XLR8R's Best of 2011: Releases, Part One

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Here, we have the first part of the final installment of our year-end coverage, XLR8R's picks for the top 30 releases of 2011. Instead of pontificating about the trends, themes, and over-arching styles that colored in our favorite EPs and LPs of the year, let's just get straight to the list. (Don't worry, there's plenty for you to read down there.) Check out #30-11 below, and come back tomorrow when we wrap things up with our top 10.

30. Andy Stott
Passed Me By
(Modern Love)

There was a strong undercurrent of techno in much of the electronic music released in 2011. Some of the most compelling efforts even went so far as to push that classic sound commandingly into the forefront next to heady, experimental sounds. One of the finest examples of this style of damaged techno came from Mancunian DJ/producer Andy Stott and his Passed Me By record for Modern Love (not to mention its commendable follow up, We Stay Together). Across those records, we're shown a sort of bizarro world of dance-music history, a place where Detroit is actually an underground factory located on the Moon, endlelssly churning out as much clanking rhythm as it does grey space dust. Patric Fallon


29. Patten
(No Pain in Pop)

It's no easy task to try to make sense of Patten's debut album, GLAQJO XAACSSO, but that's precisely what makes it so alluring. Amidst the thick swirl of thawed-out melodic fragments and half-audible vocal utterances, there is a rickety backbone of beats—mangled rhythms that float somewhere between the lean template of techno and the leftfield proclivities of IDM whilst mysteriously holding the whole flurry of sounds together. We can hear notes of Autechre and Actress within burly tunes like "Fire Dream" and "Blush Mosaic," but more importantly, we hear the music of a talented young artist who's as concerned with retracing the steps of his past favorites as he is with trailblazing new directions in electronic music. Patric Fallon


28. Hudson Mohawke
Satin Panthers EP

Hudson Mohawke isn't usually described as a focused producer; the Scottish beatmaker's hyperactive, bass-loaded creations are generally stuffed with an incalculable number of elements. His 2009 LP, Butter, had its share of transcendent moments, but ultimately proved to be more of an up-and-down journey. Satin Panthers, on the other hand, offers only five tracks, all of which are incredibly potent, particularly the horn-laden hip-hop of "Thunder Bay" and the skittering piano-house of "All Your Love." Granted, those looking for a stripped-down, linear listen will still be left with their head spinning, but Hudson Mohawke has unquestionably trimmed the fat here, leaving behind a leaner sonic frame that we're incredibly eager for him to keep exploring. Shawn Reynaldo


27. Space Dimension Controller
The Pathway to Tiraquon 6

Space Dimension Controller sure does seem like a weird dude. Where most artists—especially those lumped into the ever-expanding and always-evolving world of bass music—are content to simply turn out tunes, SDC goes a step further by concocting an entire mythology that's intertwined with both his music and persona. (We'll spare you all the details, but it does involve aliens, time travel, and the destruction of Earth.) The Pathway to Tiraquon 6 is the latest chapter in this saga, and presents a varied—yet compelling—listen over the course of its 11 tracks. Only occasionally delving into the '80s electro-funk vibes the producer is best known for, the EP includes bit of pounding techno, low-key serenity, dancefloor-oriented psychedelia, and glitchy abstraction. More importantly, it's all presented as a cinematic narrative that coincides quite nicely with the song titles and the record's larger concept. The Pathway to Tiraquon 6 is definitely a sizeable journey, albeit one we don't mind taking again and again, even if the final destination lies somewhere in deep space. Shawn Reynaldo


26. Tycho

When the "Coastal Brake" single dropped back in 2009, it was clear that Tycho (a.k.a. Scott Hansen) had stumbled upon a bit of musical magic, but the song ultimately only hinted at the potential of Dive, which is simply sublime. 2011 saw plenty of artists striving to create relaxed electronic soundscapes driven by sun-soaked melodies and underpinned by subdued percussion, but Tycho has refined the formula like no one else. Dive may hint at chillwave, but any use of that term ignores the fact that the LP contains none of the amateurish tendencies or purposefully lo-fi sonics that have become so intrinsic to the genre. This is a mature and detailed effort, one whose woozy melodies and deft incorporation of organic instrumentation are simply breathtaking. Dive's stunning cover art—created by Hansen himself, who does graphic design as the head of the esteemed ISO50 collective—depicts the vibrant streaks of a coastal sunset, and the music within is just as rich and hypnotic. Shawn Reynaldo


