A big thanks to Brad Rose for giving me the platform to share 21 of my favourite records from 2021. It’s been a long while since I wrote for Foxy D and it’s lovely to be back. You may remember me from many reports and reviews covering experimental music and live shows from London. Some of you may also know me from my own output as MAbH. Over the last decade I have been frantically collecting and making music. The last few turbulent years haven’t put a stop to that.
What can I say about 2021 that hasn’t already been said? To sum it up it’s been a bit of a dog shit filled kebab. However, aside from a lingering and life-changing pandemic, a national mental health crisis and global political upheaval, the musical output from around the world has been uncommonly good. Every week I have been torn between what to buy, as so many fantastic records dropped throughout the year. I have been left broke and with a shelf struggling to hold all the weighty wax.
Here’s a mighty playlist for you all, containing works from 21 of my favourite records to land this year.In another year of heavy streaming I urge you to support the music you love. I own aloof these records and have added links should you wish to support any artists listed. Thank you.
“Magic Mountain” by Ora Clementi from Sylva Sylvarum
I picked up a number of secondhand bargains this year, mainly in order to complete my collection of Black Truffle records (and music from associated artists). I managed to score Ora Clementi’s 2014 debut Cover You Will Softer Me via Discogs and was swept away by its minimal and subtle beauty. The pairing of Crys Cole and James Rushford was a revelation and I couldn’t believe that I had missed this. Within a month a brand new double LP dropped from the duo, packaged in one of the best record covers of the year, and on glorious mint green vinyl to boot! There is a lot more substance to this record than its predecessor, yet they lost none of their subtle power. The record feels like a lost Deux Filles album, but carves its own unique shape; along with loving nods to Cosey Fanni Tutti and Coil. There’s a definite white magic to this LP. I just can’t stop listening to it. It’s one of those records you can’t help but recommend, yet struggle to describe. It’s a pretty perfect piece of wax.
“Luxus 1-3” by Ryoji Ikeda from EP
This is the first of two tracks from two artists that manage to create a sense of light with sound. Ikeda’s EP landed on the Sähkö label and was a big surprise. It captures two tracks from 1993 and 1997, both of which haven’t been on vinyl before. Cut at 45rpm it sounds rich and dynamic. Both tracks are very different, one feeling like several rays of natural light picking up dust particles in the air; the other, a laser focussed in a blast of almost brutal tones. I picked the A side track “Luxus 1-3” as it shines. It’s a vivid prism of intertwining sounds that evokes an ascension to some kind of nirvana. It’s truly beautiful and a little breathtaking.
“Let” by Pan Daijing from Jade
Daijing really hits her stride on Jade. I find her work so raw and impossible to imitate. It’s this that draws me in and makes it so utterly compelling. Daijing uses a vast array of sounds, all which live in the realms of dissonance and decay: yet they are most certainly alive, even when she sounds like she’s digging herself out of a shallow grave. This record is the soundtrack to a nightmare, but one I’m not willingly waking from. It’s a touch of evil that is incredibly alluring. Along with Ronce, Perila and Puce Mary, Daijing manages to create the most moving, erotically-charged and skin-crawling sounds. Pressed on pure white vinyl and housed in a spot-glossed sleeve with blurred portraits and nudes of the artist – it is a gorgeous package. It’s what you’d expect from Pan Records, who produce some of the highest quality vinyl out there (Kudos to Bill and his team).
“Niles Baroque/ Voyria” by Lucrecia Dalt & Aaron Dilloway from Lucy & Aaron
Another surprise collaboration and this time on the ever-awesome Hanson Records. Dilloway’s frightening tape/vox loops are mixed with Dalt’s soft and wide ranging vocal prowess. It’s never a pop record, but it combines elements of pop with noise and gunge-covered splats in a wonderful way. This is also a contender for record cover of the year. Peter Schoolwerth’s illustrations of the duo are composed of what appears to be incredibly gaudy MDF cutouts, yet with a 1950s portrait pose to the central figures. It’s surreal, odd and beautiful – just like the music. Hard to pick a track from this one as I just want to play a whole side as it all feels like one jumbled collage. It’s a gloriously inventive record that works so well and you can see why it sold out immediately. Second pressing came with alternative sleeves which look great but I’m chuffed I scored the first pressing. This is a record that never gets boring and you are guaranteed to find something new with every listen.
