My Favorite Records of 2011

Mirror to Mirror's Here You Leave Today—one of my favorite records of the year.

In the January 2012 issue of Stereophile, I list my 15 favorite records of the year (p.52). Here is an expanded, slightly more detailed list.

SM’s FAVORITE RECORDS OF 2011

1. Gang Gang Dance: Eye Contact (LP, 4AD CAD 3107)

I can hear everything. It’s everything time.

The record opens with those few words, the band nodding at this digital age of file-sharing and rapid access: Any musical style is just a few clicks away from the curious musician or music lover. How will the Internet, with its way of obliterating time and space, shape the sound of music to come?

Gang Gang Dance’s fifth studio album—their first to be released by 4AD—is a big, ambitious masterpiece, fusing together New Age weirdness, Global awareness, psychedelic visions, 1980s freestyle, 1990s techno, mainstream pop, hip-hop, punk rock, and massive dance rhythms.

“MindKilla” is the single of the year. Play it on the hi-fi, loud.

2. Wild Beasts: Smother (LP Domino DNO297)

Not nearly as adventurous or weird as Gang Gang Dance's Eye Contact, but nonetheless beautiful and moving from beginning to end, Smother is concerned with love, lust, and longing. The voices are enchanting, the music warbles, pulses, and soothes. The album concludes with “End Come Too Soon,” but we play it again and again.

3. Radiohead: The King of Limbs (LP, Ticker Tape Ltd. TICK001LP)

I didn’t like this record at all when I first heard it—I was expecting something poppier, something more familiar—but over time something changed and the album’s vague, amorphous melodies and strange structures grew beautiful and inviting. Odd sonics: The music sounds new and old at once.

4. Zomby: Dedication (LP, 4AD CAD 3119)

After hearing just a few seconds of the opening track, “Witch Hunt,” I knew I had to own this record. The textures are amazing, the beats are dope, the melodies haunting. After hearing the record a few times, I imagined, fancifully, that it was dedicated to an ex-lover. But I read in The Wire, that the record is actually dedicated to Zomby’s dad.

5. Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto: Summvs (CD, Raster-Noton R-N 132)

Alva Noto mixes his glitchy, scintillating electronics and deep, low-end blasts with Sakamoto’s gentle, tender piano melodies. Their version of Eno’s “By This River” is exquisite.

6. Mogwai: Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (LP, Sub Pop SP895)

The music, mostly instrumental and altogether powerful, is just as brash and awesome as the album title.

7. Fucked Up: David Comes to Life (LP, Matador OLE-952-1)

I wish my band could open for these guys. Fucked Up destroys. Intelligent, poetic, ridiculous, pummeling, frightening, triumphant rock and roll. On this record, the band sounds like The Who mixed with Stormshadow, which, to me, is incredibly cool.

8. Thundercat: The Golden Age of Apocalypse (LP, Brainfeeder BF023)

I love just about everything released by Steven Ellison’s Brainfeeder label, but this record tops them all. Imagine Stevie Wonder, the Headhunters, and Chick Corea, playing with the Temptations, remixed by Flying Lotus, with that crazy bass player from Suicidal Tendencies. Oh, it is that crazy bassplayer from Suicidal Tendencies: Stephen Bruner, son of soul drummer Ronald Bruner. Cool.

9. Amon Tobin: ISAM (LP, Ninja Tune LC-12885)

This weird, whimsical record is filled with exaggerated sounds that’ll pulse through your listening room floors and skip along the listening room walls. Composer Amon Tobin records the sounds of insects, electricity, wind, and other things, adds enormous beats, and sings like a child at play.

10. Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost (LP, True Panther Sounds TRUE-035-1)

Even better than their debut. Girls take us on a tour of rock and roll, from 1950s-style crooning to surf rock to shoegaze to grunge. Great songwriting.

11. HTRK: Work (Work, Work) (LP, Ghostly International GI-144)

This is another one that I didn’t really like at first. But something about it kept drawing me back, and, over time, I came to love this record’s thick, sludgy, dense sound. There are hidden melodies under the dark, metallic outer surface. Work (Work Work) forces you to reconsider rhythm and pace. It is unapologetic. And Jonnine Standish sounds like a drugged-up, sex-starved Sade. (Which is hot.) Sexiest album of the year.

12. Colin Stetson: New History Warfare, Vol.2: Judges (LP, Constellation CST075-1)

This record, on the other hand, immediately blew me away. Stetson uses 24 mics to record every sound he makes while completely freaking out on bass saxophone. Laurie Anderson and Shara Worden provide even greater terror and seduction, respectively.

13. James Blake: James Blake (LP, Polydor B0015443-01)

Blake, the 24-year old electronic music producer and son of James Litherland, hit the scene with a big splash. His debut full-length came with much hype, but lived up to it all and surprised me by becoming a hit with audiophiles: By the end of the year, we were guaranteed to hear “The Wilhelm Scream” played over and over at hi-fi shows. I blame that on Wilson’s Peter McGrath. (Thanks, Peter.) Great album all the way through, though.

