Staff Picks - November / December 2020

Staff Picks - November / December 2020

December 16, 2020

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We slowly close this extraordinary year with a final selection of albums released in November and December. Here's 41 albums and compilations comprising anything from psychedelic rock to free jazz, improvised music, ethnic, ambient, electronic hybrids of all sorts, both new and reissues.

What's new, what's good, what's hot or not, what's obscure or under the radar, music wise, here's the monthly Staff Picks.

If you think that we've missed something or want to send a tip, please get in touch.

From Arrington de Dionyso to Cabaret Voltaire

Arrington de Dionyso - The Dragon Raga (Songs of Psychic Fire 2020)
Arrington de Dionyso - The Dragon Raga (Songs of Psychic Fire 2020)
V.A. - Anthology Of Experimental Music From Mexico (Unexplained Sounds Group)
"Whether inspired by ancestral rituals, mixed with elements of endemic musical styles, or the result of pure introspection, Mexican experimental music has its very defined set of idiosyncrasies, which can only come from living in a place that has always been divided between progress and tradition. For this new compilation, the Italian label Unexplained Sounds Group has gathered artists from different generations who are striving to keep this 'scene' - a term I use reluctantly - alive, not only through their music but also by creating spaces and communities for other artists, both national and international, to thrive in." Raffaele Pezzella

Archimboldos - Exactomondo (Transamericas)
Archimboldos are a duo comprising producer and musician Nicolás Carcavilla, aka Embassador Dulgoon and keyboadist Felipe Crocco M.D. The duo works through a strange alteration in the notions of invention and reference, unravelling a narrative musical journey of unpredictable melodic routes and subtly articulated sonic deviation and discovery. Their second album Exactomondo works within the same strata of their debut LP, Starcave Mèmoires, digging further in the veins of the duo's soundmine, expanding their sonic spectrum by organizing new data, enhancing their equipment's capacities and deepening their imagery.

Arrington de Dionyso - The Dragon Raga (Songs of Psychic Fire 2020)
American improviser Arrington de Dionyso presents a new self-released album, where he manipulates bass clarinet, voice, shruti boxes, lalove (Sulawesi flute), tape echo and electronics. "I don't believe that artists or musicians have ever really occupied their rightful place in any society- as keepers of wisdom and continuity, and also as healers, dreamers, visionaries to guide us into being enveloped by and embracing whatever it is that comes next. " Arrington de Dionyso

Asher.Zax & Dave Phillips - Colonial War and Mental Disorders (Raash Records)
Colonial War and Mental Disorders was performed and recorded live on stage in May 2019. It is a Sound-Text rendering of three cases, described and analysed by Frantz Fanon as they appear in the fifth chapter of his book ‘The Wretched Of The Earth’ (1961). In this section, Fanon deals with the problem of mental disorders born out of the national war of liberation waged by the Algerian people. Rather than charging full steam ahead, this creation creeps slowly forward, letting both the psychological and physical horrors of Fanon’s words echo in negative space. "Colonialism is a disease of reality itself. The disease as a condition rearranges reality according to distorted principles, which we find hard to understand to the core. From the cases that Fanon presents and analyses in his book, we have extracted fragments that reflect these distortions." Meira Asher and Eran Sachs.

Babau - Stock Fantasy Zone (Volum E Bootleg)
Italian exotica sorcerer group Babau returns with a new cassette-album released by the Milan based Volum E Bootleg imprint. There’s no welcome to the Dixieland greet here, but if needed, one will have to deal with "lofty low poly structures, tentacular mickey-mousing gesticulations, already obsolete sonic ontologies and the unsung age of Dreamcast workfantasy frenzy."

Bill Laswell, Iggy Pop, The Opening Performance Orchestra, WS Burroughs - The Acid Lands (Sub Rosa)
The Acid Lands, created by the Prague-based Opening Performance Orchestra, was first heard in public in 2014 at the Movement-Sound-Space festival in Ostrava, to mark the centenary of William S. Burroughs's birth. The piece was performed live by Opening Performance Orchestra and their guests, the theremin player Martina Potucková, and the poet, musician and performer Pavel Z as the narrator. The studio version of The Acid Lands was made in late 2019/early 2020 in collaboration with Bill Laswell and Iggy Pop, who undertook the role of the narrator. The piece, which pays tribute to William S. Burroughs, features fragments from the novels The Western Lands and Junkie. In addition to the title composition, The Acid Lands, the record contains Bill Laswell's instrumental remix, as well as the collective piece Naming Seven Souls, featuring samples of William S. Burroughs reading his own work.

