Since I am feeling very agitated by damn near every year-end list I’ve seen so far (with Little White Earbuds’ top tracks of 2011 list being by far the least offensive!), and my lack of RA contributions this year meaning I didn’t have to compile a list for them (giving me an easy copy and paste way out), I decided to do up a proper list with plenty of YouTube lynx and a few words about each release. I’m going to just pick my favorite tracks, but in the descriptions I will note if the entire EP, LP, or compilation is worth checking out as well. I will also mention other notable releases by said artists or on said label, as the case may be, when applicable. So basically, this is just a starting list for discovering a vast amount of the wonderful music I spent my 2011 listening to.
Also to make things easier on myself, I am not ranking any of the dope music I had a hand in releasing this year, be it from Noleian Reusse, TM Eye, Hidden Twin, or Pittsburgh Track Authority. It’s been a great year for me in this regard as well, rating my babies would be impossible. Suffice to say I love all of these releases deeply!
Okay, moving on to the actual list… I just picked the best tracks from going through my memory and looking through my discogs collection for releases marked 2011, so it is entirely possible I have somehow forgotten something awesome. I don’t really listen to new music just to listen to new music, so this was all sprinkled in there with everything else I was listening to (be it older things I just picked up, or stuff from deep in my collection). So basically I am apologizing in advance if I forgot your awesome joint! Also, there are a couple records I didn’t get yet that would most likely have made the list if i had them already.
One more thing: while these are ranked, the most interesting thing to me about this year is exactly how close all these really are to each other in terms of quality. There isn’t much drop off, it really came down to almost arbitrarily choosing a position for each record. This is a very personal list, having to do with how I listened to them and how I deejayed with them. So don’t worry about the ranking, just dive right in…
I got a huge stack of records when I was in Chicago back in June, including a bunch of the recently released Stilove4music and Still Music catalogs. When I was playing records on Sunday nite at Danny’s, I started reaching for records I hadn’t really heard yet and threw them in the mix. This one was one of them, and though I was already in Chicago, it still all made sense. Not sure exactly what’s going on here, I hear samples of Jackie Moore’s “This Time Baby” but I don’t think this is a straight edit of it.
Really, this one should be WAYYYYY up on this list. I picked it up in the late winter/early spring, before the track really took off on pop radio here. I beat this shit ruthlessly into the ground at the PTA nights at Eclipse, it always got a good reaction. 8+ months later, while I kinda hope I never hear the original ever again, this one still gets me going when I push myself to listen to it.
Steven Tang is someone we’ve been watching closely here at ISM for a while, you may remember his awesome mix for us a little while back. This one is a tough melodic techno jam, perfect for stepping the BPM’s and energy back up after sleepytime techno seemed to have taken completely over for a while. On the B side “Syncronism” is a bit deeper and more melodic, and also hits all the right notes.
In lieu of the dope, coherent EPs like he dropped in recent years, 2011 saw Nebraska break us off with his second full-length. I can’t say that I am surprised that it is just as dope as all his previous music. Taking samples of soul, funk, and disco, and adding filters, drum machines, synths, and electric pianos to them, Nebraska records have a warm feeling that many wish they could emulate. This one was the highlight for me, though really the entire album is wonderful!
It’s given away by the title, but it doesn’t matter: this record owes its ass to Underground Resistance. Taking the characteristic uplifting synths that UR does so well and dropping them over a broken house beat may not be rocket science, but it is a formula that very few can pull off convincingly. Dijkhuis definitely has the melodic sensibility and arrangement skills to make this one really stand out.
The first of the LIES records to make my list. Many could have been here, but this one stood out to me so here it goes. A sweet mix of deep, old school analog house and modern sensibility. Read my profile on LIES again if you need to, but understand that you should be checking out every release on this label! One of the most exciting developments for US dance music in 2011.
I have to admit, Levon Vincent’s records have generally not appealed to me. It’s not that they’re bad in any way, but for whatever reason they fail to grab me the way they seem to for most people. That all changed with this one. All three cuts are beautiful and distinctive, but this one and its late peak really does everything I could ask for in 2011 deepness. A very special tune.
This year was definitely the year of old school house throwbacks. Way too many of these centered on sounding like mid-80s Mr. Fingers. Willie Burns, an alias of Speculator, kept things interesting by going for the feeling of late 80s and early 90s house music in general instead of aping one sound. Both this and the EP he did for LIES come off sounding like Nu Groove releases, which can never be a bad thing!
