Warn­ing: flow­ery lan­guage alert.

Some­times it’s such a long time. A year.

They feel like roar past at quite a rate as they end, but going back through the music in each one in detail in Decem­ber they some­how see almost eter­nal. Some of the stuff on this page seems like half a decade back.

The records I liked a lot in 2011 pro­vided – I thought – a fairly short list as I men­tally worked them through the other night.

And then I woke in the morn and tried to write this list down. I scanned iTunes and pulled apart the recently neatly stacked records and CDs on the shelf to try and work out exactly what I’ve lis­tened to in 2011.

It grew.

Of course this list would be longer If I added in all the older records I either dis­cov­ered or re-discovered in 2011. I’d be forced to add two Bowie albums from his largely ignored later years (the com­mon wis­dom of course is that his ‘inter­est­ing’ career path ended abruptly after Scary Mon­sters in 1981), Hea­then and 1. Out­side, or the com­pete 70s oeu­vre of Gil Scott-Heron after he passed, or count­less old 12” sin­gles that took my fancy for a day or two whilst I banged them to death only to for­get them again for a year or per­haps more – The time­less FK EP anyone?

I’ve added a cou­ple of re-discoveries or rework­ings, the Trax and Nu Groove re-edits, and the never actu­ally fully released before Smile sim­ply it seemed wrong not to.

How­ever mostly the records here are new and new sound­ing enough for me to offer another blast of hog­wash at Simon Reynolds’ Retro­ma­nia the­sis and to any­one who leapt all over it this year. So…

The old:

Var­i­ous — Trax Re-edited (Harmless)

I’ve already done this one in detail, and my post had a cou­ple of reposts. Suf­fice to say, I’m not want­ing to re-edit those words. They’ll do.

And Trax Re-edited still does.

Var­i­ous – Nicholas: Back on Track Nu Groove (Needwant)

As Trax was to Chicago I guess you could say that Nu Groove was to the big Apple. It was the label that rode the path to the future in that city in the late 1980s, and in a way it was more impor­tant. Not only was it not run by char­la­tans, as Trax was, but it encour­aged inven­tion (at Trax that was largely incidental/accidental) and cre­ated a huge part of what we thought of as elec­tronic music (Dance Music doesn’t work – this wasn’t just music to dance to) in the next decade and beyond.

Nicholas is a 25 year old Ital­ian who has embraced all that, per­haps in a way that only a younger per­son not in awe of the legacy could do, and twisted a dozen key moments into some­thing both vaguely con­tem­po­rary and rev­er­en­tial, albeit not claus­tro­pho­bi­cally so.

As with the Trax album, he hasn’t tried to force these songs onto a mod­ern dance­floor, and in a world awash with awful remixes of songs you loved that’s impor­tant to me.

The remix of Houz’ Ner­groz (pro­ducer Rheji Bur­rell, who along with his brother Ronald played a key role at the label) ’92 clas­sic How Do You Love A Black Woman, a dra­mat­i­cally sen­sual fusion of raw r’n’b, King Tubby, and what we were to call deep house in years to come, is worth the price of admis­sion to me. He tags it the “Fierce Beats Remix” but it’s far more provoca­tive than that. Instead he draws out and teases with the famous lo-fi organ refrain and taunts with a snip­pet of the vocal sam­ple that punc­tu­ated the orig­i­nal. It pads and sways in a way that sim­ply restates just how impor­tant Nu Groove was to so much that came afterwards.

That music is as impor­tant to me as this next record:

The Beach Boys – The Smile Ses­sions (Capitol)

As I tweeted or maybe Face­booked – if you don’t get Brian Wil­son I can’t help you.

I’d like to develop that line just a lit­tle more, but it may offend.

How does some­body not get Brian? Unless they’re Mike Love in which case they make up for it by con­sciously and con­tin­u­ously belit­tling him, screw­ing him and then bathing in the credit and income he’s bought you there­after. And reform­ing the band to bleed him just one more time.

I digress – but I prob­a­bly needed to, and now I’ll fin­ish the diver­sion the way it should always be fin­ished: Fuck Mike Love. Really.

