Plenty of music is still to come from Bloc’s London series and we have a double pass to see Shackleton and Appleblim.
The task of whittling down our shortlist of favourite albums this year felt more arduous than ever; the past 12 months have seen a glut of formidable long players released, and the strength of this list is reflected by those LPs that didn’t make the cut. Our final selections were based a few important questions, most pertinently, ‘had we heard anything like this before?’ If the answer was yes, chances are it didn’t make it. The 20 long players showcased below are, in our opinion, utterly unique, crammed with enough ideas and flair to make them worthy of revisitation for years to come.
Fabric are celebrating the August bank holiday with a line up that includes Dixon, Joy Orbison, Shackleton and Pinch, and we have a pair of tickets to give away, along with a package of Fabric CDs.
We’ll save you the usual rhetoric that surrounds these lists – that of it being hard to translate electronic music into the traditional long player format – and we won’t bother dissecting the argument that the modern consumption of music lessens the importance of albums; for our money there’s still nothing more rewarding that settling in and listening to an LP in its glorious entirety.
What we have done, however, is hand pick our 20 favourite albums from the past 12 months. Those of you who traverse these pages on a regular basis will see a liberal sprinkling of the artists and labels we’ve supported all year (and hopefully a couple of surprises too).
We have endeavored only to select albums that have truly moved us, ones that we find ourselves returning to again and again. In our minds 2011 was a vintage year for albums – the wondrous breadth of style and substance in our top 20 testifies to that – and we’ve included detailed descriptions of each release in our list for your reading pleasure.
Despite its many charms, Minehead’s Butlins resort in mid March is patently not Barcelona.Yet it’s here, out of season by the Bristol channel, that a musical movement is brewing to rival that of Sónar as one of the world’s premiere events catering for discerning electronic music.
Bloc, now in its fifth year, has grown exponentially since its launch and the line-up assembled for the 2011 showcase was, on paper, its strongest yet. In many ways it’s a canny move to book the event so early in the year, as it allows organisers to operate unencumbered by the goings on of the UK/European summer festivals that duke it out from June to August. It also offers actual beds to revellers, and those of us of a certain vintage welcome the chance to rest our weary heads somewhere comfy, rather than climb into a freezing tent and sleep for exactly five minutes before waking up to scorching sunshine/pissing rain (delete where applicable) and a parched mouth.
Sam Shackleton has always done things his own way, and this release for Honest Jon’s is no different. “Deadman” is inspired by dub, but rather than taking the listener on a journey through the alleys of Bristol’s recent musical past or displaying his knowledge of Basic Channel/Chain Reaction’s scuffled techno, he uses it to veer further into experimentalism.
The original version of “Deadman” is a tense, dense affair that skirts on the edges of dancefloor accessibility, but is chiefly concerned with setting a tone rather than delivering instantaneous gratification. Admittedly, there are pummeling tribal drums and rolling percussion at the heart of the arrangement, but they act as a facilitator for the eerie textures and the almost detached-sounding vocal intoning ‘everyone starts from point one, no one…’.
Honest Jon’s have recruited Roger Robinson and Kevin Martin to contribute a remix as King Midas Sound and their ‘death dub’ version certainly lives up to its title. Dispensing entirely with the already tenuous dancefloor link, the duo conjure up foggy textures that sound more malignant than anything the current wave of dub techno producers could muster, and use them as the basis for an eeerie, childlike vocal - like the creepy kid from ‘The Sixth Sense’ movie on quaaludes. Finally, the crackle remix provides some light relief, with tiny, chiming bells tinkling through an abstract take characterised by soft-focus edges.
Shackleton is undoubtedly one of electronic music’s most interesting and enigmatic characters. Having been there since the birth of dubstep, his elusive and shadowy presence, disregard for the media, hype and attention and obscure take on bass music have not placed him in the limelight. But in the words of Mary Anne Hobbs, “this is his time…”
Hot on the heels of the launch of his new label Woe To The Septic Heart and it’s debut release Man On A String Part 1 & 2 only last month, the Lancashire raised, Berlin based producer mixes the 55th fabric mix and in doing so cements his stamp on the series with a superb collection of predominantly unreleased tracks alongside material from now defunct Skull Disco (which he co-ran with Bristol’s Appleblim in the mid noughties), Perlon and Scuba’s Hotflush imprint. Inspired by his times at London’s flagship club, Shackleton returns to the tracklist from a set he played at fabric last year and in doing so blends dancefloor vibes with his unique, dynamic touch, focusing on atmosphere, mood and effect with masterful precision.
Abstract and enticing, the mix kicks off, rather aptly, with dubbed out roller “Come Up”, which stews in a sort of intoxicated haze of bongo drums and heady bass – a sound which is echoed again in “Visontele”. From here, we are taken through moments like the oceanic grandeur of “Operatic Waves” with disorientating narrative clips and swooshing atmospherics, via the tougher, contemplative cuts like “Negative Thoughts” and “Death Is Not Final”, with their focus on bass weight sculpting out a purposeful position. Later on we get the aforementioned “Man On A String Part 1 & 2″ which changes the pace again, as we move into the frenetic rhythms of “Busted Spirit” with its sense of being possessed or haunted by another, the glitchy mutterings coming more and more into the audible range as the track progresses.
The final passage marks a return to the murky atmospherics of the beginning, with eerie vocal snatches urging us to “let go…let go…let go”, unerring tribal drums and creepy atmospherics swirling around from beneath. Short, deftly positioned one-minute sonic sketches, such as the poetically titled “Moon Over Joseph’s Burial” and “Something Has Got To Give” join the dots between tracks. Elsewhere, clearly marked interludes make clear distinctions between parts. Overall, it’s a superbly sewn together collection of tracks, which echo and interact with one another throughout the eighty-minute duration.
Shackleton has been the name on everyone’s lips of late. Not only have fabric announced that he will be mixing the next instalment of their lauded mix series, but the Berlin based producer has also launched a new label, Woe To The Septic Heart. The first release on the imprint is Man On A String Part 1 & 2 which comes as a 12” release with amazing, intricately drawn artwork by Zeke Clough, who was involved with the Skull Disco project back when Shackleton was UK based and ran the label with Apple Pips owner Appleblim a few years back.
But before we get too preoccupied with Shackleton’s past and future, perhaps we should focus on his present. “A Man On A String Part 1 & 2” makes a defiant musical statement right from the off, vying away from conventions and contemporary trends. A shimmering intro full of mystical chirrups and atmospheric bird tweets eases us in, with hollow gongs percolating through a hazy mist of sound. The gentle panpipes and murmuring bass continue to pull things along, with pattering bongo drums, techno-inspired rhythms and a hypnotic, drifting thrill of adventure. This one’s all about the journey, the build, the progression – it’s got the same touch as the psychedelic wanderings of Flying Lotus, albeit in a more pared down way.
Complete body and soul immersion are demanded of us on the flip with “Bastard Spirit”, with the irksome menace of the super taut b-line, clunking SFX and rumbling subs strangely enticing. Echoing, chopped up samples which sound like they could have been vocals once add to the pervading fear and pull us in even deeper. A masterpiece right here, no doubt. A hint of what’s to come on fabric 55? We hope so.