I am definitely a sucked for those deeeeeep jams buried in the B2 position on a record. The two mixes of “Sweet to You” call to mind old KDJ records, but “Forever in Your Debt” is the cut where Scott kills it with his own sound. Soulful and melodic, a perfect late-nite Detroit groove!
Tevo has been another favorite of ISM for a while, though there was a sameness pervading many of his records that made it not essential to own them all. The debut on his new Tevo Howard Recordings, however, IS an essential jam. With four tracks with great melodies and different vibes, this is the kind of record that rarely leaves my box. “Arena” happens to be the one that I dropped the most, so here it is.
Escort have been putting out banging records going back as far as 2006. Their previous work took up the reins of 80s disco styles that had long since stopped existing, but with their new jams (on the new album which also compiles their older 12″ tracks) they have begun mining one of my personal favorite disco sounds: August Darnell’s Kid Creole and the Coconuts-esque big band tropicalia. August Darnell is one of the least copied disco artists simply because his music took great skill to write, arrange, and play. Escort has those chops and then some, adding their own twist to the equation and creating some of the most catchy dance music of recent years.
Norm is generally known for his slow, deeper than deep house music. Detroit is of course techno city, and on “Pulsate” Norm takes his usual sound palette and makes it tougher and more driving, better suited for spaced out techno sets than late nite house sessions. It ain’t rocket surgery, just a funky ass banging dance record.
Rick Wilhite’s “Analog Aquarium” album seems to be one of the most slept-on LPs of 2011 based on the fact that basically no one is including it in their year-end lists. For fans of soulful and deep house, it didn’t get better than this in the past 12 months! Running from sample based jams to minimal techno, Rick keeps it interesting and diverse, a tough thing for most dance producers to do over a whole album. The way he treats vocals, especially the improvised-feeling crooning of Billy Love, is probably the most distinctive aspect of this record. This one in particular is so lo-fi and grimey it is almost disgusting. In the best possible way, of course!
ELQ are my Pittsburgh homeboys, but with deep boogie jams like “Streetlights”, I would be repping them hardcore no matter where they were from. With many modern boogie artists opting for the heavily compressed (and nauseating) feel, it’s refeshing to hear cats obsessed with making funky memorable music. Out of all the jams they released this year, “Streetlights” is my personal favorite, but any of the cuts on this 7″ or their East Liberty Quarters EP on Rotating Souls could have easily been on this list.
Floating Points had a pretty great year in 2011, with his remix for Daedelus and his track “Marilyn” standing out the most, and the late release of the Shadows EP was the highlight of it. “Myrtle Avenue” leads things off, signaling the deepest of all Floating Points jams to come out thus far. This is just wonderful music to listen to any time, but it still has sick bumping grooves to keep it relevant for those deep dancefloors. Ending things on this note makes me really excited to see what he has in store for 2012.
32. Andres “Outta This Earth” Mahogani Andres might be my favorite producer from Detroit, and if you know me, you know exactly how much a statement like that means. On this vinyl release which seems to be at least part of what will be his III album, all four cuts are sick soulful sample based music like you expect. “Outta This Earth” is the dark, cinematic feeling hiphop joint, a standout track in his whole catalog regardless of tempo. Mahogani also dropped the extremely slept on Joy of Sound Productions “Image Fades Away” which touches on that vocal side of Detroit house music.
Aybee is another cat who had a great year in 2011. Relaunching his Deepblak label as a vinyl imprint with the “11:11″ EP, putting out ill music by Afrikan Sciences, Damon Bell, and Prof Delacroix, as well as dropping a sick downtempo EP as o1o for Further Records kept him busy. The title track on 11:11 is what deep tribal techno would sound like if all those terms hadn’t been rendered meaningless by jokers abusing them, and is a sweet hypnotic dancefloor jam.
With all the love mid-90s Chicago deep house has been getting recently, I find the lack of hype for Ron Trent’s new material to be rather interesting. Sure, he likes to do 10 minute plus deep synth and drum workouts. Isn’t that what people dig these days anyway?! For me, Ron is one of the masters of mixing organic and synthetic sounds into a cohesive whole. On “Tell Me”, he enlists the great disco soul vocalist Leroy Burgess to help him out, and the results are one of the highlights of the year. Feeling more free form than adhering to a tight song structure, this is futuristic African-American dance music done real right.
BMG hooks up with Sal Principato of Liquid Liquid fame for a quirky funk track. Surely this would have been front page news a few years ago when that kind of thing was a little more “hip”, but in 2011 this is still just as useful for those deejays who like to play disco, funk, house, electro, and techno in their sets. For fans of Talking Heads and other early 80s new wave type shit!
