Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 in New Music: A Top 20

For those of you interested in what might be my absolute favourites of the year:

20. Richard Thompson - 13 Rivers
19. Tirzah - Devotion
18. Hieroglyphic Being - The Red Notes
17. Anton Hunter - Article XI
16. Brigid Mae Power - The Two Worlds
15. Gwenifer Raymond - You Were Never Much Of A Dancer
14. Flying Machines - New Life
13. Ry Cooder - The Prodigal Son
12. Steve Tibbetts - Life Of
11. Dirty Projectors - Lamp Lit Prose
10. Red River Dialect - Broken Stay Open Sky
9. Domenico Lancelloti - The Good Is A Big God
8. Mary Lattimore - Hundreds Of Days
7. Eiko Ishibashi - The Dream My Bones Dream
6. Cory Smythe - Circulate Susanna
5. Park Jiha - Communion
4. The Necks - Body
3. Mary Halvorson - Code Girl
2. Dan Weiss - Starebaby
1. Low - Double Negative

2018 in New Music: Part 5

This is the final part!

Sloth Racket - A Glorious Monster (Luminous) 
Cath Roberts' gestural, impressively interactive improvising group continues to go from strength to strength, veering from playful mischief making to substantive force. Thematic preoccupations with animals notable.

Sonar with David Torn - Vortex (RareNoise) 
David Torn is such a versatile musician and it's great to hear his multi-faceted approach to guitar playing and live looping in a very different context from his recent solo work.

Sons of Kemet - Your Queen Is A Reptile (Impulse!)
Line-up and label changes seemed to drive Shabaka Hutchings' most successful project further, engaging with deep political and social concerns (attacking the hereditary nature of the British monarchy and celebrating the roles of black women) with steadfast, relentlessly kinetic music. It's been really pleasing to see this band reach wider attention this year, from the Mercury nomination to scoring Wire magazine's album of the year.

SOPHIE - Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides (Transgressive)
Adventurous, questing and subversive pop music.

Stefan Schulze - System Tribe (WhyPlayJazz)
I'm grateful to Chris Elcombe from the BBC for including this in the Late Junction year end list as this is an important late discovery that sits very neatly alongside Kelly Moran's Ultraviolet in intriguing approaches to prepared piano music. System Tribe is vibrant, restless, inquisitive music that really does sound like clockwork.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Sparkle Hard (Domino)
One of Malkmus' strongest post-Pavement works, neatly combining his psych-rock preoccupations with the more angular and unpredictable aspects of his work.

Steve Hauschildt - Dissolve (Ghostly International)
The Ghostly International label has a had a phenomenal 2018, and this thoughtful, reflective and detailed ambient work is a major contribution to that.

Steve Lawson and Pete Fraser - Restless (Bandcamp)
For all of the moanings about the internet in 2018 - here is one of the great things it has enabled: This live improvisation between two outstanding musicians was captured in Birmingham on the 25th November and released via Bandcamp before the year was out. I've long admired Steve Lawson's approach to music (and his willingness to discuss it on social media) and Pete Fraser is a hugely versatile musician with a brilliant range of inspirations. The combination yields fascinating and often surprising results.

**Steve Tibbetts - Life Of (ECM)**
The superb guitarist returns with an album of mostly concise, gently evocative pieces accompanied by his own stately piano playing, the hand percussion of Marc Anderson and the cello and drones of Michelle Kinney.

Stuart A. Staples - Arrythmia (Lucky Dog/City Slang) 
Something of a departure for Staples in the immediate context of his solo work but something that makes more sense in the lineage of Tindersticks' soundtrack work, this album consists of four pieces, two of which are long (one very long and constructed from studio improvisations).

Sunwatchers - Sunwatchers II (Trouble In Mind) 
Glorious, incandescent jam band rock with added skronk.

Supersilent - 14 (Rune Gramofon)
Still one of the best and most significant improvising units in Europe. But is it jazz? (!!)

Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Wapentak (self released) 
Now a very different proposition from the group that received a Mercury nomination for Twice Born Men, Wapentak finds a more collaborative Tim and Jana focusing on song craft and compelling vocal harmonies, and occasionally veering into inspired groove-heavy tangents.

Szun Waves - New Hymn To Freedom (Leaf)
An intriguing supergroup featuring pastoral electronica producer Luke Abbott, Jack Wyllie from Portico Quartet and Laurence Pike, the inventive drummer from PVT. The resulting meditative, synth heavy music is refreshingly far from anything these musicians have done before.

Teresa Winter - What The Night Is For (The Death Of Rave)
Deeply unsettling and nightmarish dissonant crescendos.

Thalia Zedek Band - Fighting Talk (Drag City)
Another set of daring, excoriating music from Thalia Zedek, who continues to breathe new, brave life into the rock band format.

Thandi Ntuli - Exiled (Self released)
A substantial and assured work from the South African pianist and vocalist.

The Body - I Have Fought Against It, But I Can't Any Longer (Thrill Jockey)
Superb title presaging some heavy and visceral music.

The Breeders - All Nerve (4AD)
There could hardly have been a more welcome comeback in 2018, and All Nerve is refreshingly, bracingly alive.

The Cradle - Bag of Holding (NNA Tapes)
Beautiful, delicately ornate song narratives from New York musician Paco Cathcart.

The Dead Tongues - Unsung Passage (Psychic Hotline)
This one seems to have slipped under the radar a bit, but it's a wonderfully captivating set of country tinged songs.

The Good, The Bad and The Queen - Merrie Land (Parlophone)
Damon Albarn's detractors remain vocal, but this strange mix of English folklore and myth making with the Afrobeat grooves of Tony Allen is undeniably potent and mysterious.

The Internet - Hive Mind (Columbia)
Forward and imaginative neo soul with the deep glow of a lava lamp.

**The Necks - Body (ReR)**
Just when you think The Necks have covered just about every angle for their meditative improvisations, they return with a slightly different perspective. Body's insistent but fluttery groove hints at Laughing Stock-era Talk Talk.

The Nels Cline 4 - Currents, Constellations (Blue Note)
Nels Cline's new band has a dream line-up - a dual guitar frontline with Cline and Julian Lage, ably supported by a nimble rhythm section of Scott Colley and Tom Rainey. This is biting, nimble improvisation.

The Other Years - The Other Years (No Quarter)
The duo of Anna Krippenstapel (fiddle player for Joan Shelley) and Heather Summers play absorbing bare bones American folk music with grace and poise.

The Sea and Cake - Any Day (Thrill Jockey)
Bright and driving alternative guitar rock with laser sharp melodies.

The Skiffle Players - Skiff (Spiritual Pajamas)
The brilliant collaborative project helmed by Neal Casal and Cass McCombs yields a second superb of wild narratives and reframed traditions.

The Wave Pictures - Look Inside Your Heart (Moshi Moshi)
The Wave Pictures - Brushes With Happiness (Moshi Moshi) 
One of the UK's most prolific and best indie bands, The Wave Pictures continue to refine their oddball songwriting over the course of two albums this year. Brushes With Happiness is the looser, weirder of the two, recorded in just one day.

Theotis Taylor - Something Within Me (Big Legal Mess)
A gospel singer and pianist from Georgia who had garnered a substantial reputation without ever releasing a full length album - until now. Something Within Me augments a rediscovered recording from 1979 with additional accompaniment and is a superb showcase for Taylor's resonant gospel blues.

Thom Yorke - Suspiria (XL)
Appropriately eerie and evocative soundtrack for Luca Guadagnino's reinterpretation of Suspiria shows that Yorke can play Jonny Greenwood at his own game.

Thumbscrew - Ours/Theirs (Cuneiform)
Companion albums from the outstanding, adventurous trio of Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara and Mary Halvorson, the first featuring original compositions and the second devoted to radical reinterpretations. A great example of a band making the jazz tradition malleable.

Tigercats - Pig City (El Segell del Primavera)
Another of the most surprising, playful and inventive UK indie bands make effective forays into Afrobeat-influenced rhythms.

Tim Garland - Weather Walker (Edition)
The great saxophonist and composer continues to explore new contexts for his impressive composition and arrangement skills - here with a new orchestral work with inspirational roots in the Lake District.

Tim Hecker - Konoyo (Sunblind Music)
Hecker's best work since Ravedeath, 1972 - Konoyo finds him working with a gagaku group put together by Tokyo musician Motonori Miura, using electronics to manipulate some intriguing, traditional acoustic sounds in fascinating and empathetic ways.

Tim Rutili and Craig Ross - 10 Seconds To Collapse (Jealous Butcher)
The second collaboration between the Califone frontman and Craig Ross is something of a duopoly between insistent, melodic classic rock and gently manipulated folk music.

**Tirzah - Devotion (Domino)**
Radical, refracted and warped pop music that is also open and tender. Bits of it remind me of Leila's unfairly forgotten masterpiece 'Like Weather', which is clearly no bad thing.

Tomberlin - At Weddings (Saddle Creek)
Beautiful spare songs and the condition of youth.

Tom Ward and Adam Fairhall - Sussurus (Madwort)
Studio recording from the improvising duo, brilliantly utilising both space and sound to create a shifting range of moods and feelings. Brilliant track titles too!

Tori Freestone and Alcyona Mick - Criss Cross (Whirlwind)
Another excellent duo recording characterised by idiosyncratic ideas and inspired playfulness. The superb vocalist Brigitte Beraha guests on two tracks.

Tracyanne and Danny - Tracyanne and Danny (Merge)
Collaboration between two singer-songwriters - Camera Obscura's Tracyanne Campbell and Crybaby's Danny Coughlan. Melodic and imbued with honey drenched classic pop influences. A little subtler and less ebullient than Campbell's work with Camera Obscura.

Trampled By Turtles - Life Is Good On The Open Road (Thirty Tigers)
Modern bluegrass of a piece with Old Crow Medicine Show.

Traveller - Western Movies (Refuge Foundation For The Arts)
Country rock supergroup comprised of Robert Ellis, Cory Chisel and Jonny Fritz.

Trembling Bells - Dungeness (Tin Angel)
The Glasgow band continue to craft a freewheeling, disorientating and discombobulating blend of folk, medieval, psychedelic, rock and improvised music that feels removed from time.

Tropical Fuck Storm - A Laughing Death In Meatspace (Joyful Noise)
Very weird and wonderful deconstructed rock.

Tune-Yards - I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life (4AD)
For me, the least effective of Merrill Garbus' albums so far (and one that seems to be consciously reaching for a wider audience) - but this is still at the more unusual and experimental end of modern pop music and it still packs a rhythmic punch.

Ty Segall - Fudge Sandwich (In The Red)
Magnificent slacker rock covers album.

**Tyshawn Sorey - Pillars (Firehouse)**
Tyshawn Sorey is not a musician to do anything by halves, or to make concessions to an audience's ease of access. Pillars is a monumental creation comprising three CDs and four hours worth of deeply patient, meditative, ritualistic and innovative modern music, blending composition and improvisation in increasingly creative ways.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Sex and Food (Jagjaguwar)
Inspired, psychedelic antipop capturing the chaos and confusion of modern living.