14. Leyland Kirby: Eager to Tear Apart the Stars (LP, History Always Favors the Winners HAFTW010-LP)

I’m fast falling in love with everything Kirby releases, whether under the Caretaker moniker, his V/Vm project, or his “Intrigue & Stuff” series. Eager to Tear Apart the Stars crackles with dust and shines with moonlight: We hear warm synths; horror-movie organ; wind and waves; and delicate, deliberate, tragically beautiful piano. It’s easy to listen to, easier to love, and filled with great rewards.

15. Cold Cave: Cherish the Light Years (LP, Matador OLE-921)

This record sounds like New York City at 3am, neon lights reflected in oily puddles of rain. Radical synth playing, too.

THE REST, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres (Constellation)

Destroyer: Kaputt (Merge)

Jannick Shou: Act of Shimmering (Experimedia)

Prefuse 73: The Only She Chapters (Warp)

Boris: Attention Please and Heavy Rocks (Sargent House)

Matthewdavid: Outmind (Ninja Tune)

Teebs: Ardour (Brainfeeder)

Nicolas Jaar: Space is Only Noise (Circus Company)

Keith Freund: Constant Comments (Experimedia)

Noveller: Glacial Glow (Weird Forest/Saffron Recordings)


Sarah Lipstate: Noveller.

Balam Acab: Wander/Wonder (Tri Angle)

Iceage: New Brigade (What’s Your Rupture)

When Saints Go Machine: Konkylie (!K7)

Beirut: The Rip Tide (Pompeii/Ba Da Bing)

Twin Sister: In Heaven (Domino)

Falty DL: You Stand Uncertain (Planet Mu)

Cliffie Swan: Memories Come True (Drag City)

Anna Calvi: Anna Calvi (Domino)

Maria Minerva: Cabaret Cixous (Not Not Fun)


Maria Minerva.

Isidore Ducasse: Isidore Ducasse (Blackest Rainbow)

Mirror to Mirror: Here You Leave Today (Cylindrical Habitat Modules)

Holy Other: With U (Tri Angle)

Africa Hitech: 93 Million Miles (Warp)

Shabazz Palaces: Black Up (Sub Pop)

Anti-G: Presents “Kentje’sz Beatsz” (Planet Mu)

Battles: Gloss Drop (Warp)

Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador)

Julianna Barwick & Ikue Mori: FRKWYS Vol.6 (RVNG International)

Jenny Hval: Viscera (Rune Grammofon)


Jenny Hval.

Kode 9 & the Spaceape: Black Sun (Hyperdub)

Deerhoof: Deerhoof vs. Evil (Polyvinyl)

Vivian Girls: Share the Joy (Polyvinyl)

Egyptrixx: Bible Eyes (Night Slugs)

Andy Stott: Passed Me By and We Stayed Together (Modern Love)

Weyes Blood & The Dark Juices: The Outside Room (Not Not Fun)

Rainbow Arabia: Boys and Diamonds (Kompakt)

John Vanderslice: White Wilderness (Dead Oceans)

Kangding Ray: OR (Raster-Noton)

Julianna Barwick: The Magic Place (Asthmatic Kitty)


Julianna Barwick.

Helado Negro: Canta Lechuza (Asthmatic Kitty)

Circuit des Yeux: Portrait (De Stijl)

Akron Family: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT (Dead Oceans)

Rene Hell: The Terminal Symphony (Type)

Charles-Eric Charrier: Silver (Experimedia)

Oneohtrix Point Never: Replica (Mexican Summer)

Zola Jesus: Conatus (Sacred Bones)

Deaf Center: Owl Splinters (Type)

Sandro Perri: Impossible Spaces (Constellation)

Laurel Halo: Hour Logic (Hippos In Tanks)


Laurel Halo.

Sons & Daughters: Mirror Mirror (Domino)

The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond this World (History Always Favors the Winners)

Comet Gain: Howl of the Lonely Crowd (What’s Your Rupture)

Blood Orange: Coastal Grooves (Domino)

Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Wolfroy Goes to Town (Drag City)

I think that’s 71 records. Obviously, it was another great year for music. But I know I’ve missed a lot of outstanding albums. My list is made mostly of independent rock, pop, and electronic music because that’s what I listen to most. What did I miss? What were your favorite records of 2011?

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COMMENTS
Stephen Mejias's picture

Excellent list. I'll have to check out that Peter Evans record. I've also been meaning to pick up the Hecker album; I've read such great reviews.

I think the Bee Mask record is Elegy for Beach Friday on Spectrum Spools, an offshoot of Editions Mego and another label that seems to consistently release outstanding stuff.

himynameisjuan's picture

This was more of a year of discovering old music, however new releases that I had in heavy rotation were:

Naive Thieves - Le Sheik Rhat - EP

honeyhoney - Billy Jack

The Cave Singers - No Witch

Vanaprasta - Healthy Geometry

Anywho, those are my picks that have yet to be listed.. I left relevant links if you guys want to check them out.

