It felt easy to answer this question in 2011 because there were many new sounds in 2010. We could also reasonably expect that these sounds would explode in the next year. While I felt that I covered most of the major music trends in 2011, I was not able to distinguish those sounds into genres.
Electronic music’s forward-thinking sounds no longer have a genre name. This is partly because new ideas are absorbed into the existing electronic music almost instantly after they appear. It becomes difficult to clearly identify which song belongs to the new “genre”. Innovation is happening at lightning speed.
It’s difficult to classify Witch House as one genre when DJ Screw-style samples are found in pop songs such as Purity Ring’s “Lofticries”, and instrumental hip hop beats such as everything by Clams Casino. Future Garage quickly evolved into Future Bass, with critics and listeners alike. Everything from SBTRKT up to Julio Bashmore was included under this category. Is it the same genre for all these artists? No. No. Yes. Same with Footwork. Although it was one of the more primitive genres in my 2011 post. Machinedrum’s Room(s), Machinedrum’s great album, and Kuedo’s Severant album made it easy to turn its ideas into club pop. Can these albums be considered Footwork even though they were both released on Planet Mu, the label that carries the footwork flag. They sound very different from a DJ Spinn album. Maybe I did my best with Chillwave. But if you listen to Toro y Moi’s last album, it’s easy for you to wonder if it’s still Chillwave.
After a long disclaimer about last year’s answer, I will attempt to offer some thoughts on sounds that have great days ahead of them. Many of these sounds were covered in my What are the best songs 2011? answer. I’ll use new examples. The section below will be more similar to my last year’s answer on “Space age R&B”. It’s a sound that doesn’t yet have a name, genre or description but which ties together certain sounds I believe we’ll hear more. I’ll be brief…
The Experimental 80s HypnagogicOne style is a return of Boards of Canada synthwork with samples, breakbeats and other sounds. These tracks are not as IDM- and downtempo-oriented as Boards of Canada songs but they have strong influences from Ghost Box and BBC Stereophonic Workshop. This is a continuation of the hypnagogic music scene but it has its own niche. It’s not as common as James Ferraro and Games.
You heard a lot electronic music in 2011. But, I believe it’s poised for bigger things in 2012. It seems almost absurd to lump it all together, considering its breadth. These guys do a lot of different stuff, from pop to almost trance-like arrangements.
IDM seems to have emerged from a seven-year-old trance and influenced a lot of techno music in 2011. There have been some IDM-sounding records that are straight from the mid to late 1990s. This is a trend I expect to see more of in 2012.
I can also see revival music being a big hit in 2012. Lone shifted nicely from high-quality instrumental hip-hop music to old-school rave sounds in his last album Emerald Fantasy Tracks, 2010. But, the 12’s that preceded the album were much better. Although I was able to see his transition in 2011, I doubt it will be a major musical trend.
Vocal Electronic Music
A form of melancholic vocal electronic music is another trend I see emerging. It’s not electronic pop as we know it, but this is what we would call it if The Junior Boys or The Postal Service didn’t corrupt what that term meant. The seeds of electronic pop were already visible in 2011, but they have only scratched the surface of what we will hear in the future.
Another sound without a name. Peaking Lights was a popular 2011 band that combined organic sounds with synths and electronic sounds.