Here's a years-end list from Richmond VA's own DJ Bumbles- a friend of the factor, and go to source for everything electronic/UK/FIFA/Purple related. A few days late, but solid nonetheless. Trust fam.
Bumbles Best of '11:
Portugal. The Man - In The Mountain In The Cloud [Atlantic]
Really the only thing classifiable as rock in this list, because I really don't focus on it all that much anymore. With a timeless sound and old-man-strong harmonies, there's not a single mediocre or boring song on this one. My co-worker said it sounded like a weird combination of Led Zeppelin and MGMT. I couldn't try to describe them, but I really dig their vintage sound. They sound nothing like The Strokes but they gave me the same thoughts I had in high-school when I first heard the Julian Casablancas lead band, "Whoa! These guys sound, like, old but they're, like, doing something new with it!". But don't get me wrong, these guys are NOTICEABLY more talented than The Strokes and "In The Mountain In The Cloud" has more substance than any Strokes release. So, by now you should be able to see that I really don't want anyone thinking that I just basically said, "These guys sound like The Strokes" :) They're damn good, give 'em a listen.
Martyn - Ghost People [Brainfeeder]
So what genre did this fit under? Martyn got his start with drum and bass, moved on to experimenting with what sounded like dubstep or a sub-genre of it people often called funky, or it could've just been some kind of deep garage-dub techno-bassline house hybrid (lol, wut?), and to make it even more complicated he does it on the label of the indescribable Flying Lotus. Who knows what genre it is, I'll just say it's electronic and driven by deep, warm bass and complex beats. He cleverly uses a vast amount of your staple "classic" hip hop, electro, house, rave, jungle etc. samples and combines them with some hauntingly familiar ones that you can't put your finger on to make something completely fresh and unique while giving it a peculiar nostalgic quality. I swear I can hear the break from Goldie's absolute classic "Inner City Life" in Martyn's "Twice As" and it's a brilliant fit inside a genius song, "Masks" is so deep yet energetic that it doesn't make sense and just forces you to dance more, and I could write a novel on the modern masterpiece that is "We Are You In The Future". Don't get me started on how perfect that tune is.
Boldy James - Trapper's Alley: Pro's & Con's [FREE!!!]
There's the bullsh*t rap you hear that glorifies the street life and puts it in a light that sounds "hip" but simply isn't real. It might sell records but they're not fooling THIS guy (me), a white suburbanite, who's generally pretty gullible to that shit. Then there's the street oriented hip hop you hear that tells it like it really is and from someone that is a genuine and unquestionable product of the desperate, dangerous and culturally vivid "street-environment". Boldy isn't for the faint-of-heart and often dissolves his verses into drug-raps but they have a creepy/cold vibe that leave me feeling exactly the way I should feel if I sold drugs in Detroit. While other rappers act like it's a glorious lifestyle, it's just another hard day of gritty/shitty work to Boldy James. Out of nowhere he'll just start spitting numbers like some sort of crazy Sudoku puzzle that fits together when you retrospectively diagram it out and add it up. Is he subconsciously teaching people how play dice and keep the count when they memorize his verses? Watch the video to the standout track "JIMBO" and be glad that you only know this guy through his musical output. Often compared to Prodigy in the infamous Mobb Deep (and he's not afraid to let you know that in "What's Da Goody Bag") he's got to much talent to generally describe as "raw" but still has loads of potential. This album was such a great suprise in that it was totally free, produced extremely well, and generally came out of nowhere being some of his first material. He's got ties to the Cool Kids (a personal fave of mine) being related to and often rapping with Sir Michael Rocks and you'll see the beat-master of the group, Chuck Inglish, on the production credits for him frequently as well. With a slower flow and a bit of a drawl you could say his style's a bit "trapped-out" (hint: album title) and Southern-tinged, which makes sense in discovering that he grew up in Georgia. Amidst the struggle and violence in here there is a good amount of thought-provoking (see: "Runnin From The Police" and "Concrete Connie") and confidence-inducing (see: "Gettin Flicked" and "Life Time") messages.
