Let’s be honest; lockdown is difficult, long and often boring. If you’re reading in England you’ll probably relate to a seemingly nationwide feeling that this third lockdown is the worst so far, made grimmer by shorter, darker days. However, a lot of people also want to come out of this having achieved something, whether that’s completing every Joe Wicks class or perfecting the sourdough loaf. Personally, all this time in confinement has made me deep dive into obscure corners of music, determined to explore all the genres I never had time to research in normal life. There are vast numbers of brilliant playlists on Spotify and Soundcloud compiled by keen music fans. But this article wants to a shine a light on the often under appreciated but certainly important work of compilations. Reissue labels such as Light in the Attic and Soul Jazz have cult followings for a reason, and the work they do in making rare, obscure music accessible is truly valuable. Here we will discuss some of our favourite compilations of recent years, helping you too fall down a genre rabbit hole, hopefully resulting in plenty to talk about once we can all meet up again.
Wanted Soul: From Diggers to Music Lovers (Wagram, 2017)
The first compilation on this list is featured because it has become a flat favourite in the last year, fun and engaging enough to appeal to new soul fans while having enough rareties to excite the more experienced crate digger. Some of the tracks have become pretty famous in recent years, with songs such as Darondo’s ‘Didn’t I’ gaining tens of millions of streams through use in shows such as Breaking Bad and more recently High Fidelity. However, many of the songs featured remain hard to find and very collectible, meaning this comp is a fantastic opportunity to hear rare tracks that would be difficult to access otherwise. Wanted Soul is a great introduction to the ways reissue compilations make some of the greatest, most sought-after singles available to listeners beyond the big-spending vinyl obsessives.
Our favourite track… George Soule – Talkin’ About Love
Kankyō Ongaku: A Japanese Ambient Primer (Light in the Attic, 2020)
As discussed in our article on Ambient Flo, the first lockdown saw us deep dive into the phenomenon of the YouTube induced Japanese ambient revival. Light in the Attic have been very on the pulse with this resurgence, reissuing favourites such as Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Green. This compilation is a fantastic insight into the world of Japanese ambient, featuring many of the greatest artists of the genre and coming together to form a grounding and immersive soundscape experience. Kankyō Ongaku is a great starting point for newbies to the genre, and there is so much more to explore for each artist featured. Consider this the first step into a much deeper obsession (which thanks to lockdown you’ll have plenty of time to explore).
Our favourite track… Satoshi Ashikawa – Still Space
Also – an honorary mention here to Light in the Attic’s other brilliant comps, many of which have been on heavy rotation on our speakers this lockdown, particularly the bouncy City Pop tunes of Pacific Breeze. If you want to find out more about Japanese City Pop why not check out our interview with the legendary DJ Van Paugam here.
Soul of a Nation: Afro-Centric Visions in the Age of Black Power (Soul Jazz, 2017)
There are a vast number of Soul Jazz compilations that could have been named here, in fact all of the label’s releases are interesting, phonically consistent and wide-spanning. In the end we chose to feature Soul of a Nation as the comp that brought us in to the world of Soul Jazz. It is a fascinating and varied insight into the interconnected nature of art and politics, centring upon the emergence of Black Power in the late 1960s. This compilation was released to coincide with an exhibition of the same name at the Tate Modern, exploring the ideals, beliefs and goals of the movement. The hopes established across Soul of a Nation as an album and an art exhibition remain as relevant as ever today, and many more of Soul Jazz’s compilations provide a brilliant insight into the often indistinguishable overlap of politics, identity, and music.
Our favourite track… Joe Henderson – Black Narcissus
Mr Bongo Record Club, Vol. 4 (Mr Bongo, 2020)
For a truly varied, exciting and brilliant comp that stretches across genres but maintains high quality curation, look no further than Mr Bongo. This volume is the fourth in an excellent series, but the first to include tracks by contemporary artists including Matthew Tavares (of BADBADNOTGOOD). These comps initially began to bring together tracks featured in Mr Bongo’s DJ sets and radio shows, and are a great way to keep discovering new and expansive types of music. This compilation is great for those both new to and familiar with Mr Bongo, a record shop and label (among many other things) that has a brilliant history and future in pushing the best in music across the world, both new and old.
Our favourite track… Carnival – Eyes Growing Wider
Unusual Sounds (Anthology Recordings, 2018)
Library music is an unusual but wonderful world, and exploring it can be a thoroughly exhilarating experience. This compilation was released in conjunction with David Hollander’s book exploring the history of Library and labels such as KPM. The album features just a few of the masses of tracks produced by composers across the 60s, 70s, and 80s to be used in TV, film, and radio. Though the tracks were supposed to be cheap pre-stock options that meant companies didn’t have to pay for composers to produce soundtracks, the music is truly brilliant. Unusual Sounds is a taster for a seemingly endless world of library, which is a brilliant and enriching genre to explore, and which has new tracks being discovered by avid fans every day. Some of the tunes you may come across on your journey may seem familiar, from being featured in popular culture to sampled in Hip Hop. In fact artists such as Madlib have been the starting point for many library fans, and have a great understanding of the value that can be pulled from the masses of unexplored musical resources seen in the musical archives of library.
Our favourite track… Stringtronics – Tropicola
One final note: All the compilations featured exist on digital formats, but why not support the labels or your local record shop by considering buying physical. Find your nearest record store here, or click the links to the labels below: