Happy New Year to all of you out there in Sorry State land. Here we go for another attempt at 2020, version 3. I’ll try and stay positive and believe that this year will be better, but based on my personal circumstances and the news so far already this year, I doubt it. Prove me wrong world, prove me wrong.
So, like many folks, I am dealing with life issues, setbacks, health problems, etc. etc. and finding the time and ability to enjoy things has been hard. Music really is my salvation and so working here at Sorry State has been a godsend. Record shops are my church. Writing about records I like here in the newsletter is an absolute pleasure and a privilege and I am very grateful. I’m also lucky to have a great DJ partner in Matt over at the Face Radio and doing our humble show each week has been the highlight of my year. I had a couple of DJ gigs and maybe one or two social interactions when we thought it was safe to come out of hiding over the summer, but otherwise it has been Sorry State and home for me almost exclusively. Again, let’s hope this year is different and a lot better.
That all being said, 2021 was still an amazing year for music. So many good songs and records were released last year. Our own Sorry State Records label put out nine releases total last year. Not bad considering all the industry problems with manufacturing going on. Per tradition, everyone involved in music typically puts out their best of the year lists around this time and we at SSR are no different. So here are some records that I enjoyed taking home in 2021. My selections are made up of new releases, reissues that came out this year and a few older things that I scored.
Okay, so in no order of ranking or anything else, here we go.
The third album from these guys. One of the top contemporary soul bands around. This record sees them taking a more modern, cosmic disco approach to their songs. The sound is later 70s inspired now with more songs about love than protest. I wouldn’t mind betting this will be the soundtrack to plenty of baby making. Their label, Colemine, is up there with the like of Daptone in releasing terrific new soul, r n’ b and funk. I missed them when they played in our area the last time and hope I get a chance again.
Gruff Rhys: Seeking New Gods – Rough Trade
Another solo album from Welsh hero Rhys. You may know him from his band Super Furry Animals. I enjoyed this record a lot. It had a lot of the pop glam 70s sort of sound that he employed with SFA and was another concept album, something which he does so well. This time about a volcano. Fair enough.
Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victime – Matador
Tuareg guitarist’s debut on Matador is a world psychedelic treasure. This was one of our top records of the year over at Worldy. Saharan blues and rock songs about African politics, human rights, and life. If you are familiar with the group Tinariwen, then you will know what to expect. Just imagine them with a guitar slasher like Moctar’s hero Eddie Van Halen and you’ll get the idea. Each listen to this record gets better and better.
Paul Weller: Fat Pop (Volume 1) – Polydor
The Modfather’s pandemic lockdown record and number sixteen in his solo career. Following on quickly from the previous year’s On Sunset album, which he was unable to tour, Fat Pop is more a collection of songs than an album proper, but it works just the same. For people of a certain age like myself, Paul Weller can do no wrong and although there may have been the odd song or two from his solo records that had the feeling that he was stuck in a musical cul-de-sac, the last few albums and especially the experimental soundtracks he has done have all been cool. I love the man and this latest batch of tunes felt and sounded good to me. The songs Cosmic Fringes and Glad Times are worth the price of admission alone.
Cochonne: Emergency – Sorry State
Local heroes Cochonne graced our label this year with a terrific mini-LP. Their first and only vinyl 12” release is a smart set of five post punk songs sung in English and French. If you like bands like Kleenex and Wire, then this should be right up your alley. We are very proud to have helped in the release of this record. When I played some of it at a DJ gig for the Hopscotch music festival last September (I had a test press) it caused several people to approach and ask who it was. Usually a good barometer.
Smirk: E.P. – Total Punk
Also, in a post punk vein but with a little more of an American Garage feel are L.A. based Smirk. They put out a full length on Feel It Records, which is cool, but I preferred the songs on this mini-LP a bit more. Mostly up-tempo, poppy songs with jittery and anxious guitar sounds kept moving by propulsive drum and bass. Smirk is the brainchild of Nic Vicario and kind of a solo project, but he formed a band to play out live with and first-hand accounts of their shows have all been positive. Seven quick tracks, of which I like the one called Imaginary Harry the best.
Super Furry Animals: Ice Hockey Hair E.P. – BMG
This one is a reissue that came out for Record Store Day. Originally released in 1998 on Creation as a stand-alone release between second album Radiator and third Guerilla. The title track in its full-length version and the song Smokin’ are SFA classics and a perfect example of their sound. That sound? Think early 70s Beach Boys mixed with ELO, Queen, Wings, Bowie and doing techno and you’d be some of the way there. I loved this band and saw them countless times in small venues, large ballrooms and on festival stages over the years. This reissue was welcome as the original 12” vinyl had been tough to find.
