2017 in review: Journeys in Post Rock, Experimental Folk, & Electronica

A vibrant and eclectic selection where genres never define of confine, but only serve as reference points for those of us with inadequate words to describe the music. 

Astrïd & Rachel Grimes – Through the Sparkle [Gizeh Records]


A thoroughly enjoyable and eclectic collaboration here between pianist & composer Rachel Grimes (Rachel’s) who traveled from Kentucky to Nantes to work with ensemble Astrïd at their studio in the French countryside The mood is pastoral, yet sophisticated & cinematic with more than a touch of melancholy. The pieces often begin with a tentative dance between the piano, guitar, strings, and woodwinds only to suddenly sprout wings and soar when you least expect it.

Balmorhea – Clear Language[Western Vinyl]


The band’s first full-length studio record in nearly five years is a lucid and intimate gem of an album that gently but resolutely repudiates bombast and fractiousness in favor of simplicity, warmth, and personal connection. In its elegant wordless elocution, Clear Language speaks volumes if we are willing to simply listen.

Available on digital, CD, & vinyl LP (some editions may be sold out)

Chuck Johnson – Balsams[VDSQ]


This is pedal steel like you’ve never heard before – abstract and vaporous, infused with light, elongated, shimmering, and weightless. Johnson sets the instrument free of all boundaries and expectations, setting it aloft languid and unfettered to waft & wander across wide open spaces with only the echoes of its haunting, metallic arcs as an earthly ballast. Can authentic Americana and abstract ambient music go together? Balsams is a beautiful experiment that proves they absolutely can and it will make you feel better for having listened to it.

Available on digital, CD, & vinyl LP 

Glories – There Is No Stillness


A big-hearted, breathtakingly beautiful album imbued with everything so many of us loved about Glories – the immersive ambient layers, the affecting melodicism, and the cathartic crescendos – while they sound more vibrant and transcendent than ever. Glories fans will no doubt look back on this one with bittersweet feelings and a tear in the eye reflecting upon the band’s sudden and untimely loss of guitarist Zachary Cooner who said about the record, “We hope this record will evoke a meaningful, emotional response from the listener. A main focus of our music is connecting with the listener on a more universal level. By abandoning the written word, the listener is left to conjure their own interpretations and meaning from the music.” In Zach’s case, that connection was all too brief, but a valuable and inspiring one while we were privileged to have it.

Available on digital and CD

Hauschka – What If [Temporary Residence]


Volker Bertelmann, aka Hauschka, is a sonic architect with an uncanny sense of melody and rhythm which he uses to shape and mold a plethora of sounds from prepared & programmed piano and electronics into complex, elegant structures where every note and every sound has context and meaning. The end result is an album that is as thought-provoking and emotionally relatable as it is viscerally satisfying. An ingenious and powerful statement from a distinctive artistic voice.

Available on digital, CD, & vinyl LP (some editions may be sold out)

Heron – You Are Here Now


Like a rush of fresh mountain air on the post rock scene Heron delivers a grand debut album bursting with melodic invention, raw energy, and arrangements that demonstrate careful attention to space, tone, and texture. The band make the most of their four piece format which allows enough room for each musician’s contribution to stand out but has enough power to swell into huge wall of sound moments. This is big, beautiful, uplifting stuff made to be listened to loud and often.

Available on digital and CD

Hidden Orchestra – Dawn Chorus [Tru Thoughts]


Words like ‘exotic’ and ‘evocative’ are barely adequate to describe this expansive new offering from Joe Acheson and company that spans the world even as it travels through time. The album is built around a collection of birdsong and other field recordings captured over many years in diverse locations around the UK and abroad, but so much more is woven into the music as it also draws on ideas and extracts from tracks that Acheson has written over the last twenty years utilizing session excerpts from core band members Poppy Ackroyd, Tim Lane & Jamie Graham as well as harpist Mary MacMaster, cellist Su-a Lee, and clarinettist Floex.  Especially remarkable are the two 11-plus minute showpiece tracks – “Wingbeats” and “East London Street”.

Available on digital, CD, & vinyl LP (some editions may be sold out)

I/O – Anyone, Anywhere


Three years after their debut, the Boston-based instrumental rock outfit returns with no dimming of their original bright spark of infectious energy, but with a cleaner and more refined sound. That along with the addition of strings & brass as well as a few ambient interludes all adds up to a solid follow-up album that feels fresh & open from start to finish. A great companion for road trips.

Available on digital only

Leah Kardos – Rococochet [Bigo & Twigetti]


From the title to the music, there is a wink & a nudge and a playful spirit to Rococochet but the album puts on a serious display of inventiveness and keen musicianship, especially on the part of Kardos as she contributes piano, synths, mellotron, vibraphone, marimba, & glockenspiel, and backing vocals with equal doses of panache and beauty on this colorful, genre-hopping collection of tunes.

Available on digital only

The Green Kingdom – The North Wind and the Sun [Lost Tribe Sound]


Under the moniker of The Green Kingdom, Michael Cottone is best known for a breadth of electronic music from spanning dub, drone, and ambient soundscapes, so it must have come as something of a surprise when Ryan Keane of Lost Tribe Sound invited him to create a record almost exclusively from acoustic sources. It turned out to be an inspired decision yielding a warm, idyllic album that spins elements of Americana and verdant British folk into a mesmeric web that resonates and glistens with light.

Available on digital and vinyl LP

Martyn Heyne – Electric Intervals [7K!]


