My top ten albums of 2011 (part one)

10. Steve Reich — WTC 9/11

WTC 9/11 cover

Steve Reich’s piece, about the September 11 terrorist attacks, is similar in concept to the great Different Trains. The piece uses recordings of radio broadcasts made by air traffic controllers and fire officers made at the time of the attacks, moving on to interviews of New York residents talking about the attacks. Like Different Trains, the music is derived from the voices.

The main development on Different Trains is the elongation of the end of each speaker’s sentence, and a heavier use of electronics. Unfortunately, while the piece is good, the similarities to Different Trains make it seem like a poorer relation, especially considering how short the piece is (less than 16 minutes).

9. Björk — Biophilia

Biophilia cover

Biophilia is not Björk’s best album. But even so, it is as mesmerising a listen as you would expect from one of the most creative artists in the music business.

On this occasion, the music may have been overshadowed by the faddish “app album” concept — useless if you don’t have an up-to-date portable Apple product. Ker-ching! (My two-year-old iPhone didn’t cut the mustard. The thirty-year-old CD technology works just fine.)

8. Modeselektor — Monkeytown

Monkeytown cover

I wasn’t too keen on this album at first, but it has grown on me a lot. Modeselektor make interesting (dare we say ‘intelligent’?) dance music that isn’t stuck up its own arse.

Modeselektor’s third album seals the deal. They are one of the best electronic music acts around at the moment.

7. Eleanor Friedberger — Last Summer

Last Summer cover

Eleanor Friedberger’s first solo album is not as free-wheeling without her brother’s input as part of the Fiery Furnaces. However, the songs here are still pretty good. Owl’s Head Park is one of my favourite songs of the year.

What I particularly like about this album is the way it evokes the past without employing any cliches. It’s nostalgic without being naff.

6. Battles — Gloss Drop

Gloss Drop cover

There’s something missing. Ah yes. Tyondai Braxton left Battles, and the question was: could they do it without him? The answer is: yeah, sort of.

Gloss Drop is not a bad album, but the problem is that it isn’t a mindbender in the way Battles’ earlier material was. Far from compounding expectations as Battles have done prior to now, the band has settled in to making an album that sounds quite similar in style to Mirrored. Worse, perhaps it even sounds a bit watered-down.

There is still some brilliant music on this album, which is why I have placed it as high as number 6. But I’ll be honest and say I was a little bit disappointed. Bonus points for featuring Gary Numan though.

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