Best of the last year, part 2 comin' atcha. More of an electronic focus, with some disquieting ambient sounds in there as well.
It's been a hellish week here in Australia, and the stupidity of our climate-change-denying government(s) has been on show all week. Whether it's a turning point remains to be seen, but anyway, welcome to 2020!
Ecker & Meulyzer - Growth [Subtext Recordings/Bandcamp]
Starting with an album I leapt on a few months ago, from Belgian cellist Koenraad Ecker & percussionist Frederik Meulyzer. I love Ecker's work with duos Lumisokea and Stray Dogs, and Subtext Recordings is a very reliable outlet for bass music, abstract sound & electro-acoustic work. And then as I researched Meulyzer I realised that Ecker & Meulyzer ARE Stray Dogs. Not a million miles from Ecker's work with Andrea Taeggi in Lumisokea, Stray Dogs showcases a mix of percussion-driven industrial techno and acoustic/processed acoustic sounds. Under their own surnames, their music leans a little more on Ecker's cello and sound design - made even more stunning as this album was recorded in Norway at the very remote Svalbard Global Seed Vault, one of a number of seed banks around the world keeping seeds for a wide variety of essential crops to be used in the event of a global ecological calamity. In these times of climate crisis, it's vital stuff, and I'm all for instrumental music that engages with subject matter like this - making this important space come alive with resonance.
65daysofstatic - bad age [Superball Music]65daysofstatic - SynthFlood [65daysofstatic Bandcamp]65daysofstatic have been a Utility Fog mainstay since the show started – literally, their first "real" EP stumble.stop.repeat came out in 2003. I saw it described by Norman Records (the great Leeds-based online record store) as something like postrock crossed with Squarepusher, and jumped on that shit of course. They recognized my support by thanking me in the liner notes of their second album – and when they finally toured Australia with sleepmakeswaves, I was told my Mike from Bird's Robe that it was my championing of these guys that made them aware of them. Good feeling!
They were putting together ridiculous and awesome glitchy drill'n'bass mashups before they even put out that first EP, and many of these (including legit remixes) came out on a series of CDRs called unreleased/unreleasable. Since May 2019, they have been producing a monthly EP series – which involves a Bandcamp subscription for which each EP is released a month ahead – and it's a continuation of this, with oddities, experiments and offcuts (not actually illegal admittedly). Before this, after a bunch of albums and international touring (including a support slot with The Cure), they created a live project based around generative programming, and then extended this further with their groundbreaking soundtrack to the computer game No Man's Sky, which was composed in such a way that it would be generated along with the generative planetary landscapes (and flora & fauna) the players encounter.
The new album is their response to the endtimes feeling of the current age – the slow collapse of the biosphere, the rise of fascism and the horrors of Brexit Britain. There’s an air of melancholy that comes along with the electronic rhythms, and there’s not much in the way of riffing. It's surprisingly touching, and still absolutely in tune with that I'm trying to do with Utility Fog. Cheers guys!
Andy Odysee - Like Jazz [Odysee Recordings/Bandcamp]
I thought I'd introduce the electronic component of this best of, most of which involves jungle breaks of some sort, with an original player in the '90s jungle scene, composer & producer Andy Baddaley. He joined Tilla Kemal aka Mirage to run the Odysee Recordings label, releasing important early 12"s from Photek and Source Direct among others. They've lately been releasing remastered digital versions of old releases on their Bandcamp, but late 2019 found a new EP from Andy Odysee, with a dark classic-sounding techstep A-side backed with a skittery jazzy number and a third bonus track.
Loraine James - So Scared [Hyperdub/Bandcamp]
London artist Loraine James' debut album on Hyperdub is a mélange of influences from UK club music and idm to jazz, grime and drill – and a bit of Chicago juke in there too it has to be said – but it's also a testament to being in a queer relationship in London, and everything that goes with that. So it has lovely tender pieces and frenetic elements and some danceable tracks. At a time when everyone's mashing everything up, there's still somehow nothing quite like this out there at the moment, and it's justifiably been on lots of best of lists, including mine!
ISSHU - Demons Are Real [Seagrave/Bandcamp]
UK artist ISSHU has three cassettes now on the Seagrave label, each with fairly different focus, from murky techno or electro to 2019 album IS's '90s idm and in particular drill'n'bass and junglist contortions. It's got that melodic acid feel along with the beats, quite expertly done. I've listened to it quite a lot through the year. It may have slipped under a few people's radars, so I highly recommend checking it out.
