Onomatopoeia's Best Music of 2011

Welcome to Onomatopoeia’s yearend best of 2011. While our first posts began only 6 months ago in June, we felt that half a year on the blogosphere warranted the mandatory best of list. Since this is our first in what will hopefully become an annual tradition we had to take some time to figure out some of the in’s and out’s on how we wanted to go about it all. After some discussion amongst the contributors we decided to go with individual lists of 13 rather than one communal list. Why thirteen? We figured one choice per month at twelve months in the year with an extra 13th choice for good measure.
Here is how we see 2011…


I’ve never been one to number my lists; my mood determines what my preferred listening is at any given time so here are my top 13 music releases in no particular order…
Best 13 Albums of 2011

Clams Casino – Instrumentals

New Jersey producer Mike Volpe really had a stellar 2011 dropping both this mixtape, which is composed of the instrumental versions of his productions used in his various collaborations in the hip hop underground, and the Rainforest EP. Further speaking to the quality of the record,  while I enjoyed some of the rappers the young producer has helped turn into bonnafied buzz worthy acts, it was always Clams’s work that got me there in the first place and had me returning for those repeat visits. Not intentionally or even consciously channeling DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing the producer never the less gave many of us what can be described amongst other things as the unofficial follow up to the legendary album that many of us have been waiting for ever since.

Liturgy – Aesthethica
It saddens me that the older I get the less appearances aggressive music  makes on my year end list but I truly believe this has more to do with the quality of releases then my own personal tastes. There was a time when loud music was exciting, ground breaking and tearing down barriers on a grand scale. Now days it’s left to the few to get it right while the many are busy releasing watered down versions that appeal the status quo, mixing the scream sing scream formula that was never very good in the first place and beating it to the ground. Enter Hunter Hunt-Hendrix and his group Liturgy, black metal’s most debated band. Having been constantly ridiculed as the very definition of Brooklyn hipster metal, Liturgy does away with the theatrics of corpse paint and further alienates its core audience by publishing written theories on the advancement of black metal...But Aesthethica presents its strongest argument via the actual music with a punishing and relentless wall of guitars and drums backing the vision, often giving the listener a euphoric experience that few other albums this year provided in metal or otherwise.

Hooray For Earth – True Loves

New York quartet Hooray For Earth are a very “now” band, their songs are often composed on synthesizers that take cues from electronic and psychedelia more so than guitars and indie rock placing the band someplace in-between MGMT and Yeasayer. “True Loves” is an album full of soaring melodies, massive hooks and  harmonizing chorus’s buried under a layer of arty noise and effects that make for a listening experience that some of the aforementioned bands could not deliver on in 2011. Songs like “Hotel,” delve deep into your consciousness calling to mind memories of Depeche Mode while other standout tune  “No Love” stands close to chillwave only to degenerate into a glitchy mess that shows Hooray For Earth are as intriguing with the beautiful as they are with the ugly.

Kanye West/Jay-Z - Watch the Throne 
As some may notice I always list Kanye West before Jay-Z when discussing the joint collaboration from two of hip hops heaviest hitters, Watch the Throne. This is because sonically Kanye is this album's obvious guiding force, at times channeling the grandeur and complexity of West’s Twisted Fantasy and his distinctive taste and sense of style all the way to the cover art. Watch the Throne may have felt heavy on the bling during this period of protest on finance both in the number of tracks and subject matter, but this is an aristocracy I could get behind any day with standout tracks like “No church in the Wild” and “Murder To Excellence”. 

SebastiAn - Total
As often is the case with albums from producers that make their home in the electronic scene , France’s glitch master SebastiAn dropped his long awaited début LP Total this year with a track list composed of both older fan favorites and some new and unheard instant classics. This can be a double edged sword in a scene that acts as if yesterday is already old news , especially since the producer’s aesthetic is rooted deep in the Ed Banger sound, aggressive and in your face, but not full on the meaning. It puzzled me that an album like this didn’t get more love, especially considering all the back lash on fellow Frenchmen Justice, whose sophomore effort Audio, Video, Disco was often accused of not sounding enough like Cross and the success of the truly uninspired Skrillex.  While some may have found the album crassly commercial and dated I found joy, carnage and inspiration in songs like "Yes" that felt a whole lot more danceable and party inducing then the over intellectualized and minimal dub scene which was better suited for the bed room, rainy days and heartache.

