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.