Close Panel

Here is my top 20 music releases for 2015, with no claim that they are somehow objectively the best or that I listened to everything anyone else did. I have found things that delighted me on other people’s lists, and the point of the exercise is not to replicate or compete with those lists but to highlight some things you may not have found, things that might delight you. The sequence changed every time I made a shortlist, so take the numbers with a pinch of salt – all of them could be at least plus or minus 5 on a given day.

Read more »

 

14

Dec

2015

Review: City of Brides by En

By David Smith. Posted in Ambient, Drone, Electronic, Reviews | No Comments »
City of Brides by En

City of Brides by En

En’s last album, Already Gone, (review here) was notable both for its distinctive palette of sounds and for its cohesion. It offered a succession of tracks of increasing length, culminating and resolving in a 20-minute meditation on Elysium, the mythical Greek isle of the blessed. City of Brides (the title of the new double LP and of its closing track – another eschatological tinge, I wonder?) is less linear. Indeed it thrives on a restless exploration of shifting and contrasting sounds, skipping from noise to clarity, from stasis to rippling motion, from soft to abrasive as we wander from moment to moment and from track to track. And yet there remains a sense of deep unity, as if the various tracks are somehow probing the same question, prodding at the same possibility.

Read more »

 
Inscriptions by Wil Bolton

Inscriptions by Wil Bolton

I didn’t plan to write a review tonight. But the CD was playing and it caught me up and carried me away and I had to write…

Wil Bolton’s music is part of the texture of my world. I always enjoy his releases to one degree or another, but a handful of them have risen from “this is nice” to “this is one of my favorite things”. The expressive chimes of Time Lapse and Chimes for a Wall Drawing call forth wonder and remain in my listening rotation years after their release.

Read more »

 
Arovane - dwell_tevvel_structure

dwell_tevvel_structure by Arovane

Germany’s Arovane has been putting out some striking ambient material of late, including the recent dwell_tevvel_structure on the UK label …txt recordings. I have no idea what a tevvel is, and neither does Google; it’s an anagram of velvet and bears a passing resemblance to the Dutch teviel (“too much”), but who knows if that is relevant. Dwelling, in the sense of settling down and taking time, and structure, here in the form of careful layers of sound, are both terms that illuminate the music on this album. The album consists of four long sound pieces (ranging from 14 to 20 minutes), each with its own distinct character yet tied together sonically in an arc that suggests four movements of a whole. The first opens with a gently undulating drift and fluttering patters of brightness – perhaps it’s the cover art, but I find it hard not to think of sunlight sparkling on waves.

Read more »

 

The Tallest Man on Earth - Dark Bird is HomeThe Tallest Man on Earth – Dark Bird is Home

Swede Kristian Matsson has been making singer/songwriter folk as The Tallest Man on Earth since 2006, but Dark Bird is Home is easily his grandest.  Featuring a full band for the first time, including horns and even some electronics, Matsson has added a richness and depth to his music that often puts the album more in the vein of The Decemberists than his usual comparison of Bon Iver.  His true strength, however, remains as a poet, and the album is chock full of wordplay like “And I’ve already grown up here, here I might as well grow down” (from “Little Nowhere Towns”).  This combination of orchestration and lyrics makes Dark Bird is Home an absolute gem.

Read more »

 

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & LowellSufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

If there were questions as to the direction Sufjan Stevens would take after the departure from the norm that was Age of Adz, naming his new album after his mother and stepfather (his first album since his mother’s passing, mind you) answered those questions load and clear: Sufjan Stevens is looking back, which means a return to lovely, gentle indie folk.  Carrie & Lowell strips away both the electronics of Adz and the lush orchestration of Come on Feel the Illinoise, putting the focus squarely on Sufjan’s lyrics, which come heavily from his life.  This album is going inspire a lot of reminiscing, particularly amongst those who have lost parents, and is going to cause a lot of tears.  They’ll be happy tears, though, so it’s unlikely people will be complaining.

Read more »

 

Purity Ring - another eternityPurity Ring – another eternity

When Purity Ring released their debut album Shrines in 2012 (my favorite album that year) it took a defibrillator to the pop system.  The duo’s use of synths, drum machine, and Megan James’ lyrics fell in the pop realm, but redirected the genre down a more experimental path.  Now that bands like CHVRCHES have followed that path, the question became whether Purity Ring would push further towards the experimental.  The answer, as demonstrated by another eternity, is that they will not.  Rather than a defibrillator, another eternity is more of a thermostat, maintaining the sound of Shrines within certain parameters, and providing a very enjoyable, if safe, listen.

Read more »

 

I didn’t listen to everything this year. Neither did you. I have no objective way of knowing that these are (or are not) the 20 best albums released this year. Neither do you. But these are the ones I most loved and most want to spend more time with next year, and who knows, maybe you’ll find something special here too, something you missed but can connect with and find riches in, something off your usual menu that you might come to be thankful for. If that happens even once, the list will be worthwhile. And as always, if any of the musicians drop by, thank you for the work, care, commitment, and creativity represented below.

Read more »

 

3

Dec

2014

Review: Sea Island by loscil

By David Smith. Posted in Ambient, Drone, Electronic, Reviews | 2 Comments »

Sea Island

Several years ago, during a visit to Vancouver, I seized the chance to make a musical pilgrimage. Loscil’s First Narrows has long been a favorite of mine, especially the title track. Languorous underlying drones create a dreamy atmosphere, meticulously placed skittering touches keep the surface complex, the bass layer is unobtrusive yet interesting once you focus there, and mid-range acoustic instruments keep a hypnotic almost-melody going to carry the whole thing forward. It’s a remarkable union of stasis and forward motion that relaxes and fascinates equally.

Read more »

 

SOLSTØV

Walking alone this evening in an isolated spot in Texan hill country, dusk falling, a deer flashes across my path and halts a few yards away, quivering. I stop and we trade stares for a while, my stillness not quite assuaging her agitation. A bat passes erratically. A sudden movement behind me catches the corner of my eye, and I turn just as a fawn, perhaps a foot and a half high, almost stumbles into my legs. It looks up at me for a long, fragile moment, and bolts away. The moon grows brighter in a vast sky as the last light fades, the gathering night filled with air and glow and darting life and tensile peace. As I walk on I’m listening to Solstøv by Pjusk, an album not from Texas but from Norway, yet evocatively descriptive of such a night as this, a night of peace and vastness and life and surprise and glory. This walk and this music will now live together in my memory.

Read more »