I’ve heard and read so many people saying 2011 was a bad year for music. Where are these people looking? What are they listening to? Because it’s certainly not been my experience of the year. For me 2011 has been one of the most exciting years in a long time, with more variety than ever before. It truly does feel like a new golden age of experimentation, artistic creation and musical freedom is under way. More genres than ever before are becoming fully-fledged, popularly acceptable art forms and more and more are crossing back and forth and over into one another to create newer, even more exciting hybrids and horror-blends. The next few years are really going to be something, provided you’ve got your eyes and ears pointed in all the right directions. Hopefully us guys at Foxy Digitalis are doing our bit to aid the cause – the most pleasurable bit of writing for a webzine like this is knowing that you’re providing coverage for so many great artists and labels who really deserve it. It truly is a privilege.
So, after many months of über-geeky debate and sleep-hindering, fiancée-bothering home, work and street-based deliberation it is finally here in all its clear digital glory. Without further ado (drum roll please), ladies and gentlemen I present to you My Year In Lists: The Best (And Worst) of 2011! (thanks)
Implodes, “Black Earth” LP/CD (Kranky)
2011 was a great year for Kranky. First-rate releases from Tim Hecker, A Winged Victory For The Sullen and Steve Hauschildt helped move the label up a notch and away from some of the sounds it had been in danger of becoming too dependable on. It was Implodes’ Black Earth out of all these records that stayed with me throughout the year. Based around an imagined world full of “dead insects, black widows and mysterious plants,” the album reminded me of Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness as much as anything else. From “Open The Door” onwards, Implodes take you on a journey through Black Earth that takes in drone, doom, shoegaze and full-on balls-to-the-wall rock ‘n’ roll. To top it off, everything is cloaked in a musty air of black metal atmosphere. It’s as varied an album as I’ve heard all year but one which never loses its focus or drive and “Marker,” the outstanding track on the album, ends with a surging guitar solo that sends chills down the spine. Despite the thick layers of feedback and gloom Implodes are a band who really know how to play.
Curren$y x The Alchemist, “Covert Coup” (Self-Released)
The darkest of Curren$y’s three releases in 2011, Covert Coup concentrated as much on beef as it did weed, despite the presence of fellow high-timer Smoke DZA and a track titled “Smoke Break.” “We bust raps like D-Boys bust gats / We the type of people that don’t bury the axe” goes the Fiend-guesting “The Type” over a spangled Alchemist beat track. It’s Alchemist’s production that gives this release the edge – the bass rolls deep throughout giving proceedings an tinge of cool menace not present on either Verde Terrace or Weekend At Burnies. It’s rumoured a follow-up collaboration will see the light of day in 2012.
Seasons (Pre-Din), “Lesser and Still” (Thy-Rec)
Seasons (Pre-Din) provided me with my first review and interview for Foxy Digitalis, all the way back in March. It’s true I have a soft spot for the mysterious artist’s work and I do find it incredibly sad that he chose to stop making music after this, one of his most powerful releases. The impression I got from him during the interview (which was done via email – I never found out his real name or saw a picture of his entire face) was that he’d completely exhausted himself through music and had reached a point from which he found it impossible to continue. Lesser and Still, full of hidden anger and frustration, was a suitably epic way to end a project that developed out of piano miniatures into radio static and through to flat-out noise terror.
Radiohead, “The King of Limbs” (Self-Released/XL)
The King of Limbs was their most lightweight and inconsequential set of songs yet. It says something that most of the critics who initially heaped praise upon it soon started grasping at the idea it might just be a stopgap or teaser, seemingly in order to excuse themselves for their rabid excitement. The tide of “oh, actually…” that began to wash over everyone in the wake of the initial rush of “new Radiohead album!” adrenaline shock was palpable. Okay, so no one gave it 9s and 10s, but the 7s were still too high. And, aside from Thom Yorke’s sweaty face bearing down on you in sexual ecstasy, this kind of gyration is the last thing anyone wants to see.