Vaudou Game - Otodi (Hot Casa)
One of the most striking world music albums of 2018, Otodi is named after the long dormant studio in Togo at which it was recorded.

**Wayne Shorter - Emanon (Blue Note)**
Wayne Shorter's remarkable late career period has been characterised by his finding of new ways of presenting his iconic compositions. Emanon is a gargantuan triple disc set capturing a performance of Shorter's superb quartet in London and one disc comprising a collaboration with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The set also comes with a graphic novel penned by Shorter himself. The full set is expensive and sadly there is no digital version, or indeed any music to sample online. One has to respect Shorter's choices here, but it's a shame I can only include the all-too-brief album trailer. At 85, Shorter is still arguably the greatest living musician, and has closed 2018 by receiving a greatly deserved Kennedy honour.

Virginia Wing - Ecstatic Arrow (Fire)
Recorded in Switzerland with Misha Hering (who also worked on the two A Grave With No Name albums on which I contribute drums and percussion), this is wide ranging and distinctive song craft, with the added inspirations drawn from Yellow Magic Orchestra and Fourth World.

Weeping Bong Band - Weeping Bong Band (Feeding Tube)
Yes there's actually a band called Weeping Bong Band and yes they sound much as you might expect.

White Denim - Performance (City Slang)
Yes they draw heavily (and perhaps a little reverently) from the past, but White Denim execute this music so skilfully that they remain an exciting proposition.

Will Oldham - Songs of Love and Horror (Drag City)
Never one to shy away from revisiting his back catalogue (his songs live and breathe to the extent that he rarely plays them the same way twice), Will Oldham here delivers unadorned and touching acoustic versions of older songs, including three of his most enduring (I See A Darkness, Ohio River Boat Song and New Partner).

Willard Grant Conspiracy - Untethered (Loose)
Stark and haunting final work from the much-missed Robert Fisher.

Willie Hightower - Out of the Blue (Ace)
77 year old rediscovered soul singer returns in excellent voice with a superb set of new southern soul material, produced by 95 year old Quinton Claunch. Remarkable.

Witch Prophet - The Golden Octave (88 Days of Fortune)
Fascinating, wide ranging debut from the Toronto singer-songwriter.

Wolfgang Muthspiel - Where The River Goes (ECM)
Beautiful compositions performed and developed by an all star band (Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier, Ambrose Akinmusire, Eric Harland).

Wume - Towards The Shadow (Northern Spy) 
Third album from the Baltimore duo, but the first to cross my radar, blending tight grooves with kosmische influences.

Xylouris White - Mother (Bella Union)
George Xylouris and Jim White return with another strange and thrilling meeting of musical minds.

**Yo La Tengo - There's A Riot Going On (Matador)**
As wonderful as they undoubtedly are, it's maybe been a bit too easy to take Yo La Tengo for granted over their past few releases. This one, boldly referencing Sly and the Family Stone's pioneering album, is a substantial work, drenched in hazy beauty and emphasising their gifts for simple melody.

Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar (Ninja Tune)
I'm still not sure how to describe Young Fathers' music, which seems to be their own distinctive blend of modern pop, R&B, soul and hip hop.

Yves Tumor - Safe In The Hands of Love (Warp)
Yves Tumor's first album for Warp is kaleidoscopic.

Mu-Ziq - Challenge Me Foolish (Planet Mu)
Reliably addictive, whimsical electronica from Mike Paradinas.

ZULI - Terminal (UIQ)
Last but not least, this Egyptian electronic producer makes abrasive, fractured and challenging music that is also hugely exciting too.

That's it - more than 300 albums released this year that caught my attention. I'm not completely sold on all of them, and some I'm unlikely to return to in future years - but I think there's enough of interest on every release I've included here to invite discussion and thought. Some of this music is truly inspiring.

I'd like to take the opportunity to thank all the people who contributed to this list by recommending me albums I might not otherwise have heard. Also thanks to all the musicians and music journalists I follow on Twitter, who remain a great source of information and new enthusiasms. Onwards to 2019!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 in New Music Part 4

Natalie Prass - The Future and the Past (ATO)
A second album of delightfully groovy, sassy, saccharine, meticulously arranged pop.

Nathan Bowles - Plainly Mistaken (Paradise of Bachelors)
Nathan Bowles' fourth album is brilliantly realised, juxtaposing various musical traditions to craft a musical contradiction at once forward looking and hermetic.

Nathan Salsburg - Third (No Quarter)
Salsburg is a versatile guitarist who has collaborated with James Elkington and also plays regularly with Joan Shelley. This solo album is a warming and spirited collection of solo guitar music.

Neko Case - Hell-On (ANTI)
I've found this Neko Case album a little harder to negotiate than its most recent predecessors, particularly given its impressive stylistic diversity. Yet it has now started to reveal its own achievements and rewarding pleasures, and Case remains one of the finest singer-songwriters currently at work.

Neneh Cherry - Broken Politics (Smalltown Supersound)
Cherry has been on a major artistic roll since beginning a working relationship with the Smalltown Supersound label. Again working with Kieren Hebden, Broken Politics finds her in ruminative but quietly defiant mode and is rich in small, absorbing details.

