List: Favorite Multi-Artist Compilations of 2022

A new round of fresh picks. Variously.

Fertile Grounds (ODMOWA, November)

Released alongside the self-titled Humectant Interruption tape mentioned in the last list, Fertile Grounds rounds out a hearty 2022 for the soon-to-be-Miami-based ODMOWA imprint—call 917-456-9133 for catalog. Scattered self-help audio extracts escort ears through a packed tracklist featuring newly established label staples HI and Smell & Quim (whose Spermathlon got the reissue treatment earlier this year) alongside names both familiar and unfamiliar: John Duncan, Knurl, Anal Character, Kapotte Muziek. Ridiculously eclectic and thoroughly bizarre at every turn.

Music from Saharan WhatsApp (Sahel Sounds, Jul 6)

Already renowned for curating digital-age approaches to African traditional and pop music with releases from the Wau Wau Collectif and Tidiane Thiame, Sahel Sounds has put out what might be their best material yet with Music from Saharan WhatsApp, a sublime compilation cobbled together from cellphone-recorded jams and performances initially exchanged via the titular network and released in individual volumes. Every track is fantastic, but few pieces of music have affected me as deeply as Andal Sukabe’s intimate “Hay Malale.”

Singing in the Summer Sky (Small Mercies, October)

Much like last year’s Year of the Rat, Small Mercies’ most recent compilation gathers the lion’s share of the label’s usual suspects for a diverse yet consistent collection of abstract sound pieces. The project I know the least about, Movers, kicks things off with a well-chosen sample leading into a seething slab of analog harsh. From there the extremity ranges from Plague Mother’s trademark incendiary blasts to subdued, droning dark ambience from Scant and No Dreams. Though I haven’t been able to get into their work in the past, it’s Mistletoe that contributes what is probably my favorite track.

Morning Sketches Vol. II (Hamilton Tapes, Jun 23)

Nathan Ivanco’s aptly named Hamilton Tapes has an established aesthetic that pretty much every release embodies, but I don’t think I’ve heard one that does it as comprehensively as Morning Sketches Vol. II. 16 artists, projects, and aliases of nebulous identity fill both sides of a C80 with dust-smothered tape music that tends toward the humbly sublime. The names I do know represent a patchy who’s who of Canadian DIY lo-fi sound art, so needless to say, Korean Undok Group fans will find lots to love here.

PP-01 (Party Perfect!!!, Dec 2)

We may have lost the great Peter Rehberg last year, but radical computer music is nonetheless alive and well, evidenced by exciting new collectives and labels like Party Perfect!!!. Their first release presents four albums in a single connected unit, but despite the lengthy runtime each volume tends to lead in to the next, and before you know it you’ve listened to the whole thing. Stefan Maier’s 2018 performance work The Arranger, powered by a machine learning algorithm, is some of the best glitch music I’ve heard in a long time, but everything here has plenty to offer. Original review

River of Revenge: Brazilian Country Music 1929–1961 (Death Is Not the End, Nov 25)

An initiative that has quickly established itself as a leading source for quality archival material, Death Is Not the End is notable not just for the quality of the curation itself but also for the wide variety of styles and traditions they highlight. River of Revenge documents the earliest origins of Brazil’s sertaneja genre, a counterpoint of sorts to American country music, and anyone interested in the former will find plenty to love here too. At first swathed in dust and marred by crackle, the recordings progress chronologically toward more contemporary formations, making the full experience—as with many DINtE releases—not just a musical experience, but an educational one as well.

Pool Position (Second Sleep, Nov 30)

Loosely guided by the spectro-visceral aesthetics of sound artists Alice Kemp and Rudolf (who both contribute a solo track as well as a collaboration), the more diverse of the two new V/A releases from Italy’s Second Sleep offers a skeletal potpourri of drone, collage, field recording, conceptual art, and more. Renato Grieco hangs a bit of a left turn with “The Most Intense Light Experience This Voice Has Ever Had,” an unusual spoken word tract that reminds me of Hardworking Families’ “Hindered Soul”; Charmaine Lee pitches in with her virtuosic vocal improvisation technique for “小心肉,” perhaps the noisiest cut of the bunch; and Canti Magnetici alum Aniello wraps up with a ponderous pool of tape ambient.

