It may not have been a vintage year historically, but musically I have felt salved if not saved, by a bumper crop of sonic emollification, hence why on Velvet Sheep I’ve not only hedged my bets with album of the year but also by announcing a joint song of the year. University Challenged emerged early on in 2021 with a memorable sound, their excellent album “Oh Temple!” (on the burgeoningly brilliant Hive Mind Records) was forged remotely in tricky times, but with an alchemic magic of predestination.

A triptych of Ajay Saggar with his King Champion Sounds mucker Oli Heffernan and kindred spirit Kohhei Matsuda of Bo Ningen forged a sound of infinite cosmic drift and interstellar sojourns – sometimes hopeful othertimes bleak but never short of epic.

The ten minute plus song “Choppers Over Negril” was for me the nexus, it’s nadir, a Captain Kurtz moment, but not so much a journey into the heart of darkness, as into the aorta of dubness (ahem). With overlaid goodness of found sound, menacing drone, reverberating toasting, viscose electronics and a Morse-esque call for help, it’s an odyssey of the mind, a transportation to another world. Which was a welcome journey when it was often hard to leave your own ‘hood.

It’s the perfect counterpoint to the garage sprite and spite of the song with which it shares top spot (“Deeper Than Sin” by The Blue Orchids) and University Challenged “Choppers Over Negril” is a worthy number one song of 2021 on Velvet Sheep fanzine.

Behold!

Ajay and Oli also have another song in the VS top 20 of 2021 – King Champion Sounds “I’m In Between Two Worlds” (with Gerry Love) from the amazing album of nearly the same name but this is the first time they’ve been TOTP! And while they argue with who is going to play Mandolin John Peel style – may I also nudge you towards two great records from 2021 by Oli H – Ivan The Tolerable & His  Elastic Band “The Long Year” and Ivan The Tolerable “White Tears”.

But if you haven’t got it already may I point you in the right direction of University Challenged opus “Oh Temple!” (artwork below and the Bandcamp link at the foot of this article).

I asked the ever prolific Ajay what he was up to especially as he’d sent me a pic of the mixing desk when i informed him of the top spot in our countdown and he revealed “I’m recording stuff for a theatre production. I love what I’ve done…and I pray they do too hahahahaha. Thereafter gonna start cleaning up the next BHAJAN BHOY Lp…”

Which is great news of course, especially since the last one “Bless Bless” was so memorable.

And BHAJAN BHOY are playing a show in Utrecht this Saturday with an extended Arkestra (see below for an ace all-seeing Santa flyer)…so if you’re in the NL get down there for some season musical mysticism…

I also asked Ajay to pick his favourite “song for ewe” for 2021 but he found it so hard to single one out, he picked six! So here’s to an inadvertant but much welcome brand new Lucky 7…over to Ajay…

HASSAN WARGUI “Azmz”
…on a self built banjo, and residing in the Anti-Atlas Mountains in south Morrocco, Hassan crafted a brilliant album released on the impeccable Hive Mind Records. Azmz is a track that typifies Hassan’s impeccable songcraft skills, building around a catchy repetitive riff (based on an Arabic musical motif), and then layering vocals on top.

CLARE ROUSAY “Peak Chroma”
This track is taken from her “A Softer Focus” album (which was one of my albums of the year. This prolific Texan melds electronica, musique concrete, field recordings, and whatever is lying on the kitchen table and melds the most exquisite and spellbinding sonic excursions that anyone can offer

LEA BERTUCCI “On Opposite Sides Of Sleep”
This New York based composer and multi-instrumentalist combined elements of 20th century American music (jazz, bluegrass, gospel and folk) with long spatial blasts of electronica and drone. A remarkable musical journey.

BURD ELLEN “Mother, Go and Make My Bed”
Glasgow duo who combine the most spellbinding and angelic vocal harmonies and traditional instrumentation with a keen understanding of traditional folk songs and personal interpretation. This was taken off a 7 inch single on Thread Recordings. Just enchanting beyond belief.

SAULT “London Gangs”
The most prolific gang in town. Impeccable output. Killer production. This album bowled me over when I listened to it. Each track is a thrill and sails unchartered waters.

ARUSHI JAIN “Richer Than Blood”
I heard her album in the summer and was blown over by it. The first thing that grabbed me was that she was Indian! My sister! Secondly she made modular synth music / works in the line of Suzanne Ciani and Terry Riley…whom I love. And thirdly she sang songs in Hindi….all in a raga form. Combine these elements together, and you could have ended up with some world music dreck. But oh no….Arushi gave the wolrd a subtle and utterly beautiful album of rich arrangements with deep harmonic textures. I gave her album so much of a push on social media, that Le Guess Who? festival picked up on it and invited her to play in Utrecht in November.

OLIVIA BLOCK “Axiolite”
Olivia Block “Axiolite” off her new album “Innocent Passage In The Territorial Sea” could be a deep and dark soundtrack for a science fiction movie….utterly beguiling, scary and hypnotises you to keep listening and see what happens next. The whole album is a rich and varied kaleidoscopic affair (she claims to have gone through a period of ingesting magic mushrooms in the making of this album) and completely spellbinding…

THANKS SO MUCH AJAY! MUCH APPRECIATED. 

You can hear the whole countdown of our Top 20 from 2021 here on catch up…including one of Ajay’s picks from above by Hassan Wargui…

and buy the University Challenged album “Oh Temple!” on which “Choppers Over Negril” features here…

and here’s Ajay’s “song for ewe” from earlier this year…

 

AJAY SAGGAR of UNIVERSITY CHALLENGED – Song For Ewe