Nicole Mitchell - Maroon Cloud (FPE)
Another great American resistance work, this eight part suite from the flautist and composer celebrates the power of the human imagination and its capacity to flourish in dark times. Recorded live at the Sawdust in Brooklyn as part of the John Zorn commissions series, the resulting music is both aching and transcendent. It is worth reiterating again what a great year 2018 has been for radical vocal jazz (Fay Adams is the powerful vocal presence here).

**Noname - Room 25 (Noname)**
Debut album proper from the innovative Chicago rapper. Aquatic sounds and deep grooves underpin the mischievous linguistic manipulation.

Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy with The Gift Band - Anchor (Topic)
Intergenerational meeting of legendary folk artists that is both playful and deeply affecting.

Norma Winstone, Klaus Gesing, Glauco Venier - Descansado - Songs For Films (ECM) 
Winstone remains not just a superb interpreter of song, but also possessed of a rare ability to turn compositions into deeply moving new works with new original lyrics. Her trio with Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier remains an enrichingly subtle and sensitive unit, capable of communication and empathy. This set focuses on reimaginings of film soundtrack music and the song selection is frequently inspired.

Objekt - Cocoon Crush (PAN)
Painterly, reflective electronica.

Oliver Coates - Shelly's On Zenn-La (RVNG Intl.)
Cellist Oliver Coates continues to operate in a wide range of musical environments and his own work as a composer/performer places him alongside Lucy Railton and Shiva Feshareki in a new generation of artists opening up new possibilities for new music composers. Shelly's On Zenn-La is a nervy, skittering work in search of new vistas.

Oneohtrix Point Never - Age Of (Warp)
Daniel Lopatin's latest finds him focusing on collaboration and sharing of ideas. Some of this feels decidedly dark.

Olivia Chaney - Shelter (Nonesuch)
Olivia Chaney's slight frustration at being categorised as a folk singer has some justification - as second album Shelter presents her as a multi-faceted singer-songwriter and interpreter, capable of crafting direct, honest and affecting performances and arguably more confident accompanying herself at the piano than with guitar.

Orquestra Del Tempo Perdido - Stille (Shhpuma)
Jeroen Kimman's music genuinely does sound unlike anything else. I don't know what it is, but it draws me in.

Pablo Held Trio - Investigations (Edition)
Complex, intricate but thrilling piano trio jazz that moves through a wide range of moods and atmospheres, often within the space of a single composition.

Papa M - A Broke Moon Rises (Drag City)
Papa M - The Piano Sessions (Drag City)
The rehabilitation of David Pajo is something for which we should all be profoundly grateful - his two short works this year were both skeletal and unassuming, but imbued with a grace, determination and imagination with simple foundations.

Pariah - Here From Where We Are (Houndstooth)
First full length album and first release in six years from the DJ and producer results in a multi-faceted, textured and mesmerising work, producing tangible focus from the conventions of abstraction.

**Park Jiha - Communion (Tak:Til)**
**Park Jiha - Philos (Mirrorball Music)**

Two excellent, free spirited albums from the Korean composer, producer and performer blending modern minimalism with traditional instrumentation.

Paul Simon - In The Blue Light (Sony)
2018 saw Paul Simon announce his retirement from international touring, and find an impressive and thoughtful way of revisiting some choice highlights from his back catalogue. Here, Simon's songs are rearranged in rich, jazz-inspired fashion with very rewarding results.

**Pete Lee - The Velvet Rage (Ubuntu)**
The pianist and composer deserved more recognition from this excellent and very personal album - which bravely moves well outside current voguish trends in contemporary jazz to follow its own confident and individual trajectory. Foot tapping grooves blend effortlessly with lush string arrangements and intriguing variety in colour.

Peter Wiegold, Sam Lee and Notes Inegales - Van Diemen's Land (Club Inegales) 
Club Inegales in Euston has built a reputation for fostering unexpected and fruitful cross-genre (sometimes cross-art form) collaborations. Sam Lee's appearance resulted in further work with Peter Wiegold and the Notes Inegales ensemble, placing Lee's interpretations of folk ballads in new and intriguing settings.

Phil Cook - People Are My Drug (Merge) 
Cook makes a substantial contribution to a number of different artists' work as a sideman and instrumentalist, and is often a crucial presence in the live line-up of Hiss Golden Messenger. His work as a solo singer-songwriter continues to develop - and People Are My Drug is a radiant and luminous set of brilliantly formed songs, many of them simple and direct in the bravest and most assured of ways, well informed in the history of American popular music.

Philip Jeck - Arcade (Touch)
An excellent, vivid long form piece captured at a live performance.

Phosphorescent - C'est La Vie (Dead Oceans)
It's been a while since I've been able to get fully on board with Matthew Houeck's music but this is comfortably the strongest and most evocative Phosphorescent album since Here's To Taking It Easy. There is, nevertheless, a sense that the flirtations with genre and production trickery still sometimes undermine the directness of the songs.

Phronesis - We Are All (Edition)
The restless band continue to make progressive strides on this superb, empathetic seventh album. The music here is often turbulent and dramatic but also at times deeply thoughtful and introspective. Their longevity is a triumph for European jazz.

Pram - Across the Meridian (Domino)
Welcome return after more than ten years for more kitchen sink maximalist hauntings, proving that the loss of a lead singer does not necessarily have to be an insurmountable obstacle.

Punch Brothers - All Ashore (Nonesuch)
Dependably deep and virtuosic modern day folk music, this time self produced by the band.

**Red River Dialect - Broken Stay Open Sky (Paradise of Bachelors)**
For me, one of the most subtly immersive and captivating albums of 2018, its expansive songs often feel like being out on the open seas.