Irida Records: Hybrid Musics from Texas and Beyond, 1979–1986 (Blank Forms, Oct 7)

Another collection whose premise and purview are concerned with the history of the music in addition to the music itself, Blank Forms’ massive seven-volume anthology of forgotten material from the fleeting Canton-based imprint Irida covers a staggering amount of ground. The work of owner-operator Jerry Hunt features prominently, joining several other composers for an array of avant-garde classical and electronic music that feels just as exciting now as it must have been four decades ago. For fans of Dockstader, Stockhausen, Oliveros, etc.

The Blorp Esette Gazette Vols. 3 & 4 (Gilgongo, Nov 11)

Few vestiges of the early American avant-garde have survived and thrived more than the Los Angeles Free Music Society, a once location-based collective that has expanded both geographically and stylistically over the past few decades. Across two discs, eminent founding figure Ace Farren Ford and new-generation voice John Wiese stand shoulder to shoulder with a vast quantity of names old and new, known and unknown (to me at least): {An EeL}, Million Brazilians, Control Unit, etc. The sprawling set is the first issuing in the Gazette series since 2013, and it hopefully won’t be the last.

Mensajes del agua: Nuevos sonidos desde Perú Vol. 1 (Buh, Feb 2)

Compiled by Buh Records honcho Luis Alvarado, Mensajes del agua is accompanied by a lived-in account of the state of the contemporary experimental music scene in Peru, the vibrancy of which Alvarado states is “most apparent in the emergence of collectives to promote new music made by young people, such as Dehumanización or Retama, as well as in the development of a new strand of electroacoustic composition connected with circuits of the musical underground.” Unsurprisingly, the tracks run the gamut of subversive approaches, from field recording assemblage to formal modern classical arrangements.

List: Favorite Compilations, Reissues, and Archival Releases of 2022

A truly great year for this category, especially with regard to noise, African music, and jazz. These picks pull from both those and many other areas: records I’ve loved rising again alongside ones I’d never heard of before, catchalls from bands I’ve followed in the past together with reverent discography treatments completely new to my ears. They all have at least one thing in common though, clearly.

Sunshine Has Blown remastered LP+CD (Pentiments, Dec 4)

There’s not much to say about the sole release by Joel Stern and Adam Park’s short-lived collective that hasn’t already been said, even just by Christoph J. Harris for this deluxe edition’s liner notes printed on the bonus CD sleeve. The spacious remaster by Jos Smolders renders the warmly haunting transmissions as even more delicate, even more organic. This is what makes Sunshine Has Blown’s music so special: it sounds as if it came from another world, and yet at the same time it is palpably made by human hands. I never thought I’d hear more beyond the three performances that comprise the original, but three unreleased tracks on the bonus CD—one recorded the day after the Mormon Gibbon show with presumably the same lineup of Velvet Pesu on cello, the other two from May of 2006—offer a glimpse of what might have been. But it was, and that’s what matters.

Albert Ayler – La Cave Cleveland Live 1966, Revisited (Hat Hut, Jan 28)

The latest and just-as-greatest archival Ayler double CD from Hat Hut, along with last year’s 1966: Berlin, Lörrach, Paris & Stockholm, Revisited (which includes spruced-up versions of the cuts featured on the original Lörrach / Paris 1966 LP), have seriously shaken the foundations of the complete Greenwich Village recordings as my pronounced desert island option for the beloved saxophone visionary. Featuring Mutawef A. Shaheed on bass, previously heard only on the massive Holy Ghost set, and Michael Samson—about whom I can’t find much at all—on violin, the raucous joy of the sextet yet again illustrates how Ayler’s still-unmatched approach to free jazz possessed (and possesses) both impermanent nuance and consistent beauty.

The New Blockaders – Changez les Blockeurs 40th Antiversary LP (Urashima, July)

Another staple that has been written about extensively, Changez les Blockeurs occupies a unique space in every listener’s mind, and yet we all must agree to thank it for kickstarting noise culture as it exists today. While it may seem like just the latest in a scattered series of reissues, this fortieth anniversary vinyl edition from Urashima feels like something definitive, reimagining the original artwork and manifesto with the care of people who love this record just as much as I do.

