As promised in leading up to the recent Winter wrap-up, I’ve sifted through the outwardly random directory of assorted playlists to hone in on an additional ten albums that have won me over this past year. A collection of compilations curated by highly diversified musicians, independence-inclined labels, and music critics of audiophile stature, the pickings admittedly weren’t too difficult to narrow down. As with previous synopses of memorable records standing the test of time, no one single theme presides, though there is the usual plentiful helping in electronic variety. Worthy items for gift-giving and an antidote to the conventional ’08 roundups, I would definitely recommend the first eight as year-end tokens of celebration or well-rounded introductions into the rapidly diversifying repertoires of UK-based dubstep, minimal Elektro von Berlin, and Scandinavian chillout. The final two albums are of a more eclectic, classical composition for those who also enjoy the vintage acoustics of traditional instruments and styles rooting music revolution history, marked by the greats who inextricably impact the scene of modern electrified miscellany. As a bonus, listening to any of them provides quick priming on the various formulas underpinning the putting together of playlists, especially the sort able to withstand many hours of ear-time without growing dreadfully dull and monotonous… Because at virtually no additional cost, it’s much nicer to create your own compilations to give to friends for enjoyment throughout the next round of birthday and holiday seasons. Happy 2009!
1 Output Recordings I Hate Music (1998 – 2006)
Kicking off the list is one straight from the former home of LCD Soundsystem, Four Tet, Black Strobe and the Icarus duo. Sadly, British indie label and distributor Output Recordings went out of business back in 2006, after a decade of legendary releases by artists who have since made it to the electronic mainstream scene in a big (mostly positive) way. Founded by London-based renaissance man Trevor ‘The Underdog’ Jackson, he himself is as much a DJ and producer as he is a multimedia designer and all-round creative — the one also responsible for dance-clash project Playground. Such cross-platform mastery is without question apparent whilst listening to what can be deemed the ultimate Output memento, earmarking some of the best tracks compiled since 1996. Spread across two volumes, disc one kicks off calmly with Fridge (Adem Ilhan, Sam Jeffers, and Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden), gradually picking up tempo with 7 Hurtz, Sonovac, Colder, and soon adopting a nightclub bass mantra via Dead Combo en route to the more upbeat second instalment. Of course not every one of the thirty hits included is one for the all-time faves list. But for more than half of them (including Luke Abbott’s phenomenal ‘B,B,B,B,B,B,B,B,B,B’ and Manhead’s rather catchy nine-to-five anti-anthem) to rank pretty highly up there is a feat worth credit towards Jackson’s auditory aesthetics and his prodigious team of yore.
2 BPitch Control Camping Vol.3
Anyone familiar with the solo work of Ellen Allien, Apparat, or even their Orchestra of Bubbles collaborative production will know quite well that there’s much to be appreciated of Berlin’s minimal techno as generously magnified by that essential lens of Allien’s BPitch Control. The label, a creative playground for the likes of Modeselektor, Sascha Funke, Telefon Tel Aviv and Ben Klock, is one over which I’ve kept a close watch through the years in part due to my unfailing love for the emotive work of Sascha Ring as released on his own label Shitkatapult. The most recent of the BPitch Camping compilation series, Volume 3 provides a good nostalgic overview for those who dig the Berlin scene. Skipping over the first two tracks (trust me, time better spent on the rest), you land on an atmospheric number by Sylvie Marks & Hal9000 that sounds more like Pantha du Prince. Though from there onwards not exactly transitioning seamlessly as TimTim, Paul Kalkbrenner and Zander VT hit the speakers in rough progression, there are without a doubt several highlights that remind one of the London-based BPitch equivalent: Border Community. In fact, two tracks by BCom artist Fairmont are featured, and the dramatic glitch-syncopated beauty of ‘Red Planets’ will be enough to make you want to get your hands on a copy of Coloured in Memory as soon as you possibly can.
3 Mary-Anne Hobbs Evangeline
Looking back with a Last.fm stats glance-over to support my hypothesis, 2008 was undoubtedly the year of dubstep in my book. Ignited by Burial and Barry Lynn’s Boxcutter the year before, I could never have imagined that I would still find myself so deeply enthralled by this niche movement rooted in the South London underground. Along with the more daring examples of IDM, it certainly isn’t a branch of electronic miscellany that one ought dare to overlook, as some of today’s most exciting sounds seem to be undergoing some interminable form of miosis as the garage-inspired, DnB-driven inspiration refuses to cease. And who best to provide you with up-to-date feedback than the UK’S dubstep connoisseur, Mary-Anne Hobbs? Well-placed as both a dubstep DJ and music journalist presenting for BBC Radio 1, you can imagine Evangeline does a good job of gathering some incredible sounds all on one record. Indeed between iTAL tEK’s opener, Unitz’s grime, Ben Frost’s breathtaking ‘Theory of Machines’ and Dakimh’s only single apparently available to date (leaving an urgency for more, no less), you’d think that Hobbs’ propensity to aptly gauge the greats of the genre couldn’t possibly get any better. Then Lynn’s ‘Kab 27’ comes on mirroring Architeq’s Birds of Prey… And you find yourself thankful that Burial isn’t there as well, otherwise it would just be too damn good.