Reinier Bass and Ben Van Gelder with Metropole Orkest - Smash Hits (Basta Music)
Radical and stirring enlarged arrangements of existing compositions recorded at two live performances. With apologies to Jacob Collier, but this is probably my favourite 2018 release involving the Metropole Orkest.

Richard Skelton - Front Variations I and II (Aeolian Editions)
In which Richard Skelton turns his landscape soundtracking skills to the distinctive terrain and atmospheres of Iceland.

Richard Swift - The Hex (Secretly Canadian)
One of the biggest and most surprising losses of 2018, Richard Swift's premature passing has taken a major songwriting talent who really ought to have had time to mature yet further as an artist. Still, The Hex is an album that bottles the essence of Swift's gifts for pop song form, melody and harmony.

**Richard Thompson - 13 Rivers (Proper)**
Arguably Thompson's strongest album since Dream Attic - you know what you're going to get from the master songwriter and guitarist, but this one feels particularly incisive and in the moment.

Robyn - Honey (Konichiwa/Universal)
Some Robyn fans on social media felt disappointed by this - perhaps due to a relative lack of immediate, insistent songs. Instead, there's a sense of hard won experience and longing and the melodies are hazy rather than blinding.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Hope Downs (Sub Pop)
Basic, kinetic, urgent, four square rock and roll delivered with verve and skill.

Rosali - Trouble Anyway (Scissor Tail)
One of the year's most beautiful sounding records, underpinning some lush and lyrical songs - a combination of dry and resonant sounds that works really well.

Rosalia - El Mar Querer (Sony Spain) 
Modernised pop flamenco from the Spanish star - and, along with Robyn and Christine and the Queens, the best pure pop music of 2018.

Rosanne Cash - She Remembers Everything (Capitol) 
If not quite as deep as the remarkable The River and The Thread, She Remembers Everything is still a poignant and insightful collection, delivered with characteristic clarity and understatement from Cash. 'Crossing To Jerusalem' might just be 2018's most important song.

Ross From Friends - Family Portrait (Brainfeeder)
Ghastly moniker aside, this is idiosyncratic, intrepid and artful electronica.

**Roy Montgomery - Suffuse (Grapefruit)**
Supposedly always uncomfortable with his own singing, Roy Montgomery here composes music for some of the most idiosyncratic and innovative vocalists currently at work, including Grouper's Liz Harris, Julianna Barwick and Haley Fohr. The results are predictably awe inspiring.

RP Boo - I'll Tell You What (Planet Mu)
Legendary Footwork pioneer captures the mood.

**Ry Cooder - The Prodigal Son (Caroline International)**
In which Ry Cooder departs from the social and political high concepts of recent albums in favour of a renewed focus on interpretation and making blues and folk tradition live and breathe. This is a natural, unforced and outstanding album.

Ryan Porter - The Optimist (World Galaxy)
Trombonist with the Kamasi Washington LA scene makes impressive, punchy album as leader.

**Ryley Walker - Deafman Glance (Dead Oceans)**
Ryley Walker further develops his tendency for stretching out, his melodies increasingly subsumed within the mood and feel of each song. As ever, his provocative goofiness on Twitter belies his increasingly serious depth as a musician.

Sam Anning - A Field As Vast As One (Earshift) 
Bassist/composer Sam Anning is a major presence in Australian jazz, but this subtle, assured and empathetic album is my introduction to his work.

Samba Toure - Wande (Glitterbeat)
The Malian musician has taken the core elements of desert blues and imbued them with a sense of joy and peace. Occasionally, he arguably moves too far to western fusion (Yerfara sounds like The Rolling Stones), but the majority of this album neatly balances tradition with reaching outward.

**Sarah Davachi - Gave In Rest (Ba Da Bing!)**
**Sarah Davachi - Let Night Come On Bells End The Day (Forced Exposure)** 
2018 brought two excellent albums for two different labels from the inventive Canadian ambient composer, currently also working on a PhD in Musicology at UCLA. Gave In Rest experiments with Davachi's love for Medieval and Renaissance music, whilst Let Night Come On Bells...focuses on mellotron and organ. These are works that amply reward deep, close listening.

Sarah Louise - Deeper Woods (Thrill Jockey) 
Also one half of House and Land, Sarah Louise brilliantly inhabits and revitalises American folk traditions.

Sarathy Korwar and UPAJ Collective - My East Is Your West (Gearbox)
Recorded live at London's Church of Sound, this bold and imaginative album seeks to re-establish and develop cross-cultural relationships between jazz, spirituality and Indian music. Reworking legendary pieces from the likes of Joe Henderson, Alice Coltrane, Abdullah Ibrahim, John McLaughlin and Don Cherry amongst others is a brave move, but Korwar has brought his own skillset and magic to this effective collaboration.

Scott Hirsch - Lost Time Behind The Moon (Scissor Tail) 
The former Hiss Golden Messenger member returns with his best solo album to date, brilliantly fusing the primary influences of JJ Cale and Al Green with his own songwriting voice.

Seabuckthorn - A House With Too Much Fire (876627)
Andy Cartwright's superb latest adds some intriguing instrumentation and a meditative, psychedelic tinge to his hypnotic guitar music.

Senyawa - Sujud (Sublime Frequencies) 
This duo from Jogjakarta, Indonesia are crafting some pretty extraordinary cross-cultural fusions here, incorporating home-made instruments, Indonesian traditions, heavy distortion and drone metal.

serpentwithfeet - Soil (Secretly Canadian/Tri Angle) 
Highly creative blend of pop melody, performance art and the influence of church music from a major musical personality.

**Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 - Black Times (Strut)**
Righteous, infectious groove energy and Seun Kuti's finest album.

Shackleton - Furnace of Guts (Woe to the Septic Heart) 
Two typically percussive and idea-filled long-ish pieces from Sam Shackleton, still seemingly more interested in collaborations and shorter form releases than making conventional albums.

**Sidi Toure - Toubalbero (Thrill Jockey)**
Defiant, inspiring and uplifting music from Mali.

Sink Ya Teeth - Sink Ya Teeth (Hey Buffalo) 
Slinky, hugely enjoyable old school electropop.

Skee Mask - Compro (Ilian Tape) 
Ingenious electronica covering a broad spectrum from light to dark, fusing ambient, house and drum and bass influences.

Friday, December 28, 2018

2018 in New Music Part 3

J Mascis - Elastic Days (Sub Pop)
Another characteristic combination of melodic brightness and laconic delivery from the Dinosaur Jr. frontman. Softer and lighter than Dinosaur Jr. albums, with only the occasional excoriating guitar solo and with the melodies foregrounded. 

Jacob Collier - Djesse Vol. 1 (Hajanga)
The Quincy Jones protege and multi-instrumentalist is undoubtedly a huge talent, and there is a lot to admire and enjoy here although, at this stage, I do question whether a four album magnum opus (to be completed over the course of 2019) is really the right way to go.

James Davis Quintet - Disappearing Roads
Expansive and enthralling contemporary jazz detailing transition and change. 

Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer (WEA International) 
A rather conspicuous, Prince-inspired reach for a wider audience that, in fairness, seems to have worked pretty well (the tour has graduated to arenas for 2019). Much of this is excellent, but I can't help feeling some of the high concept character and artful risk from Monae's previous albums is missing. More than worthy of your time, however, particularly the 'emotion picture' (and the live show is excellent).

Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore - After Caroline (Northern Spy) 
Imaginative, long running trio from the Chicago reedsman, also a crucial force in Joshua Abrams' Natural Information Society.  Stein's music here alternates swinging rhythms with guttural sonic attack and textural experiments. 

Jean Toussaint Allstar 6tet - Brother Raymond (Lyte) 
Eleven outstanding original compositions make up saxophonist Toussaint's first album for four years. Features various different configurations of his Allstar 6tet, highlighting some of the most luminous talent on the UK jazz scene.  

Jeff Tweedy - Warm (dBPM)
Possibly Tweedy's best work outside Wilco, a delicate but nuanced selection of acoustic guitar-focused songs capturing a uniquely personal intimacy. Tweedy's music in this idiom is insidious - it seems low key and unassuming at first but reveals considerable depths on repeated close listens. 

Jennifer Castle - Angels of Death (Paradise of Bachelors)
A poetic and powerful dissection of death, mortality and grief in the form of stark, striking country  ballads recorded in a 19th century church. 


Jerusalem In My Heart - Daga'iq Tudaiq (Constellation)
This fascinating third album from the Montreal-Beirut project combines a side long orchestral interpretation of 'Ya Garat Al Wadi', by the popular Egyptian composer Mohammad Abdul Wahab with four original solo pieces. 

Jessica Sligter - Polycrisis: yes! (Butler and Butler)
Unsettling theatrical ambient song. 

Jim James - Uniform Distortion (ATO)
Jim James - Uniform Clarity (ATO) 
Scuzzy, elaborately produced avant-rock from the My Morning Jacket frontman, together with an accompanying unadorned acoustic version.

Jim O'Rourke - Sleep Like It's Winter (Newhere Music)
Patiently unfolding long form work from the multi-instrumentalist and producer, who now seems to follow his every musical instinct in all manner of thoughtful and unexpected directions. 

Jlin - Autobiography (Planet Mu)
Not an official third album from Jlin, but rather commissioned music to accompany Wayne McGregor choreography that more than works as a listening project too. Full of the striking textures, sudden shifts and percussive dynamism that has characterised Jlin's work to date. One of the most important composer-producers currently working in electronic music.

Joe Armon-Jones - Starting Today (Brownswood) 
Joe Armon-Jones may have competed with George Ezra for the most insanely annoying Twitter marketing campaign of 2018, but at least the debut solo album from the Ezra Collective co-founded was an engaging, intoxicating and uplifting album of rhythmic pop-jazz, sometimes in collaboration with vocalists. 

Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas 'Sound Prints' - Scandal (Greenleaf) 
First studio set for the predictably brilliant project co-lead by two of the key musicians in American jazz - 'in this age of scandal, we rejoice in the freedom to seek the truth in collective inquiry'.

John Hiatt - The Eclipse Sessions (New West)
Stripped back, slightly weathered songs from the underrated Nashville songwriter. 

John Prine - The Tree of Forgiveness (Oh Boy)
A late career gem from one of country music's great survivors. 

John Surman - Invisible Threads (ECM)
Working in a trio with pianist Nelson Ayres and percussionist Rob Waring, Surman explores a range of peaceful folk-tinged soundworlds. 

**Jon Hassell - Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One) (Ndeya)**
This coruscating, compelling work is Hassell's first new album in nine year.s 'Pentimento' is described as a particular technique to editing and post-production, in which sounds are creatively layered over one another. It's impressive that, forty years after first developing the fourth world aesthetic, Hassell still sounds so fearlessly contemporary. 

Jon Hopkins - Singularity (Domino)
Fifth and strongest work to date from the electronic producer and composer.


Jonny Greenwood - Phantom Thread OST (Nonesuch)
Jonny Greenwood - You Were Never Really Here OST (Invada/Lakeshore)

Not one, but two distinctive, highly successful soundtracks from the Radiohead guitarist and composer.

Joseph Shabason - Anne (Western Vinyl) 
Absorbing, distinctive blend of ambent electronica and improvisation, interwoven with recordings of interviews with Shabason's mother, currently suffering from Parkinson's disease. 

Josephine Davies' Satori - In The Corners of the Clouds (Whirlwind) 
Contemporary jazz trio without a chordal instrument, with a focus on strong melodic lines. 

Joshua Redman - Still Dreaming (Nonesuch) 
Recorded with a superb all star band with Ron Miles on cornet, Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blade on drums, this album inspired by Dewey Redman's Old and New Dreams band is brimming with ideas and expression.

**Julia Holter - Aviary (Domino)**
Julia Holter returns to her more adventurous preoccupations, with what is undoubtedly her densest and most demanding album, full of turbulent twists and turns. There are so many ideas here, not all of them completely successful, but the confidence and vaunting ambition is extaordinary.


Julian Arguelles' Tetra - Tonadas (Whirlwind) 
New quartet album from the great saxophonist, drawing on his Spanish roots to create music at once breathtaking and lyrical.  Very strong writing with melodies that are both dexterous and lingering.

Julian Lage - Modern Lore (Mack Avenue)
A brilliantly kinetic, classic sounding and urgent trio set - with Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wolleson on drums. 

**Julian Siegel Quartet - Vista (Whirlwind)** 
 Saxophonist and composer Julian Siegel is one of UK jazz's great treasures - able to blend the earthy, cerebral and celebratory in equal measure, with music that is poised and exhilarating. 

Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour (Universal) 
A rare example of genuinely excellent mainstream country.

**Kadhja Bonet - Childqueen (Fat Possum)**
Both madcap and concise, it's hard to understand why Childqueen hasn't received much wider attention for its dreamlike psychedelic neo-soul. It's otherworldly and synaesthetic, borne aloft by peculiar stylistic blends and an imaginative way with vocal harmonies. 

Kamasi Washington - Heaven and Earth (Young Turks) 
Neither as significant as his admirers suggest, nor as problematic as his detractors would argue, Kamasi Washington's second full length does once again emphasise vastness, both in terms of the amount of material and in the number of musicians thrown at the arrangements. What it lacks in nuance, it makes up for in punch, thrill and verve.

Kelly Moran - Ultraviolet (Warp) 
Unusual and fascinating prepared piano compositions. 

Khruangbin - Con Todo El Mondo (Night Time Stories) 
The Texas band draw from psychedelia and a range of world music to create a heady, potent mix that seems to have found favour with a young audience this year. 

Kikagaku Moyo - Masana Temples (Guruguru Brain)
Shifting, transitive psychedelia emphasising movement as much as contemplation. This will be particularly welcome for anyone who cannot resist a good wah-wah guitar sound.

**Kit Downes - Obsidian (ECM)**
Downes' superb organ project, in part inspired by W.G. Sebald, evokes defiant, desolate landscapes. This is contemporary music free from convention and genre.

**Kris Davis and Craig Taborn - Octopus (Pyroclastic)**
Exquisite live recordings from a series of two piano concerts. The thoughtful, agile and subtle improvising is tremendous.

Kurt Vile - Bottle It In (Matador) 
A very long collection of laconic and sly songs - this has made me want to have another go with the rest of the KV catalogue.

**Laura Cannell and Andre Bosman - Reckonings (Brawl)** 
An excellent development in the restless and prolific career of Laura Cannell - an improvised violin duo exploring forms that intuitively integrate the medieval and modern. Cannell continues to be interested in the role that spaces play in sound creation - and this recording situates Cannell and Bosman conversing with each other musically from opposite sides of St Andrew's Church in Raveningham, Norfolk.

Laura Veirs - The Lookout (Bella Union) 
Typically lush and resonant album focusing on the fragility and impermanence of things and the need not to be complacent.

**Laurel Halo - Raw Silk Uncut Wood (Latency)**
This relatively low key release deserved more attention, as it might be Laurel Halo's most radical and impressive work to date. Cellist Oliver Coates and percussionist Eli Keszler also contribute to this thought provoking instrumental set.

Leon Vynehall - Nothing Is Still (Ninja Tune) 
Atmospheric and mesmerising debut, also utilising the skills of some brilliant musicians including Sam Beste (Hejira, Amy Winehouse) on keys and Finn Peters on saxophones.

Les Halles - Zephyr (Not Not Fun) 
Gentle airborne ambience.

Let's Eat Grandma - I'm All Ears (Transgressive) 
A rich, lavishly melodic, beguiling and sometimes confounding collection from the young duo - brilliantly produced and executed avant pop.

**Lonnie Holley - MITH (Secretly Canadian)**
A powerful, palpably engaged state of the nation address from the avant garde poet and artist.

Lorraine Baker - Eden (SPARK!) 
Drummer and bandleader Baker's debut album pays tribute to the great Ed Blackwell with a strong sense of melody and adventure.

**Low - Double Negative (Sub Pop)**
Low have subtly revised their signature sound many times over the course of their 20 plus year career, be it with the intervention of electronics on Drums and Guns or on the more robust rock of The Great Destroyer. This is, however, arguably the first time where they have bravely stripped away many of the core defining elements of their music - be it the delicately rustled drums, lingering, chiming guitar chords or, most significantly, the beautiful and pure sound of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker's vocal harmonies. What replaces it here is an initially anxious, almost apocalyptic sounding use of abrasive noise textures, eventually revealing itself as a suite of genuine beauty in the face of madness and strife. A remarkable triumph from a consistently revelatory band.