Incapacitants – As Loud as Possible (Total Black, Mar 18)

Again, need I say more? Though admittedly I’ve never been the most devoted Incapacitants fan, this album has always been a favorite, both encapsulating the 90s noise zeitgeist and presaging approaches that arose much later. Plus, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today if I hadn’t had the privilege of seeing Mikawa play a cramped, intimate solo set in a record store back room. I doubt anyone would be surprised to hear I love noise, but this year I was reminded of just how much I love it. So excuse the nostalgia.

Motel Bible – Regression (Heathen Hand / Zegema Beach, Jan 22)

Sometimes it happens that these super-limited scene reissues and discography roundups introduce me to bands I’ve never heard of. Regression was one of those for which I knew the music beforehand and was excited to hear it revamped (much like with Hayworth’s A Nostalgic Battle-Scar last year), and it did not disappoint. Opening with the now definitive version of the instrumental opener from a previously obscure untitled tape and closing with a full live set from 2005, this is unquestionably some of the finest techgrind ever recorded.

MP5 (Hostile 1, July)

Both brief cassettes by the Dayton duo of Matthew Reis (Developer) and Luke Tandy (Being) are collected and remastered on this limited digipak release, which also happens to be probably my most frequently listened-to CD of the second half of the year. The two Midwest stalwarts, unsurprisingly, shred even more as a unit than they do apart. Addictively crunchy pedal attack and technical semi-auto cutup meet somewhere in the middle and get torn apart from both sides.

Blackout – Dreamworld: Othaside (Trill Hill / Snubnoze, Aug 6)

For fans of Memphis hip-hop either old or new, Blackout needs no introduction. 1995’s Dreamworld was easily one of the crowning achievements of the city’s mid-90s cassette culture, perfecting and defining the kind of smothered, psychedelic, legitimately terrifying horrorcore that artists are still trying (and usually failing) to replicate. Recorded in the same sessions as that legendary album but presumably cut for not fitting as well thematically, the tracks on Dreamworld: Othaside demonstrate the timelessness of Blackout’s slow, plodding drum machine beats and hypnotic mantra-flows. The fidelity is much higher than in my preferred rip of the original, but the songs hold up, remaining just as fresh as the trap it inspired and as lived-in as the classic Southern sound from which it grew.

Humectant Interruption (ODMOWA, November)

For the new issue of the Untitled zine (it just officially dropped today, if you’re interested in a copy I have a few extra) I contributed a piece about various features and points of interest in low-fidelity harsh noise. I hadn’t heard this exhumed single-sider from hermitic Flushing label ODMOWA when I wrote that; if I had, it certainly would have been included. Joel St. Germain recorded this previously unheard Humectant Interruption material in 1998, almost 25 years prior to its master and subsequent release, and it’s more exciting than half the brand-new stuff I’ve stumbled across recently.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – In Concert (Steeplechase, Dec 16)

The legendary evolving combo once again appears on this list, this time with a 1962 Copenhagen set that features what retrospectively might be the Messengers’ most star-studded lineup: Hubbard, Shorter, Fuller, Walton, Merritt. The fidelity is a bit tinny, a bit trebly, but once the band settles in you remember why labels are still unearthing their live recordings sixty years later. I’d go so far as to say the purchase is worth it just for “It’s Only a Papermoon”… I think I have a new favorite Blakey solo.

Celestine Ukwu and His Philosophers National – No Condition Is Permanent (Mississippi, Aug 5)

More than a few of the highlife remasters I’ve heard have been overbearing, the compression often squeezing the tenderness out of the quieter, softer originals. Thankfully the lush, considered interplay of Ukwu and his best known band is not just preserved, but bolstered by Tim Stollenwerk’s treatment—every minuscule nuance of the flowing hand-percussion grooves, agile guitar work, and poignant lyrics in both Igbo and English has plenty of room to breathe and dissolve. There’s no chomping noise-reduction patch slapped over the vinyl crackle either, and thank god, because I don’t think the Nigerian legend’s voice ever sounds better than when it bleeds out of the grooves themselves.