Dishonourable Mentions: Tyler, The Creator; Amy Winehouse
TV On The Radio, “You”
Grouper, “AIA: Dream Loss/Alien Observer” (Yellowelectric)
Liz Harris aka Grouper found widespread acclaim and critical favour with AIA, a double album of sublimely haunting reveries that gave her signature sound yet more clarity and accessibility. Her most traditional-sounding collection yet, AIA took up where 2008′s Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill left off and pulled back the shroud of cobwebs to reveal an aching heart. These are creaking, drifting folk songs sung by lost souls left to wander in misty forests and on desolate planes.
Derek Rogers, “The Exhaustion of Emotion” (Bridgetown Records)
I found myself pondering the emotional side of drone music more often than is possibly healthy in 2011. I have many a friend that won’t even countenance the idea that listening to an extended buzz, hum or swoosh created electronically or otherwise can be in anyway an emotional experience but albums by Seasons (Pre-Din) and Blanck Mass both stirred something in me that had lain dormant for quite a while. It was Derek Rogers’ The Exhaustion Of Emotion that had the most resonant effect on me. Hidden behind cover images of dreamy sunsets and expansive horizons Rogers’ superb cassette forces you to acknowledge that emotion is present in your listening by sucking it out of you and leaving you an empty, worn-out husk of your former self. The searing aural equivalent of a superstar-in-the-making-becomes-crack-addicted-man-whore story. At least that’s the way I interpret it.
DOOM @ ATP: I’ll Be Your Mirror
How not to win fans and influence people. DOOM travelled all the way across the Atlantic to stand on stage at the Alexandra Palace and rap half-heartedly over a tinny MacBook playing his beat tracks. I don’t think I’ve listened to his albums since. Much respect lost. Luckily Company Flow and Portishead more than made up for it with blazing sets that same day.
Dishonourable Mentions: TV On The Radio, “Seven Types Of Light”; Tyler, The Creator, “GOBLIN”
There’s so much variety to the releases on Weird Forest but they’re never less than outstanding regardless of genre. Whether it’s ambient drift-hop from Lil’ B, desolate folk from Terrors, dread metal from Dead Reptile Shrine or the chuck-it-all-in-and-see-what-comes-out vibe of Garrincha & The Stolen Elk and Colour Bük, there’s not much Weird Forest hasn’t released and the label went from strength to strength in 2011. For me they’re on the way up to join Type and (ahem) Digitalis as a label you can always rely on for great quality.
Best V/A Collection
“To What Strange Place: The Music Of The Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916-1929” (Tompkins Square)
Labels like Tompkins Square, Numero Group, Revenant and Dust-To-Digital are providing a service to music geeks like myself that is totally invaluable. Not only do they release great packages of obscure music that may otherwise go unheard, they also seek to educate the buyer in the process. So lavishly packaged are these products that I struggle to turn down the opportunity to buy them despite my inevitably wretched financial state – they are, for me, the ultimate objects of desire. The best of these collections in 2011 was Tompkins Square’s incredible treble-CD pack of Middle Eastern music recorded in New York in the early part of the 20th Century. Compiled and introduced by Ian Nagoski (his record collection is another object of desire), To What Strange Place contains music of love, loss, sadness and hope that will touch even the coldest heart and provide an invaluable insight into the development of the American musical melting-pot.
Best Single Artist Anthology
Disco Inferno, “The 5 EPs” (One Little Indian)
As the UK swayed to the strains of lad-rock and Brit-Pop there were one or two lonely bands going in their own disparate directions. Unfortunately these bands were largely ignored because the UK population is 96% cretin. The 4% that makes up the rest of the country listened to Disco Inferno. They felt smug and aloof and sat alone reading Camus instead of playing football. They were quietly embarrassed because they kept getting erections despite having “no interest in girls.” And they were scared because there was a hairy man in a parka coming towards them saying things like “fookin’ ‘ell” and swinging his fists around like a rabid primate. But look who’s cool now, yeah? LOOK WHO’S COOL NOW!
Best Album Cover
Lee Noble, “Horrorism” (Bathetic Records)
Worst Album Cover
Such a highly-rated album, such a dreadful album cover. Take a bow Maria Minerva:
I did a picture of Elephant Man on the moon that was better than that. See: