2017 In Review: A Sense of Place and Time

Each of these albums is conceptually, thematically or musically connected to a particular place or time – 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… 

Altars Altars – Before We Dive [Auasca]


Speaking both literally and metaphorically, this is an immersive montage of  weightless, aqueous drones inspired by marine diving. The album shows a warmer and more idyllic side to Moritz Leppers’ work as he manages to fully capture a sense of the tranquility, wonder, and timelessness that draws us all to the sea in youth and memory.

Andrew Tasselmyer – Resonant Moments [Shimmering Moods]


“My reflection doesn’t reveal frozen, sequential timestamps; rather, these experiences live, breathe, and resonate even more today than they did when they occurred. Time collapses….” A collection of field recordings gathered from a year of traveling around the world combined with the kind of emotive and densely layered drones you might find on a Hotel Neon record makes this an evocative and very personal audio document with universal appeal.

Chiehei Hatakeyama – Mirage [Room40]


Inspired by a trip to Turkey, Hatakeyama traverses the architecture, streets, bazaars, and waterways of the region as if in  a dream state – an ocean, a river, a starlit sky, a bus terminal, and a cathedral. Voices rise from a busy street corner into an ethereal chorus. We are haunted by the sound of a distant train whistle, a hazy mirage, and the stillness in the silence of the day. Never does a clear picture of any object emerge as we are exploring not the things themselves, but the spaces around & between them, their contours, aura, and resonances.

Clem Leek – America [YEN]


A masterful musical sketch artist with a penchant for concise forms, Leek enchants here with a dozen colorful vignettes of an expansive, filmic quality that reflect his personal transition from Europe to the United States. Lyrical piano lines and layers of strings, voice, & electronics to convey wide-eyed wonder and the willing embrace of both personal change & new opportunities so well symbolized by Chris Keenan’s striking rural highway scene gracing the album’s cover.

Emilía – Down to the Sadness River [Rottenman Editions]


This collaboration between Lee Yi & Vanesa Jimenez (aka Meneh Peh) alludes to a painful life” and “a suffering past, tragedy and the slow search of the long road to stillness” and, while the artists respect their own privacy regarding the details, there are poignant clues in the song titles and there is certainly nothing held back in the haunting intensity of the music that chronicles a difficult journey remembered. Deeply personal, beautifully constructed, and emotionally vulnerable, this record is likely to leave a mark on whoever takes the time to listen.

Endless Melancholy – The Vacation [Hidden Vibes]


Dedicated to the memory of author Ray Bradbury whose 1963 short story of the same name served as inspiration, this collection of thoughtfully crafted, haunting drones saturated in analog warmth beautifully capture the surreal vistas and cosmic pathos of a family visiting the deserted cities of a desolated future Earth.

Endurance – Echoic Architecture [Polar Seas Recordings]


I was struck by both the scope and filigree of these sleek, textured drones inspired by architectural themes created by Joshua Stefane, a Canadian researcher currently residing in Nara, Japan. A captivating sonic exploration of space, perspective, light and shadow from the translucent structures of “Glass Towers” to the clicking & whirring of “Automata” and the efflorescent final coda “The Entire City”.

Hammock – Columbus [Original Soundtrack]


Hammock’s soundtrack or the critically acclaimed indie film “Columbus” is intrinsically tied to its namesake, a quiet mecca of modernist architecture where a tender story unfolds. Pensive and restrained, the music perfectly suited to the nuanced narrative and aloof minimalism of the architectural forms around which it revolves. The tracks titles themselves are referential of the figures whose work permeates the visuals of the film, names such as Eero Saarinen, Richard Meier, and I.M. Pei.

Kate Carr – From A Wind Turbine To Vultures (And Back) [Flaming Pines]


A fascinating sonic transect of the mountain facing the Spanish villa where she was staying for an artistic residency, Kate Carr allows the listener to sense altitude, wind speed, the texture and density of the ground underfoot, as well as the proximity, composition and resonance of surrounding objects in a constantly evolving narrative. Even seated safe and warm in a cozy chair, by the end you may feel the need to scrape the mud from your boots and warm yourself by the fire in the afterglow of the journey.

