It’s that time of year again, the time of endless “best of” lists, top 10′s and retrospects. At LSD we do only one: the best music of the year list. As pointed out before, 2011 has been quite a meagre year in quality pop music. One had to look a lot harder than last year to find something worthwhile. And while last year there were some clear trends and themes, this year we mostly witnessed rehashes of rehashes of older styles and flavors. Still, if you sifted through the piles of mediocre releases long enough, there were some gems to be found:
Great melody, great voice, great lyrics, great video, great trumpet. But the best thing about Destroyer’s “Kaputt” is the sugarsweet melancholy that oozes out of it. Simply the best pop song of the year. And if this list would be a “Best Albums of 2011 list” Kaputt would definitely be in the top 3, and maybe even on the prime spot. From that album you should also check out “Chinatown“, “Savage Night At The Opera” and “Suicide Demo For Kara Walker“. But an even better idea would be to listen to the whole thing, over and over again.
An extremely catchy mesh-up of pop and dubstep. Purity Ring is one of the only groups this year who produced music with a new and fresh sound. Listen to the Christian AIDS Remix here, and to the follow-up single “Belispeak” here.
The Slave Ambient album is full of very uplifting indie rocksongs which can be played over and over again without becoming tiresome. “Baby Missiles” was my favorite track from the album and the current “plays” count in my iTunes stands currently at 42.
It was hard to pick a favorite from Zonoscope, since it contains so many good tracks. In the end I went for “Where I’m Going”, because of its cool 60′s vibe. But it could just as easil have been “Pharaohs and Pyramids” or “Sun God”. The overall quality of the album is so high that it’s very strange to me that it is hardly featured in any top 10′s of best album lists.
Seasick Steve is one of the very few reasons I was sorry to miss out on this year’s Lowlands Festival. His performance there was pretty damn good, judging by the videos and the accounts of people who were there. The Seasick Steve story is probably pretty wellknown by now: a 69-year old former carnie, cowboy and migrant worker, who always made blues music on the side, suddenly has a big hit album and tours all the major festivals. He lived as a hobo for long stretches in his life and he lived in San Francisco in the 60′s, so he is one of the few remaining remnants of the Beat/Hippie era. But his appeal is not just the extremely cool biography. The heavy bluesrock he plays on his improvised instruments is actually really great! You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks is one of my favorite albums of the year and the title track my favorite track of the album.
With Within Without Washed Out has made a very intimate album. On the right occassion this music will set the mood. Tracks like “Echoes” and “Far Away” are great, but “Eyes Be Closed” is my absolute favorite.
Dominik Eulberg studied ecological geography in college and works parttime as a parkranger. But at the same time he is also a minimal techno dj in demand, and producer for the Cocoon and Traum Schallplatten labels. In his music he uses ideas and samples from nature. His critically acclaimed album Diorama contains tracks called “Täuschungs-Blume”, “Metamorphose” and the best one is called “Tanz der Glühwürmchen”.
If you dress up as Giorgio Moroder you are already a hero in my book. And when you mix deep house, acid and Moroder-style disco, you’re gonna make my top 10. Especially in the “Revenge Strings of Fife Remix” this track is a killer. Very smooth production and great instruments.
With their second album Days, Real Estate continues their winning streak. A second album which matches and maybe even tops the quality of the first one is an exception in indieland, so it’s quite an accomplishment. This album has a little bit more fervor to it than Real Estate. Where the first album was introvert and slow, on Days they have upped the tempo and energy a little bit.
There is supposed to be a “dubstep explosion” going on in the U.S. All major hip hop and pop artists are now adopting the typical breakbeats and earpopping electro-riffs. Dutch producer 2562 has already been producing dubstep for quite a few years now. And he keeps getting better at it. It is not a controversial thing to say that he is in the same league with artists like Martyn, Shackleton and Kode 9. The Fever EP is his latest work and it rocks. “Intermission” was the deepest and most interesting track on that release.
Below is the bonus list. These are the tracks that just didn’t make it to my top 10, but are worth your while nonetheless.
There is the danger of my list losing all its credibility by putting Noah and the Whale on it. Yes, it’s a band that caters to 17-year old hipster girls. Yes, the album is sugarsweet and poppy. But I don’t care, I like it anyway. It’s kind of liberating that they don’t use dark 80′s synths, don’t mumble and distort their vocals, and that their tracks are unapologetically happy. So there you have it.
Normally I’m not the biggest James Blake fan, but with this track he hit the mark. Named after this funny cinema phenomenon by the way.
Bonus, part deux. I decided to include some songs which were released before 2011, but which I discovered this year. Besides discovering brand new artists and tracks it’s just as important important to keep searching for unfamiliar old stuff, imho.
An extremely good track from the Selected Ambient Works album, which has somehow flown under my radar for all these years. It’s amazing how fresh a track like this, but also “Pulsewidth“, “Heliospan” and “We are the Musicmakers“, from the same album, sounds. These were produced at the end of the 80′s and in the early 90′s, but any modern producer would be proud as hell if they could just produce one track of the same quality. Unfortunately he didn’t play any of them during his liveset at the STRP Festival.
