Squid – “Bright Green Field” (krautpop, alternative, post-punk // Warp)
The untouchable tradition represented by the scouting people at Warp Records has been extending its interest outside the strictly electronic field of music in recent years, and the results have been – if not outstanding – at least very interesting so far. This time, they have outdone themselves: Squid stand up to the challenge of making compelling, intelligent, young music in 2021 AD with their debut LP. Krautrock masters are philtered through circular grooves and angular instrumentation, guitars as dry as sand are at times drenched in waves of synthesizers. In between, a hysterical voice poignantly evokes broken images stolen from the contemporary crumbling psyche. Squid sit at the table where Dome and This Heat used to have tea.
Vanishing Twin – “Ookii Gekkou” (hauntology era Space Age music // Fire Records)
Masters of their craft. After the almost perfect The Age of Immunology, the combo from London comes back with its best album to date. Genreless and fresh, yet a feast of echoes from distant and variegated musical cultures, Vanishing Twin (incredibily) manage to expand once more their sonic spectrum. Trying to encapsulate the sound of this work within a few words may very well be completely pointless, but we’d like to try with “Hauntology Era Space Age Music”. That might at least give an idea of how it feels to float between the eyelids of subconscious with the Twins. Afro-funk, Kosmische, italian library… they master it all.
Moin – “Moot!” (alternative, experimental, noise rock, electronic // AD 93)
“The record was made as an experiment, to be enjoyed, not as spectacle.” Moin’s Moot! seems to be delivered as a sort of cut-and-paste, almost effortless work of noisy compositions. Yet, the effort of the trio is at the same time somehow instrinsically tangible in every aspect of the record. The serene and inspired environment in which the 8 songs must have come to life as a spontaneous succession of jams, loops and intricated yet always groovy rhythms is stained by sampled voices that once were buried, but find through Moot! a new means of communication with the present world.
Tomaga – “Intimate Immensity” (experimental, minimal, electronic // Hands in the dark)
If it makes any sense to put under the spotlight one specific artist to celebrate their contributions to music during 2021, our pick would certainly be the great italian drummer Valentina Magaletti. First of all, she is the swinging, motorik pulsating heart of both the previously praised Vanishing Twin and Moin, and then, she also worked with Tom Relleen in their experimental project Tomaga. Tom has tragically left this world in August 2020, but he has gifted us with the very last music he has worked on with Valentina through Intimate Immensity. And we are grateful. The record is a collection of “epiphanic moments”, ranging from delicate naiveness to intimate (as the title poignantly suggests) mourning. Listening to these compositions consists in wandering through soundcapes that span from moorlands and seas to boxes at the very centre of our inner self.
Space Afrika – “Honest Labour” (electronic, collage, ambient // Dais Records)
Sticking to the most intimate facet of 2021, Honest Labour by Space Afrika is one little gem that cannot be overlooked. The duo of producers from Manchester is back with a journey, more than a record. It is indeed with a penchant for immersive deep listening that we approached this work, and our soul has been rewarded. Somehow reminiscent in spirit of Burial’s magnum opus Untrue, Honest Labour takes us by hand through a psychological path where voices are overheard through windows, lights flash unto windshields at night, and rain falls into puddles like the string section of an orchestra coming from a distorted speaker.
Sons of Kemet – “Black to the Future” (jazz, afrobeat, spiritual // Impulse! Records)
It brings joy to the heart to see that Impulse! Records – “the house that Trane built” – is still proudly vehicolating through their releases “the new wave of music”, as famously stated on hypestickers and inner sleeves of most of their pivotal releases of the 70s. And, although it might sound a bit of a stretch, Black to the Future may be the ultimate testimony that we have found in Shabaka Hutchings some kind of saviour – of a great tradition in music, that is. As in other Sons releases, the modal and free ways to jazz merge with dub, latin, grimy grooves. But, this time, political issues, poetry and some kind of post-afrofuturism all reach their communicative peak.
bar italia – “bedhead” (alternative, collage // WORLD MUSIC)
A thick mist of uncertainty and secrecy surrounds bar italia. The only information we have is that the project is established in London and that it vehiculates its music through WORLD MUSIC. bedhead is a strange record, and we can’t get over the fact that it sounds fittingly contemporary, and yet evokes a bittersweet approach to guitar-oriented (?) music from the vaults of the british Creation indiescene. The essential information is that it consists in a collection of 13 sketches glued together by washed out, almost detuned guitars, acoustic drums and electronic beats, with a female and a male voice that make up a beautiful, dreamy sauce to be best tasted icecold. The confusion that this project brings about to our senses, which is probably due to the fact that we cannot actually locate it in a specific context, is a dizzingly good experience. Stephen Pastel would be proud.
Nala Sinephro – “Space 1.8” (experimental jazz // Warp)
Another candidate for our very own and seemingly pointless “artist of the year” is Nala Sinephro. The Belgian-Carribean harpist, multi-instrumentalist and producer is still in her twenties, and it is almost shocking to think of her physical age when we listen to this 8 piece composition – a ravishing meeting point between contemporary jazz and electronics. Nala’s geometrical sonic wanderings, meditative pace and will to study “the sound that moves matter” brings new life to Alice Coltrane’s musical and spiritual mindfullness. And it is fascinating to hear such timeless and wise music from such a young human being.
black midi – “Cavalcade” (noise, prog punk // Rough Trade)
Speaking about young people releasing music that has sparked a widespread interest through the indie world in the last couple of years, black midi certainly come to mind. After Schlagenheim – their shaking debut on indie colossum Rough Trade – the band has often been surrounded by a frenzy of enthusiastic press reviews, post-punk nostalgics, dedicated young fandom and well, some criticism too. What is remarkable is how black midi – now reduced to a power trio (with acoustic piano and a brass section for live performances) – have remained completely untouched by this environment, and manage to focus on creating always interesting, forward-thinking music. Cavalcade is a solid record, where song structures get a bit less noise rockish and a bit more kraut/prog rockish. But what is more here is how they fly from breathtaking heights of improvised jazzy contortion to mellow playgrounds, almost à la Scott Walker.
Natural Information Society with Evan Parker – “descension (Out of Our Constrictions)” (jazz, impro, psychedelia // Eremite Records)
One hour and fourteen minutes of organic improvisation where guimbiri, harmonium, drums, bass clarinet and soprano sax create circular figures of collective ecstasy. Recorded live at the Cafè OTO in London, this session enchants the listener not only for the musicianship and artistic bond which can be heard through the four sections, but also for the constant movement created by the rythmic patterns, that make it particularly hard to stand still through the listening experience. Very much reminding in a beautiful way Don Cherry’s Organic Music Society or John Coltrane Quintet’s sessions with Eric Dolphy as much as Amon Düül’s first acid trips, this record is food for heart and soul.
Black Country, New Road – For the First Time (alternative, post-punk) // Squadra Omega, Mai Mai Mai – OMEGA MAI (kosmische, experimental) // Al Doum and the Faryds – Freaky People (spiritual, tropicalia, psychedelic jazz-funk) // Tirzah – Colourgrade (alternative, electronic) // Jerusalem In My Heart – Qalaq (experimental, world, electroacustics) // Madlib, Four Tet – Sound Ancestors (instrumental, hip-hop, experimental) // Sleaford Mods – Spare Ribs (electropunk)