I make a yearly musical trip listening to all the Anjunadeep compilations in anticipation of the new one’s release. Anjunadeep 14 is here tomorrow and its release feels sudden with all the album announcements the label has been making lately. While it’s unclear how rushed this release is for James & Jody (fans have been begging for it apparently), one thing remains certain: I still had to listen to Anjunadeep 08 through 13 between Monday and the end of Thursday before I leave for a flight on Friday. So, read along for a guide and my personal history with the Anjunadeep compilations (releases 08 through 13 are covered here, I covered the first seven back here).
Rebranding, Shifted Schedules, a Whole New Vibe (AD08–11)
2016 marks some overhauls for both Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep, both minor and major. Simultaneously, Anjuna massively expanded their yearly release catalog over the span of the next four years. In 2015 and 2016, Anjunadeep had 49 releases (compilations, samplers, remixes, EPs, singles, albums, any sort, 49 total according to their website). In 2019, the year of Anjunadeep 10, there were 88 releases. In 2020, which obviously permanently changed the landscape of music with the pandemic, there were 132 releases. Pre-pandemic, Anjunadeep was already building to double their output over the coming years and the compilations show a result of that change as well. These next four compilations are radically different than the ones that came before, they’re also stellar for the most part, and demonstrate a growth on the label’s part as well as in the craft that James & Jody start to demonstrate strength in what they keep doing year after year (both A&R for the label and the mix craft of these compilations). The deep water era of AD05–07 may have been varied, amazing, and refining. But I’ll be real here: Anjunadeep morphed into a different beast in these compilations. One that you can see starting to become unhinged in the best of ways.
Anjunadeep 08 (Mixed by James Grant & Jody Wisternoff) — 2016
Fifteen months this time. Anjunadeep 08 was so “late” in this fan’s mind that it essentially released in another season, so late in the fall it may have been winter for this midwesterner. AD08 was the answer to the question “Will Anjunadeep find new ground to stand on?” But the answer wasn’t “Yes”. The answer was instead a correction: “Anjunadeep is going to stand in all corners of deep electronic music at once, because we are the humble giant.” AD08 artistically on first impression all those years ago felt like an apology letter at its start (Hiatus’s “Delam” doing the work on that), today it’s an assured triumphant journey for the series. Let’s start with the art work because again, the incredible visual artists there excel at saying everything you need to know. Instead of the usual submerged logo that’s journeying to new depths, the logo is no longer immersed in the imagery. The scenery says more than it used to. Now, digital art transforms drone footage pictures of a swirling, foggy, misty scene. The compilation trailer that released in November showcases cold blue color correction on treetops, waters, and rocky misty waterfalls. Anjunadeep is no longer in deep water but has transcended it to include a vast world of colorful, watery landscapes, both real and unreal at once.
The same happened to the label’s releases. Anjunadeep well and truly stopped muddling itself in mostly one or two deep music niches. It took them all. Melodic house, organic deep house, progressive house, deep house, electronica, if Anjunadeep can find a deeper sound that they believe belongs on the label of a certain quality, they sign it. To this effect we’ve recently had Anjunadeep releases ranging in the upper 130s in terms of BPMs. We’ve had drum & bass show up hand crafted by James & Jody. AD08 is the start of that radical new sense of direction. And it’s incredible. On my first listens I was mostly just relieved it had a lot of really strong tracks and the mix journey felt good, but I was a little concerned by the large number of tracks James & Jody included on the compilation for what felt like just little throw-ins, barely recognizable amounts of inclusion (we’re talking sub-60 second tracks here) to pad the track numbers. And while on AD08 I’d still make a reasonable argument that those really short mix-ins don’t have that great an impact on the mixes, the generally shorter mix work for most tracks across these two mixes make for a greater journey. Before this album, both in the Jaytech years and after them, mixes were often giving tracks a full run for their money, oftentimes being mixed in across a full 16, 24, or 32 bars. There’s nothing wrong with this mix style, I do it often, but by taking more time to tinker with the intros and outros for each track, James & Jody in 2016 started weaving mixes that feel timely enough to give you the full love of a track while also giving room for interesting transitory pieces that are close in tone. It didn’t need to be longer transitions anymore and it sort of remains that way going forward. Tracks like “Another Land” by Koelle serve as linking pieces between progressive house slow-smasher “Give it Up” by 16 Bit Lolitas and the euphoric “Edge of Affection” by Yotto. Even a four minute track like the breakbeat-tinged Tom Middleton remix of Sienna’s YNTOO is a setup for the fantastic non-label finale of the album, the coda-like Lane 8 remix of Icarus’s “Home”. While I was at the time a little wary on this style, fearing it’d sacrifice one’s capacity to appreciate some songs with longer runtimes over ones with short run times, my expanded Anjunadeep library that only gets bigger most years kinda speaks for itself here. My concerns were coming from the wrong place.
