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Utility Fog

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Sunday nights from 9 to 11pm on FBi Radio, 94.5 FM in Sydney, Australia.

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Sunday, 12th of December, 2021

Playlist 12.12.21 - Best of 2021 Part 1! (11:35 pm)

It's that time of year again... And as usual it's extremely difficult to fit all my notable selections into two 2hr shows, so take it as read that this is just some of the best.
There's certainly been some stunning music this year - it perhaps wasn't the bonanza year that 2020 turned out (surprisingly) to be, but another good'un for sure.
This week and next will complement each other thematically, so tonight we have songs, words etc, and some post-classical and sound-art near the end. Next week we'll have beats as well as some more sound-art & experimental stuff.

So LISTEN AGAIN on the FBi website's stream on demand, or podcast here.

Low - White Horses [Sub Pop/Bandcamp]
Low - I Can Wait [Sub Pop/Bandcamp]
It was almost worrying imagining how Low could follow up their almost-perfect 2018 album Double Negative, which took the already intense excursions into digital production techniques from 2015's Ones and Sixes and turned up the distortion, sidechaining and general glitchiness to 11 for a mournful ode to America under Trump. But HEY WHAT, like the last two produced by BJ Burton, manages to draw yet more inspiration and emotion from these techniques - see the segue from opener "White Horses" into "I Can Wait", in which the repeating delay ending the first track gradually changes tempo and diffuses into the backing for the second, with the crunching, shattering sounds of both accompanying angelic harmonised melodies. The digital production aside, wrong-footing juxtapositions like these have long been the modus operandi of husband & wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, often joined by a bass player but now just the two with Burton on the sound deck. There's nothing quite like them, and much though I adore the sonic experimentation, in the end it comes back to the songs, and the gorgeous vocal harmonies.

Crass - G's Song (Commoners Choir Remix) [Crass Bandcamp]
It's been so good that the ongoing remix 7" series from the original English anarchist punks Crass has continued through 2021... All profits go to UK domestic violence charity Refuge, and the political power of the original songs (currently all from their debut album The Feeding of the 5000), is retained - including this, the eponymous song for the collective's artist Gee Vaucher. This stunning version adds 5 minutes to the original 36 second punk jab, courtesy of the collected voices of the Commoners Choir, pulled together by none other than Boff Whalley of those other anarcho-punks (yep!) Chumbawumba.

Springtime - The Island [Joyful Noise Recordings/Bandcamp]
This debut eponymous album from Springtime is what happens when Gareth Liddiard of Drones/Tropical Fuck Storm gets together with Chris Abrahams of The Necks and Jim White of The Dirty Three. Of course Abrahams and White are masterful collaborators, and Abrahams' piano and organ on here, along with White's idiosyncratic drums, perfectly join with the raucous guitar and anguished vocal cords of Liddiard. It's an ensemble that feels like it's always existed, somehow, in the Platonic musical plane. Liddiard here returns to his typical storytelling vein, although the lyrics to a couple of the tracks come from his Irish uncle, Ian Duhig. Mostly, it's the sound of three consummate musicians playing together in a room, although there are subtle effects like the vocal delays and pitch-shifting on "Jeanie" which just add to the listening thrill.

Marissa Paternoster - White Dove [Don Giovanni Records/Bandcamp]
This stunning single from Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females comes from the album Peace Meter, much of which was co-created with Andy Gibbs from the phenomenal adventurous metal band THOU, with contributions also from cellist Kate Wakefield from the Cincinnati-based band Lung. It's a lovely album altogether, but this is one of my songs of the year.

Buffalo_Daughter - Global Warming Kills Us All [Buffalo Daughter Bandcamp]
SuGar Yoshinaga, Yumiko Ohno and MoOoG Yamamoto, sometimes with another member, sometimes a live drummer, have been Buffalo Daughter since the early '90s. They had an association with the Beastie Boys for a while, and were released on their Grand Royal label alongside other indie acts like Luscious Jackson, and had some major label releases too, but I haven't heard from them for ages. So it was rather nice when Boris mentioned this new album on their own Bandcamp feed. It has many of the hallmarks of the '90s crossover of Japanese and Chicago postrock & indie, including the lovely Brazilian pop feels of "Jazz", featuring vocals from Caetano Veloso collaborator Ricardo Dias Gomes - and perhaps even more than in the '90s, all this is minced up with electronic production techniques. I don't know what it sounds like without 20 years of context, but this crossover stuff (so beloved of UFog) seems pretty current to me - suitably for an album called We Are The Times.

