December 15, 2011

The 11 Best Electronic Albums of 2011

While the past couple years have seen dubstep and all its iterations replace the day-glo fluff of nu-electro as the dominant theme in dance, it was the producers who rebelled against the blinkeredness of bass music that owned 2011. With a broader palette of sounds than ever on which to draw and a renewed sense of adventure that harkened back to the early years of house and techno, this year’s crop of releases easily represented some of the best electronic music of the last five years. Here are 11 of our favorites.

James Blake by James Blake (A&M)

James Blake by james Blake (A&M)

The global music press was quick to anoint London-based producer-singer James Blake the face of the past two year’s post-dubstep wave on the strength of stellar singles like the Kelis-sampling “CMYK”, but to lump him alongside the dozens of mid-frequency aggro-wonk peddlers that have sprung up following the recession of bloghouse would be to do him a disservice. His eponymous debut LP, while still soaked in the shuddering low end of his earlier releases, places Blake’s assured sense for verse and melody as well as his soulful vocals at the center, and sees the 23-year old songwriter eclipse the confining purview of post-millennial bass music to create a sound all his own.

Watch Video: James Blake – The Wilhelm Scream

 

SBTRKT by SBTRKT (Young Turks)

SBTRKT

Electronic dance music both mainstream and underground has for a long time now suffered from an ironic scene-based purism and thematic insularity contrary to the spirit of openness and discovery espoused by the music’s founders. So when South London native Aaron Jerome dropped his self-titled artist LP as SBTRKT, forward-looking, electro-weaned indie kids were quick to jump on board alongside more traditional house heads. The adulation is well-deserved however, as Jerome deftly bleeds together elements of techno, house, soul, funk, 2-step, juke and bass music wobble into a cohesive and propulsive whole.

Watch Video: SBTRKT – Wildfire

 

Glass Swords by Rustie  (Warp)

Glass Swords by Rustie

The word most often used to describe Rustie’s debut LP Glass Swords is “maximal”. It’s an apt description, as the Glasgow-based producer’s whole M.O. seems to be to fill every space and crack with grandiose, synapse-popping, kaleidoscopic sound. It’s a full-on event from end to end, with the seemingly disparate mishmash of 90s rave tunes, west coast g-funk, corporate rock slap bass and monumental, molten synth lines brought into sharp focus by the swaggering pulse of dubstep. Exuberant, ridiculous and inspired through and through.

Watch Video: Rustie – After Light (Audio)

 

Electronic Dream by Araabmuzik (Duke)

Electronic Dream by Araabmuzik

Diplomats producer and MPC whiz AraabMuzik’s first proper album is at its most basic level a collection of bottle service club favorites re-worked and re-imagined as gangsta rap beats (Starchaser’s “So High” gets recast as “Feelin So Hood” for example), but it is also much more than that. While the album’s working formula is simple- superimpose the skittering hi hats, clipped snares and booming kicks of new millennium hip-hop on chopped up trance and gabber anthems- Araab here creates a musical world unto itself, replacing the sugary lilt of the originals with the menace, desperation and vivacity of the streets.

Watch Video: Araabmuzik – Electronic Dream (Audio)

 

Dedication by Zomby  (4AD)

Dedication by Zomby

Zomby here pulls a full 180 after the ode to classic 90s hardcore breaks that was 2008’s Where Were You in ‘92?, trading in the brash intensity of his first album for a more reined in, smoky, introspective take on IDM. While the mysterious British producer/DJ is most commonly associated with the underground wonky movement, on Dedication he pilfers and splices sounds from throughout the history of electronic dance music like a mad scientist breeding mutant creatures in test tubes. Grim and unnerving, but also completely engrossing.

Watch Video: Zomby – Natalie’s Song (Audio)

 

Looping State of Mind by The Field (Kompakt)

Looping State of Mind by The Field

On his third album, Stockholm native Axel Willner largely sticks to the winning formula on which he made his name: lush, sun-drenched, spacey, blissed-out techno based on a repeating handful of loops that build and build until the listener is engulfed in pink, fluffy clouds. Willner expands on it as well, incorporating new touchstones— deep house, piano music, industrial clatter and Robert Fripp-type ambient- to craft a fully-realized, immersive experience that is less a collection of tracks and more an artistic mission statement.

Watch Video: The Field – Burned Out (Audio)

 

Sepalcure by Sepalcure (Hotflush)

Sepalcure by Sepalcure

New York-based producers Travis Stewart and Praveen Sharma’s first album as Sepalcure reveals an intimate knowledge of the various forms of electronic dance music past and present, each track a savvy amalgamation of influences (UK funky, afrobeat, Chicago house, chillwave and, of course, dubstep) that in the skillful hands of Stewart and Sharma makes absolutely perfect sense. Album single “Pencil Pimp” is the highlight, but every track rewards repeated listening.

Watch Video: Sepalcure – Pencil Pimp

 

Space Is Only Noise by Nicolas Jaar (Circus Company)

Space Is Only Noise by Nicolas Jaar

Who knew lounge music could be so thrilling? On Space… 22-year old Providence-by-way-of-Chile-based Jaar mines everything from chillout house, Afro jazz, cocktail bar pop, movie soundtracks and sound collage to piece together a hazy, languorous alien musical stew in grayscale, sounding like the Mos Eisley Cantina band on barbiturates.

Watch Video: Nicolas  Jaar – Colomb

 

On A Mission by Katy B (Rinse)

On A Mission by Katy B

With the mainstream’s continuing flirtation with underground electronic music and vice versa, 2011 was a tough year for many high-minded purists incensed at the appropriation of a once-alt sound by unabashedly populist producers like Skrillex, Deadmau5 and Will.i.am. But instead of picking sides, South Londoner Katy B focused on making tasteful and eminently danceable music instead, putting together a winning blend of bass music-inflected funky house, while avoiding both the vacant chin-stroking of deep dubstep nerds as well as the vacuity of the David Guetta crowd.

Watch Video: Katy B – Katy On A Mission

 

93 Million Miles by Africa Hitech (Warp)

93 Million Miles by Africa

Dance music mainstays Mark Pritchard and Steve Spacek make good use of their shared experience on their first album as Africa Hitech, rifling through a trove of sounds from techno to juke to 8-bit to UK grime to ragga that in the hands of lesser producers would have come out sounding confused. It all comes together beautifully here though: the album feels like soaring over the African savannah in a jetpack, the setting sun bathing the sky in red and gold.

Watch Video:

 

Passed Me By by Andy Stott (Modern Love)

Passed Me By by Andy Stott

Alongside the ascent of dubstep into the mainstream, the past two years have seen the bubbling up of a less bombastic but equally emotive sound as well: drag or witch house. On Passed Me By, Manchester-born DJ/producer channels the creep, nausea and paranoid torpidity of drag into dub-techno, creating a soundtrack for an inevitable scorched earth future. It’s a reminder that, contrary to the sybaritic exuberance of most electronic dance music, we still live in a pretty f*cked up world.

Watch Video: Africa HiTech – 93 Million Miles

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