Cabaret Voltaire - Shadow of Fear (Mute)
Shadow of Fear is Cabaret Voltaire’s first studio album in 26 years, under the guidance of Richard H. Kirk, the sole remaining member. He has formed this new album from a series of pulverising live shows. The tone and personality of CV is ingrained in its core as it dances across techno, dub, house, 1970s Germany and general esoteric explorations coupled with mangled vocal samples.
Drissi El-Abbassi - Rai Sidi Bel Abbes (Nashazphone)
Drissi El-Abbassi - Rai Sidi Bel Abbes (Nashazphone)

From Café Türk to Elif Yalvac

Café Türk - Café Türk (Zel Zele)
Café Türk is an inimitable Turkish-Swiss band formed in the 1980s, whose genre-bending sonic palette draws from Anatolia, the Caucasus and Western Europe. Three decades after since they disbanded, British imprint Zel Zele collaborated with Grup Ses to give the music of Café Türk a new lease of life. This self-titled compilation features previously unreleased recordings and selected works from Café Türk’s discography.

Crispin Mutanuka & Edwin Syasiya - Mutanuka and Syasiya (SWP Records)
Two old master musicians amongst the Leya people of Zambia – when they die their music will die with them, as the young people just are not interested. Music as an endangered species! This cd has all the music heard in the documentary film ‘Mutanuka and Syasiya’ made by Michael Baird and Engel Mulder, plus other recordings made over the years by Michael Baird of Crispin Mutanuka playing his silimba xylophone and Edwin Syasiya playing his kanimba lamellophone.

Drissi El-Abbassi - Rai Sidi Bel Abbes (Nashazphone)
Egyptian imprint Nashazphone presents a selection of 8 songs covering the period from 1979 to 1989 by one of Rai’s softest voices, Drissi El-Abbassi. Wah-Wah driven, mid-tempo guitar based early Rai from the city where Rai’s ‘harder’ form was conceived. Sad romantic songs about lost loves and other sorrowful tales.

V.A. - Ear Clip Series Vol. 2 : Endlich Normale Menschen Vol.1 (Ear Clip Series)
Endlich Normale Menschen stands for finally normal people. Compiled by Louis Bataille aka Low Bat, this double opus can be considered as a collection of friendships and encounters, with tracks by the likes of F.Æmbient, Vamilienfa†er, Kashual Plastik, Bohemian
Drips, Dame Area and more.

Elif Yalvac - Mountains Become Stepping Stones (NNA Tapes)
On Mountains Become Stepping Stones is the first release of Turkish electronic producer Elif Yalvaç on NNA Tapes, where she leads the listener to a transformational journey through outer landscapes and inner feelings. Inspired by her travels to Nordic countries far from home, especially by Iceland and Norway, the album reflects the raw vitality of nature: its danger and intensity, as well as its beauty.

V.A. - Excavated Shellac: An Alternate History of the World's Music (Dust-to-Digital)
Excavated Shellac: An Alternate History of the World’s Music includes 100 recordings and 100 stories in an extensive, illustrated PDF with detailed, contextual mini-histories about both musical origins and the beginnings of the recording industry, touching on the complexities of colonialism, economic agendas, and cultural tourism. Featuring music and musical styles from six continents and 89 different countries and regions, recorded between 1907-1967.

