Thursday, June 21, 2018

2018 Half Time List

We're halfway through another year, so now is a good time to take stock of the worthwhile music releases from the first half of the year. With thanks to a few friends (particularly Alexander Shields and Michael Ewins) for suggestions and reminders. These are not ranked, but I've put my current preferred choices in bold text. The usual disclaimers apply - some albums will have gone up in my estimations by the end of the year and others will probably diminish somewhat. Also, this is a broad list and I certainly don't think everything here is a masterpiece. Particularly good year for film soundtracks, isn't it?

AAL (Against All Logic) - 2012-2017 (Other People) 
Aisha Devi - DNA Feelings (Houndstooth)
AKA Moon - Now (Outhere)
Alasdair Roberts, Amble Skuse and David McGuinness - What News? (Drag City) 
Alela Diane - Cusp (AllPoints) 
Alexis Taylor - Beautiful Thing (Domino)
Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Yonge - The Midnight Hour (Linear Labs)
Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto - Glass (NOTON)
Andy Sheppard Quartet - Romaria (ECM)
Anenon - Tongue (Friends Of Friends)
Angelique Kidjo - Remain In Light (Kravenworks) 
Anteloper - Kudu (International Anthem)
Anton Hunter - Article XI (Efpi) 
Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino (Domino) 
Arp - Zebra (Kemado)
Baloji - 137 Avenue Kaniama (Bella Union)
Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness (BCUC) - Emakhosini (Buda Musique)
Bell's Roar - We Carry Us (Sean Desiree)
Belly - Dove (Belly Touring)
Ben LaMar Gay - Downtown Castles Can Never Block The Sun (International Anthem) 
Ben Vince - Assimilation (Where To Now?) 
Bill Frisell - Music IS (Okeh)
Binker and Moses - Alive In The East? (Gearbox)
Brad Mehldau Trio - Seymour Reads The Constitution! (Nonesuch)
Brigid Mae Power - The Two Worlds (Tompkins Square) 
Calexico - The Thread That Keeps Us (City Slang)
Cath and Phil Tyler - The Ox and the Ax (Thread Recordings) 
Colin Stetson - Hereditary OST (Milan)
Charles Lloyd & The Marvels - Vanished Gardens (Blue Note)
Christina Vantzou - No. 4 (Kranky) 
Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel (Marathon Artists)
Courtney Marie Andrews - May Your Kindness Remain (Loose)
Dan Weiss - Starebaby (Pi Recordings) 
Daniel Avery - Song For Alpha (Phantasy Sound)
Daniel Blumberg - Minus (Mute)
Dave Holland - Uncharted Territories (Dare 2) 
David Byrne - American Utopia (Nonesuch) 
Dedkind Cut - Tahoe (Kranky)
Dinosaur - Wonder Trail (Edition) 
Domenico Lancelloti - The Good Is A Big God (Luaka Bop)
Dylan Carlson - Conquistador (Sargent House)
Eleanor Friedberger - Rebound (Frenchkiss)
Elliot Galvin - The Influencing Machine (Edition)
Elysia Crampton - Elysia Crampton (Break World)
Enemy - Enemy (Edition)
Eric Chenaux - Slowly Paradise (Constellation)
Erik Friedlander - Throughbreds OST (Back Lot Music) 
Espen Eriksen Trio with Andy Sheppard - Perfectly Unhappy (Rune Grammofon)
Fatoumata Diawara - Fenfo (Republic of Music)
Field Music - Open Here (Memphis Industries) 
Gang Gang Dance - Kazuashita (4AD)  
GAS - Rausch (Kompakt) 
Gemini Sisters - Gemini Sisters (Psychic Troubles Tapes) 
Grouper - Grid Of Points (Kranky) 
Guided By Voices - How Do You Spell Heaven? (Guided By Voices, Inc)
Guided By Voices - Space Gun (Guided By Voices, Inc)
Gwenifer Raymond - You Were Never Much Of A Dancer (Tomkins Square)
H.C. McEntire - Lionheart (Merge) 
Haley Heynderickx - I Need To Start A Garden (Mama Bird)
Henri Texier - Sand Woman (Label Bleu)
Henry Lowther - Can't Believe, Won't Believe (Village Life) 
Henry Threadgill - Dirt...And More Dirt (Pi Recordings) 
Hieroglyphic Being - The Red Notes (Soul Jazz)
Hilary Woods - Colt (Sacred Bones) 
Hop Along - Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Saddle Creek) 
Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids - An Angel Fell (Strut)
Imarhan - Temet (City Slang)
Insecure Men - Insecure Men (Fat Possum)
Ivo Neame - Moksha (Edition)
Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer (WEA International)
Jennifer Castle - Angels of Death (Paradise of Bachelors)
Jim O'Rourke - Steamroom 40 (Steamroom) 
Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas 'Sound Prints' - Scandal (Greenleaf) 
John Prine - The Tree Of Forgiveness (Oh Boy) 
Jon Hassell - Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One) (Ndeya) 
Jonathan Wilson - Rare Birds (Bella Union)
Jonny Greenwood - Phantom Thread OST (Nonesuch)
Jonny Greenwood - You Were Never Really Here OST (Invada/Lakeshore) 
Joshua Redman - Still Dreaming (Nonesuch)
Julian Arguelles' Tetra - Tonadas (Whirlwind) 
Julian Siegel Quartet - Vista (Whirlwind)
Kadhja Bonet - Childqueen (Fat Possum) 
Kamasi Washington - Heaven and Earth (Young Turks)
Khruangbin - Con Todo El Mondo (Night Time Stories)
Kit Downes - Obsidian (ECM)
Laura Veirs - The Lookout (Bella Union)
Lucrecia Dalt - Anticlines (RVNG)
LUMP - LUMP (Dead Oceans)
Lydian Collective - Adventure (Lydian)
Marisa Anderson - Cloud Corner (Thrill Jockey) 
Mark Pritchard - The Four Worlds (Warp)
Mary Halvorsen - Code Girl (Red Distribution) 
Mary Lattimore - Hundreds Of Days (Ghostly) 
Matthew Sweet - Tomorrow's Daughter (Honeycomb Hideout)
Mind Over Mirrors - Bellowing Sun (Paradise of Bachelors)
Mount Eerie - Now Only (1Gd)
Mouse On Mars - Dimensional People (Thrill Jockey)
Natalie Prass - The Future and the Past (ATO)
Neko Case - Hell-On (ANTI) 
Norma Waterson & Eliza Carthy - Anchor (Topic)
Olivia Chaney - Shelter (Nonesuch) 
Oneohtrix Point Never - Age Of (Warp)
Park Jiha - Communion (Tak:Til) 
Pete Lee - The Velvet Rage (Ubuntu)
Phil Cook - People Are My Drug (Psychic Hotline)
Philip Jeck - Arcade (Touch)
Red River Dialect - Broken Stay Open Sky (Paradise of Bachelors)
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Hope Downs (Sub Pop)
Ry Cooder - The Prodigal Son (Caroline International) 
Ryan Porter - The Optimist (World Galaxy)
Ryley Walker - Deafman Glance (Dead Oceans) 
Sarah Davachi - Let Night Come On Bells End The Day (Forced Exposure)
Sarah Louise - Deeper Woods (Thrill Jockey)
Samba Toure - Wande (Glitterbeat)
Seabuckthorn - A House With Too Much Fire (876527)
serpentwithfeet - Soil (Secretly Canadian/Tri Angle)
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 - Black Times (Strut) 
Sidi Toure - Toubalbero (Thrill Jockey)
Sink Ya Teeth - Sink Ya Teeth (Hey Buffalo)
Sloth Racket - A Glorious Monster (Luminous)
Sonar with David Torn - Vortex (RareNoise) 
Sons Of Kemet - Your Queen Is A Reptile (Impulse)
SOPHIE - Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides (Transgressive)
Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks - Sparkle Hard (Domino)
Steve Tibbetts - Life Of (ECM) 
The Body - I Have Fought Against It, But I Can't Any Longer (Thrill Jockey)
The Breeders - All Nerve (4AD)
The Nels Cline 4 - Currents, Constellations (Blue Note)
The Sea and Cake - Any Day (Thrill Jockey)
Thumbscrew - Ours/Theirs (Cuneiform)
Tori Freestone and Alcyona Mick - Criss Cross (Whirlwind)
Traveller  - Western Movies (Refuge Foundation for the Arts)
Tracyanne and Danny - Tracyanne & Danny (Merge)
Trembling Bells - Dungeness (Tin Angel)
Tune-Yards - I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life (4AD)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Sex and Food (Jagjaguwar)
Virginia Wing - Ecstatic Arrow (Fire Records)
Witch Prophet - The Golden Octave (88 Days Of Fortune)
Yo La Tengo - There's A Riot Going On (Matador) 
Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar (Ninja Tune) 
µ-Ziq - Challenge Me Foolish (Planet Mu) 



Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 In Albums Part 3: The Best of the Rest

Sort-of alphabetical order....