I love Anjunadeep 08 for showing me that even if I don’t like one compilation out one year, James & Jody will seemingly always find a way to bring me back the next year. There isn’t an Anjunadeep album yet that can release and not live up to my hype that isn’t followed a year later by an absolute audio knockout. It happened here with AD08, it’s going to happen again later, twice. When I’m not loving this one for that very experience of falling in love with the compilations all over again, it’s the very reasons anyone listens to these things: Tracks and pacing. The first mix is a case study in patience and reward. It’s slowly speeding up and giving you new sounds from new artists doing genres you’re not really comfortable with right away (at least in 2016) followed by seasoned veterans showing you just how good it’s going to be from today onwards regardless of the genre. It’s easy to start Anjunadeep mixes on a moody piano and string piece with a spoken poem intro (even though it’s never been done before this one). But right after that the first mix intends to stun on the new direction. The James & Jody remix of “Hunger of the Pines” demands you accept that the mixes aren’t always going to be this constant four to the floor experience anymore. And after that, you’re eased into a slow dance that picks up the pace across sixteen more tracks. Aiiso’s “Your Love is an Echo” gives you a chugging bassline you won’t forget. 16 Bit Lolitas is back with a modern twist on progressive house that befits the new directions house has taken with “Give It Up”, and there’s so many new artists here. Some stay with AD for a long time after, some don’t. Koelle. Theo Kottis. Luttrell. Lycoriscoris. Tinlicker. Yotto. Icarus. They’re all here, showing up sometimes for the first time, and even if not, with the changes the genres went through in just a year’s time, they might feel unrecognizable. The aforementioned shorter tracks weave between big moments like a modern remix of “Nobody Seems to Care” (which, if that doesn’t signify something new happening to Anjunadeep, I don’t know what would) until the first mix culminates in the best build and falling action in an AD mix ever seen (that’d be the Fort Romeau’s remix of “Perspective”, followed by big number “Fire Walk” by Yotto, followed by the next five tracks winding the mix down beautifully).
Mix two isn’t far behind in absolutely killing it. The mix maybe starts a little too slow for too long but the first five tracks all weave together in a way that makes you think it might all be one artist. I’ll never forget the emotional chord struck the first time I heard (not listened to, but heard) Tontario’s remix of Öldurót to cap off that five track intro to mix two. Like most second mixes for these compilations, it gets a little grungier, a little dirtier, Luttrell’s debut presence that year sees to it that the dreamhouse techno vibes are immaculate. Amateur Dance’s “Dreamhack” brought a sort of monotonous element that turns into melancholy when the remix of Solomon Grey’s “Broken Light” follows it. It picks up from there to go full blown progressive house again with Tinlicker’s “Soon You’ll Be Gone”, and later Icarus’s “Hiding”. You just can’t really go wrong here. Deep in the recesses of Anjunadeep 08’s design is a one-night musical journey yearning to be understood but not quite touched on yet. These two mixes still feel a little distinct and unique from each other. I feel that distinction influences AD09 considerably.
Overall ranking: A-Tier
Personal favorites: All of it, but a favorite moment would Perspective (track 12) onwards into the end of mix 1. Usually track 12 on previous mixes were a time to hit the end of the mix, and it’s really just the start of the end here. It’s incredible mix work.
