Liner notes on 2020 – Part II

“It was my own countryside and I loved it with an intimate feeling, though all its associations were crude and incoherent. I cannot think of it now without a sense of heartache, as if it contained something which I have never quite been able to discover.” – Wardown Liner Notes

With a slight delay, this is the second part of my annual list (the drum & bass edition) featuring 21 of my favourite d&b records released in 2020, which I find worthy of your attention and – why not –  your credit card. The list is supplemented with liner notes, background stories and comments, trying to maintain an equilibrium between the (sorely missed) club sound system and the living room listening experience. A complicated epoch triggers complicated emotions and music can be the nostalgic reminder of simpler times.

Amidst a second wave of the pandemic, where our social reflexes have been stretched to the limit, one of the positives in this mess is that home listening is no longer relegated to background music until dinner is ready; it’s become a routine to look forward to, a refuge and a remedy. So, I would like to take the opportunity once again to thank all artists and record labels for gracing this relentless year with their beautiful music, channelling isolation and insecurity into works of art, safeguarding the passion and the romance.

Bandcamp has launched an initiative to support the many artists, who have seen their livelihoods disrupted by the pandemic in 2020. On the first Friday of every month since March, they have waived their revenue share and plan to continue accordingly also in 2021, on February 5th, March 5th, April 2nd, and May 7th. More details here.

Without further ado, let’s start my personal highlight reel, ordered by the date the records were added to my collection (which more or less coincides with the official release date). I have also attached links for preview/purchase, however in most cases the physical products have already sold out. I do realize that this might seem another one of the many lists circulating this time of year; however every single entry is taken from my personal record collection, records I have paid for and in cases have waited for months to receive. Hence, it’s by definition subjective and biased, but I would like to think that this is also an honest appraisal.

Albums

Albums

Metalheadz are celebrating their 25th anniversary, however due to huge delays at the pressing plants the celebrations have been postponed for later this year. Their release schedule seems busier than ever and 4 artist albums saw the light of day in 2020 (by Mako, Adred, Mikal and Friske respectively).

Stephen Redmore (aka Mako), the Bristolian head of Utopia Music, released his much anticipated debut album titled ‘Oeuvre’ (a French word which encompasses the body of an artist’s work) and achieved to re-imagine the 90s Metalheadz venerated sound he grew up with in a modern, contemporary context. Uncompromising yet private and contemplative, ‘Oeuvre’ is a straight-forward narrative; an homage to the label’s foundations bearing Mako’s personal signature and production prowess.

Favourite track: The Scenic Values

Four years after his last album (‘Last Refuge of a Scoundrel’, Metalheadz) Dom returns with his 8th solo album ‘Lost in the Moment’. Defying the culture of distraction and minimal attention span that seems hell-bent on burying new music beneath an endless scroll, Dom revisits the bare essentials and immerses into the core of elements that drew him into drum & bass in the first place. Packaged in a gorgeous full-colour, matt gloss, aqueous varnished art sleeve ‘Lost in the Moment’ is a study into micro-contradictions, capturing that moment of revelation, where simplicity and subtlety intersect with complexity and detail.

Favourite Track: Binary Star

Calibre is a producer who enjoys the creative freedom of a taste-maker alleviated from expectations and constantly re-imagines his artistic persona with a fresh outlook on life and music. The 6th edition Calibre’s ‘Shelflife’ archival series features 13 of his most sought-after previously unreleased productions. Although the track list spans almost two decades, including tracks played at his 2019 XOYO residency, they all sound as relevant as if they were written yesterday, highlighting Calibre’s devotion to his enviably endless back catalogue.

Favourite track: Sense Soirèe

When I wrote the ‘Whatever happened to … Foul Play?’ blog feature six years ago, I’d never imagined that there would be another unwritten chapter of their story. Since then, John Morrow has returned to production launching his new project Killer Smile and occasionally djs wearing his Foul Play hat for selected gigs.

Foul Play had been initially conceived as the title of their first EP, but was later adopted as an artist name, when they signed with Moving Shadow. A publishing deal with the mastering house JTS Studios, who took over also the pressing, artwork and distribution culminated in the launch of Foul Play’s own imprint Oblivion Records, named after their eponymous club nights.

Sneaker Social Club has re-issued the essential Foul Play early works, giving a new lease of life to their musical legacy. The aptly named ‘Origins’ compilation includes the first 2 Oblivion Records volumes, as well as ‘Finest Illusion/Screwface’ which was released on Shadow’s offshoot Section 5.

Favourite Track: Dubbing You

Shortly after the official release of his second personal album ‘Full Circle’ last year (which featured also on my blog’s 2019 respective list), J Majik had revealed to me that his next album had been already in the making. Due to the pandemic, the album’s title and artwork (the original title was ‘Dark Summer’) changed to avoid unfortunate connotations and the official launch was postponed until June.

It takes a lot of confidence and artistic ingenuity to write 2 successive albums in a short period of time without sounding derivative and repetitive, but Spratling gracefully avoided that trap, effortlessly swinging between tempos and styles. In fact, I’d argue that there are more similarities to his debut album ‘Slow Motion’, that irresistible mermaid song which still echoes after 23 years.  ‘Always Be’ is an intentionally open-ended title, which reflects on the various phases of J Majik’s illustrious recording career; retrospective and futuristic both at the same time.

Favourite track: Life Force

It’s been 3 years already since Lee Bogush (DJ Harmony) re-launched Deep Jungle Records. Delving into their DAT treasure trove Deep Jungle has been celebrating dubplate culture releasing gems that were considered buried in the sands of time.

Fifteen years after his last solo output on Moving Shadow, Harmony makes a dynamic comeback into production and the title of his debut LP ‘Resurgence’ suggest exactly that. Instead of resting on the laurels of his label’s success, Lee stylishly delivers an album that nods to the golden era of the mid-90s. A lot has been said and written about the recent jungle revival, but I would still argue that the jungle sound/movement never really went away; just moved on the fringes of the scene and re-surfaced with a modern twist. ‘Resurgence’ is an album that could have been played on the speakers of the Lucky Spin/Section 5 record shop in 1995, or on your ipod walking down King’s Road in 2020 and nobody would notice the time leap.

Favourite Track: Dance With Me

“Melodies bring memories that linger in my heart and make me think of home and such”

I first found out about the Wardown project this summer during a seaside dinner with Chris Marigold. As per my usual practice I coerced him to reveal his future musical plans and he mentioned that there would be an album from Pete Rogers (one half of leading drum & bass outfit Technimatic) scheduled towards the end of 2020. In fact, there had been talks for quite some time about a potential release and thankfully the best d&b album of the year saw the light of day.

The project title is a reference to the eponymous park of Rogers’ hometown Luton. Now, replace Luton with your own hometown, the place you grew up, your favourite holiday destination or your own secluded space and visualize it. Rogers has captured the heartbreaking nostalgia of all those memories, images, scents, sounds, imaginary dialogues, people he used to know and translated them into a captivating album that transcends space and time. ‘Wardown’ reflects on those dusty, imperfect sounds and blemished memories of the past, which inevitably represent our human nature and are often more interesting than their sterile counterparts.  Memories by definition can be unreliable or a fictionalized version of the past, partly constructed by truth and partly to comply with simplistic archetypes. Those words that were never said, the unresolved inner battles, the dreams never shared. And time passes, relentless and unforgiving.

Favourite Track: Lorem Ipsum

If you expected something like ‘Jazz Note’, ‘Warhead’ or any other sacred dancefloor text then look elsewhere. After his release on Doc Scott’s 31 Records (‘The Portal’/’Concealing Treachery’) and some cryptic messages on social media, rumours started to spread about a forthcoming album. Fourteen years after his last long player (‘Hidden Knoweledge’, Full Cycle) Krust returns with ‘The Edge of Everything’.

Released on Damian Lazarus’ Crosstown Rebels label the LP defies genre conventions in favour of cinematic aims. If anything, there is suspense about what happens next. An eccentric melange of John Carpenter soundtracks and visceral beats, drenched-in-delay drums and buzzing synths set the mise-en-scene. Not your ordinary d&b album, but then again I wouldn’t expect anything less from Krust. A 2-part remix project with re-interpretations from Four Tet, Batu, Damian Lazarus, Calibre, LCY and Flynn has already followed.

Favourite Track: Deep Fields of Liars

James Clements’ return to drum & bass for Samurai Music has been a silver sliver to a dark-clouded and dreadful year. ‘Isolated Systems’ is the second part of the ‘Entropic Trilogy’; the first part being  the ‘Exact Science’ EP released earlier in the year and the third part is due soon. The vision of the project is intentionally dystopian, cold and desolate with a very distinct aesthetic and the influences are quite apparent. Listen to ASC’s podcast talking about the records and artists that inspired the project, as well as a track-by-track walkthrough here. Fans of ASC’s warmer and atmospheric d&b vibes fear not though, as there is an EP soon on his Auxiliary sub-label Veil.

