Dec 31, 2011

Best electronica albums of 2011: numbers 4 to 2

We are approaching the Album Of The Year much in the same way an astronaut with an upside-down map is heading for the sun. By the time you finish reading this blog post, you should be in a position to try and guess the winner of this year’s top accolade.

Meanwhile, let’s check out the nearly gang in our penultimate collection of also-rans. Once that's done, we'll crank up the Top Of The Bleeps theme music with numbers 4 to 2.

[This is part three. Click here for part one. Click here for part two. Click here for part four.]

Some also-rans

I’m very sad to exclude Björk, especially after her triumphant performance of the Attenborough-tastic Biophilia (One Little Indian). She had a Tesla coil for crap’s sake. However, although she is on top of her game right now, it’s not really electronica of the Fat Roland On Electronica variety.

At the very bottom of their game is Paris’s own Justice, whose new album Audio, Video, Disco (Ed Banger) was such a mess, I wasn’t sure if Spinal Tap were having a seizure: at first amusing then just painful and sad. Imagine The Who teaming up with David Guetta. No, it wouldn’t be fantastic, you’re wrong. In 2011, Justice made me cross.

Mark Pritchard and Steve Spacek’s Africa HiTech project was a joy to the ears: 93 Million Miles (Warp) was bristling with bass and bad attitude – but not a top ten spot. Also not in the top ten is Biosphere, whose nuclear-themed concept album N-Plants (Touch) was gorgeous and just okay at the same time, while SBTRKT’s SBTRKT (Young Turks) was filed along with Nero in the grey bin next to my desk marked ‘pop’.

4 - Modeselektor - Monkeytown

In 1998, Thom Yorke threw a rabbit into the headlights and set the standard for guest vocalists on Unkle’s debut Psyence Fiction. It’s remarkable then that he should return all these years later and equal that achievement on Modeselektor’s third album Monkeytown (Monkeytown). It’s not the first time they have worked together, of course, but the tracks Shipwreck and This are hypnotic and beguiling.

Beyond the Yorkie bombs are other highlights: the hotstepping German Clap, the digital urgency of the loping Grillwalker, the emotive melody on the PVT-collaboration Green Light and the absurd hip hop of Pretentious Friends (“the pâté was fabulous!”).

We’re so spoilt with this Berlin duo’s dexterity, confidence and (whisper it) pop sensibilities, it almost seems a shame that the claustrophobic Shipwreck b-side Dull Hull isn’t on show too.

Unstoppable, bass-driven, ear-hugging digitalism: this is the rise of the town of the monkeys. Come on my ‘selektor.

3 - Plaid - Scintilli

Plaid are a duo that arose from godfathers of bleepery The Black Dog and became the techno musician’s techno musician, much in the same way that Stewart Lee is the comedian’s comedian and your great granddad is the racist’s racist.

Until now, Spokes was their best post-1990s album: it had amazing tunes but, unlike actual spokes, didn’t quite hang together as a whole. Scintilli (Warp) is the scintillating icing on the, um, spoke cake.

Opening with jingling guitars, which brings to mind 2001’s Eyen, we’re quickly smothered with choral sorrow and their trademark awkward chord progressions. Eye Robot brings in the fuzzy techno, Thank leads us into the cheery eeriness seen on many a Plaid album and by the fourth track, the anthemnic Dr Who work-out of Unbank, we’re ready for a tea break. The rest of the album careers from sunny dance numbers (African Woods) to sheer strangeness (Talk To Us), but it’s all perfectly Plaid.

This band has spent five years dabbling in other media, most notably for their audio-visual project Greedy Baby, but they have been in danger of seeing their traditional fans drift off. In that respect, Plaid have checked themselves and produced their best album for at least ten years.

2 - Martyn - Ghost People

The Brainfeeder label was the success story of 2010, with important releases from Lorn, Teebs and The Gaslamp Killer, and a crucial partnership with Ninja Tune. They were responsible for the return of Mr Ozio this year and they were even a headline feature in the Guardian a month or two ago.

All along, however, I felt that without a Brainfeeder-labelled album from their godlike founder Flying Lotus (he releases on Warp), they’d never quite crack it. They just needed something... something extra. I don’t know. Something indefinable. A ghost, maybe.

Ghost People (Brainfeeder) is a spectre to behold and should be the album that propels Brainfeeder into the premier league. I’m mixing metaphors again. Martyn has produced an aural dystopia in which shards of rave and techno have darkness cast upon them until they glisten molten musical antimatter.

Popgun could just be bouncy Joy Orbison dubstep with the occasional vocal grunt, but the atmospherics lift the sound into something greater than its parts. The driving Bauplan is so beautifully melodic, you either want to go for a run or a cry. And the choppy We Are You In The Future sounds like the theme music for every techno track ever recorded. Everyone is trying this sound, but Martyn does it best.

I wrestled over the decision whether to make Martyn’s Ghost People my album of the year or not. But no. There is another. A debut album so great, so absorbing, with such unique production, it ought to have every kid with a smidgen of soul mimicking his sound. Stay tuned, dear reader, for my Album Of The Year 2011.

[This is part three. Click here for part one. Click here for part two. Click here for part four.]


Isaac said...

Love that Plaid album - one of the best of teh year for me.

Fat Roland said...

Hurrah. Of everything in the top ten. it's probably my most played album of the year. Unthank is addictive.

Fat Roland said...

Ooo, a long-delayed typo spot. I meant to type "Unbank" not "Unthank".