Prior to 1966 just about the only peo­ple to have added exter­nal sounds to pop music were Shadow Mor­ton and Spec­tor, and they lim­ited it to rain, thun­der and a motor­bike. In ’66, with Pet Sounds Brian Wil­son took that a lit­tle fur­ther. Let’s Go Away For a While and the title track were the amongst the first pop records that tried to con­jure some­thing more than just fun and emo­tional attach­ment to a per­son or a thing. The first of the two, an instru­men­tal that bliss­fully evoked a jour­ney and was an aural and sub­jec­tive pre­cur­sor to Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express, offers the most direct sug­ges­tion of what was to come – or not come at least for some 45 years (offi­cially) – with Smile.

And that makes Brian Wil­son a spir­i­tual and con­cep­tual god­fa­ther of much of what I’m writ­ing about below, from sonic gui­tars to the bass-based rev­o­lu­tion that dom­i­nates the last part of the first decade of the twenty first century.

So here we have a story – I think, as I’m still not quite sure what it is in this Bar­num and Bai­ley con­coc­tion – built using farm­yard and build­ing site noises, layered/structured warm ana­logue audio com­plex­ity that we seem to have lost the abil­ity to cre­ate in these dig­i­tal days, gor­geous har­monic pro­gres­sions and cadences, intensely psy­che­delic melodic tan­gents – some­times ram­bling — with such scope they could really only be handed down by a semi-crazed drug-fucked genius deaf in one ear.

And of course inclu­sive of Brian’s finest com­po­si­tion – Surf’s Up.

A few mil­lion words have been expended on Smile since 1967 and I don’t feel much need to add many more (although I guess I have), suf­fice to say this release is per­fectly struc­tured to accom­mo­date the level of intense anorak­ism – with boxed sets and out­takes galore, many of which offer more insight into the semi-finished album on offer than the album itself – the cus­tomer feels com­fort­able with. And now resplen­dent in the sort of sonic qual­ity and final­ity those shitty bootlegs never offered (and I own a few).

It’s every­thing you wanted it to be, way bet­ter than the still wor­thy solo remake in 2004, and it’s every part of what you wanted to hear or decon­struct of the leg­end – you choose – and as with the mighty Pet Sounds Ses­sions Box, offered in way that adds to the magic rather than strip­ping the mystery.

Me? I’m in the cor­ner under a blan­ket with head­phones very tightly on, lis­ten­ing over and over to the sub­lime Surf’s Up demo, iron­i­cally with all that stuff I ram­bled about up-thread stripped away.

The new:

She’s So Rad – In Cir­cles (Round Trip Mars)

Let’s start the new stuff with an album that – and this and the one after are the only ones on this list I think – almost, and just almost — jus­ti­fies Reynolds’ loudly voiced circular-obsessive pitch.

Does that mat­ter? No, not at all. Music does not always need to be rad­i­cal. I also like Nick Lowe and Mayer Hawthorne. And I dig this.

Gui­tar based rock has become an indul­gence rather than a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery for me, but I still thrill to it — noth­ing quite kicks like ampli­fied noise.

For all that, this sparkling record – which I first heard on 95bFm, so radio still offers dis­cov­ery some­times, albeit less and less if I’m hon­est – which draws a direct line back to Brian Wil­son and Phil Spec­tor, stop­ping off along the way at early power-pop, Wire’s Chairs Miss­ing and that debut Jesus and Mary Chain long­player (and yes, the opener Ice­block steals a cho­rus and melody from Real Life’s Send Me An Angel with­out obvi­ous shame), was my day starter for sev­eral weeks. I’d wake with the ‘Don’t For­get / you never for­get’ cho­rus of Cir­cles, or the pseudo-modernism of Disco’s intro and tin­sel cho­rus in my head.

The touches of elec­tron­ica in the con­struc­tion do give it a sheen of moder­nity but at its soul this is closer to The Ronettes or The Right­eous Broth­ers than any ref­er­ence point it might try to claim in 2011.

I don’t think this is record for the times, but it was my record for a time.

Thun­der­cat – The Golden Age Of Apoc­a­lypse (Brainfeeder)

When I bought this unheard from Conch in Pon­sonby, I asked what it sounded like. It sounds like an album made by a bass player Dustin said.

Oh.

Mar­cus Miller? Paul McCart­ney? Stan­ley Clarke? John Ent­whis­tle? Bootsy?

