It’s been a year of nostalgia through sound meeting the innovation wrought by modernity, reflected by the diversity in my choices for best releases of 2022; a street-soul compilation, unreleased demos from the sixties, a discarded album spanning material from two decades, nineties house music of various stripes, the refactoring of one of the nineties best techno minimalism records, and an album that’s structurally in the tradition of nineties hip-hop but is a sonic magpie.
In all other aspects of life I prefer to look forward than reminisce, and that makes me an optimist rather than a pessimist. I don’t believe my choices to be a subconscious reflex to the fraught present, as I’ve listened to and enjoyed quite a number of contemporary releases this year. Things aren’t worse today than they were twenty or thirty years ago – certain trivialities aside, say Sensible Soccer’s gameplay is better than any recent edition of FIFA’s. While the decline of living standards and home ownership, widening wealth inequality, stagnant wages and a contracting economy (gee, do you think maybe all those things are linked?), are real, the trite it-was-better-back-in-the-day routine is boring, inaccurate and most importantly completely pointless.
Clearly this cleaving to sounds synonymous is the result of an aging psyche (and body; inflammation, body odour and flatulence) that is starting to oppress me in an undesirable way and that my remaining time is ever diminishing. You pitied the hidebound tastes of your elders, and you vowed never to emulate it, only you end up becoming a curmudgeonly old cunt yourself. I’m becoming less tolerant of what I dislike and more drawn to what I know I will enjoy. The wrong response is to be disproportionately angry about this, say in a Ray from Nil by Mouth way, but as an optimist I’m embracing it as successful introspection. Knowing who you are should not be viewed as a battle, never mind one that’s impossible to win, as it’s truly one of the few benefits of aging. But so many succumb to vanity and the despair at the inability of any cosmetic means, no matter how sophisticated, preventing physical aging. Still, it’s fun to laugh at the individual foibles and failings of others that age fails to correct. Jacob Rees-Mogg behaves the way a thirteen-year-old you’d suspect of owning a shrine full of nineteen-thirties fascist memorabilia and a lock of Margaret Thatcher’s pubic hair would.
While my music tastes are narrowing, the kind of releases I listen to seems to be widening. That’s a result of digitalism (hey at least I’m embracing it!). Bandcamp has supplanted My Space, and Soulseek has done the same for Napster. Both are huge quality of life improvements for music sharing and discovery, as is YouTube. A YouTube music rabbit hole is a the only true thing the medium is good for (other than Limmy clips). All the others are to be avoided, especially the ones related to the trans-rights holy war between barmy trans-activists and feminists, most notably J.K. Rowling and Graham Linnehan. Then there’s a nastier vortex where weirdo authoritarian and fascist nutters tethered to Donald Trump are lampooned by virtual signalling uber lefties. What a waste of bandwidth.
But not everyone is wasting your time. It’s never been easier to get content out there. While there’s so much more to sift through, for music cutting out the middle man has been a real boon for experimentalism and innovation. More obscure stuff is readily available for public consumption than ever before. Would a release compiling a bunch of adverts from nineties pirate radio stations in London have ever seen the light of day fifteen years ago? Perhaps on some cassette tape made by your mate with shoddy quality migrated to CD, but easily accessible to everyone, everywhere, all the time? No way.
Best of all digitalism hasn’t meant analogue is dead. It’s still fighting on, to the point that we’re getting stuff released on what was previously thought to be obsolete formats, some even cassette only. There are Vinyl shortages, thanks to a lack of production factories failing to be operational in time to meet demand and that a billion (okay, a million) copies of Adele’s 30 decimated what capacity there was.
It’s good to remind yourself that if enough people ask for something, someone will more than happily provide them that service – more Les Rallizes Dénudés reissues please. And that despite all the hand-wringing over social media’s influence, the rest of internet still offers us an egalitarian flow of ideas and content which, enough of the time, is consumed on merit. The ten selections on my list being an example of this.
Anyway, enough of the preamble ramble, and to the list. As per usual it’s in alphabetical order. That said, the EP release by The Soft Pink Truth and the reissue of Jan Jelinek’s Textstar+ under the Farben moniker are must haves. Have a Merry Christmas, and I’ll post my top ten songs of 2022 between Christmas and New Year.
