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Utility Fog

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Sunday, 20th of December, 2020

Playlist 20.12.20 - Best of 2020 Part 1 (7:27 pm)

This was SO HARD. 2020 has been endless, and because of that, because of Bandcamp Fridays, because of who knows what, it has been a cornucopia of musical wonders, of all stripes. I have attempted to cover stupid amounts of ground here, and next week will be a differently bewildering run of stuff - maybe some of the quieter areas, more experimental/classical/jazz, but definitely also more bass & beats & breaks as well! Who knows really?

Anyway, LISTEN AGAIN to (some of) the best stuff (part 1) of the year! FBi offers the best stream on demand services available, and you can podcast it here too.

The Soft Pink Truth - So That Grace May Increase (excerpt) [Thrill Jockey/Bandcamp]
Matmos - nice men in stable relationships (feat. Clipping, Jennifer Walshe, Nate Boyce) [Thrill Jockey/Bandcamp]
Matmos - unmastering (feat. Rabit, Erica Valencia) [Thrill Jockey/Bandcamp]
The Soft Pink Truth - Fuck Nazi Sympathy (Aus-Rotten cover) [The Soft Pink Truth Bandcamp]
Prof Drew Daniel was slated to appear in the Best of 2020 ever since the release of the exquisite The Soft Pink Truth album Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?, a blissful 45 minutes of ambient house with postrock, sunlit r'n'b and almost classical leanings (intended as two mixed halves, but also available digitally in a slightly different form with separated tracks). It's explicitly music for our times, a love reaction to the evils of Trumpism, and its expansive, emotionally welcoming sensibility is perfect for our COVID-era disconnected state. It's like the perfect comedown music the day after intense clubbing, and if the clubbing here is the hammering of late stage capitalism on our state of mind, it's just what we need. A tonic for trying times.
AND THEN... just in time for the discord in America to rise once again in the face of racist, violent police and a white nationalist, kleptocratic President, Drew released a companion album to SWGOSSTGMI?, which is much more in the format of the usual Soft Pink Truth catalogue. Am I Free To Go? sees him covering a selection of crust-punk anarcho-protest songs in various electronic stylings, breakcore, glitch techno etc, with appropriately gutteral vocals alongside some clean singing. Masterful & timely, the album is pay what you can and profits go to the International Anti-fascist Defence Fund.
So, you'd think that Drew Daniel releasing one of the greatest albums of the year as The Soft Pink Truth AND then releasing a brilliant album of crust punk covers might be enough for 2020, but no, 2020 also saw a new album from his & MC Schmidt's ever-wondrous Matmos, and it's a massive 3CD, 3-hour set incorporating contributions from 99 fellow travellers (entirely at 99bpm). The Consuming Flame: Open Exercises in Group Form is a logical follow-up to what the pair have been doing with Matmos for the last 3½+ decades - a super-collaborative, highly-experimental project which is nevertheless always expressive of Daniel & Schmidt's creative vision, and due to their way with form, humour and communication skills, is always highly approachable. The list of contributors to the particular tracks this evening gives a little bit of a flavour of what's going on here - it's nice to hear a return at times to the twisted Americana of works like The West and The Civil War, and also bits of glitched pop and inscrutable spoken word snippets. By any standards 3 hours is too long, but it's hard to complain when it's such an embarrassment of riches.

Poppy - I Disagree [Sumerian Records]
I've been a fan on and off of the wondrously strange & disquieting works of YouTube art created by Moriah Rose Pereira aka Poppy, but I assumed her music was all saccharine pop - which it was, initially. But in recent years her more electronic music gained some impressive depth, and then she took a bizarre turn into nu-metal... Combine that with a break-up with her (probably creepy and manipulative) boyfriend & producer Titanic Sinclair, and Poppy's 2020 album I Disagree turned out to be massively fun & clever and dark. Part feminist self-actualisation, part political statement, part very silly, it's a genre-switching oddity which for some reason I just keep listening to. I never played it during the year, so here's one of many highlights, just for you in the first best of the year show...

Jockstrap - Acid [Warp/Bandcamp]
Jockstrap - Beavercore 3 [Warp/Bandcamp]
Here's something else that I never actually played during the year - because I only discovered the brilliant young London duo Jockstrap right near the end of the year, even though they're released by Warp Records. Trained at London's Guildhall School of Music & Arts, violinist/pianist/singer/arranger Georgia Ellery and producer Taylor Skye create an astonishing mélange of classical & jazz-influenced, complex songs with flamboyant processing all through. I could listen to just "Acid" on repeat for days on end. They followed up the Wicked City EP with Beavercore later in 2020, with the contrasts of highly-electronic versions of earlier tracks and deceptively unadorned (except not) piano "Beavercore" excursions... Genius.

