As the end of the year draws near, LSD just like last year would like to compile a best-of in music in 2011. However, as the other guy primarily listens to this, we’re once again forced to produce separate lists…
It’s been noted before, but 2011 was a somewhat disappointing year in indie and electronic music. If looking back to, mostly, the 1980s was an interesting and original thing to do a few years ago, by now hipster retromania seems to have become a straightjacket – both stylistically and musically. Literally everyone plays synth and uses stripped-down beats these days, while wearing moustaches and Morrissey haircuts. Former pioneers are increasingly being overtaken by airwave-friendly mindie bands, so that the line between “indie” and, well, not-indie becomes harder to draw as well. On lots of blogs there’s also a sense, it seems, that the dominant styles of the ’00s are coming to an end, with every retro niche by now having been exploited. What will come next is unsure, however, so let’s watch out for something that truly blows your mind in 2012.
The list below is largely a reflection of what came out this year (that makes sense). That doesn’t mean this stuff isn’t friggin’ good, however; because it is! Here’s what I liked best this year:
My inconsistency is immediately revealed, because this is ’80s-inspired stuff if there ever existed something like it. And it’s not even that original. Yet, it’s number one on my list because this is the perfect track. That is, it is exactly the music I like, and would make myself if I could. From the trippy synths at the start, to the upbeat beat, the lazy, drowsy voices singing some interesting lyrics (“I love girls with legs like a Ferrari”), and the reverberations, I’ve been listening to this track over and over again this year. As a matter of fact, I do think Benoit & Sergio actually are onto something, as they combine the kind of tech house sound that is popular in Amsterdam and Berlin nowadays with a New Order-esque vibe that makes for something very appealing, while being based in Washington, DC. With a European background, admitted. Check out their other tracks, all combining the best of tech house and New Wave, with edgy, drug-fueled lyrics to accompany that.
Arguably the best track in terms of originality and craftsmanship this year. Once again harking back to that one decade, but this time exploiting easy-listening soft rock and radio jazz sounds in a way that makes for something totally new. Listening to this track is like stepping into a Turkish steam bath, or like forever dancing beneath the strobes of the disco lights in the perfect club. There are also so many layers and instruments on this track, and on the album as a whole, that it’s worth your while to listen to it over and over again, and marvel at how much effort has been put in it. Destroyer’s Kaputt really hovers above almost everything else this year.
I never thought I would include a Dutch artist in this list. I also thought that when I stopped listening to an artist, it was forever. Spinvis has disproved both. I honestly think that if Spinvis weren’t to sing in Dutch, he would storm Pitchfork and similar sites. Yet he does, and that’s also part of his appeal. Dutch pop music is, for 99 percent, unlistenable crap, but both musically and lyrically, Spinvis makes good on that. So after a hiatus of six years he’s back and manages to make his best album yet. This synthy (and, sigh, ’80s-inspired) track I like the best, and it’s also the most extravert thing I think Spinvis has ever done. The album in general, while of course drenched in unashamed melancholy, is filled with tracks that, through a combination of catchiness and moving poetic stream of consciousness lyrics that stick in your head forever, make you keep returning to it. I mean, if lines from a song can stick in my head for days, then I think that’s good music.
When I first heard this (on a festival), and subsequently on the interweb, I had shivers running down my spine. This is what techno music is all about. A slow-pounding, thumping beat, and an otherwordly, supernatural, alien sound to accompany that. It hardly gets better than this. Hearing it (on a Funktion One soundsystem if possible) is believing it.
An early contender for best-of-2011 lists, this is one of the few tracks this year that could be considered truly innovative. A dubstep beat, combined with old-style female voices and heavy reverberations, retaining a perfect melody, compressed into only two-and-a-half minutes. Not to mention the poetic clip, of course. I guess this was a one-hit wonder as the other tracks to appear by the relatively obscure Purity Ring didn’t really leave an impression.
A track that gets better and better everytime you listen to it. Once again, completely retro 1980s, but oh-so-sweet. Particularly because it’s an exercise in how to do a good build-up: a house beat alternated with pure disco bliss, and then once more, and when you think the pay-off is gonna come, they build up the tension a little more. All to great effect, because when it comes, the second half of this track is nothing but ecstasy. Pure perfection.
