2011 – my year in listening

This is my ninth annual look at my past year’s listening. It’s felt as rich a year as ever for the joy, thrill, comfort and stimulation that music gives me. My gratitude is immense. I’ve yet to feel any intimation of the loss of interest or drift towards conservatism that I see in others. I hope I never do. That’s not to say that I’m trying to stay up to date, I’m well aware that there are whole continents of music that don’t interest me at all. The vast majority of the music listed in the end of year polls published by the likes of The Guardian, The Liminal, The Quietus and The Wire intrigues me not a jot. I’m fine with that, but I read through them and there are a number of albums I’ve discovered as a result: James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual and SBTRKT’s eponymous debut. I continue to divide my listening and exploring to new music and to music in the recent past. New albums by favoured artists cause me to return to their other work and with luck I discover afresh the wonder of their creativity, the connections to related works and their own quality of distinctiveness. Examples of this include Kate Bush’s 50 Words For Snow, Vladislav Delay’s Vantaa, Junior Boys’ It’s All True, Tindersticks’ Claire Denis Soundtracks and Marilyn Mazur’s Celestial Circle. 2011 seems to have been the year when my writing about music faded out, I was only offered uninteresting crumbs by the Beebs so gave up responding, I wrote some longer reviews for The Liminal which felt like a challenge, but latterly with my increased interest in photography there doesn’t seem to have been the time to actively pursue writing.

If I was going to generalise wildly I’d say that 2011 was dominated by the two types of sonics: the gorgeous depth of ECM and the boundary-pushing depth of left-field dubstep.

Music released in 2011

Africa Hitech – 93 Million Miles // This received a mixed critical response, I heard it as beautiful, contemporary, sci-fi music.

Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto – summvs // I wasn’t exactly transported by this record, didn’t enjoy their live performance at the Round House and wrote up a fairly negative review of it for The Liminal. It seemed like a summation with a little too much restating of previously explored themes. Having said that, I find I’ve played it 25 times this year, perhaps I’ll warm to it eventually…

Andy Stott – Passed Me By/We Stay Together // I only discovered this later in the year with the CD re-release, but oh my goodness this is dark, roiling, wonderful music like drinking the richest, lava-like coffee while watching Alien alone with all the lights out. Mainstream Dubstep doesn’t do much for me at all, but the non-conformists arising out of this area are fascinating. This takes my vote for most original approach to sound of 2011 and

Byetone – Simeta // Promising, I look forward to becoming familiar with this sophomore album.

Daft Punk – Tron Legacy: Reconfigured // Daft Punk: mirror to our global capital present. All surface – and thrilling for it. My favourite running music.

François Couturier – Tarkovsky Quartet // My most listened to artist of 2011. Magisterial, haunting and beautiful.

Hercules and Love Affair – Blue Songs // I struggled to warm to Hercules’ debut, but I thought this was a great album of vocal dance music.

Hessle Audio – 116 and Rising // State of the art UK dance music. At the confluence of Dubstep, breaks and much more.

James Blake // This record has more than its fair share of detractors. I recoiled from its outspokenness initially, but returned to it late in the year. I hear it in relation to OMD’s Architecture and Morality. Blake’s r’n'b stylings and brave melodic repetition make for strange bedfellows with his dramatic use of space and contemplation.

Junior Boys – It’s All True // Junior Boys’ fourth album was released with little fanfare, their record company Domino seemed to make very little effort to promote it. The cover design was underwhelming and there was no special edition. It deserved to be in year end lists everywhere, but seems to have sunk without trace. A crime.

Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow // I’ve not been able to get close to Aerial or Director’s Cut because of their sound which I’ve found to be just too polished and hermetic. Sonically they were more like top quality digital facsimiles than living, breathing entities. 50 Words For Snow on the other hand sounded convincingly intimate, hushed and gorgeous.

King Midas Sound – Without You // I continued to listen to King Midas Sound’s debut Waiting For You… this year and was a little disappointed they didn’t release an original follow-up, but this was the next best thing: 16 excellent remixes, beautifully sequenced. Without You stands proud in the fine tradition of Rhythm & Sound’s See Mi Yah remix album. If K. Martin and Roger Robinson decided not to record a second album, I’d be happy with these two, but if they did and it was as good was Waiting For, well, I’d be a happy man.

