End of year, best of year lists. Some people love `em. More and more people hate `em. I guess as a species we’ve become more sophisticated. We know that what makes one thing “better” than another is purely subjective. It`s simply the poll-maker`s preference. Their opinion. At that point in time. Plus, with the internet and social media we’ve also become opinion saturated. There`s reflex, that I`ll admit I’m feeling – especially after the SNS warfare we experienced in the run up to the recent UK election – of that`s enough with last year, let’s look forward to the next.
“Best ofs” of course can also be divisive. Everyone wants to be included, and if folks are left out then they could get upset. In my line of “work” that might mean no more promos. So in the past, I’ve farmed the polls out to others. If I`m honest this is only in part passing the buck. Getting famous DJ friends and record label owners to give me their top tunes helps keep the blog numbers “pumped” over the festive season. If I’m honest again people like Nancy Noise and Leo Mas will skew my annual figures to such a degree that it will look like I did OK. Well this year I decided I’m not going for that. I need a more accurate view to help me to commit on whether to continue.
In a series of posts I`m gonna run through not my “best ofs” but favourites – that`s a better word. Music that I played repeatedly. Music that carries memories of an event, a night out, the people that I met. For me, personally, it`s good to take stock, to sort though the plies of vinyl that have stacked up. But I also wanted to share these favourites with you. Segue them together and perhaps provide you with a “score” that might serve as a warm-up or even a soundtrack to your Christmas and New Year. A thank you.
First up are 30 selections loosely labelled Balearic Beat. I`m not gonna run through these in any order of preference, but I will divide them loosely into the New, the Remixed, and the Reissued.
Lexx had his long-player, Cosmic Shift, out on Phantom Island. A collection of proper songs, thanks to collaborations with a host of vocalists – Asé, Harriet Brown, Jonny Spencer, Ella Thompson, and Woolfy. Allowing him to produce a set of “technological soul” that moves (always) smoothly between Brazil, Detroit, jazz, psychedelia, soft rock, rhythm and blues, and reggae and dub.
Jah Wobble released his Electro Dub Extravaganza on Record Store Day. Picked out as a “favourite” by Phil Mison and Music From Dreams South London Dub Symphony filled an ON-U Sound-esque production with Rockabilly riffs, while Engage Your Glutes was a very balearic bastardized Bogle.
Scott Fraser teamed up with Louise Quinn for Together More on Andrew Weatherall`s Bird Scarer. Its prettily whispered promises of power and love recalling the most loved-up moments of Chris & Cosey.
Pender Street Steppers also delivered an AA-sided 12 of synth-pop surprises for Mood Hut. Love songs to the extended dubs of the 1980s that alternated between the articulate hush of say the UK`s The Beloved, and the Funhouse rocking NYC reworks of Jellybean Benitez and Shep Pettibone.
Parisian three-piece Flegon put out their noir-inspired concept LP, Extra Twist, on their own Disques Flegon. By turns Italo-esque, and new wave / new beat.
I was lucky enough to interview Detroit-based producer, Ali Berger. His Keys To The Door Vol.1 & 2, on FCR, contained some of the best house I heard all year. Mixing together classic elements that demonstrated the young gun`s awareness of Bam Bam, Chez Damier, Neal Howard`s The Gathering, Mayday, Relief Records, and Underground Resistance. Creating sexually-charged tracks of acid, bleep, and assorted keys, that sent K Alexi`s Lee-Sah’s lingerie for a spin in Mr. Fingers Washing Machine.
Chaos In The CBD also went in for a bit of retro-Rave with Hydrate on Mule Musiq. Half-inching The Grid`s bongos to accompanying two tracks that could have appeared on those mid-90s Jose Padilla Cafe Del Mar comps on React. Where 303 fractals catch the sun setting atop Mediterranean waves, and sampled surf washes smart electro sequences.
Most balearic though was Awida`s Tranz Mechanika from the NYC Connexion E.P. on World Famous – if only for the fact that it was created on the White Isle. Homaging the sound of Glory’s after-hours during the summer of `87. Something I could easily imagine soundtracking the freaky dancing at Shoom.
The original mix of Cantoma`s Kasoto has yet to be released – the new album`s due in the spring, I think – but the fortunate have, to date, received four remixes. Noche Espanola`s Flamenco-tastic Euro House homage, DJ Speedy Boarding`s Nu Groove meets bleep, Karel Arbus & Eiji Takamatsu`s horizontal re-imagining, and Dennis Kane`s qasaba-rocking, chugging, middle-eastern psyche. All on Phil Mison`s Highwood Recordings.
New Zealander Julien Dyne took African Vibration`s Hinde from a Kenyan 45, and reinvented the late 80s track for Soundway. Cutting its BPMs by 10%, and having it ring and chime with gentle electronic counterpoint.
Adelaide’s Isle Of Jura gave Bella Vista`s 1982 “unclassic”, Mister Wong, the official extension it always needed.
Rogue Cat Resounds rescued German duo Quiet Force`s For Love And Emotions and handed the Art Of Noise-inspired original over to two further duos. Justin Strauss & Max Pask getting it on with a 110 BPM acidic digidub skank. Apiento & Tepper tightening it up while gating its synths in a classic, “ambient house” manner.
Dublin’s Major Problems / Compassion Cuts crew got a hold of Lowell`s No Matter from 1985, and handed it over to Ruf Dug. Also finding himself in “ambient house” mode, Ruffy slowed it right down – from 116 to 103 BPM – in tribute to Holy Ghost`s seminal Walk On Air.