But, yeah, he was absolutely right. I get it now.

A year or more in being recorded, The Golden Age Of Apoc­a­lypse seems to exist mostly because it was fun to make. There is no grander rea­son for it in the greater scheme, and the story goes that co-producer Fly­ing Lotus, for whom Thun­der­cat (= Stephen Bruner) plays bass, had to push the artist into fin­ish­ing the fun and putting the thing into the mar­ket­place so we could all enjoy.

Bass play­ers make those sorts of records. Nobody else quite can. Think of The Fire­man, or Jah Wob­ble, or, hell, the com­plete works of Larry Gra­ham, post Sly – they sim­ply groove and more or less ignore the com­mer­cial or artis­tic imper­a­tives that lim­its or cor­rals the records made by musi­cians who were dri­ven instead to be vocal­ists or lead gui­tarists (McCart­ney strad­dles both camps, but he’s Paul McCart­ney, and he either invented or at some stage restated most camps).

Dreamy, lazy, unpre­dictable, soul­ful, and — I keep try­ing to con­vince myself —  thor­oughly mod­ern despite the fact it wraps itself around the likes of Her­bie Han­cock, Stan­ley Clarke and George Duke, I’ve dug this album a lot in the last few months.

And yet with­out aggres­sively strug­gling to achieve that artis­tic imper­a­tive, it achieves it nev­er­the­less as it builds towards the last two tracks, the almost sur­real semi-cinematic dou­ble act of Mys­tery Machine and the all too brief expanse of Return to The Journey.

I guess it’s noth­ing spe­cial, it is after all a bass player’s album. But in aspir­ing to be noth­ing spe­cial it is.

Altered Natives Presents The Guild Of Syn­chro­nists (Eye4Eye Recordings)

If this album con­tained only Danny Native’s 18 Ghost Hands it would be enough to sell it to me – the mighty Dee Pat­ten revis­ited and stripped back to the rhyth­mic essence that made Who’s The Bad Man (orig­i­nally on Leftfield’s Hard Hands label about ’95) one of my favourite sin­gles of that decade.

But it doesn’t of course. This col­lec­tion of assorted mostly unknowns, pro­duced by Lon­doner Danny Yorke (ie. Danny Native), a fol­low on to 2010’s Ten­e­ment Yard album (there was a vol­ume two this year), doesn’t break any new ground but still sounds rather mag­nif­i­cent at some vol­ume as I bounce around the house (I no longer do clubs – I don’t want to be the sad old guy at the end of the bar), as it pulls together and lov­ingly restates the most thrilling – noisy — ele­ments of dance and rave cul­ture and does so with some panache.

It’s a joy­ous record, which just works.

Danny tweeted a few days back that he was some­what dis­ap­pointed at not being named in any end of year lists. Well, I might not be Pitch­fork or Fact­mag but this was one the records I thrilled to most in 2011. Ok, Danny?

Blood Orange – Coastal Grooves (Domino)

Devonté Hynes was also Light­speed Cham­pion. Then he was the brief flavour of the month, with a most-likely spread in Mojo – which must be the kiss of death – and he released a country-folk-rock-lite album that had mixed reviews. As has this, but I don’t care because I like it. Lots. 

It’s odd. Like the mis­placed sound­track to some lost half-finished David Lynch movie – the cliched one where a con­fused and lost cou­ple in an old bro­ken Impala stum­ble into a beaten-down club for respite where they find David Syl­vian fronting a pick-up band – played by Orange Juice.

Unless you place it that con­text it doesn’t make sense. Once you do, it does.

Yep, its eight­ies’ ref­er­ence points are strong but struc­turally – the arrange­ments, and the space – have a now about them that betrays the lat­ter part of the decade it was made in. It has to have arrived post Mas­sive Attack, but, more, after Mathew Dear’s two solo long­play­ers and that soli­tary astound­ing album from Damian Lazarus.

Hell, there is no way this record could’ve arrived before The XX.

King Krule (True Pan­ther Sounds)

The Guardian described this EP from the 17 yr old Lon­doner, known to his gran as Archy Mar­shall, as dub-lullabies, deliv­ered in a post-Strummer twang.

For­merly Zoo Kid, this stuff is sim­ply astound­ing. All of it.

