Now that’s what I call a soundtrack to another three months of the dystopian Massive Multiplayer Online game that is 2020. Don’t worry, we’ll get a medal when it’s all over, but in the meantime, feel the noise.
LUCRECIA DALT — Ser Boca (No Era Solida LP)
Luecrecia Dalt’s 2018 album Anticlines opened with a song called ‘Edge’, about the Colombian demon El Borato that hugs you to death, sucks out your insides and blows up your skin bag like a balloon. Lovely stuff. No Era Solida (She Wasn’t Solid) takes possession to another level — a concept album about a newly-spawned character called Lia who speaks through Dalt in strings of nonsense language, heavily processed and weaving into electronic abstractions. It has a few themes in common with Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, and ‘Ser Boca’ even nods a bit to Mica Levi’s score. The whole album, though, is like nothing else out there.
SENYAWA & STEPHEN O’MALLEY — Bintang Gemintang
Well, this was only a matter of time. Indonesian duo Senyawa’s primitive take on tribal drone metal, played on their own fantastical instruments, was always gonna waft its way towards Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley to find a new dark spiritual collab. ‘Bintang Gemintang’ is real cave-dwelling, bowel churning stuff — with brown-note guitar riffs, retching, ritualistic throat singing and insectoid guitar feedback.
HAMED MAFAKHERI — Second Duration (Durations LP)
Kate Carr’s Flaming Pines label is a go-to for transportive field recordings and experimental ambient music you can’t just keep in the background. Iranian artist Hamed Mafakheri’s first release on the label is an intense, scorched earth recall of his experience of war as a child in Tehran. The sound design on ‘Second Duration’ is viscerally engrossing, with creeping drones, tense murmurs and dissonant plucking by cellist Ankido Darash.
DUMA — Lionsblood (Duma LP)
Duma is one of those all-too rare HOLY FUCK albums that come out of nowhere and knocks you into next week. You could spend all day trying to dissect the feral explosions coming out of this Kenyan duo — is it Death Grips goes grindcore? Industrial doom techno? Blackened white noise digital hardcore? It changes every half-minute so just crawl into a ball and let the spectacular derangement do its thing.
IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT — Atomic Age (Alphaville LP)
Who says a barber shop quartet, lounge jazz and avant-garde extreme metal can’t mix? This is just one of the highlights from the brain-fuck album from NYC masked trio Imperial Triumphant, a stunning pile-up of Bernard Herman tension, Meshuggah-like kinetic explosiveness and blissful black metal insanity.
SPECIAL INTEREST — Disco III (The Passion Of LP)
“SODOMY ON LSD!” screams Alli Logout (what a name!) in this gabber-punk riot of a song, that seems to be taking place in a power plant meltdown, with industrial synths sounding the alarm. This is one of the most straight-up viscerally thrilling albums of the year — if only we could see these reprobates blow a few speakers in a basement somewhere.
GOD KNOWS — Who’s Asking? (East Coast Remix)
MC God Knows’ ‘Who’s Asking?’ Is the posse cut that keeps giving this year. Originally remixed with SouthWest AllStars like Denise Chaila, Strange Boy Nature, Hazey Haze and Gavin Da Vinci, the round 2 remix roped in Nealo, Mango, Skripteh, Nealo and Rebel P. Considering the producer and remixer SertOne is from Portadown (my glorious hometown), maybe we’re due a Nordy AllStars remix too.
GAIKA — Iron Cut (Seguridad EP)
Gaika’s new nine-track album — recorded on tour in Mexico — is another howl from the outskirts of dancehall, grime and R&B, where he’s helping to evolve all these Venn-diagram sonics at warp speed. He’s collaborated with seven producers off the Mexican label NAAFI, and Wasted Fates builds an industrial cage around this one.
THEY HATE CHANGE — Burn My Shit (666 Central Avenue EP)
Florida duo They Hate Change keep you guessing on all their releases, wrong-footing you every few minutes, swervign between trap, Miami bass electro, Detroit-style techno and cosmic sci-fi hip-hop. The best example of this is the skittery jungle rhythms that just creep up on you halfway through ‘Burn My Shit’.
Art of Algebra & Breezy Ideygoke — Praying on a Gamble
One of the Irish tracks of the year here, with MC Breezy IDeyGoke creeping up on Art of Algebra’s Indigo, off his 2019 debut album. The dense, dank instrumental was deep enough as it was, but IDeyGoke turns up the Massive Attack vs Flowdan vibe for an intense listen indeed. Listen closely though, and he’s contemplating his Muslim faith and its place in a less tolerant culture, through the metaphor of the indigo flower’s roots.
SPEAKER MUSIC — Techno Is Liberation Technology (Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry LP)
DeForrest Brown Jr’s new album is a defiant, powerful work of sonic activism, informed as much by jazz, spoken word protest poetry and Detroit techno and electro as it is by decades of Black nationalism and a quest for autonomy. This highlight is nspired by Drexciya’s origin myth of an underwater country formed by the unborn children of African women thrown off slave ships; the 400-year African-American story and techno’s migration from Detroit in the late 80s. The volatile beats and folded-in bassline are elevated by abstract horns that blow in halfway between Blue Note and John Williams sci-fi pomp.