The Antlers - Burst Apart
Brooklyn's The Antler’s may have released their follow up to 2009”s outstanding Hospice early in the year but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been enjoying the sounds of Burst Apart on the regular ever sense. Now a trio, the band took charge of the mission ahead with the difficult task of following up such a magical album with something that maintained all the key elements that made Hospice so successful with something new and equally inspiring. If you are a patient listener Burst Apart reveals itself to be a slow burn through luxurious downtempo tones and textures laced with some serious melancholy never more satisfying than on standout track “No Widows.

Araab Muzik - Electronic Dream
MPC wizard AraabMuzik has a simple formula on his excellent album Electronic Dream; take some often forgettable mass produced trance music and begin to deconstruct it capturing the hooks and chorus lines and re-appropriating them to the world of hip hop. While producers have been toying with this idea for years now, the Rhode Island native took it to new levels, at times sampling entire club anthems from yesteryear, yet still making them unique compositions.  Perhaps directly calling out the recent heavy handedness of modern hip-hop's dance leanings, Araab decided to jump into the deep end of the pool not holding back on manipulating the late night dance floor’s quest for ecstasy and instead embracing it whole heartedly to form such memorable tunes as “AT2” and “Feelin So Good

The Weeknd – House Of Balloons
The Weeknd are perhaps the most widely recognized breakout stars of the internet in 2011. The alternative R&B act mysteriously appeared on the web  seemingly from out of nowhere with a sharp sense of visual aesthetic, some truly immaculate production, and with Abel Tesfaye, a voice that could transcend genre snobs. House of Balloons, which was the first of three mix tapes that would drop in 2011, is on this list(as apposed to Thursday or Echoes of Silence) as it acts as the beginning of it all. Never was the message as strong as when you didn’t see it coming and never was it more inspiring then in the Siouxsie and The Banshees sampled title track. Bringing a bit of the unsettling side of sex and drugs this R&B act focused more on the seduction of the listener then the courtship.

Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
In 2008 Lykke Li released  her album Youth Novels to positive reviews but little fanfare outside of the indie music bubble. The Swedish songwriter took the time between releases to perfect her pop sensibilities  and turn them into a more focused and commanding follow up in her sophomore LP Wounded Rhymes. Wounded Rhymes is a truly rhythmic listen not unlike the production found with some of her peers like Bat For lashes, Fiest, or Florence + The Machine. Li seemingly always takes queue from the beat, marching forward with pulsating rhythms that make up the backdrop for Wounded Rhymes’ tales of self-possessed  love and loss.  Sadness truly is a blessing.

EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints
Erika M. Anderson first solo album is a noisy personal affair... personal because of the stories being told, noisy because of the unapologetic manner in which she has shared them with us. Often coming off as more of a forced intervention than a willing church confession, the tone of Erika’s voice throughout Past Life Martyred Saints is direct, tough and confident. There is an obvious feel of alienation but it comes with a willing sense of vulnerability. This driver is in command of her vehicle on a cathartic pilgrimage, with purpose and poise riding by her side. Erika seemingly had more balls then most of her male piers this year truly showing her Viking heritage with equal intensity during both her most loud and soft moments.

Childish Gambino –EP
What can be said about Childish Gambino that hasn’t already been said by someone else? One thing is for sure, you either love him or hate him and you can guess which camp(pun intended) I’m in.  Donald(whose name is NOT pronounced like the famous Disney Duck, the second “D” is silent) had several releases this year with his first proper commercial  LP, Camp, bringing in most of the chatter …but it was his EP that dropped in March that really led the way for the new sound and buzz the MC was bringing to the table.  Of the EP’s 5 songs there is not one stinker and at any given time they have all held the top listening spot in my head phones. With clever pop culture references backed by grand beats(at least in conception if not in execution) Gambino has his audience in people like me, someone obsessed with music, art and film more so than 40’s, ballin’ and surviving the mean streets.  Pitchfork, a site I more than respect,  famously shat all over Gambino’s Camp this year, pointing out the lack of authenticity and real life experience behind the MC’s often playful  yet admittedly at times contradictory lyrics. But I have to ask, when fellow rapper and Pitchfork champion A$AP Rocky sings “Shimmy Shimmy Yaw ODB ODB, Fucking Other Niggas Broads OPP OPP”, am I supposed to be dumbfounded by the authentic raw intensity of the words or am I smiling because I get the references and it makes me laugh just like single “Freaks and Geeks?