The God In Hackney - The Adjoiner [Junior Aspirin Records/Bandcamp]
First discovered by me on a compilation from The Wire, The God In Hackney instantly attracted my attention. Formed in 2003 by Andy Cooke and Nathaniel Mellors, they were joined by two others for their first album Cave Moderne in 2014. They are one of those UFog-loved affairs of great, catchy songs with really unusual arrangements. Excellent, flowing drums (or indeed stop-start drums) from Ashley Marlowe, acoustic and sometimes dubbed-out by Mellors, with many acoustic instruments as well as plenty of electronics. Andy Cooke is credited with "fire extinguisher" as well as vocals, keyboards, and guitars. And Dan Fox contributes multiple instruments including cello and trombone. There are heaps of influences here, from krautrock & spiritual jazz to experimental electronic, leftfield pop, dub and more. It's such classic UFog music it hurts.

Hilary Woods - Tongues of Wild Boar [Sacred Bones/Bandcamp]
The first solo album from Irish artist Hilary Woods, released by Sacred Bones in 2018, was a collection of bewitching simple tunes with piano, guitar, sparse percussion and synths. It followed her tenure in Dublin-based indie rock band JJ72, but it was a while between her leaving that band and releasing her first solo record. The new album, called Birthmarks, was recorded while heavily pregnant, and much of it was put together in Oslo, working with the great Norwegian noise artist Lasse Marhaug. Cello from his frequent collaborator Okkyung Lee is also all over the album, and Jenny Hval appears on synths as well. It's incredible work, very evocative, and utterly uncompromising, with industrial rhythms, scraping cello noises, lots of unsettling ambience, across a couple of instrumental tracks and some moving, haunting songwrting. Highly recommended.

Sufjan Stevens - Ativan [Asthmatic Kitty/Bandcamp]
Another 5 years, another Sufjan Stevens album... Well, we've had collaborations and other little drops in between, but it seems like the big albums take their time. You've probably heard the story with this one by now - it's an album about the loss of faith, but not (probably) his faith in God so much as his faith in America as an institution. In that sense it's extremely timely, even though the title track was written some years ago. There's personal stuff too though - "Ativan" seems like a depiction of an anxiety attack of the sort the eponymous drug is meant to treat. Musically there are the beautiful harmony changes and melodic deftness we love Sufjan for, and it's almost entirely performed & programmed by Sufjan, like a muted, reflective Age of Adz. Depressing times, let's wallow in Sufjan.

Pa Salieu - Betty [Warner]
2020 has been huge for Coventry-based UK rapper Pa Salieu. It's UK drill, but a lot could easily sit as grime. Salieu's voice is incredbily strong, bearing signs of his Gambian heritage as well as the British-Jamaican influence of the music, and his lyrics speak of the violence of systemic racism and the UK's long-established class system. Of course for me the music itself is a huge drawcard, and I was introduced to him through the b-side of his massive single "Betty" - on "Bang Out" he samples liberally from the ever-influential "Ghosts" by Japan, with David Sylvian's voice and the equally-identifiable synths weaving in and out of the rolling bassline and Salieu's raps.

Run The Jewels - Goonies Vs. ET [Run The Jewels]
Finally, four years after RTJ3 came the fourth album from Killer Mike & EL-P's Run The Jewels. It hits just as hard as previously - EL-P's production is impulsively danceable, and still hints a little at the industrial & experimental influences his work has often borne. And while Killer Mike's always been politically outspoken & eloquent, this is probably the most explicitly anti-racist and political, being their first created during the Trump presidency. I particularly love the chopped vocal "oh" that accentuates the downbeats in the breakdowns here. As usual the new album was a pay-what-you-want download ahead of its physical release, with all profits going to the Mass Defense Program that provides legal aid to political activists, protesters and movements for social change.

The Bug ft. Dis Fig - Destroy Me [Hyperdub/Bandcamp]
Early last year I discovered the work of jazz-trained vocalist Felicia Chen as Dis Fig via her debut album released by Purple Tape Pedigree, entitled Purge. Drawing from her jazz and classical training as well as industrial and noise, it was broad-ranging and quite disturbing at times. So it's quite excellent to find her now collaborating with one of my favourite artists, The Bug, with a full album of what's described as "narco-dancehall", combining Kevin Martin's earlier dancehall distortions with his more recent dubstep/grime and the spaced-out dub & trip-hop of his King Midas Sound project. Dis Fig is only the latest in a string of female singers Martin has worked with, but this full album is an impressive collaboration, with Chen's vocals leaning towards the melodic, trip-hop end of the spectrum, but injecting plenty of emotion and musical texture to the proceedings.

