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experimental electronica
electric string quartet

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, 18th of December, 2022

Playlist 18.12.22 - Best of 2022 Part 1! (10:49 pm)

Helluva year once again, folks! So many good musics.
Tonight is about the songs. It may feel like Utility Fog is an instrumental music show, but I do play a lot of experimental song, and so tonight is mostly vocal music, across all genres.

LISTEN AGAIN because it's a real humdinger. Stream on demand from FBi, podcast here.

Ellen Arkbro & Johan Graden - Other side [Thrill Jockey/Bandcamp]
If you know the work of Swedish musician Ellen Arkbro, it's probably as a composer of super-minimalist works for organ or horns or guitar, with strange chords ringing out one by one. Thus her stunning new collaboration with fellow Swede Johan Graden, a free jazz pianist & arranger, might come as a surprise. Yes, it's minimalist, but the deceptively simple arrangements for multiple bass clarinets, tuba, contrabass and piano, as well as occasional sparse drums, trumpet and other instruments, underscore Arkbro's fragile, candidly melodic voice. The opening track is a beauty, but "Other side" stands out from an already stand-out album with its unusual harmonies (each piano chord includes two notes a tone or semitone apart), the all-bass orchestration (bass clarinet, tuba and contrabass join the piano's left-hand in the second half), and the gorgeous, subtle vocal loop that carries through the last phrases. No sign of Chet Baker among these originals, but I Get Along Without You Very Well achieves all the subdued emotion of the jazz standard it's named after, with even fewer ingredients.

June McDoom - The City [Temporary Residence/Bandcamp]
I was blown away by the first released track "The City" from new Temporary Residence signing June McDoom. When her debut self-titled EP was released later in the year, this song was not included - although the five new tracks take a similar approach. McDoom plays all instruments and sings the soft vocals. She draws from her Jamaican heritage as well as her love of classic folk artists, classic r'n'b and reggae - I can't help thinking of early-to-mid period Grizzly Bear. There's a hazy analogue sheen to these songs, with instruments all melding together so that you hardly notice the beats in the mix even as you're nodding your head. McDoom has a keen ear for melody and harmony, making these the most gently catchy songs you're likely to hear this year.

Lucrecia Dalt - Enviada [RVNG Intl/Bandcamp]
I've followed Lucrecia Dalt through her early hazy, increasingly experimental indie works (including a gorgeous early collaboration with Canberra's Spartak - find her as Lucrecia Perez on "Second-Half Clouded" here), then to her extraordinary genre-free electronic experiments, where her voice was used as just one more instrument or sound-source... and recently her brilliant, disturbing soundtrack work, as well as her inspired duo with Aaron Dilloway, Lucy & Aaron. Here she comes full circle - having been based in Europe for many years now (first Barcelona, then Berlin), Dalt originally comes from Colombia, and thus her return to song also finds her returning to South & Central American rhythms, harmonies, basslines and melodies. The lyrics, co-written with Miguel Prado, are in Spanish, and if you're not paying attention you may think it's a traditional latin band (and indeed it is, beautifully orchestrated) - until you hear the edits, détournements, smudges, the processed sounds melding with the real. It's a beautiful headfuck, emphasis on beautiful. Unmissable.
Also don't miss her soundtrack to the HBO series The Baby, released earlier in the year.

Jockstrap - Debra [Rough Trade/Bandcamp]
So here it is. After a couple of brilliant singles, following the two extraordinary EPs released on Warp in 2020, and their debut EP on Kaya Kaya Records in 2018, UK duo Jockstrap's first full album I Love You, Jennifer B was finally released this year on Rough Trade. The songs and sumptuous string arrangements of Georgia Ellery (also of Black Country, New Road), with the shiny-but-experimental production of Taylor Skye, make Jockstrap a unique and joyful experience. Part of Jockstrap's brilliance is the juxtapositions: irreverant humour with deep emotion, luscious jazz harmonies & progressions with glitched programmed beats, intensely catchy pop sensibility with experimentalism. The album covers all the ground of their previous EPs, including frequent references to "the city", and tracks named after women's names. And that pop sensibility is unquestionable.

Aoife O'Donovan - B61 (Olga Bell Remix) [Yep Roc Records/Bandcamp]
Back in 2011, the great, restless cellist Yo-Yo Ma teamed up with some of the top bluegrass musicians in the world - banjo player Stuart Duncan, bassist Edgar Meyer and certified genius Chris Thile of the Punch Brothers on mandolin & vocals - for The Goat Rodeo Sessions. On a couple of tracks the band were joined by Irish-American singer Aoife O'Donovan, and her song with Thile, "No One But You", is gorgeously heart-pulling, and so I always notice her name when it comes up. The lovely track "B61" from her recent album Age of Apathy was remixed this year by Russian-American producer/composer/musician Olga Bell, turning the gentle folk-pop into a transportive piece of minimal techno. It's beautifully unexpected.