Summer Camp – Welcome to Colindale
When Summer Camp first hit the scene in 2010 I didn’t know what to think, in fact I didn’t pay much mind to them at all and never really gave their EP on Moshi Moshi any attention outside of the odd listen. So by the time late 2011 came around and the hype machine was already on full autopilot for the release of their debut LP I was cautious to say the least…  I even posted a full stream of the album before it officially dropped proclaiming I didn’t know what to think. The duo clearly had me at hello with their 80’s vibe but pop has never really been my thing and these new tracks were covered in the sugary stuff.  So here we are now, it’s the last week of 2011 and I’m writing my year end list, guess which side in the war of my tastes won? Yup Welcome to Colindale, which is based around a fictional California town of the same name, may not be the most original record of the year, it might not even be the most cohesive, with song styles often jumping from upbeat  indie to a cold electro sound and back again with no warning what so ever, but I never the less find the album to be a fun, easy listen even when the lyrics speak of something quite the opposite. The LP can often set the mood for my day and calls to mind a trip to the beach, someplace I would rather be at times then the my reality of a cold grey winter in NY.

Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

Boise native Trevor Powers really came out of nowhere this year with the release of his début LP The Year of Hibernation under the name Youth Lagoon.  Clocking in at just over a half hour the LP calls to mind another band on this list, the debut from The Antlers. In what amounts to 10 strong songs filled with explosive crescendos pitted against a back drop of bedroom beats, luscious melodies and reverb soaked guitar there is an overwhelming sense of heartbreak and loss on this record that is echoed throughout both the listening experience and visually with the video for one of the many standout tracks “Montana”.  Is this 2011’s answer to emo? I guess time will ultimately tell.

13 Honorable Mentions

Austra - Feel it break
Balam Acab - Wander/Wonder
Bon Iver - Bon Iver
James Blake - James Blake
Action Bronson - Dr. Lecter
Das Racist – Relax
Frank Ocean – Nostalgia Ultra
Jamie Woon – Mirrorwriting
Kuedo – Severant
M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Death Grips – Exmilitary
Wu Lyf – Go tell Fire To The Mountain

Scraped Knee:

I have a pretty light criteria for an album making my list,.. and that is replay-ability.  It may not be the newest band or the most underground release that no one has ever heard of but rather it keeps popping up for some reason or another on my playlist.

My Favorite & most listened to 13 Albums of 2011

Clams Casino – Instrumentals

I don't really have much more to add that Jediak hasn't already talked about above.  I was unfamiliar with Clams Casino until this album and was pleasantly surprised.  It is straight up just a good, chilled-out, instrumental album.

Vetiver – The Errant Charms

It took this band a long time to wash off their association with Devandra Banhart who played heavily in their 1st release back in 2004.  This is not necessarily a negative association but rather lumped the band as a “freaky folk” band.  Once again, this also is not a negative association but rather caused the bands audience and ability to experiment with different styles to be limited.  This, their 5th release, is a bit of a departure with a pop-pier surf-induced sound to it.   I’ve been a fan of Andy Cabic and the band since their 1st release as they were a local band,.. so this is a bit of a biased review.  

James Blake – James Blake

I hate auto-tuning.  It’s ruined hip-hop and allows shitty singers to make music.  What is really interesting is when a really good singer uses it.  It’s kind of like a guitarist that is so skillful that they can play a guitar so horribly that it sounds awesome.  Now, if you understand that, than you will probably love this album.  

