It's cool to hear a rap album this drowned-in-sound. Dälek make their own lane. The instrumentals would stand on their own, but then we also have the lyrics/concepts to work with. It's good.
Royce da 5'9" - Layers (Bad Half Entertainment)
Rapping and rapping. I keep going back to this in the car... Many flows/concepts in the album, some of which I don't completely understand, but for me there are too many great rapping moments here to deny, as well as strong instances of emotion, introspection, commentary, etc... ultimately it's a fairly "traditional" rap album at a high level.
Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith - A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke (ECM)
There’s a kind of natural/inevitable-feeling progression of this music, as the sounds and spaces generated by Smith & Iyer weave a contemplative space that grooves without being locked, twists without meandering, flows without passivity. The album manages to surpass its automatic on-paper greatness, and both artists are pretty much on top of things.
Looking forward to Friday.
Studio OST - Scenes (2012-2015) (Lustwerk Music)
Sublime techno nightdrive.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - Ears (Western Vinyl)
Wow. Gorgeous, sensitive atmospheres, calling to mind the organs and horns of Terry Riley, the minimalist spirals of kosmische, and the vocal treatments of The Knife and Laurie Anderson. This will make the list.
Ash Koosha - I AKA I (Ninja Tune)
Exciting moves in the pretty-big-right-now vein of noisy IDM. Enough obnoxious pitched up samples to push me out of my comfort zone, the obliterated shreds of sound for automatic noise interest, and the rhythms/groove actually go. The album’s on-trend while both pushing forward and speaking to the past (of stuff I like). Mudafossil. Cool stuff.
Great melting atmospheres of electronics, field recordings, saxophone, but with a strong narrative musicality.
Julian Lage - Arclight (Mack Avenue Records)
I'm usually not crazy about jazz guitar (I write as I listen to Kenny Burrell's "God Bless the Child"), but I find myself coming back to this album and its unique exploration of techniques and moods, if within a general range. Had a chance to see Lage locally about a year ago and was totally impressed (with Eric Harland instead of Kenny Wollesen... I'm fans of both). I was excited about this album but enjoyed it more than I expected...
Not the next-level instant classic I think he has potential for, but it's still a solid album with good songs, and a release from Elzhi is welcome and long overdue. I love the soul-sampling beats of songs like "Weedipedia," "Friendzone" (my favorite on the album), and "Cloud."
Steve Kuhn - At This Time (Sunnyside Records)
This is fairly straight-ahead stuff (meaning I'll enjoy it but not get too excited about it), but after multiple listens without paying attention, I finally sat down at home and felt the fire. The group is so "on" in this record. Will have to look out for touring... (I suppose LA is unlikely, sadly).
Frank has done it again. I do prefer the prior, but this is good. Too bad I'll have to miss the show. Would like more dynamic range. It's been said.
Roly Porter - Third Law (Tri-Angle Records)
Sure, I already talked about it last year, but I was way ahead of time. Amazing spacey future sound design.
Junior Boys - Big Black Coat (City Slang)
Great poppy album. Clear ties between this and the Jesse Lanza that got massive rotation in the car. Really impressed with the handle on electronic music styles, from house to techno to 'bass music' (Love Is a Fire), all with their own idiosyncratic signature on production. Great What You Won't Do for Love cover. It's good.
nonkeen - The Gamble (R&S Records)
Supreme electroacoustic listening jams.
Paul Jebanasam - Continuum (Subtext Recordings)
This and the Roly Porter album. What if I could only keep one?
This is a strange and intriguing album that I came across browsing iTunes' classical page at the beginning of the year. Did not expect to be listening to it over and over.
It's a mix of performed music, often/mostly flute, and natural sounds. The flutes range from slow, meditative, and oddly-expressed, to Renaissance-sounding melodies (likely the Jacob van Eyck works I see mentioned in the descriptions) that are smartly paced and pensive, as the Renaissance flute sound can unfortunately superficially come across as goofy, depending on the performance and recording.
This project actually follows an installation for the garden of Vaucluse House as part of Sydney Fesetival. Read more about it here.