Borja Flames - Nuevo medievo [Murailles Music/Bandcamp/Les Disques du Festival Permanent/Bandcamp]
Originally from Spain but based in France for many years, Borja Flames has been plying his unique electronic folk weirdness for some time. He's frequently worked with Marion Cousin, a singer with a deep interest in sidelined folk musics of the Iberian Peninsula - their duo June et Jim has recently transformed into Catalina Matorral. Borja Flames' last two albums were released through Les Disques du Festival Permanent, the label run by cellist Gaspar Claus (who is French, but his father Pedro Soler is a highly respected flamenco guitarist), although the latest is co-released with booking agency Murailles Music. Nuevo Medievo is indeed titled in Spanish - it's "New Medieval", a very nice description of the contents. Along with Cousin again, Rachel Langlais also joins on synths and vocals, and Paul Loiseau lends additional percussion. It's part of a wave of highly idiosyncratic, groundbreaking music from France, highly recommended.

Claudia Molitor - Change [Nonclassical/Bandcamp]
Utterly idiosyncratic is the work of English-German composer & sound-artist Claudia Molitor. Well-versed in composing for orchestra, chamber groups or solo instruments as well as creating installation works and other sound-art, here Molitor is working at song length, often indeed writing songs - but with field recordings or abstract drones at their base, contemporary poetry sometimes forming the lyrics, and avant-garde composition rubbing up against songwriting. A must for connoisseurs of strange music.

Fatäk, Romance Relic, Tettix Hexer - To The Beauty Of Being [Eastern Nurseries/Bandcamp]
Eastern Nurseries is a Portuguese label that releases experimental music seemingly of any nature, including plenty of noise and drone. There's something of that on this collaborative track, as well as contemporary sound design, and a sensual poem by Aude Barras which turns sinister courtesy of the production. Spoken word aside, it's the work of two Danish producers - Fatäk and Tettix Hexer - and the Finnish Romance Relic, all associated with Copenhagen label Janushoved. As best I can work out. In any case, it's great.

Brian Eno - who gives a thought [Opal/UMC]
It's strangely surprising that foreverandevernomore is the first Brian Eno album of songs in a long time. "It's not an ambient album!" claim all the stories, but... it kind of is? There are no beats, there are beautiful glacial keyboards. Eno is hardly known only for his pioneering ambient music (and for coining the term). Alongside producing huge bands across many musical eras, he has a rich heritage of songwriting himself, and no surprise, there are some beautifully moving songs here - appropriately for the subject matter, which is a kind of elegy for the world that might have been. Yes, Eno continues to urge humanity to do better - on climate change, on sociopolitics - but the muted, wistful tone here is not exactly a call to arms. It's also not an entirely solo album as I expected - yes, there are Eno children singing on a couple of tracks, but also a number of his other well-known collaborators, including his brother Roger Eno, the excellent experimental guitarist & producer Leo Abrahams, and good ol' Jon Hopkins, who in fact composed one of the loveliest tracks on the album, sung by experimental folk singer Clodagh Simonds. The beautiful "who gives a thought" only features Abrahams, adding soft drones to Eno's ode to the dispossessed - it struck me as something like Dead Can Dance's Brendan Perry, or David Sylvian or even Scott Walker, although Eno's voice is not as rich as any of those. In any case, it's an immensely affecting album.

Randi Pontoppidan & Povl Kristian - Juno & Eros [Chant Records/Bandcamp]
Danish singer Randi Pontoppidan is powerhouse of vocal creativity - not just vocal techniques, but also the use of technology with her voice. She is also an accomplished improviser, and it's perhaps more surprising to find that her collaborator here, the film composer Povl Kristian, interacts so instinctively with her on the piano in this wonderful album of spontaneous compositions, Life In Life. There's little to indicate that these aren't contemporary compositions, with ambiguous tonal centres and quiveringly evocative discords, and beautiful extra-musical touches from Pontoppidan's electronics. It's an antidote to the glut of "neo-classical" prettiness - any "subtle electronics" here are employed in a context of an unsettling and deeply satisfying lack of compromise.

