2018 In Review: Journeys in Modern and Experimental Classical

neoclassical_mosaic25_rFrom the delicate minimalism of a single piano to the aching beauty of a string ensemble to the mysterious studio alchemy of the analog fused with the electronic, here is a selection of some particularly memorable journeys in modern & experimental classical music released in 2018. 

Poppy Ackroyd – Resolve [One Little Indian]


Resolve finds Poppy building and expanding upon her dynamic and percussive approach to playing the piano as well as collaborating in the studio for the first time with other musicians including Manu Delago (Bjork, Cinematic Orchestra, Anoushka Shankar) on hang, Mike Lesirge(Bonobo, Andreya Triana) on clarinets and flute, and Jo Quail on cello. A vibrant, and mesmerizing record as boldly inventive as it is beautiful. 

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

Federico Albanese – By the Deep Sea [Neue Meister]


Most of the pieces on By The Deep Sea were “born on the road” where Albanese would record parts on different pianos in various locations. Beautifully fleshed out in the studio with Rhodes piano, synthesisers, Hammond organ, electric, acoustic & bass guitars, field recordings and enhanced with cello work by ILLAY and Simon Goff, these intimate and immersive compositions are rich with soulful melody, soaring emotion and aching melancholy.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

 Ólafur Arnalds – re:member [Mercury KX]


Ólafur Arnalds has been an illuminating force in the modern & experimental classical space for long enough now that it is hard to believe that re:member is only his fourth full-length solo album and it is so easy to enjoy you could easily overlook the extraordinary level of subtlety and sophistication in its underpinnings. There is plenty of the kind of enigmatic Icelandic neoclassical beauty here that Arnalds has done as much as any composer to promote, but there is also an effervescent  joy and playfulness in the work that sounds new, at least to those who have not seen this side of him in live performances before now.  Whether it’s a pure solitary piano line, a lush chamber orchestra, or the clever interplay of beats and programmed elements, re:member never forgets for a moment to focus on music and connection in the purest of ways.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital

Aukai – Branches of Sun [Aukai Music]


Featuring the bright and unique sound of the ronroco (a relative of the charango), Branches of Sun began as a series of recordings made by Markus Sieber during a retreat to a small cabin near the Old Spanish Trail in Colorado far away from a world of human and technological distractions. The austere beauty and remote atmosphere of the high-mountain country looms in the background, but the luminosity and nomadic spirit in the music remains irrepressible and life-affirming.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital.

Luis Berra – Ancestral Dances [1631 Recordings]


Whether teaching at a music school, performing on a stage or in the lobby of a luxury hotel, or recording in the studio, the Italian-born Luis Berra, who currently lives & works in Bavaria, tells his stories on the piano and he does it with an eloquent and mellifluous voice. This is abundantly evident on his sophomore outing entitled ‘Ancestral Dances’, a splendid record that gracefully soars, sways and pirouettes through a dozen narratives spun from ivory keys and wooden hammers.

Released on CD & digital.

Muriël Bostdorp – See – Whales Records]


When you listen to a great deal of solo piano music, you learn to pay attention to the subtle characteristics that individuate each artist’s approach to the instrument. Technique, style, tone, timbre, mood, pacing – these elements form a pattern that can be as distinctive as a fingerprint. The ones that stop in your proverbial tracks, however, have an additional element that is intangible, an elusive alchemy that enchants and entrances and such is the case with Dutch pianist Muriël Bostdorp. Dampened piano and wistful melodies create an air of bittersweet melancholy buoyed by a lively rhythmic style that flows as effortlessly as water.

Released on CD & digital

Jane Antonia Cornish – Constellations [Innova]


The first female composer ever to win a British Academy Award (BAFTA) for music and her growing list of film credits, Jane Antonia Cornish once again presents us with an overarching narrative of transcendent beauty woven from the purest of sonorities by an impeccable ensemble, while the cosmic theme gives her quiet new pathways to explore in the dimensions of space, time, and light. This is music that truly feels timeless and unbound, the kind that nourishes the soul and restores a sense of wonder.

Released on CD & digital

Floex and Tom Hodge – A Portrait of John Doe [Mercury KX]



A spectacular collaboration between Floex (aka Tomas Dvorak) and Tom Hodge, and the Prague Radio Symphonic Orchestra (PRSO) that took three years to develop. Bold, vibrant, and endlessly inventive,  there is a certain clever irony in the fact that while its protagonist may be nondescript and ubiquitous, A Portrait of John Doe is a singular achievement that stands out from the crowd. The intoxicating geometry of its bold rhythmic patterns, intricate electronics, and soaring ensemble arrangements is purely exhilarating while its deeply reflective themes and introspective interludes will haunt your mind long after the music stops.

Released on vinyl LP, CD & digital. 

Nils Frahm – All Melody [Erased Tapes]


What more is there to say about the otherworldly talent of Nils Frahm? Right now he is almost a category unto himself.  As much an explorer as a musician, his latest opus is eyes & ears wide-open quest of a seeker taking the listener on a breathtaking journey with one of the most vivid musical imaginations on the planet, a search for pure melody, resonance, and rhythm. Frahm’s unerring musical instincts, purity of intent, and unbounded creativity make All Melody an album that will inspire both listeners and musicians for many years to come.

