A selection of memorable releases from the year from the musical edgelands where electroacoustic ambient and field recordings meet acoustic, folk, and other analog experiments in sound.
Andrew Tuttle & Padang Food Tigers – A Cassowary Apart
The dinosaur-like cassowary is said to be the world’s most dangerous bird. While the album A Cassowary Apart poses no such threat, it is likewise a rare and colorful breed in the world of folk & country leaning ambient music with the incorporation of banjo and other acoustic instruments not often associated with the genre. Making the most of their musical kinship and technology that enables remote collaboration, Andrew Tuttle (based in Brisbane, Australia) and Padang Food Tigers (based in London, England) bridge the oceans between them to create a special kind of homespun alchemy.
Released digitally and on limited edition vinyl LP by Bedroom Suck Records
Charlie Coxedge – Big Top
Following up his well-received 2017 Bella Union release Cloisters, the second album from guitarist & writer Charlie Coxedge of the Manchester band MONEY in which he further develops his potent ability to create lyrical soundscapes tinged with melancholy from an intricate weave of loops, arcs, and arpeggios.
Released digitally and on limited edition cassette tape by Bradford, UK based This Is It Forever
Chuck Johnson – The Cinder Grove
The follow up to his stellar 2017 album Balsams, Chuck Johnson continues his introspective explorations of the pedal steel guitar with The Cinder Grove, “a suite of requiems for lost places” that wistfully reflects on profound changes in the California landscape much of which has been impacted by wildfires. A unique application of the instrument combined with strings and piano to create a hauntingly beautiful meditation on memory & loss.
Released digitally and on limited edition vinyl LP by the Los Angeles based VDSQ imprint with artwork by by Johannes Schebler
Federico Durand – Herbario
Few artists are capable of creating sounds as serene and delicate as Federico Durand. A lover of gardening and nature, for this enchanting Laaps release he has lovingly created his own musical Herbario – the Spanish name given to a collection of dried plants and flowers preserved in an album.
Each musical piece of Herbario has the name of my favorite flowers and trees. Through a year of uncertainty, from March 2020 to March 2021, I composed this album in the same way a botanist would have proceeded: collecting and preserving simple, broken and hypnotic melodies.
Released digitally and on limited CD & vinyl LP editions by Laaps based in France with artwork by Albarrán Cabrera
Francesco Giannico – Misplaced
Based on an archive of audio samples recorded during various trips to Italy in which it is impossible to reconstitute the exact origin, these are the kind of soundscapes accompanied by florid effusions of color and warm acoustics we have come to expect from Francesco Giannico, but with an interesting conceptual twist. In a world where human connection has been so profoundly disrupted and left so many of us feeling emotionally displaced, his concept of soundtracking these “non-places” is an absorbing one.
Released digitally and on limited edition CD by Veneto, Italy based Adesso
The Green Kingdom / Maps and Diagrams – Audioloom 1 / Streams
Michael Cottone had no less than four solo albums out this year as The Green Kingdom along with an EP under his new guitar centric Pinesong project, but also not to be missed is audio collage of electroacoustic sound sketches nicely presented split release on the Handstitched label. For the A-side (“Audioloom 1”), Cottone blends sound samples and synth textures with acoustic & electric guitar complemented on the B-side (“Streams”) with three tracks steeped in pastoral warmth and stillness from Maps and Diagrams.
Released digitally on limited CD and cassette tape editions by Handstitched
Haiku Salut – The Hill, The Light, The Ghost
JARR – An Echo In Her Skin
JARR is a new collaborative project from journeyman guitarist Jon Atwood aka Yellow 6 and Ray Robinson, an award-winning novelist and screenwriter who recently began his own foray into recording under the moniker of Wodwo. Atwood’s seasoned mastery of post-rock and shoegaze inflected soundscapes and Robinson’s gift for mapping out and framing narratives as a writer prove to be potent combination across the eight reverie-inducing compositions.
Released digitally and on CD by Seattle-based Hush Hush Records
Joe Borreson and Craig Tattersall – 12 Tapes | 10 Years
Arising from a transatlantic friendship between sound artist Craig Tattersall (aka The Humble Bee) and graphic designer Joe Borreson, who was not widely known for his music, this album was developed, as its title implies, over a ten year period through the exchange of cassette recordings and other ideas by post. The generous liner notes tell the full story (a great read, btw), but suffice it to say, after shelving the recordings for a while, everything finally came together for this beautifully meandering audio journey decorated with field recordings, tape loops, piano, guitar, banjo, and vocals.
