Last updated on December 9, 2022
Joseph Decosimo – While You Were Slumbering. Decosimo is a banjo player/fiddler with an ethnomusicology background, and his remit is rare Appalachian tunes. Some of the songs are ones he has uncovered (“Will Davenport’s Tune”), while some are unusual settings of more well-known work (“Man of Constant Sorrow,” “Come Thou Fount”). The recordings are immaculately engineered and immediately engaging, showcasing the wonderful atmosphere that Decosimo and his collaborators create.
The highlight is “Trouble,” a heartbreaking and hopeful tune that points to a truth realized here and/or in the next life: “trouble trouble / there’s trouble everywhere / trouble trouble / there’s trouble all around / but Lord, Lord / trouble can’t last always.” I’ve listened to “Trouble” a lot this year, and it’s brought me a lot of comfort.
Carly Comando – The Calm Before. Comando is a pianist with a keen sense of melody. The Calm Before stretches and expands that melodic vision, adding in complexities and convivialities. The strings arrangements are particularly impressive, amping up the emotional resonance of the pieces (“The Storm,” the passionate “Green Song,” the wonderful “Constellation”). “The End” lets the strings take front stage, providing a rousing and elegaic end to the set. The solo piano pieces shine as well. It’s a beautiful album from beginning to end.
Gold Panda – The Work. I love Gold Panda’s quirky electro. This new collection of pieces shows a more mature and relaxed Gold Panda: less anxious skittering and more warm expansiveness, but without losing the trademark stuttering rhythms. The modified vocal pattern of “The Corner” is an example of chilling out: much more of the vocal sample is available and not modified as much as previous versions of Gold Panda might have gone for.
Alternately, consider the opening duo of “Swimmer” and “The Dream” for a tidy thesis statement on what the record is going for. “I Spiral” and “The Want” evoke classic Gold Panda sounds, but with twists. The beat-less “Arima” is a flute-laden ambient piece that points in new directions. It’s a wonderful album.
Gold Lamé – GOING. As an avowed fan of Todd Goldstein output (Harlem Shakes, ARMS, tg), this ambient/composition/post-rock collection (with Matt LeMay) showcases all the things I love about Goldstein’s work: off-kilter arrangements with a never-failing sense of melody and a propensity to switch trains of thought suddenly. Hit up “CASCADE” and “THUMP” for (post?) rock, “MONSTERA” for composition, and “STRING” and “METAL” for ambient. There’s a lot of ideas packed into this one, and I hope the duo continues their collaboration.
Andy Thorn – Songs of the Sunrise Fox. Thorn’s banjo compositions are split between solo jaunts and full-band jams. The solo jaunts (“The Morning Light,” “Barry’s Bounce,” “Stork’s Bite”) are autumnal and delightful, no matter whether they the melodies are happy or more restrained. The full band pieces build on Thorn’s energy to deliver deeply satisfying compositions (“Aesop Mountain,” “Monarch Morning,” “Fox’s Fancy”). I put this on as pre-show music at a house show for a singer/songwriter, and it fit perfectly.
Earth Room – Earth Room. Ezra Feinberg, Robbie Lee & John Thayer combine ambience, groove, and improvisational jazz in this six-song collection; my interest strays toward the rhythm-heavy side. The pulsing, evocative “Biophony” sounds like a track Feinberg might have made on his own, while the opening of “Bridges of Waves” and the majority of “Within the Field” have the same vibes. Beyond my fascination with Feinberg’s work, the heavily meditative ambient work of “Owl Light” is a highlight. The more frantic improvisational bits are not my cup of tea, but if you like jazz and ambient equally, this would be pretty impressive.
Space Between Clouds – Spiral. Spiral is no shorter than 375 minutes. The five ambient drones here come in two lengths each: a 20-minute and 55-minute version. The moods range from ominous (“The Crossroads in E minor”) to expectant (“Ripe Fruit in Ab major”) to sun-dappled (“Sun Tea in G major”). They are each beautiful in their way; based on what you like in your sonic background, you’ll probably know whether you want to go for the 20 minutes of G major or 55 minutes of E minor first.
Sophia Subbayya Vastek – In Our Softening. Solo piano work that retains a strong air of mystery throughout. “The Seas That Made Us” is dramatic and exciting, while “Soft Fascination” is representative of the lovely moods throughout. For fans of Ben Cosgrove.
Oort Smog – Every Motherfucker Is Your Brother. A moody, rowdy, chaotic, thunderous sax-and-drums display. Fans of Colin Stetson’s fractured, dystopian pieces will find interesting and impressive work here.