Favourite Track: Thorn Without A Rose

VA Compilations, Singles, EPs and Album samplers

EPs

After 13 years and over 90 releases, Med School completed their natural cycle. Med School has been the sister label of Hospital Records and started as a platform to promote new talent, groom them for the main label and accommodate for music that wasn’t exactly suitable for the Hospital sound. Featuring a wide range of d&b styles across 23 tracks from some of the label’s stalwarts and a  younger generation of producers (the ‘new blood’, after whom the annual compilations were named), ‘Graduation’ is a tribute to the musicians and culture that defined Med School and a fitting farewell to a special project that in some cases I’d dare say it outclassed the parent label. Graduates file off, lights dimmed, time for the reception.

Favourite track: Villem – Stereogram

Being a Narratives Music devotee, I’ve always wondered how a synergy between Blocks & Escher and the enigmatic Rhyming in Fives would sound. The answer came in May, with the sublime ‘Mr. Parker’s Voice’, a tribute to American alto saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Charlie Parker; a lyric artist generally considered the greatest jazz saxophonist. Combining RiF’s widescreen vistas with a hypnotic rhythmic tempo and dialogue excerpts taken from a Charlie Parker interview with John McLellan and Paul Desmond (Boston, January 1954), the 16th Narratives release is one of the label’s finest moments.

Favourite Track: Mr Parker’s Voice (featuring Rhyming in Fives)

I discovered Mark Kloud about 4 years ago, when I covered Nord Label for the blog and interviewed label founder Simon Viehoff. Following up his appearance on Soul Intent’s Dope Plates label, Mark Kloud returns with his debut album ‘Moonquake’, released on Exkursions, another Lossless Music sub-label focusing on 85/170 ventures. Moonquake is the lunar equivalent of an earthquake, first observed by astronauts of the Apollo mission. And just like after an earthquake, the aftershocks, though weaker in intensity, last long after the last bass note.

Favourite Track: Blood Dimmed Tide

“It all sat together really well and just seemed to strike a chord and respond to what was going on at that moment” – Justice

Seven years after the last ‘Modernists’ edition (a feature about the series from the blog’s archive here), MJAZZ released the 5th volume in the middle of a mad year. Initially pencilled for a vinyl release, due to the mayhem at the pressing plants, ‘Modernists 2020’ was released as a digital/tape LP instead with a 7” LP sampler (limited to 50 copies) following later in the year.  Featuring label regulars, friends and affiliates (Sicknote, Necrotype, Metro, Cuelock, Dev/Null, Control Remote, Kodeine and more), a special moment where Justice collaborates with his eldest (Justice & Society) and a revival of Justice’s Steel alias (which was used for the Modern Urban Jazz compilation on Creative Wax and Funk 21, more here), ‘Modernists 2020’ retains the eclectic ethos of the previous volumes and revisits the series foundations with 11 jungle/d&b cuts. The album sampler includes 2 of the compilation’s highlights: ‘Daydream’ and ‘Untitled 160’.

Favourite Track: Justice & Necrotype – Daydream

Unabatingly championing a sound that hasn’t been always en vogue, Repertoire’s status has elevated from timid beginnings to one of the finest and most consistent outlets of contemporary d&b. Repertoire founder Ricky Law and recording partner Wheeler were runner-ups to the remix competition Blu Mar Ten commissioned for the track ‘Titans’ from their ‘Empire State’ LP . Their remix was eventually pressed on vinyl (BMTM x Repertoire joint release) and that was only a glimpse of a bright future.

The ‘Post-Truth’ EP is one of the label’s finest hours, stylishly capturing the anxiety and discomfort of a turbulent era, where appeals to emotions and personal beliefs outweigh objective facts and common sense gradually becomes irrelevant. Ricky explains:

“I thought the mood of the EP title track reflected some of the anxiety and unease caused by current events in the last few years. The track not only has that vibe sonically, but it was written during peak Brexit and Trump hysteria. It just felt right. ‘Post-Truth’ is a word that seems to sum up recent times”

Favourite Track: Igloo

The third part of the none60 limited edition series (only 30 copies were made available) has a southeastern European touch. Romanian producer DYL alongside musician and visual artist Manuela Marchiş on vocals present two different versions of a midsummer night’s dream. The ‘1988 Mix’ is a reference to the second summer of love and the explosion of acid house, whereas the ‘2020 Mix’ represents what none60 is all about: emotive, challenging and intricate music. The brilliant label artwork is by Scott London @ Metro Design.

