As the year comes to an end, here is some music that accompanied me through 2020.
Analog Africa label
There are a number of labels out there that specialize in unearthing treasures of non-Western popular musics and bringing them to a Western audience. I’m not sure I’ve found one as infectious and consistently hard-hitting as Analog Africa. I first discovered them around the beginning of the year when I spotted their Mogadisco collection on the wall at Kompakt in Cologne, and ordered several more of their gorgeously designed double LP packages later in the year. Check out these choice compilations and you might begin to agree with the AA motto, “The future of music happened decades ago.”
Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou – “Echos Hypnotiques – From the Vaults of Albarika Store 1969-1979”
This collection from a little known group from Benin will compare favorably to your favorite Fela Kuti and James Brown cuts. Irrepressible from beginning to end.
These tapes gathered from the Radio Mogadishu archives document a spectacular diversity of styles, including elements of Afrobeat, disco, reggae, and even spaghetti Western soundtracks.
Music from the coastal city of Barranquilla, Colombia, that combined elements of African popular music with cumbia and champeta, often with a psychedelic and eccentric flair.
Another fascinating stew of sounds, which integrates African, Latin, Portuguese, and Caribbean elements, among others, using modern electronic instruments.
I first encountered Penultimate Press in 2019 when I picked up MP Hopkins and Mark Harwood’s Disfigured with Abbreviations. I found the descent into its murky and obscure sound world both challenging and fascinating, and continue to look to it as inspiration for future sound projects. I found several other PP releases this year, all of which were very different but remarkable in their own ways.
These hushed, low-fi, late-night juxtapositions of incongruous sounds, punctuated with snatches of spoken word and bluesy vocals are by turns bewildering and idiosyncratically gorgeous.
Collection of underwater isolationist tape grot drones gathered from minuscule cassette editions published by this collective from Winnipeg, Canada.
Unabashedly exploratory, this unpredictable cacophany connects the dots between sea shantys, late night dervish trances, and the sound of cleaning out your garage.
Tusk Virtual 2020
One noteworthy development in the music world in 2020 was the explosion in experimentation with the Internet as an ersatz venue for live performance. Although the technology had been available beforehand, the sudden danger of meeting in crowds prompted many artists, clubs, and festivals to broadcast shows worldwide. The programs were in many ways poor substitutes for live events, but the trend nevertheless made it possible to tune in for concerts that one would likely not have been able to attend in person. The Newcastle, UK-based Tusk Festival did a fantastic job navigating this situation, organizing a two-week long virtual gathering of artists representing a wide range of underground sounds. One of the pleasures of the festival was experiencing how the different artists responded to the situation. Some filmed themselves on a typical stage, while others experimented with abstraction and performance of a more theatrical sort. I also enjoyed the program of talks and interviews that ran alongside the musical elements. The entire video archive of the festival is available here and is worth investigating in full, though I’ve posted links to some of my favorite performances below.
The energy of this relentless, free noise living room show shot in permanent crossfade managed to reach through my screen and gave me the chills. I could easily be convinced that Guttersnipe is the greatest rock duo on the planet right now.
Karen Constance and Dylan Nyoukis complemented their scratchy collage-based sound work with elements of performance and tripped out video production.
Straightforward but emotionally resonant performance on guitar, voice, and drum machine that foregrounded the beauty of the songs and strong playing.
A starkly lit Elvin Brandhi and Mykl Jaxn convincingly ranted, growled, and banged on things in a reverb-heavy former warehouse space.
I imagine that something like this impressive minimalist precision might have been the result if Steve Reich and Philip Glass had started a math rock band.
Here are some other individual releases that excited me this year.
This diverse and gorgeous suite of psych and folk tinged miniatures runs through a range of moods and styles, but feels intimate and highly personal throughout.
These delicate, subtle, constantly shifting contemporary chamber works combine piano, guitar, electronics and a variety of other sound making objects to produce a floating, almost cinematic experience that is both sparse and deeply rich.
In a year when so many things that I took for granted were revealed to be provisional, the lead-off track “Future Tone” from this 1995 Drexciya spin-off project captured an ambivalent attitude towards futurism that suddenly seemed highly relevant.
Schaum is German for “Foam” and this masterful melding of vibraphone, percussion, and electronics is effervescent throughout.
Digital release of an old cassette of groovy and thoroughly charming French-language psychedelic pop from Stuttgart’s Moritz Finkbeiner.
When I was younger I completely missed New Order, but this year I got around to picking up an old 2 CD deluxe version of their classic first LP, Movement. The second disk contained their second single, which is a pitch perfect embodiment of 80s melancholic post-punk heartache.
This GRM Portraits release offers a masterclass in electroacoustic composition inspired by artists such as Luc Ferrari, but has an identity all its own.
Meditative recordings using a “natural synthesizer” that involves amplified bowls filled with water. Soothing and beautiful.
Gentle detuned acoustic guitars and murky field recordings complement bursts of white noise in ways that somehow manage to enhance the desolation.
Tello takes a contemporary sound collagist approach to the sounds of his native Peru, producing mysterious and beguiling results that are nothing like folk music.