Lastly, 2011 was the year I found out about Stereophile, and I have found great new and classic music and hope 2012 brings more good picks.

Regards.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Lastly, 2011 was the year I found out about Stereophile, and I have found great new and classic music and hope 2012 brings more good picks.

Awesome!

oscar nr's picture

The Moonlight Butterfly

 

Another excellent record. I love Sam Prekop voice.

 

Enjoy!

Soothsayerman's picture

I hardly ever buy brand new music because it just takes me a while to discover it so I'm always behind the curve.  But some that interested me were...

- David Lynch - Crazy Clown Time

- Jame Blake - James Blake

- Steve Reid - Live at Southbank

- Yo Yo Ma - Goat Rodeo Sessions

- Glenn Gould - Goldberg Variations, Zenph Re-performance 96/24 at HD Tracks

Too much to keep up with
 

cgreen416's picture

These lists are giving me lots to listen to. Here is what I have for now, who knows maybe with some of these ideas I may have some last minute replacements before the year is through:

In order.

  1. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
  2. Black Keys – El Camino
  3. Wilco – The Whole Love
  4. My Morning Jacket - Circuitual
  5. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
  6. City and Colour – Little Hell
  7. The Civil Wars – Barton Hallow
  8. Brandi Carlile – Live at Benaroya Hall
  9. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears – Scandalous
  10. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart

 Honorable Mentions

Admiral Fallow – Boots Met My Face (issued in 2010 in the UK not yet released on this side of the pond and thus misses official recognition in the 2011 list)

Arkells – Michigan Left

We Were Promised Jetpacks – In the Pit of the Stomach

Le Butcherettes – Sin Sin Sin

The Ettes – Wicked Will

Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams

jeffca's picture

Mejias,

Your penchant for lame ambient/house music bands and lame singers that use DAW's and soft synths truly flabbergasts me. I doubt that any one of these so-called artists could survive on stage without sequencers and a TC Electronic VoiceLive processor... and, even then, that's still in doubt.

After sampling every band and album you listed, I've come to the conclusion that your top 15 sucks and so do you.

Just as a point of reference, this last Saturday, my company had their X-mas bash and the main performer was Jose Feliciano. Clair Bros. did the sound and, holy crap, can that little old blind latino rip on guitar and his vocals haven't lost very much luster either (given that he's pushing 70, that's pretty amazing).

So, Mejias, do you ever go to see real artists play real music or do you hang out in your pad and self-flagilate to ambient-techno? I'm betting on the latter.

Please, just resign. You're an embarrasment to yourself and the publication and, apparently, are an ignoramous when it comes to music. Stereophile should can your ass just for being a musical cretan and an imbecile.

Most sincerely,

jeff

vils's picture

So happy to see such names as Leyland Kirby, Alva Noto, Deaf Center and Thundercat featured on your list, and in the pages of Stereophile! Leyland Kirby's records in particular have captured my imagination like no other this year. His 'Intrigue & Stuff' series is completely enthralling.

I didn't take to James Blake whatsoever, and I grew tired of the Radiohead record pretty quickly, but most others on your list did garner at least some attention from me throughout the year.

I would also like to recommend a few other releases that really impressed me this year:

  • Pinch & Shackleton: Pinch & Shackleton
  • Jon Mueller: Alphabet of Movements
  • Burnt Friedman & Jaki Libezeit: Secret Rhythms 4
  • The Necks: Mindset
  • Byetone: SyMeta
  • Surgeon: Breaking the Frame
  • Kammerflimmer Kollektief: Teufelskamin
  • Julia Hülsmann Trio: Imprint

Thanks again for publishing your list, there are some records I will definitely want to check out!

Best,

Vils

jonh's picture

great - always a point to throw the cat amongst the pidgeons. I personally love them as they give me a starting point to go further and discover something new - rattle the embers harder is all I say.

R Browne's picture

Some personal favorites from 2011:

A Winged Victory For The Sullen - A Winged Victory For The Sullen

Nicholas Szczepanik - Please Stop Loving Me

Antonymes - The License To Interpret Dreams

Marconi Union - Beautifully Falling Apart (Ambient Transmissions Vol. 1)

Harold Budd – In The Mist

Robin Guthrie & Harold Budd - Bordeaux

Nils Frahm - Felt

Dakota Suite & Emanuele Errante - The North Green Down

Emanuele Errante - Time Elapsing Handheld

Hauschka - Salon Des Amateurs

Robert Haigh - Strange And Secret Things

Jóhann Jóhannsson - The Miners' Hymns

Colin Vallon Trio – Rruga

Wolfert Brederode Quartet - Post Scriptum

Enrico Rava Quintet - Tribe

P.S. Just got Leyland Kirby's Eager To Tear Apart The Stars. Excellent recommendation. Thanks.

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