Herbert - Might As Well Be Magical (feat. Allie Armstrong) [Accidental Records/Bandcamp]
Sometimes trilogies can take a long time to manifest. Back in 1998, Matthew Herbert released the first of his "domestic house" albums, going just by his surname. Around The House was co-written with his then partner, Dani Siciliano, and featured jazz & r'n'b-informed deep house pop songs. Then in 2001 his masterpiece Bodily Functions was released, again mostly featuring Siciliano. And it's taken 2 decades and a lockdown to bring us Musca. Named for Musca domestica, the common housefly, it's got typical downbeat deep house and electronic tunes, with that jazz/r'n'b feel, and the vocalists are all relatively new or unknown artists, none of whom Herbert had met in person or worked with previously. The singers do a wonderful job, and the tracks are moody and blissful; despite being music for the home/music for the heads, it's got that head-nodding pulse, and spots of euphoria here and there, courtesy of Herbert's strong musicality, and his band's and singers' great musicianship. Joy.

Dntel - Fall In Love [Morr Music/Bandcamp/les albums claus/Bandcamp]
Dntel - Moonlight [Morr Music/Bandcamp/les albums claus/Bandcamp]
The music of Jimmy Tamborello, particularly as Dntel, is without doubt one of the instigators of what I wanted Utility Fog to be when it started. Electronic at its core, influenced by IDM as well as electronic pop, Dntel became a vehicle for something transcendent on the 2001 album Life Is Full Of Possibilities, when Tamborello brought in singers & other musicians from the indie music scene, creating hazy, granulated floating soundscapes and deconstructed songs among the glitched beats. Tamborello's an inveterate fan himself - presenting Dying Songs on LA's dublab - and that comes out in his approach to music, I think. This year he released two Dntel albums, and they're both wonderful. The second, Away, is his paean to pop, while March's The Seas Trees See showcased his more introspective, experimental & quiet side. Both albums, though, feature vocals, always highly processed - and on Away it's notable that although the soft-voiced vocals sound female, they are all sung by Tamborello, using auto-tune and other techniques to create a cyborg idoru version of himself.

Stick In The Wheel - The Cuckoo [Stick In The Wheel Bandcamp]
London's Stick In The Wheel are a collective with a close interest in English folk, and have released albums of revived, traditional song from across centuries. But as I've said as I've played them over the last few years, they also have a close connection to English club music, through Ian Carter aka EAN, who was a key member of dubstep pioneers Various Production. Stick In The Wheel is now primarily Carter and Nicola Kearey, who I believe was involved in Various at times too. In between their main albums, the band have traditionally (ha!) put out "mixtape" albums, the latest of which is Tonebeds for Poetry. These still sound like English folk songs (except for some interstitial instrumentals), but with sequenced synths (at one point closely echoing the Stranger Things theme) and oft-vocoded vocals.

Happy Axe - Growing In The Ground [Spirit Level/Bandcamp]
Maybe It'll Be Beautiful is the name of the 2021 album from Emma Kelly's Happy Axe - and yup, it sure is! No surprise there, as her previous, Dream Punching, was too: her looped violin, vocals and adept electronics are a winning combination, especially as she has a talent for blissful songwriting and clever sonic manipulations.

Laura Cannell & Kate Ellis - We Took Short Journeys [Brawl Records]
More strings for a while now, starting with the yearlong monthly series from cellist Kate Ellis and brilliant English folk musician Laura Cannell, who has recorded a number of stunning albums with overbowed violin, vocals and wind instruments in churches and other spaces in the UK. The monthly releases allow for a gradual exploration of what two string players can do, and while they gradually also introduced other collaborators (one or two a month) with poems, songs, field recordings and additional instruments, this track from May features Cannell reading a touching poem over their string drones.

Rakhi Singh - For Giri (Nüss) [Bedroom Community/Bandcamp]
Welsh/Indian violinist Rakhi Singh straddles not only the heritage of her background, but also the English cities of London and Manchester. She is Music Director of contemporary ensemble Manchester Collective, who record for Bedroom Community, but her name jumped out at me immediately due to a collaboration last year with Bristol's Seb Gainsborough aka Vessel, reworking his bendy, twisted "Red Sex" with virtuoso violin and keeping the rattling rhythms. But even this excellent pedigree didn't prepare me for the brilliance of the three-track Quarry EP released by Bedroom Community. Singh's violin is indeed virtuosic, but she is happy to take multi-tracked trills and short phrases and chop them into industrial rhythms, or take time with strung-out violin and vocal drones, with exquisite avant-garde harmonisation. Don't let this one slip you by.

Mabe Fratti - Hacia el Vacío [Unheard of Hope/Bandcamp]
It was wonderful to discover Mexico-based Guatemalan cellist Mabe Fratti last year. Her Pies sobra la tierra showcased beautiful, creative songs accompanied live with cello and electronics, and there's more of that to be found on her new album Será que ahora podremos entendernos ("Now we will be able to understand each other"). The album contemplates the idea of communication, and of how often people make understanding more difficult. As always, not only is her use of cello and synths creative and unique, she just writes beautiful vocal melodies as well.