Tinariwen – Tassili

Saharan blues.  That has been Tinariwen’s description for years and still stands true.  Originally forming in Liberian refugee camps in 1979, Tinariwen has had numerous members but has held its current nucleus for the past 10 or so.  After a slight stumble with their last album, the band decided to do a “ back to their roots” album recording back in the desert in a bedouin tent in their homeland of Mali.  This time they brought along such Western musicians as from Nels Cline, Dirty Dozen Brass Band & Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio.  

Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts

It has been an interesting year for Thurston Moore.  A long deserved touring/recording break from Sonic Youth… a divorce from long-term wife, Kim Gordon… and a back and forth battle with producer Steve Albini.  With all this going on Moore continues to produce and tour (w/ Kurt Vile) like crazy.  With his 3rd solo attempt, Moore has found a good simple sound which works really well for him.  Lots of strings but with the same ol’ layered noisy flame Sonic Youth is known for. 

Panda Bear – Tomboy

Some complaints about this album is that all the songs sound kind of the same which I think is kind of its strength because it works as something you are supposed to listen to start to finish.  It may not have been the intention but I think it works.  It’s like a trance that lasts 45 minutes.

Toro y Moi – Underneath the Pine

I didn’t really follow Toro y Moi before this album and after checking out their back catalogue after hearing this one I remembered why.  Some bands are like that.  You think you know a band and aren’t that into them, then Bammm, … they grab ya’.  Like a lot of albums on my list, this works as background music as well as something you can really escape into.

Washed Out – Within & Without

Ernest Greene began pumping out chillwave music and releasing tracks from his parent’s house back in 2009 and quickly grew a crazy following on blogs and the interwebs.  After proving he had chops to pull it off live, he signed to Sub Pop and released this.. his 1st official full album. Like the chillwave name sake, it’s an incredibly chill album, perfect as background music or zoning out on the floor with headphones.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

The adorably pixie-esque Annie Clark (aka. St. Vincent) released her 3rd album this year, Strange Mercy after taking a break from touring and locking herself away in a studio in Seattle.  The album was released to great critical success and went on to do better than her previous releases.  With this record Clark slimmed the band down relying more on a synth-heavy set up instead of a massive touring brass backup, and it works.  I’d say almost ever track on this album is quality,.. which is rare to say these days.

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

It’s hard to listen to this album and not notice that something about the album’s last track “Beth/Rest” is kind of off.  The Kenny G type sax solo and soft yacht rock type sound makes it feel like it should be on the Top Gun soundtrack and not a Bon Iver album.  Other than this miss, it’s a great album.  It doesn’t stray that far from the formula of previous Bon Iver releases but with that being said is better than most of the stuff coming out these days.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Much like the Bon Iver release, the new Fleet Foxes doesn’t sound very different from previous releases.  It is not necessarily an improvement but rather a continuation of a winning formula.  The band just nails those beautiful harmonies and has great songwriting.  It doesn’t do their live show justice though.

Alela Diane – Alela Diane & Wild Divine

With Wild Divine Diane dropped the solo-girl with guitar act for a much fuller band and sound including her husband and ex-folkie father.  I was worried at first that the simplicity of her solo stuff was a big part of her appeal but have been pleasantly pleased with this new sound.  Much like Vetiver she has moved from the freaky-folk stereotype and has matured.

The Field – Looping State of Mind

The Field is the brainchild of Swedish DJ, Axel Willner.  It is not the only project he works on at one time but might be the most successful.  The albums name Looping State of Mind is the perfect title as its trance loops just put you in nice feeling fuzzy state of mind.  A sound you feel more than you listen to.