25. AraabMuzik
Electronic Dream

It bears repeating: Who would've thought that sampling contemporary trance music for use in by-the-numbers hip-hop beats would make for one of the most compelling and listenable mixtapes to drop in 2011? Hearing AraabMuzik's Electronic Dream for the first time induced one of our biggest "duh" moments in recent memory. Because, let's be honest, we wouldn't have given Kaskade's "4AM" or "Why Don't You Dance With Me" by Future Breeze so much as a cursory listen on their merits alone, but this young Rhode Island producer and Dipset affiliate was able to extract the small bits of each song that made them tolerable and craft something totally original out of it. If that's not the pure essence of hip-hop production circa now, it's certainly the product of a genius musical mind. Patric Fallon


24. Stingray313
Electronic Countmeasures EP
(Micron Audio)

There remains a real lore about the salad days of Detroit techno, an era when abandoned warehouses and the skeletal remains of the Motor City's industrial past were being reappropriated by a music scene celebrating sounds that were similarly raw. It's an alluring notion, which is likely why Detroit references—both real and imagined—continue to dominate so much of the discourse surrounding electronic music. That said, there are producers whose music truly embodies that harsh and quasi-mythical world, and one of them is Stingray313. Known best for his previous role as Drexciya's tour DJ, Stingray kept himself busy in 2011, dropping a collaborative EP with Unknown to the Unknown and another solo EP on Trust, but it was Electronic Countermeasures that truly shined, more than anything for its unrelenting paranoia and absolutely uncompromising aesthetic. Its four songs are clearly not for everyone, often approaching 145 bpm and riding harshly along tinny, ear-splitting melodies. This is dark techno of the most menacing variety, and although it might inspire more nightmares than dance parties, it definitely caught our attention. Shawn Reynaldo


23. Battles
Gloss Drop

It seems like fewer and fewer albums are being released that can strike you dumbfounded by sheer skill while simultaneously sticking to your brain with captivating songwriting. But as Battles' sophomore record, Gloss Drop, clearly and commandingly exhibited, the feat is far from impossible. As if the locomotive drumming, mind-boggling guitar acrobatics, churning bass rumbles, and hyper-real electronics weren't enough to make this LP an absolute marvel of modern music, the NY trio enlisted grade-a vocalists—like South American techno jetsetter Matias Aguayo and '80s icon Gary Numan—to create what amounts to a vision of pop music beamed in from the distant future. Still, if Battles is around in the decades to come, chances are that the group's forward-thinking sound will be continuously updated, as fully evidenced on Gloss Drop. Patric Fallon


22. Instra:mental
Resolution 653

People love to say that drum & bass is dead, and it really doesn't help the genre's cause when veteran acts like Instra:mental essentially abandon the sound completely. But when listening to Resolution 653, it's pretty easy to forgive the UK duo for its lack of drum & bass loyalty. The album is more or a less a complete reinvention, one that finds the pair embracing an edgy, stripped-down aesthetic and delving headlong into classic '80s electro for inspiration. Make no mistake, this is not an exercise in nostalgia, even if the 808 sounds come hard, fast, and often over the course of the album's 13 tracks. It's extremely difficult to create something heavy enough to appease the dancefloor bros while remaining innovative enough to satisfy the chin-scratching heads, but Instra:mental walked that lined perfectly this year. When taken into account alongside the two producers' solo work as Boddika and Jon Convex, the duo was absolutely dominant in 2011. Shawn Reynaldo


21. LV feat. Joshua Idehen

LV's debut LP, Routes, couldn't have gotten off to a better start than with the infectious "I Know." From the onset, you're spun into LV's playful rhythms and precise production, as they mangle, chop, and rearrange Joshua Idehen's unique voice to no end. The seasoned trio of producers and their part-street poet/part-bonafide MC collaborator move between futuristic funk and murky rhythmic depths, touching on the quintessential sounds of their city with tunes like "Northern Line," "Melt," and "Primary Colours," eventually forming an image of the London underground that is intoxicatingly vivid. Glenn Jackson


