Best of 2011 – Our Picks

2011 presented us with tons of good releases, but out of the many, some will be remembered as this year’s very best. Which ones you ask? Of course, we have an opinion. In fact, we have three. All of us do.

FILIPE CRUZ

#3. Gobi Bear – Demo EP (3 November 2011)
I’m not a person that regularly listens to indie pop, it needs to have a special character or lingering emotion to fool me back into listening to an indie pop track more then once. In fact I can count the number of artists who managed to accomplish that for me with the fingers of one hand. Gobi Bear is one of them.

#2. Kaneel – Your average best friend (27 June 2011)
I’ve been long time internet friends with Kaneel, and he’s been doing his style of emotional electronica for as long as I’ve known him. Even though the little bastard forgot to greet me on his release, the fact remains that this album is one his best yet and well worth a listen to anyone with a soft ear for soulful glitchtronica.

#1. M-PeX – iPhado (1 September 2011)
M-PeX blends electronic sounds with Portuguese guitar. A mixture that might sound somewhat suspicious, but in reality makes it divine. iPhado is his latest EP and consists of tracks composed entirely with sounds recorded with iPod and iPhone sound applications. I can tell you this restriction can’t be heard on record.

SIMON HAYCOCK

#3. The Crisis Project – Scans (18 April 2011)
An emotive and loving EP demonstrating some fantastic compositional talent and technical experience. As far as a fairly conventional dance EP goes, this stood out for me, and I still play it on regular occasions. You can hear TCP have spent a lot of time tweaking this release. There is a lot of detail and clarity in the mix, and it is original enough to make its mark in the vast sea of today’s digital music.

#2. Eufoteoria – Cookies (2 December 2011)
I have pretty much not stopped listening to this EP since it arrived at the Música Vermella netlabel. The delightful scatterings of crazy synths and chord progressions, the super-effective non-clichéd granular trickery, the bright and colourful wonkiness infused into each organic break beat, the completely unconventional structures and detachment from convention whilst delivering beautiful style and technique. It all adds up to a fantastic and intriguing listen which I rate very highly. An important point in my review earlier this month was how the composer has developed so well this year. I am in urgent anticipation of a new release, and as this rarely happens when discovering netlabel artists, this is my number 2.

#1. Julien Mier & Daan Kars – Passenger (6 July 2011)
To stand head and shoulders above the rest, you have to innovate. Without a doubt, the most impressive release from this year is a fine audio/visual collaboration between these two very talented people. There is not a great deal of AV material available for free under the Creative Commons license, so to discover a piece of such quality like this is a huge privilege.
From deeply invigorating organic textures to exciting and frantic audio/visual cutting, this release has it all. Above all, the the audio and video fit together in a perfect harmony. Sometimes the addition of visuals can take away what is possible with audio, and vice versa. However Julien and Daan show how to do AV collaboration properly, and have set a high standard for future releases.

ALAN HERRICK

#3. Neil Milton: White Spring, Black Cloud (14 March 2011)
Similar to some of Milton’s early works but rich with new textures and layers. White Spring, Black Cloud takes Milton’s familiarity and competence with the elegant contemporary classical piano and cello works and merged these undertakings with delicate field recordings and sonic experimentations. This approach has elevated the this offering offering and allowed it to cross genres with great ease, spark interest in a much broader audience and further solidify Milton’s position in the world of musique concrète.

#2. Spheruleus – Forgotten Outland (25 februari 2011)
Inspired by rural Lincolnshire surroundings, the three tracks chosen for this aggregation were intended as “a short collection of deliberately loose and degraded instrument samples and field recordings”. The field recordings mixed with the blurred more traditional instrumentation of guitar, vibraphone, zither, violin and more creates a soft bed of wandering curiosities. The remarkable aspect of this recording is that it does not present as a soundscape but rather as a collection of long drawn-out melodies struggling to have their notes heard, although timeworn and buried beneath years of decay.

#1. Radio for the Daydreamers – Mother Superior and her Fields of Migraine (26 October 2011)
It is very rare that any band can cross so many genres and do so effectively and still hold true to a theme within their work. ‘Mother Superior and Her Fields of Migraine’ proves, without a doubt, that Radio for the Daydreamers can not only cross these genres but can do so effectively and elegantly and add in a few more genres than they even care to mention. Each track seems to flow together in a cinematic way allowing the listener to explore a variety of feelings and emotions…vastly different in approach, each track is unique and individual.

