Liner Notes on 2022 – Part II (Impressions of Absence)

This is the second part of the extended ‘Liner Notes on 2022’ feature exploring a wide array of styles, concepts, themes and motifs; from contemporary classical, ambient and music for films, to shoegaze electronica, techno, deep house and even progressive rock vignettes. The piano takes centre stage and bar a few exceptions, this is mainly music for home-listening. So, if you are wondering how Greek mythology, soundtracks and scores from classic LA movies, the ghosts of old America, vintage super 8 films, psychedelic trips into the subliminal and video games could all fit within the endless possibilities of electronic music, dust off your Glencairn glasses, dim the lights, draw the blinds, put your headphones on and scroll down.

In recent years, especially with the establishment of Record Store Day, it’s become almost de rigueur among record labels to re-release selected titles from their back catalogues, re-mastered and packaged in anniversary collector’s editions, featuring the original or updated artwork, extended liner notes, rare photos and ephemera. In certain cases the price of the first pressings had gone from exorbitant to speculative, so it’s been a golden chance to fill in some gaps, as well as revisit or replace some of the originals.

You might have noticed that some of the usual ‘suspects’, like A Strangely Isolated Place, Past inside The Present, Erased Tapes etc. are missing from this edition, but fear not. Part IV is dedicated to those labels, as their 2022 output called for an exclusive narrative; a slight deviation from the series’ traditional format.

Most of the records in this list were pressed in limited quantities and the physical versions have already sold out. Some back stock though might still be available here and there.  Supplemented with liner notes, brief comments and purchase/preview links, these are another 15 of my favourite 2022 records, ordered by date of official release.

Bonobo – Fragments

1

Label: Ninja Tune

Cat. #: ZEN279

Released: January, 14

Artwork: Neil Krug

Five years after the highly acclaimed ‘Migration’, which earned him a Grammy Nomination for ‘Best Electronic/Dance Album’, Bonobo (Simon Green) announced his 7th studio album ‘Fragments’ along with a 2022 world tour. As usual, Green has enlisted a host of multi-instrumentalists, singers and songwriters to dovetail with his music: Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Jordan Rakei, O’Flynn, Jamila Woods, Joji and Kadhja Bonet.

As the title suggests, the concept started to take shape out of fragments of ideas, experimentation with modular synthesis, soundtracks and scores from classic LA films and Green’s adventures in the Californian desert, where he found refuge from the global shutdown and the white noise of his urban surroundings, searching for locations he’d seen on screen.

While ‘Blacks Sands’ (2010) signified Bonobo’s shift towards a more dancefloor-oriented sound, it’s more than evident that ‘Fragments’ has cemented his profile as a live performer. I attended his concert in Athens (Plisskën Festival, June, 18th) where he played ‘Fragments’ almost in its entirety. As expected, the lead tracks of the album (‘Rosewood’, ‘Otomo’ and ‘Shadows’) enthralled the festival crowd. Counter-intuitively though, I prefer the album’s violin interludes and sedative synth chords, rather than the safe, yet effective boilerplate garage-house tropes.

As in every Bonobo album, the artwork plays a central role in the concept. ‘Fragments’ tries to capture motion. After shoots in California and Wyoming, the final cover image sees the viewer submerged in water. A shimmering scarlet light illuminates the sky in the background, as if it might defy the elements and set the sea alight.

Favourite Track: Elysian

Tycho – Epoch

2

Label: Ghostly International

Cat. #: GI-279 (re-issue)

Released: January, 25

‘Epoch’ is Tycho’s (Scott Hansen) 3rd album for Ghostly International, originally released in 2016. The last installment in a trilogy of albums, after ‘Dive’ (2011) and ‘Awake’ (2014), ‘Epoch’ manifested Hansen’s development from a delicate solo performer into an iconic frontman of a multi-layered live band. Arguably Tycho’s most accomplished album to-date, ‘Epoch’ expands on the sonic aesthetic of  the two previous albums, integrating the downtempo vintage synthesizers of ‘Dive’ and the progressive composition and organic instrumentation of ‘Awake’ into whole new musical realms; as ‘rock’ as they’ve been comfortable with.

‘Epoch’ was arranged alongside Zac Brown, a childhood friend, long time collaborator and partner in the Tycho project, who contributed bass and guitar parts to the songwriting process, while Rory O’Connor played drums. O’Connor was brought in during the ‘Dive’ tour cycle.

The title, as well as the illustration of the album artwork, is as important to Hansen as the music itself. An epoch is defined as an extended period of time typically characterized by a distinctive development or by a memorable series of events, and the songs have been written with that concept in mind. The minimal red-black colour scheme of the album cover, resembling the image of a floppy disc, is a stark contrast to the rainbow palettes of the previous albums.

All parts of the trilogy have been recently re-issued by Ghostly International.

Favourite Track: Receiver

zakè & City of Dawn – Agape

3

Label: Azure Vista

Cat. #: VISTA012LP

Released: January, 28

Artwork & Design: Jakob Skøtt

Photography: Jonas Munk

When Jonas Munk announced the release of this record I was intrigued to see how the hypnotic drones of zakè (Zach Frizzell) and City of Dawn (Damien Duque), known for their collaborative projects for Past Inside The Present and their offshoots would fit the Azure Vista canon. I will spare you the obvious pun.

Across six extended pieces, the duo’s pensive synth lines, whisper-thin as a heartbeat, simmer across a smoke-streaked, slow-motion expanse, cultivating a profound sense of reflection and remembrance. Frizell and Duque have set the stage, the scenery and the underlying atmosphere, enveloping all those aspects and aspirations in a compelling vision of a place (past or present), where music is rendered warm and nostalgic, but also instinctive and precise. Somewhere without language or streets, somewhere you have dreamt about, without knowing its name.

Favourite Track: Once Forgotten

bvdub – Violet Opposition

4

Label: n5md

Cat. #: MD302LP

Released: February, 4

This is chronologically the first of the six albums Brock Van Wey released in 2022 (more details in Part IV of the series). I specifically selected this one, because it features one of my favourite tracks of the year, the 20-min epic ‘Heracles Before The Fall’. If it crossed your mind that the title has been misspelled, then Brock would be more than happy to give you a lecture about the difference between the Greek name ‘Heracles’ and the Roman equivalent ‘Hercules’, which is the whole point of the track.

bvdub’s titles are like Apollo’s high priestess’ oracular statements. Intentionally ambiguous, both metaphors and foreshadowing, a reality check to upset egos accustomed to flattery and agreement. No matter how the recipient translates the prophecy, the oracle is always right.

Some notes from the Greek mythology:

Before The Fall: Later in his life, Heracles married his second wife, Deianira. When Centaur Nessus attempted to abduct her, Heracles shot him with a poisonous arrow, which had been dipped in Lernean Hydra’s (the monstrous serpent with nine heads killed in Heracles’ 2nd Labour) poisonous blood. In a last act of vengeance, the dying centaur gave his blood-stained tunic (chiton) to Deianira as a love token, convincing her that it if worn by Heracles he would be forever bound to her.

Several years later, when fears that princess Iole has replaced her in the hero’s affections, Deianira gave Heracles the blood-stained cloak to wear, in a desperate attempt to lure him back. However, the poisoned blood on the tunic burnt Heracles’ flesh, causing excruciating pain. Realizing that he had been poisoned, Hercules built his own funeral pyre. No mortal though was brave enough to set the pyre alight, except old comrade and friend Poeas The Argonaut, who agreed to the hero’s wish. Heracles showed his gratitude by gifting Poeas his bow and arrows. After Heracles’ death, goddess Athena carried him with her chariot to Mount Olympus, where he would live as a demi-god amongst the gods (apotheosis).

Violet: like the blood-smeared centaur’s chiton.

The artwork cover has another artful touch; the soft, gentle elegance of the warm colours is juxtaposed with the viole(n)t splatters of machinery. As with pretty much every bvdub album, the music invites the listener to stretch towards some sort of wondrous alchemy, limited only by their own imagination.

Favourite Track: Heracles Before The Fall

Goldmund  – The Malady of Elegance

5

Label: Unseen Records

Cat. #: UNSEENRE004 (re-issue)

Released: February, 4

Originally released in 2008 on CD and in a very limited vinyl edition by Type, Keith Kenniff’s 2nd album as Goldmund ‘The Malady Of Elegance’ finally got its long-deserved vinyl re-release, featuring new artwork (less spooky than the original Linus Lohoff cover photo I might add) and re-mastered audio by Taylor Deupree.

Every Goldmund recording is cut from an inimitable fabric, woven out of emotional intelligence, honesty, vivid imagination and skillful restraint; ‘The Malady of Elegance’ is no exception. Taking cues from his debut ‘Corduroy Road’ Kenniff again restricts himself to the piano; still a special instrument to him. As he admitted in an interview: “I’ve managed not to learn a lot on it properly in the way of technique and I think that’s kept a sense of child-like discovery intact”.

While Kenniff channels the ghosts of Old Americana, a show-reel of sepia images is evoked with every keynote. Sepia has always been predestined to be the color of nostalgia, well before the subjects of photographs printed in sepia had become objects of nostalgia; the selective softening of memories over a lifetime, the unwelcome reminder of mortality.

Favourite Track: In A Notebook

d-Bridge & Madison Willing – Made in Silence EP

6

Label: Exit Records

Cat. #: EXIT097

Released: February, 25

Enjoying the creative freedom of a taste-maker relieved from expectations and genre confines, dBridge constantly re-invents his artistic persona with a fresh outlook on life and music. ‘Made in Silence’ is his new musical statement featuring one of the most riveting collaborations in 2022. After hearing a self-released album by film composer and ambient/orchestral producer Madison Willing, dbridge reached out.

Despite their different background and styles, they shared a common musical sensibility. The music-sharing work flow has been effortless and took place only via texts and messages, completely unspoken, hence the title of the EP. Madison revealed that at the time of writing, she was just moving on from a toxic relationship. The vocal sample on ‘Set Me Free’ is a cathartic voice memo of her feelings at the time. ‘One Note’ is also accompanied by a fantastic musical video. Filmed during the lock-down and combining vintage super 8 family movies with the character’s real-time journey to an unknown destination, the video ends in a poignant note, as the place she fondly reminisced is no longer there.

Favourite Track: Pulse

Lone – Natural Aerials

7

Label: Greco-Roman Records

Cat. #: GRECO092

Released: March, 4

Photo credit: Annie Spratt

Design credit: Richard Robinson

Last year, Lone (Matt Cutler) released his 8th studio album ‘Always Inside Your Head’, which signified a new production approach. Influenced by Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine and William Orbit’s 90’s hits, Lone upended traditional genre tropes working with singer Morgane Diet, whose lyrical textures encapsulated poignant yet redemptive emotions. Although the album might sound jubilant and sunny, at least at first listen, there were definitive moments that unveiled the multi-layered concept; the cycle of life and what might happen to our stream of consciousness after we pass away.

Lone has now released four re-works of tracks from the album under the title ‘Natural Aerials’ including a fantastic jungle remix by SHERELLE, which is my personal highlight from the EP. A rising star in the DJ circuit in the last few years, her 2021 fabric mix catapulted her into international fame, as I was lucky enough to catch her set at the PLISSKËN Festival in Athens last summer.

Favourite Track: Visited by Astronauts (SHERELLE Had A Groove Remix)

Robert Haigh – Human Remains

8

Label: Unseen Worlds

Cat. #: UW043LP

Released: March, 18

Cover Art: ‘Signs of Life’ by Robert Haigh

‘Human Remains’ completes Robert Haigh’s piano-based recordings trilogy for the Brooklyn-based label Unseen Worlds, following ‘Creatures Of The Deep’ (2017) and ‘Black Sarabande’ (2020). Thirteen emotional and fragile piano vignettes with the addition of subtle legato phrases blur the lines between composition and improvisation, echoing his brilliant retrospective compilation of early works spanning the period ’84-’89 titled ‘Cold Pieces’. The title was initially based on a painting of the same name by Haigh; a refined portrait of human imperfection and a metaphor for the resilience, versatility and ingenuity of human spirit amidst turbulent and dubious times.

