Dance music. Surely this must have been one of the major trends of 2011. That and dubstep, post-dubstep or whatever it's called. The selection below are the important tracks for me, with a slight focus on albums rather than single tracks (but I will cheat on this).
I hope this iframe extravaganza works in your browser. It's kind of heavy with all those embedded youtube and soundcloud clips.
Weeknd - House of Balloons + Echoes of Silence
You see the name Weeknd (Canadian Abel Tesfaye) here and there, but mostly it's all a well kept secret. Still not on a major label? Albums downloadable for free... so many things here are not normal. It's about vocals, for me, and this sounds like a mix between Drake (with an even better voice) and Mary J. Blige (but less happy) if that makes any sense. Impossible to resist and ticks so many boxes. An obvious highlight of the year were collaborations with Drake, like on The Zone or Crew Love. "Glass Table Girls" was the song of the year, by far. The remixes bring more of everything, more bass, more weird breaks and sweet voices. Pitchfork writes, "Moving beyond the usual tropes of drugs and excess, House of Balloons presents a world of overdose, withdrawal, chemically-paralyzed sex and vaguely violent seduction, with Tesfaye rendering hip-hop's celebratory narcissism into something downright detestable.". This is really pushing boundaries in a frightening way. "Bring the drugs, baby, I can bring my pain".
Jamie Woon - Mirrorwriting
A confusing sound and somewhat a mixed experience. A couple songs on here are my favourites of the year, like "Street" or "Night air". Parts of the album are minimal with focus only on his excellent vocals, other mixes out there are heavy on the dubstep and UK bass side. If there is a weakness, it is this lack of a clear genre. Where is this music going to be played - at clubs, radio or as sweet pop for headphones? This so easily could be r&b but isn't, it's close to garage but surely isn't. At times, sadly, it's closest to ballads and imo that's no good. The vocals are what keeps this a unique experience, as can be seen in this video.
I hope it will be possible to mix this clean sounding singer-songwriter style with a stronger sense of both r&b and garage. Can we in 2012 say, Jamie Woon's in the house?
Ben Westbeech - There's more to life than this At least there's something that is a bit of acidjazz on this list. I think most of us remember I can see with Jazzanova. This album is more soul but with a club potential. Good groove and actually reminds me of Jamiroquai at times.
SBTRKT - SBTRKT The club performance at Way Out West in Gothenburg was one of my highlights of 2011. Loud, bass, humid, packed, more bass, and people went nuts when he dropped Wildfire, featuring Gothenburg's Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon. If you get the chance, go see. The video clip with Drake is a good example of the live performance.
Tiger & Woods - Through the Green I feel like a child when listening to this. Nostalgic even. Loops and mixtapes, combining a 80s disco and funk feel. Gin Nation is just so wonderful and when a song is that good you want it to go on forever. And it does, or at least for 8 minutes.
Rumer - Seasons of my soul 2011 was a good year for soul. There was Adele of course, but for many of us Rumer was even bigger - sounding very much like Karen Carpenter and singing Burt Bacharach. This live performance says it all. I've seen this clip so, so many times.
Katy B - On a mission A huge number of successful singles from the album and collaborations with Ms. Dynamite and Magnetic Man, it's all very impressive. Her songs guide us through the south London nightlife like a documentary, only with a decent soundtrack. Cute but real.
Prommer & Barck - Alex and the grizzly
This is a bit of a dream team, isn't it. It may not be the typical Jazzanova sound but you get enough clicking strings, choires and slow building crescendos to recognize what's going on. The monumental "Soweto symphony" is the no 1 track here, or is it "Everything"? One thing is for sure, the music is going to be heard in the coolest of designer shops in Berlin and the remixes at all decent clubs.
Araabmuzik - Electronic Dream I'm not sure what this is. Is it the return of the mixtape and remix in one? Trance songs get the MPC treatment in ways the original artists were close but didn't manage themselves. The beats got heavier, new layers of drum patterns and kick drums. Kaskade's "I remember" was huge.
James Blake - James Blake I went for a slightly older video that better shows what this kind of dubstep is about. Lovely in its unpredictable way and fusion-esque quality. It's piano, vocals and sounds that don't go together but still makes an elegant yet broken down music. Obviously a huge influence on many others, you hear these kind of sound images and weird breaks happening even in "normal" genres. Strangely accessible for what it is but will also last you a long time.
Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra It's been fun to see all those user created videos for Thinking about you. There must be hundreds of them, if not more. One thing about not releasing the album on a label is that it is pretty much impossible to get hold of. How weird in this digital age.
Nero - Welcome reality The list needs a band with clear dubstep sound and fun videos. This feels a bit like Harry Potter on acid.
Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise If you thought the electronica of, say, James Blake was too much pop and easy, look no further. Jaar is way more experimental, repetitive, cosmic, almost like a movie score. How suitable then is this video.
Stereo MCs - Emperor's nightingale The band made this list based on the videos alone. Nice storytelling and also nice to see an album concept like this, in 3 video parts.
Beverley Knight - UK Soul An album with only covers of the best classic UK soul - cannot go wrong really. I get the feeling the reason for the album is really meant to be on tour and do this live. I know I want to see this. Songs by Omar, Brand new heavies, Young disciples, Lewis Taylor etc. Where's the downside?
DJ Khaled - We the best forever Many guests on the album, all the big names. It's only about this track though. Huge.
London Elektricity - Yikes! I've always liked this melodic style of DnB. Rich and full sound and actually possible to listen to a full album.
Kraak & Smaak - Electric hustle Quality pre-clubbing music. Mature and a solid replacement while waiting for some new music from CrazyP.
Recloose - Saturday night manifesto This selection is made on one track only. Tecumseh.