This sent shivers down my spine when I heard Miss Kittin play it during her set at the Melt Festival, and I couldn’t get it out of my head afterwards. It took some effort to get a track id, but when I found it I played it over and over again, to get back that special Melt feeling.
I have always been amazed by the enormous number of million+ cities in China. Well, since China has a billion+ inhabitants, it’s actually not that amazing at all. Still, the dazzling numbers are no less impressive to me. Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Shenzhen come into mind when you think of a Chinese metropolis. I am also (vaguely) familiar with cities like Guangzhou (12 million), Tianjin (8.2 million), Shenyang (5 million), Harbin (4.75 million) and Zhengzhou (4.4 million). But have you ever heard of Hefei? No? Me neither. Still it is a city larger than Madrid or Paris, with 4.6 million inhabitants. Or what about Wuhan? Doesn’t ring a bell? It’s about the size of London, with 6.6 million inhabitants and 10 million when you count the “suburbs”. Dongguan? Anyone? 7 million people, almost the size of New York City. And the list goes on and on.
Maybe it’s my ignorance, but I’m guessing that most of you are also not familiar with these cities. And even if you ever picked up their names, I’m pretty sure you can’t name me one characteristic, historical fact or architectural highlight from any of them. With any European, American or even Asian capital of comparable size that would probably be a lot easier.
Now, what is the point to this ridiculously long intro? I came across a very interesting documentary about the housing market in China. It turns out that in many of the 160 Chinese cities that house over a million people there are a huge number of empty houses and appartments. There are approximately 64 million empty homes in China! There is a city called Ordos, which was built in 5 years and can hold up to a million people. It stands virtually empty today. In the documentary they even visit a city which was built for 12 million (!) people, of which 70% remains empty. Because the Chinese government wants to keep the GDP above 8 percent they have to keep building and building new cities, without anybody every occupying them. We’re talking about a property bubble the size of the Hindenburg. Makes you wonder if China is really the investment opportunity it is generally considered to be these days. Investing in China, especially in real estate, could backfire on you big time. Check out “China’s Ghost Cities And Malls”:
Here are some satellite images of China’s ghost towns.
And here‘s another interesting report by Al Jazeera on the topic.
Here you go, my top 10 of 2010. It has definitely been a good year in quality pop music!
(Nice list btw Adriejan. Though I must say I was a bit surprised by it as well, because the only tune I’ve heard you playing all year is this one. Oh well, gotta keep up the hipster appearence I guess.)
For me this has been the year of the revival of acid and rave. In dance music, artists like Boys Noize, Housemeister, Fake Blood (and in a way, Richie Hawtin) dusted off the old 303′s and 808′s and fully embraced this part of dance music history. But who would have thought that the smiley faces would also turn up in indie? Artists like Delorean, Pictureplane and Teengirl Fantasy took all the happy vocals, house piano’s and acid synths and poured some hipster sauce on it. This track by Teengirl Fantasy is the epitome of this resurgence of house. The old soul vocals are mixed brilliantly with the uplifting rave vocals and a slow but strong beat is the icing on the cake. The result is an extremely powerful track, which works great on the dancefloor in the early hours.
Beach House is a very good young band. This song from their debut album Teen Dream especially caught my attention. After I heard them playing an amazing live version it became my absolute favorite. The high position of this song on the list is also based on my iTunes “played” count of this song. Be sure to also check out other tracks from Teen Dream!
Crystal Castles (II) is a great album and I like most of its songs. Vietnam, Suffocation and Violent Dreams, I all love them. Empathy is just a tad better than these songs in my opinion. That’s why this is the one that made the list.
Pantha Du Prince spent months in the Austrian Alps to work on the Black Noise album. The result was fantastic and this song is the best of the lot. I love the way it swells up in the beginning. Worked well on the “Big Wheel” stage at Melt!
At first I was pretty negative about MGMT’s second album. Months after its release I gave it another good listen and it turns out that there are actually quite a few good songs on it. The title track is my favorite. It’s very relaxed and soothing.
The masters of electronica were back in 2010 with Oversteps. This is the best track from the album in my opinion. It takes many unexpected turns and you need to listen to it at least five times to fully appreciate its richness.
It was a must to see The National live in 2010. About this song, what can I say? It’s both uplifting and melancholic, which is true for many great songs. When you look back in ten years at 2010, this will be one of the songs you remember.
It was hard to pick the best song from Real Estate’s debut album, because there are many great tracks on it. Suburbaban Beverage and Green River could easily have occupied this spot on my list. I finally went with Beach Comber though because it’s the most catchy and it’s still fresh after listening to it dozens of times. (I know, this album is from November 2009. I put it on this list anyway, because I can)
Below is my bonus list. These are the tracks that just didn’t make it to my top 10, but are worth your while nonetheless.