Axnér: Got The Look – Axnermusic
Just making it into the end of 2021 comes this fantastic and fun disco pop record. A duo consisting of one half of London’s Disco Freaks Chris Davies and Swedish singer Julia Axnér making their debut here with a modern take on the 70s sound ably assisted by Chic drummer Ralph Rolle to add a touch of class and authenticity to proceedings. 2022 should be good for them if they have more goodies like this tune in their locker.
Dorothy: I Confess/Softness – Sealed Records
This single is a reissue of a 7” that originally came out in 1980 on Industrial Records, Throbbing Gristle’s label. It has proved to be a popular seller here at Sorry State. You can read about it and get our take here. The B-side has the money track, a great cheesy synth sound mixed with a tougher disco beat that sounds more like now than it did then. Sealed Records do a nice job with the packaging and finding these nice obscure gems.
Bobby Harden & The Soulful Saints: Feels So Good – Dala/BQE Records
I’m a little biased on this one as my friend and skipper over at the Face Radio, Kurtis Powers is behind the release of this record. Although technically released in 2021, the vinyl 7” is just now getting ready to ship. We’ll allow it. This is another great slab of contemporary soul that could have come out any time in the last fifty years. It’s that timeless. Bobby Harden is no fresh newcomer either. He has paid his dues similar to the likes of Charles Bradley, Lee Fields and Sharon Jones and was lead vocalist for the original Blues Brothers Band. This is the follow up single to the smash song Runnin’ (To Get To Your Love) which was their debut and they should follow this up later in the year with a full-length LP. Soulful Saints are the Brooklyn based housed band for Dala Records and do a fine job backing Bobby. For fans of Daptone, Colemine, Big Crown and other similar labels.
Sial: Zaman Edan – La Vida Es Un Mus
Singapore’s Sial offer a unique take on the modern hardcore punk sound. We’ve been fans of theirs at Sorry State, carrying previous singles and album. I like the conceptual element to the record. The title translates as Age Of Craziness and is referring to broken promises made by the state to minorities. The record is psychedelic with dark moody synth ambience and a deathrock vibe underneath the blistering guitar sounds. Not normally my go to sound but these guys are doing something different, and I support that. Plus, it’s damn good.
Personal Record Scores:
I tend not to brag and flex too much about records that I have added to my collection for several reasons but there has never been a time in my life when I haven’t been buying either records, tapes, or CDs. Never got into the downloading thing. There is no doubt that I have more than an average collection with a few rare items, but I buy a lot of my stuff for DJ use and so I’ll buy an average record because it has one or two good tracks. I obviously prefer minty clean copies but don’t mind some light wear, especially if it means getting a record cheaply. Being on a tighter budget these days has kept me away from the big-ticket items, although occasionally I have to pull the trigger and go for it. Luckily, working here at Sorry State has helped feed my vinyl addiction as I’m getting access to lots of bargain bin shit and Lord Daniel gives us a very generous discount. With the pandemic ongoing I haven’t been visiting other stores, although there may have been a little online buying earlier in the year with my tax refund. Here’s a few records I was happy to score.
Arica: Audition – Arica Institute Inc.
This is an interesting find. The Arica Institute was a hippy commune that set up in Chile and made several records. This one has spoken word instructions on meditation and body movement with cool free jazz shit going on in the background. There are plenty of passages of music without the guru talking that are interesting. This is a double album and came out in 1972. Copies are hard to find but worth looking out for.
Ray Barretto: Charanga Moderna – Tico
There’s not much to go wrong with a Ray Barretto record is there? This one is a nice Tico Records title I had been hoping to find eventually. Cool Latin stuff with a cut that can be heard in the film Mean Streets. Nice.
Il Balletto Di Bronzo: Ys – Polydor
Finding original copies of records by this Italian progressive group is not easy or cheap. I have a reissue of their first album called Sirio 2222 from 1970 and when a nice clean copy of their second Ys from 1972, albeit a 2nd pressing, came in the store, I had to get it. This record rules. Italians doing Krautrock basically. This causes some debate amongst collectors. Some people love the record and others do not. Keyboard led prog concept records aren’t normally my go to either but there is something about this one that I like. Whatever. I was happy to get a copy.
Ronnie Foster: Cheshire Cat – Blue Note
This was a nice one to find. A great funky jazz album on Blue Note. I have been lucky to find a few of his albums and was stoked to add this one to my collection. Foster played organ and keyboards and released a series of nice albums on Blue Note beginning in 1972 with Two Headed Freap which has been in demand by DJs and producers for years. Cheshire Cat came out in 1975. For fans of Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder.