You don’t need me to tell you how shit this year has been. There are plenty of end-of-year editorials hammering that point home ad nauseam. Here’s some music you may or may not have heard that – for me at least - stood out.
Lung Dart Mix for Oki Ni
Everyone loves a mind-rinsing gauntlet of tunnelvision techno. We’ve been pretty spoilt for that this year (Inga Mauer’s mix for Digital Tsunami and Phuong-Dan’s effort for the Dekmantel series both spring to mind as particularly memorable flashpoints) Occasionally though, a gentler catharsis comes calling and the tear ducts need to flow. Bring on the wretched sobs and breathless mewling. The landslide of hot salty tears. Let it all out big guy.
The necessity of this manner of release is both sincerely and irreverently acknowledged in Lung Dart’s ‘ALLTYPESOFTEARS’ mix for Oki Ni (that luxury online fashion retailer that no one can afford) Beginning with the BBC news theme and a viral clip of the ‘best cry ever’, it shifts into a bleary-eyed collage that takes us from the sublime (Arthur Russell, Jacques Brel, Nina Simone) to the ridiculous (East 17, Sonique, and England’s first goal at this year’s Euros) and by the grace of measured irony and heart-on-sleeve contemplation it works.
Along the way there are some transporting field recordings - one of ‘an old man and an organ’ from Grundtvig's Church in Copenhagen – and some unflinchingly candid and intimate moments too, including a recording of a girl by the name of Chloe. Accompanied by Jon Brion’s theme for Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, she proceeds to reveal a frank account of the contradictory flaws in a certain subject’s character, presumably referring to one of the authors of the mix. Ouch.
Brave, tender and nimbly sewn together, it’s an hour of sorrow and reflection tailormade for the year that’s transpired. No more so than when ‘Football’s coming home’ segues into Leonard Cohen. I’d wager that you didn’t come across another mix quite like this in 2016. I certainly didn’t.
Honourable Mentions: Zaltan RA Mix, Pan Daijing Digital Tsunami Mix, Jay Glass Dubs / Bokeh Edwards for Blowing Up The Workshop, Pretty much every Blackest Ever Black mix for Berlin Community Radio / NTS.
Reliable Sources: Phormix, Pandora’s Jukebox for NTS, Shub Roy / Revelate for Berlin Community Radio, Carla Dal Forno for Berlin Community Radio, Helm for NTS
Exek - Baby Giant Squid (Another Dark Age)
Carla Dal Forno – Fast Moving Cars (Blackest Ever Black)
Whether its coincidence or providence I’m not sure, but some of the more striking standalone moments this year can both be traced back to Melbourne, the first of which comes from Exek who’s ‘Baby Giant Squid’ was less a ‘song’ in the conventional sense of the word than a sprawling suite of unremitting dub lumber, charred excoriations of distortion and dead-behind-the-eyes lyricism. Urgent yet compromised, this was the sound of a band voiding their last reserves of adrenaline before succumbing to a squalid burnout. Albert Wolski’s words, for all their deadpan disdain, are caustic, laconic and sleazy, cut from the same cloth as Rowland S. Howard and Jonnine Standish but like their other countrymen DIÄT driven too by angst and malaise. His stoic utterances are eventually eclipsed by a proliferating exchange of instrumental sturm und drang that seems to scuzz eternal, beyond exhaustion into, if not transcendence, then the least we can hope for in terms of higher states. Clocking in at over fifteen minutes, this was a sublime cycle of delirium and degradation.
Originating again from Melbourne but now based in Berlin, Carla Dal Forno first emerged on the Blackest Ever Black label in a collaborative capacity, working with compatriot Tarquin Manek in F ingers and Tarcar. This year heralded her first solo release under her own name and with it an eldritch and crepuscular world of sparse but transfixing confessionals given minimal synth scaling and spun out by funereal dub definition. There’s a subdued but spellbinding mood throughout her long player ‘You Know What It’s Like’, from the faint, moribund processions of ‘What You Gonna Do Now?’ and ‘You Know What It’s Like’ to the clandestine hideaway quiet of ‘Dry In The Rain’, but it was ‘Fast Moving Cars’ that lingered the most, borne along by single bass strums and given a wistful, unforgettable vocal undertow. By the end, with currents of crystallizing synth treatments streaming into frame, the whole thing practically glows out of the speakers.
