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Utility Fog

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Sunday, 17th of December, 2023

Playlist 17.12.23 - Best of 2023, Part 1! (11:00 pm)

Well, it's been a year. A year divided into two, I daresay.
Nonetheless, it's been another year of incredible music, and this first "Best of 2023" show is attempting to focus on vocal music. "Songs", if you will.
I have had to cut so many darlings, you have no idea of the pain. But what's left is 100% excellence.
The below words are mostly taken from the original playlist where I played the track, except when they're not.

LISTEN AGAIN to the first part of the best. Stream on demand from FBi, podcast here.

Freda D'Souza - The Love Song of J Alfreda D'Souza [demo records/Crossness Records/Freda D'Souza Bandcamp]
I'm very grateful to the brilliant & adventurous singer-songwriter/producer Ana Rita de Melo Alves, aka Anrimeal, for sending me this stunning EP from fellow London-based musician Freda D'Souza, which Ana has co-released on her own demo records in conjunction with friends Crossness Records. D'Souza plays free improv, does experimental performance-arty stuff, and even fronts a black metal band, but the music here is a collection of sumptuous songs which owe as much to Jenny Hval as the obvious Joni Mitchell, Linda Perhacs and perhaps Kate Bush comparisons. The smart lyrics are perhaps best embodied by the wistful but slyly humorous "The Love Song of J Alfreda D'Souza", with its references to T.S. Eliot ("Do I dare? Do I dare?"), echoing the paralyzing anxiety of growing old, albeit from a more youthful perspective. As Alves' label name may suggest, these are demos or derive from them, but D'Souza's vocal performances are so rich and confident that one can't pretend these are in any way incomplete. Still, the idea of using demo recordings to capture a particular feeling, a space or a time, is something a lot of creators will connect with.

Mayssa Jallad - Baynana [Ruptured Records/Bandcamp/Six of Swords Bandcamp]
Ziad Nawfal & Fadi Tabbal's Ruptured Records is a dependable source of brilliant music from Lebanon and further afield in the MENA region. And so often a new release is a surprise - take Mayssa Jallad's album Marjaa: The Battle Of The Hotels. Originally released in March, it was re-released by UK label Six of Swords in November with a handsome vinyl edition. It merges Jallad's research work in architectural history and her parallel career as a singer-songwriter. These interests and imperatives have combined in the past: see last year's collaboration with Syrian musician Khaled Allaf which examines the trauma of post-explosion Beirut (incredible video here). But this is different, a walk through only slightly less-recent history, focused on urban warfare in the Hotel District of Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War (specifically 1975-76), which Jallad discovered was "the first high rise urban battle in the world". With the help of Fadi Tabbal and a selection of Ruptured-affiliated musicians, we're treated to a highly evocative & moving collection of narrative songs (even for those of us who don't speak Arabic), which musically inhabit a space on the corner of 1970s US folk, Arabic melisma and sound-art. A haunting, engrossing work.

Minhwi Lee - Borrowed Tongue [Alien Transistor: LP here/Bandcamp]
South Korean singer/songwriter Minhwi Lee is an accomplished soundtrack composer, jazz musician, indie rock musician, and also plays bass in doom metal band Gawthrop. She is also responsible for this wonderful solo indiefolk album Borrowed Tongue, released in Korea in 2016 and now available more widely on LP via The Notwist's label Alien Transistor. The album shows off Lee's composition and arrangement talents with instrumentals at the start and end and in between (check out the Sakamoto-like cello & piano work that closes the album!), but you'll also find classic folk and acoustic chamber pop songs that owe a lot to her composing style but also recall Japanese psych-folk like Eddie Marcon and Nick Drake. A thousand thanks to The Notwist for bringing this incredible music to our attention.
I should add here that Lee released a new album in November which I'm only just now getting to listen to.

