Arcana’s best of 2022

by Ben Hogwood

How has 2022 been for you? It has been a difficult year for so many, and I don’t know about you, but I find music takes on an even more important part of our lives when the going gets tough. This year we have been able to rely on a consistently strong line of releases, giving us extra resolve and relief from the day-to-day.

Arcana has reviewed a lot of music this year. What we tend to do on these pages is concentrate on music and artists that we know are likely to be good – and we assemble our thoughts on them so you can then make your own investigations. Classical music is usually our starting point, but from there we travel afar to the outer reaches of electronica, dance and contemporary music.

It was another strong year for electronic music of an ambient dimension. Switched On is the area of Arcana concentrating on new music in this area, and without putting too many musical names on these albums, we really enjoyed a good deal of slower stuff. Starting with a single instrument, Vanessa Wagner’s Study of the Invisible (above) made an understated but lasting impression, particularly with Caroline Shaw’s Gustave Le Grey at its heart. Vanessa plays with poise and expression, and this wonderfully curated selection worked so well.

Meanwhile long term favourite Erland Cooper charmed with his pure, still music written to soundtrack the Superbloom installation at the Tower Of London, Music For Growing Flowers (above). Speaking of earthy sounds, Sonic Cathedral gave us twilight wonders from Pye Corner Audio and, with a little more country in the mix, Sunset Dreams from Mark Peters.

At the hottest part of summer, Arthur King’s music was extremely evocative in Changing Landscapes – as was that of Deepchord, making a return to the long player from Detroit with Functional Designs. Steve Davis, meanwhile (yes, that Steve Davis!) was busy enhancing his reputation as part of the electronic trio Utopia Strong and their excellent album International Treasure

More studied electronica gems should also be shouted from the rooftops – we are lucky to have British artists of the calibre of Bibio, Gold Panda and Plaid, each returning with excellent new albums. Meanwhile Clarice Jensen took her cello as a starting point on new album Esthesis, making music of great colour and descriptive power to counter the onset of lockdown. Also facing the elements head-on was Daniel Avery, whose new album Ultra Truth was a powerful statement indeed:

There were some very strong releases on the classical side of things, as record companies dusted themselves down and started to include orchestral recordings again on their release schedules post-pandemic. Leading the way were the Sinfonia of London under John Wilson, a throwback to the golden age of orchestral recording in their challenging schedules for Chandos. With Hollywood, British and French music all covered, one in particular stood out, with the orchestral music of John Ireland given its rightful place in the spotlight:

Speaking of French music, a charmer from the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire and Pascal Rophé proved the ideal hot weather soundtrack as it explored orchestral versions of Debussy keyboard works. Their accounts of the Petite Suite, La boîte à joujoux and Children’s Corner were full of colour and character.

This year saw the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of the finest British composers of the 20th century. Somm Recordings made a memorable tribute by way of the undervalued string quartets, these lovely autumnal works given vibrant performances from the Tippett Quartet.

Contemporary classical music put in some very strong appearances this year, and few more than Stuart Macrae, showing off the quality of his chamber music on an album from the Hebrides Ensemble on the excellent Delphian label. We enjoyed a number of online and in-person concerts from the English Symphony Orchestra and Kenneth Woods, which were capped by an outstanding recording of Adrian Williams’ Symphony no.1, a commendable raising of the flag for new British music

During 2022 we made a couple of visits to the outskirts of jazz, in the company of super group Flocktheir excellent self titled debut – and a triumphant and experimental return from Szun Waves.

On the dancier side of things, Heavenly Recordings excelled themselves this year with no fewer than six collections of remixes! We loved the first two instalments, which acted as a prelude to the utterly essential third and fourth volumes which brought together remixes from the much missed Andrew Weatherall.

The Haçienda celebrated 40 years since its inception with a handsome package from Cherry Red, while the best DJ mix honour goes to Cinthie – her contribution to !K7’s DJ Kicks mix series really was a thing of pure dancefloor enjoyment. So, too, was a John Morales-edited compilation devoted to the art of Teddy Pendergrass, vocalist for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes.

Cultured music for the discerning dancefloor came our way from Au Suisse, a welcome reunion for Morgan Geist and Kelley Polar, and also from Hot Chip, who further explored their emotions with an excellent and heartfelt eighth album. Moderat, returning after a long absence, went more for the jugular with the thrilling More D4ta

With all that said and done, what would an Arcana album of the year look like? Something like this…the most listened to long player of the year in these parts, Fleeting Future – a vibrant offering from Akusmi which channelled all sorts of intriguing influences into something wonderfully original:

We will have a few more reviews to come over this week – but for now, we thank all our readers for your visits and wish you a happy, peaceful and regenerative Christmas holiday season. Oh, and a Happy New Year for 2023!

Switched On – Heavenly Remixes 3 & 4: Andrew Weatherall (Heavenly)

heavenly-3

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Heavenly have already released two volumes of compilations celebrating the art of the remix on their label. They have turned to a wide range of their artists either as remixers or as providers of the original song, moving from older staples from Saint Etienne and Doves to more recent Heavenly royalty Working Men’s Club, The Orielles and Gwenno.

Volumes 3 and 4 tell a different story, coming to you directly from the mixing desk of the much missed Andrew Weatherall. Weatherall was a shining light in dance music – rock music, too – from the 1990s onwards, sprinkling his production stardust on albums from Primal Scream (notably Screamadelica) and Beth Orton, while providing production and remixes for a huge range of artists.

This selection is all exclusive to the Heavenly label, celebrating his achievements and status with the label, for their first ever remix was from Weatherall himself.

What’s the music like?

