2011: Otis Hart
Dave Jones, a.k.a. Zed Bias, personifies Simon Reynolds’ “hardcore continuum” theory explaining the near constant evolution of British dance music. Zed Bias was front and center during the 2-step garage craze in 2000 when his “Neighbourhood” climbed the charts. Now, 11 years later, he’s in the thick of what we’ve decided to call U.K. bass with Biasonic Hotsauce and his recent Swamp81 EP Stubborn Phase. The former’s high points are some of the most jaw-dropping basslines of the year, especially when paired with ragga vocalists Serocee and Roscoe Trim, and more than compensate for the album’s cheesier house moments.
The warmest dance record I heard this year. Panorama Bar’s Steffie Doms is a deep house connoisseur who knows how to stretch a song out. The subtlety on display here is incredible, the way each element of the mix continues to morph ever so slightly, like a lava lamp at 125 beats per minute.
Incessant. Slow. Subwoofers. Released in May, this is when I realized there might actually be a scene of twisted Brits making deep, dark slo-mo jams. Sure enough, Andy Stott wrote these tunes after hanging out with Demdike Stare’s Miles Whittaker. Pass it on, Andy.
Ryoji Ikeda and Carsten Nicolai once again find the sweet spot between circuitry, syncopation and sensory overload. So fresh and so sterile.
Melbourne’s Eddy Current Suppression Ring looks to have created a garage rock dynasty down under. Royal Headache is one of three gritty bands from Australia to appear on Dusted year-end lists this month, the others being Total Control and Kitchen’s Floor. I went with the Headache because of the band’s singer, Shogun, who sounds like a star in the making. That, and these 2-minute ditties stand up to any Strokes song post-Is This It.
Urban Outfitters, Converse and Mountain Dew continued to stand up indie rock starfuckers in 2011. I’ve convinced myself this is a positive in the long run: The kids who fall for that kind of shit are lost causes anyway, and the ones offended by crass consumerism swing even more to the left and make records like Leave Home. A crusty, cacophonous and catchy “fuck you.”
The Sublime Frequencies label is a favorite here at Dusted because of Alan Bishop and Hisham Mayet’s determination to document music from foreign lands that might otherwise be deemed unpalatable to American ears. It’s a complicated relationship, to say the least, but we tend to romanticize the idea of an autonomous culture operating with total disregard for Western acceptance. (Woody Allen had the same relationship with women.) I bring up this ethnographic quandary because Telebossa and their wonderful debut album fly in the (white) face of such notions. I mean, honest-to-god bossa nova by two avant-garde Berlin artists? Obviously Brazilian native Chico Mello’s Portuguese helps, but Nicholas Bussmann is equally beguiling on the cello. Telebossa is a compelling reminder that authenticity is for suckers.
What do you look for in hip hop? Whatever your answer, 2011 didn’t leave you hanging. Personally, I’m not really into haterbait and I get my hypnagogic fix through more electronic means. But I do love distinct characters, and STS sounds like no one else I heard this year. He’s a fun-loving playboy without an axe to grind, let alone a pitchfork. I count at least seven legit hits on The Illustrious and at least as many laugh-out-loud moments. Plus, every time Slim yelps his catchphrase “Gold!” (Gentlemen Of Leisure and Development), I think of the greatest local newcast story of all time.
“Solo Horn Compositions Written And Performed By Colin Stetson. Recorded With No Overdubs Or Looping, Using 24 Different Mic Positions.” The method gave Judges a quirky backstory, but we wouldn’t be talking about it if these songs didn’t feel like the voice of God. A fell beast one moment, a faun the next, Stetson’s baritone saxophone might have been the most distinct sound of 2011. Multiphonics and circular breathing aren’t supposed to be this hip.
The magical voice behind folk collective Espers released her first solo album of (mostly) originals and proved that she’s more than just a master interpreter. These two lines from “Share” sum up why I love Meg Baird: “Oh, we just can’t keep up with you / What made you think we wanted to?” Someday, quiet kids with acoustic guitars will be covering these songs.
Prior to 2011, this Sparklehorse and Dead Texan collaborator was known more for her visual art than her music. That is no longer the case. No. 1 is essentially the best Stars of the Lid album since The Tired Sounds of…. Vantzou spent three years fine-tuning these compositions before watching a seven-piece orchestra bring them to life during two days in San Francisco. To think someone heretofore considered a non-musician made this refined thing of beauty is, in a word, mind-blowing.
