The Best Outer Sound Albums Of 2011

Artwork for Nicholas Szczepanik 's Please Stop Loving Me. (Courtesy of the artist)
Artwork for Nicholas Szczepanik 's Please Stop Loving Me. (Courtesy of the artist)

The synth thing has gotten out of control, folks. I like to get zoned out as much as the next guy, but it seemed like 2011 was swarming with half-baked, neo-New Age freaks that gave up on noise. No wonder synth's wunderkind, Oneohtrix Point Never, essentially made an early '00s IDM album instead — he was tired of it! Plenty of others were too: 2011 was more than synthesizers (although a few truly great synth LPs were released, including a more traditionally-minded one from Rene Hell) — deep drone, guitar abstractions and the truly unclassifiable all came through.

What exactly is "outer sound," you may ask? I didn't invent the term, but have lovingly added it to my lexicon because "experimental" feels far too limiting and "avant-garde" suggests something radically new, which isn't always the case. Outer sound is music that explores, whether it be grating harsh noise, dulcet synth tones, ecstatic dance music, motorcycle guitar improvisation, or even out-there studies in pop music.

While I didn't include it here for an arbitrarily self-imposed "No Split Records" rule, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Keith Fullerton Whitman's downright-symphonic contribution to his split 12" with Alien Radio. "101105" manages to take Whitman's recent modular synth improvisations (epiphanies unto themselves) and edits the results into a soaring realm not unlike the gorgeous arc of his magnificent 2006 live album, Lisbon. Seriously, guys, tears were streaming and face was beaming upon my first listen. It still gives me chills. You'll want to listen to the embedded stream of "101105" below. (Alien Radio's beat-based electronic twizzles are pretty rad, too.)

As with my list of the year's best metal albums, I always limit myself to 25 selections. It makes me ask myself what I really loved and what will still spin on the turntable (or iPod) years from now. You can listen to the top ten of those picks below. As always, I couldn't possibly hear every outer sound record released in 2011, which is why reading other year-end lists (and your comments) makes for good filling-in of the gaps.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit

Copyright NPR. View this article on