“In the process of completion, any album not only reveals what it has become but, maybe more importantly, what it hasn’t become. All Melody was imagined to be so many things over time and it has been a whole lot, but never exactly what I planned it to be…The music I hear inside me will never end up on a record, as it seems I can only play it for myself. This record includes what I think sticks out and describes my recent musical discoveries in the best possible way I could imagine.” – Nils Frahm 

Released on double vinyl LP, CD, & digital. 

Goldmund – Occasus [Western Vinyl]


With Goldmund, you already know to expect fragile, soulful melodies and sublime textures rendered with exquisite restraint that scores of new artists seek to imitate. The title of his newest album is a Latin word referring to the ‘downfall’ or setting of heavenly bodies, especially the sun. It is a theme that marks a slight shift away from a mostly nostalgic aesthetic and toward more opaque territory. An exquisitely crafted enigmatic beauty.

Released on vinyl LP, CD & digital

Rachel Grimes – The Doctor from India (OST) [Temporary Residence]


Rachel Grimes’ soundtrack to Jeremy Frindel’s portrait of the life and work of Dr. Vasant Lad stands on its own as highly satisfying listening experience. There is a bright, even playful quality to these pieces many of which are driven by galloping piano lines that suggest the workings of a keen mind and a narrative that moves at a brisk pace. The music dances sprightly in the borderlands where contrasting worlds meet – the timeless and the time-bound, the ancient and the modern. Featuring Scott Moore on violin, and Jacob Duncan on saxophone & flute.

Released on CD & digital. 

Snorri  Hallgrímsson – Orbit [Moderna Record]


A composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist from Reykjavík, Iceland, Snorri Hallgrímsson’s debut solo album is heavily imbued with not only the atmospheric elements of cinematic music which he loves but also an elusive & haunting mystique captured by only a handful of Icelandic composers such as Ólafur Arnalds with whom he has worked on such projects as Island SongsThe Chopin Project, and the BAFTA-winning score for Broadchurch. Certainly one can hear echoes of these works on the sumptuous offering that is Orbit, but we are also introduced to Hallgrímsson’s own voice not only as a composer and arranger but as a singer. The result is an album of arresting, hypnotic beauty and touching emotional depth.

Released on CD & digital. 

Illuminine – #3 [Ferryhouse Productions]


Neoclassical elements and atmospheric guitar intertwine with enigmatic beauty on the most personal Illuminine album yet as Kevin Imbrechts reveals it concerns a very dark chapter in his life during he was struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. Everyone feels vulnerable at one time or another and for some the weight of anxiety and darkness can prove to be crushing. It is a gift to have such beautiful music made by someone who sincerely understands and points true north toward the hope that each dawn can bring.

Released on vinyl LP, CD & digital. 

Julia Kent and Jean D.L. – The Great Lake Swallows [Gizeh Records]


A captivating first time collaboration between Canadian cellist Julia Kent and Belgian guitarist/tape machine manipulator Jean D.L. Fervently melancholic, a tension builds in the final coda as the melody resurfaces reaching more and more anxiously for the fading light. There is no denying the ravishing beauty in what has been created, but there is also no denying the disquietude of its unrequited pining and ambiguous resolution. A distinctive work with a gravitas that is hard to escape.

Released on CD & digital. 

Kaada – Closing Statements [Mirakel]


The title of each song on Closing Statements is either a quote or fragment from things that people, both famous and infamous, uttered when they were about to die. A somber theme to be sure, but Kaada gives it a life-affirming twist. Rather than wallow in pathos, his organic arrangements unfold and rotate origami-like to reveal angst, irony, and even humor in the face of life’s absurdities. Given the subject matter, it is a delicate balance to maintain, but he walks the tightrope with aplomb.

Released digitally. 

Cedric D Lavoie – 88 [Preserved Sound]


The debut solo album of Canadian composer Cédric Dind-Lavoie is a wonderfully understated record that is surprisingly immersive given the sparse, minimalistic approach using only piano, bass, and discrete elements of percussion and sound effects. Immaculate attention to textural detail which captures the movement of each dampened hammer, every drop of rain, and, seemingly, even the most subtle movements of air. These textural elements juxtaposed with elegant piano lines and low bass frequencies create an abundance of mesmerizing counterpoint.

Released on CD & digital. 

Mikael Lind – Strings and Clusters [Polar Seas]


Mikael Lind makes his first appearance on the Polar Seas label with Strings and Clusters, an album for which he wrote numerous phrases for phrases for violin, viola, and cello which he then presents both in natural form and in ambient “clusters” using a generative music software called Nodal. The compositions themselves are gorgeous and it is mesmerizing to hear them shape-shift between their organic and abstract forms often achieving orchestral intensity.

