End-of-year review 2021 – Top 20 Compilations

Music, and even more so the people behind it, always find each other – even over distance if necessary, be it spatial or temporal. These were the 20 best compilations released on vinyl in 2021.
From Nursery To Misery
Tree Spirits
Dark Entries • 2021 • from 21.99€
From Nursery To Misery’s two singers were identical twins who named themselves Gina and Tina Fear and recorded their neurotic goth-synth-pop together with producer Lee Stevens at the end of the 1980s in fucking Essex – in short, they represent the archetype of the kind of stuff that Dark Entries would eventually reissue. »Tree Spirits« comprises eleven tracks from the trio’s relatively short existence and offers plenty of quasi-mystical moods and seriously unfun vibes, but also, well, a bag of unlikely hits. This music couldn’t have been made up if anyone had ever tried, but that’s all the more reason why it did need to be reissued. Kristoffer Cornils

Gabrielle Roth & The Mirrors
Selected Works (1985-2005)
Time Capsule • 2021 • from 25.99€
Sometimes you don’t have to lick a frog to get closer to God. Simply putting on Gabriel Roth & The Mirrors may be enough. Percussive, shamanistic drumming in the most non-esoteric way – this is indeed actual music, as also his collaborations with Sun Ra, Sanders and others prove. Time Capsule lets us revisit 20 years of music with these »Selected Works« and after only three songs, some deity will descend upon your living room, promise. Pippo Kuhzart

German Bringas
Tunel Hacia Ti
Smiling C • 2021 • from 31.99€
Germán Bringas sees colors when he hears sounds and that became the starting point for his own pieces. »Tunel Hacia Tí« gathers tracks from 1991 to 2000 that oscillate between super slick synth sounds that call to mind Visible Cloaks and gnarly jazz freakouts. Over 16 tracks, this compilation offers many points of friction, and Bringas’ expressive saxophone playing even becomes downright atonal at times – but that’s just because he followed his own logic, circumnavigated the Western music theory and, with a big splash jumped into a sea of colors. Kristoffer Cornils

James Bernard
Unreleased Works: Volume 1 Acid Dreams Yellow Vinyl Edition
A Strangely Isolated Place • 2021 • from 34.99€
Sometimes you just need that »everything used to be better back then« feeling. The release of James Bernard’s first instalment of »Acid Dreams« from the 1990s is a heartbreaking, memory-laden and at the same time incredibly fresh album that reflects all the childlike exploration and naive playfulness of electronic music back then. Timeless music like they just don’t make it anymore. Jens Pacholsky

José Carlos Schwarz & Le Cobiana Djazz
Lua Ki Di Nos
Hot Mule • 2021 • from 26.99€
»Lua Ki Di Nos« is a collection of elevator music. No, no, you misunderstood: José Carlos Schwarz & Le Cobiana Djazz will lift you up and down over and over again with this compilation. There’s the joyful moments, but also heavy depression. Schwarz’s home country Guinea-Bissau was marked by unrest in the early 1970s and this is also reflected in these contemporary takes on folk songs, sung by someone who went on to become an urban guerrilla. All this and more can be heard in these eleven songs: history, with all its ups and downs. Kristoffer Cornils

Leslie Winer
When I Hit You You'll Feel It Black Vinyl Edition
Light In The Attic • 2021 • from 40.99€
Why hasn’t Leslie Winer’s life been turned into a movie yet? She was sold as a baby (!), modeled for Dior as a teenager. William S. Borroughs became her mentor later, and Jean-Michel Basquiat a friend with benefits and New York her home base. That she is now being celebrated as the »Mother of Trip-Hop« is due to the fact that she invented the genre before Massive Attack or Portishead had even picked up an instrument. Light in the Attic has put together a compilation with her music called »When I Hit You – You’ll Feel It« and truer words were never spoken. Christoph Benkeser

