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Utility Fog

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Sunday, 27th of December, 2020

Playlist 27.12.20 - Best of 2020 Part 2 (of 3!) (12:24 pm)

Here it is, Best of 2020 Part 2. As mentioned last week, it's been a really hard task. This year that's hurt so many people in so many years, and partially destroyed large parts of the music industry in ways not all will be able to recover from, has managed to produce an unprecedented amount of extraordinary recorded sound.
I conducted a highly scientific Twitter poll, which resulted in a unanimous vote in favour of extending to THREE episodes for UFog's Best of 2020 - making this the middle rather than the end! Finally something to celebrate.

LISTEN AGAIN to more of the best! You can stream on demand from FBi, or podcast right here.

Beatrice Dillon - Workaround Two (feat. Laurel Halo) [PAN/Bandcamp]
London-based producer Beatrice Dillon has a long history mixing avant-garde sensibilities with a great talent for rhythm. Whether it's minimal techno or house or UK bass music, her beats flow as much as they skitter. On her superb 2020 album Workaround, released by PAN, she sticks at 150bpm (except for a couple of beatless interludes) and leaves plenty of space for the flow of the beats to recall UKG or dubstep's space as much as techno. And there are plenty of acoustic sounds in there, and plenty of jazzy musicality. I keep thinking of the sonic adventurousness and meticulous dancefloor dedication of Matthew Herbert. This is unquestionably one of the best albums of the year, and one I returned to frequently.

DJ Plead - Ess [Livity Sound/Bandcamp]
Jared Beeler was a fixture in Sydney's dance music scene for many years, as a writer, DJ, and producer in particular with the beloved Black Vanilla/BV. Now based in Melbourne/Naarm, as DJ Plead he's making a name internationally with music that incorporates percussion and drum patterns from his Lebanese background into UK club styles. Each track on his Going For It EP for the great Bristol label Livity Sound is better than the last, culminating in the driving "Ess", held down by a mostly one-note bassline and coloured by syncopated synth stabs.

Azu Tiwaline - Red Viper [I.O.T. Records/Bandcamp]
I was so excited to discover the music of Azu Tiwaline in 2020, via her Magnetic Service EP released by that very same Livity Sound. But only a few months earlier, her two-part album Draw Me A Silence came out through French label I.O.T. Records, and it's from that album, overshadowed by the (also excellent) Livity Sound EP, that I'm playing a track tonight. Both draw heavily on her Amazigh roots in Saharan Tunisia, as well as her "other" roots as a DJ and producer of techno, dub & hip-hop as Loan. She has an astonishing sense not only of rhythm and techno/dub production, but also of pacing and structure, honed no doubt in years of DJing, and it's wonderful hearing that applied to these traditional rhythms and sounds (at times flute melodies and field recordings can be heard too). Both double album & EP are essential IMHO - head over to her Bandcamp.

Neinzer - Cause Pan Tact Insoluble [Where To Now? Records]
Emil Lewandowski's previous EP as Neinzer, released by AD 93 earlier this year, made a big impression with two jazzy house grooves followed by three shimmering beatless works. But to be honest it was his later EP Shifting Values that really grabbed me hard. Each of the tracks here has some standout feature - avant-garde harmonies on piano or flute, bass music with organic beats and perfectly placed breaths and field recordings... "Cause Pan Tact Insoluble" grows slowly with more beautiful discords, freakout flute and vocal harmonies over a dubstep-house hybrid beat.

Autechre - DekDre Scap B [Warp/Bandcamp]
Everyone knows that Autechre albums need to be followed by a second album (even if it's sometimes called an EP), and after a period of weird sprawling non-album creations (which I thought were excellent), this year we had the SIGN album followed fairly swiftly with PLUS. It's been a while since Ae's stuff was genuinely surprising, and nothing here or on SIGN sounds that different from anything they've done 10 years really - but they were so far ahead of the curve for so long that that hardly matters. There's head-nodding beats, gritty textures, beautiful meandering melodies, and to me there's a bit more edge to this than the other album. I'm happy!

