Here it is! Part 1 of my selections for best of this crazy, fucked-up year. There's really been a lot of amazing music across so many different genres and from so many different corners of the world. Even over 2 shows I'll only be able to reflect a small part of what I've really dug.
Billy Woods / Kenny Segal - spongebob [Backwoodz Studioz/Bandcamp]Billy Woods / Kenny Segal - spider hole [Backwoodz Studioz/Bandcamp]
This emphatically odd underground hip-hop gear comes from two really important players in the hip-hop scenes on the two sides of the US. Billy Woods grew up in Africa & the West Indies but has now become part of the New York hip-hop scene, with his duo Armand Hammer with Elucid and his solo work, released on his own Backwoodz Studioz. Kenny Segal started out as a drum'n'bass DJ and has been an oft-sighted producer in the LA leftfield hip-hop scene for many years. Their styles fit perfectly together, with Woods' speed-of-thought commentary on the fucked-up state of America & the world knocked about by Segal's warped samples and beats that recall early Anticon from a contemporary perspective. Ever since I first heard it I've known it would hold first place in this best of. I've been returning to it all year.
It should be noted that Woods also released another album this year, Terror Management, which is very fine too.
Moor Mother - The Myth Hold Weight [Don Giovanni Records/Bandcamp]Zonal - In A Cage ft. Moor Mother [Relapse/Bandcamp]
Camae Ayewa aka Moor Mother has had an amazing year. She'd been appearing all over the place lately, including cameos with NYC hardcore band Show Me The Body and Eartheater. Her new album Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes is a masterpiece of noise, beauty, poetry and politics. Unlike 2016's entirely self-produced Fetish Bones, an onslaught of power electronics, weird beats and afro-futurist raps, this new album is crammed full of collaborations, including various producers – King Britt is responsible for the moody track we heard tonight. Moor Mother's own art transcends even these great collaborators though – she is a unique and powerful force in contemporary art.
Ayewa's gruff voice and incisive lyrics also grace the entire first side of the new album from Zonal, the reincarnation of Justin K Broadrick & Kevin Martin's Techno Animal. It's a welcome return to full-on collaboration for these two producers, both of whom are hugely beloved of this show.
Saul Williams - Before the War [Pirates Blend Records]Saul Williams guests on Moor Mother's album, a brilliant track I almost chose tonight. His own 2019 album Encrypted & Vulnerable is a continuation of the MartyrLoserKing project which his recent Kickstarter project Neptune Frost also relates to – a "meta-character" who's a hacker I believe. The album draws broadly from the music of the African diaspora, including thumb pianos and jazz, with some beautifuly guest playing from jazz trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on one track. It's as dense and difficult and catchy as Williams always is.
clipping. - All In Your Head (feat. Counterfeit Madison & Robyn Hood) [Sub Pop/Bandcamp]
Who knew that noise artist William Hutson and breakcore artist Jonathan Snipes would in the last half decade be making some of the most vital hip-hop ever? It helps that the half-Jewish, half-African American frontman Daveed Diggs is an incredible rapper and lyricist who throws references around with ease, even when rapping at supersonic speed, negotiating that fine line between absurdity and profundity. Their deep knowledge of science fiction (and Afrofuturism) came out in the amazing concept album Splendor & Misery in 2016, so it's no surprise that 2019's There Existed An Addiction To Blood, finds them focusing on horror movies (and the short-lived horrorcore rap subgenre) – referencing both the exploitative use of African and African-American themes in the "classic" horror genre and Jordan Peele's recent turning of the tables with Get Out and Us. It's pure genius, of course. This collaboration with two women is a disquieting highlight – Counterfeit Madison's manic raps and Robyn Hood's passionate singing as the song crescendos into distortion.
Grup Ses w/ Ethnique Punch - Miskinatlar (Vox) [Souk Records/Bandcamp]
Two Turkish musicians join together for this fantastic, dark, twisted album on Souk Records. Istanbul's Grup Ses has been making sample-based hip-hop cut-ups for around 12 years now, while the Anatolian Ethnique Punch aka Ali Eksan has a number of instrumental and rap albums under his belt. On the A side, these punchy (yes) hip-hop tracks with "ethnic" samples are driven by the gravelly voice of Eksan, while on the B side they appear as instrumentals. It's great to hear these beats unadorned, and it works in a really different way – you can nod along and have it in the background easily – but I do prefer them with the guttural and super fun raps on the first side...
