2016 in review: The Art of the EP


The EP is often overlooked when it comes year-end retrospectives, but this format can provide us with some very special musical moments and here is a selection of the most memorable of such I enjoyed in 2016 presented in alphabetical order. It simply would not have been the same year in music without each of these outstanding recordings (for me at least). 

Clem Leek – Two Pianos


This lovely introspective and intimate set of pieces is the first in a two-part series,  Leek wrote this music for two players and recorded both parts himself. The idea was to create an almost seamless mixture of the two parts, giving the impression of one player.

Dustin O’Halloran – 3 Movements [1631 Recordings]


The 1631 Recordings label launched quickly out of the gate in 2016 and never slowed down, but the quality of the recordings only seemed to get better as the year progressed. One of the last digital releases of the year was this little gem by Dustin O’Halloran (A Winged Victory For the Sullen) which will appear on vinyl in 2017 along with a set of five pieces by Hauschka.

Hakobune – Moraine [Adhesive Sounds]


Moraines are accumulations of soil and rock that travel on the surface of glaciers and are left behind when they melt and recede. They are dramatic and sometimes desolate vistas. Ambient drone master Hakobune conveys this musically in two stunning movements, the first featuring a vocal layer reminding the listener that there hidden forces at work in the movement and shaping of these glacial land forms while the second surveys their vast and imposing surroundings giving a sense of stillness and rugged beauty.

Hauschka – 5 Movements [1631 Recordings]


One of the pioneers of the prepared piano, Volker Bertelmann offers this tidy set of delightful pieces which feature his sprightly rhythmic inventions tempered by an introspective mood, which turns out to be a most pleasing balance. This is the other side of the aforementioned vinyl split release with Dustin O’Halloran due out in autumn of 2017.

JP Hartnett – 8 [1631 Recordings]


One of the earlier offerings in 1631 Recordings flood of releases that I found especially entrancing. The fluid playing sparingly embellished with atmospheric electronics had a particularly spellbinding effect with an immersive stream-of-consciousness vibe.

Lorenzo Balloni – 創生の最果て (the farthest ends of creation)


If I follow the concept Balloni laid out for this recording, the idea was to let his surroundings sculpt and shape this long form composition rather than start from a blank canvas of infinite possibilities. He incorporates field recordings capture in Tokyo and the surrounding countryside with gentle, thoughtful drones thus creating a unique kind of conversation in which the music listens as much as it is listened to.  A fascinating and very pleasant journey.

Lucy Claire – Collaborations No. 2 [This Is It Forever]


Features two alumni from the first volume in the series (singer/songwriter Alev Lenz, and violinist Marie Schreerand introduces vocalist Yuri Kono to the fold. Each of these artists co-composes and performs a beautiful modern classical composition which are then treated to a series of atmospheric reworks by electronic musicians which this time around include Tom Adams, Will Samson, ALMA (Pete Lambrou & Ciaran Morahan), and worriedaboutsatan (Gavin Miller & Thomas Ragsdale). Bursting with poetic beauty, impeccable performances, and evocative sound craft that will captivate anyone who takes the time to listen.

Mike Vass – The Dead Stations [Unroofed Recordings]


A fine soundtrack written by Mike Vass to accompany a show conceived & written by Charlotte Hathaway. The musicians who help Vass bring his compositions to life are Yoann Mylonakis (piano) and Mairi Campbell (viola & violin) with support from Euan Burton (double & electric bass) and Scott Mackay (drums) as they work together to weave folk, jazz, & modern classical elements into an enchanting listening experience.

The New Honey Shade – Sightless Seasons [Uknown Tone]


Music you can touch as well as hear was the objective of four short works created by Mark Kuykendall, aka The New Honey Shade, for an installation that was part of a unique art show in Tulsa curated by local artist Kelsey Karper.  Kuykendall then constructed extended remixes of each piece to create this captivating album. The title of each track is taken from the words of Yoko Ono: “Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”

Roberto Attanasio – Abyss [1631 Recordings]


This was the second of two releases on 1631 Recordings this year by the composer & sound engineer based in Rome. Another Past was composed on an old piano found in a garage .The equally charming and slightly more abbreviated Abyss finds Attanasio exploring the unique characteristics of a different piano applying careful muting and recording techniques and his own compositional style to spin a cocoon of melancholic beauty that stands out in what is becoming a crowded field.

Ruhe + Lee Chapman – Studies: Rothko [Unknown Tone]


Two friends on different continents each created a piece of music inspired by the paintings of Mark Rothko – Bryan Rhue (USA) after viewing an exhibition at the Portland Art Museum and Lee Chapman (Latvia) after acquiring a print which he hung above his piano. When the two friends realized the shared inspiration, they collaborated on a new Rothko-inspired sketch which, along with the respective solo compositions, comprises this set released in December by Unknown Tone. Ephemeral electroacoustic minimalism at its finest.

Slow Meadow – Lachrymosa / Some Familar


Matthew Kidd followed up the wonderful eponymous debut as Slow Meadow with a number of singles and EPs throughout the year of the same lustrous quality & wistful beauty. I chose the first one of a series of four singles with B-sides that began in the spring to feature here, but picking & choosing is not the prescription recommend here – you’ll want them all. On a side note, I had the opportunity to see some of this music performed live by Matt along with cellist Aimee Norris and violinist Joanna Becker. at an intimate show at Union Arts in Washington DC and it was something I’ll long remember. Here’s looking forward to much more to come from this project.

Tambour – Chapitre II {Moderna Records]


Almost exactly a year after the debut of Chapitre I on Moderna Records comes Chaptire II , which neatly forms and instant diptych with its predecessor. Once again the quartet is Rose Frappier and Audrée Leduc on violin, Mélanie Venditti on viola, and Anaïs Constantin on cello and features french horn player Pietro Amato (Arcade Fire, Amon Tobin, Torngat) on the affecting closer “Farewell Museum”. Are more chapters to come in this lovely series? We can only hope so. In the meantime, Tambour has given us plenty to savor already.

Thomas Ragsdale – Dear Arucaria


A loving homage to the late crossword setter John Graham known as Araucaria to readers of The Guardian. The construction of the EP mirrors its cryptic subject matter, six tracks composed of the exact same elements created from treated guitar and piano, each given a slightly different arrangement and treatment. The music is tender, eloquent and affecting, commensurate with the gentle character that the beloved puzzle-maker appeared to have been.

Tim Linghaus – Vhoir [Moderna Records]


Linghaus’ graceful piano lines possess the same restrained, melancholic cadence of Satie’s Gymnopédies while resonant strings provide the narrative and emotional exposition to potent effect. Lovely as the music is on its own, it is immeasurably enhanced by impeccably crafted ambient and textural elements which create for the listener the illusion of being the unseen, quiet observer in each of the changing scenes. It may be short, but Vhoir is a pure balm for the ears.

Will Samson – Lua [12k]


When a recent facial injury sustained while relocating from the UK to Portugal forced him to temporarily put singing aside, Samson decided to extemporize with tape recording equipment and purely instrumental motifs and ended up creating this most serene and salutary album. It is hard to imagine a better example of the healing power of music or a better tonic for the weary soul.