Each December we select our ten favourite artists of the year just gone, acts we think have made an indelible mark on the last twelve months and offered that little bit more than their contemporaries. You can find our articles on each of the artists we selected here, and for your listening pleasure we’ve also put together this playlist of tracks by (or featuring) those acts.
CMU Editor Andy Malt says of this year’s selections: “This year’s Artists Of The Year rundown is an eclectic list, showing off what a diverse year it was for contemporary music, spanning wild experimentation to pure pop. I think it also shows that 2011 was a year in which musicians really pushed themselves in lots of different ways. Here’s to more of that in 2012″.
01 Björk – Crystalline
The first track to be released from Björk’s ‘Biophilia’ album, ‘Crystalline’ starts out with a music box melody before bowing out five minutes later in a burst of drum n bass. The entire ‘Biophilia’ project was as wild and experimental as this promised – more so – ensuring her place at the top of our Artists Of The Year list.
02 Amon Tobin – Goto 10
Like Björk, Amon Tobin tied all his projects together into one whole this year, with his ‘ISAM’ album at the centre of it. A mix of sound design and an innovative view of electronic music, the album sounds like no other. Even when Tobin makes an attempt at creating dubstep on ‘Goto 10′, it ends up twisted into a new, monstrous, robotic form.
03 PJ Harvey – The Words That Maketh Murder
Bagging her a second Mercury Prize win, as well as numerous other accolades, PJ Harvey’s eighth album ‘Let England Shake’ is an examination of the emotional effect of war, which took over two years to research and write. ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ is one of the album’s stand out tracks but also features some of its bleakest lyrics.
04 Beyonce – Best Thing I Never Had
The second single from Beyonce’s ’4′ album, ‘Best Thing I Never Had’ was the track which really got fans excited, after a slightly faltering initial reception to its predecessor ‘Run The World (Girls)’. The release also coincided with the singer’s headlining set at Glastonbury, one of the more glamorous showbiz spectacles yet to flood the Pyramid Stage’s iconic outline.
05 Wiley – 100% Publishing
2010 was a bit of a strange year for Wiley, but in 2011 he returned on top form with his latest album ’100% Publishing’, of which this is the title track. Publishing rights aren’t an obvious topic for any song (the general public for the most part having no idea what they are), but if someone’s going to tackle them you can be sure it’s the wonderfully eccentric Wiley.
06 Emika – Pretend
Pulling on all sorts of permutations of UK bass music and Berlin techno, plus a dose of 90s R&B, ‘Emika’ is an album that has its own sound, with no artists clearly definable as influences. It’s dark and edgy but also filled with hooks, and somehow both loud and quiet, as shown on ‘Pretend’. Very few artists manage to create such a distinct world in which to place their songs.
07 Frank Ocean – Novacane
Representing Odd Future in this playlist, Frank Ocean is one of the hip hop collective’s less controversial figures. The group’s resident R&B crooner, Ocean has arguably overtaken Tyler, The Creator as the member most likely to succeed. And despite lending his voice to Kanye West and Jay-Z’s ‘Watch The Throne’, he declined to have West feature on his debut album (the follow-up to his ‘Nostalgia/Ultra mixtape, out next year), wanting to make sure that success was his own.
08 EMA – Marked
‘Marked’ is the centrepiece of EMA’s debut album ‘Past Life Martyred Saints’, a song which sounds like the calm at the centre of a storm, the sparse instruments all given a washed out, degraded sound. Lyrically it features an almost overwhelming emotional rawness, brought on as much by the lyrical content as the awkward silence in her vocals after the line: “Don’t you know that I would never hurt you, you are such a pretty thing”.
09 Drake – Crew Love (feat The Weeknd)
Drake didn’t make the final cut for our 2011 Artists Of The Year, rather his partner on this track did. The Weeknd, aka Canadian producer-singer-songwriter Abel Tesfaye, released a series of mixtapes this year featuring a dark, downbeat confection of songcraft and samples, swirled through with a lush falsetto.
10 Three Trapped Tigers – Cramm
The opening track from Three Trapped Tigers’ stunning debut album ‘Route One Or Die’, ‘Cramm’ is a perfect example of their complex sound. Their style can be difficult to explain succinctly. The band’s keyboardist and occasional vocalist Tom Rogerson described it to us with a riddle, saying: “How do you play Aphex Twin live? Answer: make it sound a bit like Lightning Bolt”.