HIEROGLYPHIC BEING — The Pleidian Agenda (The Pleideian Agenda LP)
Chicago producer Jamal Moss is trying to round up thousands of recordings stored on “VHS, MiniDisc, Cassette, ADAT and old hard drives” since 1996, which means these “3,000 sonic drawings (and counting)” are teeming onto Bandcamp at a spectacular rate. Click on any one and you’ll get lo-fi deep house, wired electronic funk, spiritual techno, abstract acid or his own self-proclaimed tags: “rhythmic cubism”, “cosmic bebop”, “synth expressionism”. You can’t keep up, but that’s the point I guess. Each track sounds like the middle of an unreal warehouse party on the outskirts of somewhere (“Distortion and noise is intentional”).
‘The Pleidian Agenda’ is a live workout that kinda sounds like a cosmic proto-techno take on Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Hot on the Heels of love’. It’s all build-up then it fades out after 10 minutes or so, but you get the idea he went on for a few hours.
EGYPTIAN LOVER — Freak A Holic (Alternate Universe Mix)
Egyptian Lover takes his 1986 hall of fame electro-funk classic and twists it in new sci-fi directions, with pitched-down synth bass, alien Vocoder vocals replacing the raps, and a wired to the moon jazzy synth solo — all bouncing along on his classic 808 drum snaps. Happy to report he’s still the absolute Freakiest.
BEANS — A Bee in a Submarine (Team BreakUP LP)
Even with all of Antipop Consortium’s experimentation, Beans was always a brilliant outlier, squeezing out more syllables and abstract thought than most beats could handle, and — live especially — stringing together the most far-out electronic shapes from drum machines and synths.
He’s been taking it further into the outer limits on all of his solo work since 2003, and his new album Team BreakUP could be his most out-there yet. Producer Steve Freshfield drags it all over the place with off-the-grid free jazz noise and electronics, and Radiophonic asides. ‘A Bee in a Submarine’ isn’t a metaphor, though. It’s a spoken word heart-to-heart with a bumblebee trapped in a submarine, as he warns: “You fucked up down here this deep, bumblebee… you didn’t think it through… how the fuck DID you get trapped in a submarine?”
It takes a turn when imagines aliens finding their carcasses in the sub after humanity has died out (because we killed off the bees). The most surreal eco-rap cut you’ll hear this year for sure.
CIVIC EDITS — Wet Pubs (With Happiness LP)
“Assembled by DEASY and Sunken Foal in August 2020”, the Civic Edits album is an ultra hi-def kaleidoscope of hip-hop instrumentals — it’s maximalist but never overloaded. Everything in its right place, as Thom would say. They even make room for gong crashes here — with an arrangement that’s as exotic sounding right now as a pint in a so-called wet pub in Dublin.
ZoID — Acid Tribute Sister Concepta
This could well be the first ever acid electro track inspired by early 20th century Celtic Christian art. ZoID was moved to make the track after spending some time in an oratory in Dun Laoghaire, whose walls and ceiling were covered with detailed artworks by a Sister Concepta from 1920 to 1936. Whip-sharp 303 electro, mastered by Ed DMX, no less.
MARIE DAVIDSON & L’ŒIL NU — Renegade Breakdown (Renegade Breakdown LP)
Montreal singer and producer Marie Davidson publicly ejected herself from the electronic music rat race two years ago — a move signposted by her snide takes on tocic club tropes on her album Working Class Woman. On this new LP with L’Oeil Nu she explores French chanson, mid-tempo electronic funk and house. But on the title track she’s maybe come up with her biggest banger yet — a space disco extravaganza in the same ball park as Scat Bros’ ‘Walk the Nigh’t or ‘The Ultimate Warlord’.
TAWSE — Fist (Tawse EP)
Apparently Clipping’s Jonathan Snipes and vocalist Maxi Wild were both shocked they couldn’t find any femdom noise/industrial acts so they just formed one between themselves. You can guess what Fist is about even before the set-up (“Crystal, poppers, rubber mitts…”), and the pair create a writhing EBM sweat-beast that’s gonna make Peaches up her game.
AUTUMNS — Except the Black Box (You Always Taught Me Better EP)
More EBM malevolence from Derry’s Christian Donaghey, aka Autumns, making his debut on the always bang on Berlin label Detriti, that first brought us Molchat Doma and Filmmaker. All the good Autumns noise is in here — assembly line metallic percussion, laser blast ultraviolence and feral vocals retching up from a mine shaft somewhere.
ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF — All Thoughts Fly (All Thoughts Fly LP)
Swedish composer and singer Anna Von Hausswolff knows her way around a church organ — and used one liberally on her 2018 gothic dirge-pop album Dead Magic. A church pipe organ takes centre stage on this wordless follow-up, which elevates her gothic tendencies to new heights. ‘All Thoughts Fly’ is an almighty, immersive 12 minutes, with its hypnotic repetitive cycles sounding like an end of days Steve Reich.
NICK CAVE — Galleon Ship Live at Alexandra Palace 2020
Nick Cave with a very 2020 idea of a live album — Idiot Prayer, Alone at Alexandra Palace with no crowd, just him on the piano. I’ve had plenty of cancelled gig reminders over the last six months, but the Google Calendar notification on my phone when I was ordering a spice bag in Lin Kee in Cabra hurt like fuck.
This solo piano rendering of the Ghosteen song is predictably serene, simple, and just perfect. OK, maybe not as perfect as being there, but at least no one else got a chance either. No shade on Lin Kee by the way — decent spice bag.
KEVIN RICHARD MARTIN — Frequencies For Leaving Earth Vol 3
Kevin ‘The Bug’ Martin leaves aside his bass-churning dancehall alter-ego for an inner space ambient trip that’s no less intense and shape-shifting. The third entry in his Frequencies For Leaving Earth lockdown project is all sub-bass vibrations and distant transcendent church organs. Don’t pick one track, just let the whole thing creep up on you.