Last Days – Seafaring [n5MD]


Drawing inspiration from shipping routes to Ernest Shackleton and his crew’s ill-fated voyage on the Endurance, this charmingly eclectic album by Northumberland native Graham Richardson as Last Days casts a wide net as it paints a variety of portraits & vignettes of maritime life both modern and historical. Imagine sitting by a crackling fire reading tales of the sea with the sound of the surf pounding the shore at a safe distance and the sharp scent of ocean brine carried on the breeze and you get an idea of the places to which this music can transport you.

Slow Meadow -Costero [Hammock Music]


“What does it mean to remember one’s favorite coastlines, when my memory wants me to forget the chemical plants, the fluorescent lights, the stench?”…  Following a stunningly beautiful debut record and a lengthy string of EPs and singles, Matt Kidd took his Slow Meadow project to the Sonic Ranch studio on the border of the Rio Grande and Mexico to create a new full-length album strongly rooted in a sense of the surrounding place which embraces the towns and coastlines where he grew up, the memories, the experiences, and the transformations he has witnessed over the years. Woven together in a highly evocative and seamless narrative Costero offers a wistful, almost novel-like experience set to its own soundtrack.

Sound Meccano and Jura Laiva – Salty Wind and Inner Fire [Eilean Rec.]


What stands out about this recording is its exceptionally picturesque sound design. You can almost feel the warmth from the crackle of the fire, the prickly sting of the salty breeze, or the pelt of cold rain on the back of your neck. In the background there is the churning wash of the surf, the lapping of water against a rocking boat, seagulls cawing over head or a howling gust of wind. Deftly accompanied by a variety of folk motifs and narrative voices in the form of e-bow guitar, violin, cello, this album and a pair of headphones are all that is needed to completely transport you to another place.

Richard Skelton – Towards a Frontier [Corbel Stone Press]


Towards A Frontier is a significant new collection of music, short films, photography and visual art by Richard Skelton, an outcome of his participation in a unique 5-year multi-disciplinary project called Frontiers in Retreat. This particular album recorded in the mountains of East Iceland between 2014 and 2016, takes the listener on an immersive 66-minute journey through the seasonal shifts of a very particular landscape.  It stands on its own as a rich and absorbing listening experience, but can also be seen as a gateway to the diverse and compelling body of work Skelton has developed around this project and its ecological concerns.

Scott Tuma – No Greener Grass [Dismal Niche]


This 25-song cycle by pioneering alt-country and experimental folk guitarist Scott Tuma is perfectly framed by Dismal Niche’s liner notes as “a deep-rooted and photographic song cycle unfolding like a palimpsest of American roots music…revenant waltzes and translucent veils of layered light, capturing a feeling that is both haunting and otherworldly but also keenly familiar”.  At times shimmering with delicate beauty, at others as dusty & sepia-toned as a turn-of-century photograph, No Greener Grass is a sprawling work that evokes a litany of inner & outer landscapes with undeniable authenticity.

Stefano Guzzetti – The Japanese Notebooks [Stella Recordings]


Accompanied by a string trio, Stefano Guzetti offers some truly beautiful music here in the service of his personal interpretation of Igor Tuveri‘s graphic novel after which the album is titled. Through the dual lenses of European modern classical sensibilities and a traveler’s nostalgia, the album manages to capture the sense of exotic mystery and gentle humanity of its subject. If you missed the gorgeously-packaged limited CD edition which is now sold out, you owe it to yourself to at least peruse the accompanying art work on Stefano’s Bandcamp page where you can still obtain a digital copy.

Taylor Deupree & Marcus Fischer – Lowlands [IIKKI / 12K]


Originally released to accompany Ester Vonplon’s photographic impressions of calving glaciers and melting ice taken while traveling the Arctic ocean in a three-masted sailing vessel, Lowlands finds Deupree and Fischer demonstrating the potency of their electroacoustic alchemy as they saturate our ears with warm, granular loops and sonic ephemera, mesmerizing in their nuance & filigree even as they are stilled to a near quiescence. This visual & musical dialog provides a glimpse of world simultaneously real and imagined where time passes differently even as its former grandeur slowly fragments and melts away.