And so we enter the final furlong. Get yourself comfortable, it’s a long ride.
#20 Ga’an – Arms They Speak
Magma-like drone-prog, hypnotic drums and organs, very promising stuff.
#19 Azealia Banks – 212
Every month or so a music video by a previously unknown artist goes viral. Sometimes it’s mainly about the visuals, and the song itself is fairly incidental. Some inspire brief fevered debate and are then quickly forgotten. Some are just enough of a novelty to get noticed, due to being strange or offensive. It’s quite telling that nobody seems to have accused Azealia Banks of the last of these despite the incredible rudeness of the song. Even after a few months of watching this video it still seems fresh and exciting – the birth of a brilliant raw talent. She’s got a lot of expectations to live up to.
#18 Feed Me – Strange Behaviour
Melancholy commercial-sounding dubstep. It’s so hard to put this singer, these words, these sounds, these beats together and make it work so well. This really shouldn’t work. Why does it work?
#17 Dillon Francis & Diplo feat. Maluca – Que Que
The “moombahton banger.” I’m still not sure what the defining characteristics of moombahton are. There seems to be a single production technique (take reggaeton records and slow them down a house BPM, then add extra production), but the results are all very different. This song (especially with the video) is fairly disorientating.
#16 Lindstrøm – De Javu
Bubbling, whirling, stuttering death-disco. If I had a club I’d play this last thing every night.
#15 The Caretaker – Camaraderie at Arms Length
Is it fair to credit this to The Caretaker? Is this from 2011 or 1925? Not sure on either count. Certainly he’s done some outstanding curation and production here. Absolutely magical.
#14 High Contrast – The First Note Is Silent (feat Tiesto & Underworld)
Do these three things go together? Yes, apparently they do. It’s the little backwards string sample at the end of the chorus that gets me. How can something so strange still sound so commercial? I was sure this was going to be a massive hit, then it limped into the charts in the mid 50s. Poor show, Britain.
#13 Reso – War Machine
Heavy, complex, intense drumstep. Not really cool enough to win any prizes, but nothing beats listening to this when you’re cycling around Beijing.
#12 Michael Kiwanuka – Tell Me a Tale
Very hard to believe this is from 2011 – the kind of soulful, lovingly orchestrated performance you never seem to hear these days. In a sense it feels wrong to just look backwards, but when there’s a song and a voice like this involved I don’t care…. and what a voice!
#11 Ga’an – Servant Eye
More drone-prog. Found this at the Altered Zones blog where it’s available for free download – they say
“Ga’an strikes us immediately with its immense, visceral energy, its totalizing vision and sound. For a “prog” record, however, it reveals a strong minimalist ethic, and very little in the way of virtuosity or unnecessary fanfare. Like the operatic prog-rockers Magma, Ga’an know how to be ambitious without falling back on the self-indulgence of the elongated instrumental solo. Instead of distracting digressions or dead-ends, they channel their energy into dynamics, levels, and texture. In standout passages “I of Infinite Forms Pt. II” and “Vultures of the Horn,” it takes only the most nuanced of key changes— like the sly introduction of a keyboard line over some stumbling drums— to shift the sound from a haunting death march to a wash of spaced-out textures. In this, Ga’an are similar to Isis, using subtle shifts in dynamics to pummeling and entrancing effect.”
Love the drumming on this one!
#10 Feed Me – Pink Lady
Nasty electro-dubstep with a magnificently contorted bassline. There’s been a lot of silly talk this year about “brostep,” much of which seems to be of the “I don’t like this music because [people I don’t like] listen to it” – always a pretty suspicious argument. I’d rather listen to Skrillex than James Blake, sorry if that offends anyone.
#9 Clock Opera – Lesson No. 7
What’s this, a proper indie rock band in the top ten? And with a singer whose voice I don’t really like? Surely some mistake!
#8 DJ Fresh – Louder (ft. Sian Evans) (Flux Pavillion and Doctor P Remix)
A remix of the first ever drum & bass number one (just ok, and not really drum & bass for the most part) rips it up and starts again. No more to say about this really, just watch the video.
#7 Washed Out – Eyes Be Closed
It’s strange listening to such a summer song in the depths of winter, but you can always just dream about next year.
#6 Future Islands – Before The Bridge
At first it was hard to take Samuel Herring’s voice seriously. I still suspect he’s a character from The Mighty Boosh. But this song transcends its ridiculousness – they take it so seriously that I can’t help but belive them. I suspect that as the 2012 goes by I’ll get more and more into this band.
#5 Nero – Angst
1867 – Mussorgsky writes ‘Night On Bald Mountain’
1886 – Rimsky-Korsakov arranges a new “fantasy for orchestra” version
1940 – Stokowski creates a new arrangement based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s which becomes well-known after it features in the Disney film ‘Fantasia’.
1977 – David Shire makes a disco version for the film ‘Saturday Night Fever’ – ‘Night on Disco Mountain’
2007 – French electro duo Justice sample ‘Night on Disco Mountain’ for a track called ‘Stress’
2011 – Stadium dubstep act Nero remix ‘Stress’, retitle it ‘Angst’ and hide it away on the bonus disc on their number one album. It’s the nastiest, darkest, heaviest dubstep track of the year. Chilling. Magnificent.
#4 Food Pyramid – E-Harmony
This was recorded in 2009, but only released at the time on an extremely obscure limited edition cassette. 2011 saw it given the proper CD release it deserves. Shimmering, psychadelic krautrock – builds and builds and builds and builds….
#3 Kelpe – Same New Era
Every sound here twists an stutters in perfect chaos. No matter how many times I listen to it, the moment two minutes into this track when it all kicks in still has some strange magical power.
#2 John Maus – Believer
Speaking of magical powers, what strange wizardry has John Maus happened upon here? There’s noting organic about this song, but it feels utterly alive. Placed near the end of “We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves, it’s the moment when a patchy album somehow explodes into messy perfection. Ecstatic.
#1 Toro Y Moi – Still Sound
So, finally we reach number one, and it’s a personal choice, as perhaps it had to be. In February 2011 my son was born, one week late. He was over four kilos, and my wife is quite petite, so we were quite worried about the birth. Just before delivery we had a huge scare when the baby’s heart started slowing down as he couldn’t get enough oxygen, and an emergency caesarean had to be performed. And then everything suddenly went from panic to joy – both the baby and my wife were absolutely fine. The next few days I took the local bus backwards and forwards between the house and the hospital, and listened to Toro Y Moi’s “Underneath The Pine”. It was the one part of the day I had nothing else to do, so I’d just close my eyes and feel happy. Outside a barren winter had finished and a blanket of fresh snow lay on the ground. The sky was clear and blue.
Listening later in the year I had to admit the album was a little patchy. Large parts of the second half are little more than unfocused jazzy noodling. But this song will always remind me of those days. If it didn’t have these connections then I suspect it would still be up here in the top ten.
Tomorrow I’m back with a few extra awards and comments about the year in general. Happy New Year everyone!