"Excuse me, but have you got the one that goesÉ"
What is it about lists? They are irresistible, but people have run into problems this time around. "Do we go for End of the Century, or a look back at the decade, or stick with the year itself?" they ask.
What always impresses me is that from list to list, publication to publication, programme to programme, there is a core consensus of opinion. It is like the question that used to be raised about news broadcasting: different teams at different channels putting together bulletins, put out simultaneously, with the same items in the same order. Why? We all have our pet (conspiracy or otherwise) theories, but you can argue about it all night. It's just be's that way sometimes, as Ms Simone might say.
So it is with end of year lists. You look and you think: 'who on earth?' There may be common ground, but it's not really ground you want to share. This is a shame, as I happen to believe quite passionately that 1999 has been a vintage year. Many of the records that still sound great will have been mentioned in these back pages: Clinic and Company Flow, Sam Prekop and Roots Manuva, Pole and Badly Drawn Boy, Vic Godard and Joyce, Fluxion and Quannum. It is nice, however, to finish up on a positive note, and tell you about some of the recent records which, to rob a line from Rob, are more than alright.
Let's be more emphatic! One of these records has become firmly my favourite of the year. Yet, as far as I can tell, it has not featured in any festive roundup. Indeed, I have not even seen it reviewed. I only bought it out of brand loyalty, but it was a gamble that paid dividends.
I cannot tell you much about Land Locked by Hallucinator, except that it's on the peerless Chain Reaction label and it's all that's great about electronica rolled into one compact package, and it's my favourite record. If the other Chain Reaction CD I picked up this year, Vibrant Forms by Fluxion was firmly rooted in a straight house/techno background, then Hallucincator's excursion is to all the outer limits: from Cluster and Neu to punk and dub experiments to the Warp canon and the Basic channel / Chain Reaction axis itself. And it works. So if anyone can tell me about Hallucinator, I would be grateful. I, however, only want to know if it will add to the beauty that's already there. Please don't steal my dream.
One Basic Channel acolyte I do know about is Various Artists. I seem to remember writing about the Decayed Product collection a couple of years ago, I guess, in the charming generic Chain Reaction tin box. Totally impractical packaging, but something to cherish. Well, the two great Various Artists works have since then been collated by Fat Cat, and put out on one CD with a selection of remixes by kindred spirits. So, you have half an hour of gorgeous pulsing soundscapes with just enough rhythmic jabbing and jarring to unsettle and halt any suggestion of being becalmed. Then comes a crop of versions and excursions by the likes of Autechre, Funkstorming and Monolake, which are strong enough in their own right, but lack that certain something the pure Various Artists brings to the party. Special mention should go to the Pole mix, which is typical polar bare dubology.
While we are touching on matters of a Basic Channel nature, I must also mention another compilation of tracks from another Basic Channel artery, Main Street Records. The Round One to Round Five CD collects a series of 12"s ranging from 1994 to 1999, and it's probably worth acquiring for the lovely digipak alone. The more recent tracks, featuring Tikiman, will find favour with anyone who succumbed to the Rhythm and Sound showcase selection a year or so ago. Blurring the lines, as ever, between Lovers Rock and techno, and there are no surprises, but the recipe still works.
You won't win any prizes for picking up on my predilection for the Basic Channel / Chain Reaction stable. I am a great fan of the way they keep the mystery caged, and they way they subvert packaging. It can be much harder these days to feel the same way about Mo' Wax. It's nice, however, that Mr Lavelle's empire has struck back and finished the year on a very strong note with Nia by Blackalicious. I should confess that I wasn't expecting too much, but this is a classic record. Input from allies Latyrx and Shadow helps, but this is really a treat from the Blackalicious crew.
I read somewhere that The Gift of The Gab has had his troubles in recent times. Maybe his experiences have made him look at life, hip hop, and the pursuit of expression, in new ways. Maybe that's why at times he sounds as wise as Rakim, Guru or KRS One ever here. It just has to be said that there are some very strong tracks here, with real heavyweight points made. Particularly telling are the tracks like Deception and Shallow Days about the hip hop life which are up there with Mark E Smith and The Fall at their most scathing about their pop contemporaries. Nia is a lovely record, and it has to be said it made me go back and listen more closely to the Quannum collection from the summer. At the time I thought it was okay, but played the Company Flow LP more. Now I think that Spectrum is a fine achievement, with at least eight of the tracks still lighting up this Christmas.
Actually, it's quite ironic, buoyed up with Nia and Spectrum, I went out quite excited to buy Mos Def's Black On Both Sides. I was expecting great things, having been a huge fan of his participation in the Black Star set. I can't get into it at all though. The words flow as you would expect, but it leaves me cold. Is it a little too slick, a little too much on the r'n'b side, or am I just not giving it time? I dunno. I had the same problem with Nas and A Tribe Called Quest down the years. Maybe I will come back to you on this one. Meantime, go for Blackalicious, Hallucinator and Various Artists.