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2011: Jon Dempsey

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Our Nova Scotian correspondent enjoyed records that slowly and begrudgingly revealed themselves in 2011.

2011: Jon Dempsey

  • Press play to hear some of Jon’s favorite tracks of 2011 while you read:

  • I remember a few bike rides this summer that, while listening to some of these titles, made me reflect on what had been up to then a great year for music. The fall yielded even more decent records, and of course, there are always a few that slip by in those early winter months. Alas, my bicycle now sits in the hallway of my apartment as a reminder of another summer gone.

    Most of my preferred records here lean toward the textural, the hypnagogic, the ambient or the producer type (such was the zeitgeist this year, it appears). Here’s a few from Twenty Eleven that I found, and still find, quite enjoyable.

    Shabazz Palaces

    Black Up
    (Sub Pop)

    In light of the garbage that OFWGKTA put out in 2011, this record seemed even more impressive for marginalized, “out there” hip hop — almost revelatory. In the artsy-fartsy canon of hip hop, Black Up belongs next to Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, Mos Def’s The Ecstatic and MF Doom’s best moments. The lyricism is bonkers: weeded stream-of-conscious social critiques and romanticism fill up Ishmael Butler’s rhyme book. There are even braggadocios, 21st century battle raps (“Yeah You”).


    Mind Bokeh

    Bibio is an odd choice for this list. Mind Bokeh didn’t do well critically, and it isn’t really going to blow your hair back (though if it did, it would do so softly, and gingerly). Yet, I kept going back for more. Mind Bokeh isn’t as great as personal fav Ambivalence Avenue, but it had everything I was looking for: Warp IDM pedigree, incredible guitar work, pop hooks, inventive instrumentation (he used a filing cabinet drawer for percussion sounds, apparently), ambient tape loops, brave singing, loose Dilla/Madlib swing, and yes, even some cheese.

    Wagon Christ

    (Ninja Tune)

    The drums. The swing. The funk. Try to point out another record as funky and fun as this. More importantly, point out another producer as stuck in their own world as Luke Vibert: Toomorrow sounds like it was made in 1998, so basically, it sounds like music I had on my Discman in junior high. Besides the immediate nostalgia, I found redeeming qualities in the quirky sample choices, incredible drum programming (that swing, it can’t be topped), and almost child-like amusement, from beginning to end. I really don’t think Vibert cares about any of the current trends in bass music; he seems perfectly content to ignore anything happening outside of the four walls of his studio — which is actually refreshing given the state of the Internet. This is purist, time-warped funk for those who remember the heyday of Ninja Tune.

    Tape Loop Orchestra

    Maybe I Told A Small Lie
    (Tape Loop Orchestra)

    I don’t own a copy of this — I downloaded the mp3s and I feel a bit guilty about it. But it would have been difficult to track down since there were only 200 copies pressed. This is a project of Andrew Hargreaves (one half of The Boats) and it’s basically a 45-minute ambient track, using (you guessed it) tape loops. With that comes a nice nostalgic hiss and familiar analogue warmth, providing a sense of momentum (though, this is slow, slow stuff) as the tape rounds the spools. There are different sections of strings, haunting drone, warped loops and distortion. It’s melancholy and inward looking, and it’s one of the more jarring ambient pieces I’ve heard in a while. Maybe I Told A Small Lie hasn’t left my iPod since its release back in August.

    Sandro Perri

    Impossible Spaces

    I reviewed this record for Dusted here. I really, really like it.

    Leyland Kirby

    Intrigue & Stuff (Vol. 1-3)
    (History Always Favors The Winners)

    When I listen to these EPs, it’s difficult to concentrate. There’s something about Kirby’s music, not unlike Tim Hecker’s, that realigns gravity, pushing and pulling me off-center while it plays. None of the other titles in my list play like this, and very few records from 2011 come close the sonic curiosity found on each Intrique & Stuff volume. They’re dark, melancholy, menacing and otherworldly compositions imparted by lots of sound-hack, in-the-box processing. This is wild stuff that is pretty hard to describe, and ultimately, pretty unforgettable too.