8 Honorable Mentions

Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger - La Carotte Bleue
The Growlers - Gay Thoughts/Good Feelings split
Ween – The Caesar Sessions
Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread
David Bazan – Strange Negotiations
Noam Pikelny - Beat The Devil and Carry a Rail
Beirut - RipTide
My Morning Jacket - Circuital


It's been quite the year for electronic music, which is why my best of 2011 list is focused solely on that side of the music spectrum.  That being said, perhaps the single most characteristic trend of this past year has been the tendency of many producers to transcend genres, break taboos and go beyond scene specific bells and whistles.  This was a welcome development in an ‘industry’ that has long been segregated with scene purists aplenty and producers willing to keep catering to niche markets.  So numerous have been these genre transcending releases that we can finally drop the “post” label from our descriptions and actually talk about what the music sounds like, rather than where it belongs.  It is also noteworthy, that 2011 saw many releases in the form of EPs and LPs rather than mere 2 track singles, pointing at a more mature approach to music making on behalf of electronic music producers who are no longer content with expressing brief moments and rather more interested in telling complete stories, short or long.  So without further ado, here are my top 13 EPs and LPs of 2011:

1. Holy Other – With U EP

TriAngle was by far my favorite label of 2011.  The label has already accomplished what few have ever achieved - a nearly flawless release track record and an impressive roster of artists who were considered ‘upcoming’ upon signing yet remarkably, by the end of the same year already established themselves individually as major forces to be reckoned with.  In my view, Holy Other’s EP With U, stands out even among this all-star cast’s output.  While Holy Other draws from electronic music’s finest moments he delivers something completely unique and personal. The record is so deep it’s bottomless.  His songs exude feelings and emotions at every turn...and while many electronic producers lazily attempt to appeal to our nostalgic nature few, save Boards of Canada and Burial, actually accomplish the feat so well.  Every single song on the EP, feels like an almost forced look back at a happy memory that is too painful to dwell upon.  Production-wise With U consitutes the peak of syruppy thick chopped and screwed witchy vocal treatment, while also featuring melodic and cavernous drones, click-snap-clap percussion sounds that cut through the sheets of atmopshere, sharp bleeps and earthy low ends packaged and delivered in tempos ranging across southern hip-hop, dubstep and techno.

2. Hudson Mohawke – Satin Panthers EP

Hudson Mohawke' s early work was as promising as his debut LP was disappointing. With his Satin Panthers EP HudMo finally delivers on the initial expectations with a massive set of tracks with infectious melodies, trouser shaking basslines and crisp drum work.  A simple and extremely efficient party record that draws from all sorts of fun-loving genres. Along with fellow glascowian Rustie, the Warp label mates are spearheading a maximalist trend that is in stark contrast to the minimalist tendencies that have over stayed their welcome in electronic music. On a mouth watering side-note, HudMo recently publically expressed his desire to work with Busta Rhymes...what a collab that would be! Here's hoping 2012.

3. Clams Casino – Instrumentals LP

What more can I say about this record that hasn’t already been mentioned by my peers above? On a personal note I would add that I’m genuinely so glad that instrumental hip-hop is back.  On this record, Clams Casino sounds confident in his ideas and that comes through in his music.  The album has amassed a wide appeal and it deserves it, yet it hasn’t achieved this through a lowest common denominator pop sensibility.  Anyone who identifies with Instrumentals doesn’t do so because he/she feels that it’s part of something larger...rather, he/she has a strong personal connection to the music.  And to think these beats were intended for rapping purposes.... 

4.  Balam Acab - Wander/Wonder LP

Another Tri Angle release from an artist who is ridiculously young and even more ridiculously talented. The only reason this LP is not my number one is because some of the tracks are mere ambient throwaways I no longer have patience for. However, at least four of the tracks on this album are in my top songs of all time. This record could only be described as what pop would sound like if it were echoing through the muffled speakers of a haunted ballroom in a long forgotten shipwreck. It's littered with catchy vocal hooks that are memorable due to context, bizarre enunciation and melody rather than the indecipherable words they once expressed. Far from lazily resorting to slapping on some reverb on all his tracks, the whole affair is drenched in a unique otherworldly/underwater atmosphere, as if Balam Acab is the sole owner of some magic production glitter that no one else has managed to get a hold of.  This is also evident in all his remix work this past year of which I am also a huge fan.

5. Sepalcure – Self-titled LP

Sepalcure, aka Travis Stewart of Machinedrum and Praveen Sharma of Braille, released an LP that came out of nowhere for me yet ended up on my top 5 records of the year.  The duo produced one of the most optimistic albums of 2011 drawing from the lighter side of dubstep and footwork while adding vocal snippets manipulated in a refreshingly melodic way.  Any track on Sepalcure could stand on its own as a single and that’s criterion enough for a great long player, not to mention its astounding replaybility value. 