YATTA - Fully Lost, Fully Found [PTP/Bandcamp]
Absolute stunner from Ricky Sallay Zoker aka YATTA, originally from Houston and now I believe based in New York. Their music has mostly come out through the mighty PTP, and twists and turns so that it can be lonely accidental acoustic recordings at one moment, fully-orchestrated jazz or neo-classical, then switch into electronic processing. Their 2020 release with Moor Mother, DIAL UP, is also genius, and slowly new solo work is forming. This track, which is featured in the soundtrack to the movie Nanny, perfectly encapsulates YATTA's skilful melding of musicianship and technology.

Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter - I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole [Perpetual Flame Ministries/Bandcamp]
As Lingua Ignota, Kristin Hayter released three electrifying albums - two on Profound Lore, one on Sargent House - that were based around her piano and voice, classical training filtered through noise and metal. Her guest spots with the body, and as part of Sightless Pit with Lee Buford of the the body and Dylan Walker of Full of Hell, were phenomenal as well, bringing deep emotion and musicality. But the suffering that infused the Lingua Ignota projects was drawn from life, and performing her personal trauma through that music became too much of a burden. So SAVED! comes to us from Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter - she really is ordained, although as she told The Quietus, "it is also true that you can become ordained as a minister in about five minutes online". SAVED! is by no means an easy listen, even compared to her previous work, but there's humour as well as redemption strung through these gospel covers and original songs. Recorded with Seth Manchester at Machines With Magnets, the all-analogue production suffuses the album in hiss and tape warping, although thankfully the shuddering stops and starts of the first track are toned down later. There are still jarring splices - particularly shocking when Hayter's anguished (or is it ecstatic?) glossolalia interrupts a hymn-like piece. This postmodern treatment aims to evoke the dubbed-and-redubbed tapes of gospel music shared among Christian households when Hayter was growing up. The final summation is an album with real beauty and sincerity that nevertheless undercuts itself fiercly throughout, its protagonist forever marked by trauma, but finally arriving to her salvation.

Popular Music - Lifetime Achievement [Sanitarium Sound Services]
Back in the mid 2000s I loved the music of Parenthetical Girls, the experimental pop project led by Zac Pennington, with contributions from the likes of Jherek Bischoff and Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart. Pennington disbanded Parenthetical Girls in 2017, but the strange orchestral, electronic, cabaret vibes continue with Popular Music, a collaboration between LA-based Pennington and Melbourne-based musician Prudence Rees-Lee. Jherek Bischoff's there too, along with Deerhoof's Greg Saunier. As often is the case with great pop, there's an aura of "reminiscent of" about it, and everything it's reminiscent of is great, so. This was the first single from Minor Works of Popular Music, a song cycle about Armageddon in Los Angeles, as you do. It's all this good.

Mary Ocher - Love Is Not A Place (feat Your Government) [Underground Institute/Bandcamp]
Berlin-based Russian-Jewish musician Mary Ocher incorporates activism into her art, to the extent that her album Approaching Singularity: Music for the End of Time comes with a substantial (and great) essay about politics, philosophy and art (if I dare sum it up with such broad strokes). She writes movingly about how she holds two passports - Russian and Israeli - both of which she is ashamed of, as Russia invades Ukraine and Israel pummels Gaza to dust. Of course, nothing's simple, but the simple fact that nothing justifies killing civilians anywhere, much less children, should hardly be controversial. Anyway, I love this track so much. "Love Is Not A Place" features her old band Your Government, and was initially released earlier in 2023 as a fundraiser for Kyiv charity repair.together.

The God In Hackney - In This Room [Junior Aspirin/Bandcamp]
You may remember nigh on 3 years ago, I discovered transatlantic band The God In Hackney via the cover CD on an issue of experimental music mag The Wire. "The Adjoiner" is still one of my favourite tracks from their second album Small Country Eclipse but there's way more to enjoy there, and now we can extend our enjoyment further with 2023 album The World In Air Quotes. This is left-field art-pop with leanings to '80s pop experimentalists like Peter Gabriel or Magazine, but with everything and the kitchen sink thrown in, whether krautrock, drum'n'bass, free jazz... It's undeniably arch (I mean, "The World In Air Quotes"), and "art", but there's some kind of sincerity there too, such as the Tears For Fears-ian "In This Room". After all, an album about the current moment is going to be struggling with the visibly collapsing anthroposcene and the rise of far-right populism, as well as the degredation and atomisation of the public sphere. Meanwhile "Bardo!", also heard tonight, somehow manages to encompass live d'n'b drums, big band brass, and... Peter Gabriel fronting Talking Heads? The album is co-dedicated to the late Andrew Weatherall, drawing in other clear influences: dub and techno. The second dedicatee is the late Brian Catling, an often challenging performance artist, poet and sculptor, whose various artistic pursuits overlap considerably with those of TGIH singer Nathaniel Mellors.