20. Omar-S
It Can Be Done, But Only I Can Do It

Detroit veteran Omar-S may not be a warm-and-fuzzy character, but the man is incredibly consistent. For nearly a decade, he has churned out track after track of deep, soulful house and techno while running his own FXHE imprint and operating completely on his own terms. At this point, the DJ/producer's discography is more or less bulletproof, and It Can Be Done, But Only I Can Do It does nothing to change that. "Here's Your Trance, Now Dance" may be the album's indignant anthem, but there's a lot more to this full-length, even with the artist's decidedly no-frills approach. While "Ganymeade" and "Solely Supported" are hooky pieces of acid, the standout "Nite's Over Compton" is a pointedly subdued piano-house number. Much of the album follows in that vein, keeping things cool and evolving gradually over extended runtimes. Even "Look Hear Watch," which gets real nasty with an extended porno clip, is a mellow number. At this stage, Omar-S is smart enough to know that he doesn't need to do anything fast or flashy to grab our attention, and that's why his output continues to be so good. Shawn Reynaldo


Plastic World
(Rush Hour)

2011 saw BNJMN accomplishing a feat almost unheard of for a new producer: He issued two full-length albums equal in depth and sophistication within a single year. Plastic World kicked off the southern Englander's run with 10 tracks of sticky, spiralling house. "Blocks," BNJMN's most distinct song to date, begins the record with little hesitation—taking the listener through the first of many dazzling webs strung together by revolving rhythms and rich, cascading melodies, which BNJMN uses to touch on deep, sometimes funky pockets of electronic weirdness and utter gorgeousness along the way. Although his follow-up LP, Black Square, could rightfully hold its own on this list, it was Plastic World that first brought us into BNJMN's world and, ultimately, stands as a more complete statement of the producer's detailed aesthetic. Glenn Jackson


18. Nicolas Jaar
Space is Only Noise
(Circus Company)

The year's best new artist is also responsible for one of the most unique albums heard in 2011. Nicolas Jaar's Space is Only Noise is hard to pin down stylistically, even if it does offer up a lot of recognizable sounds. It's obvious that the up-and-coming auteur is influenced by nostalgia—vintage house, French nouveau, musique concrete, jazz, classical music, and even a bit of blues all play a part in his aesthetic. But there's something else, a certain je ne sais quoi, if you will, that gives Jaar's spacious compositions their alluring edge. Maybe that essence is derived from his shockingly young age of 21 and the fact that he released his first record at 17; maybe it comes from the time he spent studying literature at Brown University; maybe it's because he's a wildly talented artist driven to carve his own niche into the ever-widening musical realm. The answer is likely all of the above, as well as a number of reasons we couldn't even begin to guess. Listening to Space is Only Noise raises a lot of questions, which is a large part of why we continue to return to it. Patric Fallon


17. The Field
Looping State of Mind

There's never been a question as to whether or not Axel Willner (a.k.a. The Field) is a patient artist, and Looping State of Mind is perhaps his most patient record yet, taking Willner's loop-based productions into deeper meditations than ever before. What emerged was a collection of tracks that flow with the ease of repetition, drawing the listener further into the compositions as they begin to slowly open and reveal the depths held within the course of their elongated runtimes. While Willner's ideas may seem simple—create a loop, add to it, repeat—it's the details that make Looping State of Mind shine with complexity and intelligence, as he forces you to accept a repeating phrase as complete (by showing it to you over and over again), only to add another element that fits in just the right place. In doing so, Willner has crafted an album that is as subtle as it is overwhelming. Glenn Jackson


16. Tim Hecker
Ravedeath, 1972

Here is an album that at once harkens to a place and time while existing in a reality all of its own. Built from organ and piano music recorded inside a church in Reykjavik, Iceland, Ravedeath, 1972 is a monumental album, a statue of icy white noise and cavernous melody. This is Canadian artist Tim Hecker's sixth proper solo LP, and the decade spent fleshing out that respectable discography shows in these 12 compositions. Hecker boasts the capability to craft visceral, unworldly noise, as many of his peers do, but it's the practice of restraint and the achingly beautiful bits of recognizable sound interwoven with that grating audio that sets him and his album apart. Songs like "The Piano Drop" and "In the Fog III" woudn't be half as lovely if we didn't know that buried somewhere under the gnarled mess of cascading frequencies, there was a human at work, orchestrating it all. It's that dichotomy between the organic and tangible source material and Hecker's deconstructive process that makes Ravedeath, 1972 such a master work. Patric Fallon