Honourable Mentions: Babyfather ‘Motivation’, DVA Damas ‘Clear Cut’, Raphael Top-Secret/Nelson Bishop ‘Love So High’, Powell feat Loke Rahbek ‘Mad Love’, Alphonse ‘Same For Me’, Avalon Emerson ‘The Frontier’, Cremation Lily ‘The Currents Mislead’, ABRA ‘Crybaby’, Carlos Cutaia ‘Sensación Melancólica’, Dip In The Pool ‘On Retinae (West Version)’
Machine Woman – Genau House (Where To Now?)
For all the countless 12”s of darkroom-variety brutalism and clinical festival-primed euphoria released this year there was one anomalous exception. Instead of a heatseeking basement functionality, Anastasia Vtorova’s odyssey of millennial disillusionment – the tracks were made after Vtorova’s Tinder date cancelled on her and she failed to get in to Berghain – eddied into direct floor-ready dynamics whilst remaining at odds with any safe, formulaic foundations. On ‘I Can Mend Your Broken Heart’, the security and regularity of a centralizing pulse is offset by a sinuous circuit noise given a metallic liquidity that sounds like hotwired fibre optic cables doused in syrup. ‘Friday Night’ was ICMYBH’s sinister industrial twin, more severe, steely and mutant in character - the bass pressure after the smoked out luxuriation - yet again was defined by a pulped computer noise that pointed to a promising singularity in Vtorova’s sound.
Above it all, her voice drawled with exaggerated enticement, offering seductive solace and hi-def surrealism. It was as if Vtorova, in responding to a dispiriting night out, was sliding down some technologic plughole, a slipstream of escapist synthetic satisfaction that countered the hard realities of relationships and nightlife in 2016 with misfit nuance and lascivious playfulness. Topped off by a Kassem Mosse remix, it was rarely matched all year.
Hodge – Body Drive EP (No Corner)
One constant in a year of turmoil was Bristol’s Young Echo collective and their myriad affiliated projects. The seditious soundboy noise and expansive low end explorations released on Ossia and Vessel’s co-venture FuckPunk and the closely associated No Corner imprint proved a provocative diversion from the tired and ordinary all year, in more ways than one. With FuckPunk that anarchic characteristic extended to the manufacturing stages as the label continued to mix subversion with tearaway hijinks. Dubplate acetates of mashed up Gussie P rhythms, a Giant Swan 12” that went some way to capturing the ritualistic lunacy of their live show and a live cassette of Asda at Neek’s Death Disko night in Bristol – taped on old ‘Bible tapes’ no less – injected a welcome bit of impulsive attitude and chaotic unpredictability into proceedings.
No Corner too, had a special year with the release of Asda’s ‘The Abyss’ and another 12” that – like Machine Woman - represented somewhat of an about-face, if not in terms of wider consensual trends than certainly in the work of the individual who produced it. Hodge’s ‘Body Drive’ saw the heavy hitting bass pressure unloaded on previous releases for Hemlock and Livity Sound undergo an abstract reconfiguration which favoured tensile, dystopian atmospherics and sound design detail above pugnacity. The former traits weren’t exactly absent in Hodge’s previous work but here they felt more pronounced, aided by an inclination to let beatless passages breathe and expand to dramatic climaxes. ‘Body Drive’ has an over-your-shoulder paranoia that’s hypnotically incessant and reminiscent of early grime in its picturing of urban claustrophobia, yet only hints at that association, trading that evocation with echoes of garbled bad trip acid, rig ready dub FX* and tape-damaged techno. ‘Break in The Building’ went even further, lurking in a precipitous gulf that swells into a monumental, eerie soundscape, whilst ‘Personality Shift’ bridged stridency and space, endlessly revolving around a cycle of stuttering bleeps but opening out with cinematic ambience in its later stages. Altogether they emphasized that Hodge should indulge the stranger and more elusive idiosyncracies of his sound more regularly in the future. When he does, the results are immense. This was the ideal capping off point in a landmark year for the many outlets spearheaded by the Young Echo crew.
