2016 in review: Journeys in Acoustic, Primitive, & Experimental Folk


This list is short, but particularly sweet. A dozen memorable albums released this year of particularly delicate construction and pastoral feel featuring acoustic guitar, primitive, and experimental folk music. 

Å Asher-Yates – Mother’s Garden [Shimmering Moods]


“I wanted it to sound like I just sat down somewhere in a bed of grass or in a forest or on a mountain and just hit the record button.” Anthony Asher-Yates melds wistful acoustic melodies, drowsy but heartfelt vocals, and pastoral field recordings into a tender kaleidoscopic reverie which does just what he set out to do. An inwards journey with a very refreshing en plein air feel to it.

Cyril Secq / Orla Wren – Branches [Dronarivm]


A duet between acoustic strings and processing, field recordings, edits and organic arrangements” – Cyril Secq’s guitar passages are beautifully articulated and sumptuously resonant with shades of color added in the form of harmonium and piano. Orla Wren then interacts with them and inscribes them with a daedal filigree of instruments, tones, and field recordings until a complete dialog and narrative emerges. An unplanned collaboration that turned into musical alchemy.

Gareth Dickson – Orwell Court


“A quiet Scottish melancholy underpinned by a grace and ethereal purity paired with a unique impression where the delicacy of Nick Drake mixes with the openness and space Brian Eno” – it would be difficult to improve on that assessment of Dickson’s music from 12k label’s liner notes for Orwell Court. Arcadian guitar lines so mesmerizing it would be easy to overlook their intricacy and hushed vocals that drift in and out on the melodic tides Dickson generates make this a particularly captivating listen. 

Kristin Thora Haraldsdottir – Solo Acoustic Vol. 14 [VDSQ]


A classically trained musician and composer from Iceland, Kristin Thora Haraldsdottir had never before recorded with the acoustic guitar until being encouraged to do so by Vin Du Select Qualitite  label founder Steve Lowenthal and the result is this totally unpretentious and captivating record which became volume 14 in the VDSQ solo acoustic series. A beautiful experiment well suited to contemplation and repeated listening which should appeal equally to ambient music listeners as well.

Lake Mary / M Sage – Wolfwalkers in Daylight [Patient Sounds]


A collaboration between Chaz Prymek and Matthew Sage under the respective monikers of Lake Mary and M. Sage, the partnership here feels anything but forced or contrived. The common purpose and musical telepathy between these two artists is impressive as is their ability to invent on the fly while staying true to the narrative throughout. Exhibit A – the spellbinding ten-plus minute daydream “Slow Wolf”.

Light of Woods – Field Notes [Other Songs]


Featuring tacks originally composed for a pair of documentary film, this solo project of Raleigh, North Carolina based multi-instrumentalist M. Grig. is a beautiful rustic idyll framed by a cinematic eye. A particular highlight is the dreamily melancholic ‘Foxes’ which reminded me a bit of the Arcadian aural webs spun by July Skies on their classic album Dreaming of Spires. Comes as close to a healing jaunt to the countryside as one can get.

Max Ananyev – Communication [Preserved Sound]


Ananyev uses his pristine guitar lines to evoke pastoral sounds, but nature as presented here is not entirely bucolic or simply a pleasant urban escape. It is vibrant, complex, and bustling with life and overlapping rhythms. It is resplendent, stately, and even playful. That said, Communication drives home a serious reminder to not let the sterility of a mechanized, technogenic society, with its relentless emphasis on predictability and productivity, blind us to the beauty, harmony, and complexity of nature.

Nevada Greene / Scott Tuma – Ragged Hollow


A beguiling split between rural-Midwestern instrumental quartet Nevada Greene and pioneering alt-country and ambient guitarist Scott Tuma. The mood is languid, dreamy, and distinctly pastoral. “Earthquake Hollow” with its bright ambling guitars, flute, violin, and birdsong feels like a gentle morning awakening while Tuma’s “All the Ragged Glory” lulls the listener into a wistful torpor with a sleepy anthem that fades like a desert sunset.

øjeRum – Væv


A glistening gossamer web spun from reminiscence and longing. The warp and weft of memory woven into a translucent sonic tapestry. The aesthetic of the collage artist is very much in evidence here, but, as on would expect from a fine collage, the remnants of many things unify to form something new & compelling and in this case, quite beautiful. The pervading mood is wistful and forlorn, but the copious use of acoustic guitar lends the music a sylvan warmth and the soft glow of dappled light as it turns in the slowly whirring clockworks of memory.

Sarah Louise – Solo Acoustic Vol. 12 [VDSQ]


I first heard Sarah Louise‘s mesmerizing explorations with the 12-string guitar on her debut Field Guide which was originally released on cassette by another essential imprint for lovers of avant folk and acoustic music, Scissor Tail EditionsHere her work sounds even more radiant and refined as she continues to organically fuse a world of folk influences and a drone aesthetic into her distinct sound which somehow never loses its distinctly Appalachian flavor.

Seabuckthorn – I Could See the Smoke [Lost Tribe Sound]


Under the name Seabuckthorn, UK guitarist Andy Cartwright has fashioned a strikingly unique style using 12-string and resonator guitars finger-picked with masterful agility and surprisingly genuine Americana flavor or bow-drawn to create droning, multi-layered atmospheres of timeless, exotic character and near cinematic scope.

Western Skies Motel – Settlers / Generations [Lost Tribe Sound]


What makes the music of René Gonzàlez Schelbeck so captivating is not his technical ability, though he seems to possess that in abundance, but the way he uses it to create compelling narratives and immersive soundscapes. He also presents a deceptively complex milieu that bears the imprint of many influences and experiences – Americana, British folk, European modern classical, ambient drone, and even echoes of post-rock and noise simmering beneath the surface. Thematically related and simultaneously released, the full-length Settlers and the EPGenerations together form a diptych framed in a weathered, minimalist sensibility that satisfies much in the same way as a Hemingway or Steinbeck novel – not a word, or in this case a note, is ever wasted.