4 Skream Skream! Watch the Ride
Continuing on with the dubstep theme, we now dig deeper via the genius of Skream, known to some as Mr. Keaz and one of the earliest, most prominent and prodigious talents in his field of expertise. Hailing from Croydon, he began producing at the ripe age of fifteen; and today, six years later, he’s since released an eponymous album and nearly ten EPs that have seen him collaborate with neighbouring garage legend Benga. Meanwhile, he’s worked on two mixes — Watch the Ride being his second and most recent, lending a pulse-measuring finger as deft as Hobbs’ on her Evangeline turnout. Admittedly darker, it showcases both Skream and Benga’s talent just as well as sixteen other names from a list of highly recommended acts on the underground circuit. Opening with Skream on the ‘Tribal Intro’, the same smooth carry of rhythm continues on throughout the entire album, with drops of bass becoming increasingly complex, fragemented and engaging. This level of re-invented consistency lends the album well for party-and-lounge airtime without that awkward crossfading so common with other compilations. Hit n Run, Seven and Rufige Kru feature with brilliant tracks insterspersed between many tracks not featured on previous Skream and Benga albums. And for the ultimate climax, Late’s ‘Saw, Sine, Square’ is a track worthy of repetition on its very own.
5 Skull Disco Soundboy Punishments
Impressed by Sam Shackleton’s ‘In the Void’ after having been introduced via Evangeline, I sought out this Skull Disco crew collaboration between him and the equally impressive Appleblim and Gatekeeper. The first thing that’s apparent about Soundboy Punishments is the unmissable influence of world music accentuation, primarily that of the traditional goblet drum, riq and mejwiz instruments. Dubstep with such uniquely eclectic flair, Laurie Osborne and W. Scott Cree make a fantastic addition to what is arguably one of the most hypnotic compilations on this list. Though not as author-diverse as any of the previous offerings, the surprising flexibility of the framework within which Skull Disco construct their nineteen tracks makes for beautiful effect, not least through Ricardo Villalobos’ nearly twenty-minute remix of ‘Blood on My Hands’, atmospheric and reminding of Cold Cut’s iconic ‘Mr. Nichols’. But I still like the original best, with an Arabic maqam melodic mode wholeheartedly embraced by triplet syncopation and kickdrum (only instead, it’s a dumbek dropping on the first and third) in quintessential 2-step style. The world trek continues farther with ‘Naked’ and ‘New Dawn’ taking on a more West African feel, whilst ‘Stalker’ and ‘Gold and Silver’ revert back to a more mainstream sound, commonplace on the Sunday night Plastic People dance-floor.
6 Ripperton & SamK Family Tree
Now back on to minimal, I had recommended this album to a friend of mine, too long ago to remember when. But what I do recall is that the feedback was as positive as my own, and indeed the Family Tree collection (the Perspectiv family, that is) is one worth the while. Though aurally less of a maverick presentation than that produced by the Berlin magnates, the Swiss label does provide a cleaner, more consistent output that sits well as background music whilst doing other things and enjoying the listening all at once. Needless to say it’s good in a non-distracting way, and yet it maintains its interest-factor as a result of its high integrity. Released back in January this year, Raphaël Ripperton and Sam K have done very well to anthologize some of Perspectiv’s finest. Having said this, Mark August immediately comes to mind, because his track ‘Bende’ (which is unavailable elsewhere) is the ultimate highlight. Phenomenal, even. And with it being the third track, you would think that the remainder of record would sorely disappoint. But quite the contrary: Agnes’ ‘New Beat Corp’ carries it on nicely, taking the movement of sound in an entirely different direction, eventually leading to a more stripped-back Laurine Frost, a bass-heavy ‘Caballeros’ and a beautifully disjointed piece by Masaya. Anyone who likes Stephan Bodzin or Marc Romboy will truly appreciate this rare and refined collection of minimalized tech-house with soothingly versatile ambiance.
