As I type today, North Korean superman and general dictator Jong-Il Kim has died. How bizarre, and how fitting for what has been a fairly bizarre year for music. Here are my top 20 albums.

 

#20:  Nicolas Jaar – Space is Only Noise [Circus Company]

As understated and beautiful an album as 2011 has produced,  Nicolas Jaar’s debut is a gorgeously ambient and laid back record, that somehow manages to hit home with a devestating and almost threatening immediacy that seems totally alien for such transient music. At times turning on a French autotuned chanteuse-charm, Jaar quickly flips the script and uses his angry reverberated Nick Cave swagger.

 

#19: Yuck – Yuck [Fat Possum Records]

There’s certainly nothing new about Yuck’s lo-fi sound or strung out lyrics, but that quick summation seems to undersell the qualities of this really pretty solid record. Part Dinosaur Jr., part Pulp, the album balances the tightrope of visceral noise and the lyrical craft associated with English acts in a way that has been completely forgotten by practitioners of  both styles. Check it out, it’s really fucking good!

 

#18:  tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L [4AD ltd.]

This record is so insane that it’s literally baffling mish-mash of influences and styles will undoubtedly prove divisive for any listener on first listen. I loved it though, especially the Garage-folk pastiche on  tracks like ‘Gangsta’ and the electro-math-rock of ‘Killa’. At times it sounds like a white guy playing instruments trying to do gangsta rap, and that’s probably the intention, but the results are so much better than you’d ever imagine. Seriously fucking mental.

 

#17: Blood Orange – Coastal Grooves [Domino Recording Co.]

With an album cover like that you know you’re going to have to produce something pretty special, and thankfully Blood Orange do it with glee. On ‘Sutphin Boulevard’ they crank up their synths to 11 and churn out some pretty heavy drone-pop with flavours of bass heavy Death From Above 1979. In all though, the album isn’t particularly bound by genre standards, as it features some gorgeous sun-soaked ballads, a few tender moments, as well as some big time fist pumpers.

 

#16:  James Blake – James Blake [Polydor Records]

What must surely be the second most eagerly anticipated album of the year (more on number one a bit later), James Blake’s debut LP eschews the excellent and dreamy dubstep of his earlier EP’s for something more mainstream and soulful altogether. It doesn’t suffer from this though, as his production and mastery of his equipment throughout is literally flawless. Some people don’t like the autotuned vocals shit, but personally, I don’t mind them, at least he’s trying to reclaim them for ‘normal people music’.

 

#15: TV On The Radio – Nine Types of Light [DGC Recordings]

Going from strength to strength from 2008’s brilliant ‘Dear Science,’, TV On The Radio have battled the adversity of losing a pivotal member to cancer to produce a brilliant and emotional record in ‘Nine Types of Light’. Intense and personal, the record is marred by a beautiful sadness to each track,  yet loses none of the acerbic bite of yore. And while many feared the loss would tear the band apart, their command of their own musicianship and destiny seem more set in stone than ever after hearing ‘Will Do’, an absolutely classic track from a really great album.

 

#14: Azari & III – Azari & III [Loose Lips Records]

Looking back on it, it seems like I was sleeping for the whole year until I heard Azari & III’s debut LP. And then I woke up. It’s so unbelievably fun and fully formed that it was a literal shock to my system. And then I saw them live, and that was it. It’s true, the record is uneven, with some tracks feeling wasteful of the vocal talent the band posesses, but each track here is as danceable, if not more so than the last, and honestly what other record could you say that about from 2011?

 

#13: Hercules & Love Affair – Blue Songs [Moshi Moshi Records]

Like twins in an orphanage, it seemed genuinely cruel and unnecessary to split ‘Blue Songs’ and ‘Azari & III’ up. They’re both so clearly born from the same lineage, and they’re both so totally fun and completely immersive that there was no reason to do so. Maybe Blue Songs is one place higher than it’s counterpart because of the proven mileage of this band? I love their first album, and I love this too. I don’t know. What I do know is, I actually missed out on the chance to see these live, a fact which has annoyed me ever since. If I’d have seen them, who knows, the record might make the top 10.

 

#12: Radiohead – The King Of Limbs [Ticker Tape Ltd.]