LOFT - That Hyde Trakk [Tri-Angle/Bandcamp]
Continuing with crazy breakbeats, Manchester-based AYA Sinclair released an EP earlier in the year on Tri-Angle as LOFT. She now goes by AYA, and deliciously mashes up breaks on others' tracks as well as her own. and departt from mono games is a vaporwavey concoction of field recordings, some muffled vocal bits, and rave atmospherics, which gives way to drill'n'bassy madness on the last track. So good.
E-Saggila - My World My Way [Northern Electronics]
Toronto-based E-Saggila, aka Rita Mikhael, has been making convention-defying techno with elements of rave, industrial, noise and deconstructed club music for a little while. A sign that I really can't fit everything I want to play into my 2 hours a week, I didn't play anything from her in 2019, but her Northern Electronics release is a hard-hitting work of brilliance that needs to be acknowledged now. She prefers to avoid the industry and social media side of the music business, so I can't even find a SoundCloud for her, let alone Twitter or Facebook, but you can read a fantastic interview with her from August 2019 at The Quietus.
Makeda - Me, First [Nice Music]
Born in Sydney, moved to Brisbane, now based in Melbourne, Makeda has also released music (as label and artist I think) as All Day Breakfast, but her brilliant 2019 EP Lifetrap was her debut release proper. Whether remixing others (such as Perth artist Shoshana Rosenberg or Melbourne legends My Disco), or here out on her own, she creates fractured underground club music like no other. And she's a feminist style icon TBH.
GOOOOOSE - Plasma Sunrise [SVBKVLT]
I was lucky enough to get to see Shanghai electronic artist GOOOOOSE at Soft Centre in September. It was a little shameful that I hadn't already gotten hold of his excellent album Rusted Silicon on Chinese electronic label SVBKVLT. He and his partner 33, who played a great techno set later in the day, are alumni of the Chinese electro-rock band Duck Fight Goose. The mashed jungle breaks, reconfigured in new ways on a few tracks here are really exciting, but the gentle jazzy piano chords and the more ambient passages are great too. As a bonus the album finishes with a few remixes, including the one & only Iranian electronic master Sote, who appeared in the 1st Best of 2019 show, and did a superb hardcore set at Soft Centre too.
Sig Nu Gris - To Un-know [Spirit Level/Bandcamp]
Melbourne-based producer Erin Hyde aka Sig Nu Gris had a big October releasing a series of what she calls Fixations, edits of songs she gets fixated on, to the extent that she wants to take them apart and put them back together in her own special way. But earlier in the year Spirit Level released an original single, "To Un-know", a beautiful slab of chopped beats, head-nodding bass, corruscating keyboards and sparing use of vocals.
Hence Therefore - Census Map Museum [All Centre]
Sydney's Simon Unwin aka Hence Therefore spent a few years in London during which time he really honed his production craft, as well as building some connections with people like the aforementioned Loraine James and object blue. He moved back to Sydney this year, and in addition to the brilliant album Secular Hells which he released on 3bs Records, he put out a fantastic 2-tracker on London label All Centre. Complex beat patterns & bass, club music for the mind and body.
Yunzero - Fax 1 [.jpeg Artefacts]
The work of Melbourne artist Jim Sellars as Yunzero (he previously released as Hyde and Electric Sea Spider) was a revelation in 2019. Bass and beats embedded in a psychedelic, ambient soundworld. Wonderfully done, utterly bamboozling.
Hiro Kone - A Desire, Nameless [Dais Records/Hiro Kone Bandcamp]
For her third album, and second for Dais Records, Hiro Kone aka NYC's Nicky Mao addresses the techno-fascism of the current age through the lens of "absence". Instrumental music shackled to big concepts is always a bit of a stretch, but you can feel it working with music this evocative, drawing on the last few decades of post-cyberpunk art & music. Superb sound design and detailed beat programming that doesn't succumb to the current "deconstructed club music" obsession of the current age.
Helm - I Knew You Would Respond [PAN]
Luke Younger's solo project Helm is by now quite prominent in the experimental scene. A seasoned noise artist, he also runs the ALTER label which releases everything from noise and postpunk to experimental dancefloor work. Helm sits somewhere in the sound-art spectrum, occasionally emanating regular beats, sometimes incorporating something recognizable as a bassline or a melody, frequently made of bubbling or buzzing drones... It's evocative, and hard to pin down in the best way. In 2019 he released Chemical Flowers, again for the great PAN label, and this track (among others) features superb string arrangements by industrial legend and Aussie ex-pat Jim Thirlwell aka Foetus.