Aaron Dilloway - The Gag File (Dais)
Aaron Parks, Ben Street, Billy Hart - Find The Way (ECM)
Actress - AZD (Ninja Tune)
Ahnnu - Special Forces (NNA Tapes) 
Aimee Mann - Mental Illness (SuperEgo)
Aine O'Dwyer - Gallarais (MIE)
Alasdair Roberts - Pangs (Drag City) 
Aldous Harding - Party (4AD)
Anjou - Epithymia (Krankt)
Amber Mark - 3:33am (Jasmine Music)
Anouar Brahem - Blue Maqams (ECM)
Antibalas - Where The Gods Are In Peace (Daptone) 
Arboretum - Song Of The Rose (Thrill Jockey)
Arca - Arca (XL)
Awa Poulo - Poulo Warali (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
Bargou 08 - Targ (Glitterbeat)
Becca Stevens - Regina (GroundUP) 
Bicep - Bicep (Ninja Tune) 
Big Thief - Capacity (Saddle Creek)
Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan - Small Town (ECM)
Bill Mackay - Esker (Drag City)
Bill Mackay and Ryley Walker - Spiderbeetlebee (Drag City)
Bill Orcutt - Bill Orcutt (Paralelia)
Billy Woods - Known Unknowns (Backwoodz Studios)
Bing and Ruth - No Home Of The Mind (4AD)
Binker and Moses - Journey To The Mountain Of Forever (Gearbox)
Blanck Mass - World Eater (Sacred Bones)
Bog Bodies - Sligo (Orindal)
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Best Troubadour (Drag City)
Brokeback - Illinois River Valley Blues (Thrill Jockey)
Camilla George - Isang (Ubuntu)
Charles Lloyd New Quartet - Passin' Thru (Decca)
Children Of Alice - Children Of Alice (Warp)
Chino Amobi - Paradiso (NON)
Chris Hillman - Bidin' My Time (Rounder)
Chris Potter - The Dreamer Is The Dream (ECM)
Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Barefoot In The Head (Silver Arrow) 
Chuck Berry - Chuck (Dualtone/Universal)
Chuck Johnson - Balsams (Vdsq)
Claire M Singer - Fairge (Touch) 
Cody Chestnutt - My Love Devine Degree (One Little Indian)
Colin Stetson - All This I Do For Glory (52Hz)
Colleen - A Flame My Love, A Frequency (Thrill Jockey)
Cornelius - Mellow Waves (Warner Music Japan)
Crescent - Resin Pockets (Domino)
Daniel O' Sullivan - Veld (O Genesis)
Dave Liebman & Joe Lovano - Compassion: The Music Of John Coltrane (Resonance)
Dave O' Higgins - It's Always 9.30 In Zog (JVG)
David Crosby - Sky Trails (BMG)
David Rawlings - Poor David's Alamack (Acony) 
Deerhoof - Mountain Moves (Joyful Noise Recordings)
Denys Baptiste - Late Trane (Edition)
Depeche Mode - Spirit (Mute)
Destroyer - ken (Merge)
Dirty Projectors - Dirty Projectors (Domino)
Django Bates - Saluting Sgt Pepper (Edition)
Django Bates Beloved - The Study Of Touch (ECM)
El Michels Affair - Return To the 37th Chamber (Big Crown)
Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)
Emptyset - Borders (Thrill Jockey)
Entropi - Moment Frozen (Whirlwind) 
Favourite Animals - Favourite Animals (Luminous) 
Feist  - Pleasure (Interscope)
Felicia Atkinson - Hand In Hand (Shelter Press)
Fever Ray - Plunge (Rabid)
Filthy Friends - Filthy Friends (Kill Rock Stars)
Flaming Lips - Oczy Mlody (Warner Bros)
Fleet Foxes - Crack Up (Bella Union)
Fletcher Tucker - Cold Spring (Gnome Life)
Floating Points - Reflections 
Flo Morrissey and Matthew E White - Gentlewoman, Ruby Man (Spacebomb)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Luceferian Towers (Kranky)
Golden Teacher - Luscious Life (Golden Teacher)
Goran Kafjes Subtropic Arkestra - The Reason Why Vol 3 (Headspin)
Gosheven - Leaper (Opal Tapes)
Grandaddy - Last Place (Columbia)
Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins (RCA)
Gun Outfit - Out Of Range (Paradise of Bachelors)
Gunn-Truscinski Duo - Bay Head (Three Lobed) 
Henry Spencer's Juncture - The Reasons Don't Change (Whirlwind)
Ibeyi - Ash (XL)
Ibibio Sound Machine - Uyai (Merge) 
Ifriqqiya Electique - Ruwahine (Glitterbeat)
Injury Reserve - Drive It Like It's Stolen (Las Fuegas)
Jack De Johnette, John Scofield, John Medeski, Larry Grenadier - Hudson (Motema)
J Hus - Common Sense (Black Butter)
Jaimie Branch - Fly Or Die (International Anthem) 
Jake Xerxes Fussell - What In The Natural World (Paradise of Bachelors) 
James Elkington - Wintres Woma (Paradise of Bachelors)
Jana Rush - Pariah (Objects Limited)
Jan Lundgren - Potsdamer Platz (ACT)
Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound (Southeastern)
Jeff Tweedy - Together At Last (DBpm)
Jen Shyu - Song Of Silver Geese (Pi) 
Jesca Hoop - Memories Are Now (Sub Pop)
Joseph Shabason - Aytche (Western Vinyl)
Josephine Davies - Satori (Whirlwind)
Juana Molina - Halo (Crammed Discs) 
Juju and Jordash - Sis-boom-bah! (Dekmantel)
Julien Baker - Turn Out The Lights (Matador)  
Kamasi Washington - Harmony Of Difference (Young Turks) 
Kara-Lis Coverdale - Grafts (Boomkat Editions)
Karima Walker - Hands In Our Names (Orindal) 
Kelela - Take Me Apart (Warp)
Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens (Small-town Supersound)
Kendrick Lamar - Damn (Interscope)
Kevin Morby - City Music (Dead Oceans)
King Ayisoba - 1000 Can Die (Glitterbeat)
Klein - Tommy (Hyperdub) 
Kneebody - Antihero (Motema)
Lankum - Between The Earth and Sky (Rough Trade)
Laraaji - Bring On The Sun (All Saints)
The Last Dinosaur - The Nothing (Naim)
Laura Marling - Semper Femina (Kobalt Music Group)
LCD Soundsystem - American Dream (DFA/Columbia)
Lee Gamble - Mnestic Pressure (Hyperdub) 
Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie - Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie (Warner Music)
Lindstrøm - It's All Right Between Us (Small-town Supersound)
Lorde - Melodrama (Universal)
Man Forever - Play What They Want (Thrill Jockey)
Margo Price - All American Made (Third Man)
Mark Eitzel - Hey, Mr. Ferrymen (Decor) 
Mark Lewandowski - Waller (Whirlwind)
Mark McGuire - Ideas Of Beginnings (Vin Du Select Qualitite)
MHYSA - Fantasii (Halcyon Veil) 
Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band - Adios Señor Pussycat (Violette)
Miguel - War and Leisure (Sony) 
Miles Mosley - Uprising (Verve)
Misha Mullov-Abbado - Cross Platform Interchange (Edition)
Mogwai - Every Country's Sun (Temporary Residence)
Mokoomba - Luyando (Outhere)
Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me (P.W. Elverum and Sun)
Morten Schantz - Godspeed (Edition)
Moses Sumney - Aromanticism (Jagjaguwar)
Mountain Movers - Mountain Movers (Trouble In Mind)
Nadia Reid - Preservation (Basin Rock)
Nikki Lane - Highway Queen (New West)
Offa Rex - Queen Of Hearts (Nonesuch) 
Oli Rockburger - Sovereign (Whirlwind)
Ollie Brice Quintet - Day After Day (Babel)
Omar Souleyman - To Syria, With Love (Mad Decent/Because)
Once and Future Band - Once and Future Band (Castle Face)
Open Mike Eagle - Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (Mello Music Group)
Oneohtrix Point Never - Good Time OST (Warp) 
Pan Daijing - Lack (Pan)
Partikel - Counteraction (Whirlwind)
Perc - Bitter Music (Perc Trax)
Peter Oren - Anthropocene (Western Vinyl)
Pharmakon - Contact (Sacred Bones)
Phronesis/Julian Arguelles/NDR Big Band - The Behemoth (Edition) 
Prurient - Rainbow Mirror (Profound Love)
Randy Newman - Dark Habits (Nonesuch) 
Rhiannon Giddens - Freedom Highway (Nonesuch)
Richard Dawson - Peasant (Weird World) 
Richard Thompson - Acoustic Classics 2/Acoustic Rarities (Beeswing/Proper) 
Rick Tomlinson - Phases Of Daylight (Voix)
Rivers Of Sound (Amir El Saffar) - Not Two (New Amsterdam) 
Ride - Weather Diaries (Wichita)
Rina Sawayama - Rina (Self Released)
Roscoe Mitchell - Bells For The South Side (ECM)
Saicobab - Sab Se Purani Bab (Thrill Jockey)
Sananda Maitreya - Prometheus and Pandora (Self Released)
Sarah Davachi - All My Circles Run (Students Of Decay) 
Shabazz Palaces - Quasarz (Sub Pop)
Shobaleader One - Elektrak (Warp)
Seabuckthorn - Turns (Lost Tribe Sound)
Shinochi Atobi - From The Heart, It's A Start, It's A Work Of Art (DDS) 
Sinkane - Life and Livin' It (City Slang)
Six Organs Of Admittance - Burning The Threshold (Drag City)
Sleater-Kinney - Live In Paris (Sub Pop)
Sloth Racket - Shapeshifters (Luminous)
Slowdive - Slowdive (Dead Oceans)
Songhoy Blues - Resistance (Transgressive) 
Sote - Sacred Horror In Design (Opal Tapes)
Sparks - Hippopotamus (BMG)
Susanne Sundfør - Music For People In Trouble (Bella Union)
Syd - Fin (Columbia)
Tamikrest - Kidal (Glitterbeat) 
The Afghan Whigs - In Spades (Sub Pop)
The Bug vs. Earth - Concrete Desert (Ninja Tune) 
The Cairo Gang - Untouchable (Drag City) 
The Como Mamas - Move Upstairs (Daptone) 
The Dream Syndicate - How Did I Find Myself Here (ANTI-)
The Heliocentrics - A World Of Masks (Soundway)
The Inward Circles - And Right Lines Limit And Close All Bodies/Scaleby (Corbel Stone Press)
The Magnetic Fields - 50 Song Memoir (Nonesuch)
Tift Merritt - Stitch Of The World (Yep Roc)
Tigran Hamisyan - An Ancient Observer (Nonesuch)
Tinariwen - Elwan
Tom Millar - Unnatural Events (Spark)
Tom Rogerson and Brian Eno - Finding Shore (Dead Oceans) 
Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet - Ladilikan (World Circuit) 
Trish Clowes - My Iris (Basho)
Van Morrison - Roll With The Punches (Exile Productions)
Vieux Farka Toure - Samba (Six Degrees)
Vince Mendoza/WDR Big Band - Homecoming (Sunnyside)
Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory (Def Jam)
Visible Cloaks - Reassemblage (RVNG Intl)
Wadada Leo Smith - Najwa
Waxahatchee - Out In The Storm (Merge)
William Eggleston - Musik (Secretly Canadian)
Zara Macfarlane - Arise (Brownswood) 
Zimpel/Ziolek - Zimpel/Ziolek (Instant Classic)








































































Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2017 In Albums Part 2: The Top 50

Like many other writers (both music and film enthusiasts) I read and follow, I tend to write these lists largely for myself. It's a means of creating closure on one calendar year, and looking ahead to what might be in store artistically in the next - and it's a means of examining my own listening preoccupations. As whatever I post to the internet will inevitably stay there unless I seek to remove it, it's also a great future resource to remind me what I enjoyed this year. I may of course come to disagree with my former self in future years, but that's OK.

It's been remarkably tough to pick out a top 50 from the wealth of excellent music released in 2017, and there were many other works I could have chosen. I plan to publish a longer list of pretty much everything I've checked out and enjoyed in 2017 at some point over the next few days, so if you don't see your particular favourite here, it may well be in that group. I would encourage readers to look deep in to that list as well, as the Top 50 is largely personal and subjective. That being said, it does feel like more of the big consensus records this year (LCD Soundsystem and Kendrick Lamar in particular) haven't really connected with me quite as much.

In terms of seeking diversity, some of my decisions have been conscious - I want the list to be representative of the wide range of music I enjoy. I have sought to include both albums I enjoy listening to repeatedly for surface pleasures and other music that I find more challenging (sometimes to the extent that I'm not sure I comprehend it). I've also consciously chosen to include examples of both individual musical pursuits (some introspective or even solipsistic) and examples of the joyful results of collective music making. Other decisions have been more subconscious - I haven't actively looked to include a specific quota of female artists this year but, as with the previous few years, I'm finding my listening habits are naturally leading me more to the work of women (as should be the case).