An Avrin - Clodhopper [Scuffed Recordings]
UK bass in various forms was the basis for the brilliant Clodhopper EP on Scuffed Recordings from new producer An Avrin. The title track is insanely great, with every sound chopped to perfection - tiny vocal snippets on off-beats, little bits of breaks and halftime bass plus eventually a little synth melody. Superb.

Carl Stone - Pasjoli [Unseen Worlds/Bandcamp]
Active since the late '70s and early '80s, LA musician Carl Stone has seen a resurgence of interest in the last few years courtesy of two wonderful retrospectives on Unseen Worlds, demonstrating his use of granular synthesis to create live glitchy edits from all sorts of sound sources decades before we thought about glitch, drone or indeed "mashups". He released some new material last year, and then a pair of really interesting paired tracks as singles ahead of this new album, the anagrammatically-titled Stolen Car. Written between Los Angeles and Tokyo, it draws heavily on mashed-up pop music, with a surprising emphasis on something resembling beats - a subversive recontextualisation of pop perhaps. It's fun and weird, and fits strangely next to Rian Treanor's rave edits and dancefloor deconstructions.

Rian Treanor - Debouncing [Planet µ/Bandcamp]
For his second album on Planet µ, Rian Treanor continues his deconstruction of rave in all its colourful aspects. Indeed the title, File Under UK Metaplasm, might suggest a rearranging of UK dance music - but actually this is highly rhythmic stuff, rendered perhaps undanceable only because of its speed. It's got a lot in common with '90s drill'n'bass and idm, but with more emphasis on bass, and influences from Chicago footwork, UK garage and elsewhere.

Atom™ - 0.9 (Almost a Unit) [Raster/Bandcamp]
It's not unreasonable to say that the music of Atom™ from the mid-'90s to the early '00s was a massive influence on what I wanted to do with Utility Fog. Inhabiting an intensely digital realm, even when creating ersatz jazz and funk with Bernd Friedmann as Flanger, he was way ahead of the game with precisely chopped digital cut-ups and re-contextualised cultural signifiers, even outside of the Señor Coconut material - just one project using the music of his adopted home of Chile. Recently he's been re-releasing old techno cuts from the early '90s on his Bandcamp, mostly released under the name Atom Heart. But for 2020, his new album <3 (heart emoji), released on Raster, was a return to the digital cuts & culture-jamming, ostensibly a collaboration with X1N, "an entity for generating human voice and natural language content", contributing idoru-pop vocals... About half the album has beats accelerated into drill'n'bass territory. It's super-fun and very arch.

Andrea - Drumzzy [Ilian Tape/Bandcamp]
Turin's Andrea, staple of Munich's Ilian Tape label, released his first album in 2020 after a series of excellent 12"s. The big, hard techno beats and lush pads of his earlier work have been augmented over a few releases with skittery, idm-inspired beats which lean towards jungle and UK bass styles, and that really comes to the fore on the wonderful album Ritorno. His talent for melodic synth pads in the vein of Shed is still very much there, but the beats flutter and sizzle as much as they thump. It's inspired and exciting - massively recommended, but don't ignore those earlier EPs either!

Moon Sign Gemini - 003 [Moon Sign Gemini Bandcamp]
Hearing Adelaide's Moon Sign Gemini on the Solitary Wave (Out) comp from Stu Buchanan's resurrected New Weird Australia, I had to zoom over to his Bandcamp immediately and grab all the things - sampled orchestras with breakcore are bread & butter for Utility Fog! Dylan Cooper usually plays in hardcore punk bands, and Moon Sign Gemini is a recent venture in electronic production - impressive & fun stuff.

Harmony - Rage [Deep Jungle]
Lee Bogush goes right back to the earliest days of jungle, as it was coming out of UK hardcore and before it morphed into drum'n'bass. As DJ Harmony he released a slew of incredible 12"s, many of the earliest alongside Suzanne Harris as Harmony & Xtreme. Bogush now runs the fantastic Deep Jungle label, which, in addition to reissuing long lost early classics, puts out remastered 12"s (and digital thankfully) of unreleased gems from artists' and labels' original DAT recordings. As well as a big archival comp of 1993-1996 tracks released in January, Harmony released an entire new album in 2020 called Resurgence, full of wonderful junglist bliss.