(*Arguably deserves the accolade of most effectively deployed sample of gunshots in a track this year)
Honourable Mentions: Facit ‘Måndag Mon Amour’, Felix K & Bass Dee ‘Veteranenstrasse EP’, Call Super ‘New Life Tones’, Ossia ‘Control / Information / Version’
Jay Glass Dubs – New Teeth For An Old Country
Bokeh Versions, Peckham’s own Black Ark – in a spiritual sense not in the material sense of a doomed recording studio – had the definition of a banner year. Retaining a commanding lock on the airwaves via their NTS show - a slot where you’re as likely to hear contemporary experimental dub factions as you are Pierre Bastien, Leslie Winer and Keith Hudson – the label managed to somehow bring six tapes and one long player into existence, a prolific feat matched by what the uninspired might call ‘quality control’. Although the new faces that emerged courtesy of the label – Voodoo Tapes, Aquadab & MC A, Abu Ama – all revealed markedly individual sounds and distinctive aesthetics, it was Dimitris Papadatos’ Jay Glass Dubs project, in particular his ‘New Teeth For An Old Country’ tape, that felt like the most colossal and emphatic visitation. Mystical and mantric, soporific and vast, monolithic and fathomless, this was dub actively redrawn rather than merely imitated.
All the hallmarks of dub instrumentation were there – syncopated drums, blasts of horn, psychedelic hints of organ – but were exquisitely slowed and stretched to the point where everything, even the slightest space echo breath, took on a seismic significance. There was a journey of sorts too, from the serenely toasted mirages of the outset (‘Compound Dub’, ‘Versatile Dub’) to the mesmeric underworlds and slow motion earthquakes of the tape’s conclusion (‘Neckless Dub’, ‘Interlude II – Careless Dub’, ‘Double Edge Sword Dub’)
Honourable Mentions: Silvia Kastel ‘The Gap’, Isorinne ‘Echoic Memoir’, Death Is Not The End ‘The World Is Going Wrong’, Alex Zhang Hungtai ‘Knave of Hearts’, John T. Gast ‘INNA BABALON’
Music From Memory
In bringing together this round up I’ve tried to stick to new music and contemporary artists but with what Abel Nagengast, Jamie Tiller and Tako Reyenga unearthed and released this year courtesy of their MFM label, the separation between old and new, retrospective and current, years gone by and the year that’s just left us feels like a moot point, especially when you consider the substance of what the label brought into the world. Often it felt like the usual erosions and markings of time didn’t apply to MFM’s roster anyhow.
Although Suso Sáiz’s ‘Odisea’ seemed to edge furtively into new age and balearic territory his work didn’t sound confined by association, instead airing qualities which spoke of something undisturbed and undiminished. With Michal Turtle’s ‘Phantoms of Dreamland’ the aqueous, entranced jazz and eccentric DIY electronics of a neglected pioneer from Croydon felt just as relevant while their last major release of the year – Roberto Musci’s ‘Tower of Silence’ – sounded as expansive and questing as the itinerant travels that informed many of the recordings which make up the collection. Between them, the likes of Workdub and Becker / Stegmann / Zeumer fitted in seamlessly within that constellation whilst Dip In The Pool and The System sounded like gleaming pop relics for a disco where Haruomi Hosono could be conceivably blared out alongside a more cosmically inclined Hall & Oates obscurity.
