Much like the beginning of every new decade, 2011 was a year of significant releases and emerging scenes. The year saw the birth of a new breed of hip hop acts, free of conventions and more punk than punk; the reinvigoration of a moribund genre, r’n’b; nu metal relics Korn desecrating dubstep: R.E.M releasing a new record after what felt like forever; and Lou Reed and Metallica’s joint effort at proving themselves irrelevant, Lulu, among many other things. Suffice to say the JUICE team was more than regaled by what music had to offer 2011. We could rank them, but we don’t want to incur the wrath of our readers by ranking one album higher (or lower) than the other, so here’s our list of the best records of 2011 in no particular order. Beginning with:
THE DEVIL’S WALK
Hailing from the land that gave birth to electronic pioneers Kraftwerk, Sascha Ring aka Apparat continues the Germanic tradition of innovative IDM with The Devil’s Walk. The album would have worked purely as an instrumental, but the vocals added much weight to what is already paean-filled music. Critically-acclaimed TV show Breaking Bad used ‘Goodbye’ to great emotional effect during its season finale, destining the album for pop culture immortality.
Like Clams Casino’s production (especially on Rainforest EP), Balam Acab’s Wander/Wonder is laced with naturalistic sounds – it’s the water element to Rainforest’s earthy greenery. Samples of running current, splashes and water dripping calmly are coupled with the atmospheric production, breaking electronica free from the shackles of its computer grid and off into the natural world. The album’s nature evocative vibe is quite possibly the only music that would act as an aphrodisiac – bedroom music from a bedroom musician.
SAM BAKER’S ALBUM
Instrumental hip hop hasn’t generated interest ever since the industry stopped talking about names like Shadow, Prefuse and Vadim. That’s really the fault of the industry calling their music by any other names than hip hop though. Samiyam’s sophomore, Sam Baker’s Album, sees the beatmaker reigniting attention to vocal-less hip hop production without seeming pretentious about it – Sam Baker’s Album is unabashedly hip hop despite whatever critics want to label it.
The eponymous debut album by Groundislava succeeded where other beat scene-alumni failed, it features actual glimpses of song composition as opposed to Dilla-esque haphazard torrent of ideas thrown into a single ephemeral beat. As dedicated of a chiptune album it is, the debut is never stagnant. Often time its 8-bit nostalgia segues to hip hop-informed beats before being married to (but never marred by) unforced vocal contributions.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF APOCALYPSE
Jazz by way of Brainfeeder, The Golden Age of Apocalypse is successful twofold; we see it being catalogued into both the electronic and jazz canons as a significant release. FlyLo’s fingerprints are all over the production, yet the record is uniquely Thundercat’s. Imagine ‘MmmHmm’ expanded into a full-blown LP.
BEATZ & PIECES VOL. 1
Feeding off the momentum generated by his previous mixtapes No Shortcuts and Street Bangerz, Gramatik’s Beatz & Pieces Vol. 1 is a kindred spirit to Samiyam’s Sam Baker’s Album. As Gramatik himself describes the album, the sound is really “hip-hop beats on steroids,” a sentiment surely shared by the Brainfeeder signee too. Unlike traditional hip hop beats though, Gramatik’s music has a fine layer of live instruments that adds texture to otherwise bland sparse beats.