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Utility Fog

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Sunday, 19th of December, 2021

Playlist 19.12.21 - Best of 2021 Part 2! (6:39 pm)

We've somehow made it to the end of the year. I'm taking next Sunday off, and on the 2nd we'll have some kind of special before returning to new music in the new year.
In the meantime, following last week's focus on vaguely song-related stuff and some post-classical, tonight we're mostly split between beats and sound-art.

So give it a LISTEN AGAIN, via stream on demand from FBi or podcast here.

Aesop Rock x Blockhead - Difficult [Rhymesayers/Bandcamp]
We've gotten used to Aesop Rock producing his own beats over the last few albums. He's a master beat-maker, almost as much as he is a wordsmith (and indeed an artist!), recently producing an entire EP for his buddy Homeboy Sandman - but many of Aes's greatest tunes from his early days through to his 2012 return were produced by his close college friend Blockhead. So when Aes was finding creativity hard, in lockdown, following the tragic death of a close friend, he turned to Blockhead to provide some beats for him to write rhymes to. And these two do just gel so well - they seem to understand each other's creativity instinctively - so enough tunes flowed that they ended up with a full album, with the utterly Aesop Rock title Garbology. With Aes's usual self-deprecating observations and metaphor-laden vocabularianism, it's deeply enjoyable, like putting on an old jacket and finding it fits better than it ever did. Both artists are better at their game than ever.

Mick Harris - Devonshire drive [Mick Harris Bandcamp]
The legendary Mick Harris is a hardworking musician from Birmingham who's had a huge impact on a number of musical scenes - starting with popularising, if not inventing, blast beats as an originator of grindcore as drummer in the original lineup of Napalm Death. His involvement with extreme metal didn't end there, but he soon became fascinated with samplers, looping and dub music, and formed Scorn with Nik Bullen, also ex-Napalm Death. Bullen left fairly early on, but Scorn continued to leave its mark with incredibly heavy, pared down industrial dub, and a strange sideways precursor to dubstep. Harris also made drum'n'bass as Quoit, among many other pseudonyms and collaborations. Harris released an excellent Scorn album this year, but he's also revived another project, the HedNod sessions, to showcase pared-down dubby hip-hop. It's not that far from the Scorn material, but a little more casual, and a pleasure to listen to. He was broadcasting studio sessions on Twitter from last year, and has reliably churned out material on the Mick Harris Bandcamp, with HedNods starting from Five, as well as a short but great Scorn radio/live session from the mid-'90s.

SIMM - Gqom Squbulo (featuring Phelimuncasi) [Ohm Resistance]
The industrial dub sounds of Eraldo Bernocchi go back to the '90s, alongside dark ambient and sound-art work and film soundtrack recordings. An inveterate collaborator, Bernocchi worked extensively with Mick Harris of Scorn, including also their project with Bill Laswell as Equations of Eternity. SIMM has been one of his main aliases for the dub beats, and it's easy to hear the cross-pollination of his mate Mick Harris, whose mid-'90s Scorn work prefigures dubstep a decade before it coalesced in the East/South London scene. Bernocchi's new SIMM album Too Late To Dream, for the great Ohm Resistance (also responsible for some years for Scorn's recent output), finds him treading similar ground to The Bug or Harris, with dubstep & grime-adjacent bass music (often menacing, sometimes peaceful), and MCs on about half the tracks. Grime master Flowdan appears on a number of tracks here, and there's also a brilliant collaboration with South African gqom legends Phelimuncasi.

Loraine James - Self Doubt (Leaving the Club Early) [Hyperdub/Bandcamp]
Like many, I was blown away by Loraine James' debut album for Hyperdub in 2019, For You And I. I'd already heard the glitchy breaks of Button Mashing earlier that year on New York Haunted, and Sydney's Hence Therefore had alerted me to her talents when he remixed her "+44-Thinking-Of-You" the previous year. She's an anomaly and a product of the times - a young London-based queer black woman, who grew up listening to IDM and didn't quite fit into any scene. Her music blends IDM's experimentation and boundary-pushing with contemporary club sounds, r'n'b, jazz and more, and doesn't avoid directly addressing the personal toll of being queer and black. She also continues to collaborate widely, bringing in Antion alumnus Baths for some melodic indie vocals, as well as singing & speaking on a number of tracks herself.