From this exercise, I can also identify certain trends in my listening habits this year that interest me. Ambient and other forms of introspective or contemplative music have offered particular solace from a politically turbulent and frustrating year. I have also tended to listen out for examples of elements I wish to improve in my own playing - particularly for musicians I feel are strong in varying dynamics, texture and timbre. With each year that passes, I feel I become more interested in the broader possibilities of *sound*. Combinations of percussion with electronics also seem to be a prevalent feature in this year's selection. 

I've included Bandcamp links where possible so please do explore and give money directly to the artists as and when you find something you enjoy!
 

50. Bitchin Bajas - Bajas Fresh (Drag City) 
'Not enough sh's in 'fresh' to convey what we're trying to say'...
More delightfully protracted meditations bringing a welcome sense of peace and stasis. 

https://bitchinbajas.bandcamp.com/album/bajas-fresh


49. Ron Miles - I Am A Man (Yellowbird) 
'I Am A Man' finds the excellent trumpeter Miles expanding his regular trio with Bill Frisell and Brian Blade in to a quintet, adding bassist Thomas Morgan and pianist Jason Moran. This is a remarkably empathetic unit and the music here places a refreshing emphasis on melodic clarity. As the album's title suggests (sanitation workers in Memphis wielded 'I Am A Man' placards following the death of two workers, protesting poor conditions), this music seeks to address continuing social injustices, connecting the civil rights struggle to present day concerns. 

48. Chris Forsyth and The Solar Motel Band - Dreaming In The Non-Dream (No Quarter) 
One of the best exponents of instrumental rock guitar music, Chris Forsyth frequently creates something ecstatic or euphoric from his searing, strafing guitar lines. Here, he cuts incisively above some satisfyingly relentless grooves.

https://chrisforsyth1.bandcamp.com/album/dreaming-in-the-non-dream

47. Circuit Des Yeux - Reaching For Indigo (Drag City)
Haley Fohr's music here is very hard to pin down, seemingly perched precariously somewhere between folk, ambient, country and avant-garde cabaret. The influence of Scott Walker seems to permeate throughout, but recording in collaboration with Cooper Crain of Bitchin Bajas might have lent this project a more mysterious, otherworldly lilt. Central to it all is Fohr's low, tremulous and frequemtly affecting voice. 

https://circuitdesyeux.bandcamp.com/album/reaching-for-indigo



46. Karen Gwyer - Rembo (Don't Be Afraid)
One key element of electronic music, whether it be perceived as intriguing or frustrating, is that it is inevitably difficult to know exactly what artists are doing when they perform. With 'Rembo', Karen Gwyer seeks to emphasise the relationship between producer and audience, and the rapid decision making process that is involved in performing. Gwyer works with a wide range of mood and feeling - from the strongly physical to the transcendental.

https://karengwyer.bandcamp.com/album/rembo  

45. Quercus - Nightfall (ECM)
This collaboration between jazz improvisers Iain Ballamy (saxophones) and Huw Warren (piano) and the versatile folk singer June Tabor continues to yield music of powerful emotional resonance and deceptive calm. There is a wondrous interpretation of Dylan's 'Don't Think Twice It's Alright' and Tabor even succeeds in finding depth of feeling in 'Auld Lang Syne'.


 44. Saz'iso - At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me - The Joys and Sorrows of Southern Albanian Song (Glitterbeat) 
Extraordinary, deep, melancholy music from southern Albania produced by the great Joe Boyd. The press release on the Bandcamp page gives some insight into the stories behind these haunting, captivating and beautiful songs. Some of the most effective combining of male and female voices that I've heard in some time.

https://saziso.bandcamp.com/album/at-least-wave-your-handkerchief-at-me-the-joys-and-sorrows-of-southern-albanian-song 

43. Robert Stillman - Portals (Orindal)
Robert Stillman is such an open-minded and quietly adventurous musician that it's largely impossible to ever predict his next move. 'Portals' is a meditative collection of ambient-sounding music (actually improvised on Fender Rhodes piano) that works perfectly as the soundtrack to the closing of another year. For those seeking to let go of all the political turbulence and frustration of 2017, this is a necessary healing.

https://orindalrecords.bandcamp.com/album/portals 

42. High Aura'd - No River Long Enough Doesn't Contain A Bend (Debacle)
This is a gloriously desolate sounding record, its little bends and blue notes always deployed in unpredictable ways. The combination of guitar and drones yields a new alchemy, reinvigorating musical traditions and finding new paths to explore. 

https://debaclerecords.bandcamp.com/album/no-river-long-enough-doesnt-contain-a-bend-2

41. Broken Social Scene - Hug Of Thunder (Arts and Crafts)
This is the first album in seven years from the Toronto group and surely one of 2017's most welcome returns. The quality of both songwriting and execution remained remarkably high, and there seemed to be a fresh commitment, enthusiasm and energy given over to this particular project. The band remain firm advocates of a big sound, utilising the resources of the studio to unique effect.


40. Laura Cannell - Hunter Huntress Hawker (Brawl) 
One of the many advantages of an improvising modus operandi is that it enables an artist to be much more prolific in what they produce. In just a few years, Cannell has already recorded a major body of work. Hunter Huntress Hawker was recorded at a live performance at a semi-ruined church on the Suffolk coast (although the music was apparently inspired by a performance at a secret location in London). Here, Cannell focuses on her violin playing, particularly the overbow fiddle that is so consistently fascinating. The music here is evocative and transporting.

https://brawlrecords.bandcamp.com/album/hunter-huntress-hawker


39. The Weather Station - The Weather Station (Paradise of Bachelors)
Tamara Lindeman looked to a more expansive palette for this album, incorporating more of a band sound in to her elaborate narrative songs. At its best, the band accompaniment is spare and spacious, ably supporting Lindeman's drifting melodies, with her vocal delivery gently floating over the slightly greater turbulence. Lindeman also wrote the curious, compelling string arrangements.

https://theweatherstation.bandcamp.com/

 
38. Schnellertollermeier - Rights (Cuneiform) 
Schnellertollermeier have been an active band for ten years and 'Rights' is their fourth album. Listening to its stretched out, defiantly minimalist constructions has certainly made me want to delve back and explore the rest of their work. Whilst these musicians have a background in jazz and improvisaton, this music is clearly something different, drawing the power of repetition from club music and its intricate lattice structures from modern composition. It manages to sound both restless and stoical.

https://cuneiformrecords.bandcamp.com/album/rights 

37. Laura Baird - I Wish I Were A Sparrow (Ba Da Bing!) 
Laura Baird's glorious, feathery voice and spare but proficient banjo playing are superb vehicles for an exploration of the Appalachian folk tradition. This is more introspective and reflective than her work with her sister Meg, Baird often a lone voice against the elements. It's all the more fascinating for it.


https://badabingrecords.bandcamp.com/album/i-wish-i-were-a-sparrow


36. Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul - Soulfire (Universal) 
By his own admission, Steve Van Zandt had neglected his own music for too long, having played loyal lieutenant on the virtually never ending Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band tour of recent years. Whilst some of his peak 80s catalogue is hampered by production values of the time and slightly dubious cultural appropriation, Soulfire subtly refreshes the classic Disciples of Soul sound of Men Without Women, and is an equally powerful recording. Recorded relatively quickly, and capturing the sound of an outstanding band delivering confident, authoritative rock and soul music (bolstered by a great horn section and excellent backing singers), Van Zandt draws from his own back catalogue of songs written for other artists. His much maligned voice is in good shape here, and its rough edges arguably work better for lead than for backing. This is an unashamedly uncomplicated and thoroughly enjoyable album and, if I'm absolutely honest, I've enjoyed it more than the last couple of Springsteen records. With Bruce now seemingly on Broadway at least until early summer, it seems likely that Steve may get time to do more with this band next year. 

35. Robert Plant - Carry Fire (Nonesuch)
Robert Plant's late career continues to be the most fruitful period of his post-Zeppelin work. Again working with the excellent Sensational Space Shifters band, Carry Fire is subtler and more nuanced than its immediate predecessor, but reveals depth and meaning on repeated plays. Drawing on folk traditions, a range of music from around the world and the conventional dynamics of rock music, Plant continues to follow his own preoccupations, largely unifluenced by any wider musical trends.


34. William Basinski - A Shadow In Time (2062) 
One of Basinski's strongest works since The Disintegration Loops, this combines two long form pieces. The first is simply titled 'For David Robert Jones' and is a moving eulogy for David Bowie. The title track might actually be better still, offering a distilled creepiness that builds to something overwhelming. 

https://williambasinski.bandcamp.com/album/a-shadow-in-time


33. Shackleton with Anika - Behind The Glass (Woe To The Septic Heart) 
This intriguing set finds Sam Shackleton continuing to develop his modern electronic take on devotional music and his preoccupation with collaborating with vocalists. It follows on from works with spoken word artist Vengeance Tenfold and with singer Ernesto Tomasini and, for me, is by some distance the strongest of these experiments. Anika's Nico-esque vocal works very well in this context, and the overall sense is surreal and otherworldly. Shackleton's capacity for developing threads and ideas over long form pieces remains a great strength, and this has been a compelling facet of his music since the masterful Music For The Quiet Hour.


https://shackletonwithanika.bandcamp.com/

32. House And Land - House And Land (Thrill Jockey) 
This duo of Sally Anne Morgan and Sarah Louise Henson explores Appalachian folk ballads with a deft touch, making the case for this music as living and breathing rather than simply a recovered artifact. Intriguing use of unusual harmony and drones too. 

https://houseandland.bandcamp.com/album/house-and-land


31. Oumou Sangare - Mogoya (No Format)
Much has been made of Sangare's supposed change of direction here, returning after eight years to work with a French production team who have also collaborated with Franz Ferdinand. Mogoya is certainly an energetic set, but it's perhaps more notable the extent to which this simply plays to Sangare's existing strengths as a vocalist and performer. 

30. Will Guthrie - People Pleaser (Black Truffle)
I might have missed this highly original work were it not for Derek Walmsley, editor of Wire magazine, nominating it as his personal choice for album of the year (it didn't make their overall list). Guthrie is an Australian drummer and percussionist living in France, and this album blends improvised drums and percussion with electronics, field recordings and, perhaps most bizarrely, fragments of a police interrogation. The collaboration between Kieren Hebden and Steve Reid might be considered a useful reference point - but this feels much more like a coherent and immersive work in and of itself, as well as being considerably wilder.   