The Bug - Vexed (feat. Moor Mother) [Ninja Tune/Bandcamp]
Moor Mother - Mangrove (feat. elucid & Antonia Gabriela) [ANTI-/Bandcamp]
Divide and Dissolve - Mental Gymnastics (Moor Mother Remix) [Invada/Bandcamp]
Camae Ayewa has been busy these last couple of years with multitudinous projects, from free jazz ensemble Irreversible Entanglements (who have another album coming soon) to the punkish Moor Jewelry to her side with JK Broadrick & Kevin Martin's Zonal, and the phenomenal BRASS with billy woods a year ago. But 2019 was the last solo album proper from Moor Mother. Powered by beats from Olof Melander, the Swiss producer with whom Ayewa released the album Anthologia 01 last year, Black Encyclopedia of the Air is consequently somewhat lighter than much of that other work (with only a couple of days to start ingesting it) - but no less powerful. Guests include elucid (billy woods' bandmate in Armand Hammer), Pink Siifu, and many others.
2021 also saw a new album from The Bug, the third in a trilogy that began with 2008's London Zoo. Having worked with Martin on that Zonal album mentioned above, it's not surprising to find Moor Mother appearing here, with a fierce track in that dubby style only The Bug can do.
And finally, a local connection, with Ayewa contributing to a series of remixes of indigenous doom duo Divide and Dissolve, whose stunning Gas Lit album came out in January. Moor Mother adds her apocalyptic spoken word over the emotive saxophone & guitars of Takiaya Reed (Black & Tsalagi [Cherokee]) and drums of Sylvie Nehill (Māori) - welcome to the dangerzone!

Malaria! - I Will Be Your Only One (Lucrecia Dalt Mix) [Moabit/Monika Enterprise/Bandcamp]
Three important bands (all beginning with M) from the German underground were celebrated on the M_SESSIONS collection, courtesy of Gudrun Gut's Monika Enterprise. Matador, Mania D. and Malaria! all featured Gut, two featured Beate Bartel, two featured Bettina Köster and two featured Manon Duursma; all were all-female acts, working in post-punk, industrial and a particularly German strain of synth-pop. There's a direct link between this seminal music, Gut's deep involvement in the Berlin music scene, and the work she does with Monika Enterprise, including the "Werkstatt" she convenes with multiple generations of female electronic & experimental artists. Many of the Werkstatt artists appear on the first disc of M_Sessions, the new collection which unearths, celebrates and recontextualises this music. Along with a disc of "Rare Originals", with demos, live versions and non-album tracks all remastered, the first disc sees these works remixed and recreated by artists like Midori Hirano, AGF, Natalie Beridze, Sonae, Gut and Bartel, and featured tonight Lucrecia Dalt - who joins us again on the next track...

Aaron Dilloway & Lucrecia Dalt - Yodeling Slits [Hanson Records/Bandcamp]
On the face of it, a collaboration between Aaron Dilloway & Lucrecia Dalt is rather unexpected. Dilloway is a venerable member of the US noise scene, master of pedal-based sound manipulation, garbled vocal grotesquery, tape manipulation & harsh noise, while Dalt moved from adventurous singer-songwriting to exquisitely controlled minimalist modular synth-and-Ableton sound-art. Yet the pair felt an instant rapport when performing on the same lineups on various tours, and on Lucy & Aaron Dalt's soft vocals and sonic alchemy fit perfectly with the clatter and hum of Dilloway's noises. Like Dalt's recent albums for RVNG Intl, unorthodox, slippery-yet-catchy songs slide one into another, never quite in focus enough to be latched onto, yet compulsively re-listenable. From solo artists it's brilliant enough, as a duo it's something remarkable. Let this not be the last from Lucy & Aaron!

nobuka - The people (w/ Machinefabriek) [Esc.rec/Bandcamp]
From Dutch label Esc.rec here's a gem of an album from Michel van Collenburg as nobuka (he's from the Netherlands despite the vaguely Japanese-sounding name). Reiko contemplates the feeling of living in pre-apocalyptic times (see more at the dedicated micro-site), with field recordings and electronics combining with strings & acoustic found-sounds for a mostly-instrumental narrative of tension and real beauty. It's not minimalist, and not overly polite, and it also mostly avoids the surging sub-bass intensity of a lot of current-day experimental ambient. Nobuka also collaborated with two Dutch artists close to this show, Michel Banabila and Machinefabriek, should that tempt you to look further. I hope you do, because this is a very fine album indeed.

