Every January for the last couple of years, I’ve compiled a listening-list of releases for the year ahead. For one thing, this helps avoid feeling helpless in the face of the limitless choice offered by the internet, the various streaming services and the huge (and ever expanding) amount of music available, whether free, subscribed to or purchased. And secondly it reminds me to give a curated selection of albums the attention they deserve, rather than constantly flitting from one thing to another, magpie-like, as I otherwise would be prone to do.
The list is a complete mixture, partly arbitrary and partly influenced by a few trusted resources, word of mouth recommendations and lastly by my own personal fads, whims and whatever rabbit holes I happen to be currently drawn to.
This year, as well as a long list of albums, I’m setting some more general resolutions and ambitions. Scroll down, or go here for the full list, which I’ll aim to revisit in six months, or failing that at the end of 2021 and see what stuck. Hopefully over the course of the year it will also have provided material for some in-depth reviews. Nothing is set in stone, and the list will always be a work in progress, so if you have recommendations for what I should give attention to this year, I’d love to hear them
1. Start listening to more techno again
Techno used to be my staple diet, my bread and butter, but for me 2020 was the year of Ambient. It wasn’t a conscious choice, but it turns out that hours and hours of setting music as a backdrop for working at home, or walking round the local park, meant that I got through way more ambient than ever before. Gone were the days of pumping techno soundtracking the cycle to work, or crowded tube commute, or better yet as the prelude to a night out at an actual flesh and blood rave. It’s impossible to say when raves and festivals will be back on the agenda but I’m not going to let that uncertainty stop me from reconnecting with the pure primal joy of 4/4 beats in the 120 – 140 BPM range
2. Listen to more metal/heavy music
My metal preferences tend toward the progressive/psychedelic and I’ve also enjoyed the occasional recommendation from the author of the excellent Hates Meditations Blog. Nothing beats the feeling of walking along with headphones on, cocooned in crushing distortion and belly-rumbling bass, so this year I’ll continue to broaden my horizons at the louder end of the spectrum.
3. Allow time for ambient
Ambient music always used to be the neglected corner in my music collection, largely for practical reasons than anything else. It doesn’t stand up to the bustling environment of the commute, or add oomph to a cycle journey. And is generally too mellow to soundtrack most social occasions. But in 2020, with many quiet idle hours to spend, it came into its own, with particular highlights including Fennesz and Stars of the Lid. There’s a vast universe of more ambient music to explore, and by the looks of things, plenty more quiet times ahead.
4. Remember to listen to the classics
While trying to get through as much new music (or new to me anyway) as physically possible, it’s easy to forget to listen to the classic albums, mixes and tracks that make life worth living. Sure, it’s fun to broaden your horizons, check out some fresh sounds…but sometimes nothing will beat an album that’s as familiar as comfortable as your oldest pair of trainers. If that means cranking up What’s the Story Morning Glory until the plates rattle in the cupboard then so be it.
Full Listening List for 2021
Picked this up from a Fact list for 2019. Soulful, jazzy, housey techno of the kind that I need more of in my life, from Brooklyn based DJ, Adrian Mojica.
I’ve been aware of Nicolas Jaar as a highly lauded producer for several years but never really gave him much of a listen until checking out Darkside, his collaboration with guitarist Dave Harrington, last year. Their album, Psychic became one of my most-played of the year. I’m not exactly sure if this one is a DJ mix or live album, either way it’s bound to be different from Darkside so I’m curious to check it out.
Since I Left You is obviously a stone cold classic album, a one of a kind that seemingly came out of nowhere, only for The Avalanches to keep a low profile for the next decade and a half. It would’ve been a bit much to expect Wildflower, the long awaited follow up to top Since I Left You. In the end it felt like a perfectly nice album, but one that could have come out anytime in the last 20 years. It’ll be interesting to see if The Avalanches have progressed their sound further.
I’m a long time fan of The Black Dog, both the original pre-Plaid line-up and in the latter phase of their existence. Theirs is an intimidatingly extensive discography so this most recent studio album seemed as good a place as any to carry on digging.
The small amount of metal I do enjoy tends towards the Doom side of things. This album is a collaboration from Doom Metal duo, Bell Witch and the more acoustically inclined Aerial Ruin. I haven’t listened to it yet, but with no sign of lockdown easing for some months, I should have plenty of time to get through 70 minutes of ‘sludgy funereal doom’.