Beatrice Harrison – His Delicious Voice So Liquid: The Complete May 1927 Nightingale Recordings (Canary, Jul 7)

The story behind these recordings is almost, if not just as fascinating as the soundscapes they capture. There’s plenty of reading to do courtesy of Baltimore-based archival project Canary Records, but the elevator pitch will likely be enough to intrigue anyone reading this list: nightingales plus cello plus recording and broadcasting techniques that were and are beyond innovative. There isn’t much music from this era I enjoy other than Washington Phillips, so I’m thankful to musicologist and curator Ian Nagoski for introducing me to yet another historic visionary.

Triple Negative – Rodez Island Cyclone (Cost of Living, May 23)

Covering a wider span of time than anything else on this list, Triple Negative’s latest release traces the project’s creative trajectory from sketches assembled as early as 2004 to tracks recorded alongside those comprising their last few records. This collection is unsurprisingly the group’s most eclectic, but every single thing on it has that indefinable aura that makes Triple Negative sound like no other band on earth. Original review

Julius Eastman – Stay on It (Week—End, Dec 20)

This LP pressing with “Stay on It” as the A side and “The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc” as the B isn’t a huge deal in the sense that the same recordings of both compositions were previously released as part of Unjust Malaise, but it’s nonetheless good to see Eastman’s work reaching new ears through any channel, and convenient to have my two favorites of his as a unit. The physical LP doesn’t seem to be out yet, so keep an eye out in 2023.

Gert-Jan Prins – 86–95 (Why Keith Dropped the S, Oct 3)

No matter how good their current output may be, some artists’ early ephemera are much more interesting than others’. 86–95 introduced an odd situation for me; other than the MEGO CDs Risk and Break Before Make not much of Dutch electronics whisperer Gert-Jan Prins’ oeuvre has grabbed me, yet these early works couldn’t be more up my alley. The rudimentary but ambitious recordings have the breadth and volatility of an improviser gradually honing the tools and techniques they’ll go on to use and perfect throughout the rest of their career—a wonderful process to be privy to.

Iron Knowledge – Rat Race (Peppermint, Jul 15)

One of a smattering of short-lived funk units whose best (and often only) songs were featured on Memphix’s 2002 compilation Chains and Black Exhaust, Iron Knowledge hailed from Youngstown, OH, and—just like fellow Chains contributors, Memphis natives, and genre namesakes Blackrock—cut just one 7″ before fizzling out and being lost to time, until now. Almost a half century after the group’s active years comes Rat Race, a squeaky-clean remaster of three unreleased songs still firmly steeped in the milieu of early 70s groove rock.

Mix: The Yule Goat

Following last December’s The Tryal of Old Christmas, the venerable Brachliegen Tapes has once again brought festive tidings to eager wind-reddened ears with The Yule Goat, a dark, icy trudge into the melodies and mysteries of the all-powerful solstice. In recognition of George Rayner-Law and friends’ consistently sublime work, and in the interest of remembering the roots of certain now-unrecognizable traditions, let’s gather around the hearth for a spell and listen to the snow fall. May Winter be merciful.

Straw Yule goat in Sweden covered with snow

00:00. Graham Lambkin & Jason Lescalleet – “Listen, the Snow Is Falling” from The Breadwinner (Erstwhile, 2008)

07:25. Degradation – “Ebb, Static…” from The Yule Goat (Brachliegen, 2022)

12:30. Brian Whitman – “City Sidewalk Steadfast Clime” from A Singular Christmas (self-released, 2004)

15:02. Carlo Giustini – “Quando qui vivevano altre ” from Non Uscire (No Rent, 2018)

21:17. Nuno Canavarro – eighth untitled track from Plux Quba (Ama Romanta, 1988)

23:58. Lower Bar Collective – “Holy” from Christmas (self-released, 2021)

33:35. George Rayner-Law – “Prudence in Your Entertainment” [excerpt] from The Tryal of Old Christmas (Brachliegen, 2021)