For Omni Trio aficionados, Haigh made an unexpected return last year with unreleased material originally recorded around 2004, which would have formed the core of that elusive 7th Omni Trio album. The album titled ‘Above The Treeline’ was released in digital and CD format, however a limited edition vinyl EP with tracks from the album is penciled for 2023 by BlueSkinBadger Records. For more information visit Robert’s bandcamp here.

Favourite Track: Rainy Season

The Vision Reels – Collective Vision

9

Label: re:st

Cat. #: re:35

Released: April, 13

Lino Cut: LCP

Label Sticker Design: Efentwell

Inspired by Alex Grey’s eponymous painting, ‘The Collective Vision EP’ is Adam O’Hara’s (The Vision Reels) musical interpretation of the painting’s theme: the expansion of consciousness and the sharing of consciousness with other beings.

“The Collective Vision painting was based on a psychedelic experience from 1993 of joining faces with everyone and becoming a dome of eyes seeing everything. The visionary worlds reveal our infinite consciousness and potential for higher unity”Alex Grey.

Experimenting with live set ups (a sampler, analog synths and digital fx) and processing parts of these sessions in Ableton, The Vision Reels embarks upon a textural dive into uncharted territories. From the artwork and the track titles to the actual music, this is the soundtrack of a self-induced hallucination into a multi-dimensional world, a cosmic tapestry of alien forms riddled with imaginary allegories.

Favourite Track: Rebirth (Senseless Override)

Skee Mask  – ISS007

10

Label: Ilian Tape

Cat. #: ISS007

Released: April, 22

After last year’s acclaimed LP ‘Pool’, Ilian Tape’s star Bryan Müller, returns with two new installments of the Skee Mask series (‘ISS007-008’). In the meantime he also self-released, two volumes (titled ‘A’ & ‘B’) of demos and un-mastered material recovered from various hard drives, with all earnings being donated to various humanitarian relief organizations.  And what he described as ‘unfinished’, some producers would sell their souls to be able to make.

While Skee Mask’s repertoire is too broad to pigeonhole in a single genre, effortlessly swaying from dub techno and electro to atmospheric drum & bass, the 7th volume of the SM series leans towards the lighter side of the spectrum; a psychedelic sweep of subtle and nuanced cosmic ambient. Especially the opening track evokes memories of my early Amstrad gaming days.

Favourite Track: Daytime Gamer (Version)

Billow Observatory – Stareside

11

Label: Felte

Cat. #: FLT067

Released: April, 8

Artwork/Images: Jason Kolb, Jonas Munk

Billow Observatory, the trans-Atlantic duo of Jonas Munk (Denmark) and Jason Kolb (Michigan), started as a distraction from their respective works, but gradually evolved into a project that merited more time and attention. Ten years after their self-titled debut on Felte, Billow Observatory return with their latest offering ‘Stareside’.

Although there are hints of Munk’s breezy, blissed-out electronica and Kolb’s filmic, almost pastoral soundscapes, ‘Stareside’ is a more understated affair; nonetheless riveting and unbearably nostalgic. Texture becomes its own organizational principle. Grainy samples of synth washes, fluid tones, hazy arpeggios and tiny detuned flutters evoke a transition from a state of a deep restorative slumber into a stretch of twitchy, eyes-darting REM sleep; a fervent dream of a future that was promised but never delivered. Music of the present that also sounds like it’s been floating in a Warp-esque cosmos for eons.

Favourite Track: Osar

Gloved Hands – Empty Terminal

12

Label: LaLuna

Cat. #: LALUNA004

Released: July, 1

‘Empty Terminal’ is Gloved Hands’ (Morgan Fox) debut full length album. Straying from the dance floor in search of something amorphous and less tangible, the LP focuses on human feelings rather than a need for constant propulsion and momentum; snippets of a strange new world, once vibrant and lively. Endless space and emptiness – albeit with an underlying sense of beauty – create the perfect context for self-reflection.