7 Nordic Lounge Vol.1-3 + Winter/Weekend Series
The name says it all, really: Nordic lounge, and then some. Scandinavia has been the birthplace for many chillout wonders over the years; and with its deep jazz traditions juxtaposed by a hot bitbop scene, it’s understandable why future jazz and deep house would flourish in such relaxing downtempo format. Although some may argue that my taste is severely biased with respect to any of the region’s artistic accolades (yes, I confess I am a true Scandiphile at heart), I beg to differ with those who question this portion of the review. In fact, I used to often associate conventional chillout structures with Muzak and other nauseating counterparts to elevator music ironically dubbed as ‘Easy Listening’. But in all earnestness, I reconsidered this connotation when I first began listening to Plej, the chillout duo from Göteborg. And since then, I’ve been captivated by Christoffer Berg’s Hird, Cloud’s remixing of Plej and Dalminjo, Yukimi Nagano’s haunting vocals, and Xploding Plastix’s incredible take on nu-jazz on Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents. With the Nordic Lounge‘s five volumes released since 2003, each set continues the same feel-good-ness element throughout, with gems like ‘Evum’, Susumu Yokota’s ‘King Of Darkness’ and Bugge Wesseltoft’s ‘Lone’ (cf. ‘new conception of jazz’) scattered about evenly. So do sit back, relax and enjoy…
8 Talvin Singh Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Undergroundz
If Nordic lounge isn’t chilled-out enough for you, this one is bound to tick all the boxes. Talvin Singh — tabla player and a leader of the Asian Underground scene having notably paved the way to the fusion of classical Indian music and jungle — has done quite a job with this Anokha compilation of traditional Indian instrumentation and vocals deepened by digital dimension. At once danceable and meditative, Singh and featured guests such as State of Bengal and Amar manage to capture the essence of the third Veda and implement ragas in a manner both technologically modern and culturally astute. In between spiritual, orchestral numbers like ‘Chittagong Chill’ and ‘Heavy Intro’, there are ones rather daring in reinvented classicism, with more heady drum n bass influence on Fridel Lelonek’s ‘Kizmet’ and post-bebop jazz in Equal 1’s ‘Equation’. The aspects most enjoyable apart from this unlikely mix of various genres is the sound of the stringed tambura marrying the gāyaki singing tradition in a well-balanced midst of synthesized ambient and percussion. Musician and film composer AR Rahman (recently producing work on the Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Slumdog Millionaire soundtracks) also features with the album’s longest track, an upbeat ‘Mumbai Theme Tune’ that truly epitomizes the seamlessness between Singh’s ethic of old gladly harmonizing with new.
9 Édition Pierre Verger Oriental Moods: From Marrakech to Cairo
More on ethno-classicism with correspondence to the inspiration behind Soundboy Punishments, photographer and ethnographer Pierre Verger has again compiled a truly enlightened, themed collection of music focused on the historic traditions of the Middle East and North Africa. Though Oriental Moods is a name that might suggest something you might find on special offer in the Reader’s Digest (I unfortunately own a 1991 copy of Stardust Moods), the emphasis ought to be placed on the cities referred to in the latter half of the title instead. One of my favourite albums and certainly a reason to listen to a few more of ‘Fátúmbí’s editions (Verger is also a Yoruba priest), this is one of the most authentic examples of music from this region that I have encountered thus far. Opening with Hussein El Masry’s ‘Leiltal’, the Egyptian sha’abi style smoothly transitions into taqsim (solo improvisation on the oud), followed by Temo’s poignant Kurdish rendition of ‘Kuliken Ezeb’ and Habib Guerroumi’s spirited ‘Inqilabat’. ‘Kelaa Des M’Gouna’ is the name of a town in the Dades Valley of Morocco, and is also the inspiration behind the Berber folk music track of the same name. Next in line is Hassan Kassaï and Behesti with a purely instrumental piece showcasing the massive range of the simply-constructed bamboo ney alongside the mystifying resonance of the tabla.
10 Verve Records Jazz Divas Gold
Finally — and perhaps inevitably — some beloved jazz and one of the finest jazz compilations available on the market today. For those who revel in enjoying the voices of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday as epitomizing the groundbreaking sounds of unforgettable mid-Twentieth Century song-writing and composition, you’ll find that Verve Records has selected and remastered this two-disc collection of thirty-five tracks in a fashion that will leave you longing to have been able to listen to Dinah Washington and Etta James live. So crisp is the sound, it will instill within you a sense of nostalgia as though you had actually been there, alive in that golden era of jazz legends with emotive performances and genuine, unsynthesized talent. Not only does it include classics such as McRae’s ‘My Funny Valentine’, Vaughan’s ‘Lullaby Of Birdland’ and Carter’s ‘My Favorite Things’, it also features the bossa nova of Astrud Gilberto and George Gershwin’s ‘I Loves You Porgy’ as sung by Nina Simone. To be honest, such an all-star line-up couldn’t possibly get any better as far as female jazz vocalists go. And as with the Édith Piaf album I had mentioned in the recent list of recommended wintertime albums (and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, mentioned in one of the earlier summer line-ups), this is one for relaxing, happy listening plus the Bordeaux rouge (the older, the better).
– Sarah Badr
© 2008. S.H.Badr, All Rights Reserved.