That’ll do.

Kuedo – Sev­er­ant (Planet Mu)

Jamie Teas­dale takes the noises made on machines before punk came along in 1977 and pushes them into holes cre­ated by the urban sound­scrap­ings of the twenty-first century.

To bor­row with­out apol­ogy: It’s like Tan­ger­ine Dream and DJ Roc are stuck in an ele­va­tor with only a sequencer to keep them com­pany, then mixed in Cin­e­mas­cope (remem­ber that).

Var­i­ous – Bangs & Works Vol.2 (Planet Mu)

A year or so back I listed vol­ume one of this in my 2010 list. In the twelve months since this sound has exploded, becom­ing the dom­i­nant gamechanger in con­tem­po­rary music in 2011. From hip-hop to bass to IDM — plus any­thing else that touches on any of these — juke has rad­i­calised the way music was made this year.

The whole Juke/Footwork ethos thrills me: bru­talised snip­pets of ran­dom melody (with a clear debt to J Dilla although he was gen­tler in his appro­pri­a­tions) and sound, often vio­lently dig­i­talised and reassem­bled with­out respect or def­er­ence. It’s excites.

And I guess I’m not alone – at least half the releases on this page wear an influ­ence, some­times sub­stan­tial, from the rush to embrace this sound.

I’d be fool­ish to describe this album as any­where close to easy to lis­ten to – it loops, crashes, soars, speeds and then often unpre­dictably stops in 26 some­times rather brief (although the tracks are mostly longer than Vol­ume 1 – there are actu­ally semi-songs here) melo­dra­matic bursts of intense energy. Like Dilla, it draws the melody out from small parts of larger cre­ations, and ampli­fies that ele­ment before quickly cast­ing it aside and mov­ing on.

I don’t ever expect a wide audi­ence for this, as much as I per­son­ally buzz to it. Its wider influ­ence is unde­ni­able though, which takes me to:

Patrice & Friends – Cash­mere Friends (Sulk Records)

The most fun I had with a record in 2011.

Eight­ies r&b vocal sam­ples – the big gor­geous but wretched bal­lad type, think Alexan­der O’Neal, Mor­ris Day and Paul Lawrence – stripped of their post-boogie synths and struc­ture and dragged in pieces, some­times a tiny frac­tion, other times a whole verse, to a bass sound­scape mostly defined by the afore­said Chicago juke and the urban inven­tive­ness of Britain’s eter­nally bleak urban spawls.

And thus, appro­pri­ately, this is made in Liv­er­pool, in the same way the UK garages and clubs have ripped apart and sub­verted US under­ground sounds since The Bea­t­les (and then often handed them back – wit­ness the inter­est­ing US made stuff in the often very regres­sive and some­what depress­ing Pitch­fork 50 this year: it almost all draws from Britain’s cities).

Half the fun is try­ing to work out exactly where that verse comes from – what bat­tered 12” tucked in the back of a box that I haven’t played for decades has that very famil­iar few sec­onds been lifted from? It’s a game that can drive you nuts.

Rustie – Glass Swords (Warp)

Most fun, part dua. A record to lift you back to mid-nineties rave cul­ture, albeit with twists added from the present day.

What? No, me nei­ther. I was well past rave cul­ture by the mid 1990s, hang­ing out blow­ing whis­tles and suck­ing on var­i­ous gases to get a thrill never quite did it for me. It was lit­tle like the ugly end of the punk era after 1980 – when the dis­tant ‘burbs who never quite got it ear­lier on, all rushed to town and mis­un­der­stood. And, yes that’s as elit­ist and old-ist as fuck because it wasn’t my scene but it’s my page, so be it.

So mostly I liked this because it was both uplift­ing at a time when I needed inspi­ra­tion and because of – once again – how it gath­ered past strands together and unashamedly mod­ernised. A track like Surph might have all the synths and sway of an old Net­work kiddie-rave tune but the vocals and the pro­duc­tion takes it bang into 2011. In late 2012 it will prob­a­bly sound dreary, but I rarely take more than a hand­ful of records I love with me from year to year, and this is one I know I’m just lov­ing for the moment.

