1. “Rosid” – The Cotton Modules. The opening track of the album-length collaboration between composer Jesse Solomon Clark, digital uncovererer/author/game designer/now-lyricist Robin Sloan, and an AI program which produced the surprisingly-lovely voices pairs angelic (but slightly-roughed-up) soprano vocals with murky, grumbling electronic textures. The productive contrast between soaring-in-the-cathedral and mucking-about-in-the-digital-fount creates a surprisingly beautiful piece that resists easy classification. You’ve heard AI music before, but this is not a schtick: it’s real art, with an AI as part of it. (You can read about the album’s creation here.) Aside: If you aren’t reading Robin Sloan’s e-mail missives, you need to be doing that. They are the most fun and interesting thing I read on the internet. (I read a lot of internet.) Highly recommended.
2. “Black Rhythm Happening” – Makaya McCraven. A rework of a 1969 cut from Sun Ra trumpeter Eddie Gale, this funky, drum-driven version puts a premium on groove and mood. It feels very much like I imagine block parties in the ’70s to sound like, complete with flute and joyous community vibes. Highly recommended.
3. “TV Bra™” – VOKA GENTLE. There’s only one Cake, but if there were two Cakes, Voka Gentle would be the Other Cake. This wacky, wild, outsider-pop jam combines marimba, gnarly guitar, percussion, puppets, the titular object, a hypeman, and more in a vicious takedown of wearable technology, sex in advertising, and email marketing. It’s like “Comfort Eagle” but for junk products instead of televangelists. Highly recommended.
4. “Hold Your Own” – BPMoore. Beautiful contemporary composition that includes feathery strings, reverb-heavy piano, deep-pocket drums, and a sense of awe. Rare for something to be both elegant and punchy, but that’s what we’ve got here.
5. “Gallup, NM” – SUSS. I just really love ambient country, and this piece by SUSS is everything I love about it: meticulous soundscapes created with a minimum of instrumentation, peaceful vibes that yet maintain motion, a Western sense of space, and an overall reverence (for the natural world? for New Mexico? For the West?) that is rare to find.
6. “Diabolo” – Ross Goldstein. Goldstein plays to the beautiful, peaceful, mellifluous strengths of the mellotron here, letting the solo notes of the melodic percussion ring out and hang in the air. It’s a tranquil, meditative piece, creating a mood without dominating the space.
7. “The Edge of High Trace (with Heather Sommerlad)” – Dan Munkus. Effectively fuses Godspeed-style post-rock textures with an improvisational feel. Instead of long, repetitive structures building to a point, the elements of the piece morph and change unexpectedly. The results are an enigmatic, surprising song.
8. “Light Memoir” – Charbonneau / Amato. Somehow turns a motorik melodic pattern and a gently skittering electronic beat into a piece with the heart of an Album Leaf piece. An impressive transformation.
9. “Endearment” – Mixtaped Monk. The frighteningly prolific Arka Sengupta delivers prog and its sub-genres most of the time, but this opener to Kaleidoscopic Desires is a pensive piece of delicate post-rock with vibes from the Indian subcontinent. It’s tender and complex.
10. “A Tu Lado” – Dos Santos. My obsession with Bomba Estereo has gotten me very interested in alt-Latinx work. This is a compelling piece of work in that genre, fusing rhythms, tempos, and tones in an evocative and engaging way.
11. “Orb Weaver” – Natalie Jane Hill. Elegant, free flowing, and yet speedy, this folk track balances tensions deftly. Hill’s lovely vocal performance caps off the experience.