29. Laurel Halo - Dust (Hyperdub)
Laurel Halo's woozy, lopsided electronica reached a new level of blissful disorientation here, benefiting greatly from a succession of excellent guest contributions from the likes of Hyperdub colleague Klein, Julia Holter and drummer Eli Keszler, The treated vocals remain a characteristic feature but the fluid structures and combinations of keyboards and percussion make this work feel freer.


https://laurelhalo.bandcamp.com/album/laurel-halo-dust-hdblp036 

28. Iron and Wine - Beast Epic (Sub Pop) 
This album was conspicuous by its absence from most end of year lists and I'm not entirely sure what it is that has caused Sam Beam to fall out of critical favour somewhat. Beast Epic represented a further paring back of his sound and also proved notable for a certain restraint in his lyrics as well. While his recent music had smoothed over some of the rougher edges of his sound, Beast Epic appears to wear its flaws proudly once again. Where the results are softer, there seems to be an intriguing, paradoxical juxtaposition between words and music ('Bitter Truth' may be the world's most delicate angry break up song). Beam claims the album 'speaks to the beauty and pain of growing up after you've grown up', and I very much appreciate the notion that we all exist in a perpetual state of transition. There is still something vivid and unusual in his poetic lyrics ('there's nowhere safe to bury all the time I've killed') and Beam remains a songwriter we should treasure.


https://ironandwine.bandcamp.com/album/beast-epic 

27. Irreversible Entanglements - Irreversible Entanglements (International Anthem)
The combination of jazz and poetry/spoken word has a rich history (the work of Michael Garrick in this field having particular importance for me). It's therefore perhaps not so surprising that a collaboration between a quartet of free improvising musicians and poet Camae Ayewa (who records as Moor Mother) should yield such potent results. The extent to which the poetry drives the flow, texture and timbre of the improvisers' contributions is fascinating.

https://intlanthem.bandcamp.com/album/irreversible-entanglements


26. Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings - Soul Of A Woman (Daptone)
The loss of Sharon Jones made me realise how much I'd been taking her work for granted - Soul Of A Woman, now her final work, very much confirmed this realisation. This is much more than a facsimile of a vintage soul sound. Instead, it's a refraction of such a sound until it feels timeless. The songs are exquisite and brilliantly constructed, bolstered by superb production (very effective stereo panning) and perfectly judged playing. 

https://sharonjonesandthedapkings.bandcamp.com/album/soul-of-a-woman


25. Les Filles De Illighadad - Eghass Malan (Sahel Sounds)
This is the first official studio album from the female-lead group from an isolated village in Niger, where there is apparently little in the way of infrastructure. Exploring nomadic and rural folk song traditions but delivering them in a robust and thrilling way, 'Eghass Malan' is often breathtaking.

https://lesfillesdeillighadad.bandcamp.com/album/eghass-malan

24. Michael Chapman - 50 (Paradise Of Bachelors)
Titled in celebration of Chapman's fifty years as a touring and recording artist, 50 finds him joining forces with some of the major talents of contemporary American folk rock, including Steve Gunn, Nathan Bowles and James Elkington. The track selection seamlessly mixes bold new songs with reworkings from Chapman's extensive catalogue. Whereas much of his recent work has focused on his more experimental leanings (notably the Clayton Peacock records of abrasive guitar music), 50 serves as a reminder of his skills as a songwriter and storyteller. The loose, freewheeling approach of the ensemble serves the material well.

https://paradiseofbachelors.bandcamp.com/album/50


23. Hurray For The Riff Raff - The Navigator (ATO)
The sixth and strongest album from Alynda Lee Segarra's shifting musical project justly brought her to new audiences and bigger venues this year. Cleverly constructed in two acts, this song cycle explores immigration through the eyes of an alter ego character, Puerto Rican Navi. The Navigator both explores a wider range of musical traditions, particularly those drawn from South America and Cuba, but also brings Lee Segarra closer to conventional indie-rock territory at times, albeit at times where urgency and unmediated directness are demanded by the material. This is an enriching and invigorating work, and one sorely needed at this time. 

https://hftrr.bandcamp.com/album/the-navigator 

22. Alexander Hawkins - Unit(e) (AH Music)
A characteristically wide-ranging double album, with one disc performed by a sextet and a second performed by an expansive larger ensemble. The sextet combines joyful rhythm and ebullient melodic lines with wilder improvisation. It's a clever and effective blend of immediacy and deeper exploration frequently anchored by drummer Tom Skinner's firm grooves. For the second part, Hawkins becomes director and conductor of an ensemble investigating the wider possibilities of sound  and timbre. Combining all these elements in one project is a brave move.  


https://alexanderhawkinsmusic.bandcamp.com/album/unit-e


21. Four Tet - New Energy (Text)
Kieren Hebden's longevity as a solo recording artist post-Fridge has been impressive, and if I had to pick one artist who has been consistent in developing and expanding their language and approach over the past fifteen years or so, I might opt for him. 'New Energy' adroitly balances his more physical and introspective sides and the range of sounds he produces from a limited set up remains fascinating. Now seemingly in control of every aspect of his music, its presentation and distribution, he is free to take intriguing musical detours.

https://fourtet.bandcamp.com/album/new-energy


20. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - The Kid (Western Vinyl)
Listening to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith feels like being submerged in warm water, and 'The Kid' further develops the sensory nature of her work whilst also further amplifying her melodic sensibility. Some of the warmest and most human electronic music of 2017.


https://kaitlynaureliasmith.bandcamp.com/album/the-kid


19. Mavis Staples - If All I Was Was Black (ANTI-) 
It's pretty extraordinary that Mavis Staples has hit one of the most artistically fruitful periods of her career well into her eighth decade. Her commitment to expressing her values through music remains ceaseless and her energy, positivity and enthusiasm through difficult times are admirable and inspiring. A big factor in her latest musical successes has been the work of producer Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) and this is the first of their collaboration where he also writes the material, making this a compelling set of original, socially and politically engaged songs. Whilst Staples has, by her own admission, now lost some of her vocal range, she has lost none of the directness and clarity of delivery that defines the greatest singers, and her voice retains a striking resonance and impact. 



18. Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far From Over (ECM)
Arguably the strongest and certainly the most immediate of pianist and bandleader Vijay Iyer's works for the ECM label, Far From Over finds Iyer once again exploring the full potential of ensemble dynamics and collective improvisation. His continued interest in complex rhythmic ideas results in music that is both cerebral and viscerally exciting. The playing here feels characterised by confident risk taking. 


17. Nicole Mitchell - Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE)
“What would a world look like that is truly egalitarian, with advanced technology that is in tune with nature?”  This is the question posed her, by means of science fiction, words and music, by the remarkable flautist Nicole Mitchell. The question not only examines alternative possibilities but also enables Mitchell to reflect on her concerns about life in contemporary America. In keeping with the spiritual and philosophical inquiry of musicians such as Sun Ra and Yusef Lateef, Mandorla Awakening II is a textural and contemplative experience. The music fuses supposed dichotomies - urban and rural, male and female, electronic and acoustic.

https://fperecs.bandcamp.com/album/mandorla-awakening-ii-emerging-worlds


16. Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness (Ba Da Bing!) 
One of those albums it would be all too easy to neglect simply because it appeared early in the year, 'Not Even Happiness' represented a substantial step forward for singer-songwriter Julie Byrne ('I've got a complicated soul', she claims on 'Follow My Voice'). Byrne's airy, soft voice blends perfectly with her musical surroundings and the results are some haunting melodies which both imbue the quotidian with powerful significance and investigate deeper philosophical terrain. Travel and movement provide sources of inspiration.

https://juliembyrne.bandcamp.com/album/not-even-happiness


15. Wooden Wand - Clipper Ship (Three Lobed)
Apparently, this album breaks something of a songwriting tradition for James Jackson Toth, finding him focusing on music first and lyrics second, rather than the other way around. The result is one of his most absorbing and ultimately moving sets, foregrounding delicate guitar arpeggios and subtle atmospheric clusters. This is not to say that the lyrics are in any way weak ('Sacrificial' is moving and 'Mexican Coke' shares something of Ryley Walker's way with a quirky narrative) but it feels as if lyrics and music have been conceived in tandem and are perfectly matched. This album's sound - subtle but robust, lingers in the mind. It could be the best Wooden Wand album to date. 

https://threelobed.bandcamp.com/album/clipper-ship


14. Thundercat - Drunk (Brainfeeder)
Where previous Thundercat albums have been concise, Drunk very much feels like Stephen Bruner's magnum opus. With guest appearances from Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, it enthusiastically plays the Yacht Rock game, but also revels in intricacy and even in occasional tastelessness. It gets away with this at least in part due to its considerable humour and sense of fun (he persistently loses both wallet and phone during these narratives) but also due to its foregrounding of clear melody amidst the virtuosity and showmanship. By creating a restless and relentless journey into his own psychology, Bruner has stepped away from the shadow cast by Flying Lotus in to an impressive and dazzling sonic space entirely of his own making. 

 
https://thundercat.bandcamp.com/album/drunk


13. The Necks - Unfold (Ideologic Organ) 
I remain fascinated by the extent to which improvising trio The Necks continue to polarise opinion among jazz musicians I know - a debate that seems to tease out the quite different expectations and requirements people have from music. This band appeal to my still developing interest in the possibilities of sound - I'm compelled by the manner in which they patiently build intensity (and it remains extraordinary that the resulting peaks are drawn from just three musicians). It's also a source of inspiration the extent to which they veer away from the conventional musical roles of their respective instruments. For a band so persistently interested in music's relationship with time and place, ranking their various recordings against each other feels like a futile exercise, but a couple of elements do stand out here - the role played by the organ on Blue Mountain and the incisive contribution of Tony Buck's percussion throughout.  

https://ideologicorgan.bandcamp.com/album/unfold

12. Hiss Golden Messenger - Hallelujah Anyhow (Merge) 
MC Taylor continued his prolific streak with a quickly recorded album emphasising Hiss Golden Messenger's burgeoning ensemble qualities. As usual, the songwriting was strong and brimming with insight - but this time, the detail of the arrangements, with a soulful spirit often reminiscent of Van Morrison at his best, transported the music to a deeper space. In keeping with other Hiss albums, Hallelujah is quietly insidious too, its songs gradually assuming a greater depth and resonance with every play.

https://hissgoldenmessenger.bandcamp.com/album/hallelujah-anyhow
 
11. Rob Luft - Riser (Edition)
For me, 'Riser' was the most fully realised and promising of the young British jazz debuts this year. With admirable honesty, Luft admits to perceiving himself as a performer first and a composer second, but 'Riser' still feels like an impressively realised work, not least because of the attention to detail paid to its sound. It's a kinetic and exciting work too, with agile lines neatly assembled. Dinosaur's Corrie Dick and bassist Tom McCredie provide the band with a powerful, urgent energy. The occasional influence of African rhythms and melody adds a celebratory feel. 

https://robluft.bandcamp.com/album/riser

10. Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Incidentals (ECM) 
This outstanding live set continues to broaden the range and depth of Snakeoil's sound and approach, deploying masterful dynamic control to create pieces that veer from the reflective to the tempestuous. Guitarist Ryan Ferreira offers bold interjections and bursts of chaos. Producer David Torn provides additional guitar at the climax of the long form Sideshow (and also provides the eerie, futuristic introduction to Hora Feliz) , a timely reminder that his ongoing collaboration with Berne has produced some of contemporary music's most innovative and absorbing works ('Prezens', Torn's album as leader that also features Berne, should be more widely recognised too).  Throughout, there is a finely poised balance between compositional flair and collective improvisation.