A bit of contemporary hip-hop to mix it up, courtesy of Norman Records’ top 50 albums from 2020. I haven’t listened to this at all, it just sounded interesting: influenced by classic hip-hop and horror films, and I’ve always loved Gravediggaz’ twisted take on old school rap and ‘Horrorcore’.
This was Norman Records’ no.1 record of last year, but to be honest they already had me at the phrase ‘West Yorkshire Kosmiche’.
I came to the realisation last year that if I’m stuck for something to listen to, I never regret sticking a Deepchord record on. Time to go deeper into Rod Modell’s rich discography.
Growing up during the era of ‘nu metal’ really put me off practically any music that could be described as ‘metal’ for years to come. I still see that time, around 1999 – 2002 as one of the lowest points in pop music, with some truly awful bands managing to sell vast amounts of records off the back of the bandwagon. But that – thankfully brief – fad shouldn’t mean all metal bands are tarred with the same brush, including some who became successful at the time (even as a result of nu-metal phenomenon). Maybe it’s because they recently had a new album out, but something recently made me feel I should give the Deftones a spin.
Another one courtesy of Norman Records’ picks of the year for 2020; I don’t know anything about this apart from the fact he used to record for Rephlex and counts Aphex Twin and Thom Yorke among his admirers, which is more than enough for me.
I was already enjoying this one a lot towards the end of 2020. Loping beats overlaid with soft wispy textures: Brian Piñeyro’s subtle yet masterful creation of ‘deep reggaeton’. This has got future classic written all over it.
Having seen the name Ekokplekz banded around for some years as ticking all the boxes of the kind of electronic music I like – old school, analogue, Aphex-style, I checked out Reflekzionz and it ended up being one of my most played albums last year. Unfidelity seems like the logical next step.
Anything that says ‘love letter to the 90s’ in the blurb is going to get my attention, Cropping the Aftermath is another one tipped by Norman Records. On first listen sounding like a cross between Lone and Bark Psychosis, if you can imagine that. Intriguing.
Don’t know anything about this, I think I picked it up from a Watmm list and liked the sound of the description.
Fennesz was one of my artists of the year for 2020, his expansive soundscapes providing relief from the physical confinement and mental constraints of lockdown. This one’s an oldie but seems to be widely loved by fans of his music.
Gas, or Wolfgang Voigt as he is otherwise known (or Mike Ink, Studio 1 or Auftrieb to give some more of his dozens of pseudonyms) is one of the founders of Kompakt Records and a kingpin of electronic music. As far as I’m aware, the albums released under Gas are essential listening for fans of ambient – better late than never to finally get round to checking them out.
I’d never heard of Hum before, but have become very enamoured with the sound of early 90s shoegaze, grunge and general early indie underground, of which Hum seem to be one-time cult favourites. Inlet is their first album in 23 years and is full of pleasingly gritty guitar and crashing waves of distortion.
Classical Curves was such a unique and brilliant album, really sounding like nothing else at the time or since, I’ll always check out his latest output. I never really clicked with Dream a Garden, the follow-up to Classical Curves, where Jack Latham pulled a complete identity change and turned his hand to washed out dream-pop. Pillowland sounds like something totally different again so I’ll give it a chance.
This kind of glitchy ‘clicks and cuts’ style of minimal house was a dominant force in electronic music around the turn of the century. Jan Jelinek was one of most innovative producers to come out of this scene and his debut has recently been re-issued. Perfect time to catch up on a classic electronic album
I found this on a random Discogs list, and upon listening was instantly transported to a dark sweaty basement rave. You know that feeling when you’re suddenly reminded of something you hadn’t realised you’d been missing for a long time. And OK, we can’t go clubbing again just yet so headphones will have to do.
Highly respected long time producer of ambient/techno, whom I’ve never listened to. The Season Series is his latest album, released in 2020.
I got turned on to Jonathan Wilson by a friend. True to its name, The Gentle Spirit is ultra smooth, wispy American psyche with some country undertones.
This was recommended to me as an album of the year for 2020 by several people, and seems to have been met with widely favourable reviews. Kelly Lee Owens was one of the last acts I saw DJ-ing live, supporting Plaid, before lockdown came to the UK, so it seems fitting now we’re in lockdown again to listen to her tunes.
The music of Kristin Hersh, and her band Throwing Muses, has become something of an obsession in recent years and the ‘Muses latest, Sun Racket was one of my favourite releases of 2020. Dust Clouds is her most recent solo album and on first listen also carries some of the Southern Gothic/Psyche vibe of Sun Racket.
Think I picked this up via Watmm; don’t know anything about it but from the random comments on discogs, sounds like it’s up my street.
