it also contains its fair share of classic Mark Pritchard material: obviously the rampaging ‘Out in the Streets’ is king, but the gently malevolent ‘The Sound of Tomorrow’ and bit-crushed ballad ‘Our Luv’ give it a good run for its money.
48: JUICY J & LEX LUGER
RUBBA BAND BUSINESS 2
Trap rap has existed by other names for years now, but 2011 – thanks in no short part to Lex Luger’s 2010 productions for Waka Flocka Flame and Rick Ross – saw it become more talked about and prevalent than ever. It’s hard to think of many big rap hits Stateside this year that didn’t adopt the 808 basslines and snapping snare rolls that Luger’s perfected, while the UK’s road rap sect – not to mention observers like Kuedo – appropriated them for their own means. On the Rubbaband Business mixtapes though, Luger proved he was far from a one-trick pony, while Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J did a more than admirable job of keeping up with the kids.
This year saw a deluge of techno-not-techno records made by people from the noise and DIY synth – as opposed to dance music – spheres. None were as convincing as Container’s disjointedly funky LP, which reminded us how punkish, pungently psychedelic and downright nasty 4/4 jack music can be.
‘Don’t Cry in my Bed’
A worrying amount of the UK dance music that spawned from dubstep’s failings descended to self-parodying levels of politeness this year: white boys sampling Aaliyah records they never liked the first time around in a sea of beige. Manchester’s Damu, however, took many of the trademarks of British club music in 2011 – r’n'b vocal samples, “neon” synths, 130bpm tempos – and unlike his supposed peers, made them mean something. Driven by unforgiving amounts of ambition and a noted musical background, Unity wasn’t perfect, but on its finer moments (‘Don’t Cry in my Bed’, ‘Plasm’, ‘Breathless’), it marked Damu out as a talent with lasting power far beyond the should be-silent majority.
45: BLANCK MASS
While most ambient music is by its very nature meek and mousy, the debut album by Blanck Mass – a solo project of Fuck Buttons’ Benjamin John Power – was anything but. It’s ambient music of enormous sweep and a gushing, neo-classical grandeur; its aspiration, and its destiny, to soundtrack an IMAX documentary about the Big Bang.
(ONE LITTLE INDIAN)
More than anything, it’s an incredible feat that Biophilia didn’t drown in a sea of its own paraphernalia. Bjork’s eighth studio album, lest we forget, was released alongside a series of iPad apps – one for each track – and supposedly spent time as a museum installation and an IMAX film before it was an album. It was born out of hours of research on DNA and astrophysics, and was also released with its own series of remix singles. Miraculously, when you cut through the fat, you’re left with one of Bjork’s most fine-tuned and well-executed, if perhaps unspectacular, records yet.
43: WILD BEASTS
Hayden Thorpe’s quivering falsetto vocals continue to divide opinion in this office as in the wider world, but for those of us not adverse to his cherubic delivery, Smother was an impressive album indeed – beautifully written and produced, daringly stark at times, and possessed of a gravitas rare in contemporary British guitar-pop.
(WHEN IN DOUBT)
Fever is a concept album with a very simple but rigorous set of rules – every nuance and texture is half-inched from disco records produced from the mid 70’s to the early 80’s, with producer Dave Huismans’ own birth year of 1979 acting as a temporal pivot. The results don’t sound like disco at all – beyond a certain joyous, celebratory quality – but rather a new kind of dance music; dynamic, shapeshifting and irrepressible.
THE TEAC LIFE
‘Half Moon 106′
The TEAC Life, a pay-what-you-like download album of “forest-techno” posted this year on the official Legowelt website, found the Dutch eccentric at the top of his game. “And when I say Techno,” he wrote in the accompanying blurb, “I don’t mean that booooooooooring contemporary sh*t they call techno nowadays with overrated talentless pretentious douchebag c*nt DJs playing a few halfassed dumb mongo beats and being all artsy fartsy about it.” Amen to that.