KEVIN LIND

#3. Various Artists – Kollektiv Artists Vol. 6 (1 October 2011)
Moscow based MusicKollektiv’s various artists compilations have always been quality collections since their inception, and it’s been great to see the Kollektiv grow like it has. I’m certainly proud to have been involved as one of the regularly invited contributors, but when I had my first listen through of the massive 2 part Volume 6, it became clear that something very special was happening here. This is an insight into experimental techno as a community, working together for a greater cause, with no motive for profit. Here it’s all about sharing ideas and pushing boundaries, and with this combination of artists you can quickly start navigating a vast network of forward thinking sound design and composition. But of course, it’s not all about trying to be cutting edge, it’s also about having fun creating, listening, reacting. These feelings come through well in these unique recordings, and for me, that is a key essence to enjoyable and provocative music.

#2. Sven Laux – Unfound Sketches (15 November 2011)
To say Sven Laux has been productive over the last few years is a severe understatement. And one of the greatest things about his work, besides the sheer quantity, is the consistency of quality and his adherence to a unique sonic aesthetic. For his release on the prolific Unfoundsound, it seems Sven has dug very VERY deep here, with delicate glitch grooves and lush soundscapes. With his busy production schedule, it’s safe to say that the netlabel scene is very fortunate to have hard working people like Sven feeding back into it without question.

#1. Strukturator feat. Dubteklab & Deeprest – Dubbassylon EP (23 February 2011)
Strukturator is an experimental techno project based in Kiev with a very distinguishable and unique style. Organic tribal percussion swirls around in the same pool with tasteful trippy glitch bleeps and atmospheres, while everything locks in thanks to deep driving bass tones and well crafted design and production. Their debut EP on Doma is a great representation of their fresh technique and also includes an impressive array of brain twisting remixes from many other artists who have also had a very good year in terms of their output.

ALEX STRETTON

#3. Buck UK – Buck UK (24 May 2011)
Soaking wet sounds of minimal beats leaning towards some house sounds. This release was the first I found from Cut Music and it certainly was not the last I checked out. Both tracks on here (the single and the remix) are pieces of tranquil beauty.

#2. Blearmoon – Town of Two Houses (30 November 2011)
The second release by Camomile label to make it into my top few. This short EP melded field recordings, subtle ambience and classical piano into a beautiful mix. Cinematic in nature and stirring, a high quality release.

#1. Julian Winter – Slow Movement (13 October 2011)
Departing from the ambience and more classical leaning works was this fantastic short release by Julian Winter. I instantly feel in love with its subtle charm and diverse array of sounds. You can find anything from beats, quiet whispering vocals and guitars, pulsating synths and clever use of field recordings. All solidly packaged in a neat 30 minutes.

SIMON VAN BOCKSTAL

#3. Man Mantis – Cities Without Houses (11 April 2011)
Man Mantis presents definite proof that the creative commons music scene encompasses more than just some bedroom producers uploading half-finished EP’s without much further thought. The enormous attention to detail in the design of his trademark style, the album cover and the sense of humour in page descriptions shows something I have seldom seen in music published online: a well thought-out strategy and brand. This at one point in time included Man Mantis stickers, signed posters, one-star rated Man Mantis logo ping-pong balls, T-Shirts, you name it. I absolutely love the enthusiasm with which Man Mantis released his first full album in 6 years, and the best part is that I don’t think he really needed any of it. ‘Cities Without Houses’ is an instant classic, and with its 12 tracks a hefty one at that. Seeing an artist having this much fun making music is an inspiration to the entire scene.

#2. Rain Dog – See Hear EP (12 September 2011)
The way Cut Records has been releasing gems this year, one of them was bound to end up in my top 3. Even so, Rain Dog pulled it off quite convincingly. ‘See Hear EP’s slow measures, interwoven with intricate drum programming, provide musical arrangements brought back to their essential core. Seldom have I heard that much emotion in a piece with so little instruments.

If Cut Records were only to publish one release in 2012, make it a Rain Dog one. Pretty please.

#1. Julien Mier & Daan Kars – Passenger (6 July 2011)
Difficult though I found it to select second and third place among this year’s releases, there was never any doubt in my mind about the one release to rule them all. Julien Mier and Daan Kaars 1up’ed the competition, and then decided to just make everything else pale in comparison instead.
Here’s what I had to say on ‘Passenger’ a few months back: “This release is so immensely good. The entire release is an ingeniously crafted piece of machinery, every 64th note is just beautifully placed, right where it should be. It’s a masterpiece of epic proportions. Compulsory listening material.” The release in its own right was good enough for the top spot, but Daan Kars’ visuals made sure the duo was untouchable. The best release of 2011. Period.

Simon Van Bockstal Written by:

Simon Van Bockstal, or Hushfield, is based in Ghent, Belgium. He is a freelance reviewer and musician (previously known as ‘The Quiet Orchestra’ and ‘Droidmusik’) raised on a diet of moody ambient and glitchy beats. A turntable with Chopin records and a drumcomputer are his idea of starting a party. He spends most of his time locked in the basement with cables, knobs and netlabel culture.

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