MY TOP TEN TUNES OF 2011

Almost after anyone might care, but here are the songs from last year that I played most often, and in which I still find new things to excite me. You can download all of them in a zip file here. I don’t really listen to albums all the way through very much these days due to a shortened attention span. Reflecting on this list and reducing my tastes: I’m still a club music person though I almost never go out to clubs any more. I like beats, loops, cut up, glitches and ‘dirty sound’. Electronic music rules. Hailed by the music that tries to cross the tracks, borders and oceans. ‘The Orient is a career’. Most of the rock I listen to now is old stuff or filtered through other styles.

Of course there have been loads of great reissues and old releases that have encircled me over the last year, but these are the new tunes. So here we go, not in order of importance, but how I might arrange the songs in a playlist:

1.  THE FIELD – Is This Power

No question mark though. Michel Foucault and then AC/DC, pomp rock and the bagpipes on ‘Mull of Kintyre’. This is music for the stadium stomp. Didn’t suspect I liked the grandiose gesture so much, but then again I do appreciate aspects of Leni Riefenstahl’s films. This is a belting kickstarter for any album. The Field’s Looping State of Mind is great for driving cars.

2.  ZOMBY – Natalia’s Song

Zomby with some compelling hiccup programming of female vocals. Sounds like the voices of Bulgaria meeting his punctilist rather than breakbeat tendencies. Came out on one-sided 10″ on 4AD records, which added to the aura of the Cocteaus and ech0-haunting that’s such a big part of the popscape.

3.  PANDA BEAR – Surfer’s Hymn (Actress Primitive Patterns Extended Mix)

I didn’t really listen to the new Panda Bear album but tracked down as much of Actress’ music as I could. I don’t like the word ‘trance’ or ‘tribal’, but you know what I mean. I bought the 7″ mix but the one-sided 12″ of about 12 minutes is the real killer with its middle section which sounds like Sun Ra landed in Africa and instigated street protest with his keyboards. Surf’s up. Unfortunately the extended remix has been taken down from YouTube so here’s a homemade video for the shorter version. I don’t usually like cat videos but this makes me a little queasy in a good way.

4.  BURIAL – Stolen Dog

The ‘Silent Halo’ EP appeared early in the year on Hyperdub. This B-side was another track that moulded ‘feminine’ vocals into cyborg riffs. Burial’s always been good at that, and I’m  still a sucker for his trademark sound of scratchy vinyl. The medium is the massage/message. Ever since the first album I’ve always thought of Burial as film music about the city at night when almost everyone has retired. This is less the dangerous city, bustling nightlife or urban browsing and ragpicking, but the city in which the subject is lost and alienated. This could have been a short film about a person searching desperately for a loved one that has been taken away from them. A dog, maybe.

5.  GANG GANG DANCE – Glass Jar

Another album opening epic. In the Wire magazine, Simon Reynolds quoted the opening male voice – ‘I can hear everything. It’s everything time’ – as a sign of music in the age of digital accumulation. True. But I like how this song builds in all the best elements of synth pop and an ecstatic yearning to join the other’s dance without taking it over. It glistens and glows like teenage Depeche Mode and then turns into a ‘tropical’ jam of steel drums but then careers through uncertain geography. You’re not sure which route it will take next, even if you’ve heard it many times. Can barely understand any of the female lead singer’s words, but since when did that matter? It is English.

6.  FALTYDL – Mean Streets Part 1

Maybe because I listened to Fela and Fela edits a fair bit this year (as last), I fell for this 12″ groovalicious number. One of those few records that I seriously regret not buying and owning, though I didn’t know about it until it was too late and the overpriced limited edition pressing had sold out. FaltyDL or Falty DL (I think the former) released a ton of records this year, but this track on Loefah’s heavyweight vinyl label Swamp 81 (best name ever) has an amazingly warm sound I’d love to hear on a massive sound system, not just the sub-bass woofers in the BASE FM studio. Is that a Marvin sample over some Afrobeat shuffle. I think he sampled Curtis on the EP too. Great record cover too, which was more Scorsese than The Shrine in its ethos. Here’s a bit of it. Ignore the visual, though she has nice spex.

7.  TORO Y MOI – Go With You

Another one from quite early in the year. Some trainspotter is likely to tell me that this came out in 2010. But anyway, it’s maintained its position as one of the few straight-up songs of the Top Ten. What a sound? Sparkly keys. Harpsichords are in. Check the Greg Foat Group album on Jazzman too. And echoes of 1960s-70s California pop and the sunshine sound which I’ve been listening to a lot in the hopes that it’ll always be summer. And some Indie angsty lyrics about male failure to boot.

8.  TOKIMONSTA – Little Pleasures (Ft. Gavin Turek)

Another song and this one is really from California, though it may have been recorded elsewhere. Asian-American hip hop in full effect worldwide. I’ve loved the Toki one ever since her early EPs and album. If this is her songwriting, I’m really looking forward to more. Summed up how I feel about records. Better than chocolate or a toke. I keep hearing the chorus as ‘live for pleasure’. One of those songs that verges on drift, more of which to follow…

9.  FENNESZ – Seven Stars

I didn’t really take to the album with Sakamoto that much. This four-track EP was excellent throughout. Bleep selected ‘Liminal’ as one of its best tracks of the year, to which I listened, and though it is the sound of electric guitars melting, this waltz and the title track of the EP sets me adrift.

10.  PJ HARVEY – England

So close to home. Affect capture. This is how I feel and when I listen to it, I’m a bit exposed, feeling for and against England. An acknowledgment that the empire and the war are at home and not far away. ‘It leaves a bitter taste’. The sampled vocal, her own vocals and the instruments confused the distance between English folk music and alien sounds. We are everywhere.

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