Fiesta en el Vacío - Miraflores (Unknown Precept)
Named after a small district nestled in the heights of a Galician fishing village, Miraflores is the debut album from the elusive French-Argentinian artist Luna Maria Cedrón, alias Fiesta en el Vacío, out on the Belgium label Unknown Precept.
Hallelujah Chicken Run Band - Take One (Analog Africa)
Hallelujah Chicken Run Band - Take One (Analog Africa)

From João Lobo to Kazumichi Komatsu

Hallelujah Chicken Run Band - Take One (Analog Africa)
Take One collects the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band’s biggest hits along with several rare tracks recorded between 1974 and 1979. The band came into being when a young trumpet player named Daram Karanga offered to assemble a group to entertain the workers at a copper mine in the town of Mhangura. The original line-up – which included legendary singer Thomas Mapfumo, who would bring the sounds of Chimurenga to the world in the early 1980s with his band the Blacks Unlimited, and Joshua Hlomayi, one of the pioneers of mbira- style guitar – started out playing the Rumba and Afro-Rock styles popular in the capital. Although this was a hit with the white owners of the mine, the workers greeted it with indifference. But when they started adding electric arrangements of traditional Shona music to their repertoire, the audience went wild. With the addition of “Zim” sounds to their arsenal, the HCR Band became unstoppable. Their reputation spread quickly and, in 1974, they were invited to the capital to compete in a national music contest organised by the South-African Teal label.

V.A. - Glimpses of North Africa's Musical Past: 1930-1956 (Gharamophone)
The tracks assembled on this album provide but a taste of what North Africa once sounded like in the age of the shellac record. While far from comprehensive, the ten recordings––which span three decades and three countries (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia)––cover a range of musical genres and include all manner of instrument: from the classical Andalusian repertoire to popular song and from mandolin to mizwid (the Tunisian bagpipe). In addition, some of the most renowned male and female artists of the era are featured here.

V.A. - I stumble and then I fall (A Colourful Storm)
Australian imprint A Colourful Storm presents their last offering of the year, I stumble and then I fall, comprising glimpses of visions, fragments of fantasy, figments of imagination. The list of contributions incorporates ambient and experimental music by the likes of Princess Diana of Wales, Silzedrek, Boonsack Angel, Lucinda, Mental Age Test and more.

João Lobo - Simorgh (les albums claus)
Early summer 2019, Joao Lobo started recording his compositions at les Ateliers Claus in Brussels, with guitarist Norberto Lobo, bassist Soet Kempeneer and recording engineer Christophe Albertijn. This release is the trio’s debut record, which is the impetus for their personal development in the realisation that features Joao as a mentor in the creation process. The featured compositions highlight the musicians’ unique physical aspect to control their instruments and their hidden techniques that underlying these tracks. The result is an ongoing aural interplay. It was love at first sound.

Jonny Nash & Teguh Permana - Poe (Melody As Truth)
Recorded over the course of March 2020 in Bandung and Amsterdam, ‘Poe’ is a collaboration between Jonny Nash and Teguh Permana, a renowned player of the Tarawangsa, a two-stringed instrument used in the sacred Tarawangsa music of Sunda, Indonesia. Poe, meaning ‘Days’ in Sundanese, is a meditation on death and rebirth as reflected in the passing of time and the changing of the seasons.

Jordan Reyes - Sand Like Stardust (American Dreams)
“I envisioned the record as a journey through human expression over the course of one day,” says Chicago composer and ONO member Jordan Reyes, musing on his sophomore album Sand Like Stardust. When planning the album, Reyes wanted to consider the trajectory of American music, drawing a throughline from the oral traditions enmeshed in blues, country, folk to contemporary underground music, splicing together acoustic instrumentation with an experimental, electronic sensibility. As such, the album begins with the first instrument - human-constructed wind - the sole sound source on opening song “The Pre-Dawn Light,” which invites the listener in with layered voice and whistling.

Kazumichi Komatsu - Emboss Star (FLAU)
Emboss Star is the new album by Kochi-born, Kyoto-based artist Kazumichi Komatsu, the first to be released under his own name following a prolific run of material as Madegg. Informed by a range of earlier work including EPs, installation works, video works, as well as live appearances at fashion shows, parties & raves, the material collected on ‘Emboss Star’ has been prepared and refined over the past four years, its final collation described as like arranging the pieces on a chess board; every piece strategically placed.
Marika Politissa - All Parts Dark (Mississippi Records)
Marika Politissa - All Parts Dark (Mississippi Records)