Download it free of money and guilt here:
Nero - Welcome Reality [More Than Alot]
If you knew what these guys sounded like, say, 5 years ago then you would've never seen this behemoth of an album coming. They slowly but surely developed their sound and production quality after initially putting out some standard (and not all that inspiring) wobbly drum and bass tunes mainly on DJ SS's label "Formation". Then one day, they surprised everyone with "Innocence" after finally caving in and dabbling with dubstep and it blew up. Soon after that they had more than an albums-worth of incredible dubstep tunes and remixes along with a few drum and bass and electro house gems. They combine the dirty basslines championed by dubstep and drum and bass with blaring synths and "laser-sounds" that remind me of the 80s, and even place some clever and inspiring vocals in there without ever over-doing them. "Crush On You" will have the 90s babies stomping off the dance-floor in jealousy while the break-down later in the song will bring them back on. The album has a cinematic sound overall and most of the tunes wouldn't be out of place in mega blockbuster thriller/adventure/action movie. Pauly D would fist-pump the shit out of this album, but it's not overtly brotastic. "New Reality" deserves a mention for being one of the best D&B songs of the year on an album that's mostly dubstep, and fans of Justice will like "Angst".
Big K.R.I.T. - Return of 4eva [FREE!!!]
"The good old days of young, burgeoning, intellectual southern rap is over," I thought. Having listened to Outkast's "Aquemeni" back to back with "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik" for the 837th time then playing Goodie Mob's first 2 albums as I looked for wife-beaters that weren't stained with corn-cob rinds or BBQ sauce. Then I saw my new friend John (who is one of the few people that has a musical taste that I am somewhat jealous of) on facebook talking about this K.R.I.T. guy. I clicked play. I spit my grits all over my keyboard and decided that I needed to start growing my hair out so I could get cornrows soon.
Can't find the original album of this on his website anymore, but it was given away for free and is still available all over the 'net for free (just google it). Here's his website with a free chop and screwed version for DL: http://returnof4eva.com/music.php
Teebs - Collections 01 [Brainfeeder]
After releasing the dreamy and lush sounding "Ardour" last year, Teebs followed it up with more of his gentle yet pulsating trip hop/glitch hop. This one has more of the hypnotizing, deep, and slow break-beats that I've grown to love from him and guys like Low Limit and Flying Lotus, but Teebs has a soft-spot for natural and organic sounds that set him apart from LL and Fly Lo's beats that are noticeably more electronic sounding. If Fly Lo and Koushik had a bastard step-child that cut class to smoke joints and play with bugs and flowers all day then Teebs would be his best friend.
Marcus Intalex - 21 [Soul:R]
Intalex makes tunes that are so simple that they're almost minimalistic, yet he's always managed to display loads of different styles in all his works. The album title lets you know that he's been doing his thing, mainly in the drum and bass/jungle scene of the UK, for 21 years. With 2 decades and counting comes many a-style(s) or styli? Anyways, from the Radiohead remix/cover/rendition "Climbing Up The Walls", to the dub inspired "Wacky Races" and "Paulista Dub", to the unquestionably acid "Hot Hands", this album has styles for days, weeks, months, and so on. Marcus even goes all retro with "Celstial Navigation", which would fit in perfectly during the credits of any Molly Ringwald movie, and rekindles his plutonic relationship with classic electro in the super-chill "Dusk". Featuring collaborations with other drum and bass all-stars, Calibre, S.P.Y., Lynx, Fierce, and DRS; Marcus stays true to his roots and shows that he's well-versed in some of the other "finer sounds" of the last 20+ years. One deep album.
Andrew Bayer - It's Artificial [Anjunabeats]
I don't know much about this guy's previous releases or origins but this album is so full and complete that I haven't moved on to anything else yet. Incredibly complex and experimenting with a different electronic genre in almost every song, I was left amazed and dumbfounded at how seamless this guy went from glitch hop to ambient to breaks to all types of house to even trance. It's not like the aforementioned Martyn album (which combines all types of stuff into a singular and unique sound/style) this album maintains a uniqueness while stretches it's genre boundaries by changing the tempo and structure of the beats for almost every track. Bayer is a suave smooth-talking schizophrenic in this one and likes to mimic all types of the electronic elite with hints of Nosaj Thing, Daedalus, Booka Shade, Daft Punk, Digweed, The Orb and MANY more popping up all throughout this album. He basically just skipped being a DJ and made a bunch of songs that sound oddly similar to a lot of amazing producers.
Skudge - Phantom [Skudge]
When someone asks, "Do you like techno?" then you'd think that they were asking about a type of music that Carl Craig or any of the Detroit 3 helped pioneer. Unfortunately, techno is often used as a synonym with the all-encompassing mega-genre that is electronic dance music or electronic or EDM for short. This shit right here, THIS SHIT RIGHT HERE!! (Kat Williams voice) is techno. It would do any of the 4 aforementioned techno legends proud and will separate "those who like techno" from "those that do not like techno". I DO like techno though, and these guys do it just right for me. It's hit or miss for most people, but if you like it then you'll love this album.
Camo & Krooked - Cross The Line [Hospital]
Another super-versatile drum and bass album with loads of different styles (like the Marcus Intalex one) but where Intalex had a "deep" collection of songs, Camo & Krooked came with a lot more energy. The two kids from Austria pull out all the stops and have no problem displaying an amazing array of production skills. Dabbling with the club fail-safe dubstep and electro house styles, Camo & Krooked inject all types of crazy bass into their tunes in true drum and bass fashion. If you liked Drive (the movie) then you should have fun with "Hot Pursuit", there's slick UK hip hop vibes that stagger into dubstep in "The Lesson", and "Funk You" leaves you feeling like you were funked pretty damn hard. There's a fair bit of tunes aimed almost solely at the drum and bass crowd here, but the majority of the songs would fit into a lot of playlists.
Honorable Mentions, all worth checking out:
Joker - The Vision [4AD]
Would easily be one of the best dubstep albums ever had he NOT tried to go for the crossover appeal with vocals that are just too cheesy and predictable for me a little too often. "On My Mind" has grown on me and I'm down with what he's doing on the garage reminiscing "Back In The Days", but the vocals on "Slaughter House" surprised me (in a bad way). "My Trance Girl" shows him really flexing his self described "SPACE BOY GOON MUSIC" muscles and "Milky Way" is a synth-lovers dream with its complex melodies, rhythms, and harmonies. I pray to the bassline gods that he releases an instrumental version of this and all the trainspotter-crack dubplates that didn't make the cut though. If you check his Essential Mix* or any of his prior live/radio/studio DJ sets you'll see that he's better suited focusing on the production side of things and remixing. If anything, at least give it a listen for the awesome Sonic The Hedgehog vibes.
*SIDE NOTE: His BBC Radio1 Essential Mix is INCREDIBLE so download/stream it (legally of course), and give yourself the whole 2 hrs to listen to it. It's even in contention for best Essential Mix of the year which is a HUGE honor!
Freddie Gibbs - Cold Day In Hell [FREE!!!]
A few Summer's ago my close-cronies Josh and Willl came back from the Pitchfork music festival in Chicago telling me all about this guy (with Nick also developing a huge crush on James Blake). He's gone strength to strength since and is finally getting his deserved recognition after Young Jeezy signed him to his label. Another street-culture hip hop one not for the faint of heart, it's unapologetically real in a genre full of fakers, and Gibbs would rather tell a story or paint a mental picture than talk about his chains or clothes. Definitely worth a mention, and don't sleep on Dom Kennedy who’s featured in "Menace II Society"
Feed Me - Feed Me's Big Adventure [Mau5trap]
Just being technical here. Would've easily made the cut if it wasn't released 5 days BEFORE 2011. Mischievous, intense, and cheeky, the man also known as Spor (for his work with D&B) easily surpasses the quality of electro house kingpin Deadmau5. Funny thing is that it was released on the label that Mr. Mau5 owns. Like I said, cheeky. Check the EP he released in 2011 "To The Stars" if you wanna hear more, and don't sleep on his Spor alias.
Brookes Brothers - *self-titled* [Breakbeat Kaos]
Loads of upbeat, house-infused drum & bass. Leaves you feeling positive and has some downright gorgeous songs ("Daybreak" being a prime example). They put a few dubstep tunes on here, but it's still not as versatile as the Camo & Krooked LP so they didn't make the cut.
Cool Kids (aka Sir Michael Rocks and Chuck Inglish) - The Rocks Report/Premier Politics/WRKNG. [FREE!!!]
These promising young lads really have developed into some nasty-ass gentlemen. Inglish is the definition of a modern day hip hop scientist and Mikey (he- he-... he rocks) is like Will Smith's problem younger brother that idolizes Rakim and Too $hort. Good luck getting invited to the Banks' household in Bel Air, Mikey. They dropped all types of awesome free stuff over the year and deserve praises for that. They don't get aggressive really ever (a rarity) and have this unadulterated funky throwback sound no one else can touch right now. Each one of these albums would be worth the standard price, if they weren't already free. Any fan of genuine hip hop will feel it.