The year is coming to a close, and in less than a week 2011 will be no more than a memory. As we set our resolutions and prepare for the next chapter in our lives, many of us will be reflecting on the past year and the events that defined it. For Earmilk, every year is defined by the music it brings to the table. We live and breath music over here, celebrating it to the highest extent as well as scrutinizing it to the finest detail. The beautiful thing about music is that unlike memories, music will never fade away. It has been a fundamental part of our world for ages now, and will be until the end of time. To cap the year off, Earmilk has put together a list of our top 20 albums in Hip-Hop, Electronic and Indie music. Each list was put together by a collective group of our writers in their respective genres who worked feverishly to create a set of albums that we consider the best of 2011 – not necessarily the most popular albums, nor the most successful albums, but the albums that we as experts found iconic for the artist, the genre, or our readership. We recognize that you may feel one way or another about this list, an album within it, or an album left out – so we encourage you to leave feedback in the comments below and rave about how disappointed you are that Bieber’s isn’t #1 on the list.
2011 can be summed up as a period of innovative change in electronic music. As the masses peaked in their craving for belligerent electro and dubstep, the instigators of these genres attempted to distinguish themselves from what were now the sounds of the general public. Things got a little weird. Established bonafides became visionaries composing with avant-garde in mind and laying the ground work for setting new trends. Fresh talent blossomed, and with them came the monthly chart toppers that broke the barriers of typical song structure and frequency in nearly every sub genre. Never has the BPM gone so low, so high, and yet make complete sense. It was the year electronic music showed its true colours. Reaching it's hand out to harmonics quarantined in basement after hours and warehouse raves, the internet pulled these small niches in to cultivate a mixed establishment. This list is proof of that as it spans from ambient techno garage cross overs to bass burials and funky floor stompers. A prelude to a destined scene of post-everything.
There were plenty of complaints surrounding Joker's first full album release, The Vision, on 4AD, most citing its poppy nature, particularly the vocals. But perhaps a good deal of this negative feedback was built off of lofty expectations, because in a big way, I think this album was a way to bring a somewhat scattered body of work into some sort of cohesive whole, and turning what were once snippety productions floating around helter-skelter into an album satisfying to heavy grime aficionados and fans of poppier music alike is actually something to be respected (mainstream appeal sure gets a bad rap for something that's surprisingly difficult to achieve while retaining some authenticity).
And as far as authenticity goes, The Vision certainly retained Joker's signature "purple" flavor. The vocals will even grow on you eventually if you hear them enough, and you won't be able to stop listening, even if you might feel a bit guilty about it. And for those who still can't quite get over the vocals, Joker also released instrumentals of all of the tracks for free. There's no denying the smoothness of Joker's production, and it will be very exciting to see where he takes his work in the future, now that the burden of album #1 is off his young shoulders. Joker isn't only one of the most important faces of electronic in 2011, he's also one to keep an eye on in 2012 and beyond. – alyce
Kode9, aka Steve Goodman, has certainly made a name for himself as one of the most reliable producers on the (post-)dubstep/grime scene as owner of the Hyperdub label (which has played host to familiar faces like Zomby, Joker, Ikonika, and Darkstar). However, he's not making it onto this list because of reputation alone — his second album with rapper The Spaceape, Black Sun, has only added to an already impressive body of work. With mad brainpower to back up his musical affinities — he studied rave culture, cybernetics, postmodernism, and afrofuturism at the University of Warwick and wields a PhD — Kode9 has worked not only in music but also in academia, a combination that's surprisingly uncommon amongst well-loved producers as far as I can tell and one that definitely shines through in the complexity and variety of his productions.
We can't think of anything else that quite sounds like either of the two albums from Kode9 and the Spaceape, yet despite their similarities, they also manage to be distinct works. There's something a bit rough around the edges about Black Sun, despite meticulous production value, with Spaceape's vocals adding something abrasive alongside Kode9's beats, which have been sorted into the caliber of beloved names like Flying Lotus and Burial. It's hip-hop blended through a cinematic sci-fi filter, with dark urgency always lurking in the background. – alyce
With a big a year as Boddika and Jon Convex had as solo artists it's easy to forget the fact that they put forth this critically acclaimed LP this year as well. For what the album lacks in club friendly playability the way past work such as "When I Dip" might it makes up for in it's ability to illicit reactions without a need for hooks and sing along samples. Look to "Thomp" for the floor shaker of the lot with it's distorted, reverb-t0-the-max toms. "Aggro Acid" is perhaps the most Boddika influenced of the lot as his acid basslines take on way more low end frequency than anything you'd hear out of Phuture and lastly 8 as the ominous 5 am darkhorse. – goldngrams
Kuedo's Severant stands alongside Rustie's debut LP as one of the most delectable, wonky UK bass treats of 2011, blending subtle inspiration from old-school dubstep and garage with intelligent, atmospheric sounds to create something all his own. Formerly of Vex'd, Jamie Teasdale works solo as Kuedo. This album, like many of our top electronic albums, is difficult to classify — after all, the innovators are those who can best escape from easy genre-sorting and release something peerless. Sharing Rustie's cinematic, sci-fi style (great minds think alike), but taking this retro feel in a slightly different direction, Severant is perhaps better as an ambient album to sit through and take in than a collection of club hits, but we can't always be expected to party. Here's to the (kind of contemplative) afterparty. – alyce
Shlohmo had a big year in 2011, releasing tons of material, including his awesome Places EP and plenty of remixes. He also released his first true full-length album, Bad Vibes. At first listen, this felt a bit less exciting than some of Henry Laufer's other releases, which are more beat-driven and accessible, but especially after you've been through your first listen of Bad Vibes, you realize that it's a pretty airtight album that builds up in a big way, moving from fairly innocuous, ambient-feeling tracks to darker experimentation. It's almost easy to forget that the album's early tracks are playing because they're that smooth, but then you suddenly find yourself surprised by the heavier later numbers before it descends again.