15. Clams Casino

2011 saw an exponential rise in creative and forward-thinking hip-hop producers, none of which were as sure-footed and unique as New Jersey's Clams Casino. The burgeoning artist's work was featured on just about every mixtape worth its size in megabytes, but it was ultimately his solo instrumentals that encapsulated Michael Volpe's trademark style. Arriving prior to his proper debut record for Tri Angle, the also-excellent Rainforest EP, Clams Casino's self-released Instrumentals mixtape (eventually re-released by Type) presented the artist's beats given to the likes of Soulja Boy, Lil B, and Main Attrakionz, only stripped of the rappers' lyrics. What remained is an unlikely combination of gritty MP3 samples, ethereal melodies, disembodied vocal snippets, and crunchy rhythms that boom-click-clack over the top of it all. No one expected it, but Instrumentals somehow proved to be the best offering of hip-hop tunes to be heard all year. Patric Fallon


14. Scuba
Adrenalin EP

Paul Rose took an unexpected turn towards a new sound with the three tracks he released as Scuba on the Adrenalin EP, a record that arrived a little more than halfway through the man's rather prolific 2011. As expected, the EP showcased Rose's impeccable production and absolutely flawless sound sources, but no one anticipated that the title track would essentially be a big house tune infused with trance vibes. In the end, "Adrenalin" proved to be one of the year's most infectious and surefire dancefloor hits, a track whose success was due as much to the anthemic mass of synths as it was to having one of the year's most unforgettable basslines. B-sides "Never" and "Everywhere" continued this theme, mining '80s dance-pop for inspiration and ultimately taking the form of two similarly retro-futuristic explorations. Glenn Jackson


13. FaltyDL
You Stand Uncertain
(Planet Mu)

Over the years, FaltyDL has proven himself a capable producer, no matter what corner of the electronic-music world he chooses to operate in. You Stand Uncertain, however, saw the Brooklyn resident's imagination expanding to wider pastures than ever. As much IDM as it is UK garage, and as much druggy house as it is techno-infused dubstep, FaltyDL's second full-length is almost unclassifiable as a whole; each track fully takes on its own distinct sonic perspective. With all its twists and turns, You Stand Uncertain is one of those albums where the listening experience varies from person to person, but we keep finding ourselves drawn to the frantically soulful "Lucky Luciano" (something like Aphex Twin meshed with Lone) and the deep, low-swinging "It's All Good." Glenn Jackson


12. Sully

Without question, the much-anticipated debut LP of London DJ/producer Sully lived up to the anticipation that preceded its release. Carrier is a record that seems to simultaneously exist in two camps; its moody chords and distant melodic touches come cloaked in emotional poignancy, while its footwork-indebted drum programming and grimey low end display the kind of edge only the darkest London streets can inspire. Sully's 10 tracks of propulsive bass music have enough ravey stabs, monstrous drums, and percolating percussion to render nearly all of them appropriate for dancefloors. Standouts like "Let You" and "In Some Pattern" appear tailor made for peak-hour action, while the likes of "2 Hearts" and "Trust" are more appropriate for the later hours of a proper UK-bass set. Glenn Jackson


11. Kuedo
(Planet Mu)

Severant, the debut LP by Kuedo, had a whole hell of a lot hype to live up to. Just the fact that producer Jamie Teasdale had previously been part of the much-loved dubstep outfit Vex'd was enough to set expectations for this record unusually high, but there was also an article written by Martin "Blackdown" Clark that preemptively named Severant "one of the bass-music albums of the year." As it turns out, he was dead on, and so were everyone's expectations. Teasdale has made a thing of beauty with his first solo record, a cohesive work that at once evokes '80s nostalgia, contemporary Southern rap, and the UK bass continuum. But we wouldn't necessarily call Severant "bass music"; songs like the touching "Whisper Fate" and the crystalline "Reality Drift" sound more like Lex Luger sampling Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works than they do anything coming out of Bristol or London these days. In that sense, Kuedo used his album to sidestep any stigmas attached to one of the broadest genre titles in music today while also delivering to the fans of that sound exactly what they didn't know they wanted to hear. Patric Fallon


Check out the rest of XLR8R's Best of 2011 coverage here.