LSN & Roger Robinson - Pray [Artikal Music/Bandcamp]
If there's one lesson I've learnt from 2022, it's that trip-hop is back, baby! Dubsteppers are particularly enjoying bringing the trip-hop vibes, and who better for LSN to invite than the poet Roger Robinson of King Midas Sound and more. There's more than a little of Massive Attack circa Mezzanine on these four tracks, with heavy ponderous riffage sweeping in at times, but there's also the influence of dubstep and grime. References aside, this is deeply evocative stuff, deserving of a wide audience.

Blackhaine - Stained Materials [Fixed Abode/Bandcamp]
Named in part after the incendiary French movie La Haine, Lancashire rapper Blackhaine makes the bleakest and angriest drill I've heard, with cohort Rainy Miller and more recently Croww underlining and entwining his anguished howls and poetry with industrial menace. Meanwhile Blackhaine himself, aka Tom Heyes, accompanies his vocals with astonishing and moving contemporary dance - check his insane choreography for Flohio's Unveiled (and some intense behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage). Intensity is the name of the game with his work, whether unsettling calm or massive distorted waves of sound that at times overwhelm his voice. He gives visceral voice to the depressing realities of working class life in post-Brexit England.

Chad Dubz ft. Riko Dan - In The Red [Deep Medi/Bandcamp]
New on Deep Medi is a minialbum of heavyweight dubstep from Chad Dubz, Bristol founder of Foundation Audio. The vocal tracks are heaviest of all, with grime collabs and intense productions like this one, with snarling riffs a la Distance or The Bug, and indeed Riko Dan has worked with The Bug before. Here he spits lines about all the ways his enemies will get, well, fucked up.

The Bug - Your Laws Aint Free ft Jaimie Branch [Pressure Records]
Kevin Martin was asked to provide a remix for post-metal/sludge superground Absent In Body (a group whose future is in doubt now that Scott Kelly (ex-Neurosis) has been outed as an abuser). The first thing he sent them was rejected as not heavy enough(!) and so instead it became the Absent Riddim, a versatile instrumental that, dancehall/dub style, he shared with a whole slew of collaborators to create versions ranging from ethereal song to hard-hitting rap. This technique is something Martin's used in the past, with b-sides of tracks like "Poison Dart" and others featuring alternate versions with different MCs. The riddim is sludge-slow and covered in sooty static, very clearly The Bug, and his choices of collaborator range from Jamaican and grime MCs, US underground rappers, to metal vocalists, indie singers and jazz musicians - including at least a couple of Australians. Two of the artists tragically passed away very recently - one is Jamaican MC Nazamba, who died of a heart attack, and who contributes a hellish set of verses titled "Satan". Very close to our heart here @ Utility Fog Towers was incendiary jazz trumpeter Jaimie Branch, whose death two weeks ago at age 39 came as a massive shock. Her version features both her evocative, politically-conscious singing and her trumpet playing. It's a hell of a collaboration and all the more tragic that she's gone.

Keeley Forsyth - Land Animal (Ben Frost Remix) [The Leaf Label/Bandcamp]
The unique voice of British actor-turned-musician Keeley Forsyth often invites comparisons with Scott Walker and Talk Talk. Her second album Limbs was remixed this year by four beautifully-chosen artists - the others are industrial royalty Cosey Fanni Tutti, post-classical don Yann Tiersen, and sound-art genius Simon Fisher Turner - but the most brilliant to my ears was Iceland-based Aussie Ben Frost, whose throbbing low-end growls and compositional sensibility are ideal to enhance the emotive, androgynous range of Forsyth.

Boris - (not) Last song [Relapse Records/Bandcamp]
When Boris are on, they're on (it's most of the time), and so not long after the brilliant W came Heavy Rocks, their third album to be bestowed that name (and indeed their second of THREE albums to be released in 2022!). They do rock, heavily, most of the time, and this album is dedicated to heavy rock in all its heavy rockiness. Nevertheless, Boris are not to be pigeonholed, and this album was again produced by the brilliant suGar Yoshinaha of Buffalo Daughter. On the last track, *ahem* "(not) Last song", we get a piano refrain with periodic glitches, crackling noises, guitar feedback, and pained vocals from Atsuo. It's typically atypical for Boris, and just rad.