Favourite Track: The Summer (2020 Mix)

Quietly forging their own path in the scene, the Bristol-based duo Mystic State (Will Marquiss and Michael Holliday) present their brilliant debut album ‘My Own Private Island’, enlisting also the vocal talents of Elana Montgomery and Phil Stanley (MC Fokus). Released on Mystic State’s own imprint The Chikara Project, the album title is inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 immortal thriller ‘Psycho’. A dialogue snippet between Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) features in the intro of the title track, which underlines the album’s vision: escapism through a kaleidoscopic lens, the futile attempt to run away and find consolation and refuge, only to find out we are still trapped within our own limitations, prejudices and fears.

Favourite Track: Too Late (featuring Congi)

Reinforced’s ethos and vision reaches well beyond the musical sphere. A community with strong allusions to their cultural roots and a creative hub, they have garnered praise across the electronic music spectrum, as well as a dedicated fan base. The ‘Rainbow People’ EP is a special project reaffirming Manix’s social sensitivities. Pressed and priced to balance the collector exclusivity along with awareness and donation level to their chosen charity, all proceeds have been donated to a noble cause any parent can relate to (see more here). The limited rainbow splatter version sold out in literally less than 2 minutes.

Favourite Track: Let The Music Move You

Coco Bryce’s playful, unique take on jungle has stylishly bridged a generation gap. Even his recording alias is a nod to a character from Irvine Welsh’s collection of vignettes and short stories ‘Acid House’ (1994). He has been a regular fixture at Rupture, so his debut with the London club night/label was only a matter of time, with three tracks that will instantly teleport you to the intimate and intense atmosphere of the Corsica Studios dancefloor.  Coco Bryce has also made a surprise debut on Kasra’s Critical Music (‘Hold The Line’ EP) which could have easily featured on this list.

Favourite Track: The Unseen

Suburban Architecture is a new label and production outfit from London-based DJ/Producers Chris Read and James Curry. Their influences are showcased on their ‘Architects’ mix series, paying homage to the drum & bass pioneers and the UK suburbia in which the genre flourished. Emulating the atmosphere of a certain time and place is a tricky affair that could turn into self-parody, however Suburban Architecture have achieved with ‘Alternative Futures’ to capture 90s nostalgia applying a thin film of contemporary aesthetics; an art print with a vision and a purpose.

Favourite Track: China Town

Forme is the recording moniker Richard File (aka DJ Aura) used for one of the most revered atmospheric d&b classics of the 90s ‘New Element’. He later resurrected the project for Martin Freeland’s Marine Parade label. Originally hidden in the Mo’Wax ‘Headz 2A’ compilation and featuring on the mixed CD version of ‘Logical Progression’, as well as on Bukem‘s legendary 1996 Essential Mix (BBC Radio 1, 24-03-1996), ‘New Element’ got a new lease of life with a new track on the flip-side by the Russian label Okbron. Another previously unreleased track from that mix and well-sought after by Bukem aficionados (‘G-Force – Proximity’) is also available for pre-order now from Okbron.

Favourite Track: New Element

When a teaser was posted almost simultaneously by several former Moving Shadow artists on social media, anticipation escalated into frenzy and the news about the forthcoming project monopolized the headlines of the electronic music press. Over/Shadow, created by Si & Sean of 2 Bad Mice, is a collective of former Moving Shadow artists and like-minded producers with the vision to release amazing music and create a community of fans who do not only enjoy it, but value its worth too. Read the labels’ manifesto here.

The first part of the Over/Shadow series is by Blame, a producer who’s a crucial link between the golden past and a conspicuous, bright future representing a continuity that runs through the subsequent generations of rave music and Moving Shadow’s output. The second installment of the series by Dom & Roland is scheduled for this February, with many other familiar names to follow.

Favourite Track: Star Traveller

The first part of ‘Liner notes on 2020’ is available here.

 

 

Published by GodIsNoLongerADj

What the sleeve notes never tell you and ramblings about all things jungle/drum & bass and modern electronica

2 thoughts on “Liner notes on 2020 – Part II

  1. Nice round up of the year – some incredibly good releases have come out despite the chaos of 2020 – particularly that Wardown album, its a beautiful selection of music.

    I’m most intrigued by OKBRON and how a new label from Russia has been able to bring out all this lost magic. I’m guessing there is someone behind this with serious connections to the scene from back in the day.
    Long may it continue, for a label to pull out lost gems like Krust Arizona, FORME and GForce Proximity in the space of 12 months is amazing.

    1. Thank you for your comments Dan. The amount of great music released in 2020 has been one of the positives in a dreadful year.
      Wardown is my favourite LP too and although I knew about it before it was even announced it exceeded my expectations.
      I have been amazed by Okbron too. Alex who runs it has done a great job giving a new lease of life to classics and previously unreleased gems from the golden era. I guess there are more to follow

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