DJ Fucks Himself – Weisse Weste (EP)
Marries beautiful deep baselines that evoke some of Rupert Parkes (Photek) best early nineties stuff with frenetic beats and jungle inflections. Buttery smooth production is made for good headphones.
Farben – Textstar+ [reissue]
If you get the chance, check this out, it truly was the sound of the summer. I jesterhat. Farben’s (aka Jan Jelinek) punchy fusion of funk, jazz and disco loops will always leave you craving more, and it leaves me longing for summer to return in this outrageously fucking cold winter we’re having. Just don’t call it microhouse or nu-Jazz or some other twatty bollocks please.
Lou Reed – Words & Music, May 1965
Lou rips off embryonic demo versions of what were to become VU’s classic hits. Reed’s aptitude for melody to take centre stage here, before Cale’s noise distortion made them the darlings of the New York avant garde art scene. Even a bootlegish offering this kind, which definitely proves that songs often take years of honing still fail to disabuse me of the notion that ‘good’ songs are crafted spontaneously over a short period of time. Watching too many Beatles and Stones documentaries will do that.
Michael J. Blood – Blood FM 1 & 2
Both hour long mixtapes transition through and at times mesh the genres of electronic music randomly, but meticulous producing creates a flow and aesthetic that never feels rushed. Is the ecstasy to Galcher Lustwerk’s Blowing Up The Workshop mix’s ketamine.
Pause for the Cause [Death Is Not The End]: London Rave Adverts 1991-1996, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2
To call this a music release is a bit of a stretch I’ll admit, but it perfectly captures the DIY haphazardness of early nineties pirate radio, and the adverts work as a perfect ode to the last analogue era, the vibrancy of rave culture’s esoteric milieu and creativity pirate radio’s medium inculcated (the Instagram generation should take note). There are some absolute crackers and some nonsense here, all of it oozing charm. “Entry only ten pound” (That’s the cost of a drink now – there’s me doing that “it was better back in the day” shit again) and terrible rhymes over jargy rave, drum and bass and jungle beats. Preserved for posterity. Chuck the label a couple of quid for compiling both volumes please.
Plastikman & Chilly Gonzalez – Consumed In Key
As I wrote in May: Perhaps not surprising that Consumed in Key exists if we consider Keith Richards’ musing when rehearsing with Bob Dylan (as Voices of Freedom) for Live Aid in 1985 “that when you’ve been playing your own songs for so long you start to re-write them”. So why wouldn’t Richie Hawtin (aka Plastikman) or anyone revisit past works and tweak them. To quote someone more reliably lucid that Keith Richards, W.H. Auden is often attributed with the adage that “a work of art is never completed, only abandoned”. Indeed the Bandcamp explainer for Consumed In Key hints at this being the reason for its existence, ““Consumed in Key” is born of the obsessive love of a timeless work of art, an obsessive fascination untempered by fearful reverence. It is the result of a 30-year cycle of musical evolution and inspiration, a touch of Canadian kismet (all three are from Canada) and artists finding common ground where others would see none.” Job done. I prefer it to the original.
Saada Bonaire – 1992
The mythology of this release; discarded tapes, random dysfunction, and a forgotten album finished in a sex shop is almost alluring as the act’s concept of Arab women navigating the freedoms of the West. The base heavy Italo-disco eighties releases give way to cheesy early nineties Balearic piano house here. Top pop.
The Soft Pink Truth – Was It Ever Real? (EP)
Gay as fuck deepest house of house (hey, it has a track called Anal Staircase) and better off for it. Ramps up the sleaze and works as the perfect way after the after hours accompaniment to DJ Sprinkles’ Midtown 120 Blues.
They Hate Change – Finally, New
Less is more, just beats and rhymes. This sounds as though it was recorded in some dank stoner boudoir with a janky eighties Roland mixer, but hits on all the classic hip-hop sensibility, with some trap and grime influences, and yeah, that means no fucking autotune. Thank you.
Various – V4 Visions: Of Love & Androids
Not exhaustive by any means, but a substantial account of the febrile Black British music scene from the late eighties to early nineties. It wasn’t just Soul 2 Soul. Loads of street soul, some R’n’B numbers, Madchester flourishes and this comp makes clear the influence the genre and scene had on honing that quintessential early nineties house sound. Highlights include Ashaye’s Jungle mix of “Dreaming” and Julie Stapleton’s “Where’s Your Love Gone?”.