2011 Favorites

As usual, we’re running late on our year-end list.  No one here really understands the haste with which most lists are posted, especially since a lot of great films and records are released in December that need to be considered.  Anyway, 2011 proved to be a terrible year for mainstream music, film, and literature, but a failing mainstream is usually positively correlated to an active underground.  So, it’s been a really good year for the DIY, the experimental, the avant-garde, etc., and we’re excited to share with you some of our favorites.  We do not consider this an authority on the best of the year, nor are our selections ranked in any particular order.  That entire process is arbitrary and actually rather gross.  This blog has only ever been about sharing, not rating or grading, but we love to make year-end lists nonetheless.  Did we forget something or miss something entirely this year?  You can count on it.



Stephen Dunn – What Goes On

Despite his renowned career ongoing since the 70s, Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Stephen Dunn still remains a surrealist mystery to many.  This collection spanning from 1995 to 2009 serves as a great representation of his work for first-time readers and still stands strongly against the new writers on the scene.


Matthea Harvey – Of Lamb

This illustrated minimalist poem narrative, featuring the tale of a forbidden romance between lamb and child, was a hit this year.  Although we at The Esoterrorist much prefer the solo poetry from Harvey, Of Lamb was an undeniable stand-out in 2011 and a very successful collaboration with illustrator Amy Jean Porter.


Gary Lutz – The Divorcer

Gary Lutz is one of the most imaginative authors of today and one of the greatest living talents in wordplay.  With language usage as beautiful as the stories themselves, Lutz continued to demonstrate his strength as a writer, poet, and linguist with this collection of shorts.


Scott Abels – Rambo Goes to Idaho

Yes, Abels stocks Rambo full of irony and witticisms, and there’s enough pop culture references to deem the work time-sensitive.  However, the humorous work succeeds in delivering personal sincerity in the midst of all the winking and nudging, making the collection of poems a rewarding treat.


Ali Smith – There but for the

Playful, punny, and intricate, Smith’s most recent novel cannot be recommended enough.  Heavy topics are featured in There, such as issues of human connection, the need for separation, and existential meandering, and Smith presents all said topics with enthralling richness and enlightenment.


Dan Boehl – Kings of the Fucking Sea

The strength of Boehl’s debut book of poetry is just that: it’s a debut.  His voice is fresh and ripe with experimentation and with unabashed vulnerability, all of which we attribute to his youth and fresh face but at the same time hope that he can maintain as he develops his craft.


Tim Kinsella – The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self-Defense

So that guy from Cap’n Jazz wrote a book.  Of course we were going to read it for that fact alone, and for that same fact we would read it with skeptical scrutiny.  But with perspective and wit so original, any skeptic will eventually forget that they’re reading a book by the Cap’n Jazz guy as they lose themselves in an actually engrossing novel.


Dennis Cooper – The Marbled Swarm

Dennis Cooper has become the spokesman of sick and twisted underground fiction and poetry, and as expected, his latest novel is chock-full of rape, torture, and cannibalism.  And as always, the book reads as if the author has no compassion for the characters that he chooses to torment.  Nor can you say that Cooper has a story to tell, but probably just a need to elicit such terror in stylish prose.  And though this blog has frowned on associated and similar works (i.e.-Cows), Marbled Swarm just seems to work and effectively stick with you.




Social Drag – New Age Healer

2011 was a year of beginnings and endings, exemplified by Social Drag’s debut cassette released as part of the final batch of tapes from Stunned Records.  And what a debut it was!  This is truly intelligent and substantial noise work that doesn’t simply resort to abrasive harshness to fill space, but instead it works to shape that space and intertwine elaborate structures of pure brilliance.


Prurient – Bermuda Drain

Paradigm shifting and controversy stirring Bermuda Drain took many noise purists by surprise this year when noise scene spokesman Dominick Fernow released his most unexpected record to date.  Combining influences of black metal and classic industrial, this synthesizer-driven foray into new territories grows on its listeners like an unsettling, nightmarish ivy.  The ivy is poisonous too.  And has one of those venus fly trap heads.