36:07. Plinth – “St. Lucia’s Day” Pt. 3 from Wintersongs (Dorset Paeans, 2001)

39:22. Chartreuse – “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” from Last Winter We Didn’t Sing V/A comp (Thor’s Rubber Hammer, 2008)

45:12. Aarktica – “Like Embers” from We Will Find the Light (Darla, 2022)

Review: Yama Yuki – Tufan (Impulsive Habitat, Dec 5)

Mie-born, Tokyo-based sound artist Yama Yuki deserves my thanks not just for the generally excellent phonography on display here but also for reintroducing me to Impulsive Habitat, a netlabel I’d previously encountered through Alma Laprida’s Teleférico and then promptly let slip from my memory. Each work is fully Creative Commons–licensed and available for free lossless digital download—something that, if you’ve been following this site for any length of time (let alone the past year), you know I appreciate. I was also drawn to Tufan because of its duration. Approximately 3″-length single track releases are an ideal medium for field recordists, the perfect amount of time to develop the character of the captured or created environment with just the right amount of progression. Yama’s latest, recorded over the course of 24 hours after a typhoon made landfall, is all about rain, from the soaking, blurred rhythms of torrential downpours to the soothing drone of a receding storm. At first it’s hard to tell if the latter is what’s occurring at the outset of the piece, the sounds of a wet night bifurcated into closeby droplets and a distant low din, but the two elements soon seem to phase in and out with each other, sometimes layering into a full immersive experience of both humans and nature getting drenched, other times refurling into their disparate state, as if the observer has just stepped under an awning or onto a porch. The stereo breadth is fantastic, allowing for the most fleeting of brake squeals and digital interference to seep in on each side, but Yama also knows when to yank it away, which is an experience I’d rather not spoil (you’ll just have to listen). It speaks volumes of the artist’s skill and sensibility that such an ambitious concept statement is successfully conveyed in just 23 minutes:

This track was created as part of my study to understand how intensely humans and surrounding objects/beings are subjected to external natural forces. If you happen to be outside during a natural hazard, there is no way you can avoid being involved in it. Throughout human history, we have continuously tried to protect ourselves from the force of nature, but that is still an impossible task, and we always find ourselves vulnerable to it. In this work, I wanted to explore the theme of vulnerability of human existence within this world. Tufan means “rainstorm” or “flood” in Turkish and it has its origin in Arabic, but similar words are found in many languages, including the Japanese “Taifu.”

Review: Various Artists – PP-01 (Party Perfect!!!, Dec 2)

For the debut release from new Chicago- and Queens-based arrival Party Perfect!!!, three contemporary sound artists and one duo—Hunter Brown and Dominic Coles as Other Plastics, whose Overtime Liquor I reviewed here in 2020—each contribute an album-length section to a massive tetraptych compilation, simply titled after its own catalog number. It’s an interesting way to take the first step, and intuitively seems to center the label as just as much collective as imprint. What’s more, each self-contained work fits both thematically and sonically with those that come after and/or before, making a full listen a lengthy but worthwhile endeavor. Despite the duration, boredom isn’t really a concern here; composer and improviser Michelle Lou’s untitled suite of four tracks kicks off with a bang, ripping ragged digital knives through plasticine barriers, filling the field with thick glitch storms that break into sawtooth drones and quieter, sparser realms. The MEGO-esque maelstroms continue with The Arranger, a machine-listening algorithm written and performed by Stefan Maier at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in 2018, which has all the volatile, stochastic kinesis of Florian Hecker’s noisiest records with the heady conceptualism of his more recent work. Both “diffusions” of Maier’s piece, one via speakers and the other via headphones, are absolute joys to experience, the movements so manifold I’m convinced the code is somehow processing more than just itself.