soccer Committee - Hazy [Morc Records/Morc Bandcamp/soccer Committee Bandcamp]
I first discovered the Dutch musician Mariska Baars through her work with Rutger Zuydervelt Machinefabriek - drawn from 2008 is a masterclass in heart-stopping slowcore, glistening songwriting coupled with expert sound art, and the following year's redrawn collected magical reworkings from the cream of the crop from the time. Meanwhile, Baars and Zuydervelt formed an array of minimalist ensembles such as Piipstjilling, FEAN and many others - and in 2019 the pair released the 30-minute single track eau, a drifting sea of processed voice and electronics. But Baars' very low-key songwriting and performances really shine on their own, so it's an unexpected pleasure to have this solo album, Tell from the grass, a mere 14 years after her only other solo release!

Malcolm Pardon - Beneath The Surface [The New Black/Bandcamp]
Stockholm duo Roll The Dice released a steady stream of electronic music since their debut self-titled album came out through experimental label Digitalis Recordings in 2010. Peder Mannerfelt is well-known for his gregarious club music under his own name, his involvement with Fever Ray, and for releasing fellow Swiss electronic artists on his Peder Mannerfelt Produktion. But the other half, Malcolm Pardon, has stayed more in the background, making music for film & TV, so his debut solo album is a very welcome occurrence. Hello Death doesn't take its title too seriously - it's more about the acceptance of the inevitability of death than anything more maudlin, with peaceful, enveloping piano and analogue synths echoing his work with Roll The Dice.

Clark - Lambent Rag [Deutsche Grammophon/Clark Store/Bandcamp]
I remember 20 years ago when Chris Clark was a precocious young IDM producer with his first records on Warp... He seemed to have a good command of the emotive backbone under the flashy beat programming, in keeping with the previous generation like Aphex Twin, µ-Ziq, Boards of Canada et al. A few years later, the Body Riddle album was the first step into something that felt truly new - organic-feeling crunchy beats and sounds, clearly still electronica, clearly referencing rave tropes, but also postrock, jazz and a lot more. Since then he's careened easily between dancefloor and campfire and everywhere in between, and somewhere in the last 5 years added soundtrack work as a new string to his bow - replete with piano and orchestra. So I assumed that this new album, Playground In A Lake, released by eminent classical institution Deutsche Grammophon, was another soundtrack - but it's something different. Starting with the solo cello of Oliver Coates, featuring muted piano, orchestral passages, choral and solo classical voices, it doesn't throw out the electronics - with Ben Frost-like surging bass, processed vocals and occasional rhythm programming. And it's a narrative of sorts - a tale of lost youth and innocence, with the submerged children's playground standing in for our loss of innocence as a species in the face of accelerating climate change. Weighty subject matter, and the music matches it with darkness and gentle sadness, give or take the sweet hopefulness of "Lambent Rag". All in all an excellent entry into Clark's oeuvre.

Yann Tiersen - Ar Maner Kozh [Mute Records/Bandcamp]
It's unfair that to a lot of the world, Yann Tiersen is synonymous with the twinkly prettiness of his soundtrack to the sweet French film Amelie. He's known and loved in France (and Europe and to those who know the world over) also for indie rock, chanson and postrock, but he does do that post-classical piano thing really well, as evidenced by new album Kerber, part of a more ambient turn of late. It's a very intimate album, and the glitchy electronics that envelop the piano and other instruments at times are welcome. There are jazzy drums in "Poull Bojer", but mostly the album focuses on piano, hints of strings, and these electronic effects. It's often quite lovely but simple quasi-classical fare, but at times the French sentimental melancholy surfaces, as with "Ar Maner Kozh". Inspired by living on the remote island of Ushant, off the north-west tip of France (hence the strangely-spelled track titles), the album soundtracks a film that you can watch online now.

Leider - Human Error [Beacon Sound]
The debut album from Berlin-based quartet Leider, A Fog Like Liars Loving, is the music & words of Rishin Singh, who studied music in Sydney and went through the improv & sound-art scene here before moving overseas. The music itself - minimalist, slow-moving, unsettling with its hints at microtonality - reflects the ensemble's unconventional makeup, with Singh on trombone, Derek Shirley on cello & percussion, Annie Gårlid on viola and Stine Sterne on flute. The two women also provide vocals, sung in an understated, unemotive manner, somehow making the songs even more touching. Singh's lyrics are allusive and cutting, even when quoting Charles Dickens. It's unusual and gratifying to find music so, well, unusual. I've found it gripping - and the Human Error Remixes are very well-chosen too - check them out for Iran's Tegh (on a roll with remixes lately) inserting rumbling sub-bass and shattered beats into the glacial sound-world.

Listen again — ~198MB

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