Sach O doesn’t play well with others on the playground.
I’m not going to argue about it. When it came time to submit mid-year lists for the site, I saw that I had maybe a choice or two in common with some of the other guys and said “Fuck it, all good, Ima do me”. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve disappeared up a Dubstep wormhole and landed in some weird nether-dimension of Bass music, and the occasional rap oddity. At this point if I want to listen to rock or rap, it’s old-school stuff so forget about Ty Segal or Mary Mallon – I’m bumping Beanie Siegal and Flux Pavillion.
So here’s 10 full-length pieces of music I’ve particularly enjoyed this year, some are compilations, others are albums and a couple are mixes. I’d like to say I’ve reviewed all of these over the past few months but ya know, life’s ill, life might kill. And if you don’t get that reference but like the James Blake album, don’t talk to me.
10. Raekwon – Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang
With a few months hindsight, I definitely prefer Cuban Linx Pt 2. To this album – the production and vibe just doesn’t rank up – but that’s seriously small potatoes when you realize that Raekwon has managed to release two VERY good albums in a row. That’s a rarity for the Wu, let alone for the Chef and lyrically, Shallah actually stepped his game up this go around, coming with iller stories, more aggressive patterns and everything else you’d ever want from a rap music elder statesman. Let’s hope Ghost gets back on the ball and they finally commit to an album together.
9. Royal-T – Special Stage Mix
Grime albums are a dicey proposition for me, as the aggressive delivery and uptempo beats feel better suited to radio sets and singles than pop albums or street mixtapes. Wiley’s 100% Publishing is dope but really, you don’t need to hear the man go on and on about how he’s going to crossover when you can download this Royal-T mix for free and hear the best the scene has got to offer in a concise 40 minute blast. Like Dubstep minus the white boy aggression or Funky minus the house music predictability, this new age grime hits the sweet spot between EDM production and urban energy.
8. Kode9 & The Space Ape – Black Sun
I have to admit it: as my most anticipated album of the year, I thought this would have ranked higher. Coming out of left field, the apocalyptic funk of Black Sun occasionally feels beholden to its concept. I’m still waiting for a Skream remix to unleash “Am I’s” full party smashing potential. Take it for what it is however and the record is a hallucinatory trip through the looking glass to a parallel universe where Nuclear disaster hits-…you know what? Let’s just peg this one as “scarily accurate end of the world music and move on.”
MP3: Kode9-”Black Sun”
7. Hessle Audio – 116 and RisingThe Hessle gang aren’t a very scary gang. I like to imagine them going to their local library to borrow old records and politely chatting with old ladies as they open the doors. Yet for all their polite Englishness, those kids are funky. Resurrecting classic house, broken beat, Garage, Techno and rare groove, all with a heavy Dubstep bottom, Pangaea, Ramadanman, Blawan, Joe, Elgato and more dropped this year’s smartest collection of bass music tracks – all without breaking a sweat. Special points for Addison Groove’s Fuk Tha 101 and D1’s Sub Zero, rudebwoy anthems that stick out like sore thumbs…in a good way. That second disc of classic singles makes for one hell of a late pass for the uninitiated too.
6. Exit Records: Mosaic Vol 1
I don’t spin Drum & Bass – even arty, experimental, half-speed drum & bass – so my appreciation of this record is solely from a listener’s perspective. A collection of dark, groovy, atmospheric tracks that have become a go-to standard for smoking sessions, Mosaic Volume 1 somehow manages to warp EDM’s most ‘ardkore minded, insular, subgenre into something everyone from Techno-purists to café-del-mar enthusiasts can get behind…without pissing off the Junglists. Salute. Also, Synkro’s “Open Arms” may be the single most beautiful piece of music I’ve heard all year so there’s that.
5. Jackmaster – Fabriclive #57
It’s a mix…but what a mix! That Splack Pack/Sinden bit does more to explain the appeal of dance music than any long-winded description I can muster this morning so suffice to say that if you’re going to listen to one hour of mixing this year, make it this one. Gateway drug warning: there’s some old Detroit Techno tracks in here that’ll have you debating whether those Discog prices are worth it. Probably not, but if I had the cash…
MP3: Model 500-”Night Drive (Thru-Babylon)” (128 K/BPS)
4. Instra:Mental – Resolution 653
I suppose this isn’t Dubstep at all, so why am I constantly reminded of Dubstep? Probably because of the tempo. But also because its hard to imagine two Drum & Bass recluses ever dropping a full length of dark, twisted 80s electro without South-London Garage clearing the path first. Regardless, call it what you want as long as you call it the year’s darkest, best produced album of electronic music made only for headstrong ravers and possibly the replicants from Blade Runner. I always have a hard time describing beats so I’ll make it simple: these are some fantastic beats.
MP3: Instra: Mental-”8″
I’ve pretty much said all I have to say about this one. For the record, I still listen to it a lot and some days, I want to give it the #1 spot. If you disagree, you probably like soup.
2. The Weeknd – House of Balloons
These guys have something for everybody. Drake and Kanye’s Hip-Hop histrionics for the skinny jeans kids, Best Coast samples for the indie crowd, substantial low-end for the bass heads and straight-up soul for the R&B crowd. In a weird way, House of Balloons is the consensus pick of the year, if you’re OK with an occasional moment of hilarity in your music that is. Don’t discount them because of their comedic flair though, this is a dark album about parties and after-parties and the laughs are there to keep you from crying: I have no doubt that lines like “let me seeeeeeee thaaaattt aaaaaaassssssss” are coming from a very genuine place.
1. lol – Me Me
I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time justifying this record as my #1 pick seeing as my top 3 are pretty much interchangeable. Still, I really enjoy this record a hell of a lot. Combining Trip-Hop, Dubstep, Shoegaze, Hard Rock and more and putting the bouillabaisse to the service of quality song-writing about living and dying in the city, this is a record for our troubled times. And the winner of the great 2011 Dubstep crossover race is…probably not these guys sales wise, but fuck it: the music’s good and that’s all that counts, right?