Teho Teardo - London Offered Us Possible Mothers [Specula Records]
Before 2019 it had been a couple of years since we heard from Italian composer and ex-industrial musician Teho Teardo on this show. He's become known for some brilliant albums with the great Blixa Bargeld, but equally for his soundtrack work, and this new album was composed for a play by Enda Walsh adapting Max Porter's novel Grief Is The Thing With Feathers. The string arrangements, details production and occasional electronic elements make for wonderfully emotive work. There's at least one album scheduled for 2020 for us to look forward to!
BirdWorld - After Rain [Focused Silence/Bandcamp]
Last year I was delighted to discover the London/Oslo duo BirdWorld, made up of Gregor Riddell on cello & electronics and Adam Teixeira on drums & percussion. They found a home on the English experimental label Focused Silence, who in 2019 released the debut album UNDA. It's beautiful and very mysterious stuff - Gregor said to me of their music that they are "really interested in trying to depict a sound that hovers in between reality and a dream state, a bit folkloric/voodoo, we like the idea that music is capable of hypnotising and evoking a sense of magic." I'd say they have done a pretty good job of that here - whether through distorted bowed cymbals and tremolo cello noise, or softly walking basslines, or decontextualised samples of various sorts. Fascinating sounds.
Annelyse Gelman & Jason Grier - Rain [Fonograf Editions]
The opening track "Maxes" of Annelyse Gelman & Jason Grier’s debut About Repulsion (a two-track 7” with 6 digital tracks) would have segued nicely out of the last few, with its guest cello from Clare Monfredo. I played it earlier this year, but for this best of I've decided to play "Rain". Here, multiple versions of Gelman’s singing compete with more & less recognizable field recordings. For all the alienating techniques, it’s incredibly emotive music.
Hildur Guðnadóttir - The Door [Deutsche Grammophon]
One of the TV highlights of 2019 was HBO's Chernobyl. I was super pleased to discover that the soundtrack is by the wonderful Icelandic cellist, singer and composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, who was a member of Múm a long time ago, has worked with many avant-garde artists, appears singing on the new Sunn O))) album, and was working closely with Jóhann Jóhannsson before he tragically passed away last year. She won a number of awards for her soundtrack to Joker, but for Chernobyl she created some extraordinary, imposing and spooky works featuring industrial sounds of all sorts, entirely recorded in a Lithuanian nuclear power point as it was being decommissioned. This isn't just a gimmick - the sounds and ambience seep into every moment of the soundtrack, and the industrial-sounding pieces are literally crafted from the industry of nuclear power. It's a hell of an achievement.
Fennesz - We Trigger the Sun (excerpt) [Touch]
In the mid-to-late '90s, no label was more synonymous with glitch and electronic experimentalism than Australian label Mego (which relaunched as Editions Mego in 2006), and one of the most talented purveyors of this sound was Christian Fennesz. To some extent this is because Fennesz was less uncompromising with the noise and chaos than contemporaries like Pita (Peter Rehberg, who runs Editions Mego), Hecker or even Farmers Manual, but his earlier works were at the time rather groundbreaking and ear-opening. He gained deserved fame with the Endless Summer album, which invoked the Beach Boys through a haze of static and drone. In the last 10 years or so, it's felt to me like Fennesz started repeating himself, with lacklustre overly-pleasant collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto, and a whole lot of stuff that seemed to repeat the same four strummed guitar chords through the same patches. So it was great to find that Agora, his new album from 2019 recorded on a limited setup in a small room on his house, mixed on headphones, brings back some kind of edge to his sound - still with beautiful processed guitar, but with a low-end pulse running through a lot of the release, and a certain roughness. Maybe it's just me, but anyway it's rather wonderful.
CA2+ - Deleese (Intro) (excerpt) [Northern Electronics/Bandcamp]
Sweden's Andreas Lübeck is an accomplished photographer, and now has a few releases under his belt for Northern Electronics as CA2+. His earliest cuts were fairly dancefloor-ready techno, but somehow on 2019's Lonely Hearts Club we're finding exquisite modern electro-acoustic composition alongside the deconstructed bass and beats - those sliding tones and glitchy quasi-melodies. I only got to play a bit of this, but please check out the entire 13-minute track, and the rest of the album too!
This is an Australian track.
This is a local artist.