https://timbernesnakeoil.bandcamp.com/album/incidentals 

9. Jlin - Black Origami (Planet Mu) 
One of 2017's most intricate albums, Black Origami is perfectly titled, its careful folds interlocking into something both radical and informed (not just by recent developments in footwork but also more longstanding trends in American electronic music). 'Black Origami' is so detailed and lovingly executed that it would be fascinating to hear it performed live by a percussion ensemble. It feels as it would work as well as a piece of contemporary composition as it does a piece of electronic sound design.


https://jlin.bandcamp.com/album/black-origami


8. Fiium Shaarrk - We Are Astonishingly Lifelike (Not Applicable)
This superb, mesmerising percussion and electronics trio seem to have been somewhat ignored in the UK - but, for me, this was one of the year's imaginative delights, combining the textural and dynamic properties of drums with the mystery and strangeness of electronic sound. It's an album of striking contrasts between the abrasive and the flowing, the fragmented and the unified.

https://not-applicable.bandcamp.com/album/we-are-astonishingly-lifelike


7. Craig Taborn - Daylight Ghosts (ECM) 
Working here with a new quartet featuring the great Chris Lightcap on bass, Dave King (The Bad Plus) on drums and Chris Speed on saxophones and clarinet, Craig Taborn remains one of the most imaginative and creative musicians at work on the New York jazz scene, with the dexterity to execute his ideas with precision and musicality. He also remains one of the most effective musicians at integrating electronics with the properties of what is fundamentally an acoustic music. His unusual structures and dense melodies, together with a fascinating approach to ensemble improvisation here, are not easy to digest, but they leave a strong impression and challenge us to listen closely.

http://player.ecmrecords.com/taborn-2527/cms/project  

6. Joan Shelley - Joan Shelley (No Quarter)
Joan Shelley is one of my favourite singers currently at work. Her soft, understated delivery has a compelling purity and directness, leaving nothing extraneous between her lyrics and melodies and the listener. Where she adds something extra (a vocal harmony line for example), it is used sparingly and enhances the song. On this self titled album, her lyrics achieved a new purpose and clarity too, not least on the beautiful 'Wild Indifference'. It's also easily to overlook the tiny details of production that best capture acoustic music - the two guitars here panned to different channels, interacting and conversing with each other, Spencer Tweedy's occasional drums offering support and texture and never being obtrusive. The music has a gentle, dusty drift to it and there is a quiet and unassuming authority here.

https://joanshelley.bandcamp.com/album/joan-shelley

5. GAS - Narkopop (Kompakt)
Wolfgang Voigt returned to his GAS moniker for the first time in seventeen years, time during which this project's influence has spread far and wide. Narkopop seemed impressively unencumbered by baggage or the weight of expectation (or nostalgia, thankfully), instead luxuriating in Voigt's impressionistic soundscapes, somehow at once both reflective and menacing. This work seemed to offer greater development and evolution, as well as being powerfully cinematic with more varied textures. Listening to this is like passing through a membrane between two worlds. 


https://kompakt-gas.bandcamp.com/album/narkopop


4. Bjork - Utopia (One Little Indian) 
I suspect and hope that Utopia will be reassessed in years to come, not least because it's a striking example of where a modern rapid release strategy does not necessarily serve the work all that well. Whilst critics generally received it positively, we still have to endure the limited horizons of those who still approach a new Bjork record in the hope it will provide some 'hooks'. That Utopia is actually rich in inventive melody and has sonic challenges that, given patience, become completely enthralling, inevitably seemed lost on some. In addition to this, few ventured beyond the surface presentation of this as Bjork's 'being single' album (perhaps not helped by her own flippant reference to Tinder). Thematically, Utopia actually is stark and daring in its exploration of sex ('anal entrances' indeed!) and its inextricable connections with feeling (both sensory and abstract) and nature. Its amorphous, subliminal sound world is perfectly matched with its ideas. 

3. Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society - Simultonality (Glitterbeat/Tak:Til) 
Joshua Abrams operates in a curious and highly distinctive intersection between improvised music, the mantric insistence of minimalist composition and African-inspired rhythms. What emerges most clearly on this album is group music making that is both contemplative and joyful. This particular line-up of Natural Information Society has been given time and space to develop a deeper ensemble relationship through gigging. It's a superb line-up too, including the great, loose-limbed Frank Rosaly (Ryley Walker) on drums and Emmett Kelly on electric guitar. The use of more unusual instruments, including autoharp, harmonium and Abrams' own guimbri adds both texture and character. Whilst the music still has spontaneity, it also has an engaging depth of communication and control.This music has been a great healer during a politically turbulent and frustrating year.

https://eremiterecords.bandcamp.com/album/simultonality


2. Yazz Ahmed - La Saboteuse (Naim)
Yazz Ahmed's La Saboteuse, as fully realised and coherent an album as I've heard all year (but intriguingly released in four instalments before the whole was made available), strikes me as one of the most captivating examples of a hybrid music. Ahmed's original compositions draw from jazz-rock fusion (Miles Davis may be an obvious reference point, but there are moments which genuinely bring his work to mind, not least in this music's use of space), Ahmed's Bahraini heritage and her contemporary experience working with a diverse range of musicians (including Radiohead, whose 'Bloom' Ahmed reinterprets with playful invention here). The ensemble includes some front rank talent, including Shabaka Hutchings on reeds, Lewis Wright on vibraphone and Naadia Sheriff on Fender Rhodes piano (a sound I'll admit to never being able to resist).

https://yazzahmed.bandcamp.com/album/la-saboteuse-2
 
1. Tyshawn Sorey - Verisimilitude (Pi Recordings) 
Drummer and composer Tyshawn Sorey took to Twitter to vent his frustration recently, obviously feeling incorrectly categorised by those who seek to label his music 'jazz'. This might be an inevitable consequence of his work as a sideman with artists at the vanguard of contemporary American jazz (Steve Lehman and Vijay Iyer particularly), or it might be more a result of this music being naturally difficult to define. What Sorey certainly does, is to explore the overlap between composed and improvised music, often in a way where the two blend seamlessly within each other and it becomes difficult to discern what is written and what is not. With this album, he continues his journey of remoulding the piano trio (see also the excellent 'Alloy'). The music has a quiet intensity, often exploring dark and deeply introspective territory over patiently unfolding long forms. It is a major work from an artist of defiant seriousness.

https://tyshawn-sorey.bandcamp.com/album/verisimilitude

Sunday, December 24, 2017

2017 In Albums Part 1: Reissues, Compilations, Virtual Crate Digging

So I've been gently persuaded to do another end of year review. I'm planning to keep the format much the same as last year, starting with reissues and compilations before moving on to a top 50 new albums and 'best of the rest' summary. As ever, the order here is largely arbitrary outside my personal top ten, although I sometimes give extra weight to the need for the reissue in addition to the musical quality.

80. Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth For Christ Choir - Do Not Pass Me By Vol II (Numero) 
A preacher and social activist in Chicago, but also deliver of essential gospel music - this is 1973 the follow up to the mighty Like A Ship, originally distributed directly by Barrett himself from his church pulpit.

79. Rev. Lonnie Farris - A Night At The House Of Prayer (Social Music) 
This vinyl reissue already seems to be out of stock in many outlets, but fortunately the stirring, devotional music is widely available on other compilations.

78. Wilco - AM/Being There (Rhino) 
Wilco's early albums may have been superseded by the post-'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' sense of adventure, but these albums deserve close listening in their own right. Within the limitations the group set themselves at the time, 'Being There' is a particularly adventurous record from a band demonstrating genuine versatility - able to explore a wide range of mood and feeling. The songwriting quality is consistently high, and 'Misunderstood' hinted at some of the refractions yet to come.

77. Various Artists - The Original Sound of Mali (Mr. Bongo) 
A great selection showcasing the depth and range of Malian music, going well beyond the so-called 'desert blues' sound.

https://soundcloud.com/mrbongo/sets/the-original-sound-of-mali-2
https://www.mrbongo.com/products/the-original-sound-of-mali-vinyl-2-lp-cd-1

76. Various Artists - Agrim Agadez (Sahel Sounds) 
An excellent compilation of contemporary field recordings from Niger, celebrating the role of the guitar.

https://sahelsounds.bandcamp.com/album/agrim-agadez

75. Yishak Banjaw - Love Songs Vol. 2 (Teranga Beat) 
Recorded in 1986, this is the first international release from this composer and keyboard player from Addis Ababa, originally released on cassette by an Eritrean label. This is spacious and mesmerising music.

https://terangabeat.bandcamp.com/album/love-songs-vol-2

74. Hiroshi Yoshimura - Music For Nine Postcards (Empire of Signs/Light In The Attic)
Gorgeous, luminous 1982 ambient composition inspired by a series of window views.  

https://lightintheattic.net/releases/3538-music-for-nine-post-cards

73. Various Artists - Tokyo Flashback  (Black Editions)
Regrettably, this immersive world of Japanese psych-noise is still an area of music I know little about (although, predictably, Keiji Haino and Ghost are present and correct here). In a sense, this is an extreme take on some of the experimental tendencies already present on the Light In The Attic compilation of Japanese psych-folk music (14 on this list). You can here the influence of this music in the likes of Earth and Jesu.

72. Leroy Hutson - Anthology 1972-1984 (Acid Jazz)
Perhaps still best known for replacing Curtis Mayfield as lead vocalist in The Impressions, Hutson was also a skilled writer, producer and arranger. His own music tended towards smoother grooves (albeit with elaborate arrangements that lend his songs a strong narrative sense) and this excellent, although not quite comprehensive anthology, sits very comfortably on the Acid Jazz label.  

71. The Other People Place - Lifestyles Of The Laptop Cafe (Warp) 
A humane (and influential) take on cold, austere electronica from 2001, this is sensual, gently physical and riveting.

70. Jon Hassell - Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Vol 2 (Glitterbeat)
A superb slice of anthropology-inspired musical manipulations from Hassell, who uses the resources of the studio to abstract old sounds and create new ones.

69. Midnight Oil - Full Tank: The Complete Albums (Sony)
Not perhaps a band that will ever be considered cool and, indeed, Peter Garrett is among the most earnest of frontmen. But there's qualities in abundance here too, and a steadfast sense of commitment and determination that cuts through in the music as well as the lyrics.

68. Marijata - This Is Marijata  (Mr Bongo) 
Debut album from this driving, intensely groovy drums, organ and guitar trio from Ghana, recorded in 1976.

https://www.mrbongo.com/products/marijata-this-is-marijata-vinyl-lp

67. Various Artists - Spiritual Jazz 7: Islam  (Jazzman)
Jazzman's Spiritual Jazz series seems to have passed me by until now, but this seems a particularly significant release for which to rectify that. With so much corruption of Islam in the world, including extremists who seek to deny access to music, this is an important document of the intersection between faith, art and expression. A reminder also of the intertwining of the civil rights movement in America with Islamic belief.

http://www.jazzmanrecords.co.uk/various-artists-spiritual-jazz-7-islam-cd

66. Various Artists - Oté Maloya: The Birth of Electric Maloya on Reunion Island 1975-1986 (Strut) 
Superb compilation charting the Maloya scene on Reunion Island - essentially a variety of musical fusions blending western and traditional instrumentation and incorporating funk, soul and blues. This music feels triumphant and joyful.

https://strut.bandcamp.com/album/ote-maloya

65. Various Artists - Singles OST Deluxe Edition (Sony)
It's odd to find soundtrack albums getting the reissue treatment - particularly ones that (mostly) collated material already available elsewhere at the time of original release. Nevertheless, along with the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, this collection was a particularly influential part of my teenage years. It's overblown for sure, but I still can't quite resist Mother Love Bone's Chloe Dance/Crown of Thorns and 'State of Love and Trust' remains one of Pearl Jam's best songs.

64. Johnny Cash - The Original Sun Albums 1957-1964 (Charly) 
Repackaged many times now, but still essential.

63. Om Alec Khaoli - Say You Love Me (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
An all too brief EP, but this poptastic set from South Africa is completely irresistible. There are other works from Om Alec Khaoli available and I'm very keen to explore them. Khaoli clearly had real entrepreneurial and artistic drive during the most turbulent of political times.

https://omaleckhaoli.bandcamp.com/album/say-you-love-me

62. Pauline Anna Strom - Trans-Millennia Music (RVNG Intl) 
Compiles material composed and recorded between 1982 and 1988, this is serene, amorphous, subliminal music that feels gloriously detached from the practical realities of life.

https://rvng.bandcamp.com/album/trans-millenia-music

61. Chuck Jackson - Big New York Soul (Kent) 
A vocalist of considerable depth and quality I first encountered through Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures compilations gets a well deserved compilation of his own.

60. Various Artists - Studio One Presents Black Man's Pride (Soul Jazz) 
Excellent roots reggae compilation featuring a number of great vocalists - Dennis Brown, Horace Andy, Alton Ellis among them.

https://soundsoftheuniverse.com/sjr/product/black-mans-pride

59. Various Artists - Boombox 2: Early Independent Hip Hop, Electro and Disco Rap 19790-1983 (Soul Jazz) 
Sequel to last year's excellent compilation still manages to find surprises and chart burgeoning trends and developments.

58. Various Artists - One Way Glass: Dancefloor Prog, Brit Jazz and Funky Folk 1968-1975 (Rpm)
A fruitful and challenging three disc set crossing the boundary between the 60s and 70s, an open-minded and searching period of popular music.

57. The Art Of Noise - In Visible Silence Deluxe Edition (Warner Music)
Revisiting this 80s slice of pranksterish art pop is a lot of fun. On a serious level, Art Of Noise's manipulations of the human voice here are innovative and exciting. For the jokey dimension, there is Max Headroom suffering from a virulent bout of insomnia (still one of my favourite pop records of my childhood if I'm honest).

56. Super Furry Animals - Radiator 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (BMG)
OK, let's not get in to the Fuzzy Logic vs. Radiator debate here, as both albums inspire devotion in their adherents and both clearly have quite different merits. It can at least be said that Radiator offered ample evidence that SFA were a band capable of going well beyond the quirky, modern psychedelic exterior. The album found them exploring imaginative hybrid forms, mercilessly concise power pop and deeper explorations. This lavish edition also provides all the B sides, the essential Ice Hockey Hair/Smokin' double A sided single, a set of demos and some unreleased tracks.

55. R.E.M. - Automatic For The People 25th Anniversary Edition (Warner Bros)
One of the albums that, much like OK Computer, it is tempting to try and revise down because of its ceaseless ubiquity. And yet, Automatic is an album which is all the more remarkable because its overarching success is quite surprising. Beyond the bouncy, lightweight Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite and the obvious healing power of Everybody Hurts, this is actually a dark and challenging album confronting grief and death. There are some of the band's most remarkable and haunting songs (Try Not To Breathe, Nightswimming, Find The River) and a southern gothic sound that briefly threatened to at best pigeonhole them, at worst overwhelm them (cue Peter Buck's ceremonial disposal of his mandolin and the more divisive glam-grunge of Monster in 1994). This is only not higher in the list because the unreleased tracks don't really amount to much (unless one values very sketchy, often out of tune vocal takes from Stipe). There doesn't really seem to be that much of note in the R.E.M. vaults.

54. Paul McCartney - Flowers In The Dirt Deluxe Edition (Universal) 
One of Sir Paul's most underrated moments this, featuring writing collaborations with Elvis Costello and a plethora of honey-drenched melodies and zesty wordplay. There's a fascinating feedback loop in effect at times here too - 'My Brave Face' sounds very much like Paul imbibing Andy Partridge channelling Paul McCartney. The deluxe version features some great demos, free from the baggage of late 80s production values, but it sadly unaffordable.

53. Bob Marley and The Wailers - Exodus 40 (Island)
The original album, plus 'the movement continues', a set of new versions by Ziggy Marley and a live set from London's Rainbow Theatre in 1977. This is still vital and urgent music.

52. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - Lovely Creatures - The Best Of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (BMG)
That a comprehensive career overview has been a long time coming is perhaps evidence that Nick Cave is an artist too easily taken for granted. Certainly his leap in to substantial arenas over the past 18 months, promoting material seemingly (but in fact not) ill suited to the environment, has been something wondrous to behold. Stretching to 45 tracks, Lovely Creatures does not exactly push the boundaries in terms of track selection, but it does demonstrate the increasing versatility of Cave's songwriting and the new ways in which he has sought to create intensity and danger in his music.

51. Various Artists - Diggin' In The Carts: A Collection Of Pioneering Japanese Video Game Music (Hyperdub) 
Here is one of the year's genuine surprises and delights - a collection of Japanese video game music that makes a disarming case for this music being artful and innovative in its own right. The music here is inventive, transportive and even, at times, poignant, all the while offering all the zany bleeps and bloops one might expect.

https://hyperdub.bandcamp.com/album/various-artists-diggin-in-the-carts-a-collection-of-pioneering-japanese-video-game-music

50. CAN - The Singles (Spoon/Mute)
Whilst part of this collection is 7" edits of some of Can's most famous long form jams, The Singles also demonstrates that brevity could be a virtue for the band as well.  There is also evidence of other facets to the band's career - for example, the soft jazzy patter of 'She Brings The Rain', which pretty much entirely eschews the trance-like groove for which they are known.

49. Mulatu Astatke - Mulatu of Ethiopia (Strut) 
Mulatu Astatke's crucial statement in Ethiopian jazz from 1972, presented here in both stereo and mono masters. The vinyl edition offers even more, with an extra disc devoted to outtakes and an extra track. The music gently simmers with quiet intensity.

https://strutoriginalmasters.bandcamp.com/album/mulatu-of-ethiopia

48. kd lang - Ingenue 25th Anniversary Edition (Nonesuch)
Ingenue sits alongside Emmylou Harris' great late albums (Wrecking Ball, Red Dirt Girl, Stumble Into Grace) as a work drawing from a background in traditional country music but reshaping it into something wholly different and unique. Combining a certain twang with elements drawn from cabaret and torch song (the use of both tuned and untuned percussion is particularly effective), Ingenue was a sophisticated and subtle work thoroughly deserving of its immense success. The additional disc here is the excellent MTV Unplugged performance. Lang remains one of the greatest living vocalists.

47. Kraftwerk - 3-D: The Catalogue (Parlophone)
This box set collates live performances of the group's entire catalogue recorded between 2012 and 2016. Whilst the differences in the audio between these recordings and the original albums can often be subtle to say the least, the Blu Ray set is inevitably remarkable, although prohibitively expensive (a choice edit is available).

46. Husker Du - Savage Young Du (Numero)
The sad loss of Grant Hart added poignancy to Numero's superb and essential overview of Husker Du's raucous first three years.

45. Helium - Ends With And (Matador) 
A welcome discovery for me - Mary Timony (Wild Flag, Ex Hex) and her excellent mid-90s band. This is a singles and rarities set - Matador also reissued a couple of the albums as well. This is a band that ought to have made a more substantial impact.

44. Buffalo Tom - Let Me Come Over 25th Anniversary Edition (Beggars Banquet) 
Buffalo Tom are actually due to return with a brand new album in early 2018 but, until then, it's worth remembering that they made some of the finest guitar music of the early 90s ('Taillights Fade' remains vital), despite being overshadowed by the grunge explosion. This edition comes with a bonus disc featuring a full live set from London's ULU in 1992. Incidentally, the new single sounds very much like Sugar, which is encouraging.

43. Nick Lowe - Nick The Knife/Party Of One/Pinker and Prouder Than Previous/The Abominable Showman/The Rose Of England (Yep Roc) 
These reissues plugged a substantial gap in the availability of Nick Lowe's catalogue. Whilst the 80s production values are distinctly variable, there's some characteristically sharp songwriting on display, demonstrating Lowe's expert knowledge of a range of pop forms. 'Party Of One' is the clear standout, including as it does two of Lowe's very finest songs ('What's Shakin' On The Hill' and 'All Men Are Liars').
  
42. Bill Evans - Another Time: The Hilversum Concert (Resonance) 
The Bill Evans vault would appear to be bottomless - here is another superb concert performance capturing his artistry in full flight in a trio with Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette.

41. Kitchens Of Distinction - Watch Our Planet Circle (Caroline International) 
I remain hopeful that history will afford Kitchens Of Distinction much more than a footnote in indie rock history, not least because of the candid nature of openly gay frontman Patrick Fitzgerald's lyrics. This 6CD set brings together their four studio albums with One Little Indian with additional discs covering B Sides and BBC sessions.

https://patrickfitzgerald.bandcamp.com

40. Fleetwood Mac - Tango In The Night Expanded Edition (Rhino)
In which Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie explored the furthest depths of their desire to achieve crystalline pop perfection, in large part succeeding.  

39. Various Artists - Tropical Drums of Deutschland Compiled by Jan Schulte (Music For Dreams)
Those who favour 'authenticity' as the high beacon of musical integrity might prefer to look away now. Schulte claims he selected the work for this compilation on the basis of having a 'general fascination for music that describes places the artists have never been'. Frankly, who knew that so much of this music existed in Germany at all? The selections are meditative and inward looking.

https://janschulte-musicfordreams.bandcamp.com/album/tropical-drums-of-deutschland

38. Dion - Kickin' Child - The Lost Album 1965 (Columbia) 
Whilst not quite as 'lost' as its title suggests (most of the tracks were released on singles and can be found on existing compilations), Kickin' Child now appears, some fifty years late, in the album format originally intended. Apparently tied up in bad blood between Dion and Columbia, the music is vibrant and exciting and elucidates an actual gradual tradition between Dion's pop roots and later more ambitious projects such as Born To Be With You. 'Now' is particularly wonderful.