Joe Rainey - no chants [37d03d/Bandcamp]
Released by 37d03d, this was the first single from the astonishing album Niineta by Ojibwe singer Joe Rainey, who has collected and made recordings of Pow Wows from his Native American culture for many years. The album features his powerfully moving vocals combined with heavily distorted and edited percussion and other sound from Rainey's archives, produced by the great Andrew Broder, whose production has moved aeons on since the (excellent) early lo-fi days of Fog. The songs here draw on a musical tradition that has been banned by the US government, and is central to Rainey's culture, but to protect the sacred art (I believe), the songs are all Rainey's. It's absolutely devastating and essential.

Chat Pile - Slaughterhouse [The Flenser/Bandcamp]
Keeping with the heavy bands for just a moment longer, here's Oklahoma's Chat Pile, whose album on The Flenser has been eagerly awaited. Their combination of hardcore punk, noise rock and sludge/doom metal is unapologetically political - in a recent interview they said the album is an attempt to "capture the anxiety and fear of seeing the world fall apart". There's a surprising amount of clean vocals, rendering the lyrics comprehensible, and there are plenty of catchy riffs and basslines. The menacing opening track is a visceral conjuring of the haunted space that is a Slaughterhouse.
“And all the blood
All the blood
And the fuckin sound, man
You never forget their eyes”

Wu-Lu - Night Pills Feat Asha [Warp/Bandcamp]
Brixton's Miles Romans-Hopcraft has been making hip-hop as Wu-Lu since 2015, but for his new album Loggerhead, his debut on Warp, he's gotten angry and political, and backs up the rapping with a mix of grungy punk and even drum'n'bass beats at times. It puts him in the company of the likes of Tampa Bay's They Hate Change on the one hand, and fellow Londoners Bob Vylan on the other. Wu-Lu doesn't really sound like either, let alone the '90s intergalactic punk-rock hip-hop of Pop Will Eat Itself or anyone else. And sounding exactly like oneself is a great place to be, especially at a time like this.

Coco Em - Winyo Nungo Feat. MC Sharon & Wuod Baba [InFiné Music/Bandcamp]
Emma Nzioka is a filmmaker and an electronic producer as Coco Em. She's a leading light in the fantastic electronic scene from Nairobi, Kenya, taking many African styles including kuduro, lingala and ampiano and mixing them with worldwide electronic dance styles. That's resulted in a truly exciting listen on her Kilumi EP with French label InFiné Music, with various vocalists joining her along the way.

Sijya - Another Thing [Accidental Records/Bandcamp]
The latest release in a busy year from Accidental Records is the debut EP, entitled Young Hate, from young New Delhi graphic designer Sijya. Her understated songs sit comfortably in the context of Matthew Herbert's label, the soft vocals and wistful textures recalling the minimalist r'n'b of Tirzah, or the trip-hop references of Sevdaliza, but all self-produced. No hate here - these are touching little pieces, and this is another EP I exhort you not to let pass you by.

Crewdson & Cevanne - Drinking Song [Accidental Records/Bandcamp]
I discovered UK folktronic producer Crewdson via his 2017 album Toys on Slowfoot, full of his homemade instruments and electronic processing. Looking back at the credits, Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian was there playing harp, but their duo as Crewdson & Cevanne sees the latter's talents as composer, orchestrator and singer come to the fore. It's not surprise to find this duo on Matthew Herbert's Accidental Records - it's just their natural home really. New EP Rites For Crossing Water imagines a new folk music around the idea of 21st century waterways, with a capella song, Cevanne's harp, string arrangements and occasional glitchy rhythms.

Leyla McCalla - Fort Dimanche [Anti-/Bandcamp]
It's only been 3 years since the last album by Leyla McCalla, but it's great to have her back, and in bluegrass-tinged Haitian folk mode to boot. McCalla is a brilliant cellist (and multi-instrumentalist) and singer who draws on her Haitian heritage, singing in both French-derived Haitian Creole and English, as well as the rich musical heritage of New Orleans. Her first album set the words of African-American poet Langston Hughes to music, and the second followed the musical template of bluegrass and Haitian folk, often played with strummed and bowed cello, sometimes in more traditional settings. A more recent album moved into more of a blues setting, but Breaking The Thermometer, her first for the ANTI- label, takes her back to Haitian folk territory, with a suite of songs derived from her stage work Breaking The Thermometer To Hide The Fever. This work saw her researching Radio Haiti, and the tragic, criminal colonial history of her homeland, and samples from interviews on that radio station as well as field recordings are interspersed through the album. This song is about the political prison Fort Dimanche run by the oppressive Duvalier regime, including excerpts from an interview from Radio Haiti with a political prisoner about the torture he was subjected to in the prison.