This one most certainly did NOT have me at “hello”. In fact, the wigged out synth that dominates the track had me thinking at first that Recloose had lost his mind. Once the vocals and the pads come in, though, you can feel those sweet vibes that are instantly recognizable as Recloose! The EP is rounded out with the shuffled soul of “Electric Sunshine” and the extra funky “Parquet”, giving you a trio of dancefloor gems in differing styles and energy levels. Another one that won’t be leaving the box any time soon!
Dego has been doing ill music for so long, I guess it is easy for some to overlook him at times when his sound is not part of the current trend. I am always on the lookout for the hot shit, so I’m not gonna sleep on him! On this one, he takes what begins as a boogie inspired dancefloor cut and cuts the tempo in half, turning it into a neo-soul jam with a twisted bassline. He does it so effortlessly that it seems as though the song couldn’t have possibly evolved in any other way. The catchy vocal hooks don’t hurt things either!
I know a bunch of people who feel like the classic “Problems D’Amour” didn’t need to be edited. In most circumstances, this is exactly my line of thinking as well. Why mess with something so perfect?! KDJ is the kind of guy who takes pleasure in proving people like me wrong. The first time I heard this one was way back in 2003 when Kenny dropped it during the 3 Chairs’ ridiculously awesome set. Having no idea at the time what mix it was, I was kept guessing at who might have been behind it. All KDJ did was keep the guitar and synth parts and a bit of the “ah ou ah”, and dubbed things out. Simple, effective, and deadly, especially on the little repetitive edits. NDATL was strong as usual with every release in 2011, but special props must be given to the Assorted Elements EP which features a sick 303 jam from Larry Heard alongside bangers from Theo Parrish and Kai Alce himself.
The Beautiful Swimmers were on fire this year, with this remix dropping right around the time they played one of the most killer deejay sets of 2011 in Pittsburgh. They like to keep things weird and balearic, so they reduced the straightforward vocal house jam into a mid-tempo drums and synth dub workout. Truly odd and captivating in equal amounts. The original and John Talabot’s anthemic remix make this an essential EP! Also of note is the Future Times label, owned in part by Andrew from Beautiful Swimmers, which dropped other killers like Protect-U’s “World Music” and the ESSENTIAL Vibe 2 compilation. Another imprint that blew it up, and that I have high hopes for in 2012.
Billed as “moombahton” or “bass music”, to me this is just some slow-ass techno like an old Theo Parrish or Recloose jam. It’s by a new producer from Detroit, and on a new label run by Brian Gillespie. This shit is superfunky synthed out wild shit, and really if you pitch it up it can be fact enough to almost sound like a broken beat track. 909 and Juno 106 definitely didn’t sound this fresh too often in 2011!
This one starts off so simply, just a little drum loop that grooves along slightly restlessly. Soon, sounds begin to emerge from the ether, slowly become louder and louder until the strings start to come in. THE STRINGS. It might take almost six minutes for them to finally reveal themselves fully, but this tune is all about the strings. Dramatic and melancholy, the twinkling piano adds the final touch that cements this one as a future deep house classic. Only for those without ADD, this is best experienced in its full 11 minutes!
Scott Grooves’ “White Label of the Month” series lasted all of two months, but they were both very dope records. Out of them all, his ode to his “preference for Vinyl” is the best. Riding a simple groove, and featuring just a few chords, this is the kind of old-school 90s house music jam that so many attempted in 2011 but so very few achieved. This one would be a simple killer any time!
Theo Parrish’s Sound Signature label doesn’t necessarily seem like the right place for a grinding techno jam at first glance. But when you think about releases like “1987″ and Leron Carson’s recent album, and you know that Specter is a vinyl head from Chicago, it all starts to make sense. This is one that is meant to be beaten to death in a set: tracky, minimal, and nasty.
This actually came out in 2010, but I didn’t hear it until I picked up the CD which came out this year in advance of Chancha Via Circuito’s performance here in Pittsburgh. What I found on that CD reminded me of Basic Channel if they had also been obsessed with South American folk music. This one track in particular was truly beautiful, and was well loved by basically every person I played it for. This joint defined my late spring, along with the whole album. Also, Chancha’s remix for Peabody & Sherman was a particularly ill half-time dub jam that can be worked into the deepest of house sets.