37. Elliott Smith - Either/Or Expanded Edition (Universal)
Still greatly missed, this expanded version of what was arguably Smith's finest album celebrates his melodic gifts and soft, vulnerable delivery (usually double tracked in a way that achieves a distinctive, characteristic sound). Smith had an uncanny knack for reshaping classic songwriting influences in a way that sounded individual and modern.

36. Mary Lattimore - Collected Pieces (Ghostly International)
Harpist Mary Lattimore has produced some of the most eerie and beautiful music of recent years. This compilation gathers some previously unreleased recordings made between 2011 and 2016. These seem to be leftovers from her outstanding 'At The Dam' album, again relating to travels in Philadelphia. The titles alone are wonderful ('We Just Found Out She Died', 'It Was Late and We Watched The Motel Burn'). 'Wawa By The Ocean' is a prime example of her artistry, beginning in childlike innocence (sounding much like a music box) but evolving into something densely layered, rich in sensation and imagery.

https://marylattimoreharpist.bandcamp.com/album/collected-pieces

35. Various Artists - Pop Makossa - The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976-1984 (Analog Africa) 
Wiry, hypnotic, minimal disco-esque grooves from Cameroon in this excellent latest instalment in the Analog Africa series. Infectious backing vocals, percussion solos and scratchy rhythm guitar abound.

https://analogafrica.bandcamp.com/album/pop-makossa-the-invasive-dance-beat-of-cameroon-1976-1984

34. Various Artists - Habibi Funk: An Eclectic Selection of Music From The Arab World (Habibi Funk) 
Jannis Sturtz has developed the Habibi Funk label to celebrate funk and soul music from the Arab World. It's an obvious but important challenge to preconceptions of what music from this part of the world might be, and it's interesting that these compilations appear to be reaching an audience in the Middle East as well as in the west.

https://habibifunkrecords.bandcamp.com/album/habibi-funk-007-an-eclectic-selection-of-music-from-the-arab-world

33. Pentangle - The Albums: 1968-1972 (Cherry Red)
This one does what it says on the tin, collating Pentangle's long playing recorded output. Who could object to music of this quality being made available for a limited budget?

32. Lesley Duncan - Sing Lesley Sing: The RCA and CBS Recordings 1968-1972 (Rpm)
With her homely, understated vocal style and the often earnest subject matter of her songs, Lesley Duncan is never likely to be reappraised as cool. She's undoubtedly a neglected songwriting talent, however, and this CD reissue of her first two albums is long overdue (surely it should have happened during her lifetime). Before she embarked on her own career, she had worked as a backing vocalist for artists including Elton John, Dusty Springfield and The Walker Brothers. Elton John contributes piano to a number of songs here and a young Kate Bush sings backing vocals on Sing Children Sing. Amidst the comforting folksiness and environmental concerns, there's the rousing, unifying Mr. Rubin (an open letter to the radical activist Jerry Rubin, although today it could easily be directed at the current President), the gospel drive of Help Me Jesus and the more mysterious Fortieth Floor. Duncan's skills with melody were considerable, and her music developed further on the albums Moonbathing and Everything Changes, which are surely worthy of similar reissue treatment.

31. Acetone - 1992-2001 (Light In The Attic) 
The tragic suicide of Acetone's Richie Lee at the age of just 34 may have inspired Spiritualised's poignant 'The Ballad of Richie Lee' (by far the best thing on the otherwise stale and derivative 'Amazing Grace' album) but Acetone's music has, until now, languished somewhat in relative obscurity. Light In The Attic step in with a set that celebrates the band's core strengths - patience and subtle development, slow tempos and languid dreaminess.

30. The Beach Boys - 1967 - Sunshine Tomorrow (Universal) 
A typically exhaustive set that continues to help rehabilitate post-Smile Beach Boys. It perhaps feels like we've been here before with the material drawn from Smiley Smile - but the new stereo mix of Wild Honey is a punchy, celebratory delight.

29. Various Artists - Soul Of A Nation: Afro-Centric Visions In The Age Of Black Power: Underground Jazz, Street Funk and The Roots Of Rap 1968-79 (Soul Jazz) 
This certainly wins the award for most cumbersome title of the year. Appearing to tie in with the acclaimed Tate Modern exhibition, this outstanding compilation from Soul Jazz draws from a wide range of politically engaged, civil rights music from the obvious (Gil Scott Heron's 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised') to the much less well known (Philip Cohran, Sarah Webster Fabio). A superb contextualisation of some vital music. The official Tate Spotify (yes, there appears to be one) curated an even broader and more impressive playlist there too.

28. Pharaoh Sanders - Tauhid/Jewels Of Thought/Summun Bukmin Umyun - Deaf Dumb Blind (Anthology) 
Not as significant as 'Karma' or 'Black Unity', perhaps, but these vinyl reissues of the second tier of Sanders' peak period are still essential. I've never been entirely comfortable with the 'spiritual jazz' label, as that has always seemed to underestimate the musical skills and knowledge of a number of musical traditions that this music draws from. There is little denying that Sanders' catalogue is a deep world that demands careful listening.

27. The Necessaries - Event Horizon (Be With) 
Just when you thought it might be safe to consider the Arthur Russell archives exhausted, another reissue (vinyl only this time) emerged. This is much more of a collaborative band project (with Ernie Brooks, Jesse Chamberlain, Ed Tomney and Peter Zummo), although Russell has writing credits on a few tracks. It pulsates with driving, new wave energy and the integration of the three vocalists is intricately designed. Bob Blank's production is crisp and clean. The band in fact made another album for Sire in 1981 - 'Big Sky' - let's have that as well please!

26. Radiohead - OKNOTOK 1997 2017 (XL)
The pivotal albums of one's adolescence celebrating their 20th anniversaries is one of the modern world's painful reminders of the inevitability and rapidity of ageing. OK Computer remains one of those albums it is always tempting to try and reassess or undermine, in part because of its ubiquity, and in part because of the stubborn persistence of the narrative that it remains Radiohead's pivotal achievement (In Rainbows and King of Limbs both mean more to me personally now). Nevertheless, it remains an exceptional album in the breadth of its ambition and the confidence of its execution. OKNOTOK presents a remastered version of the album alongside some of the excellent B Sides from the period and a handful of unreleased material, perhaps abandoned only because it didn't quite fit the overarching mood and themes of the album. I Promise, in particular, is disarmingly beautiful.  

25. Zazou Bikaye - Noir Et Blanc (Crammed Discs) 
The reappearance of this stunning, inventive collaboration between Bony Bikaye (from Kinshasa but then living in Belgium) and French composer Hector Zazou is most welcome. It's a nervy, angular work full of strange electronic sounds and intricate rhythmic detail. Fred Frith contributes violin to a few tracks and sounds completely at home here. Some of it actually resembles the early work of Yello, which is no bad thing.

https://zazoubikaye.bandcamp.com/album/noir-et-blanc

24. Richard Horowitz - Eros In Arabia (Freedom To Spend) 
Composer Richard Horowitz has enjoyed an interesting musical double life, working on relatively conventional film scores and also creating bizarre, forward thinking modern composition such as this. Composed for a striking combination of flute and Prophet 5 (with other instruments also introduced), Eros In Arabia combines the worldly and the spiritual, the natural and the ritualistic.

https://richardhorowitz.bandcamp.com/album/eros-in-arabia

23. Culture - Two Sevens Clash 40th Anniversary/The Congos - Heart Of The Congos 40th Anniversary (VP) 
Anniversary vinyl reissues of the greatest of all roots reggae albums. They have both been reissued several times (and it would be hard to improve on the Blood and Fire presentation of 'Heart of the Congos') but these albums should be essential parts of any serious collection of popular music.

22. Thelonious Monk - Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam) 
Thelonious Monk delved into the finest corners of his songbook for this soundtrack for Roger Vadim's film. The music ended up unused and the tapes were considered lost until now. These takes feel imbued with a carefree breeziness and playful wit, Monk's improvising brimming with typically idiosyncratic ideas, with a nimble but unobtrusive rhythm section.

21. Various Artists - Outro Tempo: Electronic and Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992 (Music From Memory) 
A strange and absorbing 2 disc compilation that charts the practices of a set of Brazilian musicians embracing developments in technology alongside the traditional rhythmic, harmonic and melodic qualities of Brazilian music. These works frequently succeed in sounding otherworldly, as if they are communications with far flung civilisations.

https://music-from-memory.bandcamp.com/album/outro-tempo-electronic-and-contemporary-music-from-brazil-1978-1992

20. Various Artists - Metaphors: Selected Soundworks From The Cinema Of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) 
Well this is really interesting (with thanks to Michael Ewins for pointing me in its direction). Metaphors compiles a series of 'sound works' from the remarkable films of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasthekal, sounds that are so utterly enmeshed with the somnambulant fabric of his films that it is hard to imagine how they might exist in isolation. And yet they do - and they work remarkably well as ambient mood pieces.

19. Animals That Swim - Workshy (Caroline International)
Always a personal favourite of mine during the 90s, Animals That Swim's songs-as-verbose urban legends are more than worthy of rediscovery. They are melodic in a drab and mordant way, a more musically and thematically honest take on Britpop. Workshy was their debut album, and arguably their best (certainly the most structurally and musically elaborate). This CD reissue is expanded with two B sides and seven previously unreleased tracks. Let's hope the same treatment is afforded to the also excellent 'I Was The King, I Really Was The King'.

18. Fairport Convention - Come All Ye: The First Ten Years (Universal) 
A goldmine of some of the most important British popular music of all time, Come All Ye offers seven CDs chronicling the crucial first ten years of Fairport Convention. 55 of the tracks are previously unreleased, including live recordings and alternate takes. The set includes a remarkable full concert from Croydon Fairfield Halls in 1973.

17. PP Arnold - The Turning Tide (Absolute) 
With production from Eric Clapton and Barry Gibb, this was to be Arnold's first album for RSO (following the collapse of the Immediate label) before financial and industry politics caused it to be locked in the vault for decades. Now recovered and restored, it's a fantastic example of Arnold's authoritative, striking delivery, accompanied by often lavish, towering arrangements.

16. Midori Takada - Through The Looking Glass (WRWWTFWW) 
Japanese percussionist Midori Takada's 1983 recording displays a careful concern for the properties and possibilities of sound. Takada deftly explores texture and timbre and, with its hints of birdsong, the music feels palpably connected with nature. Takada cites Brian Eno as an influence on this absorbing music, but she has definitely constructed a world entirely of her own.

15. Various Artists - Wayfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmares (Numero)
This set of turn of the decade music demonstrates how the 60s turned from hippie dream into turbulent nightmare. The music itself, however, is less psychedelic and more proto-heavy metal, all furious energy and impressive technical prowess.  