Ed Balloon - Bad Gyal [Deathbomb Arc/Bandcamp]
Ed Balloon's verses on clipping.'s track "He Dead" last year absolutely stole the show... His new EP I Hate It Here, his second on Deathbomb Arc, seems to draw something from the more experimental side of clipping., with his dulcet vocals (comfortable singing, and rapping in both high and low register, his vowels a reminder of his Nigerian heritage) accompanied by distorted basslines and skittering electronics beats as much as r'n'b arrangements. It's absolutely superb.

clipping. - Pain Everyday (with Michael Esposito) [Sub Pop/Bandcamp]
A long year after their first horrorcore/African-American horror themed album There Existed An Addiction To Blood, finally clipping. released the long-awaited sequel Visions of Bodies Being Burned. It was always planned as a duology, but the familiar circumstances we're all living with delayed the second album somewhat. Happily it was worth every minute of the wait, with the noise grounding of William Hutson and breakcore/techno experience of Jonathan Snipes again providing the perfect foil for the erudite, rapidfire delivery of their half-Jewish, half-African American rapper Daveed Diggs. As always the political & the cultural are intractably intertwined, and pop hooks coexist with extreme noise. "Pain Everyday" references that Venetian Snares bloke with strings & 7/8 breakcore beats alongside field recordings from occult researcher & noise artist Michael Esposito.

Armand Hammer - Pommelhorse ft. Curly Castro [Backwoodz Studioz/Bandcamp]
Last year billy woods, founder of Backwoodz Studioz, put out two of the best hip-hop albums of the year - Hidden Places with Kenny Segal in particular was top of my list. The year before, his duo Armand Hammer with ELUCID released one of the most bewildering and brilliant albums of that year, Paraffin, so their follow-up this year had a lot riding on it. And Shrines by and large pulls it off. The lyrics as usual are rapidfire, dense and reference-laden, frequently apposite to the current situation, which after all is just drawing attention to the reality of life for Black Americans that white people have the privilege of staying oblivious to (much like in Australia). Musically it's as strange and unexpected as ever - highlighting the fact that hip-hop has always been experimental music.

Crass - Asylum (Mikado Koko Remix) [One Little Independent Records/Crass Bandcamp]
The anarcho-punk of UK collective Crass couldn't be more relevant now, in these days where protest movements are simultaneously co-opted and treated as terrorists, and Covid lockdowns are being used as excuses to stamp down hard on the mosto downtrodden parts of our society. So it's nice to have an excuse to listen to them anew. Late last year they made from their debut album The Feeding of the 500 available on Google Drive for anyone to remix. Now a series of 7"s is coming out with well-known and lesser-known names remixing their tracks (none other than Steve Aoki does a drum'n'bass-ish take on "Banned from the Roxy" on the latest single!). On the 3rd single Japanese experimental electronic artist Mikado Koko takes the already abstract backing of the original version of Eve Libertine's incredible poem "Asylum" and turns up the weirdness, processing the lyric but keeping the power of that poem. It's a project that could easily have been gratuitous, but has turned out quite inspiring - and all proceeds go to UK domestic violence organisation Refuge, which also couldn't be more important in these locked down times.

Little Annie Anxiety & Hiro Kone - Third Gear [Hiro Kone Bandcamp]
New York-born singer, songwriter and artist Little Annie aka Ann Bandes aka Annie Anxiety Bandez started making music in 1977. When she moved to the UK in 1981 it was in association with Steve Ignorant & Penny Rimbaud of none other than Crass. Alongside Crass, she worked closely with Adrian Sherwood and his nascent On-U Sound Records, and all these characters (including Bonjo from African Head Charge) appeared on her album Soul Possession, released initially on Crass's Corpush Christi, and re-released a few years ago by Dais. It's mostly tracks from this album which were revisited in 2018 in a collaboration & live performance with the brilliant New York producer Nicky Mao aka Hiro Kone (Little Annie also appeared on Hiro Kone's astonishing 2018 album Pure Expenditure). The collaboration is now available on Bandcamp and it is absolutely not to be missed. Deep grooves from Mao with nods to the original productions & Annie's longtime association with dub, industrial & experimental music underscore her reinterpretations of these old tunes.

Hextape - Toyota [Anterograde]
Narrm/Melbourne musician, sound-artist & educator Bridget Chappell is at home playing cello in industrial spaces or using field recording techniques as political activism. As Hextape Chappell folds field recordings into deconstructed rave and other electronic music - furious beats at times, and lots of sound processing. While 2020 saw an EP under their own name, and later an extended reissue of the late 2019 album 2 Fast 2 Furious, there was also this great single. "Toyota" samples Chappell's '96 Hilux, and comes with a video made with Henry Pyne which takes the ute and footage around Narrm into a video-game world, and a remix from lablemate Ahm, who also had a fantastic EP out this year on the same label.