Hedex & Bou - Pub Grub VIP [Dubz Audio]
Late in 2020 came the RTRN II Fabric mix from stadium drum'n'bass duo Chase & Status. It's actually a lovely tribute to jungle and drum'n'bass, with classics going right back to the early '90s, and updates like their own remix of Origin Unknown's beyond-classic "Valley Of The Shadows", which they treat with much respect, updating the beats and leaving the original samples basically intact. Among the new tunes was one by Hedex & Bou, updating a tune from Hedex's From The Rave album from last year - "Pub Grub VIP" tightens up the bassline and adds a little more junglist crunchy bits. I put it on anytime I want to dance around like a mad bastard.

Chimpo - Big Ed (Generation X Mix) [Box N Lock]
Manchester's Chimpo was a frequent visitor to my music player this year - his HIA LP from earlier in the year was a gem of songs and toasting over UK bass music of all sorts. Chimpo's been comfortable in many different genres for ages, but does love his drum'n'bass, as you can see from various cheeky collections on his Box N Lock Bandcamp. After HIA was released he also put out an EP of Club Mixes from the album, which are quite literally tributes to various well-loved Manchester clubs - check the jungle track here. I cannot recommend enough that you check the LP and remixes, and then explore the rest of what's on offer.

Aphir - Evelyn Said [Provenance Records/Bandcamp]
In the wake of last summer's bushfires and then the ongoing pandemic's effect on the music & arts world, Becki Whitton aka Aphir had a crisis of creativity - she had a joyous pop album ready to go, but couldn't square that with the current times. So instead she set out to write & record a completely new album during the pandemic, and 2020 was blessed with the superb fruits of that work, The Republic of Paradise. It responds to dark times with a dark outlook, with pounding beats and poetry often set in rhythmic half-spoken vocals. Nevertheless, Whitton can't help but write moving melodies, with a vulnerable a capella coda here providing relief from the track's assault.

Taraamoon - زَهازْ (Zahāz) [Low-Zi Records Bandcamp]
Nima Aghiani and Sara Bigdeli Shamloo appear frequently on Utility Fog courtesy of their magnificent 9T Antiope project, which can comfortably switch from noise to neo-classical to electronic pop, with Shamloo's rich vocals carrying through all genres. It's notable that with 9T Antiope the vocals are mostly in English, but as well as releasing a great 9T Antiope album in 2020, this year the pair (who are Iranians based in France) launched new project Taraamoon, a vehicle for electronic pop sung in Farsi. I can't say anything about what the songs are about, but they're exquisite.

Rojin Sharafi - Boloor [Zabte Sote]
Sticking with Europe-based Persian ex-pats, we have a track from Tehran-born, Vienna-based sound-artist & poet Rojin Sharafi's second album for Zabte Sote, Zangaar. Electronics throb and burble under electrifying performances of her poetry. If like me you can't understand Farsi, there are descriptions of each piece on the Bandcamp page. While contemporaries like Lucrecia Dalt might spring to mind, this is sui generis work (indeed, it shares that characteristic with Dalt's work too...) and utterly essential listening. It's from one of FOUR excellent tapes released late in the year by Ata Ebtekar's wonderful Zabte Sote label, and it would be remiss of me not to note that Ebtekar's album Moscels for Opal Tapes (as Sote) was a marvel too.

Jasmine Guffond - Forever Listening [Editions Mego/Bandcamp]
Sydney/Berlin composer Jasmine Guffond continues her deep exploration of online surveillance and sound on her first solo album for Editions Mego. Entitled Microphone Permission, the album sways musically between exquisitely detuned acoustic-sounding pads, harsh digital interjections, and clicky rhythmic bursts. The measured pace and pristine sound recording invoke an unsettling sense of paranoia – can my technology be trusted? Can the corporations controlling my data be trusted? I'm grateful that these very important concerns have inspired such sumptuous music anyway.