“Flutter” by Bendik Giske from Cracks
Giske really has become one of my new favourite discoveries this year. As a saxophonist his playing is so unique and utterly spellbinding. The record opens with “Flutter” which transports you through fluttering swells and dips that delight with each looping breath. There is a delicacy that sits in almost stark contrast to the bold, strong wiry frame of Giske, as he appears like a model from the future; part Rutger Hauer, part Iggy. Cracks perfectly sums up the record, as the very air around you seems to go brittle and fracture under the pressure of every exhalation. The pulsating, undulating backbone of the record brings to mind that feeling of meditative rapture you get with gamelan music. The use of reeds and vocals bolsters things with a sense of strain, longing and sadness; yet it’s an uplifting record. It does take over everything and is certainly not background music. A notable mention should go out to Giske’s collaboration with Pavel Milyakov, which should really be listened to alongside Cracks.
“An Absolute Pleasure” by Ignatz & De Stervende Honden from Saturday’s Den
This record sets the perfect laid-back tone for wrapping up ‘21. I’ve always been a fan of Miles Devens’ work, and have many a cassette, LP and CDr from his various projects. However, it’s been a long time since I’ve grabbed a record by the man, and this recent collaboration with rhythm section De Stervende Honden is an absolute belter. In recent years Devens’ Ignatz project has placed his voice forward a little more and lost some of the heavy scuzz of his early recordings. This follows through here with cleaner production, but none of the soulful alien blues has been lost. There is the addition of strong rhythms and grooves throughout that make for an utterly awesome trip. This has steadily become one of my most listened to records of the year. One to enjoy a beer or five. I’m really annoyed I didn’t discover this group until this year as all their previous records are impossible to get hold of – damn.
“My Evilness” by Dope Purple from Grateful End
Switching gear with this one. A new band for me and one I immediately fell in love with. When you read them described as the Chinese answer to Acid Mothers Temple meets Les Rallizes Denudes, you can sign me the fuck up – no questions. Dope Purple is exactly that. The awesome Riot Season pressed up just 300 of these onto translucent yellow vinyl. They went super fast and it looks and sounds incredible. You might still be able to pick up the purple repress from the bandcamp page. I have been waiting for a record like this for some time, and it makes me crave seeing live music. I’ve missed seeing AMT so much and would jump at the chance to see Dope Purple if they come to the UK. It’s loud, feedback-coated, fuzzed-up goodness. The songs are a little more structured than AMT and recorded in high fidelity when compared to LRD. What really makes me think of LRD is the awesome basslines. They keep everything ticking along while the lead guitar shreds and the vocals scream into towering shards of brittle metal. I wish this was a double LP and the songs were 20 minute extended jams. Then again it’s just perfect as it is. I just need to scratch that live music itch real bad.
“Some Tennessee Jar” by Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt from Made Out of Sound
Two of the greatest players unite for one of the best records ever made, let alone of the year. This made my AOTY list before I’d heard the whole thing. The first track they released just blew me away, and after another went live on Bandcamp I was hooked. They managed the impossible; to capture the energy and intensity of live improvisation and have it sound just as good on record. Other notable records that do this are Flower-Corsano Duo’s tour CDr You’ll Never Work in the Town Again and Sonny & Linda Sharrock’s Black Woman LP. Corsano & Orcutt sound like someone gave the Vitruvian Man a guitar and drum kit. It’s the melding of minds in perfect unison that makes this such a great record. There is almost no tangible mise-en-scène, yet the miniature moments of calm allow for an almost relentless ascension into chaotic, yet masterful wonder. As with Dope Purple, I need to see this performed live. Released on Palilalia with gorgeous black and white photos of the duo. This record is untouchable.