Anjunadeep 09 (Mixed by James Grant & Jody Wisternoff) — 2017
Anjunadeep 09 is an interesting one for me. In going through the history of these mixes it’s one that I think I was the most critical of in my head but on paper I tried to come to its defense quite a bit. As a result, I found myself mostly backing up the perspective I held in the first half of my review (which you can find on Medium but I won’t link, you can go find it if it serves your interests). That perspective is one where I found the mix work and ultimate curation to be a little at odds with each other. Anjunadeep 09 very much feels like a “spoiled for choice” album where James & Jody legitimately couldn’t get enough time to squeeze all the tracks they’d like to on this compilation while also seeing a massive explosion of talent on the label. In 2017 alone the label was on the tail end of Cubicolor’s debut album (Brainsugar), releasing Moon Boot’s first album, celebrating the return of Way Out West with an album, and seeing an utter massive storm of new talent and a wider embrace of organic and melodic deep house genres by said talent. Exciting times! I cover in my review that there were tracks (such as Compuphonic’s “Medicis”) seemingly being added to the track listing down to the weeks before the compilation’s release. It’s hard to see Anjunadeep as it is today and think “they can’t have been that busy back then” but we live in a world now where Anjunadeep 14 got announced a week prior to its release, back in 2017 the compilation was this moving target James & Jody were working to reach while still assembling the thing an entire month out. If anything I imagine James & Jody probably needed to hire some more staff to run the label while they were trying to assemble the two disc powerhouse that is AD09. So the mixes kind of suffer if you ask me. Both mixes feel like they lack a better sense of progression and pacing, the first mix feels quite sleepy at times while the second definitely picks up the pace towards the back half, but neither really succeed at taking me on a journey the way other ones do. In the year following this would bother me so much I’d wind up making my own version of Anjunadeep 09, including other tracks from outside Anjunadeep that were approximate agents of chaos in 2017’s whirlwind of a melodic house and techno revolution. Today I don’t think the AD09 mixes were that bad but they certainly suffer from some moments of whiplash and monotony.
The tracks on Anjunadeep 09, though, demonstrate just how big the Anjunadeep blow-up was becoming. Luttrell, for starters, really started hitting his stride of releases this album, from the climactic “Contact” to the mind boggling Intergalactic Plastic EP with “Wake Me Me Up Tomorrow” and “What You Are”. Modd and Fluida show up for the first time here and their organic and melodic house takes that feel simple here but become just the start of what is now some undeniably great tunes. I could just list hit after hit from this compilation to really sell the point, so I will! “Faded Memory” by Planète. “Lights (SQL Remix)” by SOHN (boy do I wish SQL got signed to this label and made more music), Jody Wisternoff’s “For All Time”, Martin Roth’s “Hypno Seq”, the perfect set-builder “Lost Signal” by Gallago, the acidic mix lifter “Touch of my Soul” by Antic, the 16 Bit Lolitas Remix of “Lie Alone” by L. Doblado, David Hohme’s peaceful “Soft Landing”. Anjunadeep 09 and onwards became a point of no return for me where I found myself buying extended mixes of roughly a third or more of the tracks on the compilation because they’re just that good on their own. The tracks speak for themselves so well and AD09 was the vehicle that introduces you to them. For me all I needed to see was that James & Jody put my favorite house track that year on the second mix, and it didn’t even come from this label: “The Flame” by Movement Machina. While I would’ve preferred they found a way to weave the actual track in the mix while including that cool intro edit they did, the fact alone that James & Jody put it on AD09 told me I was going to like what Anjunadeep had on its release slate for the next 365 days. It told me their pursuit of certain sounds was going to have a hard time falling out of alignment with my own interests. It’s weird looking back at AD09 that way: A disappointment that foreshadowed so much music I loved to make mixes with. But that’s what it really was in the end. Which means by the earlier proposed Anjunadeep law that an absolute knockout is coming.
Overall ranking: C-Tier teeming with A-tier tracks
Personal favorites: Tracks 10, 11, 14, 15, 18, 19 on mix 1. Tracks 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, and 14, and 16 on mix 2.
Anjunadeep 10 (Mixed by James Grant & Jody Wisternoff) — 2019
Anjunadeep 10 was released on February 22, 2019. The label was so busy in 2018 with releases and, undoubtedly, James & Jody wanted to get the big “one-oh” release of Anjunadeep right, to the point that this compilation came out a year and four months after the last one, in a completely different numerical year than anticipated. As the ultimate present, Anjunadeep 10 came out the day before my birthday, the same day I and two friends of mine all made a trek to Chicago to go see The Thrillseekers as Hydra do an open to close DJ set at Sound Bar. There we listened to Steve Helstrip showcase practically the entirety of his Hydra album “Altered State”, which is hands down one of the best trance albums ever made. There’s an inescapable link between the memory of Anjunadeep 10 coming out and that lovely memory I have. Funnily, I only listened to the first disc on that trip once. 2019 also marks the last year I spent consistently writing about music as by the middle of the year I finished college and started my first Monday through Friday day job. When looking backwards far enough, it’s kind of impossible to do so without looking forward a little bit to the points after it too. For me, a global pandemic that landed in my home state nine months later would irrevocably change my habits going forward as I shifted focus to the things I had spent the better part of a decade slowly working towards: Marriage, “career” (as if those are real anymore), relative stability, dog, etc. I didn’t stop writing outright, 2020 assured I had time to write about video games I was playing. I’m also typing this thing right now, aren’t I? But AD 10 is the last time I wrote about the label’s releases after writing pieces about AD 7, 8 and 9 before it while also reviewing albums from Solarstone, Spencer Brown, BT, Xilent, and others that year. 2019 was the year I started a plan to improve my life and then 2020 happened. That plan exploded and was set back considerably. And yet, I think my writing of Anjunadeep 10 holds up pretty well, accurately expressing the core strengths on the album and its tracks and the journey its artists have been on at that point in time.
In looking back at Anjunadeep 10, we are introduced to a moment where James & Jody, in my opinion, constructed something completely unique and new for themselves that would inform the future releases so much. Anjunadeep 10 is a full abandon of what came before so we can finally embrace what’s to come. AD10 takes the usual formula of two mixes, usually one a bit more straightforward and upbeat followed by one a bit darker and exploratory, and instead says “What if we imagined the entirety of Anjunadeep 10 as one three hour mix at a club?” The result takes some getting used to, but takes you on a more realistic journey of what it’s like to go through the ups and downs of a night out, feeling a DJ carry you up and down across a set as it gets exciting from time to time, diving down into more focused instrumental numbers before rising up again and repeating that cycle a couple times over. AD10 mostly works like a sideways hourglass with a little bit of a final rest at the end, a trio of finales worthy of ten releases of Anjunadeep compilations. It’s the way the first CD closes down and the second one opens up rather quickly that really holds it all together in a way that feels “together”. For James & Jody, this must’ve been hard to try and piece together, and I’m not entirely sure that it’s intentional or not, but that’s what it feels like at the end of the day. I’d like to pull from a part of my AD10 review that I think is worth highlighting again even four years later:
It’s here that James & Jody show off “Dapple” before giving a two minute interlude to a remix they did of a track called “Autumn’s Feathers”, which is a track from 2015 by someone not-that-popular named Jani R. It’s here and on a remix of “Things That Matter” (it’s from 2017) by Tomas Barford that James & Jody are doing what I think might be the most unique and excellent thing the label could use more often: Whatever James & Jody feel like doing sometimes. A remix of a random chill out track from 2015 isn’t a death sentence for the label, but so often these two are busy remixing and reworking tracks to fit the compilation instead of making their own stuff or just appreciating things all on their own. A remix of a track from 2015 and their own tracks is an excellent signal of these actions, and so was their remix of “Alchemy” back on AD05, and their remix of “Love is Not Enough” during AD08. If ever there was a time to celebrate and feel comfortable doing what you wanted with the imprint, I can’t think of one better than Anjunadeep 10.
I may have stopped writing about music and about the Anjunadeep comps because life got complicated from 2020 onwards. That’s as common a phrase as any for everyone. I think I also stopped writing about Anjunadeep after 10 because I didn’t need to anymore. I didn’t have any concerns, just opinions about a series of releases that only maintained quality year after year with an occasional change-up. AD10 is that change-up, so is AD13. AD10 feels avant garde now looking back on the modern era of Anjunadeep (08 onwards), and it’s just that sort of embellishment that’ll make these albums continue to feel special.
Overall ranking: A-Tier
Personal favorites: This might be the rare time I enjoy mix two almost more than mix one because it’s a club night picking up steam. I also really like everything by Nox Vahn here, and the string of tracks 8–11 on the first disc.
Anjunadeep 11 (Mixed by James Grant & Jody Wisternoff) — 2020
My initial listens of Anjunadeep 11 roughly placed it in the realm of “pretty good”. I was still in a space where I thought the higher and higher track listings each compilation was getting a little silly (a stance I’ve abandoned in the years since because AD11 shows how the duo can manage to give each track a fair shake more than ever before), the mixing was good (a stance I now actually have changed to “the mixing is on. point.”), and like usual in this era: There were tracks a plenty I immediately said “I want to buy them.” Anjunadeep 11 was that ultimate transforming album of the bunch where some tracks at first I was kind of hesitant on that didn’t take long for me to turn around and say “nah gimme”. A standout example is Leaving Laurel’s “Through and Through”, which sounded like more of the usual melancholy house James & Jody have been spinning since AD07 but it’s subtly different modern kicks and the utter depth of that siren pad kept catching me. It’s also just catchy lyrics.