JOBS - Ask New York [Ramp Local/Bandcamp]
Here's some more experimental pop from a bunch of experimental musicians including renowned jazz/improv violist Jessica Pavone, along with bassist Ro Lundberg, guitarist Dave Scanlon, and drummer Max Jaffe. Jaffe recorded & mixed the album but all contribute some keyboards, and all sing. Their music can be deceptively straightforward postpunk pop, but there are a lot of electronic elements (Jaffe plays a custom hybrid drumkit), and Pavone's viola is a significant force throughout.

alice does computer music - Coiled [JOLT Music/Bandcamp]
New Yorker Alice Gorlach's primary instrument is the cello, but she dubbed herself alice does computer music for her indietronic pop project. Shoegaze 5G is her debut album proper, drawing equally from the scratchy cello-fuelled outsider pop of Arthur Russell and the idm/indietronica of the early oughts. And shoegaze, obviously. There's the kind of cut-up glitchy production and manic beats that this show has cleaved to for almost 2 decades, but it's made special by the blissful songwriting that the instruments and programming are supporting. I'm still a little dubious about the artist name, but that's on me. Highly recommended.

Water From Your Eyes - True Life (Nourished By Time Version) [Matador Records/Bandcamp]
New York experimental indie/postpunk duo Water From Your Eyes released their latest album Everyone's Crushed in March this year. It's an excellent mix of snappy songs and weird tangents. But then right near the end of the year they inverted the title as Crushed By Everyone, a track-by-track remix album from friends and touring mates of the band. I've always had a soft spot for remix albums - even for artists or albums I'm not familiar with - because I guess the concept of the remix is so close to the heart of what Utility Fog's mission has been: music recontextualised, taken out of normal standards of genre and presentation, hybridised, de/reconstructed. That's all present on Crushed By Everyone, where strong original material is turned inside-out. There's everything from noise to black metal to folk-ambient here, but all with the DIY-punk-dance thing going on. And perhaps because the artists are almost all touring friends, a lot of care has gone into making these well-rounded tracks. It was hard to single one out, but Nourished By Time expand the original "True Life" with an incredibly catchy refrain... kinda genius.

Mandy, Indiana - Pinking Shears [Fire Talk/Bandcamp]
Somehow lately "pop" music (whatever that is, broadly taken) has once more become accommodating of experimentation and extremeness - maybe it's the political climate, or just where we are now. Maybe you'll turn around to me and say, "Come on, Manchester's Mandy, Indiana might sound like raucous noisemakers with their live industrial beats, squalling synths and shouted vocals, but this comes from a great tradition going back at least to punk and new wave if not further". And you'd be right, my friend. Even so, it's exciting hearing stuff as uncompromising as this being fêted by the arbiters of the zeitgeist. Touchpoints for their debut album i've seen a way have been the unusual recording techniques - recording drums in a cave, vocals in a shopping mall, field recordings on iPhone... The noise, for sure, but also the fact that Valentine Caulfield's vocals are entirely in French - a distancing effect for much of their audience despite the fact that they are emphatically personal and defiantly feminist. On "Drag [Crashed]" she's shouting out phrases that she's been subjected to as a woman: "She’s gonna pop some fly buttons", "Cover your shoulders, you’ll distract the boys", and of course "Souris, souris, souris, souris" which you may recognize is "Smile, smile, smile, smile". It's a visceral evocation of how tiring and infuriating this treatment is. And "Pinking Shears", recently subjected to a clipping. remix, is a paean to how fucking tiring this shitty world is. So right.
Oh - also, Mandy, Indiana contributed a great remix for Water From Your Eyes above. Nice.

