Year in Review | Top Electronic Albums 2011

Year in Review | Top Electronic Albums of 2011

by Joshua P. Ferguson

It's upon us yet again. The end of the year. Which means every blog on the World Wide Web sets out to rank and file its top insert-category-here and compile them in an endless succession of lists. It's still one of my favorite times of the year. I always look forward to the overwhelming onslaught of confirmations and discoveries as I compare and contrast what others knew and loved with my own year-end best. 

This year, charting my course through albums proved more difficult than usual. While my headphones were perpetually glued to my ears, DJ mixes and individual tracks ruled. That said, here are the top ten exceptions.

10) Washed Out Within and Without (Sub Pop) 
2011 dedicated too much talk to chillwave. It seemed to rise in favor and fall back out of it just as fast. And yet, Washed Out's indie-chill debut stood out in the conversation as infinitely listenable, breezy and without pretense.

9) Kuedo Severant (Planet Mu) 
As the year saw the rise of dubstep's aggressive, populist side, it also saw many of its one-time supporters venture into new, challenging, weird and artsy territory. Kuedo, who as part of Vex'd has always dwelled in the genre's nether regions, achieved something truly special with this solo debut: He fine-tuned it for the space age, ditching all remnants of dubstep in favor of bass music with a sci-fi sheen.

8) SBTRKT SBTRKT (Young Turk) 
The mysterious, soulful, masked bass-music craftsman SBTRKT's debut was yet another example of what bass music can do when it's not getting frat boys to mosh. In this U.K. producer's hands, it flutters, twinkles and bumps with a lot of class.

7) Cut Copy Zonoscope (Modular) 
The dons of indie-disco from Down Under, Cut Copy won me over with "Take Me Over." Then the rest of this latest studio LP revealed the emotive "Need You Now" and slow-burning acid masterpiece "Sun God." This record absolutely deserved the Grammy nod it garnered.

6) Robag Wruhme Thora Vukk (Pampa)
This year, I came around to the nuance and potential beauty of techno. German maverick Wruhme is a master of the form, skirting the line between machine music's minimalism and microhouse's obsession with chopping and screwing found sounds. Like Matthew Herbert before him, Wruhme works vibrating cell phones, rain and a knock at the door into a sublime musical tapestry.

5) Art Department The Drawing Board (Crosstown Rebels) 
Leaders in another trend I couldn't get enough of this year—the resurgence of quality, deep house—Art Department released a debut that took a while to grow on me. The Toronto duo's big hit "Without You" just doesn't do it. But the slo-mo gothic groover "Vampire Nightclub" and the beautifully melancholy set closer "I C U" make up for that in spades.

4) Nicolas Jaar Space is Only Noise (Circus Company) 
While journalists like me split hairs about what electronic music takes to be deemed this or that genre, young gun Nic Jaar quietly released an understated arsenal of incategorizable awesomeness. Glitchy, spacey, soulful, Jaar worked it all in, and yet descriptors fail to fully capture his intricate soundscapes.

3) Apparat The Devil's Walk (Mute Records) 
Speaking of genre defiance, Apparat is one of those producers who prides himself in versatility, and yet his catalog is all pointing in one direction—toward capturing the essence of pop music in moody electronics. With his latest, he achieved that.

2) The Rapture In the Grace of Your Love (DFA Records) 
This group of dance rockers has had serious ups and downs. 2011 was a definite up. With infectious hits like the critically adored "How Deep is Your Love" and my personal fave "Sail Away," this record served as a spiritual awakening and proves that The Rapture are here to stay.

1) James Blake James Blake (Universal) 
An early entry into this year's best-of list, Blake has basically had the entirety of 2011 to rise to the top. Of course this means that some are probably sick of hearing about him already. Press fatigue aside, the virtuoso introduced the world to bass music's possibilities with his achey soul and captivating live performances. If nothing else, he served as the antithesis to Skrillex, and people should thank him for that.



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