Lucrecia Dalt - Anticlines (RVNG)
Curious and bewitching combination of spoken word and electronic sound worlds. Sonic textures matching the textures of landscapes.

Lucy Railton - Paradise 94 (Modern Love) 
Debut album from the open-minded and adventurous cellist and composer that feels very modern, atavistic and distinctive.

LUMP - LUMP (Dead Oceans) 
Laura Marling's collaboration with Mike Lindsay is imaginative, unpredictable and rewarding.

Lydian Collective - Adventure (Lydian) 
Bright, ebullient modern fusion from the very promising newcomers.

**M. Geddes Gengras - Light Pipe (Room40)**
Maybe the strongest ambient album of the year, this is music in which to get lost.

Maisha - There Is A Place (Brownswood)
One of the strongest albums to come so far from the group of mostly London based artists wildly hyped as the 'new UK jazz explosion' (in reality, the group of artists to have most benefited from how Arts Council funding for jazz is now distributed - the strategy, at least on the surface, appears to be working). The work of a thirteen piece ensemble lead by drummer Jake Long, There Is A Place is transcendental in the mould of spiritual jazz, but also with urgent grooves that make it well placed to energise the dancefloor.

Makaya McCraven - Where We Come From (International Anthem)
Makaya McCraven - Universal Beings (International Anthem)
McCraven represented the much touted new jazz on the other side of the Atlantic, and the Where We Come From mixtape finds him collaborating with UK artists. The editing techniques McCraven deployed in post-production were hardly new (Miles Davis' work with Teo Macero paved the way for continued experiments in this field), but there is something fresh about McCraven's collage approach with genre.

Mansur Brown - Shiroi (Black Focus)
Debut album from the guitarist who is also a member of Triforce 5ive and played a major role in the much lauded Yussef Kamaal album. Categorised as jazz, but really a curious hybrid of electronica, dance music, funk and astral travelling.

Marisa Anderson - Cloud Corner (Thrill Jockey)
More stunning, encircling solo guitar music.

Marissa Nadler - For My Crimes (Bella Union)
Stark, honest and captivating songwriting.

Mark Pritchard - The Four Worlds (Warp)
Perhaps Pritchard's strongest, most brilliantly designed album so far. The four to the floor pulse of the lengthy opening track turns out to be a red herring, given that the rest of the album is more interested in open, percussion-less spaces.

Mary Gauthier - Rifles and Rosary Beads (Proper) 
Gauthier continues her run of impressive form with an impassioned and defiant album written in collaboration with wounded veterans.

**Mary Halvorson - Code Girl (Firehouse)**
One of 2018's major artistic statements - a substantial work where the approach and sound is very hard to define in words. Halvorson's guitar playing is fluid and daring, with composition and improvisation being fluidly integrated. With the vocals of Amirtha Kidambi an effective presence throughout, Code Girl should be filed alongside Cory Smythe's Circulate Susanna in 2018's bold attempts to manipulate and reinvent the song form.

**Mary Lattimore - Hundreds Of Days (Ghostly International)**
Mary Lattimore's layered harp music continues to enthrall and evoke place and memory with great clarity and sensitivity. Hundreds of Days is another substantial contribution to her impressive catalogue.

Matthew Dear - Bunny (Ghostly International)
A weird, somnambulant disco-rock hybrid. At its most successful when least reliant on Dear's vocals.

Matthew Sweet - Tomorrow's Daughter (Honeycomb Hideout)
This won't exactly reinvent the wheel, but it's another set of very creditable 60s inspired power pop.

**Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore - Ghost Forests (Three Lobed)**
A dream collaboration offering a remarkably coherent, unified approach.

**Miles Okazaki - Work: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Monk**
A gargantuan project presenting every Thelonious Monk composition interpreted for solo guitar across six volumes. Perhaps of more interest to serious students of Monk and musicians than to the general listener, but there is a wealth of inventive exposition and creativity here - and Work serves as a great example of how great source material can inspire considerable individuality and freedom of expression.

Mind Over Mirrors - Bellowing Sun (Paradise of Bachelors) 
The concept here is apparently an examination of celestial cycles - the resulting music is ethereal and mesmerising.

Mountain Man - The Magic Ship (Bella Union)
Very welcome and sadly slightly overlooked second from the Appalachian folk vocal group.

Mount Eerie - Now Only (1Gd)
The rather unnerving and candid turn Phil Everum's songwriting took following the tragic loss of his wife Genevieve has some common characteristic with the increasingly unhinged diary litanies of Mark Kozelek (especially as the lyrics frequently don't scan) but, whilst listening to Elverum can feel like an uncomfortable intrusion for the listener, one senses a genuine healing process at work here.

Mouse On Mars - Dimensional People (Thrill Jockey)
Typically inventive with sound, texture and sensation.

**Myra Melford's Snowy Egret - The Other Side Of Air (Firehouse)**
Myra Melford is one of the most innovative and explorative bandleaders in contemporary US jazz, her music blending considerable discipline with uncompromising bursts of seemingly free exploration. Sometimes her compositions feel meticulously controlled, at others they feel like they are teetering on a precipice, preparing to leap recklessly into chaos and the unknown. Sometimes they make the leap with real abandon, at others they feel fragmented and jagged.