My Year In Music

Favorite Album

Brian Eno ‎– Music For Installations

Brian Eno's Music for Airports was one of my first ambient albums and a staple of early 90s chill room sessions. As I’ve collected and explored the vast world of Eno, I marvel at the range and impact he's made on so much of the music I love. From Roxy Music to Grace Jones, Robert Fripp to David Bowie — he’s the wizard behind the curtain for some of the most interesting moments of contemporary music.

Music For Installations, released in 2018, is a collection of music pieces created by Eno for site-specific installations as early as 1985. It’s a trove of conceptually deep, blissful soundscapes—each with a backstory that greatly expands the listening experience.

I can't say I've given this album enough listening time to pull out the very best track, but a song called "Kazakhstan" is lovely and one of the most recent tracks on the album—created for the Astana Expo 2017 in Kazakhstan. The video below shows the setting for the piece within Asif Khan’s installation "We Are Energy."

Brian Eno - Kazakhstan (download)

Brian Eno - I Dormienti (download)

Favorite Song

Kalaha - Dragon Jenny

It's difficult to pick one favorite song among the many genres and moods that can change from day to day. This past year has been dominated by three musical themes: African Highlife, Deep House, and Future Funk. Dragon Jenny, by Kalaha, seems to be a nearly perfect hybrid of all three (well maybe just the first two).

Kalaha is a four-piece afro-electronic jazz band from Denmark. I've enjoyed all three of Kalaha's past albums, but this single is my favorite of theirs so far—and my song pick of the year.

Kalaha - Dragon Jenny (download)

Favorite Re-issued Album

Dizzy K. Falola ‎– Sweet Music Volume I

The past few years have been a golden age for reissues of extremely hard-to-find African music. Many of the albums I’ve spent the past 20+ years looking for are suddenly available as pristine re-pressings—sans the 40+ years of wear and tear found in most original pressings. I’m not a purist when it comes to which edition I own—it’s the music, in all it’s sonic glory, that brings me joy.

Ever since William Onyeabor’s documentary and album reissue a couple of years ago, there’s been growing interest in 80s African pop music —dubbed African bubblegum pop or afro synth. Like many other popular genres from “the west”, African musicians assimilate and re-create a uniquely African analog. For African musicians, this cultural borrowing is circular, with many of these western genres originally borrowing from traditional African music. However, 80s pop music seems to be uniquely western—born from technological innovations and a rejection of disco and soul music—influences closely associated with African music. The juxtaposition of 80s pop and African music makes for a wonderfully quirky sound that's both familiar and completely new to my ears.

Over the past couple years I've been introduced to a number of African bubblegum pop albums that have perked my ears. But the reissue of Dizzy K.'s Sweet Music Volume 1 is the first one I've been genuinely excited about since William Onyeabor. Dizzy K. also seems to have opened a window into wonderful albums by artists Esbee Family, Christy Essien Igbokwe, and many others.

Dizzy K. Falola - Sweet Music (download)

Esbee Family - Come Party (download)

Favorite Vinyl Purchase

Ugbo and His Philosophers Band

A couple decades ago I was introduced to the album Lyesogie by Ugbo and His Philosophers Band—a mesmerizing early 80s Nigerian Highlife album. The title track (listen below) is a 16 minute blissfully repetitive slow chug that almost sounds latin or South American in parts. What I found fascinating about this track was the wonky syncopation that gives almost a drunken swagger, but remains perfectly in sync for the full duration. Ever since hearing that song I've been on a mission to buy all of Ugbo's albums (about 14 of them). As of today I've found five of them.

The self titled album "Ugbo and His Philosophers Band" has been one of the top albums on my wishlist, and this year I finally found a copy that was both in good shape and reasonably priced. I can't find a date on the album or from any online source, but I'm guessing it's from between 1979 and 1981. The track Eyuya (listen below) stands out with its seductive disco shuffle and heavy percussion. Like most of Ugbo's music, the song is repetitive and mesmerizing as it chugs along. Have a listen.

Ugbo and His Philosophers Band - Eyuya (download)

Ugbo and His Philosophers Band - Lyesogie (download)

Favorite DJ Mix (that I made)

Joy & Happiness

Every summer I look forward to my dear friend Joy's annual backyard party—a block party of sorts, bringing together multiple households who share a big, beautiful yard. A magical treehouse sits in the center of the yard with a lawn that flows around gardens and a shed. Joy is a fantastic DJ and has made it a tradition to bring her DJ friends together to share music.

This mix follows a year of finding a constant stream of quality African-influenced dance music coming from around the world. Some featured artists on this mix include Canadian/African artist Pierre Kwenders, South African artists John Wizards and Felix Laband, Italian artist Clap! Clap!, and many others.