14. Various Artists - Even A Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk and Rock 1969-1973 (Light In The Attic)  
This is one of Light In The Attic's very best compilation sets, and that is saying a lot. This is music unknown to me before this year but richly rewarding both in and of itself and for its context. The sleeve notes are detailed and superb, providing insight and information on each and every track.

13. Prince - Purple Rain Deluxe Edition (Rhino)
There can't be all that much more to say about the album itself - part of Prince's run of great albums stretching from Dirty Mind through to Lovesexy and, together with its accompanying film, the work that turned him in to a huge star. Although of its time, the production remains remarkable, Prince continually demonstrating his ability both to draw magic from the most minimal of ingredients (particularly on When Doves Cry) but also to deploy the full range of his instrumental and arranging skills. The expanded edition features some thrilling, previously unreleased long jams ('Dance Electric' and the very subtly titled 'We Can Fuck'). It's possible to argue with the way this reissue campaign is being conducted (digitally distributed in spite of Prince's objections), but the content remains essential.

12. Brenda Holloway - Spellbound: Rare and Unreleased Motown Gems (Soul Music) 
Another example of a strangely neglected and undervalued soul singer, Brenda Holloway only issued one album for Motown, but many recordings remained in the vaults. Spellbound is an irresistible two CD compilation, including nine previously unreleased tracks and many others previously only available digitally, all recorded between 1963 and 1966. It eschews her five charting singles in favour of lesser known tracks.

11.  Various Artists - Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes From The Horn of Africa (Ostinato) 
A revelatory compilation from Ostinato, drawn from cassette tapes and exhibiting the remarkable vitality of Somalian music in the 1970s and 1980s, before the onset of civil war. Amazingly, these tapes were rescued from radio stations and buried deep underground to preserve the heritage of Somalian music during bombing campaigns. The music is a fascinating blend - drawing from Arabic and Indian scales but also from funk, soul and reggae.

https://ostinatorecords.bandcamp.com/album/sweet-as-broken-dates-lost-somali-tapes-from-the-horn-of-africa

10. Various Artists - Mono No Aware (Pan)
A slightly agonising decision as to whether to include this as a compilation or as a stand alone new release, this set collates unreleased material from ambient artists working with the Pan label. The title, variously translated, can mean 'the pathos of things', 'an empathy towards things' or a 'sensitivity to ephemera' and the unifying theme here seems to be the ideas of meditation and transience. There have certainly been few more conceptually and sonically coherent new music compilations in recent years and 'Mono No Aware' works as a brilliant hive mind of electronic music's vanguard.

https://p-a-n.bandcamp.com/album/v-a-mono-no-aware

9. Jackie Shane - Any Other Way (Numero) 
Now here is one of the year's most fascinating rediscoveries, a collection of extraordinary work from a superb singer with a compelling story, a transgender woman now being rediscovered for her vitality and commanding presence. The second disc constitutes a scorching live set, the first disc collates various loose 45s and studio recordings. The opening 'Sticks and Stones' is particularly thrilling, with both Shane and the piano soloist seemingly struggling to keep up with the frantic pace. In the event, their slightly delayed phrasing gives the recording greater impact.

https://jackieshane.bandcamp.com/album/jackie-shane-any-other-way

8. Neil Young - Hitchhiker (Warner Bros)
Together with the launch of his online archive and last year's official vinyl reissue of Time Fades Away, it seems that Young is finally issuing some of the many 'great lost albums' in his catalogue. Originally recorded in one night at Indigo Ranch in Malibu during August 1976 (Wikipedia claims that Young's occasional sessions at IR were always on nights of the full moon, a detail that, if true, is quite wonderful). Perhaps left unreleased for so long because Young felt he was too under the influence and that this was audible in the recordings, Hitchhiker actually has that raw and slightly vulnerable quality that characterises Young's best recordings. Many of the songs are familiar, having ended up on 'Rust Never Sleeps' in different versions, but this specific session is worth the investment alone for the previously unreleased Give Me Strength, actually one of Young's best songs of the period. Now we just need the original 'Chrome Dreams' and 'Toast'.

7. Neil Ardley - On The Radio: BBC Sessions 1971 (Dusk Fire)
The last fifteen years have been gradually bountiful for the reappearance of most of the music of the great composer, arranger and bandleader Neil Ardley (who also had a successful sideline in writing science books for children). Most recently, the classic New Jazz Orchestra recording Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe finally re-emerged on CD and now, the superb Dusk Fire label (dedicated to this most exciting and important period in British jazz) steps in with recordings of Ardley and the New Jazz Orchestra made for BBC Radio. Many of the great British jazz musicians feature in the ensemble. Sadly, we have now lost many of them but a few remain active today (Henry Lowther, Mike Gibbs, Jon Hiseman). The regular NJO repertoire does not actually foreground Ardley as a composer - instead we have his arrangements of two Mike Taylor pieces (segued together), Gibbs' masterful and dramatic 'Tanglewood '63', Paul Rutherford's jubilant arrangement of 'Stratusphunk' and Barbara Thompson's kinetic, majestic 'Tierre de Miel'.  The considerable highlight here is the major, extended composition 'The Time Flowers', an imaginative, daring and patiently evolving work co-written by Ardley and the electronic composer Keith Winter. The package comes with sleeve notes from Observer jazz critic Dave Gelly, who played on these performances. The BBC announcements are kept intact, making this a fascinating document of broadcasting at the time as well as of the superb performances. This music means a lot to me personally and I was fortunate to play some of it when the Guildhall Jazz Band ran an Ardley/NJO project.

6. The Undisputed Truth - Nothing But The Truth (Ace) 
Astonishingly, this is the first time on CD for the first, third and fourth albums from producer Norman Whitfield's pet project, often unfairly neglected as a second rate Temptations. Whilst they initially recorded a lot of the same material, the Truth also demonstrated darker and more tempestuous sides to Whitfield's trademark 'psychedelic soul'. The interaction between male and female lead vocals also lent the Truth a more distinctive force and clarity. Smiling Faces Sometimes remains one of the all time great soul recordings and other highlights of this set include the infectiously percussive 'Help Yourself' and 'Big John Is My Name' and the lavishly arranged, intoxicating 'I'm A Fool For You'. This package from Ace comes with some excellent sleeve notes and the co-operation of lead vocalist Joe Harris, the only member to have survived multiple line-up changes over the course of the group's existence (they actually continued recording until 1980). It's a shame that Ace didn't secure the rights to Face To Face With The Truth, the group's second Motown album (and perhaps their best), although some of the tracks from that era appear as bonus tracks in their edited single versions.

5. Mike Westbrook Concert Band - Marching Song 1 and 2 (RPM) 
What initially looked like a fairly bog standard budget repackaging of this essential music actually turned out to be a loving and thoughtful presentation. It may not look like a treasure from its cardboard slip case, but inside is a facsimile of the original liner notes together with highly extensive new notes from Duncan Heining and a postscript from Westbrook himself. There's also a third disc, 'When Young', featuring a modest amount of bonus material. The music itself is so richly designed, but with a tempestuous freedom that only jazz musicians could bring - a remarkable, vivid work of clarity and purpose.

4. Lal and Mike Waterson - Bright Phoebus (Domino)
Long unavailable, Bright Phoebus is considered by many to be one of the holy grails of the British folk rock movement and this reissue is one of the year's biggest and best surprises. It's actually an eccentric and unusual work that revels in its many detours and unexpected mood shifts. It's rare to find music this loose and  playful that also succeeds in being artful. That the evocative imagery of 'The Scarecrow' (surely King Creosote picked up a lot from this?) can somehow sit alongside the quirky, oddly phrased 'Magical Man' or the ebullient oom-pah of 'Rubber Band' is remarkable. Lal Waterson's unconventional, sometimes biting vocals are compelling.

3. Bob Dylan - Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol 13 1979-1981 (Columbia)
In many ways, Trouble No More is the most fascinating instalment in The Bootleg Series for some time, delving deep in to a divisive and confusing part of Dylan's career. It lacks some of the more exhaustive and academic qualities of, say 'The Cutting Edge' (there's no plotting the full evolution of one song through multiple studio takes) but, in its own way, it is remarkably comprehensive. The live performances are particularly satisfying, conveying how Dylan's evangelical fervour imbued his voice with new purpose and force. Whilst there are already signs of its gradual ravaging, this only serves to heighted the sense of passion and righteousness in the performances, ably supported by an often stirring and compelling band (perhaps also the tightest engine Dylan ever assembled). Mark Knopfler's production arguably smoothed the rougher edges of Dylan's sound at this time but the live takes offer much greater intensity. The rehearsal with pedal steel take on 'Caribbean Wind' (with very different lyrics from the version on 'Biograph' and sounding much less in thrall to Bruce Springsteen) is also a major highlight, magical and evocative in an entirely different way, and an enlightening new way to experience one of Dylan's most underrated and mysterious songs ('I hear a voice crying Daddy, I always think it's for me...').  For those unable to afford the expensive deluxe package, it's worth noting that a full digital edition is available.

2. Various Artists - Running The Voodoo Down: Explorations of Psychrockfunksouljazz 1967-1980   
The great genre cross fertilisations of the late 60s and 70s once again seem to be back in fashion (see also The Undisputed Truth set) and it would be hard to find a compilation better directed at my particular musical preoccupations. I love the open-minded musical spirit of this time, with artists able to offer deep social and political engagement alongside celebratory energy. Highlights here include the dreamy Buddy Miles take on Neil Young's 'Down By The River', the extraordinary, protracted Isley Brothers version of CSNY's 'Ohio', a bizarre piece of hippie-ish folk rolk early Keith Jarrett (unlike anything else in his vast catalogue) and Don Cherry's magnificent 'Brown Rice'. Some more obvious selections also feature, but a compilation of this nature could hardly be considered complete without Sly & The Family Stone or Funkadelic.


1. Alice Coltane - World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop) 
Too often discussed solely in terms of her relationship (both professional and personal) with John, this release is the latest chapter in the belated recognition of Alice Coltrane's individual artistry.  This compilation marks the first time that Coltrane Turiyasangitananda's devotional music has been released to the wider public, previously available only on private cassette tapes distributed through the spiritual community at her Ashram. Whilst some of these found their way to YouTube, here is a detailed and loving presentation from the Luaka Bop label, with improved sound quality and compiled in collaboration with Coltrane's children. Whilst there is some common ground with her spiritual jazz albums (not least in the use of keyboard drones and percussion), most notable here are Coltrane's pure and transporting vocals, and the sound world of this music is distinctive, consistent and hypnotic. Whilst inspired by traditional Indian Vedic songs, there is little doubt that plenty of Coltrane's own musical preoccupations also break through, creating a world at once impassioned and serene, functional and transcendent, a world of intriguing cultural and musical exchange. The vinyl edition contains two additional tracks, repaying the investment.