“I worked intensely for a couple of months trying to find which phrases suited best in their naked form, and which I should transform through sound design techniques. 80% of what you hear on the album are from these original string recordings, but there’s always a dialogue going on between the ambient string clusters and the naked strings”Mikael Lind

Released on …

Anne Lovett – The Eleventh Hour [1631 Recordings]


Demonstrating herself to be both an electrifying pianist and an imaginative composer on her debut album, Anne Lovett’s partially crowd-funded follow-up balances her virtuosity & passion with poignant introspection to create a stunning new opus in collaboration with members of the London Contemporary Orchestra. The solo piano compositions speak volumes in their sonorous stillness and dazzle when they gather exhilarating pace while the ensemble pieces enthrall with rapturous swells and fervent lamentations. Deeply felt, beautifully composed, and exquisitely performed, The Eleventh Hour is a feast for the ears that stirs the heart as well.

Released on CD & digital

Aaron Martin – Touch Dissolves [IIKKI]


Even with a thesaurus ever just a mouse-click away, one begins to run out of superlatives to describe the music of Aaron Martin. On the musical side of this dialog with Turkish photographer Yusuf Sevinçli, he weaves a quietly stunning tapestry braided with his distinctive cello and golden threads of sundry other acoustic instrumentation intertwined with delicate strands of electronics and voice.  One by one, each piece sprouts otherworldly beauty from pastoral roots while the melancholy is bone-deep. Whether as accompaniment for the visual feast of the book or on its own, this celestial music shaped from rustic elements makes for a profound listening experience.

Released on vinyl LP, CD & digital. 

Jeff Mercel – Lunescapes Volume One [Psychic Troubles]


A composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, Jeff Mercel was a contributing member of the pioneering American indie rock band Mercury Rev from their critically acclaimed album Deserter’s Songs in 1998 until leaving the band in 2010 to focus on composition for television and film. The music for his first full-length solo recording under his own name, however, is a much more intimate affair and was recorded in his home “mostly in the kitchen, on a sometimes unruly upright piano”. Lunescapes Volume One is a shimmering collection of instrumental “vignettes, intimate landscapes, and lo-fi fantasies” rendered with the sure hands of a skilled composer and journeyman musician with a keen melodic ear.

Released on cassette, vinyl LP, & digital

Shida Shahabi – Homes [130701]


Born in Stockholm to parents who fled the Iran-Iraq war, Shida Shahabi began studying piano from the age of nine and the thoughtfully written background notes for  Homes paint a picture of someone with an abundance of natural talent and experience with an extremely broad & diverse range of music. Such a background might tempt a burgeoning artist toward overreaching ambition on their debut effort, but instead Shahabi delivers a masterful album of utterly elegant simplicity and exquisite restraint with an organic warmth and entrancing intimacy.  Fans of artists such as Nils Frahm, Otto A Totland, or Goldmund absolutely should not miss this beguiling gem.

Released on vinyl LP, CD, & digital

Alexandra Stréliski – Inscape [Secret City Records]


After a chaotic period of upheaval in her life, composer & pianist Alexandra Stréliski follows up her 2010 debut with a delightful new album called Inscape, a meaningful portmanteau combining the words “interior” and “landscape”. Stréliski has a rare gift for tender, fluid expression and poignant, unpretentious melodies, the kind that seem effortless but surely are anything but.  Each song becomes a weightless dance that moves gracefully along the edges that separate melancholy and joy, doubt and hope, darkness and light. However difficult the passage for her to reach the point of being inspired to make this music, it is nothing but enchanting and uplifting experience to be able to listen to it.

Released on vinyl LP, CD & digital (sheet music also available). 

Swoop and Cross – Stories of Disintegration [Time Released Sound]


If you sense a filmic quality to the wistful piano-centric style of Stories of Disintegration it is by design. The album marks the debut of Swoop and Cross, a project of Portugese musician Ruben Vale who is currently based in London.  The music, which was recorded between 2015 & 2017 in London and Austria, was partially inspired by a particularly tender scene from a Norwegian drama that tells the story of a recovering addict. An intimate journey awash in nostalgia, melancholy, and muted romanticism with nothing inchoate about its exquisite and refined presentation.

Released in two vinyl LP editions – limited (currently sold out) & standard as well as digital.

Emmanuel Witzthum – Songs of Love and Loss [Eilean Rec]


For his first contribution to the Eilean Rec. project, Israeli violist, composer, and multidisciplinary artist Emmanuel Witzthum presents a quartet of ardent compositions each represented by a haiku and associated with a different season. Songs of Love and Loss resonates with intensity of feeling and indescribable beauty. In so capably leveraging season as metaphor and translating this into music, Witzthum takes the listener on a poetic, poignant and picturesque journey that cannot be soon forgotten.

Released on CD (currently sold out ) & digital

Hoshiko Yamane – Threads [1631 Recordings]


Violinist and composer Hoshiko Yamane has been involved in a diverse array of collaborative, dance, and film projects as well as lighting up stages around the world as as a member of Tangerine Dream, but this album on the 1631 Recordings imprint shows a much more introspective side to her music. Threads is a luminous collection of pieces leaning toward a minimal ambient aesthetic woven from loops & layers of acoustic violin into tapestries of sound both tender and transcendent.

Released on .CD & digital.