The Best Electronic Music of 2011
Our electronic music enthusiasts pick highlights from a year when the genre ranged widely and wildly from ADD dance music to the last great pure dubstep record to an industrial cacophony that's a proper soundtrack to a world in turmoil.
10. Siriusmo - Mosaik (Monkeytown)
Germany's Moritz Friedrich waited over ten years to drop his debut album as Siriusmo. He apparently lacks confidence in his skills as an auditory artist, preferring to focus on graffiti and illustrations rather than performing live. Well, if his debut is anything to go by, his humility is unwarranted. This 17-track work of ADD dance music is clearly one of the year's most complete albums of pure fun. It's consistently dancefloor friendly, yet dedicated to no one genre or scene. Living up to the album title, slices of dubstep, IDM, and breaks can be heard alternating throughout Mosaik, as can a lot of French qualities, with many tracks spiritually borrowing from the likes of Mr. Oizo, Daft Punk, and Justice. Certainly, "High Together" is one of the most memorable intro album tracks of the year, starting with poor electronic vocal melodies punctuated by dwindling applause and eventual booing before launching into proper banging electro. And it all goes up from there. - Alan Ranta
9. The Advisory Circle - As the Crow Flies - Ghost Box
Dedicated to the memory of Trish Keenan of Broadcast, the sophomore album from Jon Brooks as the Advisory Circle practically screams "Don't panic!" Cloaked in the paranoia of old British PSAs and the creative limitations of vintage synths, As the Crow Flies sounds as if it could have been released in the early '80s as a horror or post-apocalyptic action film soundtrack. Yet, this is not a mere throwback record replicating classic electronic library music. Brooks demonstrates a distinct spark of creativity, employing more high-fidelity organic sounds at various points, expanding the aural palate, and redefining his own universe, while his arrangements have significantly deeper layers than his debut. Shades of Kraftwerk, Jean-Jacques Perrey, and Jean Michel Jarre can be heard throughout the track listing. Rather than merely looking backwards, the album sounds as if it's breaking new ground. That makes it just as interesting and enjoyable to hear as the originators themselves. - Alan Ranta
8. Plaid - Scintili (Warp)
London duo Andy Turner and Ed Handley chose the best possible way to celebrate their 20th year signed to the legendary Warp Records -- by releasing their most distinguished album to date. On the whole, Scintilli exists beyond all genre classifications except the frowned-upon IDM. It is devoted to nothing except immaculately crafted sound, proof that the Plaid aesthetic has been honed to a sweet science. Utilizing a bizarre range of time signatures, beat patterns, and BPMs, the album always sounds fresh, moving between more referential dance numbers with ethereal vocals and moody warped bass tracks to serene ambient explorations. The offbeat nature of these forms may be somewhat discombobulating on a first listen, yet one cannot deride the perfect balance of their production. This is an electronic music album made for the appreciation of other electronic musicians and certain geeks who fancy themselves audiophiles. Apparently, there are enough of these people in the UK to get this up to #167 on the charts. Good show. - Alan Ranta
7. Amon Tobin - ISAM (Ninja Tune)
Who says it's all about sound alone? Over the past five or so years, we've seen a number of electronic musicians deliver ground-breaking live shows, each with an aesthetic that embodies the artist, from Daft Punk's neon pyramid to Plastikman's stark LED cage. For Amon Tobin's incredible ISAM live show, it was all about geometry -- a blocky, 3D set played with audience perspectives, replete with mind-bending visuals to match Tobin's exquisitely crafted bits and pieces. ISAM was clearly made to be bigger than just another record, and in touring behind it, Tobin has advanced himself to a new level.
But what about sound -- what about the record? Certainly, ISAM is an impressive testament to Tobin's technical prowess. He's advanced leaps and bounds in skill since his days looping jazzy breaks as Cujo, something which he alludes to in an introductory kiss-off to his ISAM commentary. That said, as an album, ISAM is easy to admire and harder to love -- at least at first. "Journeyman" comes close to the soulful satisfaction of previous Tobin staples like "Slowly" and "Back From Space", but generally, this is an album that demands patience, attention, and preferably a nice sound system. Odes to resynthesis like "Piece of Paper" or "Mass & Spring" are candy for a great set of headphones, but you aren't going to truly fall for them without repeated listens. On the bright side, ISAM's density ensures that each active listen reveals something new. - David Abravanel
6. Deadbeat - Drawn and Quartered (BLKRTZ)
Though it's bad form to single out a genre, dub techno painted itself into a pretty tight corner from the start. There are only so many ten-minute exercises in tape-delayed synths that one can hear before it starts to blend together in a bassy haze. Veteran producer Deadbeat, aka Scott Monteith, sidesteps these concerns by embracing his role as a storyteller. Each of the five tracks on Drawn and Quartered is a journey, often with ambient build-up beginnings that evolve into gradually layered beats. Nothing is rushed, nor does it ever feel overly repetitive, a difficult pitfall to avoid in dub techno.
Sometimes things are cyclical, as on "First Quarter", which emerges from drone to a spacey dub soup, before drowning again. Other times, as on the meta-track that encompasses the end of "Third Quarter (The Vampire of Mumbai)" and the beginning of "Fourth Quarter (Cala's House)", it's a transitory section that keeps the narrative of the album flowing.
Like many of 2011's best releases, Drawn and Quartered's sounds are lushly spaced -- just what plugin/IRs are these guys using, anyway? The drums and wide-panned synth delays of "Second Quarter" accumulate into a warm and inviting bed of a track, and the mix always feels full and inclusive without being overwhelming. In a year full of genre-crossovers and daring moves, Drawn and Quartered isn't setting any new standards. Rather, it's a watermark release from an experienced musician at the top of his game. - David Abravanel