20: CUT HANDS
AFRO NOISE VOL. 1
Fusing caustic electronics with frenzied, polyrhythmic percussion played on instruments sourced from Ghana, the Congo and Haiti, in the main this was as brutal an offering as you’d expect from Whitehouse mainman William Bennett, but at times it was strangely reflective, even spiritual, too: with space for delicate, sensuous pieces like ‘++++ (Four Crosses)’ and ‘Impassion’ in amidst the more battering rhythmic voodoo. All in all 2011′s most visceral album release, one which made most contemporary “dance” music seem impotent and lily-livered.
19: DANNY BROWN
What an album. At times, it’s one of the most difficult records to listen to you’ll find in any genre – on some tracks Brown is practically screeching before he is rapping, and he doesn’t always make a lot of sense – but once you’ve fully taken in XXX, particularly its second half, with drug ballads ‘DNA’ and ‘Party all the Time’ and relentless closing track ’30′, it starts to make sense. XXX is an unbalanced, unforgiving examination of hedonism, shame and the concessions of trying to make a career out of music before it’s too late (the title’s XXX apparently stands for Brown’s age, 30), and isn’t afraid to be 100% honest about both the good and bad side of this Detroit rapper’s story to date.
18: PATRICE & FRIENDS
Cashmere Sheets – a CD-R release of ’80s funk and r’n'b ballads reimagined at footwork tempo by UK house/grime producer Slackk – came out of nowhere this year, and quietly wiped the floor with the sexless dance music that makes up more and more of what’s coming out of the UK right now. This is music with genuine shine, dripping with sweat and sex; granted, a lot of that comes from the superlative source material that’s sampled, but that’s always gonna be half the battle.
17: MOTION SICKNESS OF TIME TRAVEL
SEEPING THROUGH THE VEIL OF THE UNCONSCIOUS
Inspired by psilocybic rambling and the tranquil LeGrange, Georgia countryside in which Motion Sickness a.k.a. Rachel Evans dwells, Seeping Through The Veil of The Unconscious is a precious melding of pattering synth sequences, miasmic drones and wordless, heavily reverbed vocals that could be registering spiritual awakening, or erotic bliss, or both. Though its beatless passages are plenty mesmerising, the album’s most powerful moments are those of subtle, sensual pulsation: stand-out track ‘Telepathy’ comes over like Chris & Cosey’s Songs of Love And Lust smashed on diazepam but not ruling out a tussle between the sheets.
So effective and immediate was the Kuedo sound – arpeggiated Blade Runner synths cascading over 808 drums that managed to deliver hip-hop roll, dubstep skank and footwork bounce all at once – you wondered why Jamie Teasdale (formerly of Vex’d), or indeed anyone else, hadn’t come up with it before. Of course, the formula wouldn’t work if it wasn’t as skillfully executed as on Severant: slick, ghetto-savvy and hook-heavy, and the best soundtrack to night driving we heard all year.
Zomby’s first full-length for 4AD took some stick at times, and it was mostly the usual complaints (“there’s not enough bass”, “the songs are too short”, “there’s no proper outros”). The thing is, although that penchant for casually knocking out pieces of genius and leaving them unfinished is always gonna be part of Zomby’s charm, it also sells Dedication short. There’s a lot of detail to this album, in its subtle use of panning and its barely-there layers of drums and backing instruments, and those prepared to pay it due attention will be rewarded with the maverick producer’s most beguiling record to date.
14: A$AP ROCKY
(RCA / POLO GROUNDS)
2011′s biggest money release – LIVELOVEA$AP was released weeks after news broke that Harlem rapper Rocky had signed a deal with Sony / RCA worth $3 million – also proved to be one of its best. At first listen, it’s easy to conclude that Rocky’s been overshadowed by the beats on his debut mixtape, with Clams Casino, Spaceghostpurrp, Burn One and more coming together for a clouded-over production masterclass, poised perfectly between Southern crawl, classic New York and contemporary cloud-rap, but the more you listen to LIVELOVEA$AP, the more you realise that Rocky’s skill comes in sitting back and riding whatever comes his way with staggering levels of nonchalant cool.
13: JULIA HOLTER
A work of of luminous beauty and rarified poise from the hitherto little-known Holter, Tragedy was inspired conceptually inspired by Euripides’ Hippolytus (what else?). Musically it was a marriage of meditative folk and psychedelic concrete, amorphous and unpredictable – one minute affecting a Bad Seeds-style gothic stomp (‘Try To Make Yourself A Work Of Art’), the next channelling ‘O Superman’ on the perfect pop of ‘Goddess Eyes’.
12: JAMES BLAKE
‘The Wilhelm Scream’
The last sixteen months saw the world fall in love with James Blake, and a lot of people promptly become sick of him. The glut of interviews that surrounded the release of his debut album didn’t help (mostly because very few of them were worth reading), but generally the backlash was unfair. There are a couple of moments where James Blake doesn’t quite work – what else would you expect from an album written while its creator was still at uni, long before ‘CMYK’, ‘The Bells Sketch’, and the rest of last year’s singles were penned – but it also contains some very special moments. If anything, we’d have liked the album to be a little less glitchy and stop-start; a little less self-conscious and a bit more pop. Tracks like ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ are so well-written that it seems a shame that other songs don’t get a similar chance to soar.
11: LAUREL HALO
(HIPPOS IN TANKS)
We really didn’t expect Laurel Halo to produce one of the techno records of the year, but that’s exactly what she went and did. Billed as an EP – but consisting of six tracks substantial enough to warrant inclusion in this list – Hour Logic was a work of expansive, immersive audio science fiction that harked back to the more mellifluous moments of Rephlex’s 90s catalogue, particularly on ‘Aquifer’ and the epic title track, with hints of Derrick May, Carl Craig and John Beltran worked into its glittering matrix. Superb.