Bérangère Maximin - Full Jungle [Karl Records/Bandcamp]
And now some musique concrète, starting with the ever-surprising, brilliant musician Bérangère Maximin. Her new album came out from Berlin label Karl Records, following released on labels as diverse as Tzadik, Sub Rosa, Crammed Discs and Craig Leon's Atlas Réalisastions. I still think of Maximin as a musique concrète composer and sound-artist, and those elements are still present on this new album - field recordings from around city parks and abandoned buildings recorded throughout Europe feature here, manipulated in various ways, alongside all sorts of electronic elements. There are even drum machines and sequenced synthesizers, allbeit treated in unusual fashions (if not "full-on junglism" *ahem*). I strongly recommend connecting with this album and whatever you can find of her back catalogue.

Kate Carr - It's a steep climb to the freeway underpass [Kate Carr Bandcamp]
London-based Australian musician Kate Carr continues to create some of the most exciting field recording-based music around, well represented in 2020 by a new release, available on red vinyl, called Splinters. It's a documentation of her relationship, over 18 months, with an artist-run space in South East London called TACO! - covering not only field recordings of the space and of Carr's journeys to and from the space, but also various performances in that space over the time period. So disembodied snippets of spoken word, electronic beats, or maybe even a distorted guitar chord contribute to the sound-world. Carr is brilliant at creating musically compelling works from non-musical elements (or musical elements used in unusual ways), and constructing a narrative as well. You don't have to know the space or have been part of the community to find this a thrilling listen.

Beatriz Ferreyra - Echos [ROOM40/Bandcamp]
Active since the 1960s, Argentine composer Beatriz Ferreyra is still making music now, and had (luckily for us) TWO new releases of her works released in 2020. ROOM40 put out a 12" called Echos+ which collected the incredible 1978 work "Echos" heard tonight alongside another vocal-derived work from 1987 and one using percussion sounds from 2007. "Echos" chops and inter-layers the voice of her niece, who tragically died in a car crash, and forms a gorgeous and joyful tribute. I should note also that new musique concrète-focused UK label Persistence of Sound released Huellas entreveradas ("Interspersed footsteps") this year also, with works as recent as 2018. Cannot recommend highly enough - Ferreyra is a really important voice in sound-art.

Olivier Alary & Johannes Malfatti - I Can't Even See Myself [130701/Bandcamp]
Finishing with one of the most touching & unusual pieces of 2020.
Back in 2000, French-born, Montréal-based musician Olivier Alary released his first album as Ensemble, for the venerable idm label Rephlex. Ensemble's debut Sketch Proposals combined glitchy beats and even glitchier electronic textures, strangely and effectively, with a sort-of shaky take on French chanson courtesy of the already-departed singer Chanelle Kimber. Following this, Ensemble became known to many through Alary's work with Björk, including a co-write and co-production on "Desired Constellation" and a series of remixes. Fat Cat released two albums by Ensemble which continued this melding of glitchy electronica and indie songwriting - and by the second, 2011's glorious Excerpts, the indie/postrock elements, and string arrangements, outweighed the electronics considerably. I consider Excerpts to be a hugely underappreciated album, one that I return to often, with vocals from Alary and Darcy Conroy, and co-writing and arrangements on many tracks by Alary's longtime collaborator Johannes Malfatti.
Both Alary and Malfatti, despite their roots in experimental electronic music, have been writing ambient & classical-adjacent music for film for some years, an album of which came out through Fat Cat's 130701 label from Alary in 2017. Now the two have paired up under their own names rather than Ensemble, along with various string players & vocalists, for a gorgeous album called u,i that reflects these isolated times through the medium of Skype & other VOIP services which the pair have long used to keep in touch. So vocal melodies struggle to cut through static and drop-outs, while accompanied by strings and electronics - an inverted reflection of Alary's original melding of cracked electronics and song, and one that pays off with some true heartstring-pulling moments.

Listen again — ~200MB

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