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         Awakened by Decay – 1 Mile North

This recent release floats up out of a yawning gap, so let’s back up the story a little for anyone who lost the thread. 1 Mile North’s first album, Glass Wars, was a collection of pretty guitar cogitations a little reminiscent in places of some of the quieter moments on How Strange Innocence, the first album by Explosions in the Sky from a year earlier. At the time it was one of quite a few of its kind floating around at the gently lyrical end of the post-rock spectrum. It was the second album, Minor Shadows, released two years later in 2003, that made me sit up and take notice. While somewhat similar in feel to its predecessor, it achieved an increased tautness and sense of purpose and space, moving deftly from sparse beauty to wistful, melancholy drift to occasional pockets of darkness. It did not sound quite like any of its rivals, and it remains one of my most-returned-to albums from the post-rock binge that filled a chunk of my hard drive around that time. It’s a lonely, fragile, contemplative work, and the haunting opener “In 1983 he loved to fly” is to my ear perhaps its finest moment.

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As I prepared this year’s top 20 list, I discovered that several of my favorite releases this year were not full albums, but brief EPs. Including them in the top 20 albums list felt a bit like trying to compare novels and short stories, so I decided to list them separately. These were my top 5 favorite EPs of 2016:

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It’s been a quiet 2016 at Music is Good. Professional commitments have left some regulars with less time for blogging. But we’re still listening. Here are my top 20 albums for 2016. I excluded compilations (though Orbital Planes & Passenger Trains, Vol. 1 from Serein, Into the White from Dronarivm, and Eleven into Fifteen from 130701 all delighted me). As ever, this is the best in my subjective judgment of what I heard and liked, no more, and the numbering is less important than the chance of helping someone find something good that they missed. This year I am treating EPs separately, in a second post.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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