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The music of 2022

To celebrate the end of the year, I’ve gone through the songs and albums that I’ve played most during 2022.

It’s a catholic collection, but listening back to these songs, soundscapes, and melodies now I can see there are unmistakable sites of overlap. I’ll leave it to you to find them, and I hope you’ll find something of your liking as well.

January

Isao Tomita, Suite bergamasque: No. 4 Passepied.

In January I was rather extensively exploring early electronic music, and discovered the work of Isao Tomita. He’s one of the pioneers, so it was a surprise I hadn’t come across his work before. An ecclectic fusion of classical composition and experiments with the Moog synthesiser.

It reminds me of Wendy Carlos’ impressive work—you might know her for her work on the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrik’s film A Clockwork Orange (click the link for an interview with Carlos.)

February

Legowelt, Dune is a Great Movie No Matter What People Say

In February I saw that Legowelt had released a new album. This was not too surprising, because the electro guru from the The Hague churns out new music more fequently than he does his groceries. But it’s always a pleasant moment.

I first discovered Legowelt when I played DJ-sets in the large main hall of the art school at which I was studying. Back then, in 2002, his track Chokolectricity was a highlight of every proper party.

March

Sex Pistols and Ronnie Biggs, Einmal War Belsen Wirflich Bortrefflich

In March an article appeared in the London Review of Books about the legacy of Malcolm McLaren. McLaren is best know for his creation of the Sex Pistols (alongside the recently deceased Dame Vivienne Westwood). After the band’s decline had set in, McLaren thought it a good idea to feature Ronnie Biggs as singer on the Sex Pistol’s The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle, replacing John Lydon.

Biggs was one of the the Great Train Robbers in 1963, and a fugitive after he had escaped from prison in 1965. Asking him to sing on the album was McLaren’s way of making sure the record would still be punk.

April

Andreas Scholl, I am a poor wayfaring stranger

A singer dear to me is Andreas Scholl. His classical work is well known, but perhaps fewer people are aware of his ventures into folk music (as well as electro, but I won’t linger on that here). His renditions of English folk songs are intimate and appropriately plain. To his album Le Voyageur I return quite regularly, and I find its wistful registers quite attractive.

My first encounter with Scholl’s work was when I watched Simon Schama’s TV-series The Power of Art with a group of students, in a class on cultural history I taught. Schama’s episode was on the work of the sculptor Bernini, and in the background Scholl’s sublime rendition of the song ‘Ah ch’infelice sempre’ from Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater was used. The class, including myself, was reduced to tears.

(Interesting fact, the recording of Scholl’s singing this Vivaldi piece, released in 2007 at quite crucial moments clips, possibly the result of an unfortunate microphone setting. For years I believed my headphones were to blame. To release the record anyway was a bold refusal of perfectionism.)

May

Matmos, Fight to Sodom / Lot do Salo

After an episode of Late Junction on BBC Radio 3, my favourite radio show by quite some distance, I rediscovered the work of Matmos. Their new album Regards​/​Uk​ł​ony dla Bogus​ł​aw Schaeffer once more is proof that Matmos is, well, hard to pin down. Clicks and cuts: samples: instruments clearly invented for the occasion: all with a good dose of British wit.

Matmos is another of those names that have been with me for a long time. The first of their albums I played over and over again was The Civil War from 2003. It sounds like an electronic music studio that got timewarped back into the middle ages.

June

Hannah Diamand, Staring at the Ceiling

There’s experiment in the main stream as well. I closely follow what the PC Music collective is up to, and this will not be the last track from their universe. (I think ‘collective’ is more appropriate than ’label’—if you look at them more closely you’ll understand why.) Regularly, PC Music releases spectacular mixtapes on YouTube. One of their unfaltering gems is Hannah Diamond.