From Lotto to Mike Cooper

Lloyd Miller with Ian Camp and Adam Michael Terry - At the Ends of the World (FOUNTAINavm)
Doc Lloyd Miller returns with his signature and timeless Spiritual Jazz and World/Cultural Music trademarks, as well as inviting a few contemporary sensibilities contributed by himself and collaborators Ian Camp and producer Adam Michael Terry. Expanding upon Miller's distinctive Academic, Persian and Far-Eastern Jazz Fusion into territories of New Age, Minimalism, Modern Classical, Ambient, and even hints of Psychedelic Folk with the opening song "The Summoning". Recorded late summer 2019 down in Lloyd Miller's basement, "At the Ends of the World" is a prophetic expression of the social and cerebral atmospheres that Miller personally predicted for the pestilence of 2020. The album reflects a moody dichotomy between the increasingly doomed world and the musician's attempts to heal with divine music and cultural beauty.

Lotto - Hours After (Endless Happiness)
On their new album Hours After which came out recently on the Polish imprint Endless Happiness, the trio Lotto (comprising Mike Majkowski, Paweł Szpura and Łukasz Rychlicki) is focusing more on their own observations and imagination, delivering four powerful songs, each of them carefully crafted in an own, individual way. As with all the unpredictable free improvised music they’ve released in the past, you never know where their new album takes you.

Marika Politissa - All Parts Dark (Mississippi Records)
Marika "Politissa" Frantzeskopoulou was a Greek singer from Constantinople, reknowned for her precise, fluid and graceful performances and depth of feeling. Backed by some of the best musicians of the era on lyra, violin, oud, kanonaki and guitar, Marika’s repertoire and techniques drew from Byzantine and Ottoman musical traditions. She possessed an ability to devastate her audience through her expressions of grief, exile, and tragic love, running the gamut of cafe aman, torch songs, lilting and fragile odes to heartache, heavy Piraeus style rebetika, and ecstatic Near-Eastern climaxes, all with a visceral sense of atmosphere, emotion, and fatalism. Also, check out our Rebetika new episode of our podcast series.

Mary Steele - You Hurt My Feelings: Ottoman Folk Music in NYC, October 1919 - May 1921 (Canary Records)
Canary Records presents a collection of songs from Mary Steele, recorded between October 1919 and ca. May 1921. She was one of only four women to have recorded in the Turkish language (the only one who wasn’t Greek, it turns out), the second woman to have recorded in Arabic, and the only Woman and in Albanian in the U.S during the 1910s and 20s. Phrases in both Armenian and Kurdish turn up in her recordings.

Metametal - Desgasta Meseta (Discos Capablanca)
The newly founded imprint Ediciones Capablanca of Discos Capablanca is launching with Madrid’s “k-jazz” combo Metametal, and his album Desgasta Meseta. The new series will focus on DIY limited editions while expanding the label's format output into carefully crafted tapes, prints, zines and clothing.

Mike Cooper - Playing With Water (Room40)
From Mike Cooper: "Playing With Water is a novel written by James Hamilton-Paterson. (…) We could quite possibly all be looking forward to an island existence in that future where all of our cities, or Wetropolis, will be floating worlds of Aquatecture and Aquaculture will provide all our food, powered by wind, solar or mechanical energy from the tides and the waves. Oceans cover 70 percent of the Earth’s surface making it the world’s largest solar collector - Seven Tenths."

mir.ON - Intimate (Soundsphere)
Intimate is Miron Ghiu’s second album, composed in Ableton Live and various granular synthesis software, all starting from field-recordings recently out by Romanian netlabel Soundsphere. "Enjoy this trip and pay attention to the details while not blowing up your speakers."
Natik Awayez - Manbarani (Sublime Frequencies)
Natik Awayez - Manbarani (Sublime Frequencies)