Leo - death is quite clearly not what it used to be [YOUTH]
A member of Manchester collective Manteq in which Iranian refugees work with bass producers, Leo has produced some futuristic grime cuts for MC Tardast (rapping in Farsi) as well as DJing in various bass styles in that northern city. Leo's second album was released by Manchester's YOUTH, and as typical of that label, it refuses to sit still long enough to pin down the genres or themes - like a mixtape, showcasing this young producer's skill, whether it's crazily chopped breaks, instrumental grime or drill, mutated with strange distortions.

Blawan - Blika [XL Recordings/Bandcamp]
Berlin-based UK mainstay Blawan takes a break from his usual 4/4 fare with more bass-oriented syncopation here for XL Recordings, on the excellently-titled Woke Up Right-Handed. A restless beat and a distorted vocal that seeps into the subs make the opening track an instant freakish classic.

CORIN - Enantiodromia [UIQ/Bandcamp]
Filipina-Australian artist CORIN, once from Sydney and now based in Melbourne, goes from strength to strenth with international recognition courtesy of Bedouin Records' 2019 release of Manifest now extended to Lee Gamble's incredible UIQ records, who released her Enantiodromia album in 2021 - I think her best yet. The dark, cyberpunk-inspired sounds of the previous album are further exercised with propulsive beats and eerie ambient tracks exploring the idea of impermanence, the observation of things gradually turning into their opposites. An album for the times, and another great step for this talented producer.

Hiro Kone - Mundus Patet [Dais Records/Bandcamp]
Silvercoat the throng, the latest album from New York producer Nicky Mao aka Hiro Kone, sees her stretch her wings out from the techno focus of her last few brilliant releases into industrial ambient and sound-painting of various sorts, with various guests including an extraordinary spoken piece from travis of ONO, the hypnotic beat batterns of DeForrest Brown, Jr aka Speaker Music, and glitchy samples and cut-up beats from Palestinian producer Muqata'a (who's been heard a lot on this show). "Mundus Patet" strikes me as the most similar to Mao's earlier releaes.

Meemo Comma - Neon Genesis: Title Sequence [Planet µ/Bandcamp]
Lara Rix-Martin formed Heterotic with husband Mike Paradinas (head honcho of Planet µ and of course aka µ-Ziq) in 2013, and released a few albums as Lux E Tenebris and more recently Meemo Comma (a name bestowed by their daughter). Rix-Martin also runs the Objects Limited label, formed to promote the music of musicians of under-represented genders. Rix-Martin's recent solo work sees them drawing on their Jewish heritage, melding their exploration of Jewish mysticism (the kabbalah and the "Merkabah" of our first track) with cyberpunk ideas from anime and gaming. Notable on this release is not only Rix-Martin's command of their hardware & software, but also the use of voice throughout - at times drawing on Jewish liturgical song, but also casting a wider net. It's a really interesting release, worthy of all the attention it's seen.

Muqata'a - Bilharf Alwahad بالحَرف الواحَد [Hundebiss Records/Muqata'a Bandcamp]
I've been looking forward to the new album from Ramallah, Palestine producer Muqata'a for a few months, and it's as superb as expected - glitchy hip-hop informed by an Arabic numerological science that invokes the voices of Muqata'a's ancestors. The title Kamil Manqus كَامِل مَنْقوص refers to the perfection of imperfection - the glitchy sound is to be seen not as errors per se, but as "possible breaks in an otherwise closed system", poignant imagery from an artist in the occupied territory of Palestine.

MSC - This 1 For The Scum [First Terrace Records/Bandcamp]
Manslaughter 777 - No Man Curse [Thrill Jockey/Bandcamp]
Brothers Isaac and Zachary Jones have formed many bands over the past decade and a half, starting with hardcore punk acts like GIANT and then Braveyoung, which gradually morphed into the postrock-informed sounds of their later period, with orchestral influences as well as tape manipulation alongside the hardcore and doom metal trappings. As Braveyoung they collaborated with ever-morphing beauty/noise proponents the body, and Zachary Jones is a longtime touring member of that band too. Braveyoung eventually was disbanded and replaced by their equally-uncategorizable soundsystem identity MSC, and alongside their incredible second collab with the body from last year called I Don't Ever Want To Be Alone, they have been exploring the power of junglist breaks and dub bass, still emphasising the catharsis of noise and the emotiveness of classical music-referencing samples and drones. It's no surprise that their new album What You Say Of Power is baffling and inspiring.
Earlier this year came the debut album from Manslaughter 777, which feels like something that's been a long time coming - the work of the body drummer Lee Buford and Zac Jones of MSC, it's stripped entirely of the metal trappings, focusing on live and manipulated beats & samples, drawing on their love of dub, hip-hop and drum'n'bass/jungle. Working with engineer Seth Manchester at Machines With Magnets, they created something that's dark but less harsh than their usual work, perfect for those who find harsh vocals a bit much to deal with.