Omar-S – It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do It (FXHE)

House music has lasted far longer than it should have. It’s over­stayed its wel­come by a decade or more, and yes as cyn­i­cal as I want to be about it, like rock’n’roll, which had its last inspired, non-recyling, moment around 1990, I’m still a sucker for a record­ing like this and I’m a sucker for Omar-S, who’s raw grooves travel their own indi­vid­u­al­ist course.

This album is almost an anachro­nism in 2011 as elec­tronic music flows and mutates at an increas­ing speed, dri­ven by the past, the future and the tech­nol­ogy, but it really doesn’t mat­ter because – with the sole excep­tion of the grat­ing Look Hear Watch — with an unnec­es­sary porno sam­ple swamp­ing the whole track – every track on here is age­lessly sublime.

Machine­drum – Rooms (s) (Planet Mu) / Sepal­cure (Hotflush)

What really gets me – at this par­tic­u­lar moment, prob­a­bly not in five min­utes but I’ll write it down whilst I think of it in case it slips – is: who are all these peo­ple? Not specif­i­cally the two peo­ple who made these two records, but the hun­dreds of peo­ple who arrive every year, make astound­ing records and then seem to slip away. It’s mostly a 2000s phe­nom­ena — at least to the lev­els we now see it.

The thing is, at least half the peo­ple who have made the music I’m talk­ing about on this page are new to me. I have never heard of them before. And I may not hear of them a year or so from now. Our turnover has accel­er­ated and con­tin­ues to do so.

Maybe I’m igno­rant. Maybe the world has passed me by and I sim­ply don’t know any­thing any­more. Or maybe it’s just become so pepper-shot democ­ra­tised out there that the taste or mar­ket mak­ers no longer make any rules that matter.

Almost no records make every list. In 1979 when I was a kid, Talk­ing Head’s Fear of Music, Gang of 4’s Enter­tain­ment, Armed Forces, Lon­don Call­ing, Set­ting Sons and about a dozen other albums made every sin­gle end of year summation.

That was it unless you niched your­self in jazz, clas­si­cal or country.

No longer – there are lit­er­ally hun­dreds of records that are now amongst the best of 2011, and that’s a mighty thing. No longer are a few scribes and a few content-creating cor­po­ra­tions defin­ing what we like or should like. There is no need to feel inse­cure because you sim­ply don’t get the widely touted top album. Or know who they are.

Now you make your own list and the rest be damned.

So — return­ing to this — I’d not spent much time with Travis Stew­art, despite the fact his name had gone around and round since 2001, and he recorded for a well trendy label (Merck). It was more a case of other folks men­tion­ing him and me not really tak­ing the time to notice, and then when I heard Room (S) some­how feel­ing inse­cure or inad­e­quite in the knowl­edge that I’d also missed things like this (from 2009):

Thus I com­forted myself with the above per­sonal meme. You can’t know everything.

And jumped into Machinedrum’s 8th or 9th album, depend­ing on how you mea­sure these things, on its own mer­its, par­tially based on the fact that Planet Mu is the one label that’s not let me down in the last year or two.

Room(s) fin­ishes with a tune called Come1, a joy­ous tune which leads from a piano and per­cus­sive riff that really could’ve been lifted from an old UK house stormer, circa 1992 (think Con­gress ), it seems rather out of place here although the point of the place­ment seems obvi­ous: none of the tracks before could’ve existed with­out it.

The ten ear­lier tracks pro­vide a com­plex but grand amal­gam of con­tem­po­rary styles, gen­res, sub-genres, and mini-genres and it is all but none of those exactly — the parts have cre­ated a greater whole. A gor­geous, unique and utterly con­fi­dent release that was as per­fectly pop as a record could pos­si­bly be with­out feel­ing the need to be sub­sumed by a charge for the charts.

And in that way it will likely define this year far more as time passes than much of what we hear on radio and see in our top 40s. I feel the need to toss superla­tives at Room(s), but can’t find any­more that don’t sound trite (I think I’m already sail­ing too close to that..), so I won’t.

Record of the year maybe?