Anjunadeep 11, like its predecessor, is also mixed in a way never done before (I’m going to say that for every album forward now). No longer do James & Jody rely on short tracks to break up a pace between bouts of several pieces you’re interested in. Instead, most tracks are honed to 3–5 minutes in length (wheras back on AD10 you’d have tracks ranging from sub-3 minutes up to 6) and we get less “vibe transferrence” tracks and more just really good mixing work. The tracks are picked to move together so well, the mixing work takes advantage of intro fade-ins anytime it can, and the resulting vibes are immaculate. Anjunadeep 11 is a double-fisted plunge into a snack bowl and your hands pull out about ten or eleven miniature mix arcs that all bend together seamlessly. The overarching thread that kinda holds it all together is one Anjunadeep has definitely touched on before but it worked at this point in space and time better than ever before, and that thread is: Meditative reading voiceovers. You get your first hints of it in mix one with Nox Vahn & Marsh’s “Come Together”, where the vocal sample is a sort of instructive demonstration in the midst of beautiful serene pad work. It really takes off at the start of mix two though where we get a chill out touch up from Martin Roth on “The Four Agreements” by Matthew Dekay, which is a track including an opening book reading of the The Four Agreements, a sort of spiritual self-guide wisdom book. This is followed up later by similar instructive voiceovers for opening up your mind on Esteble & Lazarusman’s “Mind Heart Self” and right after it Alex Metric & Amtrac’s “Upswing”, which features voiceovers about practical applications of perspective and reacting to things that happen in our lives. There’s more of these sprinkled across mix 2, but I think you get what I’m talking about. For some reason James & Jody just made these types of tracks a presence in AD11 and they combined pleasantly well with the usual mixture of uplifting melodic pieces (see the highest highs of Ben Böhmer followed by Lane 8 on mix 1) and melancholy high-male vocals (see Cubicolor, Leaving Laurel, etc.). It all weaves together in an unreasonably well way at the start of wintery February when it originally released. Of course, there’s the other reason I think Anjuandeep 11 grew on me exceptionally.
Anjunadeep 11 had all these various emotional throughlines working together in a fantastic fashion and then at the heart of it all, it’s one of the last major releases I was able to be excited about before the pandemic hit my region on March 13, 2020. I know for some thinking about the time just before the pandemic is still difficult for people. For me the time across it all is certainly a challenge to revisit because of my own contrast in it. As the introvert I had some comfort in those first few months as I did my best to stay inside and do my part and just consume, but like many of us I was simultaneously still going to work and watching all the injustice right outside my window happen yet again to people who didn’t deserve it. I started my current “career path” in June of 2019, I worked at a job I liked for nine months, the pandemic hit, and then that job slowly but surely turned into a nightmare as I was one of maybe two IT people coming into a building any given day, rotating into the office every third week and then spending two weeks working remote. My girlfriend and I didn’t see each other for three months. My plans on advancing my career, moving out, getting engaged were all mostly upended in a way that was permanently changing and while the job wasn’t making me work extra hours at first to accomplish my responsibilities, it would eventually go that way in the year later. Anjunadeep 11 was this man’s musical relief. The tranquility on these two mixes (consider those instructive and spiritual-esque voiceovers) may not have been sculpted to help a 28 year old navigate the contradiction of being at peace in isolation while missing his loved ones while being outrageously angry at injustices imposed on people already being marginalized while walking into a bad job situation that only got worse over time, but help me find that peace is exactly what Anjunadeep 11 did. I didn’t understand then why I only kept listening to it more and more but I get it now. It’s just really well done.