The sunny afternoon with good friends, in a beautiful setting, and on a wonderful sound system, likely all contributed to the final product—a mix that feels about as good as I'm able to create with these mortal skills.

Listen below or download for later ;)

Favorite DJ Mix (that someone else made)

Jazzcat - Afro Disco Beat

Jazzcat, AKA Massimiliano Conti, is an Italian DJ and prolific mix machine. He's one of the people I follow religiously on Mixcloud. He's a digger of mighty gems and freely shares his finds for us all to enjoy. He's up there with Gilles Peterson as someone who continually introduces me to wonderful music across many genres. His specialties are Jazz, Soul, Funk, Latin, African and Brazilian—no complaints there.

To be honest, this is a somewhat random mix of his and didn't have time to dig through them all. They're all good and remember liking this one quite a bit :)

Favorite Live DJ Performance

DF Tram w/Video Dub Poobah

This past November, DF Tram (Dylan Yanez) opened for The Orb at the Independent. I've heard Dylan play many times before, so I knew the music would be spot on. What was unexpected was his accompaniment with Video Dub Poobah, who provided a realtime video narrative—the combination transcended the audio/visual experience into immersive storytelling. I also hadn't heard Dylan play in a large venue before, something that elevated the normally quiet and subtle sounds he procures. One sign of DJ mastery is the ability to take the listener on both an emotional and energetic journey—one with peaks and valleys, lightness and darkness. On this night Dylan took us all on a fantastic voyage.

Dylan's new album Serenitay Infinitay is also high on my list of chillout albums for 2018. A wonderful debut for a passionate and talented artist.

Favorite Newly Discovered Artist

Felix Laband

Somehow I missed this South African artist over the past 18 years since his debut album African Dope. In many ways Felix feel like my long lost musical soulmate—he's a graphic designer-turned musician, heavily influenced by both African music and electronic bands like Boards of Canada, then weaves these influences together like a masterful storyteller. In the past year I've acquired all of Felix's albums, both digital and vinyl—every one of them wonderful.

Probably my favorite album is Deaf Safari from 2015—a sublime, deep, electronic album that skirts the line between dance music and electronica. With heavy African and blues music influence throughout, there are layers upon layers of rich textures and rhythms. 4/4 Down the Stairs from 2002 is another great album by Felix that was recently reissued on South Africa's Roastin' Records.

Felix Laband - Down The Garden Path (download)

Felix Laband - Righteous Red Berets (Luke Vibert Remix) (download)

Favorite Newly Discovered Music Genre

Future Funk

I’ve never been one to follow the latest musical trends (or memes), which is why I completely missed the Vaporware music genre/meme when it rose to popularity in 2012/2013. Originally, Vaporware was an appropriation of really awful 80s and 90s elevator music and self-help/porn soundtracks—then chopped up, re-edited, and often dropped into a psychedelic video that makes the crap music appear somehow interesting again. While the subject and process both appeal to me, my tolerance for bad music likely steered me away from this music when it was at its peak.

Eight years later, Vaporware is still going strong (in an Reddit underground sort of way), and has mutated into numerous sub-genres such as Eccojams, Faux-Utopian, VHS Pop, MallSoft, Hypnagogic Drift, and Future Funk (aka Vaporboogie). 2018 was the year I dipped my toes into this strange and murky sonic swamp to discover some wonderfully talented producers and remix artist. Some would argue the varieties of Vaporware I find interesting, in particular Future Funk, have become too main stream and no longer represent the conceptual intent of the genre—which is fair. Personally I don’t care much about Vaporware critics, I’m just here to find good music!

Future Funk breaks down into a few different (unofficial) genres I’d describe as: 1) J-Pop/K-Pop reworks, 2) 80s Japanese disco reworks, 3) 70s/80s popular disco reworks, 4) 80s pop music reworks, 5) obscure funk and soul reworks. For those unfamiliar with the term “reworks”, it’s basically taking a song, chopping it up and putting it back together—often with new/contemporary layers of rhythm or instrumentation, along with modern production. Future Funk seems to be on a collision coarse with one of my longer-term obsessions, Nu-Disco, which uses many of the same source materials and ideas.

Some standout Future Funk artists include Flamingosis, Yung Bae, Night Tempo, and マクロスMACROSS 82-99, each capturing a different corner of the genre. Here are a few samples:

glue70 - Casin (download)

Flamingosis - Broken (download)

Yung Bae - Party In Me (download)

Night Tempo - I Like It (download)

That's all folks. I hope 2019 bring exciting new adventures in music! For more music listening, jump to my mix archive or join me on Mixcloud.