Armand Hammer - Empire Blvd (feat. Junglepussy & Curly Castro) [Fat Possum Records/Bandcamp]
Around 5 years ago, Armand Hammer released their Paraffin album on various labels on cassette, vinyl and CD, and it brought them the highest level of acclaim they'd yet seen. This was further cemented by billy woods' incredible Hiding Places with Kenny Segal the following year. So by now woods' Backwoodz Studioz is known as a vital home to NYC underground hip-hop, and he and Elucid have the recognition they've deserved for a good decade. We Buy Diabetic Test Strips finds them on Fat Possum Records as part of the label's growth from a Mississippi blues focus into other genres, but they're no less adventurous or incisive in their commentary on the state of the USA. The album's title itself refers to the signs that turn up in economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods where those not fortunate enough to have health insurance purchase unused diabetic test strips necessary for them to manage their diabetes.
Following Haram, which was entirely produced by The Alchemist, woods and Elucid bring their tremendous intelligence and experience to a suite of tracks produced by many of their usual collaborators like Segal and Willie Green, and JPEGMAFIA on a number of tracks. Meanwhile a jazz ensemble headed up by Shabaka Hutchings brings some additional cohesion to the proceedings, but this has never been lacking on Armand Hammer albums, as the duo bring poetically-chosen spoken word samples and other aural oddities into play. As I mentioned when discussing woods in my 20th anniversary special, hip-hop has always been an experimental genre, but woods and Elucid consistently make super leftfield shit just work perfectly. What could be more perfect than the Sun Ra call-and-response referenced in "Total Recall"?

billy woods & Kenny Segal - Babylon by Bus featuring ShrapKnel [Backwoodz Studioz/Bandcamp]
OK so. The 2019 album Hiding Places was a phenomenal collaboration between the aforementioned iconic underground rapper billy woods & the creative producer Kenny Segal. The sequel Maps had a lot of expectations hanging on it - but as fans we know these two artists well enough to know that defying expectations is built into their art. Segal as usual pulls samples from everywhere & anywhere, pitching guitars way down inside drones and sub bass, dropping pop snippets, looping lopsidedly, scratching - and I had to highlight the (heavily slowed-down) Aphex Twin sample at the start of the ShrapKnel-featuring "Babylon by Bus". While Hiding Places was about hiding from the darkness of the world, Maps is a post-pandemic album about venturing out. The theme of travel & touring permeates the album, from the joy of flight and seeming freedoms to the pain of separation and the exhaustion of having no home. Although every album from billy woods' and Armand Hammer's repertoire is of the highest quality, this second Kenny Segal collab does feel destined to become a classic on the level of Hiding Places.

seina sleep & YoursTruuly - Soothsayers [PTP/Bandcamp]
You can always trust Geng and his Purple Tape Pedigree to turn up really interesting music. Here we have the first album from a very young Austin, TX producer calling themself YoursTruuly, with surrealist rapper seina sleep, also from Austin. The sounds from Xóchitl aka YoursTruuly are full of psychedelic & spiritual jazz samples, but through a grainy, tape-decayed filter (especially see the two instrumental interludes). And seina sleep, who likes to call this genre "gift rap", has a talent for surrealist lyrics and wordplay, and is joined by a number of other Austin crew throughout the album.

Blockhead - The Cella Dwellas Knew ft. Quelle Chris [Backwoodz Studioz/Bandcamp]
New York beatmaker Tony Simon aka Blockhead has a long history of solo albums, and has released a bunch on that once home of instrumental hip-hop Ninja Tune, as well as billy woods' Backwoodz Studioz. There are no instrumentals at all on The Aux, his latest for Backwoodz, and the guest list is enough to leave the most casual underground hip-hop fan salivating, with woods and his duo Armand Hammer, Danny Brown, Open Mike Eagle, AKAI SOLO, ShrapKnel and many others appearing, as well as his frequent collaborator Aesop Rock. Quelle Chris's feature is a stand-out though, with his customary drawl rhyming "lost" with "source"/"sauce", and Blockhead's funky sampled jazz choir and skittering boom-bap beats. Check the cool animated video just released with the album.