On a historical side Anjunadeep was kinda unstoppable at this point. The pivot to remote operations meant more releases than ever before. After all, how do you support an entire label’s worth of talent that’s only been growing for the past four years after you’ve signed them up for show after show across the year? You help them publish more music than ever before. Dosem, CRi, Cubicolor, Jon Gurd, Luttrell, Leaving Laurel, Marsh, all had albums lined up and all kept releasing music in the year after. Luttrell had managed to release three albums in the span of three years. Plus the label had been around for a decade at this point, so rereleases started to come into fashion and we’d see the likes of Michael Cassette and Dusky have anniversary vinyl print releases. The musical direction maintained that “all corners” stance and while Anjunadeep 11 doesn’t venture too far into the weeds, it manages to show off a couple big breaks moments here and there with the climactic “My Friend the Sun” by Luttrell and Jon Gurd’s “Together”. I can’t really forget listening to Anjunadeep 11 and not think of the hundred times or more I’d be at work sitting alone in my cube in a mostly empty building, taking support calls and making shipments, watching Twitch streams, staying there till 8 PM and driving home in the dark of winter or coming in for a 7 AM start in the dark of winter as tracks like “Dream of You” by Nox Vahn set the scene. Like previous S-tier album Anjunadeep 05, AD11 was very much a time and a place, one that probably wasn’t planned. But it happened. And to top it off, it’s just that good.
Overall ranking: S-Tier
Personal favorites: All of it. Mix 2 shining again as it takes that meditative tone more and also has some of the most soulful deep house in a minute for the series. But “Hunting” going into “Keep On” on mix 1 is also perfect.
Pandemic-Land and The Future (AD12-present)
We’re in the middle of an Anjunadeep compilation arc right this moment, which means it’s hard to make sense of it because we’re not in the next one yet. But we’re near the end of our journey in writing. This era we’re started in rough waters and managed to pull itself out of the fray. So does the next two Anjunadeep compilations.
Anjunadeep 12 (Mixed by James Grant & Jody Wisternoff) — 2021
The compilation series returned again in February of 2021 like clockwork. But I can imagine the work for James & Jody post-March 2020 being anything but clockwork for a heavily curating label that thrives on quality releases and a regular touring schedule for many of its signed artists to suffer at the hands of a pandemic that sent most people home for a long, foreseeable future. Anjuna as an organization took a lot of steps across 2020 to support their artists, running sales regularly and increasing revenue cuts that would go to the creators for a time. Anjunadeep as a label explored this notion of artist support more while a vaccine was only early news in late 2020 and early 2021 and things were likely not going to change anytime soon in terms of major organized gatherings at music venues. So James & Jody assembled a three disc compilation this time. Anjunadeep 12 first and foremost feels like it exists to support its label roster, to get more songs on the pedestal than ever before so more artists can get support. And so by the conscious effort of the label to support, represent, and give the spotlight to more of its artists and more music than ever before, Anjunadeep 12 gets an A+ rating. Which is why it’s hard to say I don’t particularly like it.
Don’t get me wrong, I bought the CDs, I listened to it regularly for the first six months until “Leave the Bones” came out (more on that later). As previously stated I continued to buy more tracks from Anjunadeep than before. But I don’t love the mixing on it. Similar to Anjunadeep 09, James & Jody have more music than ever that they want to include here and this time they’re actually choosing to go an extra mile and include an extra mix’s worth of music. But for a first like that, there’s some struggles to make an aesthetic through line across all three CDs, let alone the first two. This was a strange feeling because as 2021 developed my job that I had started in 2019 morphed into a constantly stressful time. The onset of the vaccine was promising and I was in line quickly and readily, and then I experienced more overwork as the company pushed extremely hard to try and get its workforce to return to the office only for most of the employees there to say “No thanks, not yet”. My work was in IT so I was often the hands and feet of the company’s return to office execution plan so putting forth all this effort to see no result felt utterly pointless. My other work projects went unfulfilled, delayed, thrown into the trash bin time and time again all so a bunch of executives could feel happy about having invested in real estate that mostly went unused (or some other garbage about managing employees remotely). Then a hurricane happened and threw me into more overwork than I had done leading up to said hurricane. 2021 sucked and Anjunadeep 12 was a big ambitious mix album that didn’t really take me on a journey I was interested in. But the songs attached to the compilation did take me somewhere…
The music doesn’t stop being good. (Does it ever?) And simultaneous to all that stress, worry, and overwork, I got married. What will be one of the happiest days of my life (if not the happiest day of my life) lives in parallel with some of the most stressed and overworked days of my life while planning a wedding in less than a year. That’s the pandemic in a nutshell, isn’t it? Anjunadeep 12’s mixes that I don’t love live in parallel to a three-disc value collection of tracks supporting artists that include the eclectic water splasher “Balloons” by Hosini, Fluida’s squeaky-glitch breather “Welcome Home”, mix-1-ender Leaving Laurel’s “Winter in the Woods” (which, contextualized, should make you cry), Enamour’s underappreciated knock out melodic house number “Say Hello”, and the foreboding clicky breaks of Monkey Safari’s “Gravity”. (and I’m skipping over several other knock-outs) Sure the three mix journey feels a little aimless, but can you really care about how well Anjunadeep 12 hits the mark for its aesthetic vibes when Anjunadeep 12 unveils Joseph Ray & Lakou Mizik’s “Oguo (Pran Ka Mwen)” and by extension of that, my personal album of the year “Leave the Bones”?