News of a new Radiohead release is usually greeted with cheers, looting and anarchy. The band are now officially a British institution, and are scientifically proven to be ‘loads better than U2’, and ‘on par with the Beatles’. Yet for some reason, The King Of Limbs was anticipated by die-hard Radiohead fans alone. When I actually listened to the album, I was blown away. It’s unpretentious, short, and above all else, absolutely the kind of stuff I love to hear Radiohead doing. The band had obviously been listening and learning from contemporaries Flying Lotus, Burial and Four Tet. And y’know what? That’s absolutely fine. The electronic music revolution that happened just after the millenium was down to Radiohead’s still unbeaten record ‘Kid A’, the record that largely made it OK for guitar bands to mess about with synthesisers and keyboards. The band itself recognises this need for renewal, and has subsequently dipped into the scene they helped forge for ideas. The King Of Limbs may not contain the brilliance of Kid A, the ingenuity of In Rainbows, or even the commercial success of OK Computer, but who the hell wanted that anyway?

 

#11:  The Kills – Blood Pressures [Domino Recording Co.]

I absolutely love ‘Midnight Boom’, and ‘No Wow’, so I was obviously pretty happy when I heard there’d be a new Kills record this year. And yeah…I wasn’t disappointed. The band have still got that gritty and almost unpleasant edge they’re so revered for, yet they’ve now managed to forge that with an accute pop songwriting sensibility and some crazy ass synth experimentation. ‘Future Starts Slow’ nearly gave me a heart attack the first time I heard it. I think I listened to it 20 times in a row or something ridiculous.

 

#10: Battles – Gloss Drop [Warp]

Starting our top 10 countdown is Battles. The band that brought us ‘Mirrored’ return this year with another serving of bizarro-pop with a tinge of heady instrumentalism. From the first single ‘Ice Cream’, you know they haven’t lost their daring and almost childlike edge. The rest of the album follows suit, with ‘Inchworm’ proving you don’t need ten minute plus tracks to initiate madness and mayhem. Gary Numan also features on the track, ‘My Machines’, a bizarre and almost unnatural paring that actually ends extremely well, all things considered.

 

#9: Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica [Software]

Filed under ‘music for the most epic of hangovers’, ‘Replica’ has a unique etheral quality that seems to transcend mere ‘vocals’ and traditional songwriting altogether. Instead opting for floating patterns that circle around eachother before quickly disappearing like startled ghosts, before giving way to more and more bizarre and incomprehensible and totally inhuman sounds. Sound like too high a praise? Believe me, it’s not. The album is as close to that spooky but beautiful place between being awake and being asleep as anything I’ve ever experienced.

 

#8: The Horrors – Skying [XL Records]

About five years ago, I would have literally laughed in the face of anyone claiming that the Horrors would release anything even half decent, let alone two albums in three years that could rightfully challenge ‘album of the year’ status. Now it seems unthinkable that anything the band release won’t turn to gold, such is the fickle nature of music journalism. They haven’t earned this reputation as a fearsome and generally brilliant album band for nothing, ‘Primary Colours’ (from 2009) was brilliant, and it’s successor ‘Skying’, is even better. It really is incredible.

 

#7:  Jamie Woon – Mirrorwriting [Polydor Records]

Label mate James Blake appeared earlier in this list, and that is not the only similarity between the two. As well as both being excellent producers, both share an affinity for that kind of understated post-brostep-dubstep that is now such an emerging voice in British music. And speaking of voices, that is why Woon’s album is way higher than Blake’s…Jamie’s closest relatives, vocally, seem to be black soul legends from the 80’s, Prince, Terrence Trent D’arby, as well as taking a cue from house vocalists Larry Heard (aka ‘Mr. Fingers’) and Jamie Principle, Blake opting for the cold roboticism of Daft Punk .  While Blake’s record seems often moody and isolated in it’s vocal delivery, Woon manages to combine two disparate elements, in the spacious surroundings of dubstep, coupled with the gorgeous soulful sounds of his influences, all of which makes for an exhilirating and totally different album to almost anything else from 2011, ‘Spirits’ in particular is incredible.

 

#6: The Juan Maclean – Everybody Get Close [DFA Records]

To anyone even remotely worried that the DFA label, or house music in general was on it’s arse in 2011: congratulations, you’re an ignorant idiot. I say it with conviction, Everybody Get Close could just be the best non-LCD release DFA have ever put out. On a label reknown for setting trends and totally anihilating dancefloors, Juan gets tantilisingly close to the perfect record, with anthemic acid house rhythms rolling like thunder over catchy samples and fluid basslines, all of which culminate in huge drops, with the next track picking up where the last left off. As far as house music goes, a full length LP rarely gets better than this. I recommend listening to it LOUD.

