XLR8R's Best of 2011: Tracks, Part One
XLR8R is inundated with new music every single day. CDs and 12"s come in the mail; upstart producers email links to the latest thing they've posted on their Soundcloud pages; established labels and overzealous PR companies send along elaborate press kits and password-protected downloads. We could go on. And even though you're all probably cueing up the world's tiniest violin right now, to be quite frank, the onslaught of new tunes we receive can be a bit overwhelming. As such, the task of making a list of our 50 favorite tracks from 2011 was incredibly difficult.
Even with all the bad music that we hear, a whole lot of quality material comes down the pipeline, too, but the constant flood of music can make it hard to even listen to something once, let alone multiple times. That said, as the year progressed, some songs—whether we heard them constantly blaring at the club or on repeat in the XLR8R office—proved themselves simply undeniable. Using a completely unscientific method, we've gone ahead and ranked what we think are the best tunes of 2011 and written a bit about each one. Below, you'll find #50-21, and you can check out our top 20 picks here.
Egyptrixx proved he more than knew his way around rolling, futuristic house productions with his debut LP, Bible Eyes. And with an unending display of synths gliding from one corner to the other of this brooding selection, "Liberation Front" was the most slippery of them all. Glenn Jackson
49. Clams Casino
"All I Need"
New Jersey native Clams Casino worked hard throughout 2011. In addition to dropping a mixtape of various instrumental tracks, both on his own and via the Type label, he delivered his proper debut record, a solid EP for the on-fire Tri Angle imprint, and quickly became one of the most sought-out underground hip-hop producers of the year. There are many excellent tunes in Clams Casino's ever-growing repertoire, but "All I Need" boasts a mix of haze, bounce, and ghostly soul—fashioned in just the right way—that we simply can't get enough of. Patric Fallon
48. Tim Hecker
"The Piano Drop"
Few people make crushing white noise sound as beautiful as Tim Hecker, partially because few go to the same lengths to capture such unique source material. Maybe "The Piano Drop" isn't the fullest representation of the cavernous piano and church-organ recordings Hecker refried to create the monolithic Ravedeath, 1972, but it nonetheless prepares you for the following 11 compositions with three of the most arresting minutes of noise heard all year. Patric Fallon
Even in a year when Instra:mental, the duo he's been a part of for more than a decade, released a widely acclaimed and sonically adventurous new album, the ascent of Boddika as a solo artist could not be stopped. Tracks like "2727"—with its thunderous drums, acid lines, and unapologetically raw aesthetic—are the reason why. Shawn Reynaldo
Legend has it that Claude VonStroke wanted to sign "Champagne" to his Dirtybird label, but young French producer French Fries politely declined and kept the tune for his own ClekClekBoom imprint. True or not, it's quite the story, not that this tune, which uses white space as effectively as it employs snappy drums and eerie synths, needed much help finding its way into DJs' playlists. Shawn Reynaldo
45. Lee Foss
"Keep My Cool"
Although it didn't get a ton of attention from XLR8R in 2011, Jamie Jones' and Lee Foss' Hot Creations label had itself quite a year, threatening to take over the house world with its sun-soaked sound and frequent nods to '80s boogie and funk. Fueled by funky basslines, a lovelorn vocal, and cool-as-ice vibes, "Keep My Cool" captures the Hot Creations spirit perfectly. Shawn Reynaldo
Sepalcure seems to compose bass music on the most loose, yet subtle terms, and the pair's unique perspective on the genre has continued to yield stellar results. Somehow both tribal and smooth in the same breath, "Pencil Pimp" immediately stood out during the course of the duo's debut LP, mostly due to the sheer weight infused into its post-happy sound—think Mount Kimbie with slightly bigger balls (and maybe some more drugs in the mix). Glenn Jackson
"Getting Me Down"
Sampling generously from Brandy's "I Wanna Be Down" is kind of a no-brainer (whether or not you're willing to admit it, we all loved that song), but Blawan did much more than simply edit Brandy's half-forgotten hit—he propelled it into the club of some distant planet with monstrous percussion and whatever the hell that reverse low-end sound is. Wherever it comes from, it's strange, unnerving, and just about perfect. Glenn Jackson
42. Sleep ∞ Over
(Hippos in Tanks)
If we used just one word to describe the debut LP by Austin, TX solo artist Sleep ∞ Over, Forever, it would have to be "bewitching," and none of the 10 tracks on her album better fit that word than "Romantic Streams." This is bedroom pop transmitted from inside the twisted alternate realities of David Lynch films, and it makes those other worlds feel oddly inviting. Patric Fallon
With the flood of quality material from Paul Rose's Hotflush imprint and his own stellar production output in 2011, saying the artist best known as Scuba had a big year would be a gross understatement. "Loss," released under Rose's SCB moniker, was perhaps the precursor to it all, an infectious slice of tech-house powered by warm synths and a series of unintelligible—albeit unforgettable—vocal samples. Shawn Reynaldo
"The Fat Skinny People"
(Clown Crown Ltd.)