Mario Rui Silva
Stories From Another Time 1982-1988
Time Capsule • 2021 • from 26.99€
This summer was just too non-committal, not the kind that saw you sipping rosé very often. But if it was, then along to Mario Rui Silva’s »Stories From Another Time 1982-1988«. Acoustic guitar ballads and Central African grooves find the perfect balance between the dolce vita and deep melancholy. By the third track this compilation lets you know that Angola was a Portuguese colony, but the cultural vicinity to the neighbouring Congo becomes audible on many tracks. If then, like on the eighth song, the spirit of the great Francis Bebey hovers over the music, this compilation at the latest offers itself as the most beautiful memory from a disappointing summer. Pippo Kuhzart

Music From Memory • 2021 • from 28.99€
A track by MLO opened the compilation on »Virtual Dreams (Ambient Explorations In The House & Techno Age, 1993-1997)«, and so it’s only logical that Music From Memory now follows up with a showcase of the British duo’s work. Peter Smith and John Tye worked together under this name for only a few years, but »Oumuamua« proves how far the two have come in that time. Because these pieces, some already released on some EPs but previously unreleased, are indeed far out: somewhere left of Orbital and Global Communication, MLO carved out a niche for themselves. Kristoffer Cornils

Ruth Friedman
Hurried Life: Lost Recordings 1965-1971
Tompkins Square • 2021 • from 25.99€
She wrote songs for white boys who became famous with them, while Ruthann Friedmann was only given a few new guitar strings in exchange. Nobody, especially not those boys, could have known that the »Goddess of Astral Folk«, as Friedmann would later be called, also had solo ambitions. What a surprise it was then when they had to realize that Friedman could easily outsing them, her voice a true gift for a world that has not always treated her kindly. Christoph Benkeser

Tangled Shoelaces
Turn My Dial (M Squared Recordings And More, 1981-84)
Chapter Music • 2021 • from 24.99€
Tangled Shoelaces called their first album »In The Land Of The Lollypop Men« — a title that has to be taken as literally as the band name itself. After all, the five Australians had not even hit puberty when they formed and recorded their first songs before their voices had broken. That’s why they croaked into the microphone like they do on these recordings, at least until the Dead Kennedys took them on tour and introduced them to adult life – shortly, at least, before they disbanded. The story is being told and you should hear it, playing close attention to the 22 songs on »Turn My Dial«, reissued by Chapter Music. Christoph Benkeser

And Felt Like...
Knekelhuis • 2021 • from 22.99€
Even someone with such a flawless track record as Mark van de Maat aka Knekelhuis still has to prove himself with every release. And that succeeds even better than usual on this compilation. »And Felt Like…« is blatantly contemporary, a splendid reflection of offbeat music that can be effortlessly danceable. Whether it is Avsluta’s »Mono No Aware« or Philipp Otterbach’s »When The Fish Travels…«, everything is on here is absolutely top notch. Lars Fleischmann

Cameroon Garage Funk
Analog Africa • 2021 • from 31.99€
It’s remarkable that the 1970s have been the focus of so many compilations that specialize in music from the African continent. »Cameroon Garage Funk« gathers pieces recorded in a church – yes, the title is deceptive – in the country’s capital Yaoundé more than ten years after its independence, laid down on tape largely on the fly and in a very short time. While Manu Dibango imported the makossa to the world, the underground was displaying its wild, unruly side elsewhere. Learning about that alone makes this compilation an important (music) history lesson for this and future generations. Kristoffer Cornils

Gost: A Spiritual Exploration Into Greek Soundtracks (1975-1989)
Into The Light • 2021 • from 25.99€
What the Into the Light label presented this spring under the title »GOST: A Spiritual Exploration Into Greek Soundtracks 1975-89« is nothing short of bizarre. This compilation doesn’t attempt to bring disparate elements into a coherent flow and instead allows 17 strange numbers to each coexist with each other. Droning funk with flute solos on top, dramatic instrumental synth pop, rough-edged industrial or foggy sound abstractions: nothing here really fits together and makes the end result sound even more impressive. If only now someone would unearth all those movies, too. Kristoffer Cornils

