So, remember how I did it last year? The tiering system, as opposed to rankings? Yeah, that's how I've been rating everything since then. Hard and fast rankings are for the inflexible and narrow-minded.
The xx The xx
Telefon Tel Aviv Immolate Yourself
DJ Sprinkles Midtown 120 Blues
The Lullaby League Dormio Animus
Intrusion The Seduction of Silence
Yep, these are the best. Not only are they really good, but they're really moving. That may come as a surprise in the case of Monolake. It's a good Monolake album, on par with Interstate, for sure, but moving? Perhaps an odd claim, but I find this album really affecting. The same goes for the Intrusion album. Not only am I completely comfortable calling that one of the best (dub or otherwise) techno albums of all time, it's so evocative.
DJ Sprinkles is Terre Thaemlitz's moniker for house-influenced material, as opposed to his usual glitched ambience. Amazing how one guy (er) could do two such diverse genres so well. Midtown 120 Blues is one of the three best house albums I've ever heard. Granted I'm not a house head, so my tastes are a bit off, but this is a classic. It's really warm and organic, uplifting yet moody, and just sloppy enough. Oh, you can dance to it, of course. Now that you know about Terre, I bet the Lullaby League is the obscurest thing here. I don't know much about them either. I stumbled across this album, and it transfixed me. It's also warm, organic, and kinda sloppy, but it's a slightly glitchy ambient album with some great spoken word on top. It does wonderful things: when you're trying to fall asleep and listening to it, it keeps you in the space between asleep and awake. Really cool.
Many know the story of the Telefon Tel Aviv album at this point: two guys, one of them kills himself the week before this album is released. I don't bite on those kinds of stories; the music stands alone to me. In the end, I am selfishly moved by his death, because this is the first Telefon Tel Aviv album that blew me away...and now I don't get another. Shitty. So go buy this one. It's shoegazey-IDM-synthpop. Odd combo, I know, but I love it.
And then...the xx. Forced to choose, I think I have to go with this album as my favourite of last year (with very close competition from Intrusion). It's pretty much perfect. A lot has already been said about it, so I'll try and not repeat any of it. It's amazing. Go buy it. (Crap, that's already been said.) The most astonishing thing about this album is its restraint. To make an album so subtle and relaxed is not completely astonishing, but it is for four 20-year-olds. That's the age when rocking is important. Subtlety is for the old who can't handle the noise. Let this be the first sign of a new era in barely-there music.
Weird-looking, but secretly the most interesting people at the party
The Twilight Sad Forget the Night Ahead
Shackleton 3 EPs
Piano Magic Ovations
Bvdub White Clouds Drift on and on
Kind of an odd assortment here, but they make sense together: they're all very good, but there's a little hook to each one that might drive some people away. If you can get over the hump, though, you'll be rewarded. (The bumps? Twilight Sad: "Haven't I heard this before?" Shackleton: "This is a little repetitive." Piano Magic: "This is kinda wannabe late-period Dead Can Dance." Bvdub: "Wait, it's over and I forgot to pay attention.")
Burial / Four Tet split 12"
Others in Conversation "Two Instrumentals"
Data & Cell "Doors of Perception"
Indigo/Synkro "Runes/My Own World"
Putting out two tracks on a piece of vinyl usually precludes you from getting on year-end best-release lists. Not for me. Qualitatively, these records are 100% awesome.
Returns to form
Gus Gus 24/7
Tortoise Beacons of Ancestorship
Tortoise and Gus Gus are each coming off two albums or so of so-so material. Ah, they're back! These albums hold their own against their best.
Doing what they do, and doing it well
Fluxion Constant Limber
Alva Noto Xerrox vol. 2
jj jj n2
Lawrence Until Then, Goodbye
Much like finding your way back from a period of pointlessness, there's something to be said for knowing how to do what you do, and then doing it very well. (Junior shout-out to Fluxion, who decided to make a track with a vocalist, and made my jaw drop. It was so unexpected and not terribly original, but the fact that it happened and was successful is something.)
Artist of the year
Oh yeah, yes, YES. Karin Dreijer Andersson, welcome to the pantheon, Micah's Pantheon of Sorta-Crazy, Intensely Creative, Inspirational Women. You already know Kate Bush and Bjrk, of course.
This album is stunning. The singles are stunning. The remixes are stunning. The graphic design and videos are stunning. The live show (going from the live album) was stunning. What can't this woman do? I was surprised at how mellow, dark, and personal this album is. The Knife are dark, and sorta personal, but rarely mellow. She turned it around for the album. The moment that gets me the most is in the album's centerpiece, "Keep the Streets Empty for Me". The last line, repeated, is "uncover our heads and reveal our souls". Definitely heavy coming from a woman known for wearing strange and complex masks for public appearances.
Remixes of the year
Florence & the Machine "You've Got the Love" xx Remix
Hell "The DJ" Radio Slave Remix
Hey, it's the xx again. These damn sneaky kids, in addition to producing their own album, are apparently capable enough to turn out an amazing remix of a song, not in their style, and twist it around to their style. [shakes fist]
I'll keep shaking my fist at Matt Edwards, Mr Radio Slave, doing what he does so well: showing you that when you think you've had enough, sticking with it a little longer is better than enough. Great track for him to work his magic on, too. This DJ Hell album missed the above shortlist by only a little bit (ironically, it's too long), but this track is great. It's good on the album, better as a remix. All of this is prelude to my saying that I'm astonished I ever loved a track with Diddy (yes, Sean Combs) ranting about DJs who only play edits and should be playing the extended versions instead.
(If I hadn't already given the praise to Fever Ray, we'd see the Rex the Dog remixes of "Triangle Walks" and the Scuba remixes of "Seven" here.)
Great producer choice
Fuck Buttons Tarot Sport
Their previous album I loved when I first heard it, but it fell down the list pretty quickly. Why? Too narrowly focused, no soul. What can fix that? Getting Andrew Weatherall to produce, of course! A turnaround and a great piece of work. Cheers, gents.
Ask me when summer comes
King Midas Sound Waiting for You
I think I like this...but as a soft-yet-thick reggae album (or a dubstep-with-vocals album), I'm not going to know until summer. Just the way it is. Can't fully grok this kind of music until it's warm out and I'm living on Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum.
It's ambient music
Leyland Kirby Sadly, the Future is No Longer What It Was
It's four hours of distressed recordings of worn-out 78s. Oh, it's ambient in the traditional Eno definition: aural wallpaper. Wallpaper can be oppressive and really affect your subconscious, though...
Sven Weisemann Xine
The "Xine Zero" 12" is great. A pretty tight little combination of electronic rhythms, strings, and piano. It's quite original. So why is the album so painfully dull? Not enough electronics. Only a couple tracks really bring it all together nicely. Without the beats, it just sounds like sketches for a snippets of a soundtrack. A shame, as I was really looking forward to hearing this kind of sound...
Oh wait, what's this?
Field Rotation Licht und Schatten
Hey, here it is, subtle electronics with strings and piano. Sven has more of a minimal-housey flavour to his work, Field Rotation sounds more like Move D: sorta housey, sorta ambient techno. Damn good. Excellent work by this obscure producer. Now, make haste over to his webpage for two free remix EPs.