By all accounts, a classic underground Hip-hop album. Unfortunately it’s taken the sad news of the death of MF Doom to prompt me to listen to it after all these years.
I’ve been meaning to listen to one of Max Cooper’s albums for many years, having enjoyed his eclectic DJ sets in the past.
This popped up on a Spotify daily mix. Yeah, I’m loathe to take recommendations from the shareholder dividend driven algorithm of Spotify but this just sounded good, and I love the band name.
Everything I’ve heard that involves Sebastian Mullaert, I’ve enjoyed. This album sits in that hazy intersection between Kompakt style minimal tech, electronica and the progressive side of psytrance. Blomma is something much more than any of those labels suggest, two discs of sprawling, evolving beautiful music – recorded live in extended improvised sessions.
This release was billed as a single multi-movement track of ‘spectral alt folk’, 45 minutes in duration. I’ve never listened to Phil Elverum, or Mount Eerie as he’s otherwise known, before but this seems like the ideal soundtrack for the rest of winter.
Monolake was one of my very first introductions to minimal/dub techno long long ago. And though I prefer his dubbed-out epic, Hong Kong to his more recent colder digital explorations, Robert Henke is such a revered producer I always find myself drawn back and willing to listen to more of his work.
Another one from Nicolas Jaar; I haven’t listened to this one at all but from what I’ve glimmed I’m expecting experimental ambient.
I was very late to the party with Daniel Lopatin’s music, but Replica ended up being one of my most played albums last year, as to a lesser extent was R Plus Seven. From initial listens, I’m less enamoured with his latest sound, as he takes a tour through the airwaves of FM Radio but I’ll give it time.
I’ve seen several reviews for this around, I don’t know anything about this band apart from the fact they’re exceptionally prolific. Let’s see how they sound having released 23 albums.
I’ve seen this band mentioned here and there as one to watch over the past year or two – and obviously the name sticks in your mind. Let’s see what the fuss is about.
Production wizard, Richard Devine’s take on acid music. The four tracks on this EP were recorded live using a stripped-down set up, including among other things a Roland drum machine and two modified 303s. Do we really need another producer’s interpretation of the classic ‘acid’ sound? The considered answer from me is, Yes I think we do; these four tracks are seamlessly interwoven to sound like a live set and feature pulsing writhing acid lines, complex beats and Devine’s unmistakable production touches.
I see this name crop up frequently but don’t know anything about the music – time to check it out.
I found this on another random list somewhere. Scanner’s a name I recognise from the electronic music heydays of the late 90s. He’s been extremely prolific over the years; An Ascent is one of several albums he released last year. Initial impressions: ‘dystopian ambient’.
The trio of albums Suede have released since they reformed a decade ago have all been well received and from what I can tell, are all distinct episodes of a trilogy. Blood Sports was a bombastic and triumphant return to form, Night Thoughts took a darker and more dramatic turn and The Blue Hour is the third installement, showcasing another facet of the band’s reinvigorated sound.
Another one that came up on a Spotify daily mix. Much as I hate to follow the advice of a streaming behemoth, this one just caught my ear. And who doesn’t need more garage psyche-rock supergroups on their radar?
UK Techno pioneer, Anthony Child’s most recent album as Surgeon. I used to listen to Surgeon’s seminal early albums a lot when I first went deep into techno but have neglected his output in recent years. I’ve already spun this a few times and it’s clear he’s retained his unique and uncompromising sound.
Not a new release, but it seemed like the logical next step, given I enjoyed Part 1. Dixon seems to be somewhat of an outlier in Detroit Techno, bringing his own distinctive spin on the classic sound.
Tin Man’s Ode was a real slow grower of an album for me, and is just the ticket when you’re in the mood for some subtle, snaking moody acid techno, a la Richie Hawtin. Not that he is a mere imitator, Johannes Auvinen’s compositions are warmer and more organic than Hawtin’s but still dripping in acid.
Bit of a curveball on this list, but following the very sad news of the death of Andrew Weatherall earlier last year, I realised I needed more of his music in my life. And the squelchy, underwater-inspired 90s Warp electronica of Two Lone Swordsmen should be right up my street.
Picked this up from a random discogs list, and noticed it’s on Warp Records, though I’m not sure what that counts for these days. Not the kind of thing I normally listen to at all – Prince would seem to be a big influence – but that’s no bad thing.
One of Fact’s picks for 2019, Berlin based artist Ziur seems to be winning plaudits for her innovative techno-inspired electronic compositions.