The EP is often overlooked when it comes annual round-ups, but this format continually proves it can provide us with outsized moments of wonder and delight and the year in music would not be the same without them as these 16 releases demonstrate.
Brueder Selke – QP
The second part of a planned trilogy that began with Q3A (2019), brothers Sebastian and Daniel Selke cut and polish a new gem from an array of vintage instruments and their shared memories of growing up on the prefab estates of the former GDR (Q3A, QP, and QX being the three specifications used for their construction). The format involves separate tracks of equal length laid down by Sebastian and Daniel respectively which are then meshed together into a third ‘hidden’ track which brings the two sides of their dialog together in a sonorous multi-layered piece that shows the telepathic musical connection they have developed over the years.
Released digitally and on 7-inch vinyl with postcard inserts of Selke family photos by Oscarson
Cerwiden McCooey – The Conference of Birds
Australian cellist and composer Ceridwen McCooey with a passion for creating music that does not conform to perceptions of the cello as a classical instrument. This she does in dazzling fashion on this extraordinarily creative EP which is her interpretation of an ancient Persian poem about a gathering of birds who discuss taking a mythical journey. It is really quite brilliant how she lays out the narrative while using what seems like every part of her instrument to depict the physiology and character of each bird.
Released digitally by Rhodium Publishing
Edward Sikorski – Basic Colours
German composer & sound designer Edward Sikorski collaborates with cellist Sebastian Selke and guitarist Philipp Friesel in an effort to realize ideas about harmony and melody that had not been able to reach in his solo work and their musical interaction works a treat. There is a warm burnish and depth of character to the music from start to finish, but perhaps the apex is the titular second track which is full of clever interplay and soars on the back of a flugelhorn improvisation by the guitarist’s brother Jonas Friesel.
Released digitally and on limited edition CD and vinyl by Oscarson
Federico Albanese – Fredenwalde – Teil 1
This collection of solo piano works by Italian composer and pianist Federico Albanese composed an old Steinway grand piano from 1938 he came across while staying at the Landhaus Fredenwalde located in an idyllic region about an hour’s drive from Berlin sometimes called the “Tuscany of the North”. Struck by the location, the location, and the sound, he composed these beautiful songs in a sort of epiphany that give an essence of the timeless beauty that inspired them.
I wanted to craft a memory of that feeling of being there in that moment. Most of the time, so much of what we do is quickly forgotten but sometimes you want to hold something forever, almost like you want to take care of it, as you can come back and relive it. And this what music is to me – at its essence – it’s what gives us memories.
Released digitally and on limited edition vinyl LP by the Los Angeles based VDSQ imprint with artwork by by Johannes Schebler
Francis M. Gri – Stille
Bristol, UK based mailbox label continued the expansion of its roster with this spellbinding EP from Frances M. Gri who also runs a label of his own in Krysalisound. The Swiss-born, Italy-based experimental musician offers a mesmerizing meditative suite here in four parts featuring warm acoustic guitar lines juxtaposed with wintry textures & filigree and haunted by the ethereal vocals of Lilium.
Released digitally by Mailbox
Ishamel Cormack – Many Wild Things
Many Wild Things is a deep and beautiful work that exemplifies Cormack’s approach to incorporating the ephemeral with compositional elements to create filigreed, melodic soundscapes. It is also one of his more elaborate recordings put together using a toy piano, electric and classical guitars, a tape machine, dried seeds, computer software, and grand piano recorded inside the historic St Andrews Church. Not unlike taking a walk in nature itself, the initial experience when listening is a holistic sense of calm and beauty, but then as the immersion slowly takes hold, a plethora of details come into sharper focus.
Released digitally by The Slow Music Movement
Jessica Roch – Power Dynamic
A compact kaleidoscopic journey from London based multimedia composer & multi-instrumentalist Jessica Roch who weaves pulsing piano lines and subtle electronics with swoops and crosses from the violin over four tracks. Cleverly arranged and refreshing to listen to.