Released on Wex Records’ offshoot LaLuna, purveyors of obscure and elegant electronica, the album is available in various colour variations (orange, yellow and blue transparent) and features another trademark stunning artwork, based on a Karin Malpeso watercolour drawing.

Favourite Track: Years Of The Cape

Synkro – Information EP

13

Label: R&S

Cat. #: RS2203

Released: October, 7

After a string of exceptional productions for R&S’ ambient division Apollo, Synkro (Joe McBride) finally features on the main label. It’s been a rather quite year for McBride, release-wise, as he’s been focusing on running his SK1 record shop in Stockport, but it was well worth the wait. Steering away from his trademark 170 motifs, ‘Information EP’ is a genre-defiant record with a distinct UK bass culture feel, showcasing McBride’s eclectic repertoire.

The crackling, degraded tropes of ‘Cycles’, the frantic percussion and grey area beats of the lead track, the industrial hypnotism of ‘Signal’ all retain Synkro’s rhythmic grace and emotional subtlety. But again, the placid, cinematic vistas of the closing track ‘Last Breath’ (I swear I can hear echoes of Mouly & Lucida’s ‘Prophecy’, a track I absolutely adore), steal the show for me.

Favourite Track: Last Breath

ASC – Colours Of Absence

14

Label: Auxiliary

Cat. #: AUXLP007

Released: November, 4

Written during the 2020 pandemic lock-down, ‘Colours of Absence’ is the companion album to ‘Original Soundtrack’, the latter released on A Strangely Isolated Place earlier in the year. As the title suggests, ‘Colours of Absence’ is a contemplative, study on absence and the ensuing deafening silence with the piano taking centre stage. A story so common that transcends time is captured delicately by Clements’ delicate and ethereal tones, which enrich harmony almost as effectively as an entire ensemble. Whispers dissipate into the cold night air like wayward sprites and regenerate like crystal flakes in the morning mist shaping lone figures in the distance.

Released on 2×12” clear vinyl, with exquisite monochrome artwork photography, this is emotional music for dimmed lights and drawn blinds. More about ASC’s drum & bass releases in the next parts of the series soon.

Favourite Track: Frailties

VA – Artificial Intelligence

15

Label: Warp

Cat. #: WARPLP6R (reissue)

Released: Dec, 6

Artwork [Pixelpainting + Decorating]: Phil Wolstenholme

Warp celebrates the 30th anniversary of its foundational compilation ‘Artificial Intelligence’, with a much-anticipated special repressing. Featuring some of the most innovative and subversive names in British music together in one place. Many are listed under aliases, but include Aphex Twin, The Black Dog, B12, Alex Paterson of The Orb, Autechre, Speedy J and Richie Hawtin.

Issued in a gatefold sleeve, the release includes interview bits introducing the artists and most importantly the original iconic artwork with the side-title on the spine: “Are you sitting comfortably? (Artificial Intelligence) Electronic listening music from Warp Records”.

“In some ways, the cover was more talismanic than the music inside, which was a bit motley, as is so often the case with compilations. You had this witty and striking image of the robot spliffing up and chilling out, plonked in his armchair in front of a nice looking hi-fi set up. All the paraphernalia of the chill out session is there – the Silk Cut packet, the Rizlas, the can of import lager. And then the record sleeves are clues – Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, Kraftwerk’s Autobahn – almost saying: this is the canon that we are extending”. – Simon Reynolds

What has been really fascinating though is that Warp had published a post-release sheet, going to great lengths in order to debunk common misconceptions and misquotes about the contentious term ‘Intelligence’, why this compilation is NOT ambient, as well as a prophetic view of the future of music, not too far away from today’s reality.

All you need to know and more, narrated by the main protagonists themselves, who reflect on the background story and the impact of an essential piece embedded in the history of electronic music is available in an extended article from The Quietus here.

Favourite Track: Musicology – Telefone 529

Also in the series:

Liner Notes on 2022 – Part I (Borrowed Nostalgia)

Published by GodIsNoLongerADj

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

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