From Moğollar to Praed

Moğollar - Anatolian Sun (Night Dreamer)
Legendary Turkish psych innovators Moğollar grace the Artone Studios in Haarlem for a masterclass in the original Anadolu psych roots, cutting a compendium of their rawest hits and most-wanted psychedelic rock classics – including the J.Dilla-sampled ‘Haliç’te Güneşin Batışı’ – for the latest edition of Night Dreamer’s essential Direct-to-Disc series. Formed at the end of 1967 with five young musicians, Moğollar were the original Anadolu psych originators. They were the first Turkish pop band who tried to blend the microtonal folklore and traditional instruments of rural Anatolia with Western pop and rock; they were the first Turkish psychedelic band to achieve overseas recognition. They were radical, innovative, and hugely popular, and when the great artists of the Turkish rock revolution appeared on the scene, Moğollar were already there – stars including Barış Manço, Selda, Cem Karaca and Ersen all recorded with them or briefly joined the line-up. Moğollar were and are the undisputed pioneers of the style.

Moody alien - Long lost (Thirsty Leaves Music)
The elusive Greek experimental artist moody alien returns with a new album, comprising "a series of musical encounters with other musically inclined individuals" from his hometown, including Angelos Bournas, Fanis Ploumis, Kostas Tsoumanis, Eva Matsiggou, Panayotis Kapetanakis, Maria Frangou and Phut.

Natik Awayez - Manbarani (Sublime Frequencies)
Manbarani is the debut album from Iraq-born, Cairo-based lyricist, composer and oud player Natik Awayez. Coming out on vinil in spring 2021 through Sublime Frequencies, this is a collaborative work, comprising Maurice Louca (who produced and arranged the album), and a handful of local musicians including Tamer Abu Ghazaleh and Maryam Saleh (Lekhfa), Aya Hemeda and Adham Zidan (The Invisible Hands), Khaled Yassine (Alif / Lekhfa / Anouar Brahem) and Ayman Asfour (Elephantine). As Awayez puts it, “Iraq is the source and Yemen the soul. As for Cairo, it has offered me snippets of time and a small abode. A handful of its most beautiful musicians and a lot of love. And so, Manbarani came to be.”

NEP - Pop Not Pop (Songs For New Europe 1985-1989) (Fox & His Friends)
NEP was a loose multimedia collective formed in 1982 Zagreb, ex-Yugoslavia. The founder Dejan Krsic collaborated with various artists in a quest of re-thinking the stale concepts of art history, position of the author and the barriers between pop and elitist high culture. Heavily influenced by Walter Benjamin and Andy Warhol in theory and Brian Eno and Kraftwerk in music, Krsic created NEP as an umbrella term (NEP meaning Nova Evropa or New Europe) of diverse rule-breaking activities, covering graphic design, music, photography, video, news-media and theoretical work.

Official Jucifer - نظم (Jucifer)
'Nazm' (نظم) sees Jucifer (comprising Gazelle Amber Valentine and Edgar Livengood) deploy their familiar studio tactic: writing, arranging, producing, engineering, and playing all instruments themselves to create a sprawling concept album. This time, it's to celebrate their shared love for MENA and central/south/west Asian traditional and pop music cultures with fourteen highly textured, intensely personal and passionately delivered original songs. From Gazelle Amber Valentine: " نظم (nazm) refers to a branch of urdu poetry, from ancient arabic origins. a nazm typically arranges its stanzas around a unifying theme, and is less regimented with regard to form and rhyme than related traditional poetry styles."

Pauline Hogstrand - The Enterer (No Technique)
Falling somewhere between a classically trained viola player and an electroacoustic composer with iconoclastic tendencies, Pauline Hogstrand blurs the lines between traditional compositions and digitally manipulated sounds. Through a minimalistic material of viola, flute, claves and finger cymbals, the content is being altered, stretched and looped into 40 minutes of baroque arrangements, oscillating between authenticity and surrealism. Hailing from the northeast of Sweden, 33-year-old Hogstrand began singing in choirs at a young age, and before her 15th birthday she mastered a string of instruments, including the viola, serving as her main instrument today. Now based in Copenhagen, Denmark for more than a decade, Pauline Hogstrand has built a musical and creative environment that not only holds her instrumental skills, but also challenges experiences and knowledge of life and the arts, which satisfies a personal need for wholeness in music.

