It’s December, it’s sodding cold and it’s that time when music hacks all over the world sharpen their pencils and start penning their end of year lists.
As an ex-wannabe-music-hack, music-lover, and addicted-list-maker, I too like making end of the year lists. If for no other reason than it reminds me the following year how much my tastes have changed.
I do not believe that 2011 has been a very good year for music. I’ve been making end of year lists, in some form or other, for the past five or six years. Typically, I have had an easier time choosing my favourite albums of the year. This was the first year that choosing 20 albums I liked would have been a nearly impossible task. The digital download-era of music naturally gravitates towards individual tracks and as a result it’s hard to find an album that is as good when it finishes as when it starts.
That said, this year hasn’t been great for singles either. Compared to 2010, many of the following songs don’t compare.
I’ve compiled a Spotify playlist for the end of year list, which you can listen to here, if you so wish. A few of the tracks were missing from Spotify, which is a massive pain – but I couldn’t be bothered pasting YouTube videos instead – so hit pause and hum the song that’s missing if you like.
Without further ado….
My Top 20 Tracks of 2011
20 | Quilt – Utopian Canyon (Mexican Summer)
2010 was a great year for the New York-based Mexican Summer label, and while this year has been a little slower, the Quilt album really is beautiful. Listening to Anna Fox Roichinski’s vocals on Utopian Canyon, you recognise her background in classical choral singing. Yet they sound just as home on this summery, folky haze as they would in a Cathedral chamber.
19 | Kurt Vile – Runner Ups (Matador)
2011 has not, for me at least, been a great year for long-players. Yet the Kurt Vile record really was a great one. He released a few records before this one, which I’d never heard about, but this one grabbed me straight away. A few years ago – before I listened to pop, house or hiphop – this would have almost certainly been amongst the top five. Brilliant lyrics throughout, though certainly not the most heartbreaking on the album.
18 | Swod – Sans Peau (City Centre Offices)
‘Pop-‘ or ‘Modern-‘ classical has some bloody awful connotations (not to mention oxymoronic). Typically, it’s the sort of stuff you’ll find in the background on a BBC advert, with dancers float along through fields, or a documentary showing a polar ice cap melting on highly-sped up film. Yet ‘Drei’ is vastly different and you could still call it ‘modern.classical.’ At times the album flirts with vast, expanding movements and then at others – as with Sans Peau – the piano loops while sound effects and guitar riffs permeate the song to provide percussion.
17 | Panda Bear – Surfers Hymn (Paw Tracks)
Tomboy was the best psych/indie album since Merriweather Post Pavilion, and this was its best track. Enough said.
16 | Sepalcure – Pencil Pimp (Hotflush)
When I heard this record I thought it came from Bristol. Future garage hasn’t quite taken off in the way that it could have done, but personally I think this is a good thing. This year has seen a number of great releases that hovered low enough under the radar, that pop-imitation hasn’t ruined them yet. The Sepalcure album could change this though, the sparse landscapes, four-on-the-floor, then hypnotic synths and pitched vocal samples, form the typical format for this genre, but there’s something that definitely separates it from anything else. The surprise this morning? To learn they’re from New York.
15 | Amy Winehouse – Valerie (’68 Version) (Lioness Records)
I was always an Amy Winehouse fan, but following her death this year I paid her more attention. Releasing albums posthumously has to be done delicately. Unfortunately Lioness: Hidden Treasures, doesn’t quite have the delicacy that many fans would appreciate. In what must be the first time I’ve ever agreed with Alexis Petridis, this album shows how much of a perfectionist Amy was. So much of the album shouldn’t have seen the light of day, but this version of Valerie (and a few other tracks) make it worthwhile for a listen. It’s a cross between the original Zutons version, the Winehouse acoustic and the Ronson edit all rolled into one.
14 | Apparat – Ash/Black Veil (Mute Records)
I first heard Apparat, with Ellen Allien on 2006’s Orchestra of Bubbles. That was my first introduction to techno – albeit three years before I properly engulfed myself in the genre. On first impressions, it would be hard to recognise the Apparat sound of Devil’s Walk within any of the Orchestra of Bubbles tracks. Devil’s Walk is downtempo, ambient, and it uses many analogue instruments. The way Apparat layers and structures the songs, however, should feel at home. The guitar-strummed break in Ash/Black Veil and the way the vocal and beat collide back in, is just as powerful as the one in Jet. Devil’s Walk works best as an album – and it’d definitely be my album of the year.
13 | Thyladomid & Adriatique – Deep In The Three (2DIY4)
I don’t think 2011 has been a great year for music, but it has been a fantastic year for deep house. Over summer, Cuplrit and Hot Natured had residencies at the Rooftop Bar in LA. The videos that emerged each week showed sunkissed daytime dancing, LA skyscrapers forming a backdrop, and tracks like this one keeping everyone bobbing along whilst drinking champagne. My electronic music tastes changed dramatically this year, out with the sparse, downbeat, glitchy minimal techno, and in with the warm, melodic, R’n’B-influenced house. Deep In The Three samples Feist, which makes this worth the entry in its own right.
