1. “No Más” – Irreversible Entanglements. I’ve been getting into jazz and world music simultaneously this year, and this track hits my interest in both: I love the interplay of instruments that jazz provides, and I love to find groove and rhythm in unexpected places. This 8-minute jam has all sorts of interplay between the horns and deep grooves (check that long bass/drums section). It’s very exciting music.
2. “Sweater” – Black Midi. Black Midi caught my ear the first time I heard them: I knew that there was some serious weirdness available for Black Midi to tap into, even if the song in front of me didn’t capitalize. Lo. This is that serious weirdness. This steals ideas from ambient, slowcore, krautrock, Sigur Ros, Pink Floyd, Lord Buffalo, and more in an 11.5-minute epic that defies concise description. If you like adventurous music, this is the stuff you’re looking for.
3. “Sawbones” – Anna Meredith. Synths, cello, tuba, drums, and guitar compose this unusual combo. This is very much synth-driven work, but it’s got a composerly approach to it; part of the work is built around a music theory trick/sonic illusion called the Shepherd’s Tone that sounds like it is infinitely ascending. This is a wild thing to build a whole piece of music around, but it works anyway. I haven’t heard much that sounds like Meredith’s work, and that’s always exciting.
4. “Scene Suspended” – Jon Hopkins. Hopkins is a master of peaceful yet revelatory music, and this latest composition is no different. It’s piano-heavy, but by no means a solo piano piece; little sounds and melodies float in and out, creating a warm environment for the calming piano to live in.
5. “Perspective” – Trevor Ransom. A delicate, airy start to this ambient piece slowly gives way to layers of piano, percussion, and guitar for a heavy dose of gravitas. Then it drops to almost nothing and builds again. A lovely piece.
6. “Gizmo” – Camel Power Club. Throw some funky bass, some disco rhythms and a flute solo together and you’ve got quite the fun indie-pop piece.
7. “Footsteps” – Jim Perkins. “Footsteps is a meditation on stillness, peace and calm,” notes Perkins, and he’s right: the piano-and-violin track is peaceful, careful, and calming. Perkins stole all my thunder on this one. Sorry everyone.
8. “All Things New” – Page CXVI. Latifah Alattas’ new work is a swirling, synth-laden ode to the God who makes all things new. It’s a midpoint between the angular, dark, textured work of her solo project Moda Spira and the patiently jubilant work of early Page CXVI. It’s a compelling new direction.
9. “Hallelujah Sing” – Porter’s Gate feat. Latifah Alattas and Audrey Assad. This stripped-down worship tune relies heavily on Rhodes keys and Alattas’ passionate alto voice. Even in celebration, she brings forward the sense of mourning that lives in the background of all jubilation–even if only as a counterpoint, the thing that is not. Put another way: this is work with a depth of emotional performance that is rare.
10. “Time I Got Goin’” – House Above the Sun. A major-key folk-rock song that’s heavy on old-school folk vibes (bright guitar, lush harmonies, way-up-front vocal mixing). It’s like a ray of sunshine breaking out of a bank of clouds; like the previous track, just enough minor key to show the major in a great light. The short trumpet solo is particularly throwback in tone and particularly enjoyable.
11. “Sudden Steps” – Night Gestalt and Nicholas Paschburg. Fuses slow-moving ambient crescendo roar with semi-erratic bouncy synth dots to create a productive tension in a very urban, very nighttime setting.
12. “Now Neither One of Us Is Breaking” – Nick Storring. Some ambient music is averse to structure and just floats along as a mood; Storring’s composition work here manages to be so chill as to almost be ambient, but with the benefits of structure and an overall goal to the piece. To put it another way, this is something akin to a early 1900s romantic orchestral piece with trip-hop backing and bits of East Asian flair thrown in. It’s got vibes for days (light ones and dark ones), but it’s not hurried or fussy. It’s in a realm of its own.