And if that wasn’t enough, Sepal­cure – Stew­art with Praveen Sharma – have made an album that might also make claim to that. It’s odd to hear such a cel­e­bra­tion of all things elec­tronic, as fil­tered by the British under­ground, come from Amer­i­can pro­duc­ers, but so it is. The sham­bolic route that is the end­less dis­sec­tion and reassem­bly of all things dance and rhyth­mic by UK acts in the past twenty years or more pro­vide the back­drop and ele­ments nec­es­sary for this won­der­fully soul­ful excur­sion that even bor­rows a line or two from Pete Town­shend on one of the stand­outs, See Me Feel Me.

Less dense and arguably a lit­tle more flow­ery than Stewart’s epic solo disc, Sepal­cure makes few claims to be much more than just a won­der­ful lis­ten, an accept­able artis­tic indul­gence. And so it is.

And I think I’m all the bet­ter for it.

Prison Garde — Sys­tème Her­mès (Self Released)

Vaughn Robert Squire is from Van­cou­ver and is a big part of the rea­son Canada has become really inter­est­ing musi­cally in recent years. Free to all com­ers via his web­site  (there is a new album up there in the past day or so, but I’ve had no time to listen).

Styl­is­ti­cally this sits in the never-never land from long long ago, where gen­res sat together com­fort­ably — where house music and hip-hop were related and ide­o­log­i­cally co-existed. And thus you have deep, deep house — with clear ref­er­ences to the music found on that Nu Groove record above, next to hip-hop that knows both Pete Rock and Shadow. And it’s extra­or­di­nary, and sen­sual and quite timeless.

I like the way this record is inten­tion­ally un-numbered – you choose the track order that suits you. I find myself order­ing the slower tracks – what could ten­ta­tively be called hip-hop – towards the end of this sprawl­ing col­lec­tion that embraces styles that sup­pos­edly clash. To flow from the faster tracks — house if you need a descrip­tor, and mostly we do, to the down paced tunes makes sense.

Shlohmo – Bad Vibes (Friends of Friends)

From LA and unashamedly lo-fi, this album, an almost per­fect meld­ing of hip-hop and an alter­na­tive, almost folky ethos, was per­haps the most imme­di­ate thing I lis­tened to all year. I feel in love with it first after find­ing this video on some site or other, and the album fol­lowed quickly.

A col­lec­tion of ghostly, intensely melodic and irre­sistible mini-symphonies that some­times feel almost too frag­ile to exist in the real world beyond the creator’s head, Bad Vibes is the oppo­site of much else I’ve liked in 2011 in that it’s not com­plex or tech­nol­ogy dri­ven. But for that that, I find this sits com­fort­ably with the sur­real, spec­tral aura of much of the best music I’ve heard and loved this year.

Stun­ning – really – stunning.

The Weeknd – House Of Bal­loons (Self Released)

A record that was given away for free in huge num­bers to become one of the key noises of 2011.

And yes, it’s almost too late to say any­thing more about it as it became the hip­ster album – they call it a mix­tape but the line is at best arbi­trary surely — to own and love this year. I did both despite its ubiq­uity and omnipres­ence — and Drake’s lat­ter day anoint­ment.

A video or two will do:

and a remix:

@Peace (Self Released)

I’ve long had a strong love-dislike thing going on with New Zealand hip-hop. Every time I fall head over heals with some­thing – and there have been more than a few moments across the years – I get blud­geoned in short order by some­thing else that misses the point so awfully that it dri­ves me away.

And then there is this – a bonafide clas­sic of under­played home­li­ness, cul­tur­ally unique, for want of a bet­ter word but there rarely is one, soul that buries all those cringe fac­tors once again and takes me back home again.

I worry that the sys­tem is so restricted in New Zealand these days, so defined by a very few anointed big acts, that the wealth of fas­ci­nat­ing acts, like @peace, often slip through the cul­tural cracks. Why isn’t this album every­where? Is it on main­stream radio? Or then, per­haps it is and I missed it from afar. It did how­ever take a cou­ple of clued up friends to point me towards it.

Why do I search YouTube and get “No video results for “@peace””?  The NZoA grants list seems to be devoid of their name. Hope­fully it’s just because they haven’t asked.

Sure, it has a clear debt to the sem­i­nal Native Tongues posse, and whilst it is arguably some­what unad­ven­tur­ous musi­cally, the sounds are still sub­lime and it speaks to me in way most hip-hop in 2011 doesn’t. The words are con­sid­ered, evoca­tively emo­tional and uniquely those of a young voice in the coun­try I grew up in and call home, and that makes it much more than just another hip-hop record.