Aesop Rock - Black Snow (feat. Nikki Jean) [Rhymesayers/Bandcamp]
Blockhead used to be Aesop Rock's main production partner, going way back to at least 2000's Float, although in 1999, Appleseed was already mostly self-produced, with just one Blockhead number. Aes's last album saw the two get back together - Garbology is officially credited to both - but Integrated Tech Solutions is more of a follow-up to the last self-produced opus Spirit World Field Guide. Like that album, ITS is a sardonically parodic concept album, and once again Aes's production is the perfect foil for his nimble dictionary-in-a-sentence raps. For years now Aes has commented on his anxiety & depression, and his tendency to keep to himself. On "Black Snow", the album closer, he imagines himself prepping for a climate doomsday augured by the snow turning black: "Precipitation should be clear or not at all, but..." Nikki Jean's sweet bridge is just as chilling when you listen closely, and the change-up for the last verse is a genius of perky beats and dark-as-fuck lyrics. "Aes get the dark cloud active" as depression takes hold, and "See you in the morn, the forecast ain't right". A helluva finish to another brilliant album.

Aho Ssan - Away (feat. Exzald S & Valentina Magaletti) [Other People/Bandcamp]
When I previewed the stunning new album Rhizomes from Aho Ssan back in August, we heard the track featuring both clipping. & Polish cellist Resina. The Paris-based West African producer, Désiré Niamké to his family & friends, has gathered an incredible cast of collaborators for the album, released on Nicolas Jaar's Other People. The physical format is a further collaboration, with illustrator Kim Grano exploring Deleuze & Guattari's concept of the "rhizome" through abstract shapes which respond to the music. The book also makes available bonus tracks and a sample pack from the artist - if only postage to Australia didn't basically double the price! Check the full album for the rest of the awesome collaborators, but for our best-of I chose the phenomenal piece with Exzald S (fka Fawkes, aka Sarah Foulquiere) and ubiquitous percussive genius Valentina Magaletti.

Shapednoise - Poetry (feat. Moor Mother) [Weight Looming]
Nino Pedone has been destroying speakers and dancefloors with his since 2010 as Shapednoise. Pedone has one foot in the noise realm, with releases on Prurient's Hospital Productions among others, and one foot in the bass world, collaborating with Mumdance & Logos on the cyberpunk project The Sprawl. His latest Shapednoise album, Absurd Matter, is the most "musical" yet, grounding the crushing, heavily overdriven beats with some basslines and hints of melodic content, as well as some star turns on the mic, including Armand Hammer. Moor Mother speaks of resisting erasure on "Poetry". Allowing hip-hop to shape his noise here inspires the best work yet from Pedone.

Teether & Kuya Neil - MYTH [Chapter Music/Bandcamp]
STRESSOR hell of a mixtape from Naarm/Melbourne underground rapper Teether and producer Kuya Neil. The amen-breaks-infused single "RENO" was a sign of things to come - the rest of the tracks follow a similar trajectory, with impeccable productions that reference the distorted, time-out-of-joint club musics of the moment, skittery chopped beats & plenty of bass, with low-key melodic raps from Teether and occasional guests like Realname. Best shit.

Izambard - Leather Me [Kingdome Recordings/Bandcamp]
Bizarre mutations of bass music from London enigma Izambard, affiliated with the Kingdome crew and a2b2, the deeply confusing project of Death Grips' Andy Morin. Izambard's 2023 EP B4 collects four tracks of digitally cut-up beats, syncopated bass and the artist's ever-changing voice, from gruff to high-pitched, spat into the mic at speed. It's fun stuff, as is his debut album Y from 2021, with a similar range and approach. It takes SOPHIE's industrial crunch a la Faceshopping or Ponyboy and grinds off the more overtly pop elements. Don't try and understand it, just take the pummeling.