ZULI - Tany [UIQ/Bandcamp]
Cairo producer Ahmed El Ghazoly makes incredibly forward-thinking beats as ZULI (All Caps, as his new EP reminds us). Since 2016's Bionic Ahmed his releases have been compulsory for me, and this was only intensified with the jungle-leaning Trigger Finger in 2018. Cruelly, after the Terminal album was released in 2018, his laptop was stolen with an almost-completed follow-up along with his whole setup & sound library, forcing him to rebuild. Finally om March came the substantial new EP All Caps, with two absolutely mangled jungle tunes and mashed beats of all sorts. Also checkl the final track "Bro! (Love it)", which satirises western fans & critics' ugly tendency to filter all expectations through the lens of his ethnicity.

Sully - 5ives [Over/Shadow/Bandcamp]
Nobody has the flittering, dazzling rhythms of jungle down pat like Sully these days. His shift from grime to jungle & drum'n'bass in 2014 was inspired, and if anything he's only gotten better. 5ives/Sliding comes courtesy of Over/Shadow, whose usual playing field is mid-to-late-'90s style drum'n'bass, but the Moving Shadow connection goes right back to the early days, and Sully here makes the drum breaks not just dance but sing. A masterclass.

Grey Code - Opal [Metalheadz/Bandcamp]
Speaking of classical, young drum'n'bass producer Grey Code likes to mix up all sorts of influences with his drum'n'bass productions, and while his new single "Opal" for Metalheadz is meant to be inspired by his love of guitar music, it's quite unusual in a number of ways. Until the beats drop, it's effectively in 12/8 time (triplets), and throughout there's more harmonic movement (beautifully done) than your usual club tracks. There's a fair bit of this kind of invention through Grey Code's catalogue so far, but this is super impressive and hopefully indicative of what next January's album has in store.

Enfuse - Orchestrate [onesevenfour Records]
Speaking of classical-leaning jungle, Aus drum'n'bass label onesevenfour Records passed on some promos in October, and this beauty from Brisbane's Enfuse instantly grabbed my attention - flowing drum'n'bass with a clarinet melody and lush pads, and some nice surprises in the harmonic changes.

Bell Orchestre - All the Time [Erased Tapes/Envision/Bandcamp]
Massive highlight from earlier in the year here, from a Toronto troupe who we haven't heard from for over 10 years. Bell Orchestre formed during the recording of the first Arcade Fire album, and feature that band's Richard Reed Parry on double bass (among other things), and of course the wonderful Sarah Neufeld on violin, who has played on their albums and toured with them since the beginning. To these instruments add the excellent drummer Stefan Schneider (not the German musician!), trumpeter Kaveh Nabatian, French horn player Pietro Amato and pedal steel guitarist Michael Feuerstack (all of whom play other instruments, contribute electronics, and occasionally sing) and you have this marvellous ensemble, who straddle postrock and a kind of post-classical folk tendency, while drawing also on electronica, dub and much more - check the Aphex Twin cover on their second album! 12 years after that second album came House Music - recorded in every part of Sarah Neufeld's house in rural Vermont during lockdown, it really is a maturation of their original sound, an absorbing, single long work broken into separate tracks, tightly edited but preserving the spontaneity and joy of the 2-week recording session. The electronic influences can be heard in the overdriven bass drum and clattering beats, or the motorik ostinati provided by violin or guitar, while Parry's warm double bass notes ring out under expansive horn parts. A delight.

Machinefabriek - SA AJ ET (with Shane Aspegren, Anja Jacobsen, Eric Thielemans) [Esc.rec/Bandcamp/Bandcamp]
The remarkable new album from Rutger Zuydervelt aka Machinefabriek, With Drums, could be seen as a successor to his 2019 album With Voices, or conversely of his self-performed Drum Solos. Mostly, though, it's an unexpected extension of his large ouevre of sound art, and his penchant for collaboration - 24 short tracks, each collaged from contributed recordings from three drummers (a total of 42 drummers are featured, with many recognizable names appearing). This is not predominantly rhythmic music - some contributions feature tuned percussion, or bowed percussion, some are free jazz flourishes, and some do coalesce into grooves. Zuydervelt's command of sound and space is such that these disparate contributed recordings are sculpted into 37 minutes of music that flows as a single work, which is never less than gripping, and charming.