In a year full of big basslines and not-so-subtle nods to '80s electro, Dutch producer Dexter towered above the pack with this incredibly bouncy number. It's silly, it's irreverent, it says "fat skinny people" approximately 500 times, and there is simply no denying those 808 drums and that monstrous bassline. Shawn Reynaldo
"Only For Tonight (Saviour's Love Megamix)"
Harnessing the soul power of Candi Staton's vocal from The Source's 1986 tune "You Got the Love," Brooklyn producer Ital (a.k.a. Mi Ami's Daniel Martin-McCormick) turns his experimental house track, "Only For Tonight," into the best dancefloor anthem you'll likely never hear in the club. Martin-McCormick made plenty of great tracks throughout 2011, but for us, the swirling layers of "Only For Tonight (Saviour's Love Megamix)" become more and more irresistible with every spin. Patric Fallon
38. Pearson Sound
Hardrive's "Deep Inside" is an unquestionable classic, the sort of record that certainly didn't need a new remix. As such, we have to credit Pearson Sound for reworking the song and not making an embarrassing mess of things. By swapping out the drums, cutting up the vocal, and building his own percussive skeleton of 808 samples and Baltimore-club-influenced drum patterns, he actually created something quite vibrant. It may not have the staying power of the 1993 original, but it was definitely one of 2011's biggest club tunes. Shawn Reynaldo
37. A1 Bassline
This one was a surprise, on many levels. UK producer A1 Bassline has always been a bit of a shape-shifter (some might say trend-hopper), and even though "Falsehood" sounds like the artist is doing his best Pearson Sound impression, the song's snappy drums, sticky vocal snippets, and huge drop all coalesce perfectly to create a dancefloor monster. It was certainly good enough to convince Claude VonStroke, who continued inching toward the world of UK bass by licensing the track for re-release on Dirtybird. Shawn Reynaldo
"Say Yes (Kingdom Remix)"
There are many reasons to love Kingdom, but one of the most compelling is the producer's authentic and long-running love of R&B, which allows him to create some incredibly sexy music. This rework of Floetry's "Say Yes"—first released in 2002—is a perfect example, as Kingdom marries its sultry vocals with the soaring, synth-driven beat he also employed in his 2010 remix of Rita Indiana's "Los Poderes". Shawn Reynaldo
Severant, the debut LP by Jamie Vex'd (a.k.a. Kuedo), is full of pristine gems that range from the shimmering white to the richly opaque. In that sense, "Whisper Fate" is something of a black diamond; its boom-clacking rhythm and cold bassline evoke a dark core, but those warm '80s-synth sounds wrap it up tightly in a flickering sheen. Patric Fallon
34. Jamie xx
Thankfully, "island bass" didn't become a genre in its own right, especially because we really can't imagine anyone doing it as well as Jamie xx did with "Far Nearer." At once memorable, the steel drums and pitched vocals stick in your head with the most rewarding of melodies, while the rhythms below likely evoked some of the most ill-advised tropical moves on dancefloors all year. Glenn Jackson
To be honest, there are plenty of standout cuts on AraabMuzik's Electronic Dream, which is to say the formula is pretty much the same throughout. And yet, some of the beats by this Rhode Island-based MPC wizard shine just a touch brighter than the rest; the soaring "AT2" is certainly among that bunch. Contemporary trance meets blown-out hip-hop—who would've thought it would work? Patric Fallon
32. Dark Sky
Much like the hyper-quick ascent of UK production trio Dark Sky into bass-music prominence, "Neon" took us by surprise. It's a mellow and unassuming track throughout its first 60 seconds, gradually filling out to its true size, but once that massive bassline drops, all bets are off. Oddly touching, coldly incandescent, and slyly rude, "Neon" marks the official arrival of a fresh group in the bass-music continuum that everyone should watch closely. Patric Fallon
"Done (Don't Luv Me No More)"
(Hum + Buzz)
For "Done (Don't Luv Me No More)," Brenmar stepped a bit outside his usual tempo range, choosing to operate around 75 bpm and create an additional space which only proved to show off the man's talents further—in particular highlighting some blistering drum programming and perhaps the year's best tuned tom progression. Glenn Jackson
Of all the tracks on AraabMuzik's breakthrough Electronic Dream album, "Free Spirit" is probably the best, as it moves away from the trance melodies and blown-out drums that dominate much of the record and instead offers something a little less kitschy. Granted, the drums are still distorted and the melodies occasionally sound like a Euro-club take on a haunted house theme, but nonetheless, this is potent, hard-hitting hip-hop that's pushing boundaries while remaining geared for the dancefloor. Shawn Reynaldo
29. Bok Bok