Chimpo - All Of The Above [Box N Lock]
Manchester's Chimpo is never one to shy away from pop fun in his bass music, and he's a dedicated junglist. He's released a bunch of music this year on various labels, but Box N Lock is his own home and "All Of The Above" is classic Chimpo, d'n'b with swooping basslines and lyrics about embracing all types.

ben sloan - toomuchinternet (feat. serengeti & josiah wolf of why?) [New Amsterdam Recordings/Bandcamp]
You may not realise it, but you've probably heard Ben Sloan's playing before. He's a drummer who's played with artists such as *quotes from bio* The National, Moses Sumney, Beth Orton, Mouse on Mars, Rozi Plain, Serengeti, and WHY? - many of whom as you can see here appear as guests on his restless, rhythm-heavy, eclectic debut solo album muted colors, released by New Amsterdam Recordings (a label known for boundary-pushing contemporary classical music, but also branching out into other kinds of experimental music and indie/pop). In amongst the expert playing & singing from himself and his guests there are field recordings and other found sounds that he's collected over many years. The result is a very dense, very enjoyable record that retains a core of skilfully skittery percussion through myriad briefly-touched-on genres, from schoolchildren singing through drill'n'bass with half-heard hip-hop vocals, to contemplative piano, modal jazz, hints at r'n'b pop and more. Nothing is immune to interruption from manic drums or beats, although the closing track featuring Moses Sumney does the best at keeping to a sunny jazz-pop template with experimental edges. If you missed this when it came out, don't waste time now!

Liv.e - Gardetto. [In Real Life/Bandcamp]
Here's Dallas r'n'b innovator Liv.e (the "e" is silent), whose indubitale r'n'b chops shine through on many tracks on her new album Girl In The Half Pearl, but more than ever the sweet harmonies and orchestrations are heard through a patina of experimental techniques - industrial distortion, technoid loops or, on a few tracks, drum'n'bass beats. Anyone who found Janelle Monäe's early work too challenging will run a mile, but this is catnip for leftfield music fans - it was FBi Album of the Week in February when it was released. Much of the production is from Liv.e herself, developed after an Artist in Residence stint at London's Laylow, and it feels like UK dance music crept into the mix with adventurous jazz/soul & r'n'b a la FlyLo, Thundercat et al.

Debby Friday - Good Luck [Sub Pop/Bandcamp]
Debby Friday is a musical polymath: she can chop jungle breaks with the best of them, but she plunders hip-hop, r'n'b and pop, often with a penchant for industrial-level distortion and plenty of bass, and is a talented rapper & singer too. Her album Good Luck was first class, taking in all those influences at once. Also notable was the standalone single "let u in", a co-pro with Darcy Baylis recorded while she was on tour in Naarm/Melbourne earlier this year. Again with the jungle influences, this one eschews the industrial heaviness to the extent that it could be a PinkPantheress song - no shade! It's lovely.

fromjoy - seraph (feat. iRis.EXE) [fromjoy Bandcamp]
The latest album from Texans fromjoy handily combines industrial metal with breakcore, as well as ethereal pop in places. There's plenty of twisted breaks sliding into double-kick metal drumming, plenty of hardcore vocals and lovely clean vocals (especially in the cameo from iRis.EXE). The '80s easy-listening sax music in the second last track and the album fadeout is the vapourwave icing on the cake of this cyberpunk dream made real.

BRACT X BAYANG (tha Bushranger) - HOMESICK [Bract Bandcamp]
Some 5 years ago or so I discovered an Eora/Sydney band called Coward Punch, making growling, throbbing industrial metal & noise, and sending all the profits of their EPs to Grandmothers Against Removal (debut) and Black Rainbow (follow-up). Those releases sat in my collection, but somehow I missed that the band renamed themselves BRACT, so when this phenomenal collaboration with Dharug/Western Sydney-based rapper BAYANG (tha Bushranger) came out, it took me a minute to make the connection. Anyway, BAYANG has clear delivery and hella flow (check this drum'n'bass-laden track produced by Kuya Neil), and hearing him over these chugging industrial rhythms and murky textures is a strange thrill. The artists see it as a musical representation of the often-hellish melting-pot that is Sydney, a place where (thankfully) punk, noise, hip-hop and club sounds rub freely up against each other - something I'm convinced we can at least to some degree thank FBi Radio and its various music directors for. In any case, this is a no-holds-barred, vicious, scungey piece of filth, with occasional flashes of light.

