Alex Barnett - Push.
Guy from a noise background goes solo and releases post-techno synth music. This was quite a common occurrence in 2011 but this release stands out from the rest. Barnett's sound is dark, minimal and very much inspired from b-movie soundtracks. He doesn't use sequencers which gives his tracks an added tension despite the strong reliance of repetition. If i was to compare him to anyone i'd probably say he's a bit like Xander Harris' early work but with the added minimalism of Ricardo Donoso. Push, released on Draft last year, is one of my favorite releases of 2011. Then there is his split LP with Fielded which takes his sound into even eerier territory. I really think this guy is one to look out for in 2012.
Æthenor - En Form For Blå
This is a collaboration between Sunn O)))'s Stephen O'Malley, Ulver's Daniel O'Sullivan and Kristoffer Rygg, and Steve Noble. However, I don't think you can really use the collaborator's origins to anticipate Aethenor's sound. There's no doom metal or overly dark ambient music here... it's more atmospheric and haunting than anything else. I first heard En Form For Bla early last year and it took me a good 3-6 months to even start to understand it... yet until then I was still enjoying it immensely. It's a great album to get lost in and even a year after my first listen i'm finding new things about it. As PC has pointed out, we live in a time where music can be quite disposable and we quickly accumulate and discard new releases. For me, if there was one release that went against this trend in 2011, then this is it. It's hard to classify this album but i do hear some Supersilent influence in there and others hear some late Miles Davis in it as well. However, I just suggest you dive in and explore it for yourself. Invest plenty of time and soak it all in.
Golden Retriever - Light Cones
I'm aware that there's many readers who have already had more than their fill of synthy jam session releases. I'll admit that this scene suffered from over-saturation and a lack of progression throughout 2011. However, much like how it was for minimal techno in the late 00s, there were still some exceptional releases to come from the scene last year and this was one of them. I read someone comparing this release to Fripp and Eno's collaborations which isn't far off... the improvisation between modular synth and bass clarinet is much looser than other releases to come out of this scene... but what i really love about it is how epic this is. It's very powerful, emotional, life affirming and uplifting music... If you're considering giving up on this scene, please, please, plllease give this a listen before you do. Once this scene inevitably dies out, Light Cones should be one of the releases that will be considered a classic.
Grasshopper - Goodnight Sweet Prince
Grasshopper's "Classic Jazz Moods" was one of my favourite releases of 2010 and the followup is just as good. This is the work of 2 trumpet players who heavily treat their instruments to make walls of drone and noise. The sound is strongly rooted in jazz but with an added intensity. This is another one of the cruelly-underrated releases to come from the drone/synth scene last year that was overlooked due to saturation. If you were a fan of Hecker's Ravedeath and can tolerate a little extra noise and darkness then i'd highly recommend this. Also, by all reports their live sets are incredible to be sure to check them out if you get the chance
KPLR - TEK NO MUZIK
I know i already raved about KPLR in my post techno post, but it seems that this release has been overlooked in favour of their debut album on Digitalis. However, this EP is vastly superior and if i were to choose my #1 release of 2012, this would be it. The digitalis release is still pretty good but more of a culmination of ideas they have explored on their previous EPs and not the best introduction to their work. I'd recommend giving this a listen then having a look here. As I said in my previous post, this is techno in its most pure and raw form. If KPLR or some other artists are able to develop the ideas shown on this EP further, then we are in for some incredible music in 2012.
During the late/mid 90s my listening was dominated by Autechre. They got me into Warp Records and from there into Mego and other labels of that ilk. I can distinctly recall reading about their Lego Feet album but having heard their Cavity Job EP and the more rave/techno tracks from their pre-Warp days I assumed Lego Feet was going to be more of the same... a sound more inspired by AFX/Rephlex's braindance hardcore rave style. However, having finally heard it I can see how wrong I was. This is vintage Autechre... much like their Basscadet remixes and early Gescom releases only more raw and less calculated... and yes, more inspired by club music. I can recall Booth/Brown saying in a late 90s interview that they'd tried many times to make techno but weren't able to pull it off but while Lego Feet isn't techno in it's pure form, it is club music. Having discovered that Autechre are capable of making music for a club and discovering a new classic album of there's was one of my highlights of 2011. Essential.
I was a huge fan of Mika Vainio a few years ago but was starting to tune out over the past few years. It felt like his newer work, while still very good, sounded like minor progressions of ideas which i was losing interest in. I wasn't going to bother with Heijastuva until i was told that this was an entirely new direction for Mika: warm, fuzzy and beautiful ambient music inspired by fripp & eno's 70s work. For me this is the best ambient album of the year. It's minimal, very minimal in fact... but not in a cold or alienating way. I can totally see why so many have overlooked this as I almost did myself, but it really is essential listening for fans of Mika and/or minimal ambience.
Panabrite - Frequency Bath 1 & 2
I think a lot of people know about Panabrite now. Especially after his excellent ssg mix earlier this month. For those of you who are new to him, i'd say his frequency bath recordings from this year are the best place to start as it's a compilation of his earlier unreleased works and will give you a good idea of his range of sound... from his prog-synth work, to library music, to experiments with guitar as well. Oh and they are free too! As Chris has already mentioned, he's got an album on the way really soon so keep a look out for it.
Perfume - JPN
If you have already listened to Perfume before then you can stop reading now. You will have already decided if you love them or hate them. If you haven't then it's time you start. Perfume are an all girl J-pop group produced by Yasutaka Nakata. Nakata is Japan's Timbaland or Neptunes, ie a super-producer who can take any pop star and make them essential listening. That's not to say Perfume's 3 singers have nothing to offer themselves, but Nakata, for me at least, is what makes them so great. His production crams so many hooks and other ideas into a single track in a way that shouldn't work yet it does. He also pushes a sound I was never a fan of (post Daft Punk Discovery electro-house) and makes it sound fresh, dynamic and fun. I'd honestly place him up there with Maurice Fulton, Thomas Brinkmann, The Neptunes and Timbaland in terms of production skill. Not everyone will like this, but a lot of you will. Go and watch their video for Spice then also check out Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Nakata's other prodigy, here. I haven't heard Prefume's other albums as yet but from all reports JPN, their most recent album, is as good a place as any to begin.
Run DMT - Dreams
The best thing about holding off on making any year end lists for a while is you get to explore other lists and find things you'd missed previously. This is an album I found out about through Altered Zones in late December and it's probably been my most listened to release since then. I love how it blends fuzzy beach boys pop with ambient loops and forest swords-esque sounds. It's not often that my favourite ambient and pop track of the year is on the same 30 minute album. You can stream the whole album here and buy it over here.
Staccato Du Mal - Sin Destino
Very strong album and a highlight of the recent resurgence of cold wave music. I think it's safe to say that there will be a lot more to come out of this scene this year with the trust album already getting a lot of attention. There's not a weak track on here and it plays really well from start to finish with the bleaker, dark moments being well balanced with warm melodies. This is another one of those releases i purchased early in 2011 but i keep coming back to it.
Tommy Four Seven - Primate
Primate, along with the Morphosis and Container releases, were my favourite techno albums of last year. However, while Morphosis and Container got the props they deserved, many people seemed to overlook Tommy Four Seven which is a mystery to me. Chris has suggested that it's due to the album being released on Chris Liebing's "un-hip" CLR label. If that is the case, then I must say that is pretty disappointing. I really hope it isn't true... Primate is a fresh, ambitious and cohesive techno album. And it rocks too. With berghain stagnating and sandwell calling it a day this is exactly the kind of music we need to hear more of. If you didn't give this album a fair chance at the time then please revisit it. It deserves your attention.