Praed Orchestra! - Live In Sharjah (Morphine Records)
During the years in which the duo produced four albums and performed on an endless number of stages around the globe, PRAED started working on an ambitious expansive project: an orchestra that could transpose this study of rural and popular culture into an immense, iconic work. In autumn 2018, supported by the Sharjah Art Foundation, PRAED Orchestra! premiered “Live in Sharjah”, interpreting new material merged with some of the band’s iconic pieces. The line-up of the orchestra consisted of some of the most innovative artists coming from a wide spectrum of musical practices: Paed Conca, Raed Yassin, Alan Bishop, Nadah El Shazly, Christine Kazarian, Hans Koch, Martin Kuchen, Maurice Louca, Radwan Ghazi Moumneh, Sam Shalabi, Ute Wassermann, Khaled Yassine and Michael Zerang.
Raed Yassin - Archeophony (Akuphone)
Raed Yassin - Archeophony (Akuphone)

From Rob Mazurek to xàr num

Raed Yassin - Archeophony (Akuphone)
In a similar vein to an archeologist, Raed Yassin’s new album Archeophony is based on so-called ‘ethnic’ music recordings conducted between the 1950s and 80s by Western ethnomusicologists in true colonial fashion, while attempting to achieve an archeology of sound that reflects both the course history and its continuous distortion by the powers that be. Collected sonic archives from the past are rearranged and reproduced through electronics, distortion, sampling and assembly, drum machines, synthesizers and electronic sounds merging with solo traditional voices and instruments recorded in different parts of the world.

Rob Mazurek – Exploding Star Orchestra - Dimensional Stardust (International Anthem)
Commissioned by the Chicago Cultural Center and the Jazz Institute of Chicago in 2005 to assemble a group representing the diversity of the city’s contemporary avant-garde, Mazurek amassed a 14-piece ensemble and began composing music for what became his Exploding Star Orchestra (ESO). Including musicians from the often-segregated communities of Chicago’s North, South, and West sides – from his long-time collaborators in Tortoise’s expansive orbit, to Great Black Music luminaries from the hallowed AACM, to free jazz revivalists from the Umbrella Music group. Dimensional Stardust showcases the intricacy and complexity of Mazurek’s compositions but in their most potent, most compacted forms.

Trevor Watts - A World View (Fundacja Słuchaj)
Trevor Watts: a legendary man, an exceptional saxophonist, a forerunner of everything that is really valuable in European improvised music, turned 80 last year. As a still active and extremely creative musician (his latest productions can be found primarily in the Listen Foundation! catalog), his long creative journey took many artistic challenges. A World View is a recent retrospective resurfaced by Polish imprint Fundacja Słuchaj. "All the recordings we can listen to in a 5-disc box set are equally close to me. They all offer different interests within my musical career that I have been involved with, and by no means are these all of them", says Trevor Watts.

Tunes Of Negation - Like The Stars Forever And Ever (Cosmo Rhythmatic)
Shackleton’s open-ended musical project Tunes Of Negation featuring Takumi Motokawa, Raphael Meinhart, and a guest appearance from Heather Leigh is back on Cosmo Rhythmatic after its acclaimed debut last year. While Shackleton’s output has often attempted to cross all musical borders, the newest manifestation of Tunes of Negation suggests themes of impermanence, rebirth, and transcendence with a fiercer dedication than ever before. In attempting to balance shadow with light, Like The Stars Forever And Ever runs from sombre or gentle passages to dissonance through to uplifting finales and the whole range between.

xàr num - The Nameless City (Communion)
The eight release of Italian imprint Communion presents xàr num, an unknown psychic nomad with countless uncharted subterranean activities. Experimenting with aleatoric systems, sample-based composition and digital modular synthesis, xàr num projects immersive and puzzling soundscapes for sleepwalking explorers of the worlds within.

Y Bülbül - Fever (Pingipung)
As proven by his latest release on Pingipung, Fever, the Turkish born, London based musician and producer knows how to craft his own contemporary avant-garde pop projections with a rich musical heritage shining through from the 1980s and 90s.

About the Author

Dragoș Rusu & Victor Stutz

Dragoș Rusu is co-founder and co-editor in chief of The Attic and allround music adventurer.

Victor Stutz is a sound adventurer and music selector from Bucharest – currently based in Barcelona - with a background in anthropology.

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