Hello you. Time for one last look over our collective shoulder as we stand on the threshold of another trip round the sun. I’ve prepared my now-traditional Best Of Year Mixtape and it’s my longest one yet, edging towards five hours and packed to the rafters with as much awesome music from 2020 as I could possibly cram in. Of course it arrives with the usual caveat that I could have almost certainly created a couple more mixtapes of equal length from tracks that didn’t make it – really I should start just marketing these things as ‘Best Stuff I Actually Managed To Get My Hands On This Year’. Still, it’s been online for a few days now, apparently long enough for it to nab the coveted 7th place in the Global Experimental Chart (I’m guessing Covid-restrictions will mean the cancellation of any kind of Awards Dinner); though I must confess I’ve been a little slack in posting it here because embedding Mixcloud onto WordPress never ceases to be a kerfuffle. I always end up with a vast expanse of white empty space directly below the link, which no amount of clever coding can seem to get rid of…
…See what I mean? Thoroughly tiresome. Although perhaps imbibing this mixtape over the course of several hours while staring into a white void will create an agreeable way of passing the time during Lockdown 4 or whatever the hell we’re up to now. The tracklisting should be readily accessible to all on the Mixcloud page itself, but as I’ve had a number of queries about this already, I can only assume the site is playing silly-buggers with that as well – if in doubt get in touch and I’ll point you in the right direction. Minor layout issues aside, you certainly can’t fault the musical content, a whopping 63 tracks which includes shimmering ambience, agit-electro, pounding techno, super wyrd folk and a suitably apocalyptic howl of anguish from my favourite new musical discovery of the year, Kenyan Grindcore duo Duma.
In a year so full of tension, the cathartic blastbeat rush of their self titled debut on Nyege Nyege Tapes felt like a revelation. All the stranger then that it shares the runner-up spot in my 2020 top three with practically its polar opposite: Puzzlewood was the long (very long!) awaited second album from Plone on Ghostbox, arriving right at the start of lockdown like a pastel-shaded rainbow illuminating a rapidly darkening world – and providing the perfect soundtrack for a government-endorsed sunshine break during a Spring suddenly rendered eerily bucolic. Two sharply contrasting albums from very different corners of the world – but I couldn’t possibly choose between them!
2020 was indeed a fantastic year for music, quite possibly because for much of it there wasn’t much else anyone could do but sit in the studio and muck around (and as an aside I must briefly salute the powers behind the #BandcampFridays, which have surely done more to support struggling independent artists during the pandemic than your average Record Store Day or corporate streaming platform). But curiously the album that encapsulated this cursed year for me above and beyond any other had already emerged kicking and screaming into the world back in February, a full month ahead of lockdown when it seemed the only things we needed to worry about here in the UK was the ruinous fallout from Brexit, the onset of catastrophic climate change and an increasingly unhinged right-wing government. Gosh, it seems a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?
Rakka by Vladislav Delay felt almost precision-engineered for 2020, its relentless, pummelling drums, howling synths and blasts of visceral noise the perfect soundtrack to fear, confusion and exhaustion, mixed with ever-increasing rage at the ineptitude of various governments. I’ve never believed the old adage that the darkest times produce the sweetest tunes and for this reason and more I’ll wager this equally thrilling and terrifying album has plenty of mileage in it yet. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? YES!
Must also put in a word for the top three albums that I feel were rather slept on this year: another blast of ferocious electro in the shape of Fruit Body by Franziska Lantz, the sublime wok-tone-drone experiments of Agitations: Post Electronic Sounds by Oscillatorial Binnage on Sub Rosa and Inwards Opened The Floor, a thick stew of freaky magnificence from ‘British-Israeli Krautfolk Collective’ Staraya Derevyna. Three very different records, yet each somehow perfectly encapsulated by their respective choices of artwork:
Let’s hope 2021 brings us just as much extraordinary music in slightly more ordinary circumstances. As for myself, I have a couple of irons in the fire, including the newly-mastered next album from Howlround and hopefully an EP or two along the way. And I’m also very excited to announce the imminent arrival of another little project started during lockdown, the debut LP by The New Obsolescents on Castles In Space, featuring two of my closest cosmic kin, Strictly Kev aka DJ Food and Oscillatorial Binnage backbone and longtime Howlround ally Chris Weaver. Based on a long-form, improvised performance a few years back in the shadow of the 2012 Olympic Torch at the Museum of London (were you there?), 2020 finally gave us some free time to dust off the tapes and knock them about a bit.
One of the newly reworked tracks surfaced last year on Castles In Space’s remarkable Isolation Tapes compilation that has rightly just been awarded Electronic Sound’s Compilation of the Year, but everything else is brand new and exclusive. A feast for the ears – and for the eyes too, thanks to Kev’s meticulous work sourcing and assembling the sleeves. Can’t wait to share this one with the world!
Fog Cast also returns to the Resonance 104.4FM airwaves Wednesday 13th January at 23:00GMT, with a special episode dedicated to a clutch of releases from the Linear Obsessional label. I’m always on the lookout for new music/soundscapes/weirdness to feature on the show, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with isolationist/deep listening recommendations to warm the ears of our lockdown listeners! All previous shows can be found on my Mixcloud page.
Other than that, wishing you all a very happy and healthy 2021. Unless of course you’re Boris Johnson, in which case I hope you get pulled apart by horses…