 

#5: Dels – GOB [Big DADA]

Dels is a British rapper from the tradition of good British rappers, a good cockney accent, a quirky sense of humour coupled with big beats does make successful album. But unlike a lot who have fallen from public eye and critical attention, Dels loads his rhymes top heavy with specific cultural references that are totally alienating to anyone not familiar with this country or it’s norms, ‘All outta time like she’s dancin’ to jungle‘. Time will tell if Dels has what it takes to survive in British Hip Hop, but with an album that sounds more like elder statesmen Roots Manuva (who also features in ‘Capsize’), and a lot less like Dizzee Rascal, the future is looking Dels.

 

#4: SBTRKT – SBTRKT [Young Turks]

SBTRKT is a British producer who has chosen to remain anonymous. Pretty cool. But what about his music? Well, it turns out, that’s pretty cool too. Even more impressive though is how oddly fully formed his vision comes out (I’m assuming he’s not been working on it for like 10 years, in which case, poor form), and how totally different it sounds to anything else out there today. Mixing UK Garage with hip hop, house and dubstep, SBTRKT (pronounced ‘Subtract’) has produced an eclectic record that doesn’t suffer from it’s mash-up of genres. The better tracks here feature his friend and collaborator Sampha, as he provides an occasionally out of tune, but nonetheless completely brilliant set of vocals for each track he appears on, check out ‘Something Goes Right’ for an incredible and apt example of this.

 

#3: Bjork – Biophilia [One Little Indian]

Akin to Radiohead, this years Bjork release seemed to instill a sense of apathy in music fans. Also akin to Radiohead, I was excited as fuck. Bjork didn’t let me down, being the absolutely huge and mental babe that she is, always has been, and always will be. Biophilia is a different album to her last few though, especially the fairly average Volta. Released with iPad apps, virtual lectures, written essays, and general lessons about the natural world, the record was more of a spectacle than anything, sad that it was marketted as such, as it’s brilliant. The album relies on big sweeping organic set pieces which swell and throb from unknown sources, coupled with Bjork’s insanely operatic and powerful vocals to deliver it’s gutteral one-two punch which stay with you days after you’ve first listened to it. At times her vocals are genuinely that powerful and urgent that they made me sit up and stop doing whatever I was doing at the time, a rarity which hasn’t happened since the equally insane Homogenic.

 

#2: Rustie – Glass Swords [Warp]

Rustie’s first full length release should come with a warning sticker on the front of it, sort of along the lines of ‘Abandon all hope ye who have no sense of humour’, as believe me – this is just about the most ridiculous 50 odd minutes of music you will hear in your life. With that out of the way, Glass Swords is absolutely fantastic. A total ADHD throwback to the early 90’s, TV theme tunes, nintendo Zelda scores bleeping and flittering their way to the fore, gasping for life, before they’re quickly choked down and washed away with acerbic slap basslines and dubstep nods. There really is no dull moment on Glass Swords, and if you can get over the sheer esotericism it openly wears on it’s sleeve, it will quickly become your favourite album too.

 

#1: Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam [Brownswood Recordings]

This might seem like an odd choice for my number one, but I genuinely don’t care. This completely underated first release from British born Ghostpoet is an excellent album which somehow manages to convey the boredom and general waiting around that seems so common in British life at this moment. With a difference,  he makes it sound urgent and totally listenable. ‘Cash and Carry Me Home’ is as faithful a rendition of a night out as anything else out there, whereas ‘Survive It’ is this generation’s call to arms, a defeatist tale that calls for simply holding on to the modern age and trying desperately not to be swept away in the social and technological change that we now all see as iminent. It is in ‘Us Against Whatever Ever’ though that Ghostpoet truly proves himself as a visionary songwriter, musician and producer, the track is about as perfect to anything that has come out this year, and features some truly breathtaking moments. A discordant feedback loop is layered over skittery dubstep cackles, while out of sight a mobile phone struggles for signal amidst a crumbling urban decay, indeed, the theme of ‘getting by’ is a familiar theme for Ghostpoet,  ‘Love’s like a shooting star, amazing like asteroids’. In another’s hands, lyrics like that would seem clunky and one dimensional, coming from Ghostpoet’s typical cockney accent and backed with tracks like that, there can be no doubt that they are as effective as anything. My favourite thing about the whole album was how easy it was, and still is to revisit it and get something new from the experience. I must have listened to it well over 15 times, and yet each and every time I find something new to love about it that I hadn’t noticed before, be it the moody dub of the earlier tracks to the epic sweep and grandeur of the later players, it all works, and thankfully there is not a dip in sight. Even now, it’s hard not to see an end of year news compilation without ‘Liiines’ playing triumphantly in the background, it truly is epic stuff.