Translated to a great album.
I can understand how people have crippling anxiety. I do not have crippling anxiety, but I do have anxiety about work. Although I know it will not cripple me, that ocean of crippling anxiety is within reach. I can close my eyes and feel it.
Atmospheric textural album of guitar distortion, picking, field recordings. Music from instruments made to feel like a cohesive natural environment.
14. Milo - So the Flies Don't Come (Ruby Yacht)
Milo steps up with stronger songs and fewer stream-of-consciousness-seeming non-sequiturs, while further developing his voice and idiosyncrasies. The songs pay off in content, sound, delivery. In other news, Hemlock Ernst featured on EVERYTHING this year.
There may be something a little obnoxious about how much attention this attention-deserving album received, but it's an epic presentation of orchestration, soul-jazz, and multiple other modes of afrocentric art centered around an excellent player. Its sound is a little out-of-tune with other leading jazz releases, in a good, unapologetically romantic way.
11. Akira Rabelais - The Little Glass (Akira Rabelais)
With the help of Harold Budd, Rabelais constructs an ethereal work that draws on the tradition represented so well in this year's Rothko Chapel release on ECM and can also be compared with the Sleep album on DG. Minimalist sculptural fragments make way for Disc 2's droning hypnotism.
10. M.E.S.H. - Piteous Gate (Pan)
Precision noisy music is in good shape these days, and this was an awesome release. Warped visions of contemporary styles.
9. Mette Henriette S/T (ECM)
Unique, mysterious, fascinating double album, beginning with one side of ultra-sensitive treatment among strings and at times barely audible air passing through the reed. The great album artwork doesn't lie.
8. Arca - Mutant (Mute)
Arca destroys with this album, a noisy one. Easy favorite:
7. Bjork - Vulnicura (One Little Indian)
Bjork's fairly settled in her amazing sound, which has always engaged electronic music/cultures in interesting ways. The songs on this album are lyrically brutal, with more engaging emotional stakes than recent projects.
6. Holly Herndon - Platform (4AD)
Dance music's great, but we can do more with it. Herndon's album sounds great on the surface, but engaging with her ideas behind the music, expressed mostly in interviews and videos (aside from of course in the album itself) make for even more rewarding listening.
5. The Uppercut: Matthew Shipp Mat Walerian Duo - Live at Okuden (ESP-Disk)
Amazing sympathetic piano-sax interaction. Often somber, sometimes blues-inflected, sometimes explosive. I wasn't familiar with Walerian, and Shipp had already released another excellent album this year, so this was a nice surprise. Reminds me of the performances I was able to hear at The Stone.
4. Vijay Iyer Trio - Break Stuff (ECM)
Continuously interesting. Every time I listen to this it strikes me as an exceptionally "modern" ideal for the type of thing contemporary jazz ensembles should be doing. I of course love that there's a Robert Hood tribute, but most of all I enjoy the complex and beautiful music. Leading band.
3. Joanna Newsom - Divers (Drag City)
I never thought I'd have Joanna Newsom in one of my year-end lists, but I've slowly (stupidly) come to appreciate her voice over the past few years and finally found this album to be gorgeous. Often with music it takes some effort to give full attention for the duration, being distracted by everything the machine in front of me or the environment around me has to offer. With this album I instead found myself stopping whatever I was doing to just lie down and listen to nothing but these captivating songs.
2. Busdriver - Thumbs
Busdriver's better than ever, following up last year's excellent Perfect Hair with this album, constantly pushing sounds, delivery, lyrics forward with a poetic, intelligent, honest, and still celebratory perspective on his art, the media, race, and culture in general. His perspective carries a complex nuance calling for repeated close listening, and unlike many rap albums the repeated listens are thought-provoking rather than disappointing. Again features the everywhere-this-year Hemlock Ernst as well as the other person who was everywhere this year (perhaps even moreso), Anderson Paak. I really went back and forth between TPAB and this as a favorite. While the former's precision-calculated polish (budget), with great decisions made along the way, helps push it more firmly into masterpieceland, Thumbs' unpredictability and experimentalism (while sounding great) speak more to my sensibilities. I've switched the two back and forth on this list and had thought of Thumbs as being more like Cassavetes' Shadows and TPAB more like Wyler's Ben-Hur (to choose two from the same year), in which case I would go with Cassevetes, but...