This is quite special.

Pinch & Shak­le­ton (Hon­est Jon’s Records)

What any ugly word dub­step has become. It’s the ulti­mate musi­cal hate word now. Much like Prog was in 1977 or Trance in 2000. Grumpy old men sit in cafes com­plain­ing that the clubs have become infested by ‘dub­step’. Forums rage against it. There are dozens of Face­book pages like <a href=“https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dubstep-needs-to-die/100427843330164″>this.

And then there are records like this: won­der­ful, dra­matic, almost ethe­real at times, inspired and organic col­lec­tions that hover around the his­tory of the term but have long ago moved on from the thing that so many love to despise.

These two – Pinch (Rob Ellis) and (Sam) Shack­le­ton — defined the pro­gres­sive edge of the genre and Pinch’s Under­wa­ter Dance­hall, from 2007, sits com­fort­ably as one of the decades clas­sics. From it emanated so much, and yet here we are four years on with an album that makes Dance­floor seem almost Neolithic.

The ghost of post-punk past – not the sounds, but the ethic – infuses this. It’s rad­i­cal, exper­i­men­tal and sooth­ing all the same time. It takes few pris­on­ers but offers up lit­tle resis­tance when you want to love it.

And then you do. Or at least I do.

Andy Stott – Passed Me By / We Stay Together (Mod­ern Love)

A cou­ple of years back I rather fell for Andy Stott’s Unknown Excep­tion, a com­pi­la­tion of his ear­lier vinyl releases. I liked, then loved and swooned around to it, despite the fact that lit­tle on it was in any­way son­i­cally inno­v­a­tive. It was – sim­ply – a glo­ri­ously warm, heav­ily melodic, com­fort­able meld­ing of clas­sic deep-house and nu-techno that I loved to have around.

Despite my love affair (and the fact that I still play it all the time) I mostly lost touch with Stott’s releases there­after. His name would appear on release sheets, I’d see the odd track on Boomkat or Phon­ica, but unin­ten­tion­ally I’d lose the thought to lis­ten in the increas­ingly dis­or­gan­ised – and some­times fran­tic — way I hunt the inter­net for new music.

And then came Passed Me By, and, a month or two later, its sequel We Stay Together. A cou­ple of online reviews drove me back towards the guy and I bit.

In a way I’m glad I didn’t try and cross the ground between the com­pi­la­tion and this duo of less than full length releases (both are around 35mins) because that allowed me to approached the first of these, Passed Me By, as a novice – unpre­pared – and I wasn’t led down or con­fused by what may have been a fairly uncom­fort­able route to this place (I’ve since taken a cou­ple of inquis­i­tive steps back­wards into 2009 and 2010 and I’m not unhappy I missed the stop 0ffs).

Passed Me By, and the record that fol­lowed, have almost no rela­tion­ship with Unknown Excep­tion, aside from a name. You can’t draw an unbro­ken line between the three.

So instead of the tra­di­tional elec­tronic dance land­scapes of the ear­lier work, Stott now con­fronts and chal­lenges the lis­tener with some­thing that sounds like the aural equiv­a­lent of Logan’s Run. The albums, or album if we con­sider these to be one work – are almost leaden in their slow post apoc­a­lyp­tic grind, which sounds awful but is majes­ti­cally quite the opposite.

There is an obvi­ous debt to the frac­tured tonal­ity of Actress, and yet Arthur Rus­sell’s most adven­tur­ous and intrigu­ing work is all over these records, as is the min­i­mal­ism elec­tron­ica of The Field, Shack­le­ton and Mau­r­izio and yet it is none of these as this work stretches the rela­tion­ship between techno, dub and tex­ture just that lit­tle further.

Bleak, dark, and extra­or­di­nar­ily beau­ti­ful, per­haps the album/s of the year.

——

This was an amaz­ing, won­der­ful year to be lis­ten­ing to new music.

As an aside, every one of these — with the excep­tion of She’s So Rad and Thun­der­cat — I own the dig­i­tal edi­tion of. This is the year I mostly dis­pensed with CD alto­gether, and will now, unless unavoid­able, pur­chase on file and vinyl.

Oh, I guess I missed these:

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