Joseph Branciforte & Theo Bleckmann - 10.14.4 [greyfade/Bandcamp]
The second album from New York duo Joseph Branciforte & Theo Bleckmann came out at the start of December. Bleckmann usually moves in the worlds of jazz and new music, but here sings in a fragile, high register, not unlike Arve Henriksen in Supersilent. Bleckmann's vocals are liberally sampled and cut up by Branciforte, using techniques the duo use in live settings - and although the basis of the recorded tracks is live, there are overdubs that enhance the structure of their compositions. Frequently bewitching.

Farhad Bandesh & David Bridie - Freedom [David Bridie Bandcamp]
Melbourne treasure David Bridie may be cast these days as a pleasant "adult contemporary" pianist-singer-songwriter, but he's always worked in unexpected areas musically, from the ambient/proto-postrock/global-folk gregariousness of the frankly uncategorisable Not Drowning, Waving to the post-Penguin Cafe Orchestra chamber pop of My Friend The Chocolate Cake (never quite as twee as their name would suggest). Lyrically, Bridie has often focused on stories of working class, middle Australians, little people - and also on his dedicated activism, whether for the freedom struggles of West Papua or against the inhumanity of Australia's punishing treatment of refugees. All this comes to the fore on his 2023 album It's Been A While Since Our Last Correspondence. Each track is a short story or piece of poetry, spoken (and occasionally partly sung) by its writer, and all the breadth of Bridie's lyrical interests is there. I really recommend the whole album, even if you're leery of spoken word and music (he says, having just released such an album this year too, maybe check it out?) All contributors have risen to the challenge with deeply engaging and moving vignettes, and I really wanted to showcase Kit Kavanagh-Ryan's gently heartbreaking "Thanks For Five Years", but in the end I settled for the essential piece from Kurdish refugee, artist and musician Farhad Bandesh, freed as part of Medevac but still fighting for resettlement (ten years on from fleeing Iran). The mixture of his spoken word and electrifying singing with Bridie's postpunkish backing is a highlight.

Le Cri du Caire - Sadiya (Purple feather) [Les Disques du Festival Permanent]
Poet, singer, trumpeter, actor, electronic producer: it seems there's little that the Europe-based Egyptian Abdullah Miniawy cannot do. He has a long-running collaboration with German trio Carl Gari, fusing dub, techno and trip-hop influences with rapturous sufi singing and jazz trumpet, and those same inputs from Miniawy are present in his 2020 album with French bass producer Simo Cell. His own Bandcamp carries obscure electronic self-productions and poetry, and a different take on pre-Islamic Egyptian spirituality can be found on his collaborative album with Danish producer of Indian descent HVAD (previously Kid Kishore). Meanwhile the jazz comes to the fore with the astonishing ensemble Le Cri du Caire. The group started with Miniawy's meeting with French saxophonist Peter Corser, a little later the legendary French trumpeter Erik Truffaz joined. This is notable enough, but the group really comes together with the addition of Paris-based German cellist Karsten Hochapfel. Sensitive playing and creative arrangements support and augment Miniawy's songs and compositions, making their self-titled debut album a thrilling listen, whether you're a fan of jazz or not.

Yirinda - Yuangan (Dugong) [Chapter Music/Bandcamp]
Butchulla songman Fred Leone is starting to blow up, with A.B. Original's producer trials remixing his first single "Yirimi Gundir", and some high-profile live apeparances. He's one of three Butchulla songmen left, a custodian of endangered Butchulla language and song. Yirinda is a remarkable project linking Leone with double bassist and composer Samuel Pankhurst. The intimate voice and strings setting of this first track immediately draws the listener in, and the rest of the album promises horns, synths, piano and percussion added into the mix.

Listen again — ~204MB

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