Mutant Joe - Boom, Drop [Natural Sciences]
Only just twigging to the work of Brisbane's Mutant Joe, who now has a few releases on international labels, at the ripe old age of 20. It's awesome that there's an Aussie producer, not from Sydney or Melbourne (or Perth), doing absolutely on-point leftfield dancefloor music, and it's a super interesting mix too. Bass music is at the core, whether it's southern US-style hip-hop or jungle/dubstep/garage mutations. A new EP, Cortisol just dropped on his Bandcamp, and earlier this year Manchester label Natural Sciences released the album Vagrant.

dgoHn - Invisible Sandwich [Love Love Records/Bandcamp]
John Cunnane’s moniker dgoHn is meant to be pronounced like his first name, and that particularly oddity feels like it places him right away into the company of the great weirdos of English music. Although there are connections to idm – his duo with fellow producer Macc was released on Rephlex over a decade ago – he leans a bit closer to the dancefloor as a main proponent of the “drumfunk” subgenre which pulled the experimental end of jungle/drum’n’bass away from breakcore’s testosterone into a more jazzy, syncopated approach to drum programming. After an EP released Fracture’s Astrophonica label last year, he returned to Love Love Records in 2020 for a full album of outrageously brilliant beat juggling. Yes, the beats might be show-offy, but they flow with a real musicality, and they are accompanied by musical and melodic synth pads and funky stabs, and some half-time and ambient passages to break things up. I could listen to this all day.

Baby T - Portra (Jungle Mix) [Samurai Music]
Brianna Price is better known as a producer, DJ and label owner under the name B. Traits, originally shortened from "Baby Traits". This year she flipped the abbreviation for new project Baby T, described on Facebook as for "hardcore junglist shit only", and the first EP Portra came out through Samurai Music with three different versions from Price plus two excellent remixes from Homemade Weapons and Ancestral Voices. Also from this alias this year was I Against I on Central Processing Unit, and it's somewhat more wide-ranging than hardcore junglist shit - but the excellently titled "Estrogen Attitude" is super-fun acidic drum'n'bass. For an eye-opening look at how unfriendly jungle & drum'n'bass have historically been to the women in the scene, this article from Julia Toppin is a must-read.

Krust - Hegel Dialect [Crosstown Rebels/Bandcamp]
Kirk Thompson is an absolutely central figure in jungle and drum'n'bass, from when the sound percolated out of East London into Bristol, home of so much bass-oriented UK music. Thompson, as DJ Krust, was part of Reprazent along with Roni Size, DJ Die, SUV and others, and while Roni Size was the big name out front, Krust's production, orchestration, and sonic storytelling is next to none. His new album The Edge of Everything came 14 years after the previous, and it's wonderful to have his music again at album length, with sumptuous 12-minute epics and weird little skits. Crosstown Rebels isn't typically a drum'n'bass label, but while there's bits of halftime and bits of ambient in there, it's definitely all drum'n'bass at its roots, with some fiery break choppery and skittering drum machine programming, and plenty of punchy basslines. Unalloyed genius, easily an album of the year.

ASC - Intensity [Samurai Music/Bandcamp]
James Clements has been making drum'n'bass as ASC for over 20 years, as well as techno and other styles. He's been strongly associated with the "autonomic" strain of dub-techno-infused d'n'b, and other more ambient stylings for a while, and it's very exciting that Samurai Music have lured him back into hard-hitting jungle/d'n'b for an EP and now the Isolated Systems album this year - apparently with another release in this vein coming out early in 2021! Storming beats with complex programming recalling the legendary Arcon 2 (I said on air that he wasn't on Bandcamp, but that's recently changed - fuck yeah!) as well as the heyday of Photek, Paradox et al. What's notable to me is that it's not just nonstop beatfuckery and sub-bass - Clements pays attention to the need for harmonic movement, with falling synth pads that add just enough soulfulness to the proceedings, something which a lot of the harder & more complex jungle programmers today tend to not care about. Highly recommended!

A.G. Cook - A-Z [PC Music Bandcamp]
A.G. Cook - Waldhammer [PC Music Bandcamp]
I've had a difficult relationship with the PC Music phenomenon - I acknowledge the way they incorporate experimentalism into pop music, but most of what they release has been too shiny and, well, "pop" for me to get into. So I was quite pleased to discover that maximalist album from PC Music head honcho A.G. Cook was mostly very much my thing, and probably yours too. Over 7 "discs" (I don't think there was an actual physical edition) of 7 tracks each, Cook covered a lot of ground, but there's an idm/drill'n'bass thread throughout, along with the usual glitched vocals etc. The drill'n'bass beats, the Nord melodies on disc 5 and even the chopped vocals on disc 6 all bear a strong influence from Aphex Twin and other idm originals from the early-to-mid '90s, but Cook's musical background (he studied at Goldsmith's in London) also comes out in "Waldhammer"'s manic reworking of Beethoven's Waldstein Piano Sonata.

Listen again — ~210MB

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