One of the most elusive elements of classic house and techno (and one that seems to be particularly difficult for a lot of modern producers to mimic) is its simplicity. There really doesn’t have to be a lot going on to be effective, in fact the less elements the better as far as I’m concerned. Big Strick has the experience that allows him to reduce his tunes to a tiny amount of elements and still be captivating. His releases on Fxhe stuck to this formula, but his newer joints on his own 7 Days Entertainment seem to really nail it. “Maybe 1 Day” is the one I prefer, but the entire EP keeps it simple and hypnotic. His newly released “Timeless” EP doesn’t stray from the formula, and is also all the better for it.
This one is a tune I had been waiting a hot minute for it to come out. A favorite of mine since the day Disco Nihilist sent me the mp3, it is another very simple track. Four chords sketch out a melancholy harmony, while jacking drums keep it rhythmically driven. There really isn’t much to be said about this music, you just have to listen to it and let it work on you. Consistently making music as minimal and moving is quite an achievement, props to the Disco Nihilist for keeping it really real.
This seems to have been Marcellus’ less popular release this year, with his EP on Seventh Sign getting most of the love. While that one is dope in its own right, this 10″ on Lifetime Groove seems a bit more special to my ears. The A-side jam “On A Beautiful” in particular manages to incorporate the boogie music that he likes to deejay into the house sound he is known for producing in a way that I haven’t heard anyone else come close to. A slightly funked up beat and Moogish bassline serve as rhythm section to synth chords and pads that sound as if an alien band was recording a Kashif instrumental. Serious Detroit soulful house music!
While the Chicago house knockoff trend hit full stride this year, I was particularly interested in the release of many jams from the actual heyday of Chicago house in the 80s that had previously only existed on reel to reel. Gene Hunt’s “Chicago Dance Tracks” compilation was my favorite of the bunch, with this Mr. Fingers jam and the Craig Loftis joint “Yes I’m Right” being the highlights of the comp. Also worth noting was the massive Virgo Four box set “Resurrection”, which includes probably many more tracks than you can easily digest in a few years much less one. Good work on the same front was done by the kind folks at Kstarke Records in Chicago with their eponymous label which issued previously unavailable versions of The It’s “Donnie”, Nick Non-Stop’s “Jack My Body”, Adonis’ “No Way Back”, and Phuture’s “Acid Tracks”.
This is another special release for us here at ISM as it was the debut of Kenny’s new Apartment Records label. These tracks are all rude as fuck, another trait that seemed to be in very short supply in 2011. This one has become a staple in my box due to the variety, but “Veil” got banged out the most so it gets the nod here. More simple dancefloor tracks, but twisted up just right to keep the tension rising.
Lerosa is a long-time friend of ISM, so we are always proud with each new achievement he reaches. This year saw his first vinyl album release (with his cassette release on Further from a few years back being his very first full length), and it was made even more special with his collaborations with the Olverwho Factory. “In My Mind” did it the most for me this year due to Shonie’s sweet vocals, but the whole album is filled with quality deepness.
Most of the talk this year was about Omar-S’ “Here’s Your Trance Now Dance”, which was definitely an anthem for me. But his lower-key move of bringing one of my favorite 80s vocalists onto a track with Amp Fiddler on keys was easily the true standout. Equal parts Omar-S rudeness and Colonel Abrams soul, this tune is absolutely gorgeous, with the Shadow Ray remix on the flip adding a little more synthetic element to the equation. Records like this and deejay sets like the one he played at the Music Institute afterparty DEMF weekend show why Omar-S is one of the true top dogs of the underground.
The LIES label makes its second appearance here, this time with one of the best techno records of the year. Starting with sparse synth pulses and building into a cinematic climax, this is wonderfully futuristic electronic music of the highest order. I see this one building into a cult classic over time, with slight nods to John Carpenter’s scores giving it as much home listening appeal as the driving beat gives it dancefloor appeal.
With the tracks immediately preceding this one being all about well-crafted house and techno, this one is almost completely the opposite. This is a nasty, banging deejay tool. But it is very effective, one of those immediate party jams right up there with some of the best sample based KDJ, Rick Wilhite, Theo Parrish, and Agent X records. Raw as hell and completely unapologetic, both sides of this are Kyle Hall at his best. This year Wild Oats also dropped the debut record by my man Jay Simon, “Faith”, which should be slept on at your own peril!
With so many sick tracks already mentioned, what is needed to gain entry into the top 10? In this case, it is being quite simply the most beautiful house/techno record released this year. Reggie Dokes is in ridiculous form here, sounding like I imagine Derrick May might if he were still on top of his game and producing new music. I couldn’t tell you why this hasn’t received much more attention, being on critical darling Clone’s Royal Oak sublabel, but I guess that’s why I had to write this post. This is what it is all about right here, if you play this one and people don’t dance, the crowd is either dead or they should be!