In a word, brilliant. Weatherall made so many remixes but managed the difficult juggling act of having his own distinctive style without ever making the same mix twice.

That first remix – the Andrew Weatherall Soul Of Europe Mix of Sly & Lovechild’s The World According To Sly & Lovechild – is an uplifting call to arms at the start of this collection. It may begin with the vocal gambit “These are dark days” but it is a wholly positive vocal, dressed with undulating marimbas and a chunky bassline. Next up is Mark Lanegan, the legendary vocalist who as I write this review sadly passed away only yesterday. Beehive gets an upfront remix with the couplet “lightning coming out of the speakers, wanna hear that sound some more”. After these two heavyweights, an even bigger mix lies in wait in the form of Flowered Up’s ‘Weekender’ from 1992. This is expertly paced over 17 minutes, no less, getting into its groove early on and never letting up. A similar rhythm permeates Gwenno’s Chwyldro but this is a wholly different approach, with a hazy palette and some weird harmonies complementing her softer tones.

Another legendary remix follows, Weatherall taking Saint Etienne to the dancefloor with his take on Only Love Can Break Your Heart, a dub-infused version that drops into a full vocal version half way through. A heady remix of Confidence Man’s Bubblegum follows, then a Sabres of Paradise mix of Espiritu, whose Conquistador goes through the wringer in an up-tempo flurry of percussion and rave riffs. Finally The OriellesSugar Taste Like Salt plays havoc with the stereo placement and rolls out a big set of drum fills, both favourite tricks of Weatherall’s as he succeeds in displacing the listener.

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Volume 4 is just as good – and once again presents a set of shapeshifting beats that manages to twist the original artists almost beyond recognition. audiobooks are first, Weatherall taking them to the electro disco with the groovy, spacey, Dance Your Life Away, before an edit of the Two Lone Swordsmen Dub of Saint Etienne’s Heart Failed In The Back Of A Taxi, a suitably grubby affair.

Next up is DovesCompulsion, an unlikely candidate but packed with reverb and big vocals as it settles into a brilliant chugging groove with constantly flickering electronics. TOY’s Dead and Gone gets a minimal, relatively straight remix with a good deal of white noise, then Confidence Man’s Out The Window makes the most of a vocal that could have been sent from the Hacienda. LCMDF’s Gandhi is a shape-shifter in Weatherall’s hands, then another Espiritu track – Bonita Mañana – gets taken to the cleaners over 13 glorious minutes. Finally – and regretfully – we reach the end with Unloved and a slow, loping take on Devils Angels, doom-laden and disorientating on headphones.

Does it all work?

It does, handsomely – and it matters not a jot that some of these remixes weigh in at more than a quarter of an hour. Flowered Up’s Weekender is a great example of how to make one remix sound like half of a DJ set, and it says a lot for Weatherall’s craft that it would be easy to listen to the track all over again.

Is it recommended?

Yes – for this is the sound of an artist constantly finding new ways to express familiar vocals, always with both eyes on the dancefloor. It is clear that Andrew Weatherall had nothing but fun in his studio! Weatherall fans and anyone wanting to learn the dos and don’ts of a good remix should get this, as should anyone with a passing interest in dance or indie music from the 1990s onwards. Even without any of the historical baggage, this is simply a brilliant set of grooves with a feelgood atmosphere running throughout!

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Switched On – GLOK: Dissident Remixed (Bytes)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This time last year Ride fans – and electronic music devotees – were both surprised and delighted at the appearance of GLOK, the self-titled instrumental album from the band’s guitarist Andy Bell. Bell had kept his electronic alias relatively under wraps until then, but he revealed himself as an accomplished producer harnessing the influence of Krautrock into some strong, beat-laden grooves.

With a talent for expanding his music to fill bigger structures, Bell also recognised the flexibility of his recordings for the remix treatment – which is what we have here. His enviable contact book has resulted in remixes from a number of sources including James Chapman (Maps), Richard Sen and the late Andrew Weatherall with one of his last studio contributions.

What’s the music like?

Remix albums can be substandard affairs and stopgaps when an artist’s inspiration is running dry, but there is no danger of any of that happening here.

Franz Kirmann impresses greatly with his two versions of Kolokol. The first has added squiggles and a dogged beat that presses all the right buttons, while the second has murkier textures and a stripped back, dubby beat. Timothy Clerkin delivers a remix of Projected Sounds with head nodding goodness, while Andrew Weatherall‘s mix of Cloud Cover is underpinned by characteristically dark bass line and fluttering atmospherics.

On the downtempo side of things there is a nice, woozy take on Weaver from C.A.R., and a lovely hazy dub version of Exit Through The Skylight from Jay Glass, with rich instrumental colours. Bell himself turns in a brilliant extended version of Pulsing. Stretched out to 15 minutes, the track turns subtly from a laid back, dub-inflected tread to a dreamy breakdown in the middle, before extra bleeps and bass are introduced.

One of the most striking inventions comes from Minotaur Shock, bringing analogue beats and warm synth colours to Weaver, twisting and turning the source material. It is immediately complemented by another excellent remix of Pulsing, this time from MapsJames Chapman reaching for the stars with a typically wide panorama.

Does it all work?

Yes. It works as a remix album should, building on the original and bringing out different elements of Bell’s music. The variety of talent on show is laid out in an appealing structure, using his acumen to craft another album that has an ideal ebb and flow.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. GLOK Remixed emerges as a companion to put alongside the original, showing off the flexibility of its source material and making some really excellent, alternative grooves from it. With Bell’s debut solo album as a vocalist coming up soon, there is much to enjoy from him this year!

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