Uniform & The Body - Patron Saint of Regret (feat. SRSQ) [Sacred Bones/Bandcamp]the body - Hallow Hollow (remixed by Lingua Ignota) [Thrill Jockey/Bandcamp]
Inveterate collaborators and longtime Utility Fog favourites the body have always tempered their black metal screams and riffs with foreign elements such as choirs, beautiful female vocals, and increasingly lots of electronics; Uniform's brand of industrial metal sits well with their sound. This year came their second mini-album collaboration Everything That Dies Comes Back, which was collected with the first on a CD edition as well. The hardcore of "Patron Saint of Regret" builds gothically until the eerie vocals of SRSQ enter along with a bass-driven beat – a remarkable track.
Meanwhile, the body also released a brilliant remix album this year. Kristin Hayter featured on a recent album, and on Remixed she appears reworking a track as Lingua Ignota. Here the noise is mostly kept in check, replaced by plangent piano and Hayter's classically-trained vocals. By the way, on her own album Caligula this year, Hayter tackled some dark topics with intensity and aplomb.
Wreck and Reference - Dumb Forest [The Flenser/Bandcamp]
So this... this is not exactly black metal either. OK, Wreck and Reference were never conventional – always eschewing guitars for keyboards and drum machines. But here there's very little anguished screaming either (you're probably thanking your lucky stars). Their 2019 album Absolute Still Life is their most emo/new-romantic, and also the most blatantly electronic, with glitchy beats and samples and synths, and existentialist, despairing lyrics as ever. I think it's absolute genius.
fire! orchestra - (beneath) the edge of life [Rune Grammofon]
Sweden's Fire! are a remarkable trio of jazz musicians who have worked across post-rock, noise and myriad other genres. They're comprised of Mats Gustafsson on saxophone (known for his massive sound and also his work with The Thing, who've notably collaborated with Neneh Cherry), bassist Johan Berthling (of many ensembles including post-rock/folk pioneers Tape, and his legendary Häpna label) and drummer Andreas Werliin. The latter is perhaps best known for his duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums with his partner Mariam Wallentin, whose extraordinary vocal interpretations and arrangements are so central to the expanded ensemble's work as Fire! Orchestra. In the past they've been a kind of free jazz big band, with massed horns alongside the driving, grooving bass (and often sax) riffage and ecstatic vocals. Every album of the orchestra has been in my top of the year. Here there are scraped and swooped strings, keys and of course the bassline riffs and wonderful vocals – with Wallentin joined by another luminary of the Swedish experimental / jazz scene, Sofia Jernberg. This is compulsive, compulsory listening, as we've learned to expect from this ensemble.
Sote - Pipe Dreams [Diagonal Records/Bandcamp]
This year I was incredibly fortunate to get to interview Ata Ebtekar aka Sote on this here show, and then see him play live and meet him at the excellent 3rd edition of Soft Centre in Casula in September. With a background in breakcore/hardcore from when he was studying abroad in the early 2000s, Ebtekar has by now put out a number of releases drawing on and interrogating the rich musical history of Iran. 2017's Sacred Horror in Design took the sounds of traditional Persian instruments and embedded them in electronics, heavily processing the sounds and re-composing and re-contextualising the compositions. That is taken further on the new album Parallel Persia, released by Diagonal Records. Alongside instruments like the santour and tar are vocal harmonies, and of course lots of electronic processing and synthesised sounds as well. At times the music is choreographed into some kind of 4/4 beats, but more often it's free, as if played by live musicians. It's quite extraordinarily beautiful.
Carl Gari & Abdullah Miniawy - B'aj بعاج [Whities]
The ever-evolving UK label Whities had another great year of varied music. Whities 023 is the second album in which German trio Carl Gari collaborate with French-based Egyptian poet & singer Abdullah Miniawy. It's an extraordinary work entitled The Act of Falling from the 8th Floor. The centrepiece is "B'aj بعاج", in which Miniawy narrates a poem told from the point of view of a man who has jumped from the 8th floor, and describes the activities on the balconies as he falls – a dark reflection of modern Egyptian society with a gorgeous bass-heavy soundscape of an accompaniment.