6. Zomby – Dedication LP

Zomby’s Dedication is the producer’s tour-de-genre.  On the record Zomby attempts a cocky demonstration at his ability to dip into any genre or sub-genre of electronic music and give it his own personal twist.  .  His deep knowledge of the scenes he borrows from is evident in how he strips the elements of their music down to their core revealing their essence rather than mimicking their sound.    In doing so, Zomby maintains his signature bleepy-chip sound palette and works with rhythms and subtle melodies instead

7. Keep Shelly in Athens – Campus Martius EP

I’ve long been a fan of KSiA’s work, Greek bias aside.  This EP, their first on Planet μ, is by far their best effort yet.  Dreamy electronic pop it might be, yet the duo touch on a darker side of their sound that had only slightly reared its head on their previous releases. 

8. Kuedo – Severant LP

When pre-release reviews started throwing around words like “Blade Runner” and “Vangelis” I was immediately intrigued.  Upon listening to the record my expectations were exceeded. Kuedo pillages the heritage of retro-futurism to deliver a romanticized modern dubstep/footwork take on how the past had envisioned the future. This is a powerful and cohesive collection of songs from beginning to end, proving once more that electronic music is particularly suited to conceptual albums. 

9. Floating Points – Shadows EP

Jazzy, melodic, stripped down electronic yet organic techno that carries so much atmosphere it immediately engulfs the listener.  This record has an incredible ability to immediately alter the mood in any space (be it club, lounge or bedroom)  bringing the chill or raising the heat depending on the track.  A very special release that has left a mark on my year.

10. CHLLNGR – Haven LP

Copenhagen based producer CHLLNGR’s Haven is perhaps the most criminally underrated album of last year.  There is a lot going on here in terms of influences ranging from dubstep, dub, late 90s loungy downtempo, scandinavian pop and witch-house.  Despite the diverging influences CHLLNGR somehow brings all these together into a cohesive and wonderfully fresh long player with lasting appeal that should not be missed.

11. James Blake – self-titled LP

Upon first listen I was not a fan of this record and, in fact, I spent the better half of 2011 actively disliking it.  This is not to say I wasn’t a James Blake fan but, other than the two pre-album release singles, I was only into his strictly electronic and vocal-less work.  All that changed when I saw him perform live and witnessed the artist’s vision first hand.  Convincing a listener to revisit your work based on a live performance is a rare feat in the world of electronic music.  Yet somehow, this album managed to creep its way into my top of the year list despite my initial impressions – an even rarer feat in my book.

12. Emika – Self-titled LP

Emika’s day job is a sound designer for the industry standard Native Instruments music production software company. This bit of information goes a long way in explaining why her debut album sounds the way it does.  Furthermore, Emika is of Czech origin, lived in Bristol and currently resides in Berlin – this is also something that comes across in her album.  Emika is a brilliant marriage of all these experiences, influences and skills culminating in one of the best Ninja Tune releases of 2011.  This record has proven once and for all that in electronic music gender and genre don’t matter.

13. Martyn – Ghost People LP

The combination of techno and dubstep is commonplace these days yet Martyn was the first to attempt this alchemy in an era where such a thing was still a taboo.  This LP is Martyn’s second, and while his first album remained true to the tropes of both genres, Ghost People expands on both simultaneously.  On this LP Martyn is envisioning new directions for dubstep and techno...we’re lucky to be hearing both in one succinct package.

Honorable Mentions:
14. Rustie – Glass Swords LP
15. The Weeknd Trilogy (couldn’t pick one)
16. Falty DL – Atlantis EP
17. Hyetal – Broadcast LP
19. SBTRKT – self-titled LP
20. Clams Casino – Rainforest EP
21. Walls - Coracle LP

Favorite Mixes:
1. Gold Panda – DJ Kicks
2. Four Tet – Fabric Live
3. Jamie XX – FACT Mix
4. Kuedo – FACT Mix

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