12 | Rebecca Black – Friday (Ark Music Factory)
“How high are you going to put Rebecca Black?” asked a friend, after I told him about this list. And what a tough position it is to make. Having not listened to the song for a while, I thought that perhaps I had loved this song for all of the wrong reasons. Yet I put it back on today and everything I wrote about it back when it was released is still true. It’s catchy, it’s euphoric, it’s brilliant pop, and I don’t care what anyone else says. I don’t want this weekend to end. For those that have forgotten my adulation, click me, click me, click me.
11 | JAY Z & Kanye West – Murder To Excellence (Roc-A-Fella)
Watch the Throne was terribly disappointing. While Pitchfork gave it the elusive Best new Music badge of honour, I failed to get excited by it. I realise we’ve hit the point where anything Jay or Ye do is going to be popular, but well-received in the press as well – especially when it sounds this lacklustre? That said, Murder To Excellence is one of the best songs either of them have ever done and really stood out by a mile on the album.
10 | Example – Stay Awake (Ministry of Sound)
Example is a prime target for those people who dislike artists because they ‘sell out.’ To be honest, if you can make a shitload of money making a record that people like dancing to, then who cares? The new album isn’t great, but there’s a few great tracks on there and Stay Awake is a corker. It’s particularly noteworthy because it also features the worst lyric of the year – “we get high on the opposite of Nytol.” The only saving grace of that line is that Elliot Gleave still pronounces the ‘t.’ You can take the kid out of Fulham….
09 | Air France – It Feels Good To Be Around You (Internet-only)
Air France could have been one of the many forgotten bands of the 2000s, yet this track reminded us that they’ve still got it. Produced by Star Slinger, who is one of this year’s best new producers, ‘It Feels Good To be Around You’ samples Jamie XX and reminds us that Swedish Balearic pop is definitely not dead. On the contrary, it’s quite joyously alive.
08 | Bon Iver – Perth (Jagjaguwar)
I wasn’t too keen on the new Bon Iver album when it was released. ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ is my most listened to album of all time (counting by Last.Fm, rather than hyperbole) and it was always going to be difficult to match. A lot has changed since that record, Justin Vernon has changed a lot as well. His musical collaborations over the past few years have stretched from post-rock to hip-hop, and the production on this record is all the better for it. Perth is like the alt-pop, guitar-driven equivalent of LCD Soundsystem’s Dance Yrself Clean. From near-silence to explosive guitar and back again in four minutes. Perfect.
07 | Florence and the Machine – Shake It Out (Island
This album showed that Florence has more than one album in her and I hope she continues to shine like this with each release. It was hard to imagine that she’d do a song as lovable or as big as Rabbit Heart, but Shake It Out smashes the Lungs’ hit single into the distant memory of 2009. Brilliant single.
06 | M83 – Midnight City (Naive)
M83 were, for me at least, the band that did a handful of good remixes in the mid-2000s. The great Bloc Party and Goldfrapp remixes, and that alright one of Placebo. This album was a surprise pleasure for me and if it hadn’t have been for Made In Chelsea, I’m sure another track would be in this position. As it is, MiC has immortalised this song forever and the already infectious synth line sounds all the better for it. Plus it’s got saxophone on it, and I’m glad producers remembered this forgotten instrument this year.
05 | Benoit & Sergio – Everybody (DFA Records)
Everybody has the biggest crossover appeal out of any deep house release of the year. There’s something instantly familiar about it. There’s something instantly lovable about it. It could be the piano-laden nu-disco sound that the track carries or it could be because of that bassline, but Everybody was the perfect choice for DFA.
04 | Pillowtalk – Soft (Life & Death Remix) (Life & Death Records)
While B&S does the greatest crossover, this Life & Death remix of Pillowtalk clenches my favourite deep house track of the year. Bittersweet, melancholic, and beautiful guitar samples that take you to a beach in Croatia, Soft is everything you want it to be.
03 | Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris – We Found Love (Def Jam Recordings)
Rated R was the greatest Rihanna moment for me. Since then, aside from one video on Loud and a collaboration with Eminem, there’s not much she’s done that I really love. We Found Love, however, changes all of that. Calvin Harris is unashamedly Calvin Harris in his production but it’s hard to care. Catchy pop at its best. Will I be listening to this in five years time? I sincerely doubt it, but for now it’s brilliant.
02 | Katy Perry – Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) (Capitol)
Considering I fell in love with this song last year, it feels like a cop-out to include it now. And I almost didn’t but then as Rebecca Black crept into my top 20, I suddenly remembered her appearance in the greatest music video of the year. Last Friday Night is my favourite Katy Perry track and like with my love for M83, it very smoothly reintroduces the sax into pop music.
01 | Drake – Lord Knows (Young Money)
Where Thank Me Later was average-to-good R’n’B, Take Care really stands up all tall. The productions throughout are all fantastic, no matter what mode he’s in at the time, yet Lord Knows with Rick Ross is like nothing else. Lord Knows is great for many reasons. First, it’s my favourite track Drake has ever done, second, it’s my favourite track Rick Ross has done since his Kanye collab last year and third, because it’s my favourite Just Blaze production since ‘Oh Boy’, and that one’s been a longtime coming. When Thank Me Later was released, I never thought I’d hear a track like this from Drake, which makes it all the better.
Listen on Spotify here (http://open.spotify.com/user/joshkl/playlist/0EqJ98tu8he3AA2FCEY1Cb)