2011 was a pretty swell year for music, made even better for me because now I’m a music director at WCBN, and also because I’m now a DJ on the station’s long-running mix show, Crush Collision. I did a 2-hour mix of some of my favorite trax of the year on that show, and also an additional 3-hour Best of 2011 show on my freeform show, The Answer Is In The Beat, so these can act as audio supplements and additions to this list so I don’t have to list a bunch of honorable mentions without explanations.
This might be cheating as I’m friends with the members of this band, but I definitely listened to this album more than anything else this year, and it just makes sense to me to list this as my favorite album of the year. Kind of surfy as the name suggests, but mostly just really solid indie-pop. The limited triple cassette version includes solo sides from all of the band members, all of which are album of the year worthy in their own right.
“Slip Stitch” from Silver Dapple, English Girlfriend LP (FORCHRISTSAKE)
OPN’s “Replica” threatened to take this one over towards the end of the year, but I have to give it to my official summer jam for the year. First appearing on a Fixture Records compilation, and now on the band’s debut LP, this song, like my favorite album of the year, is simply infectious indie-pop that I had on repeat for a good portion of the year.
Even though he caught people’s attention producing some of Lil B’s best material a year or two ago, his instrumental mixtape was where he truly came into his own. Easily one of the most instantly recognizable sounds to emerge in a while, Clams’ music already feels iconic. It’s hard not to assume that this is just the beginning of a truly brilliant career. Not to mention, “Motivation” is one of the best songs of the year, with out without Lil B.
His Name Is Alive, King Of Sweet (Handmade Birds)
This is almost by default, since it’s the first vinyl issue of an all-time favorite. As far as reissues of unearthed obscure material, basically anything Dark Entries has put out is absolute gold, especially Xex, Starter, Jeff & Jane Hudson, Vita Noctis, and Europa. Absolutely cannot wait to hear what Dark Entries has in store next year. Also, I must mention that I never would’ve imagined that Dan Deacon’s first two CD-Rs would eventually be given deluxe colored vinyl double-LP reissued by Carpark, but somehow that happened this year, and I couldn’t be happier. Finally, I usually can’t stand deluxe major label reissues of “classic” albums, but the McCartney II reissue has been blowing my mind all year. Check my machine!
Best Various Artists Compilation
V/A, Invasion Of The Mysteron Killer Sounds (Soul Jazz)
Compiled by Kevin Martin (The Bug) and Stuart Baker (Soul Jazz), this is a completely killer double album of dancehall and dub riddims new and old. Highly recommended for anyone who thinks dub or dubstep was invented a year or two ago.
Drexciya, Journey Of The Deep Sea Dweller I LP/CD (Clone Classic Cuts)
Apparently the first in a series of four Drexciya compilations, and including unreleased material. What with “seapunk” and “electro-house” polluting the world, it’s nice to be reminded that true electro is a sacred thing, and that underwater imagery can be meaningful and artistic and not be gimmicky or trendy.
Best Vinyl Only
Leyland Kirby, Intrigue & Stuff Vol. 1 LP (History Always Favours The Winners)
Sure, the Caretaker album was great, and I’m glad he’s finally getting a lot more widespread recognition than he was before. But this is my favorite album he’s released in a while for one reason and one reason only: BECAUSE IT SOUNDS LIKE A V/VM RECORD. Seriously, anyone who declared this to be some sort of bold new direction clearly isn’t familiar with the man’s pig-masked days. This record totally could’ve come out in 1999, and I love it.
Best CD-R Only
Celer, Menggayakan (Analogpath)
Seriously breathtaking drones and field recordings from Indonesia. Open and full yet spacious, and completely beautiful.
Best Cassette Only
A Story Of Rats, Relinquishment (Flingco Sound System)
There were so many incredible tapes this year that it seems silly to only pick one. But I’m going with this one simply because it did for me what I thought the new Tim Hecker would based on the overwhelming amount of hype it received, which I felt it didn’t live up to.
Best Live Show
Bogdan Raczynski @ Woodruff’s, Ypsilanti, 9/4/11
So Rephlex was planning to do a 20th anniversary mini-tour, visiting four cities in America and featuring a bunch of guests flying in from overseas. Long story short, they couldn’t make it here and the only show that ended up happening was the Ypsilanti show. All that matters was that I finally got to see Bogdan after waiting to see him since the ’90s. Musically, he just stuck to album tracks that I was familiar with, but I was surrounded by friends and it was such a perfect moment, except that I was thrashing so hard that I almost broke my glasses a few times. Also it’s worth mentioning that the day before, I saw the Sun Ra Arkestra at the Detroit Jazz Festival, which would’ve been perfect except that it started downpouring right as they were scheduled to play, so the rest of the day’s events ended up getting cancelled, but when the rain let up, the Arkestra spontaneously took over the stage for an impromptu acoustic set, which of course was incredible.
There aren’t too many labels where I feel obligated to buy every release, and considering how broke I am, there probably shouldn’t be. But John Elliott has done a brilliant job curating this Mego sublabel, bringing the best and brightest of the American synth underground to well-distributed, high-quality vinyl.
Elite Gymnastics, Ruin (Acephale)
Really everything about the packaging, including the watermelon-colored vinyl and the extensive booklet. Not to mention, the music itself is fantastic. So much care was put into this one.
Jandek, Where Do You Go From Here (Corwood Industries)
Never would’ve expected a Jandek album to be one of my favorites of the year, but this was an unexpectedly gorgeous, mostly instrumental effort from the enigmatic Texas outsider artist.
Tyler, The Creator, Goblin 2xLP (XL Recordings)
Pretty much everyone who was looking forward to this was let down, but it just has to be said. I actually bought this and listened to it all the way through twice before shelving it forever. The most frustrating thing about this album to me isn’t the fact that nearly all of the songs are overly long and tedious, nor that “Yonkers” was such an anticipation-builder. What really gets me is the presence of instrumental “Au79″, which Tyler says is inspired by his love of jazz, but to my ears sounds like Carl Craig attempting a juke track, and I want MORE. Tyler always promises growth and maturation in his future work, and I know he has the talent to do something better than this, but unless he learns how to edit his songs and come up with more interesting subject matter (or just make instrumentals), he’s going to seem like the biggest waste of potential ever.
James Ferraro, Far Side Virtual LP (Hippos in Tanks)
It was only a matter of time before someone made MIDI cool again. This album basically sounds like a kids’ CD-ROM adventure from the ’90s, with a little Home Shopping Network thrown in. Which isn’t to say that I don’t find it amusing on some level, but as far as being the post-modern masterpiece everyone is claiming it is, GTFO.
Pursuit Grooves, Frantically Hopeful 12-inch (Tectonic)
A great album that exists somewhere between post-dubstep, neo-soul and abstract hip-hop, but doesn’t fit into any of those categories. Still not sure why this one wasn’t talked about more.