Maybe Anjunadeep 12 feels aimless because dead in the middle of 2021 the label released what I can only consider its two most important works of art to date: The eponymous debut album by Leaving Laurel, and Lakou Mizik & Joseph Ray’s “Leave the Bones”. Leaving Laurel is an 11 track electronic emotional journey by early ‘10s club music star Pierce Fulton (mainly known for his 2014 hits “Run Away” and “Kuaga”) and producer friend Gordon Huntley. The album is a musical journey completed years after it had started and the friends picked up the little pieces of what had been made one evening before they parted for a long season. The song that began that journey, “Winter in the Woods”, is here on Anjunadeep 12 in full effect. It’s also here in full retroactive effect because two months after AD12 shipped, Pierce Fulton lost a struggling battle with his mental health and passed away.
The album would release in August and live on Pierce Fulton’s honor and memory with the eternal message sent off by Gordon and Pierce’s brother: “It’s okay to not be okay”.
Meanwhile, Grammy-winning DJ “Joseph Ray”, one-half of drumstep mixing duo “NERO”-turned-Anjunadeep-mainstay, took a visit to Haiti to do some longer music teaching and one night stumbled upon a Haitian roots group called Lakou Mizik, a group headed by (quoting from Anjunadeep on this one) “…Sanba Zao, one of only ten original Sanba poets left, played a central role in Haiti’s Rasin (roots) movement of the 1980s which sought to re-imagine traditional Haitian Vodou music through radical experimentation with modern instruments.” What would follow is a hybrid of electronic music and a multi-instrumentalist band to create an album that carries the folklore, mythology, culture, beliefs, and literal slave-rebelling history of the people of Haiti to…a bunch of people like me who had never even learned about Lakou Mizik, let alone the Haitian Slave Rebellion. “Leave the Bones” is a masterpiece in transporting you to the heart and soul of a people if you do your due diligence. I sort of hate that in many ways this album might fall on deaf ears that don’t know where to go to learn more about what these ancient pieces of music are (even I don’t have too many places to look, luckily Anjunadeep’s website for the album has a breakdown of what each track is about). The album is also just beautiful as get out and inescapably tied to a grounded visual reality much like the cover art for Anjunadeep 12. I’ll never forget the distant thunderstorm I watched on the night my wife and I had spent looking for houses, unable to find one we wanted, and “Boukman O’” played in my car as I made my way back to where I was living at the time. I listened alone and in silence. I couldn’t hear the storm but I could see it in the distance. It was as breathtaking as the music. We all saw the storm in 2020 but not all of us heard it before it got there.
In an industry that regularly sees its artists lose battles with mental health heavily influenced by the life DJ-ing is in proximity or even direct interaction to (constant touring, the emotional whiplash of being the center of attention for two hours and then working alone with a laptop for hours to craft your next attempt at a song, drugs, alcoholism), Leaving Laurel’s album is important in a way my yammering about these compilations maybe isn’t so much? Leave the Bones is an album that presented a culture that to many would seem otherworldly, alien, distant and, in effect, closes the gaps in what distances us all. Much like what music and art do in general. I have been to maybe twenty different club / DJ events in the past seven years and while not all of them were a great time due to some touchy crowds here and there, the one throughline is that Anjuna-crowds have almost consistently been the better of the bunch because they’ve always been the kindest and most welcoming. The presence of tracks from Leaving Laurel and Leave the Bones on Anjunadeep 12 (on mix 1, no less, Oguo is track #3) are a path to uncovering something deeply important to the Anjunafamily that I’ve felt at Anjuna-family shows: An attempt to connect us all. At that point, what does it matter if I don’t love Anjunadeep 12? It still traced a pathway for me to learn something about the people of Haiti and listen to the best album of 2021
Overall ranking: C-tier, but also A-tier because reasons above?