It's hard to pick a favorite from Bok Bok's Southside EP, as the five-song collection presented a united front of muscular, grime-influenced sounds. "Silo Pass" might be the hardest thing ever released on Night Slugs, but it was also the Bok Bok tune that most frequently found its way onto the dancefloor, likely due to its thunderous drop nearly a minute into the proceedings. While not exactly a happy number, "Silo Pass" is simply glowing with energy, from its bright synths to its hyperactive drum patterns. Shawn Reynaldo
28. The Field
"Then It's White"
On his stellar 2011 LP, Looping State of Mind, The Field's Axel Willner delivered what is more or less a victory lap for the power of the loop, and "Then It's White" might as well be the cause's theme song. The track is built around one brief and tender piano melody, but expands outward to nearly anthemic proportions over the course of eight captivating minutes. "Then It's White" just might be the most finely tuned execution of Willner's loop-based output to date. Patric Fallon
27. Gang Gang Dance
Someone must have been slipping Gang Gang Dance some UK funky records while they were writing the stellar Eye Contact album, because "MindKilla," the standout cut from that 2011 LP, finds the artsy NYC outfit layering frontwoman Lizzi Bougatsos' tripped-out vocals and a dizzying array of loopy synths over a rolling, off-kilter house rhythm. While only the bravest of DJs would try (or, frankly, be able) to deftly slip this one next to a Roska or DVA tune, it's still a wonderful example of disparate worlds colliding. Shawn Reynaldo
"When I Dip"
2011 found veteran UK duo Instra:mental completing a very large left turn, essentially abandoning drum & bass for old-school electro, heavy low-end, and lots of 808 drum sounds. Ahead of the acclaimed Resolution 653, the pair dropped "When I Dip," an undeniable tune that also folds some Southern-style booty bass into the outfit's new sonic formula. It proved to be quite the effective opening salvo, both for Instra:mental's re-emergence and Boddika's big year as a solo artist. Shawn Reynaldo
25. How to Dress Well
"Suicide Dream 2 (Holy Other's Effervescent Mix)"
This one came out of nowhere, but it gripped us immediately. The phantasmic voice of How to Dress Well (a.k.a. Tom Krell) is chopped, pitched, and warped over the top of one of Holy Other's strongest rhythms to date and paired with sluggish sub frequencies and thick atmospheres, all of which gradually speeds up to near-dancefloor tempos just before a heartbreaking piano melody overtakes the mix. Simply put: This is a remarkable remix of an already outstanding song. Patric Fallon
24. Julio Bashmore
"Ribble to Amazon"
There's a line somewhere between soulful, UK-style house and anthemic, almost cheesy, bangers that can be dangerous. However, when walked just right, that line is perfect for the dancefloor. Julio Bashmore knows exactly how to walk it, and "Ribble to Amazon" is one of his finest journeys on that limb—the pads are warm, the vocals are just right, and those breakdowns are too good to be true. Glenn Jackson
23. Balam Acab
Picking a favorite track from the immersive debut LP by Balam Acab, Wander / Wonder, is a daunting task; each of the album's eight densely layered productions feel as tender, magical, and otherworldly as the rest. Maybe "Oh, Why" stands out partially because—between the folksy vocal sample, earthy textures, and lulling harp plucks—it sounds the most human. In any case, this angelic song encapsulates Balam Acab's unique sound with four minutes of dreamy beat-pop. Patric Fallon
22. Dubbel Dutch
(Unknown to the Unknown)
Austin, Texas' Dubbel Dutch is an interesting producer. Although he's constantly making music and is widely respected both at home and abroad, he still has remarkably few releases to his name. His recent signing to the Mixpak label will hopefully change that, and "B Leave" might just be looked back upon as the start of something great. The propulsive tune melds a hip-hop feel with stuttering, rapid-fire drum work, whistling eski melodies, chopped-and-pitched vocal bits, rave sirens, and the occasional nature sound. There's a lot going on here, yet the track never feels cluttered or needlessly overstuffed. If people are going to be making bangers, they would be well served to follow Dubbel Dutch's lead in how to do it properly. Shawn Reynaldo
"Steve McQueen" is the kind of pop song you can almost sing along with the first time you hear it. The "doopa-doopa-doopa-doopa-doo" vocal hook alone won't likely leave our heads any time soon. Admittedly, the track's title is a little too obvious of a nod to M83's love of all things nostalgic, but it's this kind of wide-eyed, stratospheric pop from Hurry Up, We're Dreaming that is actively convincing us we should probably love the past as much as Anthony Gonzalez does. Glenn Jackson
Check out the rest of XLR8R's Best of 2011 coverage here.
- 20 Questions: Jackmaster Talks Fast Food, Rubadub, and Coping with the Endless Party Loop
- Get Familiar: Dark Entries
- Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted: Wolfgang Voigt, Lawrence English, and Others Ponder the State of Ambient Music
- 20 Questions: DJ Harvey Talks Surfing, Rock 'n' Roll, and the Meaning of Life
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