Kode9 and The Spaceape – Black Sun // This seems to have been missed from all the year end lists, perhaps because it was released earlier in the year or just as likely because it’s a difficult second album, not as accessible as the first, but perseverance rewards.

Marilyn Mazur – Celestial Circle // Initially sounding fairly conventional, this gradually stole up on me to bewitching effect.

Mark Fry and the A Lords – I Lived In Trees // Forlorn and lovely.

Rustie – Glass Swords // Day-glo, floodlit, almost dizzying at times. Easy to be impressed by, perhaps difficult to love, but remarkable all the same.

Pinch and Shackleton // I tired of Shackleton’s Skull Disco middle-eastern references so I’m glad to see them increasingly discarded. This album’s unease and otherness makes for a roiling fit with much else on this list (King Midas, Kode9/Spaceape, Vladislav’s Vantaa and Andy Stott as well as James Blake)

Tindersticks – The Claire Denis Soundtracks // I’m a huge fan of Claire Denis’ work, particularly Beau Travail, White Material and L’Intrus. The horror of relationships and concomitant sense of aloneness in her films is almost overwhelming. There’s quite a few I still need to see, a resolution for 2012. Who could have predicted how perfectly Tindersticks would have suited them as interpreters? These five CDs were fragile, haunted affairs that I played over and over.

Vladislav Delay Quartet – Vladislav Delay Quartet // Wonderful. Vladislav Delay goes kozmigroov via Last Exit. More please.

Vladislav Delay – Vantaa // I’ve only heard this four times and am interested, but currently don’t hear it as being as revolutionary as his earlier dub-drenched oceanic maps.

Zomby – Dedication // Incredible. A response to the death of a loved one. Moving and magisterial.

2562 – Fever // Compacted, difficult to listen to on headphones, impressive, but harder to like than Aerial or Unbalance.

Music released before 2011


The most significant discovery of 2011 for me was Robin Williamson whose trilogy of albums for ECM between 2000 and 2007 mixes the work of William Blake, Dylan Thomas et al with his own compositions. Those 1,325 listens are from the last four months. I sincerely hope to see him in concert in 2012. Annette Peacock comes up second via was her album for voice, piano and string quartet, An Acrobat’s Heart. Released in 2000, again on ECM, its mournful monotony made it challenging and compelling. Peacock’s other albums that I’ve managed to find were interesting, though not quite as musically unique. Most of her back catalogue is long out of print, often unreleased on CD and very hard to find. This is a crime for a woman with such a highly intelligent, challenging voice. Gato Barbieri’s 70s albums were another lovely discovery, his mixture of passion, melody and South American sounds first caught my notice on the extended version of the Last Tango In Paris soundtrack. The Latin America trilogy soon followed. Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur’s Elixir, a percussion album accompanied by Jan Gabarek struck me with its haunted beauty, Small Labyrinths and this year’s Celestial Circle followed.

Ultimately 2011 was the year of François Couturier for me. His focus upon Andrei Tarkovsky as a source of inspiration kept me returning over and over to his solo piano album Un Jour Si Blanc and quartet albums Nostalghia and Tarkovsky Quartet. I’m not listening very often now, but I return to them from time to time and continue to be enthralled.

My listening in numbers

1. François Couturier (1,685)
2. Tindersticks (1,551)
3. Miles Davis (1,349)
4. Robin Williamson (1,325)
5. Kraftwerk (1,247)
6. Dino Saluzzi (898)
7. Zomby (894)
8. Anouar Brahem (816)
9. John Martyn (774)
10. Marilyn Mazur (774)
11. Tomasz Stańko (763)
12. Arto Lindsay (759)
13.  Stereolab (697)
14. Annette Peacock (502)
15. Daft Punk (474)
16. John Surman (450)
17. Junior Boys (429)
18. Scott Walker (420)
19. György Ligeti (418)
20. King Midas Sound (409)
21. Mark Fell (406)
22. 2562 (377)
23. Underworld (375)
24. Ennio Morricone (370)
25. Kate Bush (367)
26. Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto (361)
27. Gato Barbieri (359)
28. Brian Eno (331)
29. The Conet Project (320)
30. Ornette Coleman (315)

Thanks to last.fm

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