It’s kind of weird to pick a track that is NOT on 100% Silk to kind of represent all the goodness that came from that camp this year, but that’s how it had to be. The dance/indie crossover was chronicled earlier in the year (and very early in 100% Silk’s release schedule!) by me for the wonderful Gridface blog, and their output remained interesting at the very least throughout the entire year. But this one landed somewhere right in the middle, and it has been the one I keep going back to. Produced by Mi Ami’s Daniel Martin-McCormick, the pitch-bent chords lend a feeling of melting to a jacking house beat. Simple, weird, and dope as hell. Like early Detroit techno if you listened to it while sipping syrup.
It seems unfair to distill Further’s contributions to 2011 to one track. Full disclosure compels me to remind you that they released an EP by my Pittsburgh Track Authority project! But the fact is that we are humbled to be amongst the releases that included the Conrad Schnitzler Live ’72 (RIP) double LP, Nuel’s Trance Mutation LP, and this killer John Daly jam. Here, Mr. Daly builds things slowly from a drum beat up into a climax of pure techno bliss, not unlike some of Omar-S’ best Oasis tracks. This absolutely must be allowed to breathe, and when it does it takes you to another place.
Kevin Reynolds has had very few releases, but each has been notable in some way. While this year’s “Favis” may have been too deep for most people, “Liasons” is definitely much more banging and dancefloor ready. Rough beats and jarring synth hits pave the way for the beautiful arpeggios that alter the mood of things quite unexpectedly. Mixing light and dark elements together like a producer who has a million records under his belt, this one might be the jam that sends Kevin into wider recognition. It will be very well deserved when it happens!
This record is one of those joints that makes the most sense in the hands of a deejay as opposed to on its own. Editing Yello’s “Bostich” into a drummed up frenzy, by the time the vocal loop drops a few times the dancers have already been going nuts and it just turns the intensity up that much higher. The flipside is a dry as fuck acid jam, another deejay tool for those that like to bang it the fuck out. Jamie’s experience as a long time deejay is quite obvious on this record as it is made to be mixed up.
Juju & Jordash had a ridiculous year this year. Between “Unleash The Golem Pt 1″, “Bleached Roots”, and this joint, there was not a track that was less than stellar with their names on it. Throw in their live improvised sets with Move D under the moniker Magic Mountain High, and you have quite a serious body of work. For me though, it was this dense, dark, and moist jam that shows exactly how high a level they’re working on. Using a melodica and a train whistle to create alien dub house music seems like it must be the most natural thing to happen in their world. This sounds like nothing else.
Nice Rec is another Pittsburgh cat, you might be familiar with him from his excellent Boogieman mixes that have been posted here on ISM. He’s also a killer producer, with this jam in particular being his best joint so far. A classic vocal jam that builds into a double time drum workout, this is a ridiculous pairing of classic soul and modern beat music. To think that something like this was made in a dude’s house in my own city makes me feel so proud. The wave of Pittsburgh music is only just now starting.
It frustrates me to no end that this is not on Youtube. Ricardo Miranda’s jam on Rick Wilhite’s Vibes comp from a few years back hipped me to what he was doing, but he really took things to another level here. Starting out with what seems to be a nice but decidedly classic sounding acid jam, suddenly the script is flipped when the beautiful piano comes in. By the time the dubbed out horn lines hit, it’s all over. Like classic acid but better and more beautiful, this tune has a magical effect that seems to hit people who hear it right in their heart. Acid as soul music.
Anthony Shake Shakir is known as one of the guys who helped invent techno music in Detroit in the 1980s. What may be less known is that he still puts out absolute killers. This remix for Honest Jon’s series of African artists (which also featured an inspired effort from Mark Ernestus) is one such killer. Party techno as pure as can be, this one starts with infectious percussion before dropping in the simple synth riff. African vocals and filtered and phased drums fill things out as much as they need be, but the track remains fairly skeletal and most importantly funky. Shake’s slept-on broken-beat-esque “Piper” is also a nice return to original material for the man. We’re looking forward to much more.
It seems almost unfair for everybody else. Storm Queen took the cake last year with “Look Right Through” and they do it again this year. Morgan Geist’s production is at its most minimal and clangy, while Damon Scott’s lyrics and vocals work perfectly in tandem with it. Laying off the true hook until a few minutes in, once it drops it’s all over. I would have bet this followup wouldn’t have bettered their first jam, and I’d have been dead wrong. This is all that’s right about disco, house, and techno in 2011, and as such it gets #1.