Skeletons – People

Skeletons returned in 2011 with a new offering of a maturer statement showcasing coherent experimentation that translated into powerful music.  Not to mention, the album highlight, “No,” received a public midi release with invitation for all listeners to remix and share their versions, cementing the idea that People was truly a record for the community.



USA was pretty well-received by most this year.  It featured two live sets by the duo R/S, comprised of Peter Rehberg (founder of Editions Mego) and Marcus Schmickler, and proves that these guys are no newcomers to the scene.


Eke – Live at the BIM

Clavichord, sax, drums.  That’s the formula for the free-jazz trio from Amsterdam who mold their uproarious jams into otherworldly beings.  This performance is powered by a dynamic momentum that doesn’t avoid a good chance to rock out.


Ben Frost / Daníel Bjarnason – Solaris

This collaboration’s sound work interpretation of the Solaris film (the original, mind you) was performed twice at the annual Unsound fest and made its way to physical release this year.  Minimal, haunting, tense, and perfect, Ben Frost can do no wrong.


C. Spencer Yeh – 1975

Yeh’s first official solo release gave everyone a clear and precise view inside the head of the man behind Burning Star Core.  The themes and concepts are somewhat literal and refreshingly straightforward.  The result was the most solid offering from Yeh since BxC’s Challenger.


ZS – 33

ZS are a busy bunch of dudes.  Releasing multiple collections this year along with various members’ solo projects, it’s hard to believe that so much substance can exist individually of these numerous recordings from such a increasingly prolific band.  Nonetheless, 33, a double 7-inch vinyl release on Northern Spy, is amazing, for lack of a better word.


Paul Flaherty / Bill Nace – No, the Sun

Every time the two (Flaherty and Nace) collaborate, magic is made.  No, the Sun is no exception.  At times whimsical, at times tumultuous, always stunning.


Burning Tree – Stinger

Tapeworm never fails to impress us, but this cassette from Norwegian improvisers Dag Stiberg and Dag Erik Knedal Andersen shocked us at how amazing these two work together and how eruptive and clever their brand of free-jazz is.  This tape definitely proves that any line between improvisation jazz and improvisational noise should be blurred.  One of our highest recommendations.


Diamond Terrifier – Himalayan Appalachia

Sam Hilmer of ZS, as mentioned above, has been very busy this last year with his bandmates.  His solo cassette release this year proved that the hard work was paying off, though.  Some of the same styles as seen displayed with ZS are in Himalayan Appalachia but this tape takes Hilmer’s improv to grittier territories.



Hella – Tripper

Who doesn’t like Hella?  And whether you realize it now or not, they’ve paved the way for a lot of artists still coming out today, who still aren’t doing it as well.  Tripper had Hella return to their former two-piece arrangement and found the duo in surprising equal parts with some more-active-than-ever riffage from Spencer Seim to counter the often spotlight-stealing whirlwind of percussion from Zach Hill.


Kevin Drumm – Ghybbrish

Why wasn’t this record more raved about this year?  Another brutally damaged offering by Kevin Drumm didn’t seem to make much wake in the blogosphere in 2011, but when you see that James Blake got everyone’s attention, you can conclude that the injustice is just due to the moronic state of music criticism that is being written by people born in the mid-90s.  The world has never been so clueless.  Alas.


VIODRE – Interpol Alchemi

According to Dominick Fernow, this is one of the top ten noise records of all time.  We can definitely see why he would say that, and the record doesn’t give us any reason to disagree.


Don Dietrich / Ben Hall – Spitfire

Fuck, what a good record.  I would love to eloquently elaborate on just what an accomplishment this 30 minute jazz improv is or what this record actually does to the listener, but I am inclined to resort to childish banter representative of the state of pure awe that this bad-ass head-splitting shit-fuck puts me in.


