Thursday, December 15, 2011


And so it begins! Today I offer five albums that just missed my actual album of the year list. More charitably, you could say these are #15-11 on my album of the year list. These are in no way, shape, or form bad albums; they simply didn't quite strike my fancy the way some other albums did this year. Listening to these alongside the ten, uh, eleven songs I listed in my last two posts would make for a great morning/afternoon/evening. Common threads that emerge from this list? It was a good year for hazy, dreamy music that inspired a vague sense of anxiety and dread. Also, all of these albums fit into existing conversations and conventions (some of them starting to seem well-worn at this point), but managed to transcend or expand the boundaries of those conventions and introduce new topics (or at least pleasing variations on old topics) into the conversation.

Albums of the Year 2011: Honourable Mentions

Pinch & Shackleton - Pinch & Shackleton

This album shares a lot of characteristics with other albums you'll see throughout this list. Ominous, creeping dread? Check. Hazy clouds of reverb? Double check. Vocal samples that have been treated and played with? Triple check. I'm not familiar enough with either Pinch or Shackleton to comment on where this lies in the spectrum of their respective bodies of work, but this is fantastic mood music. This album reminds me of the albums that I used to try and make sense of when I first started reading/hearing about "dubstep" via online music publications (c.2006/2007). It's certainly one of the most alien sounding albums on the list; the soundworld it describes is monochromatic, but it's a dense landscape, scored with furrows, deeply textured--an LV-426 if you will; the album that would play over the soundsystem in Hadley's Hope. An album that rewards close, repeated listens, I can see this retaining its potency for some time to come.

Com Truise - Galactic Melt

With the name and the cover art, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was going to be an exercise in the worst of chillwave c.2009. Com Truise skips the whole half-remembered, hazy recreation of the 1980s, though, by going straight to the source: his sound is pristine and straight out of 1985, with immaculate synths spinning out endless glistening arpeggios. When he relies on vocal samples, like in "VHS Sex," the album does get a little too comfortably chill and kind of sub-Neon Indian, but for the most part Galactic Melt delivers wonderful electro that's perfect for hot summer days and cold winter nights. The album is at its most effective when Com Truise is content to let the synths and melodies drift out into space, like on "Hyperlips" and "Ether Drift."

Shlohmo - Bad Vibes

With its woozy rhythms and decaying machinery sound, you could almost call Shlohmo's Bad Vibes Brainfeeder-by-the-numbers. There is something powerful in Shlohmo's melodies and production that transcends its surface similarities to that label's house sound, though. When the kind of cyborg dance music that Bjork's "Pluto" suggests takes over the charts and all the machines that make it are slowly starting to malfunction, this is the sound they'll make. It's as sensuous as the best R'n'B, but at the same time there's something strangely unreal and dreamlike about it all. There are two competing idioms on this album: the crackle and hiss of vinyl and the slightly overdriven sound of a decaying signal that has come to signify the past, ghosts, and melancholy (via artists like Boards of Canada and Burial) and a kind of futuristic, mechanistic sound (one that is rapidly becoming as much a part of the past as the vinyl crackle it ostensibly faces off against here). It's in his exploration of this tension that Shlohmo really captures a lot of what is fascinating in music in 2011.

The Caretaker has been mining the combination of reverb, repetition, and edits for some time in his exploration of the aesthetic that would accompany the figure who gives him his name as he danced to the house band at the Overlook. An Empty Bliss Beyond This World takes these elements to a new level, though, purposefully repeating songs, focusing on only tiny snippets of old jazz recordings to evoke the feel of memory and its frailties (memory disorders like amnesia and Alzheimer's disease have been a constant reference point for the Caretaker's music). The narrative told by his song titles--"All You Are Going to Want to Do Is Get Back There," "Moments of Sufficient Lucidity," "I Feel as if I Might Be Vanishing," "Mental Caverns Without Sunshine," "The Sublime Is Disappointingly Elusive," to name a few--is heartbreakingly human: a longing to return to our happiest moments even as they vanish when we attempt to recall them. By no means "easy listening," An Empty Bliss Beyond This World is as profound a meditation on life as you'll find in music.

Pure X - Pleasure

This album sounds something like a cross between Real Estate's Days and Deerhunter's Cryptograms. The music is as viscous as cough syrup and just as slow as that image implies. Like dreams during a nap on a humid summer afternoon, these songs seems oppressed by the close, heavy atmosphere, with vague hints of menace colouring the innocence of their structure. This is the most an album has reminded of Loveless in a long time, and if it's not quite up to its level, Pleasure is still an enchanting listen. It's a haunted take on 1950s and early 1960s rock and roll that's refreshingly free of Lynchian grotesqueness--feverish, hallucinatory, neon, psychedelic, yes, but not macabre or uncanny. The guitar work is fantastic, too: dig that feedback that twists back in on itself at the end of "Surface!" In a weird way, the lo-fi production can make some of Pleasure's tracks seem like cousins to songs like "Parties" and "Seriously" on Shlohmo's Bad Vibes.

This should give you some hints as to what'll be coming up in the top 10. I'll be posting my albums of the year list over the next ten days, starting with #10 tomorrow and finishing with #1 on Christmas Day. Feel free to join in the conversation with your own takes on these albums, lists of your favourite albums, and/or suggestions for things to check out.

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