When I first listened to this, it felt like homecoming. Completely cranked-up organ synthesizers, a voice that’s completely reverberated: I was happy that somebody was crazy enough to make something like this. John Maus turns out to be something of a nerd paladin: an ex-bandmate of Ariel Pink whose heroes are Joy Division, Kraftwerk, Jean-Michel Jarré and composers of sci-fi movie soundtracks, pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy, who creates music that sounds like a combination of all of the above, Arcade Fire and religious church music. It doesn’t take much more than that for me to become a fan.
Actually a rework of his earlier track Du Fehlst Mir, electronic music veteran Thomas Fehlmann (1957) worked together with members of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra to create something that borders between electronic and classical music. I think that should happen more often. “DFM” shows what electronic music is capable of, and it isn’t only fist-pumping to the bass in a sweaty drug-oozing cellar (although there’s nothing wrong with that). Rather, this track is like walking in a spring meadow, or like seeing drops of water splash from a cascade. Listen to it slowly build, and wait for the pay-off after about three-and-a-half minutes. Beautiful.
What to say about Cut Copy? Great band, great new album in 2011, filled with great tracks. Moving away a little bit from strictly ’80s synth to also incorporate acid house, Chicago house, psychedelic folk, disco and ambient, and never getting too serious. As somebody said before, it was hard to choose between ‘Corner of the Sky’, ‘Pharaohs and Pyramids’, ‘Sun God’ and ‘Need You Now’, but in the end I’ll go for this one as it’s the most catchy disco thumper. Good stuff that will immediately cheer you up.
I think it’s extraordinary that a band that formed in 1985 can still be (and I hate the word) truly ’relevant’ in 2011. The King of Limbs may be considered not the best album by Radiohead standards, it’s still way, way better than what most bands, both old and young, can hope to achieve. Moreover, it sounds very much of this day and age, even futuristic. The silver voice of Thom Yorke, the jazz influences, the finetuned electronics; all tracks are good (and the later-released ones too), but ’Lotus Flower’ stands out. It’s very possible that in ten years, Radiohead will still provide content for best-of-2021 lists.
So yeah, that was the list. Below, as a bonus, a couple more tracks from 2011 that didn’t make it to the top ten, but are great nonetheless.
11. Andhim – Aleefee
Once again: a perfect techno track. Although I think this is what they call tech house. Either way: a thumping beat, a simple melody, and a compelling build-up is all it takes to get to electronic heaven. Check out the other tracks of this Berlin/Cologne duo too.
This year was brimming with high hopes for celebrated cult movie director David Lynch’s (1946) first foray into, yes, electronic music. While the eventual album, Crazy Clown Time, wasn’t really what the first track ‘Good Day Today’ seemed to indicate it would be, it was still very ‘Lynchesque’ in its disturbing darkness. ‘Good Day Today’, however, had the blogosphere buzzing, prompting remixes and video contests, and rightly so, as it’s an hypnotic electronica track that’s all the more cool because, well, it’s frigging David Lynch who’s singing into the vocoder!
The ultimate in hipster music. Bleepy-bloops, a stripped-down beat, singing as detached as possible, but still impeccably groovy. Great festival music.
Original. That’s what Instra:Mental is. Combining dub and drum ‘n bass rhythms with synths and washed-out, fizzling electronic sounds, stuff like this is a relief on the dancefloor. Also check out their track ‘Thomp’.
As this was the year in which my computer broke down and I lost my iTunes collection (hopefully temporarily), I find it hard to point at older tracks I discovered in 2011. Therefore, here’s a couple of extra bonus tracks that appeared this year and I think you should give a listen.
The melancholy is heaped up in piles on this track. But it’s very effective.
My second favourite track of the Kaputt album. This is songwriting, and, like the rest of the album, accompanied by a variety of instruments that are all played so well that you’ll discover new things everytime you listen to it. Love the drum beats that come in, and the folk tune played on the guitar at one point.
Cool stuff that can only be created by wacky Germans (and a wacky Mexican). Pachanga Boys are a project of Kompakt label’s Superpitcher and Rebolledo, and produced this weird funny track. Lasers, marimbas and creepy voices, what more do you need? And: an electronic track without a beat, that manages to keep up the tension, that’s something.
That’s it. Let’s hear it for 2012!