It seems to happen every year, as soon as I press ‘publish’ on my Essential Album list up pops another couple of records that I wish I’d included. This year, or rather last year as I’m writing this February 2020, I decided to keep track of the ones that I felt had got away. I’ve now got ten on that list so it’s time to share those with you as a kind of supplement to the 2019 list.

Psychedelic Backfire I and II by Elephant9 (Rune Grammofon)

I’m not really sure how I’ve managed to avoid Elephant9 over the years. A psychedelic free jazz trio, they are a pretty amazing proposition who seem to take just the right sort of elements of their musical influences: jazz, prog, and a hot sixties psychedelia that sears/ seers through their sound. Add in a dedication to avant grade ideas, and you have a pretty heady combination… which is what you get with the first of these two albums, both of which were recorded live.

If that were not good enough the second volume of this set sees the band joined by Träd Gräs Och Stenar/ Träden/ Dungen guitarist Reine Fiske who doesn’t so much add a new dimension as new layer to the trio’s sound, enabling them to plumb greater depths to their sound… a stunning version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘You Are The Sunshine of My Life’ being a case in point.

The Rabbit That Hunts Tigers by Yin Yin (Les Disques Bongo Joe)

I came across this band because they are playing the PZYK 2020 festival in Liverpool this year. They are a quartet from Maastricht in the Netherlands, although listening to they music you would rather place them somewhere in South East Asia.

Describing themselves as a dance band “made of groovy tunes and dance killers, this album could be the crazy soundtrack of a 60s hippie village on the South China Sea”, they really know how to get their groove on… and I will hopefully be doing the same come Liverpool in May.

Out Here On The Fringes by (John Times Two) (Pets Care Records)

Now although I’m an old punk, there’s nothing in particular about the current punk scene that I enjoy… I tend to agree with what Jello Biafra said in a spoken word I once attended… berating a load of ‘plastic punks’ in the audience… “it ain’t 1977 anymore”. That’s perhaps why this album from John (Times Two) hit me so hard when I heard it.

Basically a duo from Crystal Palace both called John, these two really know how to hammer out a song with visceral anger and realism… their stripped back approach really getting to the heart of the matter. By subtly adopting tropes from such as black metal and hip hop they sound contemporary and suitably different without loosing that punk aesthetic. A genuinely exciting record which has me pogoing around the room.

Fugues by Kogumaza (Low Point)

Building upon themes of memory loss and dyschronometria, (the inability to keep track of time), the drawn-out period of composition and recording, together with its use of extended playing techniques, multiple guitar overdubs and constant experimentation resulted in the band experiencing their own fugue state. 

Low Point bandcamp

I completely missed this release from a band who I have always enjoyed and seen live on a number of occasions. On each occasion I’ve always been struck by the way they make their music sound both layered and stripped back. This double album is no exception, and feels like something of a ‘meisterwerk’… somehow a culmination of what they have done so far. I certainly feels to have scale to it… and really needs close attention to be appreciated.

C’est ça by Fly Pan Am (Constellation)

At the turn of the Millennium, pretty much all I listened to was Constellation Records bands… they sounded like the future… they sounded like a new start… I lapped them all up. One of those bands were Fly Pan Am, who went into hiatus pretty much the same time as I moved on to other things… so it seems did the members of the band.

What I hadn’t realised is that they had reformed in 2018, producing this album the following year. I can’t call it a return to form since they never lacked form, but it is what you would expect and a bit more… that ‘Constellation sound’ is evident here and there, but the inclusion of lyrics… often wailed (reminded me of Teeth of the Sea which is a big plus)… might have been a dealbreaker if they were not so well integrated. This then is a Fly Pan Am record… but also one which marks the fact that there was no band for over a decades… great to have them back!

I by Petbrick (Rocket Recordings)

I’m normally quite diligent when it comes to releases from the Rocket Recordings label. However, this must have dropped at a time when the listening list was at it’s longest as it never got to the top.

Catching up on it now I can now see that I missed out. Petbrick are a duo comprising Wayne Adams (Big Lad/Death Pedals/Johnny Broke) and Iggor Cavalera (Sepultura/Soulwax/Mixhell) who have produced a heavy in-your-face album that takes a wrecking ball to genre silos and lets rip in an experimental manner, setting out dystopian futures in a manner that you’d find pretty fucking hard to ignore.

Hastur by Cryo Chamber (Cinematic Dark Ambient)

Released right at the end of 2019, this is a monumental undertaking… two tracks each in excess of an hour long, representing the work of over twenty artists working in digitally connected studios described as representing “Dark sounds from hidden courts, ancient temples and dilapidated and forgotten civilizations.”

This is one of a series of collaborations dating back to 2014, which are dedicated to American writer H.P. Lovecraft. You can certainly see why, both tracks here being stretched out dark ambient epics which paint weird and disturbing pictures in the mind, yet somehow have an eerie comfort to them. It is music that will always take different forms in your mind whenever you listen to it.

Magna Invocatio: A Gnostic Mass For Choir and Orchestra by Jazz Coleman (Spinefarm)

This has been a work that has been long coming, perhaps Coleman’s magnum opus in re-arranging some of Killing Joke’s more emotional and down beat songs for choir and orchestra. The results, especially I think for those aware of the originals, are quite stunning… bring so much more out of the band’s oeuvre in a way that Youth also does with his dub material.

This for me further sets Killing Joke apart from their contemporaries both now and throughout their forty plus year tenure. They are a band of quite incredible depth and breadth… a band that somehow transcend cultural norms to produce works that are incomparable when viewed in the round.

Black Tenere by Kel Assouf (Glitterbeat)

Another album picked up from the PZYK 2020 line-up, this was one that I knew I was going to love from the opening bars. Kel Assouf was born and brought up in Niger, but moved to Brussels just over a decade ago. If I had to find one word to describe his music it is ‘propulsive’ because of the momentum it seems to create immediately and out of nothing.

Combining a Toureg sound with that of classic bands such a Zeppelin and Sabbath this album rocks out, but does so in a way that is refreshing and broad. The tracks are expansive and panoramic bringing together may different ideas and genres into a coherent and exciting whole.

環境音楽 = Kankyō Ongaku (Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980 – 1990) (Light in the Attic)

This is a superb compilation of Japanese music… it is diverse and really impactful… I have long argued that ambient music isn’t background music… it is part of our environment and as such should be not only heard by listened to. In truth I find it difficult not to listen to the beautiful sounds on this double CD compilation from the ever reliable Light in the Attic label.

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