There were a few albums that ranked among the year’s best but didn’t quite fit into our roundup categories. One of the year’s most impressive LPs was A Flame My Love, A Frequency from French multi-instrumentalist Colleen. The delicate electronic arrangements are paired with lyrics like gnomic poetry, a jewel that glitters differently depending on how it’s looked at. More raucous but no less powerful, Fever Ray’s welcome return on Plunge departed from the icy elegance of her debut for a sweaty, writhing collection of songs about sex, frustration and personal revolution. More than fifteen years since her debut with The Knife, she still sounds ahead of the game.
A pair of less established artists attracted our interest during live performances this year. First was Sudan Archives, the Californian violinist and vocalist who crafted addictive hybrids of RnB, pop and Sudanese fiddle on her debut EP for Stones Throw. The other was Ariwo, a band that fuses jazz and electronics with roots in Cuban and Persian musics – and dub techno. Their album on Manana Records was one of the year’s true originals, a knotty trip that blew our minds when we first heard it live.
Not all of the listening at White Noise HQ has been quite so leftfield. The landscape of US hip hop continues to supply some of the most inventive music that radio will play, with superb LPs this year from Kendrick Lamar, Young Thug and particularly Vince Staples, whose productions riffed on classic Chicago house and UK garage on new album Big Fish Theory. Over in the UK J Hus released an album that transcended the Afrobeats sound he helped launch, bringing in soul, RnB and something that verged on perfect pop. But perhaps the album we played most was SZA’s debut CTRL, a collection of RnB both wounded and assured, balancing singalong moments and sudden emotional suckerpunches.
The final imaginary award to hand out would be ‘album we liked most but listened to least’. This goes to Mount Eerie, aka acoustic experimentalist Phil Elverum who first won our hearts fifteen years ago with his album The Glow Pt. 2. This year’s album, A Crow Looked At Me, was a very different story. It’s a memoir of grief that chronicles Elverum’s response to his young wife’s death and being left with a young child. It’s a quiet work of half-poetry, unrhymed, and meandering guitar passages. It’s totally devastating.
As digger DJs become more popular than ever before, a host of killer reissue labels have sprung up in recent years, each with a niche and a seemingly endless supply of great old music to reanimate and share with the world – Dark Entries, Music From Memory, People’s Potential Unlimited, Awesome Tapes From Africa, Invisible City Editions and Habibi Funk, to name just a few.
Germany’s Habibi Funk is best of the crop of labels reissuing forgotten gems from the Arab world. Their ace run of albums this year included experimental electronics from Ahmed Malek, the gentlest funk from Al Massrieen and, best of all, a diverse compilation that ranges from rock to funk to pure disco. It wasn’t the only compilation to bring forward-thinking old music from the 80s and beyond to fresh ears – Dutch imprint Music From Memory released Outro Tempo, compiling a superb range of early electronics from Brazil, while Miracle Steps on Optimo Music explored the sound Jon Hassell first coined as fourth world, at the intersection of ‘primitive’ music and advanced electronics.
Then there were the single artists brought to new audiences by thoughtful reissues. South Africa has proved a particularly rich source for reissue labels, one of the best being Invisible City’s rediscovery of Sandy B’s Amajovi Jovi. The moody, slo-mo house from early 90s Durban is an instant party-starter. More upbeat is Awesome Tapes From Africa’s reissue of ‘Om’ Alex Khoali’s Say You Love Me, a bouncing slice of disco that overflows with joy and celebration.
Even celebrated artists can be better understood and appreciated from a sensitive reissue treatment. Luaka Bop brought a fresh eye to Alice Coltrane’s spiritual music, the confluence of her jazz background and an exploration of Indian instruments. An equally extraordinary record from a completely different genre was Faitiche’s reissue of Jan Jelinek’s minimal classic Loop-finding-jazz-records, a masterclass in subtlety and texture. We were also introduced to some new names – People’s Potential Unlimited have always had a knack for digging up forgotten funk greats, and this year they brought out a second collection of lofi funk jams from Dwight Sykes, each track a pop gem dragged through the muck, well worth diving into.