The year in review begins with a new type of list for 2016, but one I very much hope to maintain going forward. Each of these albums is conceptually, thematically or musically connected to a particular place – personal narratives, journeys remembered, or depictions of landscape real or imagined. Each one takes the listener on a journey and immerses them in a unique place or moment in time. One might say they represent the very essence of stationary traveling, which makes them quite to special to this listener in particular…
Olafur Arnalds – Island Songs
A“living musical film” documented in real-time in which Arnalds traveled to 7 locations in Iceland collaborating with local composers & musicians at each stop, Island Songs is an intimate and endearing portrait of the island not as landscape, but as a place of community, connection, collective memory, and shared creativity. A complete film is forthcoming, but no need to wait to experience the music which is sublime.
Bethan Kellough – Aven
The word ‘Aven’ refers to an underground shaft that leads upward from the roof of a cave passage and it was a such a location in Iceland where Kellough recorded the sounds of underground geothermal activity escaping to the surface that became the basis of this utterly immersive album which weaves together vivid field recordings with lush, melodic string passages into a magnificent narrative of imagined worlds full of mystery and awesome beauty.
Siavash Amini & Zenjungle – Topolgy of Figments
A musical map of fictive landscapes and a work of fearsome beauty by two of the most potent and expressive voices in experimental ambient & drone music on the scene today. The closing track which meshes field recordings of Zenjungle’s native Athens and Amini’s Tehran into one “imaginary and unruled, yet explored city” is just stunning.
Fiona Brice – Postcards From
Having enhanced the music of many well-known artists with her orchestral arrangements and performances on violin, classically trained composer Fiona Brice creates her first full-length album of her own music, a set of musical postcards from locations around the world performed as duets with Vicky Matthews on cello. No static portraits of the places they reference, these expressive pieces are reflections on the experience of being there and are thus full of life, movement, and a wide range of emotion.
Tobias Hellkvist/Dag Rosenqvist/Kate Carr/Peter Olsén – Tiny Portraits
The Tiny Portraits series on Flaming Pines is a wonderful project and it closed out 2016 with a particularly beguiling quartet of tracks featuring locations in Sweden by Tobias Hellkvist (‘5 AM’), Dag Rosenqvise (‘Keillers Park’), Kate Carr (‘Perhaps It Was Just a Dream About Water Lillies’), and Peter Olsén (‘eat the world of yesterday to make room for today’). To make the most of this, a reading of the artist’s background notes, headphones, and a quiet space to listen are imperative.
Robert Curgenven – Climata
Comprised of recordings captured in 15 of James Turrell’s Skyspaces located in 9 different countries, Climata is a fascinating sonic experiment based on the movement of air through and around these unique structures and Curgenven’s “slowly changing microtonal interventions”. With three recordings of the exact same length on each of two discs, any piece from disc one can be played simultaneously with any piece from disc creating hours of captivating listening combinations.
Drombeg – Earthworks
Fulfilling the promise of his lovely debut EP Notes From the Ocean Floor, Thom Brookes delivered one of the most beautiful records of the year on the project’s first full-length outing, a melding of ambient , cinematic, and modern classical elements into a soundtrack that conveys all the wild and mysterious beauty of his native Irish landscapes and the imprint made by those who live upon them.
Piano Interrupted – Landscapes of the Unfinished
A vibrant new record from the duo of pianist Tom Hodge and “electronician” Franz Kirmann which combines the sophisticated mélange of modern classical, jazz, and electronica that made The Unified Field so enjoyable with the raw immediacy of the live performances and then stirs the pot with environmental sounds & guest musicians from Dakar, Senegal where Kirmann was raised. Bold, taut, and mesmerizing.
Francesco Giannico and Giulio Aldinucci – Agoraphonia
A neologism coined by the two Italian sound artists, Agoraphonia was created from field recordings of town squares and public places from around the world masterfully blended with textured ambient layers to give the listener a sense of perspective as well as a sense of place. Each track finds an ideal balance between immersion and detached observation as sounds are extracted from a cacophonous urban sea into narrative strands making which transforms the album into a compelling cultural document.
Celer – Two Days and One Night
No one freezes memories and life experiences into musical amber quite like Celer who is at the peak of his powers on this album in which he retraces the journey of his great uncle who drowned in 1984 off the coast of Tunisia. Here long juxtaposes context-setting field recordings with mellifluous billowing drones of wistful beauty, especially the 15+ minutes of meditative bliss that is “In all deracinated things”.
Fedrico Durand – Jardin de inveirno
Imagine the frosted beauty and frozen stillness of a winter garden or, better yet, let Federico Durand imagine it for you on this pristine and delicate collection of pieces recorded by the artist in an old house in the mountains of La Cumbre in Argentina. A few minutes of listening envelops you in wondrous quietude and you’ll swear you can almost see your breath and feel the delicate prickle of the chilly air on your skin. Exquisite.
Spheruleus – Obsolarium
Where others may have seen the old Sleaford Bass Maltings brewery complex in Lincolnshire as a derelict monument to a bygone industrial age, Harry Towell saw musical inspiration which he brings to life in this unique sonic portrait which follows the trajectory from its proud beginnings to to its eventual decline and decay. Both a fascinating narrative and a haunting reflection.
Hotel Neon – Remnants
Inspired by a road trip around Iceland’s fabled Ring Road, Remnants hints at the presence of vast, glacial landscapes, but these patient, fluidic drones are more reflective of the inner state that the journey clearly evoked as the band builds on the solid foundation of Andrew & Michael Tasselmyer’s stellar debut with the welcome addition of Steven Kemner on guitar. The music alone earns its place here, but the bespoke packaging of the limited CD edition from Fluid Audio takes it to another level. Very special indeed.
The volume settings folder – Laguna
Described by the artist as “the birth of a love in a certain space-time, a long scene set in the Venice laguna, mid 1980s until nowadays”, Laguna is perhaps his most nuanced work to date, acute in its stillness and sense of wistful nostalgia and delicately wrapped and delicately swaddled in a warm crackle and gauzy layers of texture. A lovingly crafted inward journey and personal history told through one man’s music
The Green Kingdom- Harbor
The harbor of this album is an imagined place, but a blissful one that welcomes any listener – intimate, isolated, and warmed by echoes of surf and shoegaze (the title is an homage to the Cocteau Twins’ Echoes in a Shallow Bay) where the lulling rhythms and textures smoothed to a glossy patina create a halcyon mood right through to the final coda aptly entitled “Endless Blue Drift”.
Kinbrae – Tidal Patterns
Something of a musical diary of life on the remote Isle of Coll in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides,Tidal Patterns makes a fine debut for this project from brothers Andrew & Michael Truscott, one of only a few among the plethora of releases on the recently launched 1631 Recordings to see a physical release. The compositional framework of the piano is adorned with a nice variety of instrumentation, field recordings, & electonics, but the album really soars during its uplifting brass sections.
Great picks, love the themed idea! Wishing you great music in 2017. Richard Allen, A Closer Listen
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Thanks for the kind words as well as the support & inspiration, Richard. Looking forward to digging into the ACL lists very soon!