Heyne brings a wealth of stage and studio experience to his debut record which seeks to encourage an “active mode of listening that deciphers and makes connections”.  Full of sparse elegance and intimate warmth and featuring some fine guitar work, Electric Intervals mesmerizes with simplicity and restraint, meticulous attention to intonation, a gift for melody, and an enthusiastic embrace of spontaneity and unimpeded creative flow.

Available on digital, CD, & vinyl LP (some editions may be sold out)

Okada – Floating Away From the World [n5MD]


Gregory Pappas offers up a quartet of fluid & emotive long form works that fuse ambient textures & modern classical elements with downtempo beats and ethereal vocals in a distinctly overcast mood; pure bliss for even the most casual pluviophile. These tracks meander through the pattering downpours slowly building toward hypnotic beats haunted by dreamy, dulcet vocals that echo like a distant memory loop. The final coda, “Finding Peace Through Nonexistence”, is an amazing piece, a lush and immersive twenty-two minute opus of real cinematic and emotional depth.

Available on digital and CD

Penguin Cafe – The Imperfect Sea [Erased Tapes]


“If there is a narrative to the album it’s coming to the acceptance of the imperfections in all aspects of life; moreover, the recognition that these imperfections and tiny randomnesses are in fact what make up the best parts”. – Arthur Jeffes. The playful folk & jazz heritage of Penguin Cafe Orchestra lives on in an altered form as Arthur Jeffes fuses it with modern classical and ambient elements from acoustic sources. The result is measured beauty with a dancing heart and a cinematic eye. An uplifiting and cerebral set that goes easy on the ear.

Available on digital, CD, & vinyl LP (some editions may be sold out)

Portico Quartet – Art in the Age of Automation [Gondwana Records]


The Mercury-prize winning band returns with an intoxicating fourth studio album featuring their signature heady fusion of jazz, electronica, ambient minimalism, and inventive percussion which features innovative use of the hang drum. A colorful, kinetic geometry of sound, Art in the Age of Automation is as exhilarating as it is beautiful.

Available on digital, CD, & vinyl LP 

Saltland – A Common Truth [Constellation Records]


The second album by Montréal cellist and composer Rebecca Foon as Saltland, A Common Truth is a haunting and hopeful plea for a better future and greater consciousness toward the environment. The sounds of analog and processed cellos course, loop, and swirl through the album like a winding river with Foon’s voice blending harmoniously into the flow on many of the tracks. An added highlight here is the collaboration of Warren Ellis (Nick Cave, Dirty Three) is who contributes violin, pump organ and loops to the album’s four stunning instrumental pieces.

Available on digital, CD, & vinyl LP 

Seabuckthorn – Turns [Lost Tribe Sound]


On his third full-length album, guitarist Andy Cartwright adds a new dimension to the peregrine narratives and wide-screen atmospheres he created on I Could See the Smoke and They Haunted Most Thickly to create his most complete artistic statement yet. What makes Turns most alluring is the way its visceral and dramatic elements are tempered with a pastoral warmth that emerges as a welcome new dimension to the Seabuckthorn wheelhouse. Rich, elemental, and masterfully rendered, this is an album that will stand up very well over the course of time.

Available on digital, CD, & vinyl LP 

Slow Heart Music – This Body Is Not Me [Whitelabrecs]


The first thing that strikes you on This Body Is Not Me by Slow Heart Music (aka Ben Rath) are the mellifluous tones that resonate with a sun-soaked warmth from the wooden body of a finely tuned guitar. The songs are brand new yet instantly take on the aura of the timeless and familiar. This subtle sorcery becomes even more impressive when you learn that Rath improvised these pieces, many in a single take, using a second-hand instrument picked up on the cheap. The playing here is articulate, accomplished & assured but that is really secondary to the album’s purity of intent and uncomplicated, Arcadian pleasures.

Available on digital and vinyl-effect CDr

To Destroy A City – Go Mirage [n5MD]


On their third studio record, the Chicago-based band unfurls some of their most stunning sonic tapestries yet along with an inspired new vocal dimension which does no harm whatsoever to their post rock pedigree. Michael Marshall’s slightly hushed, shoegazy vocal style fits the band’s kaleidoscopic sound like a glove as he manages to add a raw immediacy to the songs while seamlessly integrating into the beautifully constructed sonic layers. Go Mirage shakes, shimmers, and soars from start to finish.

Available on digital, CD, & transparent yellow vinyl LP 

Visionary Hours – Beyond the White [Preserved Sound]


Visionary Hours is a project of Hayden Berry who also runs the Preserved Sound label. For Beyond the White he invites a stellar list of collaborators to create an exceptionally bucolic collection of music that sounds like one might dream up if Nick Drake could have made a record with July Skies. Warm, pastoral, dreamy, and soothing. Contributors include Bruno Sanfilippo, Western Skies Motel, Adrian Lane, Isnaj Dui, Unconditional Arms, and more.

Available on digital, CD, & vinyl LP 

Yadayn – Adem


Hear the space that breathes the sea, As if you feel time”

For his fourth album as Yadayn, Belgian musician Gowaart Van Den Bossche recorded the main guitar and ukulele parts as well as a few overdubs for four of the six tracks in a decommissioned telephone exchange building in his native town of Halle while the other two were recorded respectively in the house of his grandmother and at his home. Each place provides its own unique resonance to augment his expressive finger-picked compositions. A beautiful piece of work and an irresistible call to take the time to slow down and hear, breathe, and feel the passage of time.

Available on digital and CD