James Bright manhandled Max Manetti`s Henley for Grant Williams` Eclectics. Transforming its conga-filled Vodou groove into something that could have soundtracked A Short Film About Chilling. Chugging, warm and acidic.
There were three outstanding remixes from the studio partnership of Leo Mas & Fabrice. Reworking Blank & Jones` So Eivissa – itself a rework of Mike Francis` Features Of Love – into a mid-tempo thump. Looping and house-ing-up 291out`s cover of James Senese`s Habbanera, for Fly By Night. Rendering a rumba from the OG`s Neapolitan funk. Eric Lewis` Virgo Four then got wild-pitched on his call for Change – for the rebalance of wealth – for a more just world – on Fuck The Government.
From the archives, Pardonnez-nous dusted off Larry Levan`s essential remixes of La Compagnie Creole`s AIE.
Secousse reissued Sammy Massamba`s brilliant Propertie Privee E.P. from 1987. Congo by way of Paris it turned highlife into bumping electro-boogie, and exotic proto-house exuberance.
Optimo and Selva Discos` Brasingles series reached its fourth release with Taciana`s Tudo Faz Sentido. A high-quality William Orbit-esque 1995 production from Yugoslavian-relocated-to-Sao Paolo, Mitar Subotić / Rex Illusivi / Suba.
The two reissue arms of Castro Moore and Nemo Ripoll`s Sound Metaphors were responsible for a lot of my favourite reissues this year. For example, on Thank You there was the Spanish house of Madrid Groove`s Arsa, and Egyptian Simone`s Arabic cover of Suzanne Vega`s Tom`s Diner, Mebsouta. While Miss You reactivated some great reggae which I`ll get to in a subsequent post.
Best Records Italy did the honours for the must-have Aqua Marina by Countach. A 1990 update of Santana`s Cafe Del Mar staple Aquamarine. They also collected the sought after hits of Fabrizio Fattori, on Mediterranean Africa. A reimagining of tribal chants and drumming, via Naples.
A further balearic battery came from German drummer, Curt Cress. A retrospective E.P. on Music From Memory showcased percussive workouts full of techno touches. The highlight from which was the irresistible Dschung Tek. Its crashing interrupted by bird song, elephant roars, and the sound of a buzzing fly being swatted.
More techno still was Mappa Mundi`s Musaics. Moody, downtempo, 90s Belgian electronics, revived by Going Good`s archival imprint, Midnight Drive. Beat-broken, Industrial-leaning, “collaged” compositions whose reverbed boom sounds like it was recorded live in warehouse / aircraft hanger rave.
Topping the techno crossovers though is Platform 23`s revisiting of Robbert Heynen`s eXquisite CORpsE. Metallic but “Organic” occult rave from the founding member of Tilberg`s Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia. There were four volumes of Between Rhythms, but if you’ve only got cash for one let it be the 12 featuring Honeymoon. If anyone can point me in the direction of the recorded source of the sampled Native American dialogue I would be extremely grateful.
On a rock-ier front Into The Light`s excavations uncovered the Simple Minds-esque themes of George Theodorakis and Peter Skoutaris previously unreleased Free Level project. Finders Keepers had the Future / Spectrum-worthy electric Bo Diddley-isms of Durul Gence`s Black Cat.
Quickly in closing, I`d like to mention a couple of re-edits that I haven’t stopped playing. The Netherlands` AM crew had the burger highlife of Potentiometer`s Solima – imagine Hugh Masekela produced by Trevor Horn – and Belpaese had the epic, ten-minute, Vai Di Samba. Pianos and sax enough for everyone.
A huge thank you to Max Essa for the new logo!!!
Lexx – Too Hot – Phantom Island
African Vibration – Hinde (Julien Dyne Remix) – Soundway
Sammy Massamba – Sala Keba – Secouse
Cantoma – Kasoto (Dennis Kane Remix) – Highwood Recordings
Bella Vista – Mr Wong (Isle Of Jura Edit) – Isle Of Jura
Taciana – Tudo Faz Sentido – Selva Discos
Quiet Force – For Love And Emotions (Apiento & Tipper Remix) – Rogue Cat Resounds
Blank & Jones – So Eivissa (Leo Mas & Fabrice White Isle Remix) – Sound Colors
Jah Wobble – Engage Your Glutes – Jah Wobble
Simone – Mebsouta – Thank You
Lowell – No Matter (Ruf Dug Remix) – Major Problems
Countach – Aqua Marina – Best Records Italy
Scott Fraser – Together More – Bird Scarer
Mappa Mundi – Urbi et Orbi – Midnight Drive
Max Manetti – Henley (James Bright Remix) – Eclectics
Fabrizio Fattori – Bara Hum Ba – Best Records Italy
Durul Gence – Black Cat – Finders Keepers
Free Level – Blue Grass Part 3 – Into The Light
Pender Street Steppers – Our Time – Mood Hut
Flegon – Intruder On The Loose – Disques Flegon
Awida – Tranz Mechanika – World Famous
Chaos In The CBD – Hydrate – Mule Musiq
Potentiometer – Solima – AM
Unknown – Vai Di Samba – Belpaese
291out – Habbanera (Leo Mas & Fabrice Remix) – Fly By Night
Madrid Groove – Arsa – Thank You
Ali Berger – Keys To The Door – FCR
Virgo Four – Change (Leo Mas & Fabrice Remix) – Fuck The Government
La Compagnie Creole – AIE (Larry Levan Remix) – Pardonez Nous
Curt Cress – Dschung Tek – Music From Memory
Exquisite Corpse – Honeymoon – Platform 23