By far the briefest segment, multidisciplinary artist Michael Flora’s Emergent Spectra covers immense ground despite the short lengths of the title tracks and the constricted minimalism of a pure data palette. Some of the sketches, namely 004 and 006, blow through a half-hour’s worth of complexity in less than a minute, the wrenching cut-ups and hard pans leading up to the starkly linear progression of “Folded Spectra.” The stretch of sterile synthesis is followed up by what is perhaps the most “human” of the quadrants, a field recording–based effort by Other Plastics to reveal “the rhythmic profile of various forms of contemporary leisure.” almost leisure has a much more defined thesis than the duo’s traditionally improvised debut, its sprawling sound-map of decontextualized conversation and spatial wormholes evoking the uncanny humor and illuminations of Network Glass’s Twitch user anthropology. As is probably clear by now, any of these could easily hold its own as a distinct release, but I think PP-01 is greater than just the sum of its parts.

Review: Partial – Partial Previews (Suppedaneum, Nov 29)

It’s been more than a month since my last review. What better way to return to the fold than writing about a release that doesn’t technically feature any music at all?

Partial Previews, the first new work from Chicago duo Partial (Haptic member and Suppedaneum honcho Joseph Clayton Mills with Coppice half and Future Vessel mastermind Noé Cuéllar) since 2014’s sublime LL comprises the following pieces, available as a unit for free plus the cost of shipping:

1. One matte gray paper folder, slightly textured, with a single interior pocket. The folder measures 6 ½ inches by 8 ¼ inches and weighs 1 oz (27 g). The word “Previews” is embossed on the cover in a serif font.

2. One audio cassette with blue leader tape, encased in clear acrylic with silver metallic foil labels affixed to both sides, held together with five small black screws. The cassette is blank and approximately 30 minutes in duration. The cassette measures 4 inches by 2½ inches by ½ inch and weighs 1.1 oz (31 g).

3. Two acrylic dice, one of which is black with white markings and one of which is white with black markings. On each of the dice, two faces are marked with a single line, horizontal or vertical depending on the orientation. Two faces are marked with a cross consisting of two lines of equal length. Two faces are blank. The corners of the dice are rounded. Each of the dice is ⅝ of an inch in height. Each of the dice weighs 0.2 oz (4 g).

4. Three rectangular sheets of blank white paper. One sheet is matte cardstock; one sheet has a glossy, reflective sheen on one side; and one sheet is translucent vellum. Each sheet measures 5 inches by 7 inches. The cardstock sheet weighs 0.1 oz (3 g). The glossy sheet weighs 0.2 oz (4 g). The translucent vellum weighs less than 0.1 oz (less than 1 g).

5. One hexagonal pencil with #2 graphite lead, sharpened, with a soft nonsmear latex-free eraser affixed to one end. The other end is sharpened. The pencil is painted red, is approximately 3 ¾ inches in length, and weighs 0.1 oz (3 g). This pencil is certified to conform to ASTM standard D4236 by the Pencil Makers Association of America.

6. One smooth red acrylic disc, the surface of which is blank and slightly reflective, 2 inches in diameter and ⅛ inch in thickness, weighing 0.3 oz (7 g).

The written instructions are equally straightforward: “Place the red disc within your field of vision while recording or being recorded. Conceal the red disc when not recording or being recorded. / Read faces for suggestions on how to use Partial Previews. / Partial Previews are proportionate to one’s ratio of uncertainty to action as faces become less blank.” The digital supplement to the release, free to download on the Suppedaneum Bandcamp page, provides further suggestions for effective use. Bookend tracks “⊞” and “⊟” ostensibly feature the audio from both sides of the blank cassette, fifteen minutes each of empty analog hiss, though the former seems to be an external microphone recording and the latter direct-input. Together with the completely silent “▢” they form three levels of involvement with or observation of the “material” contained on the tape. I would say that it’s unclear whether the sonic aspect is even essential to the work as a whole or it’s just one of many equally inconsequential angles to approach whatever the actual essence is, but in this case such statements are just as redundant as what they attempt to describe. Maybe it’s ironic that it takes a meeting of such conceptually minded artists to create something so thoroughly literal, or maybe the irony is that literality itself is rendered obsolete. We’ve all heard the “At the end of the day, it’s just an apple” routine; could the tangible components have been described any more accurately? Does holding them in one’s hands—actually using them for whatever purpose is allowed by the unspoken constraints of such specificity—make them any more real? I don’t fucking know. What use are questions that have answers?