Julia Sabra and Fadi Tabbal - Still Life [Beacon Sound/Bandcamp/Ruptured Music/Bandcamp]
The beautiful album Snakeskin from Lebanese duo Julia Sabra and Fadi Tabbal was co-released by excellent Portland label Beacon Sound and great Beirut label Ruptured Music. Sabra is one third of dream pop trio Postcards, all of whose releases have been produced by Tabbal. Inevitably it's deeply influenced by the massive Beirut port explosion of August 2020 that left hundreds dead, thousands injured, and destroyed countless people's homes, but it also references other events from the region: the Palestinian uprising and Israeli crackdown in Sheikh Jarrah, and Azerbaijan's invasion of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Armenia. Sabra's soft voice expresses tragedy and loss, and the duo bring glitches and drones along with dubby Arabic percussion at times, all embedded in reverb. At times the more aggressive aspects of Postcards' shoegazey rock emerge, but mostly it's more quietly compelling. Don't sleep on it.

Jane Sheldon - Put my eyes out: I can see you [Jane Sheldon Bandcamp]
Australian soprano Jane Sheldon may be best known to Utility Fog and indeed FBi listeners as the singer in the brilliant early 2000s genre-crushing ensemble Gauche, but like many of the band's members, she has forged a phenomenal career, hers in contemporary vocal music. Her incredible new solo album I am a tree, I am a mouth draws its lyrics from the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke in his Book of Hours, a collection of pantheistic odes to God. Sheldon's compositions call for two voices (both sung by her) that harmonise and separate over the eerie, enveloping sound of gong resonances, distended, re-pitched and edited into dronescapes. At times crackling, glitchy textures bubble to the surface - the technology used to produce these pieces is integral to the final works, even though Sheldon's settings of the German lyrics, her compositions and her exquisite vocal technique recall classical & romantic Lieder. You won't hear any other music quite like this anywhere else, and you shouldn't miss this!

Marina Herlop - abans abans [PAN/Bandcamp]
Barcelona-based singer and pianist Marina Herlop is classically trained, and lists Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Béla Bartok and Aram Khachaturian among her influences. But then you notice Holly Herndon, Venetian Snares and Plaid in there too and you start to see how her latest album was released by PAN. Aided by James Ginzburg on the mix, the songs here shift and scatter with technological interventions, while retaining the classically-trained vocal precision and pianistic technique. Piano lines are glitched and stuttered while experimental beats drop in & out, and Herlop's vocal style draws from Southern Indian Carnatic traditions, Jewish cantorial singing, Eastern European folk choirs and of course r'n'b and pop as well as classical. There's a lot of joy in this work, a lot of emotion and a lot of that acoustic/digital slipperiness that Utility Fog loves so much.

Kee Avil - I too, bury [Constellation/Bandcamp]
Montréal's Vicky Mettler co-founded Concrete Sound Studio, and curates an online live series there as well as producing music. She's played with many musicians in the Montréal experimental music scene, including Sam Shalabi's Land of Kush, and her production skills and experimental credentials all feed into her solo work as Kee Avil. The songs on this album are very hard to pin down - often strangely amelodic, but also strangely compelling, with timbres and orchestrations that sometimes seem like postpunk or indie, sometimes like freak folk. Programmed beats coincide with queasy piano or wheezy accordion. It's an album that deserves multiple listens to really unravel what's going on.

John Zorn - Air [Tzadik]
Finishing the first "best of" for 2022 with a non-vocal track - an idiosyncratic take on the classic jazz piano trio form from longtime master John Zorn. Zorn has composed for string quartets and ensembles of all sorts as well as playing raucous punk and hardcore and seemingly everything in between, as well as running his massively influential downtown New York label Tzadik and for many years earlier the Japan-based Avant label. Despite his reputation as an enfant terrible back in the '80s and '90s, there's plenty of beautiful melodic work in his repertoire too, inspired by Jewish liturgical music, klezmer, and his hero Ornette Coleman among many others. For this incredible new Suite for Piano, he looks to the entire history of piano music, naming pieces after early classical forms - but it's still avant-garde jazz, with upright basslines anchoring the rhythm section, and composed heads which are then embellished with soloing before returning to the head. There are of course some Zorn-standard fast-moving bebop doggerel tracks that I can never get my head around, but there are also head-nodders in lopsided time signatures and pieces of incredible beauty. The compositions are supported by brilliant playing from Brian Marsella on piano with Jorge Roeder on bass and Ches Smith on drums. "Air" is exquisitely lyrical, and the trio's performance couldn't be sweeter (while still utterly virtuosic).

Listen again — ~203MB

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