Their releases all came from particular personalities but they all served to form a coherent and pure identity that maintained and in many ways surpassed the revelatory highlights they brought into being last year (Gigi Masin and Vito Ricci were particularly special) It almost felt as if MFM’s 2016 releases were pre-destined for what they’ve convincingly established as a haven for remote visionaries.
Honourable Mentions: Where To Now?, Ascetic House, Unknown Precept, Bokeh Versions, Blackest Ever Black, FuckPunk, No Corner, Antinote, Shelter Press, Editions Mego, Diagonal, Growing Bin, ALTER, Posh Isolation, Northern Electronics, IIian Tape, Emotional Rescue, Astral Industries, On-U Sound, Jealous God.
Too many to mention.
Croatian Amor – Love Means Taking Action
Much was made of Loke Rahbek’s last effort under his Croatian Amor alias. The only way to procure the cassette – entitled ‘The Wild Palms’ and released on Rahbek’s label Posh Isolation – was to send a naked selfie of yourself to a specially designated email. With this year’s fully fledged record ‘Love Means Taking Action’ his interrogation of the relationship between an artist, their audience and the work itself reached for a different conceptual slant. Just as the notion of vulnerability in creating a work for public consumption was questioned on ‘The Wild Palms’, the notion of an album existing as a self-contained, finished ‘product’ was cross-examined on ‘Love Means Taking Action’. Rahbek released the stems for the record and encouraged anyone who had the inclination to do what they pleased with its constituent parts. It seemed to defy the idea of a record as a prescribed, finite entity with a particular lifespan, instead relinquishing creative ownership and adding an alternative dimension to the acquiescent archetypes of a physical release.
Saying that, appreciating the record in a more conventional sense proved just as compelling as the implications of this artistic precis. It moved from pindrop plainsong from a dead cosmos (‘An Angel Gets His Wings Clipped’) to creaking, indeterminate nightscapes (‘Nadim Call Emergence’, ‘Any Life You Want’) to stunning stratospheric panoramas (‘Reality Summit’, ‘Refugee Returns to Safety’) For an artist rooted but not ruled by an abrasive textural underpinning – glimpses of which arise over the course of ‘Love Means Taking Action’ and more concertedly in his other projects Damien Dubrovnik and LR – there are surprisingly incandescent moments of light and warmth too.
Speaking to THUMP earlier in the year about the record, Rahbek revealed his disenchantment with the standard cycle of how he perceives physical releases, from the act of creation to the death of posterity: ‘You spent all this time and energy writing, recording, building and designing, then you send it off to a pressing plant and you wait about 3-6 months and then you get it back and it's done. But while it is done and might look nice and maybe even sound okay, it's done and it's dead and it's going to stay in that form till someone sooner or later throws it in the garbage. Before that it will sit in boxes in a mail-order, then sit in the post, maybe sit in a record store, maybe end up in someone's home and all the while it stays the same, it's frozen. There is something nice about the thought but at the same time something sad and even a little perverted.’
With ‘Love Means Taking Action’, a record with as much visceral disfigurement and sidereal tracts as it has bare-all, affective heart-and-soul, Rahbek ensured that at least one record wouldn’t be consigned to this fate.
Honourable Mentions: Yves Tumor ‘Serpent Music’, Exploded View S/T, Klara Lewis ‘You’, Mica Levi & Oliver Coates ‘Remain Calm’, Pierre Bastien ‘Blue As An Orange’, Good Willsmith ‘Things Our Bodies Used To Have’, Pheromoans ‘I’m On Nights’, Savage Young Taterburg ‘Shadow of Marlboro Man’, Seekers International ‘Lovers Dedication Station’, Felicia Atkinson & Jefre Cantu Ledesma ‘Comme Un Seul Narcisse’, Delroy Edwards ‘Hangin’ At The Beach’, Dedekind Cut ‘$uccessor (ded004)’, Mikael Seifu ‘Zelalem’