Kcin - Moon (Part 2) [Spirit Level/Bandcamp]
Listeners to UFog over the last few years will have become familiar with Nick Meredith aka Kcin's dark sound, that melds percussion, found sounds and electronics in a way both familiar and unique. Back in April, it was a pleasure to finally get to interview Nick on the occasion of his extraordinary debut album proper, Decade Zero, released via Spirit Level. Listening to this album, it's clear why it's given this special status - it's not just cohesive in sound, but a deeply accomplished work, compulsory listening for anyone with an interest in deconstructed club sounds, industrial techno, Ben Frost's sonic destruction and Utility Fog-style sounds in general. In our conversation, Nick outlined his workflow, in which sounds are sourced and created, built up in the digital world, blasted through vibrating air and re-recorded, further deconstructed and rebuilt. Check it.

Eli Keszler - The Accident [LuckyMe/Bandcamp]
On new album Icons, New York percussionist Eli Keszler strays even further from the avant-garde world with an album that strangely fits well with the Glasgow label LuckyMe who are releasing it. The album makes a little more sense when you note that Keszler's worked with Oneohtrix Point Never's Daniel Lopatin on a few projects lately - there's a hazy neon street sheen to some of the ambience here. There are some of the skittery beats that made 2019's Stadium so incredible, but there are also nods at downtempo as well as free jazz. It's not an album that welcomes a single interpretation, but it's always fascinating.

Gilded - Alden [Fluid Audio/Facture Bandcamp]
The 2012 album Terrane by Perth duo Gilded is one I hold close to my heart. The peaceful electroacoustic sounds centre on piano and guitar, with skittery percussion from a cut-down kit point at the postrock of Radian or indeed late Talk Talk. It's the work of Matt Rösner (who's released music on 12k, Room40, hellosQuare and elsewhere) and Adam Trainer (who played in the great indie/postrock band Radarmaker, released solo music on hellosQuare and has a long association with community radio), and it always seemed like the album was a one-off. So it was particularly great to hear from both members earlier this year that this second album was coming. Mostly recorded closely following the original album, it got caught in a series of life changes and took its sweet time to get it together. The piano is gone, replaced by synthesizers alongside the guitar, field recordings, and those flittering hi-hats. There's a strong sense of place, the marshlands and evaporated salt lake around Rösner's hometown of Myalup, and it's just gorgeous. There's promise of more to come from the reunited duo, and they'd better hold to their promise...

l'ocelle mare - Piano, Banjo, Orgue, Métronome... [Shelter Press/Murailles Music/Bandcamp]
Thomas Bonvalet has some decades of experience playing guitar in indie rock bands, and as a multi-instrumentalist playing with many French artists, but his solo project l'ocelle mare is quite a different approach to making music - he claims, “I don’t write music, it’s an assemblage of gestural memories”. Certainly Bonvalet uses the "real" instruments - guitar, piano, banjo, organ, drum skins etc - in much the same way as the telephone, amps, metronomes and so on. It's all sound, and although it's frequently rhythmical, it's not often arranged into melodies or harmonic movements. Extended techniques on the guitar & banjo, and this "organised sound" approach, make for mostly acoustic or out-of-the-box music that sounds sequenced or cut up - or at least, I think so. In any case, it fits in that highly-sought-after category of music I don't entirely understand, and therefore listen to repeatedly. A welcome discovery!

Ai Yamamoto - Late morning - Remote learning and house chores, remote working (washing machine, vacuum cleaner, printing, typing, clicking, pencil, paper, cup, glass bottle) [Room40/Bandcamp]
Nobody could quite have pulled off the iso album with the same delicacy and panache as Melbourne-based Ai Yamamoto has with her Pan De Sonic - Iso, released on Room40's Someone Good imprint at the beginning of the year. All the sounds come from field recordings taken in her family home during Melbourne's marathon 2020 lockdown, and they mostly evoke a peaceful intimacy, and a creative spirit doing its very finest with what it's been given. The source sounds are delightfully documented for each track, which Yamamoto adroitly maneuvres between direct reproduction and field recordings processed & arranged into rhythms and touching melodies. Despite the podcast excerpt at the very start, it's not gimmicky at all, but rather a very human piece of life-as-art.