Sarathy Korwar feat. Zia Ahmed & Aditya Prakash - Bol [The Leaf Label/Bandcamp]
2019 brought us the second album from the Indian jazz musician Sarathy Korwar, now London-based, but US-born and raised in Ahmedabad and Chennai. He learned tabla and Indian classical music, but also played the Western drum kit, and moved to London to continue bringing these two worlds together. His first album was released on Ninja Tune in 2016, and this new one comes via The Leaf Label. Here his crossover of Indian classical and jazz is further augmented with rappers & singers from Mumbai and New Delhi. The epic "Bol" has it all – Indian harmonium drone, spoken word from London-based poet Zia Ahmed, scatting and soaring vocals from Aditya Prakash, a hip-hop/dub style groove and jazz soloing. The album tackled Brexit Britain by amplifying brown voices and championing multiculturalism – it's fantastic.
Noting also that the first single took this further, with Indian bass/hip-hop crew Bandish Projekt's 7/8 drum'n'bass remix of the excellent single Mumbai featuring MC Malawi's ponderings on colonialism (bouncing between "Mumbai" and "Bombay").
Daniel Carter, Tobias Wilner, Djibril Toure, Federico Ughi - Canal Street [577 Records/Bandcamp]
I discovered this teaming up of great NYC musicians through The Wire's cover CD The Wire Tapper earlier this year, which featured an excerpt of this track. The album New York United combines brilliant jazz musicians Daniel Carter and Federico Ughi with electronic soundtrack musician Tobias Wilner and versatile bassist Djibril Toure (who's played with The Wu-Tang Clan). It's an album of jazzscapes, dub/hip-hop grooves and experimentation. This particular quartet may be new, but they've played together in various sub-groupings before, and that shows in an album that matches the avant-garde aspects with remarkable cohesion.
Black To Comm - Lethe [Thrill Jockey/Bandcamp]
Another release which I've known since it came out would appear on this list. I'd been aware of Marc Richter's work as Black To Comm before, and I know he never tends to do exactly the same thing on each album, but it was only when he adopted the moniker Jemh Circs for a couple of releases a few years ago that I really paid attention. Those releases, sampling voices and pop music from YouTube, were an interesting detour into vaporwave, a little more hyperactive and day-glo than his Black To Comm work, which has itself taken on many forms in the past, sometimes minimalism & drone, often collage-based constructions. Seven Horses For Seven Kings is a rather dark and heavy affair, well suited to Thrill Jockey's current sound, and I found it absolutely absorbing. Drawing from collage and sampling techniques across the board from tape experiments, hip-hop instrumentals through to glitchscapes, it's a mature and accomplished release. Mid-year, he released a mini-album follow-up called Before After, on very much the same themes.
Carl Stone - Xé May [Unseen Worlds/Bandcamp]
In 2018, Unseen Worlds released two compilations of the work of US musician Carl Stone, who's been called the "King of Sampling" for his pioneering work with hardware samplers in the 1980s, including working with home computers from the mid-'80s.
On two NEW albums for 2019 Stone recreates his time-slicing technique of stretching and rearranging musical works through microsampling in a modern way using Max/MSP. Actually the track I played tonight, from Baroo, uses an Elektron Octatrack sampler, but all the pieces from this and the album Himalaya show Stone enjoying the flexibility of new technologies in extending techniques he's been developing and perfecting for decades.
Machinefabriek - II (with Chantal Acda) [Western Vinyl/Machinefabriek Bandcamp]
As usual 2019 saw a considerable number of new releases from Dutch sound artist and frequent UFog feature artist Machinefabriek. Released on none other than Western Vinyl, With Voices is just what it says on the tin: Zuydervelt asked 8 people to contribute vocal takes, some spoken, some sung, and reconstructed them into tracks in his own special way. Other contributors include Richard Youngs, Peter Broderick and a beautiful 11-minute closer with Marissa Nadler. As with Nadler, here Chantal Acda's voice ventures into melodic sections at times, while elsewhere it's chopped up and rearranged.
Alexandra Spence - bodies in place [Room40]
When her wonderful album came out earlier this year, I interviewed Sydney sound-artist Alexandra Spence on this very show, which you can listen to over here. Despite Waking, She Heard The Fluttering being her debut album, she has worked with many great names around the globe – in Toronto & Vancouver studying music, sound art & field recording, then with Francisco Lopez on a residency in South Africa, and with David Toop, Chris Watson and Jez riley French in the UK. All these influences, along with her experience as an improviser on clarinet and other instruments (she's part of the Splinter Orchestra) form a background for her very idiomatic work on record, which is an intuitive approach to constructing engrossing sound worlds. Live, she unveils the process, creating her sounds from unexpected objects, or objects used unexpectedly.
This is an Australian track.
This is a local artist.