Habibi Funk: An Eclectic Selection Part 2
Habibi Funk • 2021 • from 32.99€
Since 2015, Jannis Stürtz and his label Habibi Funk have been introducing us to the diversity and quality of Arabic music since the 1970s. If the latest label compilation »Habibi Funk – An Eclectic Selection Of Music From The Arab World Part 2« is any indication, that’s not going to change anytime soon. We hear funk from Sal Davis, disco from Najib Alhoush, garage rock from Fadoul, Tijuana-esque brass sounds from Ahmed Malek, reggae from Ibrahim Hesnawi. The secret hits of this compilation, however, come from two contributions with female voices, by Douaa and Zohra. Sebastian Hinz

La Ola Interior: Spanish Ambient And Acid Exoticism 1983-1990
Bongo Joe • 2021 • from 30.99€
Would you like a little tour through the fertile underground of Southern Europe during the eighties? There you go. What the twenty tracks on »La Ola Interior: Spanish Ambient & Acid Exoticisms 1983-1990« offer in just about 70 minutes is yet another testament to the endless possibilities of combining Western and Far Eastern musical traditions. Inspired by American minimalism, Jon Hassell’s »Fourth World Music«, krautrock, and experimental tape recordings, these songs create pulsating panoramas of the future, yielding visions that continue to reverberate. Nils Schlechtriemen

Oz Echoes: DIY Cassettes And Archives 198
Efficient Space • 2021 • from 21.99€
In 2017, Efficient Space took their first look at the Australian DIY scene of the 1980s with the compilation »Oz Waves«. Now, four years later, we hear the echoes. »Oz Echoes: DIY Cassettes And Archives 1980-1989« compiles another ten stunningly charming tracks found in dark basements and dusty attics, five of which have previously been unreleased. Shanghai Au Go-Go’s »I Cried All Winter« especially arrives just in time for the next winter lockdown. Total no-brainer. Sebastian Hinz

Profondo Nero
Dekmantel • 2021 • from 26.99€
The prevailing image of the 1980s in Italy is either bathed in Guadagnino’s color palette or illuminated with neon-bright lights – the kind that italo disco flashed over and over again. This, however, generously glosses over the very real economic and political crises as well as the country’s social ills at the time. In fact, there are also the somber undertones to italo disco which have often been overlooked. The compilation »Profondo Nero«, put together by Cinema Royale for Dekmantel, collects some of the best examples of »leftfield italo disco«, as the DJ himself calls it – which also means that Robert Sandrini’s incredible cover of »Eyes Without a Face« is included here as well. Kristoffer Cornils

Ritmo Fantasía: Balearic Spanish Synth-Pop, Boogie And House (1982-1992)
Soundway • 2021 • from 27.99€
»Ritmo Fantasía: Balearic Spanish Synth-Pop, Boogie And House (1982-1992)« offers exactly what its title promises: whining Casio synthesizers and cracking hip bones, the kind of music that has you put your folding chair into the living room and slap some self-tanner on your face. The shortest trip to the beach you can get for this price. And yes, there’s sax solos. Of course. Christoph Benkeser

Somewhere Between: Mutant Pop, Electronic Minimalism & Shadow Sounds Of Japan 1980-1989 Black Vinyl Edition
Light In The Attic • 2021 • from 14.99€
The best instalment in Light In The Attic’s series of Japan-themed releases. »Somewhere Between: Mutant Pop, Electronic Minimalism & Shadow Sounds Of Japan 1980-1988« is not dedicated to city pop. Despite the very different styles and musical approaches that informed them, the pieces on here fit together according to an inner logic. It’s just fantastic to hear how after a pop song, the Mkjawu Ensemble enters the fold, only to be supersed by the minimal trio RNA-Organism. The Discogs wantlist is a bit smaller afterwards and the musical horizon a lot broader – so you got everything out of this compilation that you could have ever wanted. Pippo Kuhzart

The Key To Our Love Volume 2
Symphonical • 2021 • from 29.99€
Like a box of chocolates: »The Key to our Love Vol.2«, the compilation by the British reissue label Symphonical digs up sweet soul tunes from the late 1960s to early 1980s and presents them in the form of a neat little set. Among some lowride anthems and laid-back Chicano gems you’ll find the classic »A Fool For You« by The Ledgends, famously flipped by Madlib on »Piñata«. Hardly anything else this past year had a similar replay value. Tim Tschentscher