July

Connan Mockasin, Jass Two

When I walked into a coffee shop in New York City, some time in 2014, I was met for the first time by the curious awkwardness of Connan Mockasin’s music (for the record, this was the exact song that kept me spellbound for days). From New Zealand, Mockasin has carved out a vocal register that is so distinctive and strange I don’t think there’ll be many artist who wish to repeat it. But it’s utterly compelling and brilliant. He’s an awsome musician as well. Connan Mockasin’s most recent album Jassbuster Two is faily traditional by his own standard, and it is very much a sequel to the earlier and somewhat more experimental Jassbusters.

The album cover is fantastic as well. And if you’re into the delightful aesthetic niche Mockasin has carved out, don’t miss the few songs by Soft Hair that are in circulation. Soft Hair is Mockasin’s collaboration with Sam Dust (a.k.a. LA PRIEST and Late of The Pier).

August

Max Tundra, Lights (A.G. Cook remix)

An album I had been eagerly waiting for was Max Tundra’s Remixtape. If you don’t know Max Tundra, think: Steely Dan production quality + Amiga tracker software + a fetish for left-field chord progressions. To listen to his work remixed by related and friendly musicians is a true delight. What I perhaps had been waiting for most was A.G. Cook’s take on Max Tundra, and then finally it was there…

So this is a remix. A.G. Cook is one of the founders of PC Music, which I mentioned above. His remix of the classic Lights (orginal here) adds to Max Tundra some of the distinctive glimmer and glitter Cook is known for. But to be frank, I still think Max Tundra’s remix of A.G Cook’s Soft Landing shows who in the end is the true king and queen of hyperpop.

September

Sarah Davachi, Hall of Mirrors

I don’t remember how I came across Sarah Davachi’s work, but her eerie ambient soundscapes make for the perfect music to write to. In Hall of Mirrors from her album Two Sisters, the bells bring back memories of the medieval town of Cambridge (UK) I used to live in, with its crumbly churches and quiet graveyards and meadows.

Listening to this, I cannot but conclude that, apart from the pipe organ, the bell tower is the most majestic instrument I know of.

October

Vincent Gallo, I Wrote This Song for the Girl Paris Hilton

The faltering rhythm of Vincent Gallo’s track feels somehow comforting, as if it proves that even a life lived in jittery bursts can be meaningful. Another reason I like this track is that it reminds me of two other musicians. The start-and-stop character of the song’s beat is reminiscent of Encre’s unsurpassed album Encre. And the way the guitar flirts with the electric organ reminds me of the haunting melody lines in Capitol K’s City.

The biography of Vincent Gallo is worth reading as well, as it makes clear that music is not at all his main business.

November

Nick Drake, River Man

Together with my friend Nikhil Krishnan I once ran a reading group on quasi-philosophical texts, and he suggested we read the lyrics of Nick Drake. It was a transformative moment to explore and discuss his music in all seriousness. We didn’t find much interesting philosophy, mind. But some of the poetry is like a time-capsule.

I became convinced I understood River Man, one of his most imaginative songs. Drake studied at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge when he wrote it (there’s a recording which I think was made in his room in college). Anyone who’s been in Cambridge will appreciate that life there very much revolves around the river Cam. Drake’s song about a river man, then, cannot but be about Cambridge. I imagined that the river man was some sort of recluse living on a long boat on the river. Perhaps it was some avant-garde hippy who sold marihuana to undergraduates. The conflict between the wisdom of the university and the wisdom of the river man in the song captures the experience of a student who realises the world outside the university contains too much of importance to ignore.

December

John Maus, The Combine

The mix of synthesisers and gloomy baritone singing you find in John Maus’ Screen Memories is so authentic it’s hard to believe the album came out only in 2017. A kind of Neo New Wave, I suppose. It is retro sentimentality at its finest, and this is another album I love to play when I’m writing.

Happy new year!

Well, this list just creams off the glorious surface of what I’ve been listening to in 2022. There’s much more, but for that you’ll just have to ask me if you’re interested. I wish you all the best for the new year.


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