Released digitally directly by the artist
Josh Mason – Recreación Segura
Jacksonville’s Josh Mason has a unique sound that manages to distill un-romanticized experiences of a everyday life along Florida’s beaches with balmy ambient textures encoded in static and languid surf guitar that sound as if they have been baked in summer heat. Recreación Segura is another fine collection of sketches and vignettes along these lines succinctly echoing some of his more expansive (and highly recommended) albums such as Timecode Beach and Hellefied Irie.
Released digitally directly by the artist
Lee Yi – Lee Yi
Olec Mün – Vögel
The title of this moving collection of solo piano pieces by Olec Mün is a significant one to the Argentinian composer now based in Barcelona.Vögel means ‘birds’ in German and it is the sense of freedom they represent that inspired the music. And then there is the choice of the language itself, a step in the process of Olec making peace with his Jewish family history at the heart of his deeply personal album Reconciliation (2020). These compositions are as fragile and elegant as the album’s namesake and prove quite touching in their tenderness.
Available as a digital release from Lady Blunt Records
The Phonmetrician – El Mar Convertido en Oceano
In consonance with the more pastoral moments from his 2019 label debut Menomsyne, Carlos Morales, aka The Phonometrician ruminates on an oceanic theme with a luminous 5-song cycle laid out in coruscating finger-picked guitar lines. Striking a balance between painterly impressionism and cinematic scene-setting, it is an extremely pleasant summery diversion that showcases his ability as both musician and composer for film.
Released digitally by Lost Tribe Sound
r beny – We Grow In a Gleam
There are few artists working today who can elicit such soulful, emotive sounds from their gadgets and machines as Austin Carins aka r beny. Surely it was only a matter of time before Andrew Khedoori & Mark Gowing tapped the Northern California-based musician to participate to their Longform Editions project his contribution featured in the 19th edition of the series along with works by Judith Hamann, Theodore Cale Schafer, and Angel Bat Dawid. His map comprising “tones, textures, and echoes representative of a geography and a time” is sonic cartography of the highest order – patiently and beautifully drawn and laid out with mile markers in the album notes to guide the listener through the verdant but lonely spaces the music traverses.
Released digitally by Longform Editions
Rachika Nayar – Fragments
Pure sonic delight from the Brooklyn-based composer and producer, whose music utilizes processed guitar along with other synthesized and multi-instrumental sounds. Nayar’s virtuosic guitar playing and pedal wizardry spins a shimmering web of beautiful patterns and melodic shapes. No doubt these ‘fragments’ could become building blocks for longer and more involved compositions, but as presented, their brevity and chimerical nature conspire to create a wonderful kaleidoscopic effect as the album unfolds. It may leave one pleasantly dreaming of grander possibilities, but that seems to be just the point.
Released digitally and on limited edition cassette tape by RVNG Intl.
Seabuckthorn – A Spark and Singe
In addition to one full-length album on Fluid Audio and another as part of Mt Went on Lost Tribe Sound, Andy Cartwright aka Seabuckthorn found time this year to release this short but engrossing collection of tracks performed on bowed/plucked resonator guitar and Taishogoto which take both instruments into new sonic territories that are as expansive and atmospheric as they are imaginative.
Released digitally directly by the artist
Slow Meadow – Upstream Dream
In addition to mixing the work of others and seeing his own work reworked by artists like VOCES8 and Snorri Hallgrímsson, multi-intrumentalist Matt Kidd delivered a lovely new Slow Meadow EP parts of which were composed around the time of his 2019 full-length album Happy Occident. Lots of understated studio wizardry here as he blends electronics in clever and sometimes playful ways with piano & string passages of pure sentimental beauty. Also included is an alternate version of his 2017 single “Tragedy of the Commons”.
Released digitally by Hammock Music
Tobias Svensson- Hopkinson 4
While many of us were settling on rather mundane new ways to occupy our time at home at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown, Tobias Svensson decided to pursue a long-held interest in piano restoration. As both a pianist and sound engineer, that certainly seems a fitting choice for the Swedish composer who is now based in London where his very old J&J Hopkinson piano originated. Naturally he desired to create new sounds from the restored instrument and the fruits of his labors can now be heard on an intimate new EP with four songs recorded in half a day each in single takes and the unique character of the instrument come through with a refreshing clarity.
Released digitally by Sounds Fragil