Favourite Track: Shlohmo – Trapped in a Burning House
Bad Vibes is a pretty lengthy album, and it's not really one that's going to grasp you with immediate hooks on first listen. But it's a worthwhile album and one that will definitely earn a place amongst your favorites after a series of listens. That's not to say there aren't tracks that stand out on their own, but it will probably take a few listens to be able to pick and choose. If you haven't listened to Bad Vibes yet — or if you only gave it one or two cursory visits — we definitely suggest going back for more. – alyce
Techno muse and label hoss Tiga got his hands dirty in some analog with the anthemic Zombie Nation to debute their first collaborative album under the moniker ZZT. Hype had this LP cornered as it teased on for years when Tiga first lift the lid on "Zzafrika" which became a set staple in 2010 and had fans gushing over its impending release. Whether it lived up to the crowds is still under debate. Partys Over Earth erratically dabbles with tight four on the floor grooves often toppling song structure in return for senseless noise.
A junction between dance floor hooligans and experimental enthusiasts, this album is bound to make either side uncomfortable. But who said comfort was a good thing, the worth is instilled in its work ethic. Filling a void that has since sprung with the rise of cookie cutter electro and rehashed house fodder. Tracks like "Partys Over Los Angeles" and "Work" prove that colossal kicks and smashing snares still have a place in a future that lies in the arms of techno. While the Montreal emceed "Nickel Und Dime" and "The Worm" flip on a cheeky look that trashes genre politics and reminds us that this music is party music. – theduke
Setting the hotshot label and thrifty art aside, Detroit house and techno dino Omar S proved to the world that the sewers of motor city are still relevant today. In a time where the urban authentics face extinction, It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do It resuscitates a feel often left behind in what most call the old school. That doesn't aspire to rehashing techniques from the past, but rather a self-conscious attitude that breaks onto a plane rich in quality and mood. All 12 tracks drip of rawness and flaunt a variety of looks from soaked acid house to techno anthems. Omar takes a big risk stacking super saws in "Here's Your Trance Now Dance" and ends up pulling it off in style regardless of the genre's corny perception. "Look Hear Watch" is a deep house oxymoron, combining vicious audio porno with soothing wurlitzer organs. It's precisely this that sets the album apart from other contemporaries, each work emanates a groove from the past while innovating for the future. – theduke
Ghostly International has always been one of the few electronic focused labels to gear more towards releasing full length albums as opposed to EPs and Com Truise managed to sneak a couple albums into their catalogue in 2011. Our favorite of the bunch is the space funk opus Galactic Melt. One doesn't have to witness Truise's production process to appreciate that an analog junkie's wet dream of gear was used in Galactic Melt's creation. Never a slave to house music's expectations in regards to tempo his songs hover in the 80-90 BPM range with enough kicks to propel them into double time if the feeling arises. From the 8 bit grime influenced "Ether Drift" to the tremolo vibes on "Glawio", Com Truise's sound is an underserviced genre where he seems poised to take the crown from space funk legend Dam Funk. – goldngrams
Night Slugs darling Egyptrixx, alongside his label mates, creates bass music that's anything but typical or classifiable. His 2011 LP,Bible Eyes, the first full artist album released on the Night Slugs label, is exhilarating but subtle, spacey but familiar, darkly dissonant and a bit abrasive but also somehow comforting. Tracks like "Chrysalis Records" (featuring Trust) show a romantic, emotional side to his work, while most of the album's tracks are a darker combination of various electronic subgenres ranging from dubstep to techno.
Favourite Track: Egyptrixx – Chrysalis Records feat. Trust
The future of dance music is weird, and we like it that way. Bible Eyes works as a full, cohesive album and also offers a wide range of single-worthy tracks that bring the dance-floor destruction (but not in the way you'd expect). – alyce
Cosmin's first full length venture delves into an after hours world of haunting chord progressions brought to life by a selection of warm vintage keys. Highlights such as "Ritmat" and "Fizic" are wonderfully schizophrenic yet the album remains cohesive in it's journey through the ability to stay true to it's mood while bringing a sense of originality to individual songs from the arpeggios on "Less Of Me", "More Of You" to the pad work on "Osu Xen". – goldngrams
Stay tuned as we unveil the last half of our list with our top 10 picks of 2011. We look forward to bringing your inner music nerd to geek out in the comments and hope that this NYE isn't as overrated as the last.