Takuma Watanabe - Tactile [Constructive/Bandcamp]
Last Afternoon is the gorgeous 2021 album from film composer and David Sylvian associate Takuma Watanabe, featuring a string ensemble, tech wizardry from Akira Rabelais and the great avant-garde singer Joan La Barbara (on a track not featured tonight mind you). I discovered Watanabe via a release on Japanese label Inpairtment last year, featuring contributions from Rabelais and also Félicia Atkinson, all of which should give you a flavour of what you'll find here: delicate neo-classical composition of a high order (nothing derivative here!), shot through with the hiss & crackle of analogue & digital detritus. Also note the Delay x Takuma 12" released recently, in which Vladislav Delay reinterprets tracks from this album in heavy digital style.

Jeremy Young - Electricity Over Mirabel (with Pauline Kim Harris) [Thirsty Leaves Music/Jeremy Young Bandcamp]
I'd come across Montréal sound-artist Jeremy Young on a number of collaborations, but had failed to investigate his solo work until this year, when he released a remix EP, Amaro Extensions, in which tracks from his earlier 2021 album Amaro were reworked by some wonderful musicians from Montréal and beyond, including Constellation artist T. Gowdy and a familiar face 'round here, Machinefabriek. The album itself is also a set of collaborations, in which Young uses a custom-made set of three hand-tuned oscillators plus found objects and surfaces as rhythmic foundations, tapes and signal processing, while his guests sometimes contribute voices or traditional instruments (tonight, gorgeous violin from Pauline Kim Harris), and sometimes what you might call "featured found sounds".

Megan Alice Clune - Gentle Smile [Room40/Bandcamp]
The album If You Do from Sydney's Megan Alice Clune, leader of the non-Alaskan non-orchestra Alaska Orchestra is a masterpiece of understatement. Borne from a dream about writing an opera, it's built instead from the minutiae of stay-at-home existence imposed by lockdowns, captive to quixotic technologies and alienated from social or musical interaction. A vocal drone runs through it, overlaid with different approaches to layering and mutating sound - here, swooping synthesizers recall Alice Coltrane's spiritualist solo works; there, different vocal layers cut in & out with subtle swells of clarinet; and over here, the vocals end up cut into small pieces, pulsing in & out like a faltering radio. One for repeated listens in quiet spaces.

Australian Art Orchestra | Daniel Wilfred | Sunny Kim - Star Song [Australian Art Orchestra Bandcamp]
One of a number of projects from the Melbourne-based Australian Art Orchestra in 2021, Hand to Earth comes out of a residency by AAO members in the remote highlands of Tasmania with Yolŋu songman Daniel Wilfred and his brother, yidaki player David Wilfred. Across these tracks, ancient songlines intersect with the trumpet & electronics of Peter Knight, Daniel Wilfred's voice floats in a sea of Korean artist Sunny Kim's voice & electronics (the beautiful piece chosen for tonight's best of show), and David Wilfred's yidaki (a variant of the didgeridoo) merges wonderfully with the clarinets of Aviva Endean. I so also want to mention the 12" the Australian Art Orchestra released with Hospital Hill, featuring compositions by Peter Knight. "Diomira" is an extraordinary tribute to one of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, in which voice and chamber jazz orchestra interact with turntables, drumkit via reel-to-reel tape machine, and live laptop processing. Too long to fit in tonight, so listen & buy!

Mindy Meng Wang - Stirring Flower 搅花 with Daniel Jenatsch [Heavy Machinery Records/Music In Exile/Bandcamp]
As well as a wonderful EP with beats from Tim Shiel, 2021 saw a new full album from Chinese-Australia guzheng specialist Mindy Meng Wang. Phoenix Rising is co-released by Heavy Machinery Records & Music In Exile and finds Mindy explicitly expanding the millennia-old Chinese zither into many different areas, working with musicians from jazz, contemporary classical, experimental & electronic circles. The allbum features a masterful piece with pianist Paul Grabowsky, there's classical percussionist Claire Edwardes of Ensemble Offspring and others. For the best of show, I played the skittery drums & processing of Brisbane experimental instrumentalist & sound-artist Daniel Jenatsch. It's a pretty stunning album, at the centre of which is Mindy Meng Wang's mastery of the guzheng.

Listen again — ~208MB

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