    Common Era

    What a huge stylistic shift, from October Language. In 2006, they seemed to fit quite nicely on Kranky next to ambient acts like Tim Hecker and Stars of the Lid. Evidently they became bored with that aesthetic and began writing heavily distorted, textural pop songs dipped in post-punk and shoegaze melancholy. Based in New Orleans, Michael Jones and Turk Dietrich embrace both Southern gothic notions (these songs are thick and hazy and gloomy) and moody Manchester — Martin Hannett’s digitally delayed snare is abound, while affected chords and detached vocals paint the melodies in shades of grey. Those vacillating melodies are difficult, too, often buried (similar to Tim Hecker’s scoring) incredibly deep beneath murk and muck — yet they’re engineered to be heard clearly. It’s remarkable how coherent this assemblage of sounds and references ends up being. Jones and Dietrich are simply two great producers.

    Junior Boys

    It’s All True

    I really, really, really like this record. Read my review of it here.

    Peaking Lights

    (Not Not Fun)

    One of the great things about his record is that it was made with so much custom gear. Aaron Coyes likes to bend dem circuits, and for all the soldering fumes he’s likely inhaled, he can still get some incredible sounds out of all those thrift store gems. Indra Dunis compliments his lush, dub-tinged grooves with her incredibly effortless, floating, echo-y vocals: The whole package is absolutely captivating, and unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. All of the pretty melodies and spaced-out instrumental passages are easy to get lost in — for lo-fi hypnagogic pop, it’s hard to beat this druggy batch of tracks.

    Tim Hecker

    Ravedeath, 1972

    This guy. Everything he releases is so fucking good. I have zero qualms with about 90 percent of his work; needless to say, I am biased putting him in here at No. 1. But it’s hard for me to think of any "new" artist in the last five years who has made such an impression on me. Still, Ravedeath is an extraordinarily accomplished piece of music with redeeming traits ad infinitum, unique and paradoxical in its demand/ease. In this music there is: violence, resolve, restraint, focus, caprice, widescreen gaze, grayscale, color, death, life, loss and ultimately rebirth. His attack on music, figuratively and literally, rages on via a signature sound that is unmistakable. Ravedeath is probably his best work to date.

    Noteworthy Titles from 2011:

    Andy StottWe Stay Together and Passed Me By (Modern Love)
    Sandwell District - Feed-Forward (Sandwell District)
    FaltyDLAtlantis (Ninja Tune)
    Hype Williams - One Nation (Hippos In Tanks)
    Omar-S - It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do It (FXHE)
    Virgo FourResurrection (Rush Hour)
    J Rocc - Some Cold Rock Stuf (Stones Throw)
    Tim Hecker - Dropped Pianos (Kranky)
    Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place (Asthmatic Kitty)
    Puro Instinct - Headbangers in Ecstasy (Mexican Summer)
    Rustie - Glass Swords (Warp)
    Tycho - Dive (Ghostly International)
    Ezekiel Konig - Folding In On Itself (Type)
    Clams Casino - Instrumental Mixtape (self-released)
    Biosphere - N-Plants (Touch)
    Egyptrixx - Bible Eyes (Night Slugs)
    Sven Shienhammer - Altostratus Translucidus (Bine)
    Vondelpark - nyc stuff and nyc bags (R&S)
    Braids - Native Speaker (Kanine)
    The Luyas - Too Beautiful To Work (Dead Oceans)
    Fennesz - Seven Stars (Touch)
    Sleep∞Over - Forever (Hippos In Tanks)
    Mndsgn. - NoMaps (Beat CD) [self-released]
    Knxwledge - Flowrs (Beat CD) [self-released]
    Ford & Lopatin - Channel Pressure (Software)
    The Midnight Eez - The Midnight Eez (All City)
    DeepChord - HashBar Loops (Soma Records)
    Ben Frost & Daniel Bjarnason - Solaris (Bedroom Community)
    Van Dyke Parks - Arrangements, Vol. 1 (Bananastan)

    By Jon Dempsey

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