1. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)
Martyrs are not victims. There is no self-pity or cool detachment to their pain. This is the mantra by which Erika M. Anderson lives in her songs. Past Life Martyred Saints is an intimate but uncomfortable album, it will make you feel guilty for the hearts you’ve torn apart and it will make you feel weak for all the times you’ve been hurt and felt victimized for it.
2. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (Constellation)
Listen: Fear of the Unknown and the Blazing Sun
The first time I heard Colin Stetson he was the opening act for Godspeed You! Black Emperor and it was absolutely mind-blowing. Some of us mistook him as a sound engineer and were caught completely by surprise when he started playing. One by one we fell into a silent trance as he created out of thin air the most magnificent, heartbroken beasts I’ve ever heard from a one man band. Recorded in one take with no overdubs, Judges captures the thrill of hearing him live with precision. Not only is the record technically impressive and conceptually novel but also highly compelling at a musical level. Inspired by post-rock and electronic pioneers, Stetson favors sonic aesthetics over experimentation, every deviation sounding calculated enough as to not scare the feeble away but smart enough to hook the most demanding listeners.
3. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up (Sub Pop)
Listen: Swerve… The reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir not withstanding)
Experimental hip-hop that finds its roots on avant-garde jazz acts such as Sun Ra instead of disco and funk. I’ll be completely honest, english being my second language I have a hard time trying to understand hip hop lyrics, so I suck at appreciating the genre for one of its defining features and yet the multiple twists and turns in Black Up give it a replay value like few other albums I heard this year. Breezy, psychedelic and extremely unpredictable.
4. Braids – Native Speaker (Flemish Eye)
Native Speaker feels to me like an erotic reinterpretation of Animal Collective’s ‘Feels’; on one hand it has the same approach in creating pop music: Loops of haze, rock instruments stretched to odd realms and cryptic lyrics; on the other one, we’ve never heard Animal Collective create songs as deeply personal and carefully constructed as the ones in Native Speaker. There’s a definite streak of innate sensuality and maturity which gives the music a whole new level of influence and meaning.
5. Robag Wruhme – Thora Bukk (Pampa)
Listen: Wupp Dek
It’s always a treat to hear a producer who is proficient and well known around the techno community turning away from the dancefloor to release music that borders outside of their usual field of expertise. Thora Vukk is Wruhme’s exploration of his music’s more melancholic, contemplative side, while keeping the sense of tension and attention to detail that he has perfected as a techno producer. The result is warm, gorgeous album that is fascinating, at least on an aesthetic level. Chillroom microhouse.
6. Thee Oh Sees – Castlemania (In the Red)
Listen: I Need Seed
Of all the indie bands that have adopted the garage rock influence, Thee Oh Sees are, in my humble opinion, one of the most fun around. At 16 tracks, Castlemania is their longest album to date yet there isn’t a single song in here that outwears its welcome. Every track keeps things fresh by throwing a wild, eccentric touch into the mix which makes them sound like a forward thinking, modern band that isn’t particularly concerned with revisionism.
7. Vinicius Cantuária & Bill Frisell – Lágrimas Mexicanas (E1)
Listen: Aquela Mulher
One of my favorite discoveries this year was Vinicius Cantuárias’ music; an elegant sort of Brazilian jazz that seems to fit all my moods and seasons. On ‘Lágrimas Mexicanas’ he is joined by guitar-virtuoso Bill Frisell and the result is a very colorful sound that switches between Frisell’s heavily geared, atmospheric stylings and Cantuaria’s Brazilian sensibilities. Although it doesn’t quite bring anything new to the table this album is an absolute pleasure to listen to.
8. Chain & the Gang – Music’s not for Everyone (K)
Listen: Why Not?
Chain and the Gang frontman, Ian Svenoniu comes up with an upfront, snobby attitude and the unruly approach of a punk star, rocking out unironically while critiquing the very own genre’s conventions. Mordant and unusually funny, the enjoyment of this album depends on how much you appreciate tongue in cheek sloganeering and cynicism.
9. Crystal Stilts – In Love with Oblivion (Slumberland)
Listen: Through the Floor
While Thee Oh Sees sound like they are pretending they’re a 60′s garage band that travelled in time to use today’s technology, Crystal Stilts behave like gravekeepers. They think of their dead idols as purveyors of a sound now rotten and decomposed, creators of long forgotten anthems that are now bathed in a ghoulish atmosphere. Do not, under any circumstance, attempt to undig them. The dead should remain buried deep underground. Leave them be. Hear what their spirits are whispering and reinterpret it for any of us living that might still be listening.
10. The Go! Team – Rolling Blackouts (Memphis Industries)
Listen: Ready To Go Steady
I remember being annoyed by the songs in ‘Thunder, Lightning, Strike‘ when I first heard them back in 2004. It took me 4 years to finally understand, digest and admire the band, nowadays it has become one of the most treasured pieces of my music collection. When ‘Rolling Blackouts’ came out earlier this year I already knew what to expect, the energy of a horny, raging bull charging into a room filled with cheerleaders, brass-blasting walls of sound and a complete lack of subtleness. If this sounds like your thing, then it is as amazing as it sounds.
Note: I’ve had this post ready for months now, almost thought of killing it and storing it in the fridge… I mean it’s probably a bit late for best-of lists but maybe it will help you discover something you missed out. Hope you enjoy.
Also: Schils Favourite Albums 2011 & his Top Mixes and Compilations.