Personal favorites: Mix 1 and most of the tracks I referenced above. Don’t sleep on Leave the Bones and Leaving Laurel. Seriously.
Anjunadeep 13 (Mixed by James Grant & Jody Wisternoff) — 2022
You know what time it is.
This one should be criminal. It’s reckless and dangerous for James & Jody to put out two S-tier Anjunadeep compilations so close to each other but that’s what you get when a duo has been building a brand and a collection of deep-style sounds for (as of 2023) a decade at this point. Anjunadeep 13 is an utter bombshell of exploring something new again and a chance for me to argue in favor of the label continuing to try and curate a little more. You see, while 2022 was no doubt a big year for the label, their website lists only 112 releases compared to 2021’s 152 releases. The shift back to touring slowly happened across the back half of 2021 and into 2022, leading for a little less studio time for many producers on the label and more time honing what those artists were working on. This refining, in my probably mistaken opinion, gave James & Jody a better collection to work with for the 13th installment in the series and build that aesthetic that I still love to listen to. I can’t understate it enough: Anjunadeep 13 rules.
It’s a bright and colorful journey through the sensation of starting to walk out of the dark of the pandemic’s early years into the years where most of society tries to move forward while many still very much have to take extra precautions like many did in the early days. So naturally the mixes start on two electronica pieces of tranquility from Michael FK and P.O.S. before jumping into MKV, James, & Jody’s new deep house single “Pursuit of Happiness”. And just a few short minutes later we’re experiencing “SpaceTime” by Braxon, James, & Jody. In the span of 10 minutes the dynamic duo have hit us with a flurry of deep house, breaks, electronica, and all the tracks are mixed with a strength unseen in most AD albums, allowing vocal samples to overlay electronica tracks and letting mainline kicks carry you into other tracks while vocal samples switch out for the next track early. It’s heavily worked in a way that makes those first ten minutes feel like one piece of music so you can follow James & Jody across more genres than ever before in two mixes packed to the brim. No joke, they finally did it: Two mixes, 20 tracks each, practically maxing out the balance of track to mix length to what most consider the CD format is going to allow. And yet it’s not a detractor for me one bit.
Anjunadeep 13 is not without its usual hosts of melancholy house, deeper meditative organic house, and label pop-ups. It’s in the way they’ve used the hottest upcoming tracks from these artists to weave together two mixes that know when to stay still for a little bit and when to start moving quickly. The elements of melodic house hit a sort of second wave of innovation in 2022. You can hear it in tracks like Promnite’s spinning bell sampling on “Absolute”, Nox Vahn’s contrast of grungy and airy shrines on “Lullaby” (seriously, when is Nox Vahn going to release an album and blow us all away?), or the rolling melodics on Juno Mamba’s “Us”. It’s also worth noting Anjunadeep 13 sees a very strong presence of deep house in some fantastic ways not seen in a while, particularly Mona Vale’s almost disco-lite “Pieces of You” and the back to back pieces of what I imagine to be Simon Doty’s upcoming album, the acidic “Telling Me” and bumpy “Living Sound”, or star-of-mix-two “Back to the Roots”, a brilliantly simple piece by Makebo & Amonita that samples everyone’s favorite string arrangement. But when AD 13 isn’t pulling some of its regular styles, it’s exploring so many new things. Both mixes have longer wind downs that rely on heavy change-ups from what preceeded. Mix 1 jumps through slow breaks and a step of electronica with “Depend On Your Love”, “Return to a Place called Heaven”, and finally Jon Gurd’s muted “Open”. Meanwhile, mix 2 almost touches the barriers of trance with a quad-smacker of drum & bass numbers that give the 40 track journey a proper send off. “Traumstaat’s” strings are unbelievable, 3STRANGE & Kenya Grace’s “Someone Else” get you ready for the close, and James & Jody put their own touch on the emotional throughline by surprising you with a chill-dnb send off with their own remix of Leaving Laurel’s “Winter in the Woods”. AD13 is the most hopeful the albums have ever sounded despite there being some darker vibes throughout. And it’s a hopeful sound I don’t mind listening to again and again.
Overall ranking: S-Tier
Personal favorites: Mix 1- tracks 1–4, 7–8, 13–14, 18–20. Mix 2- tracks 2–5