Bill Orcutt – How the Thing Sings

As you may notice on our list, not all of these picks are keeping true to the name of this blog.  We’ve slid a few critical hits in here.  But only because they’re worthy.  Orcutt is no stranger to anyone, but that’s because no one, and I mean no one, plays the guitar like this man.  Truly amazing.


Mika Vainio – Life (…It Eats You Up)

What is not to like about this solo outing by former Pan Sonic member Mika Vainio?  Full-throttle noise blasts, check. Downtempo heartbeat industrial grooves, check.  Sound collage ruptures, check.


Akira Sakata & Jim O’Rourke with Chikamorachi – And That’s the Story of Jazz…

These guys nailed it with Story of Jazz…, just absolutely nailed it.  I often wonder if they really fathom what they create, how accidental it is, whether they reliably tend to mold sound into wonder or if wondrous sound reliably tends to occupy them.


Nate Wooley / Chris Corsano / C. Spencer Yeh – The Seven Storey Mountain

Yes, Corsano and Yeh are featured on other items to this list, but we’re willing to risk seeming insular or incestuous in order to give Wooley’s 2011 release the praise it deserves.  A return to the concepts of 2009’s similarly titled release, this outing features the new collaborators mentioned above.


Matthew Shipp – Art of the Improviser

Wow.  Shipp has solidified himself  as king of the hill of modern creative jazz with this collection of live recordings.  And as no surprise, Shipp still isn’t afraid to maintain jazz as something potentially “catchy.”


John Wiese – Seven of Wands

Wiese had a busy year in 2011, with the release of his 100th 7-inch record and then the highly anticipated Seven of Wands.  The record finds Wiese exploring a new subtlety in his noisy compositions that creates an unexpected musicality that, unlike with Prurient’s Bermuda Drain, was welcomed by all.


Colin Stetson – New History of Warfare Volume 2

The Canadian stack of bricks known as Colin Stetson had a very successful year in 2011, with New History of Warfare as the pinnacle of his achievements.  Sweeping arpeggios, low moans, and anthropomorphic swells and gulps filled this record with utter beauty.  It is still astonishing to think it was all done from a single baritone sax.


Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972

Hecker’s sixth full-length was critically acclaimed as his masterpiece this year, providing fans of Hecker to regain hope for the future of sound in an ironic contrast to the anti-music doomed sentiment of the record.




Sleeping Beauty

Misandristic writer and director Julia Leigh made her film debut with this beautifully shot, eerie minimalist portrait of a young girl agreeing to peculiar and sometimes tragic arrangements to provide for herself.  What really resonated with this film, besides the tense rumbles of soundtrack composed by Ben Frost, was its balance between story and emotional space.


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

This film actually made our list last year, but since it didn’t receive a domestic theatrical release until this year, it gets to be on the list again.  No bitching, this was a visually stunning, epic of a masterpiece.  We are looking for a way to get it onto 2012’s list.


Into the Abyss

Herzog’s peek into the journey to the other side was fascinating to say the least.  What was most fascinating was the lack of forced perspective.  Here, a man on death row awaits the inevitable.  Unlike many predecessors, this film isn’t necessarily arguing against the death penalty.  It doesn’t expose any mistake in the prisoner’s sentence, nor does it go out of its way to bring the viewer to empathize with said inmate.  It just invites you to watch.  *shiver*


Blackpower Mixtape

Mixtape compiled Swedish media coverage of the American black power movement in the 60s and 70s, giving an insight to that time’s unsettling European perspective of race.  The documentary is powerful, to say the least, and one of the strongest documentaries of recent years.



Four hours in length and six years in the making, Larry Wessel’s Iconoclast explores the life, career, and influence of controversial figure Boyd Rice, whose work (among many things) anticipated the modern-day extreme noise underground.  The lengthy feature is exhaustive but worth it.




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