Released digitally by the artist and limited edition cassette with booklet and postcards by Fluid Audio
Landtitles – Your Voice in Pieces
The debut of Grant Gard’s Landtitles project on the James Murray’s Slowcraft label is a careful cultivation of sounds derived from cassette and reel-to-reel loops of synthesizer, organelle, guitar, melodica, dulcimer, piano, contact microphone and field recordings to create an exceptionally warm and vivid menagerie of melodic soundscapes brimming with textural details.
Released digitally and in a CD edition with photography by Grant Gard on the UK-based Slowcraft label
Michael Grigoni, Chihei Hatakeyama, Stephen Vitiello – Earth Awhile
Collaborating across geographical, temporal, and musical boundaries, Japanese sound artist Chihei Hatakeyama and American musicians Michael Grigoni & Stephen Vitiello assembled a fascinating album thematically centered around the poem “Birches” by Robert Frost. In the foreground, Grigoni’s dobro and lap & pedal steel guitars are organically intertwined with intricate patterns of piano, samples, acoustic guitar and loops from Vitiello which Hatakeyama beds in verdant layers of modular synth and electric guitar.
Released digitally and on CD by Hatakeyama’s White Paddy Mountain label featuring cover photo by Paul Thulin-Jimenez
Nebel Lang – Wake to Unfold
Originally from Argentina and now based in Germany, the artist known as Nebel Lang (among other aliases) uses the piano as a vehicle for creating unique confluences of musical improvisation with environmental and temporal elements and this is one that turned out to be especially lovely. Even in its most fragile moments, the music feels free-flowing and improvisational in a way more akin to jazz than classical and emphasizes the textural character of the piano as much as the notes that are being played, and what beautiful notes they are.
Note: Readers who enjoy this should also check out Nebel Lang’s work on Ishmael Cormack’s recently launched Fallow Recordings label as well as the album Hand in Mine released earlier this year on Whitelabrecs which follows a very similar format to Wake To Unfold and is equally enjoyable.
Released by digitally and on limited edition CD with art prints and poem by Bailey Rose via Rottenman Editions
Observatories – “Flowers Bloom, Butterflies Come
The first IIKKI Books edition of the year was a delightful spring offering that pairs the painterly photographic images of Miho Kajioka with the filigreed sounds of Observatories, a collaborative duo made up of Ian Hawgood & Craig Tattersall. The bringing of these artists together proves to be a curatorial masterstroke as Kajioka’s poetic vision inspired by nature and the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi is exquisitely complemented by a suite of finespun, tape-saturated vignettes from two masters of organic minimalism.
Released digitally and on limited CD and vinyl LP editions along with 96-page hardcover art book by IIKKI
Origamibiro – Miscellany
Origamibiro back from a nearly six-year hiatus in the form of album that comprises a body of work amassed since the release of 2014’s warmly received Odham’s Standard and finds composer & producer Thomas William Hill engaging in an “exploration into the tangible nature of everyday objects and textures both in and outside of the home”. What makes the album work so beautifully is that Hill does not just explore the sonic properties of sundry objects and instruments for the novelty of it, but more so it seems to discover the full range of their musicality. The various sounds and textures are tightly woven into nimble rhythmic structures and fused with lush instrumentation, engaging melodies, and a friendly pastoral warmth that makes it a true pleasure to listen to.
Released digitally as well as CD and two vinyl LP editions (red and black) by Denovali with artwork by Adrian Firth
Stijn Hüwels + Tomoyoshi Date – A Distant Fire, A Distant Cloud
遠き火、遠き雲 (Tōki Hi, Tōki Kumo / A Distant Fire, A Distant Cloud) is the second collaboration between Tomoyoshi Date and Stijn Hüwels. They forge an ideal partnership here as Date’s delicate approach to blending acoustic and organic sounds finds ample space to work in among the gauzy layers of Hüwels’ processed guitars. The title refers to a poem by Tadahito Ichinoseko which he recites on the closing track adding to the sense of serenity the two musicians create.
Released digitally and on limited CD & vinyl LP editions by Laaps with artwork by Lynn Pollard
Taylor Deupree – Mur
Making a rare appearance outside his own 12k label, Taylor Deupree patiently explores new acoustic possibilities for the piano as he molds fragile soundscapes out of the resonance of notes that tumble like droplets from the keyboard into gossamer webs of ambient noise. Deupree describes the album title “as if there’s always something about my music that’s like a murmur”, resulting in a murmuring effect when pronouncing the names of each track. A meditative and deeply rewarding listen.
Released digitally and on limited vinyl LP editions by the Belgian Dauw label with artwork by Jelle Martens