1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly (TDE)
It may be a major label release with a big budget and likely many people to review, but this 79-minute album does actually take some interesting chances and come out on top. Another album with rewarding ambiguities, though I may share fewer final sentiments here, is Kendrick Lamar's latest epic classic. Tired words from C-sections, but appropriate here. It's at once extremely personal and also broadly social/socially-relevant, with a peerless future-jazz sound. The album's scope is huge and places his activity on a plateau above anyone else with anywhere near his popularity. So hopefully this is the last time I'm saving this already-published post.
Some final notes:
1. Kind of a lot of saxophone...
2. This was a great year for noisy albums. Although only a few are on here, albums from Roly Porter, ADR, Dialect, Oneohtrix Point Never, Kenneth Kirschner, Robin Fox, Pinkcourtesyphone, Shapednoise, Mika Vainio, and many others were all very good. There's always a lot of these albums coming out, but it seemed particularly strong this year.
3. I've always been a bit critical of publications' year-end lists featuring their predictable darlings, but it makes sense. If my favorite artists release albums, I guess I'm likely to be appreciative.
Trying to post this the way I used to... with images, videos, etc., but kind of hating the way things are set up. So here's a list... lots of good stuff, from a broader encounter w/good stuff:
Rothko Chapel (ECM)
Kim Kashkashian, Sarah Rothenberg, Steven Schick, Houston Chamber Choir, Robert Simpson performing Morton Feldman, Erik Satie, John Cage
Rothko Chapel’s excellent program draws together work of contemporaries John Cage and Morton Feldman, along with Cage’s beloved Erik Satie (I’ve wondered what Satie would think of Cage’s response to his work). Feldman’s “Rothko Chapel” grounds the program and extends the connection to the visual arts, as the work was created for Houston’s Rothko Chapel and reprises a program performed for its 40th anniversary in 2011. The following stops between Cage and Satie give context around both a shared musical disposition and a historical trajectory of innovative 20th century arts, the relation to the prior century, and the clear affect on music today.
Divers (Drag City)
I’ll jump on the praise wagon. Divers has beautiful lush songs with intriguing instrumentation, a large sound palette, and enjoyable lines drawn through Americana/country and anglo folk, all filtered through Newsom’s idiom. The album’s enjoyable with typical distracted listening, but it took a focused, doing-nothing-else sitting to take the impact of the songs/lyrics and enjoy the depth and direction of the arrangements.
Cory Arcane (Raster-Noton)
A lot of strong techno albums come and go, but few stand out from the crowd. Kangding Ray delivers an album of superb sound design, sounds ranging from sensitive and exploratory to pummeling, and a playful approach to rhythm, showing that there are still more places to go with this music beyond lo-fi regressions (which I can appreciate) and wrenches in the gears.
The Conduct of Jazz (Thirsty Ear)
It is good. Shipp has a strong voice.
A Small Prometheus (Emego)
Weird patterns, rhythmic clipping, minute phasing, tiny sounds, and sometimes large atmospheres. This type of noise-oriented music is rarely this engaging. If I was working on stuff I’d be going for something like this.
Winter Light (ACT)
Scott Dubois feat. Gebhard Ullmann, Thomas Morgan & Kresten Osgood
There have been so many “beautiful” jazz albums lately, but this one stands out. So much atmosphere and interplay, with guitar and bass textures/pads, brushed drums. Despite the percussion it reminds me of Carta da Amor. Really like this.
Mette Henriette (ECM)
Where did this come from? This album pushes across pensive, free, hot, and texture-telescoped sax worlds. Many modes in a striking narrative/program. Really exciting album.
Stronger beats. Sounds great. Maybe I'm responding to the dash of conventionality, but I connect with it more.
More interesting writing, fewer philosophical name-drops and more invitations to conceptual exploration.
My favorite Milo release.