2020 in REVERSE

by Richard Johnson

No lists rounding up the year’s favourite records, books or films here, really, although I can state that albums by Girls In Synthesis, German Army, Joyfultalk, Wire, Paul Schutze, Clarice Jensen, Andrew Tuttle, Alison Cotton, The Psychedelic Furs and the reissue of Whitehouse’s ‘Erector’ would be amongst them. As would the Come Org. box set on Vinyl-on-demand, although I think this actually came out in late 2019. Richard Dawson’s excellent ‘2020’ also appeared then, too. It’s another solid one I only bought in early 2020, though, and is more than prescient in some of the themes addressed by the songs. Returning to 2020, Contrastate’s compilation CD, ‘Recorded Evidence II’, on Black Rose Recordings, is also phenomenal. I will always remain surprised by just how little attention is cast their way. They are often unfairly dismissed as ‘dark ambient’, but this really does not do them any justice as it overlooks both many other facets to their music and, more importantly, a consistent element of surprise. I would contend this is a common thread in the work of most of my favourite music, actually, even if much of it tends to operate in parameters only set by either technical limitations or there being a certain ‘sound’ integral to the given artist’s music.

Whatever, as usual, apart from the releases received to review here, I mostly seem to buy older releases, ranging from rarities from the post-punk wilderness I can now finally pick up (due to their being reissued or simply easier to find) to comparatively more recent albums that are now available at better prices than when first available. Actually, I cannot stand the overpricing of some new releases simply due to their self-appointed status of exclusivity. It absolutely reeks. This hipster/boutique mentality permeates even certain contemporary post-punk labels and artists involving people you’d imagine would be amongst the first to stand against such bullshit usually. I have no idea how those involved can justify it. Having been pressing CDs and records for decades now myself I have a good idea as to the costs involved. Selling an LP for, as I have seen, over 25 GBP/30 euro is fucking outrageous. I’ve even seen people trying it on with CDs at around 20.00 GBP each. All this before shipping, no less. Am only surprised more are not calling these people out. Too busy knotting their beards into new shapes or, more accurately, blindly purchasing such releases to simply keep up with appearances.

It shouldn’t surprise me, though. Little surprises me in music (in all senses). However, for all of that there is thankfully still some great music being made. What I feel constitutes ‘good’ music, naturally, changes according to its context, but I still essentially look for the same things driving it I always have done. Am not always right, of course, but this is what I at least attempt to sniff out. Which is, again, why I’m so critical of these hipster labels and artists who go along with them. Too many businessmen and projections. Perhaps they should at least be forgiven for their bold honesty in trying to make an easy buck, though?

Outside of music, there were plenty of films and books I also enjoyed throughout 2020, both old and new. Am not going into those here much either, but typically kept abreast of most horror fare and quite enjoyed His House, The Hunt, Possessor and Host. Titles beginning with the letter ‘H’ seemed quite a good bet, basically. Also enjoyed Swallow, which mysteriously got deemed a horror film but was actually more of an art-house drama concerning a psychological breakdown. I was reminded somewhat of Polanski’s Repulsion, which remains a favourite of mine. Like everything else noted, not perfect, but still strong.

I didn’t read much in the way of new books, at least not related to music. The new Lydon one sits here, however, and it’s a strange world to see the man once again is considered as ‘problematic’ as many of the non-fiction books I likewise tend to immerse myself in these days. I like the fellow regardless of his political leanings, though. Who he chose to vote for means absolutely zilch to me. Why would it? I don’t reside in the US and I strongly believe everybody has the basic right to vote however they please in a democratic or supposedly ‘free’ society. Of course, his detractors predictably attacked him for his choice and deemed him ‘racist or a ‘fascist’ or whatever, but these people are absolute fools who have no clear understanding of what these epithets even mean. I see no correlation between his political choices and how he seems to be as a person. In today’s world of extreme social media-propelled polarisation everything is filtered through a reductivism many are simply too stupid or lazy to dissect. An idiot’s game best left to those with blinkered vision and a monochromatic worldview. I fully understand how easy it is to get drawn into the mechanisms of it (and I have likewise been), but you’re only doing yourself a huge favour if you just sit back briefly enough to contemplate the idea you might have everything completely wrong. To that end, I doubt very much Lydon is a ‘racist’. The idea that he’s a ‘fascist’ or ‘Nazi’ is so ridiculous I shouldn’t even spend time here pontificating on it. I look forward to getting stuck into his latest book, anyway. And those who cannot escape their own ridiculous, lumpen narratives would fare well from reading Jonathan Haidt’s ‘The Righteous Mind’ or, if wishing to understand ‘fascism’ more, Jonah Goldberg’s ‘Liberal Fascism’. I have recommended the latter book to others who’ve likewise in turn accused me of being a right-winger or ‘enabler’ or whatever, though. Couldn’t be further from the truth, of course, but this disease continues to contaminate far and wide…

Without doubt, most people had far more pressing matters to think about than the nuances accorded by the murkier corners of contemporary culture (or even books that comment on aspects of it). As vaccinations are now being given out to help control the spread of the coronavirus and various sectors in the economy continue to crumble, I remain ambivalent about taking any one position since I’m no more an expert on such matters than the next person I personally know. All I understand is that the pandemic does not yet seem any closer to letting up and that, equally, many people are losing jobs or will soon face this predicament due to the reactions to it. Everything still looks decidedly grim, and probably will for the foreseeable future. Am aware that moaning about overpriced records is extremely trivial by comparison. It has the same low status as the vast majority of music actually on them. No pandemic will change that.


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