“Transmutation” by Daniel Bachman from Axacan
Wow this record is intense. It was such a surprise. I initially expected intricate guitar playing in an ode to the Takoma school, but I couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, Bachman is an incredibly accomplished guitarist and you will find beautiful moments of acoustic guitar throughout – but it has so much more scope. It reminds me of the work Jon Collins has been making recently, yet with more polished compositions. (That’s not a dig at JC – I love the production and raw tone to his work). There is so much space on this record that it can only be described as epic, playing out like a Dunescape with homespun Americana at its roots. This was released as part of the 20th anniversary of Three Lobed Recordings, which is one of the finest labels in the US. Other notable releases from the label this year come from Sunburned Hand of the Man, Body/Dilloway/Head and Six Organs of Admittance – not to mention one of my AOTY 2020 from Gunn-Trucinski Duo. Axacan actually shares some of the scope and range of the Gunn-Trucinski Duo record. I picked the closing track as it captures some of the ambient world-building as well as his incredibly moving guitar playing. It sounds as if whales are swimming through the dust to greet you at your front porch under a starlit sky. Awesome.
“Murmureln” by Beatriz Ferreyra / Natasha Barrett from Souvenirs cachés / Innermost
This record arrived earlier this year on an incredible new label, Persistence of Sound. They have only put out five records, but all of them are cracking. I’d like to pay a quick homage to Ian Rawes (The London Sound Survey) who tragically died this October. His record Thames is a fantastic part of the PoS family. Back to my pick – Souvenirs cachés / Innermost sees musiquè concrete pioneers Beatriz Ferreyra and Natasha Barrett go back to back – each with a side of wax to showcase their glorious compositions. Ferreyra is in wildly entertaining form, delivering a couple of exquisite soundscapes. She manages to say so much through a bizarre cacophony of sounds. It’s playful, thoughtful and inspiring stuff. Barrett’s side is slightly darker and more abrasive. The sounds jump around your skull fighting for space, leaving you both dizzy and exhilarated. These two sides are some of my favourite avant-garde compositions of recent times.
“Bois Vert” by Ronce from Aquatics
Limited to a criminally short run of only 100 copies, I used the last of my PayPal funds to buy this before it disappeared in a flash. Why Dawn Records? This is gold – surely we need it in more collections? I thought the Pan Daijing record was frightening but this is on another level. One of the greatest noise records I’ve ever heard. It’s not pure noise in the Merzbow style, but shifts in short, intricate tracks that take you on the most bewilderingly heady journeys. Sampling sloppy blow-jobs, screams, fuzz, scratches and glass-like tones, she manages to build a world as frightening and awesome as anything you would find on a Dave Philips or John Duncan record. I’ve seen it described as a “difficult listen”, which I’m sure it will be for a lot of people – yet I find it utterly spellbinding and engaging. It’s a nasty trip at times, but at its heart there is a dark beauty. However, a word of warning, as at times it gets deeply emotional and really captures the rape-culture of internet pornography and the ill-treatment of women in a horrifically raw way. There are also moments of triumphant composition which will resonate long after you listen.
“Cortisol” by Rob Lye from Un
My first and only tape from this year. Sorry cassettes – I’ve just neglected you this year as I’ve had no money left over from all the vinyl. I really need to switch this up next year, especially as we’re moving house and shifting vinyl is a total dickflap. I digress… Just look at this thing. It’s stunning. Minimal holographic artwork encases a white tape that is full of mystery capturing shards of sound from the outer reaches of the solar system. Released on Lye’s very own Stairwell Editions label, Un follows on from last year’s Soft Subject. I had been a fan of Rob’s music for some time, having originally written about his collaborative projects for Foxy D back in the day. Chora, Faux Amis and Le Drapeau Noir put out incredible records, all of which I wrote about at length. Lye’s solo work is a different beast entirely. Alone he is more contemplative, forging stunningly intimate works that move from bedroom guitar to fractured electronics that scour the outer-reaches to create a massive sound. This minimal/maximal approach is never jarring as all is balanced and controlled in such a way that you can’t escape its haunting and moving sound. This record hits you like the first time you hear Fennesz – just pure wonder.
“Calty” by Shuttle358 from Frame
Finally Frame on vinyl. I discovered this record a few years ago having missed its initial release back in 2000. Which is a shame as I would have loved this as a 17 year old. I was deeply into Warp records at the time, collecting everything they put out over the next couple of years, revelling in Autechre, Plaid, Squarepusher, Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin. Since finding this record I have listened to the standout track ‘Calty’ at least 100 times. It’s just perfect. The record is a minimal glitch record, with the warmest fucking pads you’ve ever heard. Listening to this no other record that spawned in this genre even comes close. It really is a standard setter. Each track feels like it was mastered and distilled with great care and attention. It doesn’t ever feel laboured, but organic and rich, yet you can hear the brushstrokes of a master. The production is incredible and often brings to mind Lustmord and Loscil. 21 years old yet still fresh and clean. This is up there with the best of Warp and seems odd that it wasn’t on that roster all those years ago, which is a shame as I could have had another twenty years to enjoy this. Here’s to the next two decades.
“The Accident” by Eli Keszler from Icons
If you’ve ever seen Keszler perform live you know that you’re in for a treat when he drops a new LP. Not only is he a phenomenally gifted drummer, but he can also compose an incredible piece of music. This record utterly floored me. He managed to bottle the same magic as the first Tortoise and DJ Shadow LPs. Yes this did make me feel like the first time I heard Endtroducing back in ‘96 – it’s that fucking special. It’s definitely its own beast, yet bears comparison to so many things as he manages to take the best of multiple styles and forge them to his will. Nods to Oneohtrix Point Never, Squarepusher, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Bjork and many more spring to mind. It’s like he’s devoured some of my favourites and regurgitated them with his own genius. It’s a remarkable record and one I hope ends up on many AOTY lists as I feel it came and went without much fanfare upon release. Don’t be fooled by the many tranquil moments on this record – it’s a fiercely creative work of percussive mastery and mystery. Pressed on clear vinyl and encased in lusty red – this really is a rare gem.
“S-bahn” by Ø from Oleva
This is my most anticipated reissue of recent years and has been on my radar for a good while. The second record from Sähkö on this list, and one, this time, from the master Mika Vainio (rest in power). I picked the track “S-bahn” as it’s my most played Ø track, and is an incredible piece of minimal electronic beat-driven music. It sounds like the best of Alva Noto, with the forceful power that is unique to Vainio. I’m so happy that Sähkö decided to repress this classic from 2008. 13 years old and is as fresh and flooring as anything else you’ll hear this year, drifting between stark beats, warm pads, to discord drones and decayed vinyl. If there was to be one record I could play through a giant PA it would be this one (and definitely the last one on this list). I’d love to hear it pulsing through my body in the depths of Fabric.
“The Walk” by Giovanni Di Domenico & Joe Talia from Treatments
I got very excited by this record when I first saw it go on pre-order. Not only is the cover timeless and an instant classic – it was the wonderful Giovanni Di Domenico accompanied by four of my favourite artists. Treatments sees Di Domenico’s piano join forces with Eiko Ishibashi, Jim O’Rourke, Joe Talia and Tatsuhisa Yamamoto. I mean I would have bought it for the Talia rendition alone – the guy is incredible. Each artist has a side of wax to work with as they play, mix and engage with Di Domenico’s wonderfully intricate compositions. All take a very different approach, yet the whole thing feels unified and wholly one. The highlight for me is Joe Talia on “Manyfold.” I love his drumming and he seems to match Di Domenico perfectly with minute details, sidewinding motifs and intricate patterns. Tatsuhisa Yamamoto released two of my favourite records last year so it was a joy to hear him play here, as he creates something sparse and haunting to close the record. Pressed on double clear vinyl, this is an exquisite package, both inside and out.
“Staging Silence – part 3” by Robin Rimbaud from Staging Silence (Hans Op de Beeck Original Film Soundtracks)
This LP took me by surprise and was an unexpected treat from Sub Rosa, who have put out so many great records this year. One of my favourite memories of this record is listening to it with my daughter while we were painting together. It was the perfect soundtrack to a wonderful afternoon, so much so that we played it three times in a row. The music was created to accompany films by Hans Op de Beeck, which I would love to see. My experience with the record is deeply personal and I would like to see how it works in the context for which it was written. Regardless, this is a fantastic trip. Minimal electronics, drone, synths and piano intertwine and unravel to produce four beautiful pieces that are both moving and life-affirming. This is presented on a double LP, each side containing one movement. It’s a pretty perfect listen, at times bringing to mind Eno & Budd and even Holger Czukay’s collaborations with David Sylvian. The melodies really stick with you, and when they burst from the haze of drones and warmth of synths you can’t help but smile.