One deep pocket. The skateboarding pioneer’s seventh album is packed front to back with indefatigable grooves that range from spaghetti western to Latin to dub to cool jazz, all performed live and without the aid of electronic accoutrements. Guerrero’s closest contemporaries these days is the Daptone / Truth + Soul funk scene, but where they’re grounded in the blues, Lifeboats and Follies isn’t concerned with heartache and pain in the slightest. Maybe that’s why some folks have written off Guerrero’s output as background music. Don’t make the same mistake. Feel-good record of the year.
For paranoid worrywarts, there isn’t anything quite as terrifying as Alzheimer’s. Unpreventable, incurable and easily confused with time’s natural assault on the aged, the disease affects more than 5 million Americans. The good news for people like me (and presumably you) is that music jogs the malfunctioning mind; studies have shown that hearing an old favorite can trigger memories associated with the song. Ambient composer Leyland James Kirby has dwelled on this connection for the past few years, imagining what it must be like to recognize a melody and not your children. This collage of dusty ballroom dance 78s is as poignant as it is frightening.
It’s hard to believe that Tim Hecker has been making post-apocalyptic drone for just 10 years. While listening to Ravedeath, 1972, I can imagine the Montreal producer chumming it up with La Monte Young, Angus MacLise and Tony Conrad. The manner in which he balances beauty and violence is unmatched (at least until Godspeed You Black Emperor’s next album).
Dub played a HUGE role in 2011. There was the narcotic production behind much of America’s hip hop renaissance, the bottomless beats of Dark Britannia, and the VHS vibe of retro synth fetishists. But no one made an hour disappear quite like Berlin’s Scott Monteith, a.k.a. Deadbeat. Drawn and Quartered‘s steady stagger toward infinity shortened more than a couple bus trips for me this year.
One of the slyest songwriters of my lifetime steps back from the sap-fueled success of Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle and makes a record only a Smog fan could love. Apocalypse is Callahan’s Astral Weeks in the way his songs unfurl slowly with no clear direction, as if this silver fox is just riding for the feeling. By far the best “Bill Callahan” album.
My favorite rock album of the year. Atlanta’s Gold-Bears sound like an American version of The Wedding Present during this ultra-tight romp through 11 songs in 33 minutes. Lead singer and songwriter Jeremy Underwood isn’t nearly as cool as David Gedge, but his nerdy exuberance is part of the reason this record works so well. Each and every one of the songs on Are You Falling In Love? contains at least one anthemic moment, usually dressed to the nines in jangling guitars and distortion. I ♥ THESE ‘90s.
“Buy our zine and we’ll throw in the techno album of the year.” That’s not how the sales pitch went, but it would have been accurate. First, the reason for the confusing triplicate above: Sandwell District is a publication, a label, a group and an album, each the collective vision of Berlin’s David Sumner (a.k.a. Function), Los Angeles’s Juan Mendez (Silent Servant) and England’s Karl O’Connor (Regis) and Peter Sutton (Female). The album’s dark center and lofty BPMs have been compared to vintage Basic Channel, which is just about the ultimate compliment in this business. Seconded.
Contrary to what Internet culture might have you believe, some of us don’t worship the past. Eighties synths and Instagrams are persuasive palliatives for the disenchanted, and it’s totally understandable to long for simpler times. Me, I pine for the future. And not in an iPad 10 sort of way. I’ve been riding subways and writing rent checks for the past nine years. A day rarely passes without me asking myself “is this all worth it?” Part of me just wants to fast-forward through this transient period to someplace I can legitimately call home.
I get the feeling Jon Hopkins is in a similar spot. On Diamond Mine, the thirtysomething producer worked with Scottish songwriter Kenny Anderson (a.k.a. King Creosote) to capture the essence of Fife, where Anderson lives in a small town eight hours north of Hopkins’ flat in London. Hopkins recorded conversations at the local coffee hour, the church parking lot, and so on, then weaved the chatter in and out of some of Anderson’s finest songs. It’s quite simply the most affecting album of 2011.
In the wake of the duo’s Mercury Prize nomination, it was said more than once that Hopkins wanted Diamond Mine to serve as a love letter to Fife. But it’s bigger than that. This album is a tribute to what lies ahead, once we’re ready to hit “stop.”
By Otis Hart