“Variable Speeds” by Growing from Diptych
Growing could have rechristened themselves ‘Glowing’ with this latest record. It shimmers like the liquid light of heathaze. I was incredibly excited to see that Growing was back after a long hiatus, with 2017’s Disorder (a brooding darker take on longform drone) filling the space. Diptych is a fantastic antidote to the grim rumblings of its predecessor. As masters of drone it’s strange to see the guys leave the powerhouse of Kranky for a number of imprints and then onto the masters of underground rock and drone – Important Records; followed by another switch to an even smaller label: Silver Current. This hasn’t affected their sound, and it’s given us one of the most beautiful physical slices of wax to boot. Pressed onto orange and brown marble it spins like the sun on the turntable. The artwork has a lo-fi piece of watercolour art that is gorgeously presented on thick card stock. This record sees the pair returning to some colour pallets they employed beautifully on 2004’s The Soul of the Rainbow… but steers away from the post-rock tinges that enveloped their Kranky works. For me this is a good call, and leaves me glistening with glee as I slip into the evolving sounds. The opening side-long “Variable Speeds” has been one of my most channeled listens this year. Growing are one of those acts I will always drift towards and for good reason.
“Introduction” by Keiji Haino, Jim O’Rourke & Oren Ambarchi from Each side has a depth of 5 seconds A polka dot pattern in horizontal array A flickering that moves vertically
Every new Haino/O’Rourke/Ambarchi record is a cause for celebration in this house. And it’s with tired fingers I type another ludicrously long record title! This performance is dedicated to the incredible Hideo Ikeezumi, founder of the peerless PSF label, who died on the day this record was performed. There is something particularly ethereal about this album, and it is a long way from the avant-rock of many of the trio’s records. It is a beautiful and frightening mesh of electronic music that reminds me of Haino’s work with Pan Sonic. This record would actually fit pretty well on the Sähkö label. However it’s out on my favourite home for new and innovative music – Black Truffle. It’s packaged in a lovely gloss gatefold with the always wonderful art and design from Lasse Marhaug. On a side note I love a gatefold for single vinyl – never for a double. Just give me a chunkier sleeve and pop those bad-boys in. God I can never close a double gatefold properly! I digress (again)… I picked the A side, ‘Introduction’ for this mix to add a shift in mood. However, some of the moments where Haino plays the suona on the flipside are face-meltingly good. Overall this is one of my favourites from these three and a record I need to visit a lot more. There is a feeling of the moods created on Sunn O)))’s White 2 record, and you can see how all these artists have influenced each other over the years.
“Big Ship” by Vapour Theories from Celestial Scuzz
I’m a huge Bardo Pond fan and an even bigger brothers Gibbons fanboy. I have so many records by these boys and I never tire of their incredible sound. This record came out soon after my birthday and it’s been a regular spin since February. Pressed on gorgeous gold vinyl it looks and sounds like a dream. If I was to make any other type of music it would be what these guys are doing. Heavy, psychedelic rock full of heart and sky-gazing. For such a balls-to-the-wall heavy fuzzy track, “Big Ship” is deeply emotional and full of hope and sadness. I don’t know how they do it but they truly transcend through their sound. One day I will own everything they’ve both put out. I’m so grateful to Fire Records for releasing so many awesome reissues and side projects from the Bardo crew. Also kudos to Three Lobed for releasing Bardo Pond in the past. Drift away on this big ship of sound; it’ll take you to some far-out places.
Track twenty one
“War” by The Bug from Fire
Oh my. A new Bug record. And this one picks up where London Zoo left off. I just wish it had a more hopeful story to tell. But alas, this is 2021 a year of pandemic, extreme politics and the death of logic. Fuck me it’s grim. But there is a bit of light and it comes via Kevin Martin and guests on Fire. Bass and beats are big, hard and fierce AF. The guests… they’re not really guests but crucial band members giving voice to Martin’s monolithic production. Many of my favourites appear on this record, namely Flowdan and Roger Robinson. I’m also turned on to new artists with huge love to Nazamba, Irah,Logan_olm and Manga Saint Hilare. I mean everyone is on point tbf. These are Martin’s best beats and the record is relentless. It’s an electrifying listen and gets reet under your skin. This is definitely going to be on many an AOTY year, and for good reason. It can be a hard listen as it really hammers home the mess things are in, then all of a sudden Daddy Freddy steps up and drops one of the best tracks of the year that you can’t help but bounce to. Pressed on Yellow/Red vinyl and encased in flame. Fire!